Monday, August 25, 2014

Impulse Explorations: YOU'RE NEXT (2011)

 After years of peeking into the more highly spotlighted corners of the horror film universities, seeking new voices who would carry on the legacy of a great few others, I can say with great confidence that the works of Adam Wingard tend to leave me dry. If he were a filmmaker who's voice wished to usher in a new era of slasher thrills with a new twist, it could certainly do with a little more sense of gravity than a cursory love of an idea.As it is, You're Next plays a lot like a junior college final with cinema grade visuals.

Driving into the Missouri mountains to visit his well-off parents and family, Crispian (A.J. Bowen), along with his former student-turned girlfriend, Erin (Shami Vinson) unwittingly arrive as bloody murder hits the vicinity. Isolated from much of civilization, the immediately dysfunctional gathering is quietly being stalked by a group of masked killers hard set on killing everyone in attendance. But upon the moment that the party has turned fight for survival, it become clear that there is more than meets the eye with these armed fiends(and that Erin is no ordinary fiance). Attempting to subvert the "home invasion" subgenre ala The Strangers, or even Inside, Wingard's You're Next, flounders about, never finding itself out of first gear.

The film plays out like the blueprint for a family drama satire that never figures out how to make the humor sing. One can witness the intent, but the script by Simon Barett, never sees a way to play on the dynamics between Crispian's family members as his partner haplessly witnesses. So it eventually gives up, and expects the audience to just go with the blood as if it were the only attraction worth attention. There is a definite love for the visceral on display. But without the characters complimenting the premise, it all feels more like an exercise in sadism where it could have easily been blackly comic. Fellow genre cineastes, Joe Swanberg, and Ti West, do what they can, hamming it up in supporting roles that border on thud-inducing. Not to mention Upstream Color's Amy Seimetz, and  horror veteran, Barbara Crampton come off a little undercooked. We have a potential for ensemble that is never milked to any satisfying effect. Again, we get the idea of a film, but aside from the expected gore, there's little else holding matters together.

Making matters even more bland, as good as Vinson is here, there's never any doubt as to how everything is going to play out. It also plays heavily into an almost survivalist fetishism that feels like the main reason for the film's existence. As the killers close in on the remaining family members in the estate, all we get are the expected knock down drag-outs, and  Home Alone-esque setups.While it could make for an interesting action character, it's hardly a source of depth for what could have been much more. Which again plays into the films of Wingard, who seems to carry some very rudimentary ideas for gender roles. There is an almost frat boy worldview being conveyed that never allows the characters to forge anywhere beyond simple, and often distasteful types. While that might make for definable heroes and cannon fodder, it does very little to make them compelling. When sarcastic horror comedies like the original April Fool's Day(1986), is a better example of this kind of story, it's time to worry.

Considering the decades-plus of cinematic bloodletting, one would think that someone would be informed that we would need more than this. Oh, we do, Wingard. We really do.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) Is A Charming Renegade Triumph

I grew up around weirdos.

No adolescence is easy. Let's be fair. But having grown up in an area where your options were limited, a good companion was often a lucky break. Being a member of the latchkey kid generation, it was that chance meeting of that other kid from the neighborhood who embraced their oddness that would make for a startling new chapter. Whether we were children of divorce, ostracized for being into "weird" comics, movies, and loved talking about them. Game heads, Ritalin kids, pranksters, mischief makers with a yen for fire. Solace was often found in the presence of buddies who would miraculously understand where you were coming from. And at times, kids who would know a great deal more than you. Childhood was largely populated by what came to be known as the dregs of school society. Many in the upper echelons would know of us, but would sooner not be seen around them. Perhaps living with this tiny, unspoken inkling, that they wished to spend more time around us.

I grew up around weirdos.

Whether they be your classic comic book reading, movie loving nerds, to the kids who grew up ready and willing to play havoc with the cards they were dealt, they were often real, and complimentary to fellow odd souls. Dysfunctional, perhaps. But often dedicated, and understanding in ways many grownups seemed to have long forgotten.

As such, pals and I loved the Drive-in, and early VHS experience. It was a ritual of sorts, not to mention something of a soothing experience, partaking in the ritual of watching something strange. Something dangerous. Something inspiring. While many of the films cannot be claimed to be that of high artistic merit, there was something almost kin about watching said films. They felt renegade, excluded, laughable in ways that perhaps mirrored certain souls. There was something within the realm of the exploitation cheapie that felt like home.

Films can often be seen as windows into their makers. And as such, we can feel the perspective and personality thriving within even the most dysfunctional work. Especially the ones that come together successfully. This is especially true of low budget film. No matter how strange, perverse, or eyebrow-raising, few feelings beat that of a connection between viewer and a functional genre movie,

All of this needs to be stated up front, and without apology before discussing James Gunn's first foray into the big time. That we can at last live in a world where a Troma alumni can be drafted into the ranks of MARVEL's creative circle, and successfully conjure a loving tribute to the outcast in all of us with an unerring indie spirit. Well, it's nothing short of miraculous.

I could go on, and echo many sentiments shared by peers and friends. I could beam about how Guardians Of The Galaxy, is a team-up tale on par with some of the very best tales of the fantastic captured on film. That it is the anti-Avengers, and this is meant in the best complimentary sense. I could rant and rave about how beautifully the cast works together, as well as on their own. Spend time elaborating how much I love seeing Chris Pratt make for a most winning lead whom I wish had more screen time. About how much Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, Dave Batista, and Vin Diesel make for an instantly charming team comprised of broken, and lonely souls. How great it is to see Lloyd Kaufman and Michael Rooker in a film of this size. How brilliantly realized the world of the film works, and how nicely it opens of the Marvel canvas in ways never seen before. How Ronan The Accuser(Lee Pace) best represents the nerd that never sees past themselves as an answer to their pain. How the film makes the best possible case for very real nerds (and nerd friendships) in all of comic book cinema. 

About the only criticism that could actually be lobbed at the film, is simply that despite the two-hour plus running time, one couldn't be blamed for wanting more. Well-balanced and unabashed, Gunn's first foray into mega-franchise cinema is a spiritual triumph for the little ones. A validation of the often unspoken majority, even in an era where the term, nerd, seems to have lost all meaning. And this is coming from someone with very little prior knowledge of the source material. It transcends, and speaks to a spirit often ignored by genre cinema. More than this, it's a celebration of outcast families everywhere.

This is Drive-in/VHA cinema at it's biggest, wildest, wooliest, and most sincere. Time to break out the champagne dated 1988. Been a long time coming.