Hidden Netflix Gems – Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

I am notorious for my willingness to watch pretty much any movie, so it is always a joy to find one that wildly exceeds my expectations. This is often not a great movie, by any means, but one that flew under the critical radar for the most part, and provided some unexpected pleasure, a film that I can enjoy recommending to friends in the knowledge that they have probably not encountered it. Eli Craig’s debut feature Tucker and Dale vs Evil is one of those films, especially for horror fans. Though it is relatively slight and far from perfect, this is an enormously fun and clever riff on the slasher genre, a film that will undoubtedly be especially enjoyed by fans of the recent horror deconstruction masterpiece The Cabin in the Woods, or the mostly overlooked 2006 mockumentary, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (also available on Netflix).

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two well-meaning but poorly educated good ol’ boys who have recently purchased a rundown cabin in the woods as a vacation home. En route to their paradise of relaxation and fishing, they encounter a group of mostly obnoxious college kids who are creeped out by them based on Dale’s innocent but ungainly attempt to talk to the prettiest girl among them, Allison (Katrina Bowden). Chad (Jesse Moss) in particular shows extraordinary prejudice against the two well-meaning bumpkins, and it becomes clear that he is the character who would be the hero in a more conventional horror film. Instead, he is presented as a vicious, bloodthirsty maniac – the very type of person he believes Tucker and Dale to be.

After Chad attempts to put the moves on Allison at his family’s cabin, adjacent to Tucker and Dale’s, she leaves to take a walk by herself down by the lake, only to slip and fall in, hitting her head. Tucker and Dale, of course, save her from drowning, but are perceived by the other college students to be kidnapping her. This is just the beginning of a series of unfortunate accidents and misunderstandings that leads Chad and the others to think the two good-natured hillbillies are psycho killers. Though it ultimately takes a less interesting route (and I may be giving this bloody but relatively light comedy too much credit), at a certain point the film seems to be making the surprisingly intelligent case that, often, those obsessed with finding and destroying evil are, in fact, the truly evil ones. It undercuts this philosophical thesis with a lot of silliness and a somewhat problematic ending, but this movie is nonetheless a lot of fun, and a far better film than the title led me to believe.

  

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2011 Year End Movie Review: David Medsker

A funny thing happened at the movies this year: absolutely nothing blew me away.

There were things I really liked, but my list of favorite movies is kind of a joke, really. They’re not bad movies (not in my mind, anyway), but there are few, if any, Best Picture candidates in the bunch. Compare that to last year, where six of my top 10 movies were nominated for Best Picture. This time around, that’s just not happening. Just want to lay that out up front.

Worse, there isn’t one movie that stands above the others. I liked my favorite movies equally, more or less. That might sound like a copout, but it’s true. Of the movies I’ve seen so far, this was the year where movies were just sort of…there. Maybe we’ll have better luck next year.

My Favorite Movies of 2011


Margin Call
Selling one’s soul is a popular subject in movies, since no two people are willing to settle for the same amount. “Margin Call” explores the subject on a massive scale, since the ripple effect of the actions of a few will be felt around the world. It’s not a thriller in the traditional sense, but it’s absolutely gripping. Kevin Spacey shines here, as does the ever-reliable Stanley Tucci.


Super 8
It probably helped that I grew up in a small Ohio town not terribly unlike the one in “Super 8” (though no one used the word ‘mint’ the way Riley Griffiths’ character does here), but “Super 8” wasn’t merely an exercise in nostalgia; the movie delivered top-notch thrills, well-drawn characters, and the most spectacular sequence of the year with that jaw-dropping train crash. Elle Fanning, meanwhile, put on an acting clinic, and she’s only 13. Wow.


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SXSW Film 2010: Keeping Austin Reel Weird

One of the first things I heard after arriving in town for South by Southwest was “Keep Austin Weird.” It’s sort of the city’s unofficial motto, but it’s one that resonated with me over the course of my week-long trip. Though it’s hard to say whether Austin really is as weird during the rest of the year as it is during SXSW, the city exudes a certain energy that makes it the perfect place to hold such a unique event. It also helps to have some of the most passionate movie lovers in the country populating the streets, because while SXSW attracts cinephiles from all over the globe, it’s the locals (from the volunteers to the everyday attendees) who actually make you want to come back.

For anyone that followed my SXSW Blog throughout the course of the film festival, you already know that my experience was a rather positive one. In fact, of the 17 films screened during my time in Austin, there were only two that I didn’t particularly like. You’d think that would make selecting my personal favorites even more difficult, but my Top Three easily blows the rest of the competition out of the water. Here are some highlights from my reviews of those films:

micmacs

1. “Micmacs

[Jean-Pierre] Jeunet’s latest film, “Micmacs,” may just be his best yet – a whimsical crime caper that boasts his trademark visual style, a classic Max Steiner score, and an ensemble cast filled with familiar faces. Though it likely won’t have the crossover appeal of “Amelie,” “Micmacs” is one of the most enjoyable moviegoing experiences of the year… It’s all done so effortlessly, and with [Dany] Boon and his co-stars so charming throughout, that you’d have to be in a pretty sour mood not to walk out of “Micmacs” with a giant grin on your face.

2. “Kick-Ass

Director Matthew Vaughn clearly understands the world that [Mark] Millar and [John] Romita Jr. have created, and that familiarity resonates throughout, from the high-energy action scenes to the colorful performances from its cast… The end result is an entertaining blend of action and comedy that, despite falling short of its ridiculously high expectations, delivers everything that was awesome about the comic and more.

3. “Four Lions

A pitch-black satire in the same vein as “Dr. Strangelove,” [Christopher] Morris has created a film so relevant to our current political climate that many will feel guilty just for watching it, let alone laughing at all the gut-wrenching humor along the way… “Four Lions” is one of the funniest, most provocative comedies of the last decade – and one that has more to say than any of the numerous self-important war movies that Hollywood has been cranking out for years.

Of course, one of the things that makes SXSW such a great place to watch movies is the venues. The theater experience in Austin is hands down one of the best in the country – from the historic Paramount Theater to the Alamo Drafthouse. While the Paramount is typically a more star-studded affair, complete with a red carpet and the opportunity to see a movie with its director and stars sitting just a few feet away from you, the Drafthouse (both the Ritz located on 6th Street and the South Lamar, which is a short drive from downtown) is a little more intimate. Star-crazed attendees will find little in the way of celebrity sightings, but the chance of seeing a hidden gem like Best Documentary winner, “Marwencol,” more than makes up for it. Plus, midnight showings of genre films like “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” are usually more enjoyable when you’re watching it with a bunch of fellow cinephiles.

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SXSW 2010: Tucker and Dale vs. Evil

Every so often, a movie comes along that sounds too good to be true. Whether it’s the talent involved, an interesting concept, or a particularly well-cut trailer, it’s easy to be duped into thinking a movie will be better than it really is. Thankfully, “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is not that film. A horror comedy in the spirit of “Shaun of the Dead,” “Tucker and Dale” isn’t a spoof of the genre it’s parodying (in this case, hillbilly slasher movies like “Wrong Turn”), but rather a razor-sharp homage fueled by a clever script and hilarious performances from its stars.

Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine star as Tucker and Dale, two good ‘ol boys on their way to fix up their newly purchased vacation home in the woods when they cross paths with a group of college students who think they’re serial killers. So when the duo saves one of the students (Katrina Bowden) after she falls into the lake and hits her head on a rock, her friends think that she’s been abducted and being held captive in their cabin. Determined to fight back, the students take turns going after the supposed hunters, but every time they do, they only end up killing themselves instead. From their point of view, it certainly looks like Tucker and Dale are responsible for the bloody mayhem, but the two friends are nothing but unlucky – a fact that only becomes clearer when the group’s bloodthirsty leader (Jesse Moss) takes matters into his own hands

tucker_and_dale_vs_evil

“Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is a movie built around a series of ridiculous coincidences (just like the films it playfully pokes fun at), and while it may seem a bit far-fetched at times, it’s all part of the experience. Writer/director Eli Craig is obviously a big fan of the genre, because he knows which strings to pull and how to pull them. He’s crafted some pretty memorable death scenes that, despite causing fits of laughter, don’t skimp on the bloody details either. There’s plenty of gooey viscera splattered throughout the film, but its strengths lie in Craig’s script – particularly the exchanges between its title characters as they ponder the reason why these students would be killing themselves.

For as funny as the script may be, however, there would be no “Tucker and Dale” without Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine, who have such great onscreen chemistry that you wouldn’t mind them starring in every movie together. Labine ends up playing a much larger role than his co-star due to a romantic subplot between him and Katrina Bowden, but Tudyk arguably gets the better material, including one scene no doubt inspired by “Fargo.” If only the actors playing the college students were even remotely as good. Granted, most of them are nothing more than stupid bait, but Jesse Moss plays such a pivotal role that his over-the-top performance is distracting. It’s the only element that doesn’t work as well as the others, but even though “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil” is a mostly one-joke affair, it finds ways to keep you laughing even when it’s not at its best.

  

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SXSW 2010: A Quick Preview

Now that I’ve arrived in Austin, it seems like the hours until opening night are ticking away even faster. That means that this preview of sorts won’t be too in-depth, but I figured that I should at least let everyone know what movies I’m most excited for because, well, those are the ones that you’re going to hear more about over the course of the next week. So, without further ado, here are a few of my must-see films of SXSW.

1. “Kick-Ass”

This one’s a no-brainer, since it also happens to be the biggest movie playing at the festival, but the fact that I’m also a huge fan of Mark Millar and John Romita Jr.’s comic book means that I’m especially excited for this one. Early word suggests that director Matthew Vaughn has crafted a comic book movie to rival “The Dark Knight,” and from the footage that’s been released thus far, that doesn’t seem like a big stretch. Anticipation for this one is at an all-time high. The fact that I get to see it a whole month early? Pure fanboy bliss.

2. “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil”

Here’s all you need to know about Eli Craig’s horror-comedy, “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil”: it’s been said that the film does for hillbilly slasher films what “Shaun of the Dead” did for the zombie genre. Oh yeah, and it also stars two of the funniest dudes in the business in Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine. Need more proof? Check out the trailer below and try not to laugh.

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