Tag: SXSW (Page 2 of 7)

SXSW 2011: Paul

If you never knew how big of geeks Simon Pegg and Nick Frost were in real life, you will after watching their new film, “Paul,” because it’s bursting at the seams with geeky sci-fi references – particularly the oeuvre of Steven Spielberg, which plays a big role in informing the world of the film. But while there are a lot of winks and nods directed at fanboys, “Paul” is a much broader and more accessible comedy than the duo’s other movies. That pretty much ensures it will perform better at the box office, but despite a steady stream of laughs throughout, the film too often relies on easy and crass jokes, and quite frankly, it’s beneath everyone involved.

Graeme Willy (Pegg) and Clive Gollings (Frost) are the best of friends – a pair of British sci-fi geeks who have travelled to America to attend San Diego Comic-Con and then take a cross-country road trip across the U.S. Heartland on a tour of UFO hotspots. But when they witness a car crash on the highway and stop to make sure everyone is okay, they’re surprised to see a green alien named Paul (Seth Rogen) emerge from the shadows. Though they’re hesitant to trust him at first, Paul – who’s been marooned on Earth for over 60 years – wins the pair’s trust and help in getting back home. Along the way, they accidentally kidnap a Bible-thumper named Ruth (Kristen Wiig) who reluctantly joins their cause, all while being pursued by a dogged FBI agent (Jason Bateman) ordered to capture Paul for government testing.

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There’s a host of other characters that play a part in the adventure – including Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio as a couple of bumbling agents assigned to Bateman, John Carroll Lynch as Ruth’s overprotective father, and Blythe Danner as the little girl who pulled Paul from the UFO wreckage 66 years earlier – but the heart and humor of the movie comes almost exclusively from its three stars. Pegg and Frost pick up right where they left off in “Hot Fuzz” with a natural onscreen chemistry that feeds off their real-life friendship, while Rogen really shines in the title role. This is a buddy movie not just about Graeme and Clive, but the bond that they form with the alien hitchhiker as well, so Paul’s relationship with them has to be completely believable (from the photo-real CGI to his human-like mannerisms) for it to work, and Rogen plays a big part in its success.

Where the movie falters, however, is in how poorly it utilizes the rest of its talented cast, because Graeme, Clive and Paul are so fully realized that everyone else appears one-dimensional in comparison. Kristen Wiig is particularly annoying as Graeme’s love interest, who experiences a drastic personality change shortly after meeting Paul when she abruptly gives up religion and starts swearing like a sailor. It’s meant to be funny, but it gets old really quick, and that’s the biggest problem with “Paul.” The script is needlessly lazy at times, and the only reason some of the jokes even work is because Pegg and Frost have such a great rapport. Fans of their previous work will definitely enjoy seeing the duo reunited once again, but while “Paul” is a solid action comedy featuring a standout performance from Seth Rogen, it’s a film that will make you wonder how much better it might have been with frequent collaborator Edgar Wright in charge.

SXSW 2011: The Innkeepers

For two movies about essentially the same thing (in this case, a haunting), Ti West’s “The Innkeepers” and James Wan’s “Insidious” have received vastly different reactions from SXSW attendees, with many liking one but not the other, and vice versa. Those who read my review of “Insidious” already know where my allegiance lies, because while “The Innkeepers” may fancy itself a horror film, there’s nothing particularly scary about it. Sara Paxton and Pat Healy star as the last remaining workers at the Yankee Pedlar Inn, a fledgling hotel that has relied on stories of being one of New England’s most haunted locations to fill its rooms. But as the Inn’s final days draw near, the pair goes searching for proof that it’s actually haunted in one last effort to save the hotel from closing its doors for good.

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Unfortunately, you have to sit through a fairly uneventful 100 minutes to find out the answer, and it’s not really worth the wait. Though West teases the audience with brief moments of suspense that continue to build as the story unfolds, there’s very little payoff, to the point that when the horror elements finally do kick in, they’re not as terrifying as you would hope. Instead, the movie spends a lot of time camped out at the front desk where the two leads shoot the shit and play tricks on one another. It’s witty and amusing at times, but never quite enough to hold your interest, despite the fact that Paxton and Healy actually have pretty good chemistry. If there’s one redeeming quality, it’s the fantastic score by Jeff Grace, which at the very least makes it watchable. That doesn’t change the fact that the film is still a mediocre film, and the only one that Ti West has to blame is himself, because while “The Innkeepers” certainly had the potential to reinvigorate the horror genre in the same way as “Insidious,” it falls short.

SXSW 2011: Attack the Block

It’s going to have an awfully hard time finding an audience in the U.S. (or any territory outside of the U.K., for that matter), but Joe Cornish’s directorial debut, “Attack the Block,” is one of the most purely entertaining movies you’ll see all year. A genre hybrid film with influences ranging from “The Warriors” to “Gremlins,” Cornish has created a lean, mean sci-fi action thriller that excels in getting in and out without wasting a single minute. This is economic filmmaking at its very best, because while “Attack the Block” may not be particularly stylish or boast any big names, when your movie is as much fun to watch as this, none of that other stuff matters.

The film takes place in South London, where we’re introduced to a group of inner city kids mugging a young nurse named Sam (Jodie Whittaker) on her way home from work. When a meteor crashes down from the sky and Sam gets away, the kids – led by the steely Moses (John Boyega) – investigate the wreckage, only to be attacked by an alien creature that they eventually chase down and kill. But after the kids head back to their apartment complex to celebrate, they notice several more meteors landing in the city and decide to go on the hunt, only to discover that these aliens are much bigger and more ferocious than the first one: black, wolf-like beasts with fluorescent teeth and the ability to sniff out their prey. Unable to hide from the creatures, the kids go on the offensive in an attempt to protect the block and, in a strange twist of fate, the woman they terrorized hours before.

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When the heroes of your movie are no-good criminals, you have to cook up an even bigger, nastier villain for the audience to root them on, which is why pitting inner city kids against a horde of vicious aliens is such a brilliant idea. Cornish has created an instantly iconic monster that is innovative yet simple in design, with the juxtaposition of the creature’s pitch-black fur and its incandescent teeth resulting in some really cool reveal shots and a few good scares. You can’t even tell how much of the creature is a practical effect and how much is CG, because they look so incredible in a natural environment that you’d swear they were real. Even the reasoning behind the whole alien invasion seems pretty plausible, and though the film doesn’t have time to get caught up in exposition, the little bit there is never interrupts the rapid pace of the story.

That’s especially important for “Attack the Block,” because a major part of the film’s success is its relentless, almost infectious energy. The movie rarely stops to catch its breath (when the kids aren’t busy fending off aliens, they’re hiding from drug dealers and cops), and you can’t help but get caught up in the excitement. The kids also deliver some really good performances for a bunch of fresh-faced newcomers who were literally plucked from the streets (particularly Boyega and the very funny Alex Esmail), because it could have easily blown up in Cornish’s face. Instead, it only makes “Attack the Block” that much more impressive – a fun slice of nostalgic geek cinema that effortlessly blends action, comedy, horror and sci-fi to create an instant genre classic.

SXSW 2011: Insidious

James Wan and Leigh Whannell may be responsible for jumpstarting the most successful horror franchise of the last decade, but the duo has failed to recreate that level of success in anything they’ve made since then. But with the release of “Insidious,” it looks like they’ve finally cracked that nut, because the film is a creepy and atmospheric supernatural horror film that plays a lot like a modern day “Poltergeist” with a decidedly retro aesthetic. Though the film relies a little too often on cheap scares and loud musical cues to terrorize the audience, “Insidious” is a legitimately scary movie that will not only reinvigorate Wan and Whannell’s careers, but the kind of traditional horror films that “Saw” made redundant as well.

Josh and Renai (Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne) have just moved their family into a new house when oldest son Dalton (Ty Simpkins) bumps his head while exploring the attic and slips into a coma. The doctors can’t explain what’s wrong with him, so they move Dalton back home to be cared for by his mother. When Renai stars hearing strange noises and seeing frightening visions of ghosts lurking around the house, however, she becomes convinced that the place is haunted. But after they move again only for the angry spirits to remerge, she begs Josh to call in a specialist to investigate – a trio of ghost hunters that informs the couple it isn’t their house that’s haunted, but their son.

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As someone that tries to avoid horror movies whenever possible, it’s difficult to gauge how “Insidious” will play to diehard fans. Though it doesn’t really revolutionize the genre like “Saw” did, it has so many genuine moments of terror that cowards like myself will be on the verge of a panic attack throughout. It’s been a while since a movie has scared me as much as this, and it will likely cause nightmares for others. The film does lose some of its bite in the final act when one of the characters enters an otherworld called the Further that looks like a twisted version of Disney’s Haunted Mansion ride, but by that point, Wan practically has you eating out of his hand; the scares are that effective.

He also makes some very daring stylistic choices – from the grainy film texture to the intrusive score – that evokes the horror films of the 70s and 80s. But while the movie looks great (especially considering it was made on a shoestring budget), it’s lacking in a strong central performance from Byrne or Wilson. In fact, they both seem to sleep walking through their roles compared to the lively performances of the film’s supporting cast, including character actor Lin Shaye as the paranormal medium and Leigh Whannell and Angus Sampson as her clumsy assistants. Their introduction midway through injects a “Ghostbusters”-like playfulness that allows Wan to include some comic beats without lessening the weight of the situation, and it really adds a layer of enjoyment to the experience. After all, horror films are supposed to be fun to watch, and though “Insidious” trips up a bit in the end with a lame and predictable coda, it’s still a highly enjoyable piece of scare-you-shitless cinema that even a non-fan can appreciate.

SXSW 2011: Super

Making an irreverent superhero movie in a post “Kick-Ass” world is a risky undertaking, although not a completely futile one. While Matthew Vaughn set the bar pretty high, and the comparisons are inevitable for any film that follows in its footsteps, it’s not the definitive superhero comedy by any stretch. Unfortunately, James Gunn’s “Super” squanders the chance to one-up “Kick-Ass” by wasting so much energy overcoming its own self-inflicted problems to ever be better than mediocre. There’s a lot of wasted potential on display, but thanks to a hilariously unhinged performance from Ellen Page, “Super” manages to rise above its drastically uneven tone to deliver an amusing, if admittedly flawed, superhero black comedy.

Rainn Wilson stars as Frank D’Arbo, a pathetic sad-sack who confesses in the opening minutes of the film that he’s only had two good things ever happen in his life: marrying recovering drug addict Sarah (Liv Tyler) and assisting the police in the arrest of a bank robber. So when his wife leaves him for a sleazy drug dealer named Jacques (Kevin Bacon), Frank becomes an emotional wreck and turns to God for advice on what to do next. After he has a religious epiphany about devoting his life to fighting evil, Frank starts cleaning up the streets as the vigilante alter ego, Crimson Bolt, armed only with a wrench. But when Jacques uncovers his secret identity and puts a bounty on his head, Frank must team up with a quirky comic book store clerk named Libby (Page) to take the fight to the bad guys and rescue Sarah.

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Fans of Gunn’s previous work will be ecstatic to see so many familiar faces populating the film, including Michael Rooker as Jacques’ right-hand man, Gregg Henry as a police detective hot on the Crimson Bolt’s trail, and even Gunn himself. But the best cameo has to be Nathan Fillion, who appears as a religious superhero TV character called the Holy Avenger in an obscure but comical reference to “Bible Man.” Fillion doesn’t have a whole lot to do, but his character nonetheless plays a pivotal role in the influence that faith has on Frank’s decision to fight crime. Kevin Bacon also has lots of fun hamming it up as the slimy drug dealer, and Rainn Wilson shows genuine flashes of emotion in the lead role, but “Super” simply wouldn’t be as much fun without Ellen Page’s off-the-wall performance – especially when she’s running around the city as the Crimson Bolt’s sidekick, Boltie, who finds a slightly disturbing joy in all the violence.

But while “Super” makes the most of its edgy premise at times, it suffers from an inconsistent tone that bounces between a serious drama, a dark comedy, and a goofy B-movie in the spirit of Gunn’s Troma films. He doesn’t seem to know what kind of film he wants to make, so he’s just thrown elements of all three into the pot and stirred with reckless abandon. It’s also sluggishly paced and poorly written in some areas, with Gunn’s script reading more like the fantasies of a horny teenage comic book geek than the guy behind “Slither” and “Dawn of the Dead.” Still, even with all of its flaws (of which there are plenty), “Super” has enough going for it that fans of the genre will eat it up.

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