Tuesday, April 21, 2015

First Period - Wacky, Campy Fun

Movie: First Period
My Rating: 3 stars

This is a really fun movie.  It’s a spoof of those generic, 80s era, dramedies about high school misfits trying to curry favor with the cool kids.  And, this one adds a new twist to the mix by prominently featuring gay themes.    The two protagonists in the story, Cassie and Maggie, are played by a pair of outrageous and vivacious, cross-dressing men—Brandon Alexander III and Dudley Beene.  And, I have to say, they really do capture the essence of awkward, insecure (yet strangely confident) high school girls pretty well.  I think it’s their characters’ cluelessness that breeds this confidence to just go for their dreams.  And, the script also pokes some fun at the kind of latent, sexual tension that sometimes exists between, cool, macho, football player types, that they are never socially allowed to acknowledge.  This kind of guy dates the popular, beautiful, bitchy girls because that’s what’s expected of him.  But, in his heart all he really wants is to just make out with his “bros.”
This description might make it sound like the film is pushing a pretty heavy social agenda.  But, the story really doesn’t take itself too seriously.  The tone of the movie is very light and fun.  And, it actually features a hilariously dark sense of humor.  I like it when comedy is particularly raw and cutting.  And, the best part is that no subject is too sacred to make fun of here—women’s bodies, sexual politics, social hierarchies, feminism, responsible parenting, substance abuse—you name it.  And, Cassie and Maggie are there to focus their fabulously critical eyes on each one of these things –all while rocking their hot pink, leopard-print leggings and enough makeup to spackle a house.  And, I can’t emphasize enough how adorable these two actors are as high school girls.  They’re just precious.  They’re so unapologetic about their tastes, and bodies, and desires—and so brazen!  The girls’ wardrobes in particular are pretty spectacular.

This movie is silly, sexy and funny.  But, it’s definitely not for anyone who is easily offended by any kind of raunchiness.  Because, this movie gets pretty lewd.  But, who likes that kind of pearl-clutching scold anyway?  Certainly not me.  I’ve always been a fan of silly, rude humor.  And, the movie is all in good fun.  I’d recommend it if you’re in the mood for something light, fluffy, and gay-friendly.  Heck—gay affirming!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Purge: Anarchy - Total Chaos!

Movie: The Purge: Anarchy
My Rating: 4 stars

I really like the first Purge.  It was so dark, and brutal, and there were so many possibilities.  But, that first story was on a very small scale, focusing on the trials of one specific family.  So, I was really glad to see that another film was in the works.  The premise is so rich that there are so many other stories to tell—so many different paths a person could take on the one night of the year when all violent crimes are legal.  And, this second installment obligingly expands the scope to explore not only the psychology of the hunters, and the distress of the hunted, but also investigates the kind of rotten, corrupt government that would be capable of enacting such a cynical and pragmatic program.  It’s an excellent second look.
In the first film, a family is attacked by a band of psychotic teens who are trying to break into their heavily armored home.  But, this movie joins a group of people who are unwittingly caught outside when the Purge begins.  Now, I’m not the kind of person who would ever go on a last minute grocery run right before the Purge.  There’s so much that could go wrong.  One flat tire, and you’re done.  I’d go into hiding days in advance.  But, for the sake of this story, there are stupid people out there who are perfectly happy to roll the dice like that.  And, thus begins the longest night of these idiots’ lives.
Although, we learn pretty early on that these dolts aren’t entirely to blame.  They’d like to believe that anyone safely shut in his home would be safe from the rampaging hordes outside, but nothing’s ever that simple.  On this crazy night, life has a certain price.  And, there are plenty of entrepreneurs out there who are ready and willing to exploit the possibilities.  And, then there are the corrupt politicians to take into account.  They’re the kind of power-drunk, narcissists who just can’t be trusted.  I was really excited by all the new directions this movie took.

I liked this movie a lot—maybe even more than the original.  But, that might be because I think Ethan Hawke is kind of weasely, and couldn’t identify with his character.  But, really I feel like this second movie was willing to try more things.  And, that’s just the kind of thing you’d hope for from a sequel.  I definitely recommend this movie to people who are into violent thrillers.  It’s probably best if you watch the original movie first, just for some context, but it’s not totally necessary.  But, this movie is a wild, tense, suspenseful thrill ride.  You’ll feel every minute of the terrifying night these poor souls are trapped outside, and that’s not a bad thing.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Edge of Tomorrow - Time Travel and Aliens!

Movie: Edge of Tomorrow
My Rating: 4 stars

This is a pretty great movie.  I had heard that it was a sleeper hit, but I wasn’t expecting to like it this much.  Because, you know, Tom Cruise is full-on crazy.  But, the idea is new and interesting, the writing is really good, and Emily Blunt is just a delight.  She’s so strong and sexy in this movie.  She could have saved just about any stinker with this performance.  Plus, I really love it when a woman gets to play the super-tough, military bad-ass in a sci-fi context.  I’d love to be that competent.  (But, I’m so lazy!!!)
I also really liked this movie because I’m a sucker for time travel stories.  And, this film is a permutation of the genre that I hadn’t really seen before.  I guess Groundhog Day is pretty similar.  Characters keep living the same day over and over again until they get things right.  But, this script actually attempts to explain the “science” behind why this phenomenon is happening, whereas Groundhog Day wanted us to just accept the fact as the basic premise.  Also, the main characters in this story are in a futuristic, high-tech military and they’re fighting off an alien invasion.  They have big muscles and even bigger guns.  That helps to boost the excitement level a little.
I also really enjoyed the cinematography and pacing.  Director, Doug Liman, manages to perfectly capture the mix of hope and despair that being in this kind of time loop would create.  Characters always have the chance to go back and fix their mistakes.  What an amazing opportunity!  But, they’re up against such a powerful enemy that they only make tiny bits of progress each time they run through a day.  So, they have to replay the same moments an uncountable number of times.  Even that idea is completely exhausting!  And, the movie actually does a pretty good job of simulating the passage of time without having to take us through all the different reruns.

I really loved this movie.  Sure, it’s pretty fluffy, despite how tough and sciency it tries to hold itself out as being.  But, that kind of thing is so fun!  We don’t have to only watch dour, serious, Danish movies to feel good about our impeccable taste.  Living in the post-modern era means that we don’t have to feel bad about ourselves for liking crappy art.  Not that this movie is crappy.  But, it’s satisfying, and we’ve been taught that emotionally gratifying stories are for children.  But, I’m here to give you permission to cast off society’s judgment and to let yourself revel in an exciting, bullet-filled, sci-fi, feel-good movie (with sexy, sweaty Emily Blunt).

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Higher Ground - Hippies and Religion

Movie: Higher Ground
My Rating: 2 stars

This is a very strange movie.  Vera Farmiga stars as a woman who has been caught up in a evangelical, Christian, hippie cult.  Well, I guess it’s more of a “planned community” than a cult.  It’s like an old-folks village for these ultra-religious types.  Families all live together in their own little town, they go to church, and do all their socializing together.  Doing things differently or questioning practices is severely frowned upon.  Farmiga’s character is having serious doubts about this lifestyle—mostly because as a woman in this fundamentalist environment, her desires and opinions are completely discounted.  And naturally, the community is trying to make her feel like the bad guy.  This is a very difficult position to be in—having your whole community turn its back on you.  It’s a real soul-searcher of a story.
This movie has some pretty interesting points despite the heavy subject matter.  I always imagine these kinds of devoutly religious people to be very uptight and conservatively dressed.  But, with this story being set in the 70s, the fashion is very “flower child” and groovy.  So much hair!  And, so many crocheted vests!  It’s pretty funny.  Of course, once the village matrons get their controlling hands on Vera, it’s all high, frilly collars, and floor-length dresses for her.  Yikes!  Those outfits are horrifying!  And, thus begins her character’s gradual alienation.  Another interesting thing about the movie is that Vera Farmiga’s real daughter, Taissa Farmiga, plays the younger version of her character at the beginning of the film.  The resemblance is pretty amazing.  I didn’t know about this casting ahead of time, but the two look so similar, that I had to go look it up right away.  That kind of detail is always fun.

All this being said, I don’t think you need to see this movie.  It has its interesting points, but I can’t say I enjoyed it enough to recommend it to anyone.  The pacing was too slow, the mood too heavy, and the story too dark for my tastes.  The depression is unrelenting.  Of course, you should always just follow your instincts when deciding whether to watch a movie or not.  But, I was alternatingly bored and infuriated by this story.  It’s not the best combo.  You’ll feel pretty terrible after all that.  And, there isn’t even a satisfying ending to redeem the story at all.  So, take my advice and steer clear from this one.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Canyons - Cheesy Trash or Trashy Cheese?

Movie: The Canyons
My Rating: 1 star

Oh boy!  What a train wreck!  I couldn’t resist renting this movie, because I had heard it was absolute garbage.  And, that kind of thing is always really fun to watch.  I figured, how bad could it really be?  And as usual, I paid the price for my curiosity (and loved every second).  But, I guess that’s to be expected when the lead characters are played by Lindsay Lohan and a porn star—two individuals who aren’t exactly known for their acting skills.  But, Lindsay used to be a good actress, right?  When she was a kid?  So, I’m not sure how she turned into such a wooden, tone-deaf mess.  Probably all the drugs.
Unintentionally funny movies are one of my favorite genres ever.  I always love it when one of the actors has no idea how silly he’s coming off.  And, this movie is so special because all of the actors are clueless.  Maybe Paul Schrader, the director, is in on the joke—and probably Bred Easton Ellis too, the author of the book it’s based on (I listened to an interview of him once, where he expressed dismay that no one understood that American Psycho was satire).  But, every single actor thinks he’s in a gritty, murder drama.  Really, the whole thing just feels like a bad set-up for a porno.  (Understandable, given that porn-star, James Deen is the male lead).
I honestly can’t remember all of the details of this story because the bad acting was so distracting.  I think all the characters are supposed to be Hollywood actors.  And, they’re all cheating on one another.  So, this naturally leads to a few murders.  The film presents all of these characters as if they’re irresistibly sexy, so it’s comical to see how “resistible” they all are.  None of them are as attractive as they’re held out to be.  And, if they can’t pull off their acting for the sake of this movie, then there’s no way we’re going to believe they can do it in the story.  But, maybe that’s all part of the joke.  It’s pretty hard to tell, because everyone is playing the scenes so straight.

Despite what this movie claims to be, I think it’s really about Lindsay Lohan’s real-life, nightmare descent into booze and pills.  It’s kind of heartbreaking.  Apparently she was a terror to work with on set.  I hear they had a hard time financing the movie because she’s uninsurable.  And, you can really tell that she isn’t all there most of the time.  But, I think this movie is still worth watching if you’re into movies that are so bad they’re good.  Everyone likes to complain.  And, this one is excellent fodder for a full-blown rant about the state of the entertainment industry.  But be warned, there’s tons of pretty graphic sex in the movie, so don’t sit down to watch it with your parents or with a date you’re nervous about.