ENJOY THE SHOW
Single-location thrillers have been the craze ever since John McClane decided to visit LA, and, to an extent, the sub-genre has gone in some ridiculous directions. "Die Hard in a..." movies continue to thrive with the locations going from high-rise building to places like a phone booth or a city bus. To that end, Grand Piano is more Phone Booth than Die Hard, but the conceit is still there. A famous concert pianist must perform perfectly else a sniper will take him out. Simple enough, and the thriller at work here is flimsy and even cheesy at times, but that doesn't stop it from being a cool, taut, little thriller backed by a smattering of solid performances. Grand Piano doesn't refresh the sub-genre, but this entry never falls to insulting it.
Eli Roth's latest gore-fest, The Green Inferno, fits right in with his horror history. His films feature Americans dumb enough to travel to the strangest parts of the world who then meet unsavory endings, and they've carried him thus far. But where the Hostel films and Aftershock - to a lesser extent, given Roth's writer/producer credit - differ from The Green Inferno are their conceits. This is a throwback to 70s entrails-laden cannibal movies, the Cannibal Holocausts of horror. And, for what it is, it satisfies its purpose, occasionally slipping into the lesser of Roth's talents, but giving us a bite that leaves its mark.
Fact 1: Writer/director Randy Moore shot his feature film debut, Escape from Tomorrow, at both Disneyland and Disney World without permission or permits. Fact 2: The Walt Disney Company hasn't said a word about what Moore has done, and his movie, thought to only be a Sundance one-off, is going to see the light of day. And thus we have the strange, surreal story of a family man's mid-life crisis in the happiest place on Earth. Escape from Tomorrow is nowhere near a masterpiece, but the sheer ambition on making what can be described as an "impossible film" is undeniable. Walt Disney's frozen head may even be proud.
Like a mean bastard, Cheap Thrills gut-punches its way before your eyes and into your head. E.L. Katz's "What would you do" scenario makes for loads of after-viewing conversation, but above and beyond that, the film is a dynamite charge of fun. Thrilling, as the title would suggest, edgy and hilarious all at the same time, Cheap Thrills is like that distant relative who knows exactly how to make you burst out into laughter, but usually only after the wincing. Phenomenal performances push the drama into extremely genuine territory causing everything to meld together perfectly as one of the most satisfying cinematic experiences this year.
Kill List and Sightseers director Ben Wheatley's A Field in England is drastically different from the British filmmaker's previous works, to the point that fans of his other films are having a difficult time wrapping their tastes—and minds—around this new one. A Field in England is shot in gorgeous black and white by his regular cinematographer collaborator Laurie Rose. That's a switch-up. Beyond that, though, Wheatley's delivers yet another head-trip of ideas, an extremely abstract work of art that requires the film to sink in and rattle around before the true genius at work is allowed to come to the forefront of your mind.
Machete Kills. "That's what he does," says Charlie Sheen as the President in Robert Rodriguez's violent follow-up to his 2010 Grindhouse hit. Machete was a blast of ridiculous fun, pushed across the entertaining finish line by Danny Trejo's awesome stares and gutters. But there can be too much of a good thing, and so we have Machete Kills. The sequel is nowhere near as much fun, almost limping along by the Looney Tunes antics Rodriguez has turned to this time. Machete seems almost subtle by comparison, yet whatever creativity this "now" franchise once had has vanished. Trejo's stares even seem tired at this point.
With films like Saw, the under-appreciated Dead Silence, and the terrifying pair of Insidious and The Conjuring, director James Wan has put himself top of the list for modern masters of horror. Each time out of the gate, his films are loaded with style different from his previous works and always delivers more than run-of-the-mill scares. With Insidious: Chapter 2, though, Wan falls into the dreaded sequel territory, something he didn't even get roped into with Saw. This latest outing offers some decent thrills, but hits chords all too familiar and easy, not something that jolts excitement into the promise of a new franchise.
It's hard to blame writer/director David Twoy for how similar Riddick feels to its original predecessor. It's been an odd turn of events for the Vin Diesel-led series. Riddick is a return to form found in Pitch Black, the much darker horror/action film that introduced us to the sadistic killer in the distant future, much different from the blockbuster epic 2004's follow-up, The Chronicles of Riddick, failed to be. Twohy went a little Star Wars there for a minute, and the general hatred towards that second film was enough to make a film maker wince. Riddick is every bit the B-grade entertainment Pitch Black delivered and more.
Do you like fast cars, high-speed chases, and enough cars flipping over on end they make a Tony Scott movie seem tame by comparison? Are you always in the mood to hear an engine revving and watch a driver shifting gears incessantly? Evidently, so are the people behind the new "high octane" thrill ride of a thriller, Getaway. But all the things that make fast-paced thrillers so exciting can't seem to find their way into this film. It's silly, safe, and, ultimately, stupid, nowhere near the combination you're looking for in something that's supposed to get your adrenaline pumping. And that's without commenting on the ridiculous plot.
The paranoia thriller sub-genre is sporadic in what it has to even show us, and for every example such as The Conversation or even the The Parallax View we're given, any number of dull excuses that end up speaking louder than they should find release. Now we have Closed Circuit, a British, courtroom thriller that delves into the "Are they watching my every move" subject with full force. Maybe too quickly. What starts out as a genuinely impressive paranoia thriller quickly falls victim to obvious twists, familiar turns, and a lame cop-out ending that actually satisfies no one. But, hey, they can't all be The Conversation, right?
Trilogies have a hard time finishing strong. Even unofficial trilogies, where the only connections are the talents involved and a running style, have hits and misses. So it is that The World's End, Edgar Wright's capper to his unofficial Three Flavours Cornetto Trilogy - following Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz - has much to live up to. Wright has yet to let us down, and he isn't about to start. The World's End is smart, loaded with energy, and above all else, simply hilarious, precisely as expected from Wright and writers and stars Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. The other two flavours in the bunch are surely raising their glasses.
Remember back in 2010 - it wasn't that long ago - when Kick-Ass surprised everyone with its subversive but comical humor and even more taboo but energetic and badass action? The title was appropriate. A lot of taming can happen in just three years. Kick-Ass 2 takes its title from, well, the fact that it's a sequel, and it's loaded with the same subversive humor and hard-hitting, adolescent violence. But, like most studio sequels, all that worked so well with the original is delivered with minimal creativity and a severe lack of energy. The goings-on here are rarely fun, and Kick-Ass 2 is satisfied going through the familiar motions.
In Elysium, writer/director Neill Blomkamp's sci-fi, epic, blockbuster follow-up to his sci-fi, epic, not-so-much-blockbuster District 9, we're introduced to a future society that pits the luxurious haves against the downtrodden have-nots. It's a conceit that has become standard-issue for modern day sci-fi, and there's an undeniable emptiness within the proceedings despite the creativity Blomkamp injects into his story. Matt Damon's savior of the underprivileged is the vehicle for which loads of action, some of it quite spectacular, tries to save the day, but the results are too flat for Elysium to be more than decent, dumb fun.
Last week we rejoiced in the departure from massive blockbuster destruction with The Wolverine's mystery premise. This week we're getting back to pure action. Though based on a comic book, 2 Guns still offers a nice sidetrack from the Summer with bullets blasts, governmental espionage, and the buddy-buddy charm of its two leads. It's just unfortunate that the action, from director Baltasar Kormákur, never quite lives up to the excitement of watching Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg try hard to hate each other's guts. 2 Guns, the latest buddy action movie, has the buddy part in droves, but not so much the action.