Sunday, September 12, 2010

Frozen (2010)

At a glance:
Frozen takes a great, simple concept (three people stranded on a chair lift) and squanders it with bickering and plot contrivances

Our review (with spoilers):
There’s nothing like a pure concept movie. And here’s the concept: two bratty skiers and one nice girl bribe their way onto the chairlift rather than pay full price for lift tickets. With time and light running out, they negotiate one last lift ride. The ride operator is called away and forgets all about them, the power is shut off, and the ski resort is closed down on Sunday night, to re-open five days later – and the three people are stranded on the chairlift. That’s it.

Despite being stranded and facing death, these three still find the time to argue incessantly before doing dumb things. There’s the usual angst about the girlfriend ruining the lifelong friendship between two guys. The girl (Emma Bell), very sweet before she gets stranded, proves that she was well cast: her scared yelling voice is extremely annoying. Consequently, the guys urge her to stop yelling. Stop yelling? They are stranded on a chairlift! I’d say yelling is one of few decent options they have left!

The other option is to jump. The boyfriend does this, but does so in a way that his fall is not broken at all. The result? He breaks both his legs (with many shots of the bloody bone protruding from one of them), and is soon surrounded by a pack of wolves and eaten. Yes, wolves. This might be funny if the movie weren’t being irresponsible to propagate this gross demonization of wolves. Wolves have never attacked a human – except, of course, in silly movies.

The boyfriend’s friend and the girlfriend argue, then bond, but despite the cold, they do not huddle close together – and huddling is definitely a good option if stranded in cold weather. Instead, after surviving one night, the guy climbs along the cable, shredding his hands, but somehow, unbelievably, continuing anyway, reaches a pole, climbs down, and ski-boards down the hill, pursued by wolves. He is never seen again, so you can assume the worst.

The girl takes advantage of an unraveling cable to reach the ground. She is confronted by bloody-nosed wolves but they spare her. She crawls to the road and is rescued by a passing motorist. I kept thinking the motorist was going to be a serial killer, but he was just a nice guy driving her to the local hospital. The ending feels a little bit like the idea bin was empty, so time to end the movie.

The film is flawed in so many ways (there isn’t really enough there to fill 90 minutes) and could have been much better, but it’s still fun to watch.

Rating: 2 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"A stuck chairlift just doesn't exert the same primal terror as a roiling sea, and to make up the difference, Green would need a better cast and sharper dialogue than he has here."
- Cliff Doerksen (Chicago Reader)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Wild Hunt (2009)

At a glance:
A role-playing game turns from sincere acting to deadly bloodletting in first time director Alexandre Franchi’s amazing low-budget tale

Our review (with spoilers):
In a universe of cookie cutter genre pics, The Wild Hunt, small budget and all, stands out. It tells a tale of Evelyn (Kaniehtiio Horn), a young woman who breaks up with her boyfriend Eric (Ricky Mabe) and takes part in a LARP (Live Action Role Playing) game with a bunch of guys who seem to be rougher than usual of these sorts of people. She is a Viking queen, the captured wench of Murtagh (Trevor Hayes), a powerful sorcerer. She’s enjoying herself but is also spurning his advances. It’s like a little mini-holiday for her from her more serious, aborted relationship. When Eric goes in search of her and enters the role-playing world in contemporary clothing, he is surrounded by game players and pelted with unending shouts of "decorum!" until he returns to the entrance and dons the proper gear. He’s not exactly an enthusiastic game player still, but he is singularly dedicated to his rescue mission, and he has the help of his enthusiastic LARPer brother, Bjorn (Mark Antony Krupa).

This could have been a light-hearted look at relationships framed within a tame LARP world, but the disruption of the game, combined with a darker side of some of the players, causes the stakes to escalate into life and death. Recited oaths of blood and courage suddenly become real, and the film turns to dark, claustrophobic horror.

I wish I had not known in advance that this film was going to morph from an intense but harmless drama into dark and sporadically violent nightmare. The shock of the change would have been even more intense. As it is, the story at the heart of this tale feels ancient, like a Nordic war fable, and the resolution, though violent, just feels so right. It’s been a long time since pure eye-for-an-eye has made me feel so good inside. The film is far from perfect – Krupa, although good, is sometimes just a bit over the top – but the acting generally is at an extremely high level for a low budget film (partial credit for this must go to director Alexandre Franchi - whenever you see an entire cast of newcomer actors performing at a high level, that usually means someone is helping to ensure this) and this superior acting made the personal stories stay with me long after the credits rolled. Franchi, please do more!

Rating: 3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"First-time feature filmmaker Alexandre Franchi shoots the outdoors amazingly claustrophobically — an almost-oxymoric effect that contributes to the unsettling atmosphere of The Wild Hunt."
- Jim Slotek (Jam! Movies)

Monday, September 6, 2010

The Joneses (2009)

At a glance:
Consumer culture is skewered in this fabled love story about an unusual family dedicated to getting their acquaintances to buy

Our review (with spoilers):
An affluent suburb in Somewhere, America, has just received a new resident family moving in. Steve and Kate Jones (David Duchovny and Demi Moore) and their two high school aged kids are comely, happy, friendly, and have all the latest clothes, accessories, furnishings, gadgets, and cars – and don’t mind showing them off. They seem to get just a little more chuffed when people they mix with buy the same items they are flaunting. What’s going on here? Is this just normal viral consumerism, or is it something more?

The Joneses’ script relies on one big important secret, and the reveal used to hint at the secret involves the daughter and is quite ingenious – and perverse. And the Joneses success or failure as a film relies on the acquired taste of Duchovny’s underplayed desire for love and family. It works for me, especially when it is balanced by Moore’s similarly underplayed desires. On the surface, she’s all – or mostly – business. But her eyes tell a different story. Both of these people can act. And Duchovny’s easygoing charm perfectly offsets Moore’s slowly eroding ambition.

This latter day Duchovny reminds me more and more of a good friend of mine from my bowling days, Ron Wagner. Ron has the same easygoing charm and nonchalant attitude about almost everything, punctuated by bursts of enthusiasm. Like Duchovny’s Steve Jones, Ron also would have found his enthusiasm stoked by Demi Moore, whose looks and confidence are appealing.

Rating:  3 of 4

Other reviewers said:
"Moore looks fabulous in a role that plays to her strengths as a feisty, independent woman, and she generates on-screen heat with Duchovny to make the conventional happy ending easier to swallow."
- Catherine Jones (Liverpool Echo)