Day: July 15, 2010

Fear Thy Neighbor: Review for The Crazies

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I’ve talked about the idea of claustrophobia in films and how it enhances suspense several times in my reviews of horror and suspense movies. But, what if the fear of the unknown is actually in a wide open space, and you have more to fear about the people you actually know than the monsters you don’t? That’s the main question in The Crazies, a remake of the George A. Romero film from 1973 about a small town that is at the mercy of a pandemic and the government trying to contain it. As usual, four words apply here: All Hell breaks loose.

Romero was knowingly making a political statement in his original film. It was about the government’s responsibility and handling of serious issues shortly after Vietnam, and director Breck Eisner thought it was still relevant today. The idea of a government that, when Plan A goes wrong thinks Plan B is total destruction isn’t that far-fetched. Constantly, the cast and crew brought up H1N1 and how the government controlled that. In their minds, they thought, How different could this have been?

Timothy Olyphant plays a sheriff in a tiny town in Iowa called Ogden Marsh, a few miles away from Cedar Rapids. The population is 1,260 people. When he’s forced to shoot one man who’s acting, for lack of a better word, crazy, strange things start happening. Three hunters find a plane sunken in a marsh in town, which has contaminated the water with a biochemical. And then the government steps in. They try to sequester the healthy and quarantine the sickos. It’s a rough ride, as the crazies escape and wreak havoc on the army, forcing them to retreat and then go to plan B: total destruction.

The film is successful in scaring the bejesus out of you, using suspense, horror, and fresh spins on old clichés. The monsters themselves are scary enough, frankly because they aren’t monsters at all. They’re the people we know. The glassy stares penetrate the viewer, and the make-up, expertly created by Almost Human Studios, is so realistic. It’s not horrifying in the way that most zombie thrillers are, or as terribly grotesque, but normal, to an extent. Normal, for one who has caught a horrid virus. The veins pop, the eyes bulge, and it means you’re going to die.

The commentary that the movie offers is a stunning one in a way. What if this did happen? How would our government respond? How quickly could they contain it? Would they go to plan B if they really had to? Well, on that last question, I doubt it, but the idea of it is scary enough. The film starts quickly and never really lets up, giving the overall film a fast and exciting pace. From the second Sheriff David has to shot the crazy old man with the shotgun, you’re on the edge of your seat, anticipating the next phase.

I think that one of the most interesting aspects of the film isn’t the government commentary, rather the idea of not being able to trust the people around you. It’s a tiny town, and everyone knows everyone’s secret. And then to discover that your neighbor is going berserk, when you thought you knew him or her? Isn’t that horrifying? When they’re all around you, sometimes its scarier knowing your attackers than not knowing them. When the enemy is someone you don’t know, the kill is objective, just as much as the fear. But when you know the person well, added to that fear is shock, and a doubt in one’s mind, questioning why someone you knew is doing this. That aspect to me is quite fascinating.

There are, sadly, a few really stupid moments. By stupid, I mean David’s wife goes wandering when she should stay the hell where she is. And she does this a whopping three times throughout the film. This, as well as a few other stupid moments where characters act foolishly, causing the viewer to yell at the scree like a stereotypical black person. But, luckily, it does not mar the overall impression of the film.

I’m not a fan of remakes usually, but here again is proof that one can do it well. In order for it to be a good remake, you have to add something new and fresh to the film and add something that’s unique while still honoring the original source and this film does it. New scare tactics, same story. Sure, this isn’t the first time this story has been brought to the screen or the first time it’s been done well, but it is unique in how scary it is. 28 Weeks Later is very much a similar film, but it wasn’t as scary. It hit more heart strings than adrenal neurons. This is a great horror film; it’s psychologically complex, scary as all hell and well done. One of the scariest thrillers since The Silence of the Lambs. Truly fantastic!

Grade: A-

A Fine Bromance: Review for I Love You, Man

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Paul Rudd plays Peter Klaven, a straight arrow nice guy. By that, one means that he’s more of a girlfriend guy, and has always made his relationships priority in his life. Yet, he has no male friends. When he proposes to his girlfriend (Rashida Jones), he finds that lacking friends may be hazardous to his relationship. Built as a slightly unorthodox buddy comedy, I Love You, Man actually scores with viewers. Jason Segel plays Peter’s newfound friend, and future best man, Sidney Fife. Sidney is like a male version of my best friend Emily Bramande: blunt, honest, funny, fun loving, but very intuitive, and very smart.

The strongest part of the film is probably the performances, making both nice guy Peter and loose cannon Sidney believable. Paul Rudd is really good at playing the nice guy, having played Phoebe Buffay’s (Lisa Kudrow) husband, Mike on Friends for two seasons and also playing similar nice guy roles in Knocked Up and Role Models. Jason Segel, who tends to play nice guys as well in things like Freaks and Geeks and How I Met Your Mother, turns up the raunch factor significantly, almost to an uncomfortable level for some viewers. But, for those of whom who can handle it, all is fine.

Awkward humor is often hard to do, because it either comes off stupid, rude, or crass. Timing is essential to it, like with most forms of comedy. Two series have perfected the art of awkward humor; The Office with Steve Carell as a crass boss of a paper supply company, and Arrested Development, a show about one man and his family and how he had to keep them all together. What do these two shows have in common? They’re both, as they say, mockumetaries, meaning fake documentaries. Awkward humor works with this genre because a mockumentary, like a documentary, is supposed to capture and record spontaneous moments. In a scripted sitcom, awkward comedy fails because you have to give the audience time to get it. On sight gags, silences after someone mispronounces something; these are highlights of how awkward humor works.

Oddly enough, this scripted, un-mockumentary styled film, the awkward humor works splendidly. Peter uses old phraseology that you would be hard put to find a 60 year old using. He uses it on the phone calling Sidney, and leaves a message, and the audience is left to either stare blankly or laugh hilariously. It works, as I laughed quite uproariously.

The idea of bromance is handled well, as you begin with a man with no friends and a fiancée, then a man with one best friend and a slightly put off fiancée, and then a man with a best friend and no fiancée. Oh, this is much like real life, where the girlfriend feels left out and like you’re not spending enough time with her. But, it gets better, certainly less annoying than it sounds.

I Love You, Man could be called a celebration of guy friends, and not only does it boast a stellar leading cast, it has fantastic supporting cast members as well. Jamie Kennedy, JK Simmons, Jane Curtain, and Andy Samberg also star, along with the Incredible Hulk himself, Lou Ferigno. A bright comedy that makes lowbrow seem highbrow again, I Love You, Man is a must!

Grade; B+

Meet Jim Carrey, See Him Do Satire: Jim Carrey in The Truman Show and Fun with Dick and Jane

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Probably one of the most recognizable things about Jim Carrey is his face. It’s jello or pudding and he can shape it any way he wants to. He has a lot of expression in tin a story that

serves up his character as more than a “funny guy with a funny face”, that guy and that face can actually make the whole movie better, funnier, and more touching. That face, with those big eyes, huge teeth, and bizarre grin. When it’s put to good use

Meet Truman Burbank. He leads a nice life. He has a perfect wife. He has a boring, but nice job. He’s also a TV star. And he doesn’t even know it. Adopted by a major corporation at birth (or, rather, before birth), he has had his life filmed ever since he came through the birth canal. He, Truman Burbank, is the star of the hit reality series The Truman Show, which broadcasts 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. But what is he really? Of course, he is a representation and commentary on our voyeuristic tendencies, watching stupid reality shows and whatnot. It’s not the first media piece that’s illustrated with our voyeuristic lust while combining a sense of drama and mystery. One of the first to do it, was, of course The Twilight Zone, the alternate universe series that brought new stories of mystery and suspense to your living room. The difference between the two: more concise plot lines, twists, and only a 46 minute running time (that usually had two stories). That may be the only real problem with The Truman Show: it’s too long. The cast is excellent, featuring lovely and esteemed actress Laura Linney as Truman’s fake wife. The eventual comprehension that Truman is living some sort of lie takes too long and becomes too unrealistic. But its strong point is the touching lead, Jim Carrey, making his comedic chops and giving his character a little something more.

And now meet Dick Harper. He leads a very nice life. He works at a big corporation. He has a great wife and a wonderful son. He drives a BMW. Watch him as he tries to save himself and his family from the burning and towering inferno that is his CEO’s move to do some insider trading. A contemporary update of the 1978 film with Jane Fonda and George Segal about a couple who loses their income and resorts to crime, this version has been updated for the Enron generation. But, with the bailouts on Wall Street in the recent past, the film seems as relevant as ever. Carrey again takes the lead, helped by his wife Jane, wonderfully played by Tea Leoni, making just as many funny faces, quick one lines, and perfectly balancing out the film next to Carrey’s manic personality. The film starts out well, but when the Harper’s lose their income and start robbing, the film turns into a series of funny/cute series of vignettes. Overall, the little vignettes mean very little, but, by the end of the film, they’re sewn together to make a very funny, culturally relevant film. Corruption, for some reason, is very funny.

Jim Carrey is wacky and his most used asset is his face. That wacky and kooky look e gets when he’s on a roll is priceless. His face is his claim to fame. But, much more than that, he can be dramatic, emotional, and touching, such as a man who’s been the subject of a television experiment and has never discovered the real world. He can also be just as touching, but hilarious, like as the VP of Communications of a failing corporation in corporate America. Both films are brilliant in their own way; one as a drama, the other as a comedy, but both as statements, commentaries and representations of Americans.

The Truman Show: B+

Fun with Dick and Jane: B+