Thursday, May 28, 2009

And now we present a new entry type we like to call:

Where in The Reel Deal gives abridged reviews of movies recently released on DVD.

Today's episodes:  The Uninvited, and Rachel Getting Married

The Uninvited
While this movie was still in theaters I had a conversation with a friend of mine about how it looked like it was packing more of a punch than the trailers really conveyed- it turns out we were right.
Unbeknownst to me when I watched it, The Uninvited is actually a remake of the Korea's highest grossing ever horror movie.  I've yet to see the original, but if it's offspring is any indication, I think I understand why it drew so many movie-goers.
The dysfunctional family at the center of the film is cast spot on, and rather attractively I might add,  but it's Aussie actress Emily Browning (Stranded) who ends up with the most gold stars.  She tugs at the heart strings as evil step-mom Elizabeth Banks (Zack and Miri Make a Porno) stays one-step ahead of her at every turn.  Banks's character can seem a little over the top at times, but in a movie told from the perspective of a girl who thinks she's the devil that makes sense.  
Pacing is another thing that really caught my attention about this movie.  It starts strong and doesn't lay off- an important factor in horror/thriller- but does so without having to stiff arm the audience into keeping up.
In the interest of expediency, INSTANT CASSETTE is going to have a very basic rating system, which I shall now explain:  Queue it?  Or don't do it?  Is the aforementioned movie worth my valuable Netflix Queue space?  OR would that space be better relegated to those Star Trek: Deep Space 9 volumes I've been eyeing?  Make sense?  Excellent.
The verdict on The Uninvited?
Queue it.  Definitely Queue it.  But watch it with someone to discuss it afterward.
Rachel Getting Married
...Okay so the truth is nothing really jumps to mind about Rachel Getting Married, which I think says a lot about my feelings on it.  It was watched back to back with The Uninvited, and definitely couldn't live up.  As emotional as the subject matter is- I never really felt like I connected to the story or it's characters.  Anne Hathaway (Passengers) gives a valiant effort, but comes up empty for me. 

The documentary style filming seems like it should draw you in, but somehow ended up pulling of the story time and time again.  The same could be said for the interesting yet ineffective approach to the background music, which exists entirely within the story.   I'm a stickler for soundtracks- I can admit that- so maybe I'm being a bit harsh... but even so I didn't feel it.

  This movie wanted to be all those buzz words that people throw around when they try to explain something feeling genuine: "Raw" and "Real" and "Visceral" etc.  But in the end the whole thing just felt a bit labored.  Even a good story can't bring you back when there's this much working against


  Watcher X says:  "I didn't like the shaky camera." 


  So, Queue it or Don't do it?

  I have to say don't do it.  Watch SherryBaby instead.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Next Day Air

"That was some of the best flying I've seen to date- right up to the part where you got killed."

Two grade- F crooks are accidently delivered a small fortune in grade- A cocaine by a less than ambitious delivery man. Now all three are unknowingly and inexplicably bound to the rightful receivers, the rightful owners, and the would-be buyers.

I'm always up for a good crime movie. Especially modern ones: Usual Suspects, Smokin' Aces, Layer Cake, with their slick cinematography and ever-quirky characters. But my favorite part of the crime movie will always be... well let's come back to that.
Next Day Air's strongest asset is it's cast. From the bumbling and hilarious Duo of Mike Epps(Something New) and Wood Harris (Remember the Titans), to the smooth Omari Hardwick (Gridiron Gang), who ended giving my favorite performance. As a fan of Scrubs I am pleased to say Donald Faison (Scrubs, like I said) is quite funny alone, but side- splitting when given another cast member to work off i.e. Mos Def (The Woodsman) or his *Ahem* Boss. The Hispanic characters can feel a bit cookie cutter at times, with Yasmin Deliz (A new comer to my library) occasionally pushing a little too hard as the mouthy girlfriend- but neither of these is enough to take you out of the story.
Director Benny Boom makes his feature film debut with NDA, and it's not a terrible first attempt. Before now he was for the most part a music video director, so it's no surprise that the camera work is mostly flat, but punctuated with a few crime-movie-cool money shots. The music, however, deftly fills some of the gaps between the camera candy. It's smooth and full of little hooks to catch your ear, the same way that bass line keeps coming back for you in Ocean's Eleven.
NDA is a simplistic crime movie that works. While the plot is straight forward the story still feels full- the pacing and comedy bring you to the climax without ever leaving you to check your watch. Unfortunately, it's the climax where this movie falters.
My favorite part of any crime movie is the twist at the end. That one in a million way the anti-heroes make their get away. A character you've completely forgotten about comes back to save the day, or that piece to the puzzle you've been looking at the whole movie without realizing it, finally falls into place. They've always got that little thread that keeps you wondering how you missed it as you get in your car and drive home. But Next Day Air has none of these.
The last ten minutes of the movie feel like first time writer Blair Cobbs had written himself into a corner and gone for the age old out: Everyone starts shooting. This could very well be what he'd had in mind all along, but it just didn't seem to jive for me. The fireworks start, and though there are still a couple more good scenes to be had- the movie feels like it's fizzled.
But take heart, all is not lost. Is it a bit of a downer in a movie that felt like it was really gonna do something cool? YES. Is it enough to ruin the overall experience? NO. Ending or no, I am loath to condemn this movie to the "I'd rather spend my money on a bleach and ammonia latte" category. I say grab some friends, some popcorn and the beverage of your choice and prepare to be entertained- just know going in that it won't be a "10".

Thursday, May 21, 2009

So I was on my way to see another movie about John Connor, when a funny thing happened...

Terminator: Salvation

Synopsis:  The grim present of Judgement Day and the war between man and machine has come to pass.  But this is not the future we were told to expect.  A new weapon against the machines, and a man caught between both sides are poised to shift the balance- but for whom?

After three movies (as much as I may wish it was two) about present day battles to save the future, I found myself joyfully anticipating a chance to see that future as present day.  And though I can't say the experience completely undeserving, there were moments when I was left wanting a little more than I got... and moments where I wanted much less.
With Christian Bale (The Prestige) as the renown resistance fighter John Connor, this movie definitely satisfies it's star power quota.  There will be those who say his performance in the role was stiff and unemotional.  And while I can see why they might, I would say that this is the John Connor of the "future".    In previous movies (and a T.V. series I've found myself impressed with) we have seen this character as either an over shadowing phantom, or a young man trying to come to terms with himself.  But Bale's Connor is a grizzled veteran of a war he fears may never end.  I'd say his hardness is to be expected.  What I certainly did not expect, however, was not to care... 
Enter Sam Worthington (Pretty much a new comer on my radar).  Worthington is nothing short of amazing as he avoids all the usual "man torn between two worlds" cliches and serves up easily the best performance in the film.  His character is so well written and acted that after a while Bale seemed to be getting in the way, distracting me from the story I really wanted to see.  Put simply, Worthington steals the show and refuse's to return it.
The beautiful Bryce Howard (The Village) does the best she can as Connor's under-written wife,  but it's Moon Bloodgold (Burn Notice) who shines through as the romantic lead.  Bloodgold evokes I mean memories of all my favorite silver-screen warrior-women.  She mixes sexiness, sensitivity, and down right bad-ass-ory in equal parts.  Though Howard and Bale should be the more compelling couple, It's Bloodgold's characters smartly simplified (if short-lived) romance with Worthington's that stayed with me after I'd left the theater.  
And I guess this is a good place to voice my only major complaint about Terminator Salvation.  The creative team went through all the trouble of introducing new and appealing characters- only to do nothing with them.  There are moments when they had a chance to really shake up the franchise.  Had they, it would have been a true compulsion that brought me to future installments.  As it stands now, I can't promise it won't just be loyalty to the series.
In the end, Terminator Salvation is a blockbuster blueprint.  For fan's of the trilogy, it's all there:  the classic lines, old friends you'd thought you might never see again, even a cameo from a member of the original cast... kind of.  And for new comers, there is a well written and compelling story that requires no prior knowledge, even if it's not the story the writers intended on.  The action is top notch, and the C.G. effects are, of course, spectacular.  So aside from a few plot holes (how does an advanced AI that was hooked into the entire nation's defence grid continually miss a fully loaded resistance air base?) your in for a quality bang for your buck.
I just wish they had had the guts to take the road less traveled.  For all the enjoyment of this movie, I had trouble feeling like it ended in much of a different place than it started.  They spent the entire spring telling us to "forget the past",  I can't help but wonder what would have happened had they taken their own advice.   It would have been a risk, that's for sure.  No one ever wants to deal with pissed off fan-boys,  and Fan-boys certainly get pissed when you mess with their beloved canon's status quo.  But then, if there's anything we've learned from Terminator it's that the future is not set.  There is no fate but what we make.