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The Liam Neeson Kill Map

September 18, 2014

I was surfing around my favorite movie websites and I found this wonderful Liam Neeson “Kill Map” on Collider (via eOne). I love how Neeson has become the go to badass of Hollywood. He has been kicking butt for years and has proven his mettle in Taken (Co-writer John’s favorite Neeson ThroatChopExtravaganza), Gangs of New York, Kingdom of Heaven, Rob Roy, Phantom Menace, A-Team, The Grey (totally underrated) and Batman Begins.

In the words of Key and Peele “Don’t try to be Russian around Liam Neesons. He’ll take your arm and put some fractures in that.” My favorite Neeson kill occurred in Rob Roy when he defeated Tim Roth via grabbing a sword blade in order to deliver a powerful death slash.

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Without further ado, here is the “Kill Map.”

liam-neeson-kill-map

Cheap Thrills and The Art of Villainy

September 16, 2014

cheap thrills

I love not knowing the motivations of cinematic villains. In order for a villain to be effective they have to be surrounded by mystery. There is fear in the unknown and learning backstories alleviates fear. The prequels and remakes of today have wrecked the mystery of bad and destroyed the urgency.  I love urgency in horror films, and when creators are explaining Michael Myers childhood the urgency disappears. I don’t want to know how Leatherface became a skin wearing chainsaw lover. Do you care that Freddy might be misunderstood? Horror and thrillers work best when they exist in a primal state of mystery, urgency and doom.

Insidious is an example of a film that blends mystery, urgency and doom into a glorious low-budget dreadernaut. I loved Insidious and thought the red demon was scary as sh*t. He was a mean machine of mystery who operated on another level of jerkyness. He remains scary because the creators didn’t feel an urge to explain his backstory while giving him a name like Toby (Thanks Paranormal Activity).

red guy insidious

My favorite character in The Dark Knight trilogy was The Scarecrow. He had no backstory or explanation. All you know is that he works for Ra’s al Ghul and is respected enough to be judge, jury and executioner in Bane’s new world. He was a pain in the ass for Batman and appeared in every film. While Joker and Bane were making things burn, Scarecrow was working his small racket. Put him in jail and he will escape. Shoot him with a taser while he is riding a horse and he will survive. I like him because he has no motive.

What I love about the Cheap Thrills villains can be summed up in Chuck Klosterman’s book I Wear the Black Hat. In the book he explains a villain as “knowing more than you, but not caring.” They plan on wrecking people’s lives and are sorta nonchalant about it. They know how to draw people in and hope that something bad happens. Most importantly, you don’t know anything about them. The characters are left open for interpretation and that is why I like them so much.

Have they worked together before? Is he trying to please her? Who do they call at the end? How do they stay so calm? Who cleans it up? Why are they holding hands during the fight? Why does she show humanity?

Cheap Thrills bad guys

They are not looking for world destruction. They just want some Cheap Thrills and small time chaos. The performances are layered and they leave you questioning what their motives were. One is quiet while the other is the ringleader. If you watch the film you notice that Sara Paxton and David Koechner are constantly texting each other. Nobody knows what they are texting but they must be formulating a plan. Is the night improvised or are they carefully guiding the men towards eventual death?

David Koechner is perfect for the movie because his larger than life persona is suitable for the role. He needs to be the ringleader that can corral unwitting victims. There is intelligence beneath the loud persona and that makes the character more devious because it is a well rehearsed shtick. Sara Paxton is equally as good because you see the intelligence beneath those black eyes. She plays a vapid cell phone addict who is quiet for a reason. Without her the game couldn’t escalate. Throughout the film she nurtures the characters and her presence balances out Koechner’s brashness.

Cheap Thrills leaves you with questions.  It is intense yet doesn’t bombard you with violence. You are not burnt out and it works on all levels. Cheap Thrills is a nasty little film that is incredibly well done. It walks a tight rope of violence and depravity yet never wavers. It doesn’t show you much yet gets burnt in your memory.

Watch Cheap Thrills. Appreciate the bad guys. Never get involved in an escalating game of dares whilst drunk.

 

Starred Up: The Grey Mile

September 11, 2014

Starred Up Movie Poster

What I like about Starred Up is that it never feels inauthentic. It was written by an ex-prison therapist and filmed over 24 days in an old prison. It isn’t glorified tough guy crap that oozes style over substance. Starred Up isn’t trying to create anti-heroes and treacherous villains. It is told in the grey where you understand the violence and family dynamics.

Starred Up Ben

The movie hits hard and often yet doesn’t pander to melodrama or overt clichés. Jack O’Connell’s character Eric is wiry enough to be a threat and his synapses are obviously sparking behind his eyes. He often knows better yet is constantly let down by a quick temper and lack of guidance. It doesn’t help that he is the product of an angry father and foster homes. He never had a chance in the real world and prison is probably the best place for him.

The term Starred Up refers to the early transfer of a teenager to an adult prison. The young offender has proven to be too violent for juvenile detention so he gets shipped off to prison. This leads to a different hierarchy and need for an attitude adjustment. O’Connell’s violent outbursts lead to lock downs which are bad for the prison drug business. His constant troubles introduce him to two mentors. One is his incarcerated father whose attempts at parenting lead to more violence. The other mentor is the prison therapist Oliver. Oliver is a volunteer who leads a therapy group for the most violent of offenders. Both men try to do their best yet are constantly let down by themselves and others.

starred up friend

Ben Mendelsohn is wonderful as Eric’s father Neville. He pulls off a believable balance of menace and clueless. He is used to doling out threats and doesn’t know how to deal with a 19-year-old punk calling him out in front of other inmates. His attempts at parenting lead to embarrassing his son which leads to more violence. The amazing thing is that you actually believe Neville as a person. You understand the guy and why he does what he does. After killing Them Softly, Place Beyond the Pines and Animal Kingdom Mendelsohn has proven himself to be a seriously layered threat. Mendelsohn has given us four iconic criminals who are nothing alike and frighten in different ways.

Much of Starred Up takes place in the therapy sessions lead by Rupert Friend’s character Oliver. His sessions are like walking a tight rope during a hurricane. One wrong look, word or mother joke can lead to eruptions of violence that would erase any goodwill created. The first time Oliver meets Eric is during a fight that bursts into the session. Eric ends up biting a prison guard’s penis and Oliver de-escalates the situation by putting himself in warms way. The therapy is rough going at first but there are some remarkable moments that seem small but have deep personal resonance.

Starred Up is a tough and rewarding film. The realism is a breath of fresh air that makes the violence and nudity feel necessary as opposed to gratuitous. The characters are three-dimensional wonders who feel relatable in the foreign prison world. Director David MacKenzie and crew should be very proud of themselves.

 

The Trip To Italy: Rob and Steve Strike Back

September 8, 2014

The Trip To Italy movie poster

The Trip was a wonderful surprise.  It topped my list of favorite 2011 films and is a mainstay on my Netflix queue. Watching Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan bicker for 90 minutes while traveling though Northern England never gets old. Their impersonations and understanding of each other make for a dynamic duo who have been perfecting their shtick since Tristram Shandy.  The two are so immensely likable that you could spend hours listening to their Michael Caine impersonations. Now, they are back for an Italian adventure full of Alanis Morissette, mini coopers and more Michael Caine impersonations.

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The fictional versions of themselves have changed since the first film. Coogan has become more likable and wants to spend more time with his family. Brydon has become more brazen as he cheats on his wife and takes an eight week acting gig in the United States. The one thing that hasn’t changed is that the two have an understanding of each other that allows them to support each other through thick and thin.

The Trip To Italy Rob and Steve

Whether it be riffing on Rob in prison or discussing his lack of similarities with Byron the two are never at a loss for words. They ease into the roles and you can tell they enjoy playing exaggerated versions of themselves. I love watching their personalities interact because it develops a constant stream of one-up-man ship and ramblings. Their zingers occasionally get personal but that is all part of their dueling personas.

The Trip to Italy ocean

This is the third collaboration between Brydon, Coogan and director Michael Winterbottom. They’ve achieved something wonderful with the sequel. They acknowledge the sequel aspect and wisely don’t become too self aware. They could have simply given everyone what they wanted (impersonation battles) and laughed their way to the bank. However, the story has a flowing narrative that allows for character development amid beautiful vistas.

Most importantly, the impersonations don’t feel shoehorned in. They come from an organic place as Brydon feels more comfortable emoting in accents and Steve gets annoyed at the impersonations.The best moments occur when the two team up and have fun roasting cinema. They engage in witty banter that focuses on the Dark Knight Rises 1st AD telling Tom Hardy and Christian Bale that their accents cannot be understood. Or, they make their way through all the James Bond actors with the revelation that Coogan cried at the end of Mama Mia. 

The Trip to Italy

The Trip to Italy is a masterclass of character and humor. I cannot wait to rewatch it and marvel at the scenery and perfectly nasal Michael Caine impersonations. I really love the Before Sunrise trilogy and I hope these two get a final chapter because I really want to see Coogan brag about his Oscar nomination and Alan Partridge success.

 

They Came Together: Wet Hot New York Romance

September 4, 2014

They Came Together movie poster

They Came Together tells the story of tiny scarves, word jazz and a man named Eggbert. It is a send up of romantic comedies that is told perfectly straight while being incredibly bonkers. The biggest problem is that it tells us the jokes, tells us again and then goes over what it has told us. The nuance is gone and what we get is an enjoyable little romp that will appeal to the Wet Hot American Summer crowd.

Like Wet Hot, They Came Together will most certainly find an audience in the years to come. However, Wet Hot felt so weird and different while We Came Together feels familiar. I remember watching Wet Hot and loving when kids got thrown out of vans or kitchen workers humped refrigerators. It had a personality unlike any other and proved to be memorable. They Came Together is fun but occasionally goes the easy route via over explaining. Director David Wain and co-writer Michael Showalter certainly know the genre but go too far when they insert a literal pole into a waiter’s butt. The awareness hinders the jokes because they feel jack hammered in without an ounce of nuance.

They Came Together tells the story of two people who meet cute/hate each other/fall in love/find out she has racist parents/break up/get back with exes/date baxters/get married/fight Michael Shannon. She owns a candy shop where everything is free and all money goes to charity. He works for a candy conglomerate that wants to tear down her store. Of course, this all leads to a scene where Christopher Meloni craps himself while wearing a superhero costume.

They Came together Christopher Meloni

I had a constant smile throughout and enjoyed the simple pleasures of likable people engaging in rom-com tropes. My favorite moments involved little observations. For instance, Ed Helms plays a guy named Eggbert who wears progressively smaller scarves.

They Came Together Ed Helms

Also, anytime Bill Hader and Ellie Kemper get to react to odd stories I’m all in.

They Came Together Bill Hader

They Came Together is a fun film yet doesn’t hit the high notes of Wet Hot or Role Models. It might start a tiny scarf trend but won’t develop the cult following of Wet Hot.

Watch They Came Together. Never wear a superhero costume when you have to go to the bathroom.

 

Coherence: Controlled Chaos At the Dinner Party

September 3, 2014

Coherence movie poster

Coherence tells the story of a dinner party gone awry. It is a welcome break from the mega summer science fiction that is loaded with CGI and light on story. It may be rich in Schrödinger’s cat and metaphysics references but it also realizes the importance of simplicity. The perfect word to describe the film came from director James Ward Byrkit when he called it “scrappy.”

The low-budget, mostly improvised science fiction experiment isn’t meant to take over Primer’s high concept/low-budget mantel. It is like an episode of The Twilight Zone meets every indie dinner party film you’ve ever seen. I love how Byrkit explained his characters like this “At a party of smug Northern California white people, what would be the most normal types of people to run into?”

Coherence Nicholas Brendan

 

The reason I watched Coherence was because of a Grantland article called Coherence: the best sci-fi movie of 2014 that you haven’t seen. In the article Jason Concepcion writes:

Coherence doesn’t have the budget to show you the giant lizard (Godzilla), so it shows you eight people you might recognize from your own life going, “What the f*ck is happening?” The disbelief and confusion of the characters ends up driving the movie. Imagine if the characters in Cloverfield never left the party and you’re on the right track.

Coherence proves that independent film making is still alive. Byrkit came up with the idea after working as a storyboard artist on the Pirates films and co-writing Rango. He grew frustrated with mega-budget meandering and spent a year breaking the 12-page outline for Coherence.  It has been carefully crafted yet the interactions were allowed to breathe. The actors weren’t certain of what they were getting into and that allowed for the spontaneity of the interactions.  In an incredibly open and self-effacing interview with yahoo director James Ward Byrkit discussed the process:

We shot over five nights, so each day, the individual actors would get a page of notes for what they had to do that night. And it might have a bit of a backstory that they would tell, or a bit of motivation — like, “If this happens, you’re gonna want to do this.” Or, “Somehow get outside tonight.” They didn’t know what everybody else was told to do, so it was all a surprise to them. They had no idea about the  bumps and power outages and surprises that were coming.

Coherence has layers yet doesn’t feel like it has layers. The self-importance isn’t there and that is why I like it. I appreciate films that can stay insular and are worth another viewing. My initial reaction was annoyance at some of the character choices but now I understand why they would go out into the dark or walk towards the light.

coherence

Coherence is not a deep film in which over-analyzing is necessary. Enjoy the “scrappiness” and in Byrkit’s words know “it’s actually super simple if you just follow the main character from shot one to the final shot of the movie.” Coherence is meant to reward the viewer and not punish them. It is carefully crafted, organic and sticks to the Coherence definition by being “logical and consistent.”

Watch Coherence. Appreciate Coherence. Watch Coherence again. Never throw a dinner party while a comet is close to earth.

The Best Characters of Summer 2014

September 2, 2014

Hello all. Mark here.

Summer 2014 was loaded with fantastic characters. They proved to be memorable, hilarious and fond of shoes. Nothing went over their heads, they enjoyed naps and slipped on fish. When all is said and done their characters will be cherished and discovered for years to come. Here is the list! Enjoy!

Drax the Destroyer – Guardians of the Galaxy

In a film full of wonderful characters he has the best lines, story and character arc. He drunk dials an army, doesn’t listen and says “Why would I want to put my finger on his throat?” He was the pleasant surprise in a movie that was a pleasant surprise. I can’t wait to see what they do next with his character.

Guardians Drax

Rita Vrataski – Edge of Tomorrow

Emily Blunt was an effortless badass who wasn’t simply a Tom Cruise love interest. Her character wasn’t a plot device and I loved that. She imbued a soul and personality into a character that was stuck in what seems like a very uncomfortable costume. I really hope Edge picks up an audience in the years to come.

emily blunt

She also may have started a yoga craze with all her gratuitous poses meant to spice up the trailers.

Edge of Tomorrow Emily Blunt

Mason – Snowpiercer 

Tilda Swinton  is my hero. Mason is an oddball maniac who is the perfect wing man to a madman who happens to run a dystopian train society. She also says this “I belong to the front. You belong to the tail. When the foot seeks the place of the head, the sacred line is crossed. Know your place. Keep your place. Be a shoe.”

Snowpiercer axe

Mom and Dad – Boyhood

When the award season rolls around I hope Ethan Hawke and Patricia Arquette get nominated for their amazing work in Boyhood. Their characters are fully fleshed out humans who had believable bumps and bruises. Their commitment to make such a wonderful film needs to be appreciated.

boyhood hawke

Godzilla

Godzilla is not a good film. The human characters were paper-thin and plot was haphazard. However, Gareth Edwards absolutely nailed Godzilla. He is the earth’s grumpy protector who happens to love siestas. The scene where he is swimming with the war ships en route to battle the monsters was badass. He wakes up. Kicks ass. Takes a nap. Swims away. I also loved that he was part bear, dog and eagle. Cool look.

Godzilla

Martin – Chef

John Leguizamo is one of my favorite actors. I love his comedy special Freak and always felt like he has been underused and underappreciated. However, in Chef he is a likable dude who adds a fantastic energy to the proceedings. Chef puts a smile on your face and Leguizamo is a big reason for that.

Chef John Leguizamo

Father James – Calvary

Father James is a good man who came to faith later on in life. He is a widower, former alcoholic and father of a troubled yet loyal daughter.  You can tell he won’t take any sh*t yet is too smart to allow himself to be shaken. He has come from a rough life and that is what makes him so effective as a priest. There isn’t judgement in his eyes. He understands the world yet you can see that it tires him. Give Brendan Gleeson the Oscar now.

Calvary movie poster

 

Curtis – Snowpiercer

Curtis is a good man. He is haunted by the past yet can still rally everyone around him. He is too smart to be a pawn and too strong to be stopped by axe wielding maniacs.  He is the leader you want to fight next to. He also is the straight man who isn’t overshadowed by a cavalcade of character actors. Between Sunshine and Snowpiercer Chris Evans has proven himself to be a fantastic actor.

snowpiercer

Neville Love – Starred Up

Neville Love is a career criminal who has worked his way up to be being second in command in an English prison. He is calm yet explosive and constantly fails at being a parent. Ben Mendelsohn is an amazing actor who stole the show in Killing Them Softly and Animal Kingdom. In Starred Up he is the perfect foil while still being relatable. You can see the dude trying but constantly let down by his immense emotional problems and zero impulse control.

Starred Up Ben

Galgo -Expendables 3

Expendables 3 is not a good film. However, Antonio’s character Galgo adds a much-needed shot of adrenaline. He is a motor mouthed badass who sits in Jason Statham’s chair and flirts with Ronda Rousey while fighting. Many will be annoyed by Galgo but I bought into the character and enjoyed the fun Banderas brought to him. You can tell everyone loved having him around too.

Expendables 3 Banderas

Toothless – How To Train Your Dragon 2

Who wouldn’t want a toothless? The dragon has zero dialogue yet had more personality than 90% of the summer characters. Kudos Dreamworks for creating such a wonderfully realized creature.

Toothless

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