Thursday, March 28, 2013

Cloud Atlas

  As a character proclaims in the movie at one point, "I will not be subjected to criminal abuse!", I wish the movie itself could say the same thing to the legions of haters it's garnered. It's fundamentally stunning how much hate this movie has gotten. I haven't bothered eyeing any critic's take on it beyond Roger Ebert, but around the web, people are saying this movie is crap. I secretly wonder to myself if that person is a 14 year old prepubescent boy who adores Michael Bay's Transformers movies. If that's the kind of audience that's hating this movie...  then we know this one must be good.

  Good, however is a hard term to slap onto this movie. It makes a fair share of blunders and such. It's overlong, the first half is sloppily edited, and again the first half struggles to keep you engaged. These are serious issues. For a three hour movie, to not hook you right away is a crime. Because, it'll lose you before it gets to it's selling point. Think of movies as a sales pitch, they have to grab your attention right away, then start telling you why you wanna buy what they're selling. If they don't grab your attention, it's akin to leaving you alone with their product in an empty room. You're waiting for it to be pitched to you. Lots of waiting.

  This is what Cloud Atlas does. It's a great product, but you're not hearing the pitch right away. Regardless, ditching the metaphor for now, there is something about the movie... from the beginning, despite how inert it is, that keeps you wanting to see more. You can't quite describe it either, it's like a subtle hint of greatness. Almost as if the movie is giving you a silent promise that something spectacular lies ahead. Just be patient. Still, being patient is asking alot when the movie feels very inert at first. Like, it doesn't know where it's going with itself.

  You have at least five parallel stories going on, and you cut back and forth between them like you're reading from five different books. A single page from book 1, then a single page from book 4, then a single page from book 2, 3, then 5, 2, 3, 4, 1... on and on. Meanwhile, someone is leaning over your shoulder, promising you they're all connected somehow. Sometimes these transitions are smooth and provides a glimpse at that aforementioned 'greatness', but other time they're just... jarring and unnatural. This can take an already un-sold audience, and alienate them.  So that's rough. Very rough.

  However, the movie seems to find it's footing after the first half or so. The first hour at the very least, so "half" isn't really fair. I think you get my point though. When it does find it's footing, you'd think you'd be privy to some revelatory stuff, still no unfortunately. However, you do see where the movie is taking you, and it looks to be quite promising. By this point, if you can invest your time and attention, I'm personally promising you it'll be worth it. The movie struggles through the first hour, but pulls itself together and finally captured my attention. I wanted to know the outcome of each one of those stories.

  The characters enlivened and the stories became engaging. You get emotionally invested at that point regardless of the tonal and pacing missteps the movie has made so far. You see master filmmaking unfolding, and more hints of greatness. What helps sell this movie past the first dragging hour is the actors. They're fantastic, not a weak link to be found. Weak roles maybe, but even those are performed with gusto, and when you have a single actor playing maybe 5 or 6 different roles they really need to sell the fact that these are indeed separate characters and not just a riff on the same one.

  It works. It works surprisingly well. As an informed movie-watcher, I'm eyeing all the different makeup jobs, and am stunned at how they've transformed a simple enough looking blue collar worker into a brutish looking homicidal thug. It's simply impressive, but only because the actors sell each character as an individual performance. The movie gets really neat when you can actually start picking up on the threads on precisely how these people and events are connected. Which is a MOST central and important theme.

  There is enough in Cloud Atlas to say there is something for everyone. Really. So many movies boast that, and don't deliver. But such is not the case here. There is adventure, romance, drama, comedy, and each story seems to be devoted to it's own brand of each and all of these things. And all this in varied settings from a sailing voyage on the high seas, to the high-tech Tokyo of the future, and a mysterious post apocalyptic world that's even closer than you might suspect. It's wonderful. Amazingly so.

  What's even more impressive is how emotional the outcome feels. It really hits you, which is stunning because you don't think it would. It doesn't seem like a strong enough movie to draw you in, in such a deep way. There's not much to hate about Cloud Atlas in the end, because it ends up being a damn good movie. An experience to behold. It ends up being quite the epic. Keeping an open mind and a clear schedule is key though. It's a long movie that can feel even longer, and sadly, not enough of this runtime feels necessary. It feels like excess that could be trimmed to provide a leaner and more direct movie. At least a good half hour (being generous) feels totally unjustifiable.

  However, this movie is the kind of grand far reaching film that I love to call a 'motion picture'. It's epic in a way that few movies even try to be. Thus, even though it stumbles a bit, I love it for what it is and what it was reaching for all along. Movies like this need to be embraced because we sorely need more like them. The uniqueness and creativity alone ensures a must see experience. But misleading expectations are alienating audiences and this is very sad to me.

  I love Cloud Atlas. From the gorgeous visuals, to the unconventional storytelling, even if it is painful at times, to the absolutely beautiful score, this movie is amazing. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and hardly "great", but amazing for sure. Damn good flick that flirts with greatness. For my money, this is better than any stale, dead on arrival, Hollywood tripe any day of the week.

This movie should NOT be subjected to criminal abuse.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Baytown Outlaws

  Every so often, a movie comes along, out of the blue- one that you did not know about -and completely surprises you. The Baytown Outlaws, is one of those movies. I hadn't seen a poster, a trailer, nor a single shred of news about this little gem until this same day. (Well... technically yesterday, but I'm a night owl so, that's how it is.) I got my hands on it pronto and watched it straightaway, and boy am I glad I saw it.

  I'll pretty much flock to any bloodbath of a movie with grizzled good guys, vile bad guys, and loads of big guns between them.  And... that is what The Baytown Outlaws is. However, it is also more...
I'll say right now, this movie has heart. It was entirely unexpected, because it could've been perfectly enjoyable without any emotions to it too. Only because it's that type of movie. It could've been a soulless wrecking ball of southern catastrophe without a single thoughtful moment in sight, so long as it was fast, bloody, and not bullshitty (we'll get to "bullshitty" in a bit). However, what's wonderful about this flick, is that it decides to grow a heart halfway through.

  Which in some more unfortunate cases can ruin a movie. Not that heart itself can ruin a movie, but when a ballsy gritty action flick, turns on a dime and the mood and tone and everything shift dramatically... it can be more than jarring. It can alienate your audience.

  Fortunately, the tone shift in this movie was well worked up to and actually adds to the proceedings rather than jarringly alter or detract from them. The enjoyment factor of this flick is not hampered by the emotional turn it takes in the third act. Mind you, it's not like... tear jerking emotions, but it's more heart and story than a movie like this could be expected to have. It's so effective too, it's awesome.  Now, about how a movie like this can be bullshitty; it's like when... you have good action, but it's marred by shaky camera work. Or good action pared with a story so stupid it's beyond redemption. Or when the premise promises lots of action and shooting and you get... nearly none. (see: Max Payne)
That's "bullshitty", and this movie ain't it.

  Cutting to the chase, this little caper is about these three redneck, mercenary brothers hired by a lady to rescue her son from her evil drug dealer ex-husband. Firstly, that's a great setup. No matter who you are, or where you're from- that sounds like an ass-kicking good time. Secondly, the brothers have a fantastic on-screen dynamic and their chemistry is wonderful. Which is why I also have ease in comparing it to The Boondock Saints. Another hyper-violent vigilante movie with brothers as protagonists.  The differences are endless, but I'm reflecting mostly on the brothers' dynamic and chemistry. Both movies have it in spades. Say what you will about the Saints, but Sean Patrick Flannery and Norman Reedus were awesome together.

  Just like the dudes in this flick. Awesome. Awesome. I love watching them do their thing, with a franchise's worth of potential in-jokes and unique quirks, this trio of redneck badasses single-(or should I say triple?)-handedly made the movie for me. As badass and strapped to the teeth with guns as they are, there's also something endearing about them. They're certainly not the creepy kind of bayou recluses that only come out of hibernation to kill things and intimidate people. They're brothers, and they act like it. They have personalities, not thousand yard stares.

  All this and what seems like a -total- lack of cgi, and you've got a winner. The shootouts are intense and bloody, the movie is a big ball of bullet-riddled fun, and there's not too much to complain about. I'm outright shocked this hasn't gotten more attention. Or maybe it has and I'm the recluse. Who knows. Either way, I recommend it. Fully.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Church

  Being a fan of completely weird movies with lots of atmosphere, The Church (a.k.a. La Chiesa) is one I'm surprised I haven't seen alot sooner. From the same minds that brought you Demons, comes this little slice of  strangeness. With a healthy dose of warped imagery and plenty of gore, you can tell right now if this is going to be up your alley or not. If it is, and you want further convincing, read on.

  Starting in the days of the Templars, with knights, and bad dudes on horseback, we see a horrible tragedy up close. A whole village of families slaughtered in a hunt for a single witch. These types of things generally spawn a bit of unrest... with some vengeful spirits and grudge curses. The perfect fodder for movies like this. Anyway, one day people decided they needed to build a church obviously. So they built a big cathedral right over the spot of that horrible atrocity...
Cause... you know... that makes sense. Well, it did to someone anyways. However, despite it's weighty premise and graphic brutality, it's not long before you realize the movie is just a show. It's all about smoke and mirrors so to speak. It doesn't attempt to live up to the stage it's set for itself with anything... I dunno, important? Thoughtful? Instead, it traps a bunch a people in the cathedral once the curse or whatever is unleashed and people start dying. One by one.

  If this sounds familiar... it's because it's the generic setup for any cookie cutter horror movie.  Fortunately The Church rises above mediocrity with fantastic effects and a properly nightmarish tone throughout that few movies achieve with such effectiveness. However, suffice it to say, if you're looking for anything intellectual here, the best you can do is read into the disturbing imagery. That's about it. Characters are creepy, they creep around, doing creepy things. Being generally...creepy. There's also a girl and her family who work at the cathedral. They're kinda weird too. Oh, and then there's a priest, a young(ish) black man, who practices archery in his spare time. You'd think that'd come into play when it becomes obvious that he's the hero. Despite being the one person with the least amount of screentime...

But, no. It never does. He gets a vision or something while practicing, but that's it. He (spoilers?) "saves" the day without utilizing any of his archery prowess. I call bullshit. If you're going to set us up for something amazing like that, and then not deliver? I'll take the karate-chopping priest from Dead Alive over this psuedo-Denzel Washington any day.

  In movies like this, because they're alot more shallow than they'd like you to believe, most of the effort goes into giving you a good show. Good special effects, lots of gore, some T&A, et cetera. It's because of this that I can't believe they passed up the chance to have the priest save the day with a bow and arrow. It would've made about as much sense as the rest of the damn movie.  Having said that, the rest of the damn movie, is actually worth the watch if you're into this kinda thing. The imagery and special effects lend themselves nicely to the unsettling and disturbing tone of the movie. It's all really really well done and as far as these types of shallow yet religious horror movies go... this is one of the best I've seen. They almost got the balance right. And I'll say right now, it's a damn sight better than The Keep.

  All in all, I loved it. It was unsettling, the special effects were great, the imagery was great. That is about all I expected from it. It's the kind of movie that would fuel those nightmares you get that also seem like great ideas for horror movies. In fact, if you think about that, this might've been one of those nightmare-inspired movies to begin with. It's simple enough, with a decent framework, yet vague and creepy enough that it feels like a bad dream. A good bad dream at that. If that makes any kind of sense. It's full of morbidly intriguing things and sights that draw people to movies like this. People wanna see this stuff up close, so long as they're on the other side of the screen, safe and sound. Few movies show you these things this up close, for whatever reason they don't, this movie isn't concerned with that. Bring on the blood and satanic rams' heads. The Church is where it's at.