Monday, January 26, 2009

Movie Mon - Return of the Odd Squodd Movie Night

City of Ember: Entertaining post-apocalyptic family film -- yes, that's right, a post-apocalyptic family film -- about the remnants of humanity who live in an underground city which is starting to fall apart around them, and a couple of teens who think they've discovered the secret to their society's salvation. The trailers for this one were a little iffy for me, but the movie itself turned out to be enjoyable.

Okay horror movie that follows three girls who had been friends in high school who find themselves the targets of horrific happenings.. The structure is interesting, as each girl's initial encounter is presented as a self-contained tale until they all dovetail at the end. Unfortunately, I found it at its most engaging when it felt more like a classic portmanteau horror film; once it actually brought all the threads together, it lost a bit of steam.

Repo! The Genetic Opera:
Dark and twisty musical about a future where organ failure has become a common problem, and one company has become the leading force in organ replacement surgeries, even offering payment plans, but with a catch: if someone misses a payment, they get hunted down by the murderous RepoMan (Anthony Steward Head, a.k.a. Giles from Buffy) who repossess the organs in question. This was the selection for last Thursday's Odd Squodd Movie Night because, on the face of it, this sounds like our sort of movie, right? Bizarre plot, lots of horror-tinged themes, and people singing about it, headlined by a former Buffy star . . . should have been a home run, right? Not quite. My biggest quibble was the music; it's set up like an opera in that the bulk of the dialogue is sung, but in the majority of the cases there is no internal rhyme scheme, or consistent meter, or coherent musical structure; instead, it's often like they just wrote the script, started playing their electric guitars, and told the people to start singing. My love of a musical is largely tied into clever wordplay and catchy/memorable songs; in Repo! there were really only two songs that made any sort of positive impact on me, everything else fell flat. Interestingly enough, those were also the only two songs I had heard before I saw the film, so I probably had unrealistic expectations about the nature of the soundtrack. Li'l Random enjoyed it more than I did, but then again he's much less of a musical snob than I am. Outside of the music, the film had quite a bit going for it, in an Odd Squodd sort of way, but I just had trouble getting into it.

Ghost Town:
Surprisingly enjoyable romantic comedy about a misanthropic dentist (Ricky Gervais) who briefly dies during a routine medical procedure and gains the ability to see ghosts, one of whom enlists him in trying to break up the dead man's widow and her current beau. I was unsure about this one going in because Ricky Gervais is very hit or miss with me, but it actually turned out to be a pretty funny movie with only one or two parts that made me squirm in uncomfortableness.

Savage Grace:
A dramatization of the true life murder of Barbara Baekeland (Julianne Moore) by her mentally unbalanced son Tony, with the film chronicling the strange family dynamics from the time of Tony's birth. A well acted film, but not one I particularly enjoyed, even before it veered into incest.

Horror film about an alcoholic former cop (Kiefer Sutherland) who takes a job as a security guard at an abandoned building and finds himself being haunted by a force that attacks through mirrors. Pretty entertaining horror flick, although the strained dynamic between Kiefer's character and his estranged wife got a little tiresome.

Disaster Movie:
A spoof film brought to you by the same team as Meet the Spartans and Epic Movie; as such, the film relies mainly on the "pop culture parody overload" theory of comedy. Seriously, while talking to a co-worker about it, I was able to think of 30 separate pop culture references crammed into it, and out of those I'd say maybe a fifth were actual disaster movies. As with most of the slate of spoofs that have flourished since Scary Movie, the sheer number of jokes they cram in will usually result in at least a couple hitting; for me, this one had a higher hit-to-miss ration than usual, most of the successful comedy bits revolving out of the spoof of Amy Adams' character in Enchanted, who turns out not to be a princess from a fairy tale world, but a delusional homeless woman living in the sewers. Pretty much any scene with her in it cracked me up.

The Dead One:
Supernatural super-hero tale about a young man who has been chosen to serve as a catalyst for the return of the Aztec gods, but who struggles against their compulsions in order to save the woman he loves. Based on the comic book El Muerto: The Aztec Zombie, this indie film may have had a shoe-string budget, but turned out to be pretty enjoyable overall.

Death Race:
Surprisingly well-put together futuristic action film about a man who has been framed for murder in order to bring him in as a driver for a race where the drivers are criminals, the cars are equipped with live ammo, and the grand prize is freedom. Predictable to be sure, but somehow it never felt cliched to me. Some nice action sequences.

Well done thriller about a man infiltrating an Islamic terrorist group. Pretty solid little film; it was interesting to see Don Cheadle kicking butt, and I especially liked the way he thwarted the big bombing plan at the end -- took me by surprise. This was another film where I found myself scrutinizing the depiction of FBI agents; it really is odd how sensitive I've become to that since Cap'n Shack-Fu headed off to the academy. Guy Pierce's character passed the "doing the FBI proud" test; Neal McDonough, however, fell a bit short with his lacking interrogation skills.

The Seeker: The Dark is Rising
: Adaptation of the second volume of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series of books about the battle between the forces of good and evil; in this case, the battle is centered around Will Stanton, the 7th son of a 7th son who is prophesied to lead the forces to light to victory over the rising dark. I enjoyed the film the most in its earlier parts when it focuses on Will dealing with his very large family; as the fantasy elements rose to prominence, the film seemed to lose its way. Not a bad film, but I couldn't help feeling like it squandered its potential.