Who could ever imagine that Friday, April 13th would give birth to one of the richest weekends of new film releases that we have seen in a long time. With so many to choose from, I thought I’d give you a taste of some of my faves:
Joseph Kahn’s comedic genre-busting love letter to the 90's that is brilliantly constructed with rapier dialogue, sharp creative visuals, meticulously tapestried themes and plots, a soundtrack that is to-die-for, an off the charts performance by Dane Cook, a pre-“Hunger Games” Josh Hutcherson, and the introduction of the newest horror villain to hit the big screen - CinderHella. And oh yeah, a time machine built within a stuffed grizzly bear. Laugh out loud funny!
Daniel Nettheim’s intensely fascinating and stirring character study of a mercenary hired to find the last living Tasmanian Tiger. Shot in Tasmania, not only are the visuals stunning, but Willem Defoe gives one of his finest performances as a man who himself, may be the last of his kind. With the sensibilities of both a thriller and a drama, you will find yourself holding onto your heart and the edge of your seat in this tacit game of man versus beast and man versus man.
Debuting at the 2011 LA Film Festival, UNRAVELED easily climbed to the #1 position of my “Must See Festival Films” list and leading the documentaries, and for good reason. Now opening in theatres, UNRAVELED is the story of Marc Drier. A successful New York trial lawyer and philanthropist, Drier had it all. Cars, money, boats, a $10 million dollar penthouse, a $3 million getaway cottage in Antigua and a huge law firm and lifestyle with huge overhead. But to get it all, he embarked on his own form of Ponzi scheme which went beyond robbing Peter to pay Paul. He not only robbed his legal clients and scammed hedge funds, but then falsified loan documents by impersonating his clients. At the end of the day, he stole $400 million.
Director Marc Simon is given unprecedented access to Drier and gets up close and personal with him following his conviction. During filming Drier is under house arrest with armed guards ordered by the Court 24/7 as he, and we, count down the 90 days until his sentencing.
Shot entirely at Drier’s NY apartment, Drier opens up in very candid conversations talking about his life, his law firm, how and why he pulled the cons he pulled, his children, his beloved dog whom Drier knows he will never see again if sentencing is harsh. This is a man who has lost it all and as the clock ticks to sentencing, you see him become more visibly beleaguered and drawn. You hear the remorse in his voice; the apology for his behavior yet his lack of comprehension as to what inside of him made him so morally deficient as to perpetrate the crimes.
Where UNRAVLED excels is in its lack of editorializing. We are presented Drier at face value. Director Simon leaves it to the audience to decide the good, the bad and the ugly; draw out own conclusions as to who and what Drier is. You are drawn into Drier’s story thanks to the personalization. From a production standpoint, the film is polished, with crisp, razor-edged cinematography blended with sharp graphic novel illustrative animation that depicts the past and any prior events in Drier’s life. This further aids in the objectivity of the film as there is nothing recreated or simulated for the cameras.
Compelling, dramatic, at times even poignant, if you don’t already know Drier’s story and the outcome, you will be on the edge of the seat waiting to hear the final sentencing order.
May I say for starters - LOCK AND LOAD!! This is one film you do not want to be locked out of! WOW! A non-stop adrenalin rush from start to finish, LOCKOUT is the film that action junkies - especially those who love those 80's action flicks - have begged for. LOCKOUT just proves that good things come to those who wait as LOCKOUT is one very very good thing. With glorious touchstones to fave films of days gone by, you quickly find your mind jumping from Alien to Die Hard to Tango & Cash to Lethal Weapon to Daylight to Mission Impossible to Space Cowboys to Armageddon to Deep Impact to Fifth Element and even Star Trek and Star Wars and The X Files, you will find yourself, as I did, in homage heaven the entire time. A love letter to action greats of decades past, co-writers/directors Stephen Saint-Leger and James Mather have filled a void in the movie timeline.
Sometime in the future, America sees its first “public” space station up and running. MS-ONE is a floating prison designed to house 500 of the most heinous of criminals on Earth who are now shuttled into space to MS-ONE and placed into stasis for the duration of their sentencing. Theoretically, each should be able to awake from stasis at any time with no ill effects, but the President’s humanitarian minded daughter, Emilie, isn’t buying it and heads up to the station to see for herself first hand what the situation. Well, timing is everything and Emilie’s couldn’t be worse as with her arrival, ALL the prisoners are awakened from stasis leading to a violent mutiny of deranged killers with the prison staff, Emilie and her team being taken hostage.
So what’s a President to do when his daughter is taken hostage? Luckily for him - and Emilie - highly trained Special Agent Snow has just been set up and framed for a crime he didn’t commit (selling secrets to the enemy). Pleading innocence, Snow’s story falls on deaf ears and thanks to having pissed off people in some high ranking places, he is ordered to be taken to MS-ONE. On learning of Snow’s fate, the President sees the solution to his problem. There’s no one better than Snow. Send him in to save Emilie.
As Snow, Guy Pearce has never been better (and never looked hotter or hunkier). We've never seen a Guy Pearce like this before - self-deprecating, wry, dry, witty humor that just soars and is downright laugh-out-loud funny. Very Bruce Willis a la John McClane.
Maggie Grace surprised me on so many levels. As Emilie, she developed a nice verbal sparring and repartee with Pearce’s Snow while adding stung level physicality and wire work to her resume. While she never quite matches the superb sarcastic timing of Pearce, appearing to be “one step behind” only adds to the character.
Supporting cast Peter Stormare and Lennie James are delightful to watch as Langral and Shaw, respectively. Both walk a fine line that give a sense through the entire film that neither is what they appear to be. Truly exceptional is Vince Regan as mutiny leader Alex, bringing a softness and kindness to Alex that makes him almost admirable. A very poignant performance comes from Tim Plester who, as Snow’s partner and friend Mace, makes your heart ache and in a very special shot, will bring tears to your eyes in a very “Spock” and “Kirk” moment.
Written and directed by Saint-Leger and Mather, while futuristic, this particular future is so close at hand that it could become reality within a few decades, which only adds to the excitement and thrill. There is nothing "fantastical". It rings of truth and reality that puts you in the front seat of a roller coaster as you ride the excitement the entire movie. Clearly, action is the watchword of the day here, but the story itself touches on social and political issues and humanity - questions that have long been discussed in scientific and medical circles.
Production values are high with a futuristic exterior and gritty reality of interiors. Set design, which is so Aliens/Star Trek/Star Wars is functional but also adds visual texture and emotional confusion for the characters. Cinematography - particularly the lighting - excels with the various minimalistic stylings, using point lights and color as reference points. And then a stunning contrasted back on Earth with the film’s money shot - a gorgeous panoramic twinkling skyline that's clean, clear and sharp.
I want my sequel - NOW.
CABIN IN THE WOODS
And then we say welcome to the World of Whedon with CABIN IN THE WOODS. Co-written by uber genius Joss Whedon (the brains behind “Buffy”, “Angel”, “Firefly”) and Drew Goddard (a man initiated into the Whedon World during Season 7 of “Buffy” and who then hung around to helm “Angel”, not to mention write “Lost” and “Alias”) and directed by Goddard who makes his feature debut, in typical Whedon World fashion, we have madness, mania and mayhem with more blood than I have ever seen used in a film, the rising of ancient evil, teenagers saving the world...again... and all put together with dry, wry, self-deprecating humor that is so clever, witty and entertaining it just knocks the film out of the park, er, woods.
The story is simple. Five friends head out to a remote cabin in the woods. But once there, things aren’t quite as peaceful and serene as they appear on the surface. And we, the audience, knows why.
Calling on relative unknowns as the latest “Scooby” Gang - Chris Hemsworth (pre-Thor), Fran Franz, Kristen Connelly, Anna Hutchinson and Jess Williams are the perfect meld of traits and personalities covering the requisite horror character gamut from dumb jock to dumb blonde and super intelligent nerdy types in between. The real master casting, however, comes in the form of the adults in the film, those puppeteering the events taking place at the cabin. With parts written specifically for them, Richard Jenkins and Bradley Whitford, as Sitterson and Hadley, respectively, are delicious. And longtime Whedon good luck charms Tom Lenk and Amy Acker add their own fun to the mix. A standout is Brian White who brings great stoicism and sanity to the insanity that is unfolding.
Conceptually unique with a story that unfolds through character awakenings, CABIN is genre defying with twists and turns and genre mashing that surprisingly, all fits together like a perfect little Rubix cube. There is so much genre eye-candy happening that there are times you don’t know where to look! While celebrating and championing horror (and the first evil), the humor is clever and smart, and in true Whedon-Goddard fashion, makes heroes out of the least likely. The story is bewitchingly enthralling blending hi-tech and character driven plot and at times even has a Trumanesque feel.
And talk about knockout VFX and creature creation! Needless to say, there are monsters aplenty and while they initially appear one by one, we are eventually privy to the monster/demon housing which is itself a sight to behold. For you “Buffy” fans, think “The Initiative”.
Peter Deming’s cinematography and his use of color, contrast/shadows representing the earthiness of nature, the shadows of fire which is then contrasted by the sleek clean hi-tech stainless steel and glass of the world of monsters, is stunningly breathtaking. A perfect meld of present meeting the ancient past.
And as for that blood....while Goddard admits he was trying to take the record from Stanley Kubrick and the elevator scene in “The Shining”, he fell short because of the number of takes Kubrick made. Goddard does, however, hold the record for the most blood usage in a single room in a single scene.
So take your pick! There’s something for everyone this weekend. And whoever said Friday the 13th was unlucky!
For my complete reviews and interviews with talent and filmmakers for all of these films, go to www.moviesharkdeblore.com.