Sunday, August 9, 2015

“The Station Agent” (2003): By Tyler Wanek

“I'm retired, actually.”
“Aren't you a little young to be retired?”
“No, dwarves retire early. Common fact.”
“The Station Agent” (2003):




Very clever, Movie!
You think you can draw me in with your model trains, your real trains, and Peter Dinklage? Nice try, but I won’t be swayed so easily. I can look passed all of that and still analyze the plot, characters, and anything else you have to offer. Yes, indeed, I . . .God, those trains are so cool. Forget living in a train depot, I’d live in that store that Dinklage so foolishly gave away.
Damn you, Movie, I’m trying to be professional here!
Anyway, now that I’m done talking to my boyhood inner-giddiness, “The Station Agent” is a great little dramedy that could very well make it onto my Top Ten list of 2003 that I plan to write out this coming weekend. For a film so simple and understated, I applaud how easily it could hook me in with its short (no pun intended) cast of characters and its clever story about three adults that become friends despite their off-set personalities and troubling backstories. A majority of the film is set around the abandoned train depot that Fin (Dinklage) now calls his home, and I thoroughly enjoyed the metaphorical imagery that when the three characters are apart their lives are completely “off the tracks”, and yet when they’re hanging out together by this depot, their bond is as strong and smooth as a train running its natural course on the rails.
For better perspective, the film starts with Fin, the shy introvert of the story that has a difficult time grappling with the emotions of his dwarfism, working in a model train store called “The Golden Spike” with his elderly friend, Henry. When Henry suddenly passes away, Fin finds out that he left an abandoned train depot to Fin in his Last Will & Testament. Now that the store is closing, Fin decides to take up residence in the depot so he can he live in quiet solitude and enjoy his fasciation of trains. However, his plan is quickly sidetracked when he meets Joe (Bobby Cannavale), a hyper and clearly lonely manager of his ill father’s food truck that takes up daily station outside of the depot. At first, Fin tries his best to avoid Joe at all costs as the two are nothing alike, but he soon finds himself succumbing to Joe’s pleas for companionship. The final third of the trio is Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), whom stumbles across Fin by accident when she nearly runs him over twice on his way home from the nearby convenience store. Desperate to make it up to him, Olivia brings a bottle of bourbon to his home and she confides in Fin that she’s in a messy relationship situation with her husband and that her son recently passed away in a playground accident. While none of them really feel that they are need of each other’s company in the beginning, their friendships start to form and they face the true test of its value when their difficult personal lives begin to break through its protective barrier.
The combination of Dinklage, Cannavale, and Clarkson seems like an odd set on paper, and it does turn out to be equally as odd on film, but their chemistry is absolutely undeniable. The writers did seem to take the old saying that “opposites attract” and it couldn’t prove to me more accurate than this. The sweet moments and the comedy work well together, and when the drama really does start to push through in the 3rd Act, you find yourself gripping on to these characters and hoping things do not permanently fall apart.
Yeah, that’s really all there is to this one. It’s a touching 89 minute film that packs plenty of emotion and personality into its runtime, and keeps away any unnecessary melodramatics to keep the story in a relatable perspective. I highly enjoyed this one and would easily urge you to give it a look.
“The Station Agent”: Recommended!

“Thanks for Sharing” (2013) By Tyler Wanek

"Feelings are like kids. You don't want them driving the car, but you don't want to stuff them in the trunk, either."
“Thanks for Sharing” (2013):



It’s difficult to find a romantic comedy that can sincerely take you by surprise, probably because the genre has been known to follow the same formula, more or less, for the last two decades or so with few exceptions. Going into “Thanks for Sharing”, I knew that the plot dealt with three different men - played by Mark Ruffalo, Josh Gad, and Tim Robbins, respectively - that have been or are trying to become sober from each’s sex addiction, and my expectations were that romance would be mixed in one way or another because it always does in these movies. Whatever - I’m a fan of the majority of the lead cast, and the trailer looked like it would be interesting enough to give it a fair shot. Most importantly, it doesn’t star Matthew McConaughey, so how bad could it be?
I wouldn’t say that “Thanks” was one of those aforementioned exceptions, however, it did end up playing out mostly different than I expected it to and I found the film that much more enjoyable because of it. For one, it’s not really a romantic comedy at all. There are a few cute moments in the early running, but there’s hardly any romance to speak about. Secondly, if I were to be completely honest, there really wasn’t even that much comedy, and I don’t mean that it tried to be funny and failed outright, but the humorous moments were simply that – moments. The humor in question is darker in nature than the trailers or even the damn poster art would imply. No, “Thanks for Sharing” plays more as a drama about the weight of addiction and its adverse effects on life and relationships with some light-hearted moments placed here and there as a relief.
Not only did the filmmakers do a good job of making the story and characters believable, but making a movie like this on a more serious note was a smart decision. Why? The masses still seem to be divided on what constitutes a real addiction and what doesn’t. Hell, the script introduces that doubt in a bit of dialogue between Ruffalo and Paltrow’s characters in regards to “sex addiction” being nothing more than an elaborate excuse for bad behavior. Keeping that in mind, while “Thanks” hardly felt like a soapbox platform in support of sex addiction being a real disease, at the same time, if it had tried to be a straight-forward comedy there’s no way the impressive 3rd Act would have been nearly as poignant and effective as it turned out.
Undoubtedly, without giving any spoilers, the film does ultimately end in the same predictable way even if it took a more emotionally complex road to get there. Since that was the case, though, I can respect it for the all the effort that it put in. Besides, there are not many ways you can end a movie like this anyway; I mean, sure, you could end it on a dour note where all the characters end up in a heap following their own set of trainwrecks, but to do so would be overly melodramatic and a sort of betrayal to the world the story sets itself up for in the opening scenes. There are a few jokes that don’t quite land as well, for example, no matter how innocent it’s made out to be, trying to crack a joke when attempting to rescue a young woman after she swallowed a bottle of pills is awkward and slightly tasteless.
Be that as it may, any complaints I would are few and far between and do not hamper the rhythm of “Thanks” in any detrimental way. The actors involved additionally do not exactly put their best *whole* foot forward, but they do buy into their roles enough to be relatable and human, and truly, that’s what is most important in a character-driven drama. My official diagnosis would be that the film is imperfect, and yet, in a way, is a faithful reflection of its characters and I can get behind the subtle value of that.
“Thanks for Sharing”: Recommended.

“Sharknado” (2013) By Tyler Wanek

“Storm's dying down.”
“How can you tell?”
“Not as many sharks flying around.”
“Sharknado” (2013):




Humor me for a few moments here.
It’s a well-known fact at this point that the Syfy channel either creates or syndicates some of thee most terribly executed sci-fi and horror films in the history of modern cinema. From the special effects, editing, direction, acting, so on and so forth – if Syfy is labeled on the final product - it’s probably bad; and yet, despite of all that, they continue to thrive and make new features on a regular basis. However, when stopping to think about those things, that’s not really what is most intriguing about Syfy’s success because that part is fairly obvious: The network (or sub-network, as it were) would not be able to continue in such a way if they weren’t getting the necessary viewership; so, in other words, people are eating this stuff up. Sure, why not? After all, how could curiosities not be piqued with some of the obscure titles that Syfy throws out there for us to, er, “digest” as best as possible? And it’s not like the studio is oblivious to their product at his point. If an angry cinema lover wrote a heated letter to the CEO exclaiming that “Your movies suck!”, it’s doubtful that NBC/Syfy will jolt up saying “Jesus Christ on a crumpet! Why did no one tell us?!”
But I digress.
No, what fascinates me is the “why” for which viewers are continuously adding fuel to this fire. My thoughts are that, regardless of the quote/unquote “quality” of films that Syfy makes, I would also argue in defense of Syfy that they have some of the most imaginative productions out there today. Think about it: Movie-goers love creature features – always have, always will. Nevertheless, mainstream Hollywood has not been able to make any worth a damn beyond about the 1980s (sans “Pacific Rim”). To be brutally honest, the closest attempts at passible that have been created are a par and sub-par look at Godzilla (and no, I’m not counting “Deep Blue Sea” or “Snakes on a Plane” as they would have been appropriate for the Syfy channel).
Take the subject matter of “Sharknado” as an example. Whether it’s in a swimming pool, bathtub, or wherever else, this is the kind of stuff that 10 to 12-year-old kids dream up with their shark toys. “A hurricane sucks up some sharks…*whoa!*...then a big tornado blows them all over the city and they eat people…*blahhh!*…What do we do?? I know! Throw a bomb into the tornado…*BOOM!*” A little simplified, but the idea still stands because I was one of those kids. Hell, I’m not taking any claims here, but the concept of “Sharknado” sounds like something I would have conjured up when I was bored one summer afternoon. Same thing could be said for others, like “Sharktopus”, “Ghost Shark”, “Two-Headed Shark Attack”, blah blah blah. Dare I say it, but Syfy could be responsible for capturing our, gulp, childhood nostalgia.
Typically, I give a brief rundown of the film’s synopsis/plot in my reviews, but I pretty much just did, so why do it again? I’m a little bit behind the curve for this series as it is, so it’s highly likely that anyone that did get lured in by a title as outlandish as “Sharknado” has already watched it. From my own perspective, I’ll admit it, I had fun watching this; probably more than I should have, but like I said, it brought back memories even if my imagination put this production to shame. Sure, it looks like it was shot, edited, and printed in about 4 hours, and holy crap, can you ever tell (hey, I never said a 12-year-old’s imagination translated to the big screen). Though, in the same breath, as easy as it would be to burn this movie while insulting its mother – why bother? I’ve read and watched multiple reviews online of individuals bashing the life out of “Sharknado”, and my general response was, “Really?” You and I both knew what we were getting into from miles away. I can understand not liking it, that’s another thing entirely, but to scathe it just tells me that you watch the wrong channel looking for quality.
All of that being said, I believe I’ve easily gotten my fill of this particular feast. It was plenty fine for a nonsensical Saturday evening spent hiding from the heat, but I think I will avoid seeing either “Sharknado 2” or “Sharknado 3”. Same stuff/new location won’t really do it for me.
“Sharknado”: Sure, what the heck? I’ll recommend it for a good laugh.

“Rules of Engagement” (2000) BY Tyler Wanek

Yes they had weapons! You think there's a script for fighting a war without pissing somebody off? Follow the rules and nobody gets hurt? Yes, innocent people probably died. Innocent people always die but I did not exceed my orders."
“Rules of Engagement” (2000):


While not as particularly iconic as some of the films cut from the same cloth as in, say, “A Few Good Men”, “Rules of Engagement” manages to be a compelling drama that I cannot help but feel was buried in the rubble of 9/11. The film had already been negated by a majority of mainstream critics due to accusations of being “anti-Islam” because of the slaughter of over 80 Yemenites in the film, and the events that followed a year after its release obviously did not help its case. Director William Friedkin rebutted those claims by saying that “Rules” was anti-terrorism, not anti-Islam, and whether or not he was entirely successful in that goal, I’ll touch on a little bit later.
The story of the film revolves around Col. Terry Childers (Samuel L. Jackson), whom is tasked to take a security squad of Marines to the U.S. Embassy in Yemen to possibly evacuate the Ambassador (Ben Kingsley) after a large Yemenite protest gathers outside the Embassy’s doors. Expectantly, after the U.S. Marines arrive, the situation escalates between the soldiers and the protestors in the form of outright violence. After Childers gets the Ambassador and his family to safety, he returns to obtain the American flag which ends up costing a few of his men’s lives. Childers then notices that they are not being fired upon by just surrounding snipers, but also radicals from the crowd. Now that he feels his soldiers’ lives are in imminent danger, he gives the order to fire upon the crowd despite the presence of women and children, and the outcome is several dead and even more critically wounded. Seeing how this could have an outstandingly negative effect on the U.S.’s stance with Middle Eastern countries, Childers is put to trial for murder with the possible consequence of the death penalty. Childers recruits his retired military colleague and friend, Col. Hays Lawrence (Tommy Lee Jones), to represent him in the consequent trial proceedings to help prove his innocence.
The film generally focuses on its plot in more broad strokes than minor detailed ones. A decorated war hero does what he has to do to protect his men under fire, and the U.S. government goes out of its way to burn him at the stake to protect its own interests. That being said, there’s not much of anything to read between the lines here; the film promptly expects you to absorb the dramatic efforts of Jones and Jackson, and I would say that it succeeds in this manner. More of a fault to the character and his circumstances than the actor playing him, the role of Childers does feel undoubtedly like familiar turf for Jackson as his plight mirrors almost identically to his role in “The Negotiator” (1998), all the way down to his corrupt opposition. I additionally had difficulty buying into Guy Pearce’s representation of Major Mark Biggs, the trial’s prosecutor. I typically enjoy his work as an actor, but, I don’t know, something about this one and his New England accent felt a little disappointingly plastic to me.
All in all, though, the film does flow in typical Friedkin fashion, and the shallow depth of the film’s material notwithstanding, “Rules” does create enough sound enjoyment to sell to the audience. I don’t honestly think the accusations toward Friedkin that the film is “anti-Islamic” where justified either – completely. The plot does shine some negative lights on both sides of the fence, but when it comes to final weight on the scale, there’s still that discomfort that “America wins and you guys deserved what you got.”
Nevertheless, “Rules” does mark a strong comeback for Director Friedkin after a lengthy absence from what he does best, and really filmmaking in general. I was sold on the lead cast regardless, and even then my expectations were lower than usual; still, I did hope the film would keep me captivated and it did provide that much.
“Rules of Engagement”: Recommended.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

A Ranking On Elm Street by Kevin Bechaz

  

 

 

I recently had the good fortune of joining the team over at 'How is this movie?', where the site's founder Dana Buckler dedicated an episode of his podcast to the 'Nightmare on Elm Street' series. It was only an hour long but quality-wise, I put right it up there with the documentary feature, 'Never Sleep Again' from 2010. Today I want to offer my two cents, so I've decided to rank the controversial franchise to my personal preference. However just the original seven films, I won't be venturing into the land of cross-overs and remakes. This may not be the most interesting order, but hopefully some of my opinions will make it stand out. 

One, two, Freddy's coming for you...

1. A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)
One of the few horror films in cinema history that you don't actually have to see to be frightened of. The idea alone is absolutely terrifying, which is exactly what kept me away as a child for so many years. The introduction of Freddy Krueger to film audiences went far beyond simply watching a bogeyman terrorising a bunch of kids, it was what he symbolised. Freddy represents abuse and neglect, particularly that suffered by children. He is also the embodiment of resentment held towards the younger generation. He's an intruder; an ugly stain on society that's forever present in our psyche. Look closer, 'A Nightmare on Elm Street' is no ordinary slasher movie.

2. A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (1987)
This is the sequel that got it right. The screenplay by Chuck Russell and Frank Darabont is dark, creative and most importantly true the original story. Not to mention the cast of diverse characters who are without a doubt one of the main reasons why the film was so successful. In addition, Freddy himself is terrifically enhanced with a touch of dark humour and improvised dialogue, impressively on Robert Englund's part. My one gripe with 'Dream Warriors; is Heather Langenkamp, who's acting I've never been a fan of. Now while it was great to see her reprise the role of Nancy, her performance however was terrible. That aside, this was once a film I could watch on repeat.  

Three, four, Better lock your door...

3. A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (1985)
Not only an underrated sequel but unconventional in regards to the casting of a male in a role that is usually reserved for women. Despite the film being an obvious rush-job there's some interesting things going on; such as a sexual subtext to the script, portraying Freddy as being symbolic of subconscious fears and sexual repression. This first sequel in the series has some genuinely scary moments, it's fun to analyse and it works well as a stand-alone film. 

4. Wes Craven's New Nightmare (1994)
You have to give this one points for originality, I mean it's a pretty cool idea. The fictional world of horror seeping it's way into our every day reality; it's scary. Now I wouldn't really call myself a fan of 'New Nightmare', although I have watched it a number of times. I like really the commentary on the reflection of horror films on society and we're given a much darker version of Freddy. Also I should add that Heather Langenkamp does give a better performance this time round. However it is a little boring and the countless clips and references to the original just make me want to go back and watch it, which I find very distracting. It's an ambitious film none the less and one that well worth watching at least once.  
  
Five, six, grab a crucifix...
5. A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988)
By this point Freddy was practically a cash register, all New Line Cinema had to do was ring the bell. However this was sadly when the wheels fell off in my opinion. Style over substance to had taken over and Freddy had made the transition from killer to clown. You know a sequel is off to a horrid start when the remaining 'Dream Warriors' quickly meet their demise. The new characters are mixture of bland and annoying. The acting is bad and while their are some cool special effects the plot is wafer thin. Overall it's watchable, but that's it.   

6. A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989)
There's not a lot I have to say about this one. I like the Gothic visual style and as always, Robert Englund as Freddy gives it his all despite the less than poor material. Overall it's a very disposable sequel with a ludicrous concept, consisting mostly of random sequences of mindless special effects wizardry. Unless you're a completist, I wouldn't bother with this one at all. 

Seven, eight, Gonna stay up late...


7. Freddy's Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)
What can I say, it's absolute rubbish on every level imaginable. It's so far removed from the original film and the earlier sequels that it's barely recognisable. You could easily be forgiven for mistaking 'Freddy's Dead' for a 'Looney Tunes' short. I'm not exaggerating, there's one scene in particular where Freddy is basically Wile E. Coyote. If you're watching the film with a group of friends there's some obvious enjoyment to be had, but on your own, just forget it. I recall the tagline in the theatrical trailer being "We saved the best for last." No you didn't. 
   
Nine, ten, Never sleep again....


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