Monday, January 26, 2015

What We Do in the Shadows - A Mockumentary for the Ages

What We Do in the Shadows is a mockumentary, a la Spinal Tap, about Petyr, Vladislav, Viago, and Deacon – a group of flat mates who also happen to be vampires.

The four friends live in New Zealand, and spend their time playing music together...


...getting dressed up and going out (though their night life options are sort of limited to the one vampire-owned bar they can get into)...

...and, of course, using their familiars (a.k.a. slaves) to find new victims on which to dine. But when Petyr (the oldest of the bunch, at 8,000 years) accidentally turns an intended victim into a vampire, the crew is forced to show their new companion Nick the ropes.

I won’t go any further into the story, because I’d probably just ruin all the best jokes (though there are many, many “best” jokes, so maybe there’s not too much danger there). Suffice to say, the deadpan humor that worked so beautifully in Spinal Tap – which I mention twice now because I think it’s the pinnacle of mockumentaries – works just as brilliantly here.

The characters are unbelievably likable – from Viago, our awkward host who’s still pining over the one that got away; to Deacon, the youngest (only 183!) and the “bad boy”; to Vladislav, who likes his sandwiches best unfucked; to Petyr, who should never, ever be woken from a nap. Beyond the characters, who are innately hilarious, the humor is all in their day-to-day routines, from the moment Viago wakes up at night (their version of morning) and is nervous about opening the blinds (“This part is always a liiittle scary…”). From shopping for new clothes (off victims) to seducing potential human meals (with promises of “pasghetti”), there is rarely a moment without a laugh.

This is a pretty short review, but that’s because there’s really nothing left to say, other than: Go see it! Now! Just trust me. It’s the best horror comedy I’ve seen in ages.

Note: You can contribute to the Kickstarter fund to get What We Do in the Shadows a wide U.S. release here.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Some More 2014 Stragglers

I’ve been catching up on my horror now that the holidays are over, so here are a few more 2014-ish reviews. Again, the movies I highly recommend are in red.

7500. Mediocre supernatural horror that takes place on a plane. I enjoyed it, to be honest, even though I saw the twist coming from a mile away, but it definitely wouldn’t hold up to a rewatch. I liked the performances (Leslie Bibb is lovely), and the visuals were striking, but the scares are basically nonexistent, and often nonsensical – particularly the final one.

Housebound. Man, I heard so many good things about this one, I really thought I’d love it. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me. It had some fun elements that I liked – the lead (Morgana O’Reilly) was great, the (possibly) haunted house was creepy, the supporting characters were great. But most of the humor was too slapstick for me to get into, and the reveal towards the end was a little too silly for me. It’s definitely a fun, well-made movie if kiwi humor is your thing (Housebound hails from New Zealand). It just wasn’t for me, and I found myself bored much of the time.

Snowpiercer. This is technically 2013, but oh well. I hadn’t even heard of Snowpiercer until it came to Netflix, which is surprising to me, as it was a really unique, well-done film. From the performances (Tilda Swinton, Kang-ho Song, John Hurt, and Ah-sung Ko really stood out), to the action and visuals, to the idea itself, it held my attention for the entire 2+ hours. It didn’t all come together for me in the end, but the journey was well worthwhile.

Annabelle. Meh. Not nearly as bad as I expected it to be based on the reviews I read, but definitely nothing special, and surely not the prequel The Conjuring deserved (not that it needed one in the first place). Its creepiest moments were all in the trailer, so if you saw that, you’re probably good. Also, and maybe this is cruel to admit, but the lead actress (Annabelle Wallis) has the most amazingly forgettable face and presence. I couldn't get myself to care about her at all. That's probably largely due in part to the way the character was written, but even so, the actress brought nothing extra to the role.

Come Back to Me. This was a pleasant surprise. Though it resembles a Lifetime movie in some ways (the lead actress just had that vibe to me, as did a lot of the plot), this was a nicely creepy, weird, unexpected movie. I thought I had it all figured out, but the twist was actually a twist I didn't see coming. It gets pretty hammy at the end, but I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it anyway. I also like that they changed the title from that of the book it was based on, which I won't list here because it's a huge spoiler. For a free Netflix movie, I fully recommend it.

Cold in July. Great performances from Michael C. Hall and Sam Shepard. Didn’t hold my attention as much as the final film on this list, which I found to be strikingly similar in a lot of ways, but I still liked this one a lot. Still, if I had to choose between the two (but why would you? – watch them both), I’d choose Blue Ruin.

Blue Ruin. Cold in July and Blue Ruin are both “regular man in extraordinary circumstances/revenge plot” stories. I think the latter did it better – Macon Blair is just so arresting in the lead role; that baby face and those big eyes really drive the ludicrousness of his situation home. Both are excellent films, though.

Friday, January 2, 2015

Movies I Saw and Didn't Write About in 2014

So I’ve been pretty busy the last three months getting married and stuff, and I’ve let my blogging slide terribly. On the other hand, I have to admit that I also haven’t seen many movies lately that made me want to write about them, let alone need to write about them. Bummer. Even so, in order to make up for my egregious neglect of this space, I offer penance: a big ‘ol roundup of movies I’ve seen in the last few months, along with some very concise reviews. For even more succinctness, I put the movies I highly recommend in red.

Enemy. This was, plain and simple, a surreal mindfuck. I went into it knowing nothing, and left it… still knowing very little. It definitely intrigued me enough to want to watch it again and try to figure it out a little more. Great performance from Jake Gyllenhaal in two distinct roles.

The Babadook. Okay, I lied. When I watched this movie, I was completely inspired to write a glowing review of it, but then wedding stuff and life stuff got in the way, and that review never happened. Sadly. But I’m here to tell you now – go see The Babadook! Seriously, go now! It is a creepy, poignant, intelligent gem of a story with moving performances from Essie Davis and (7 year old!) Noah Wiseman, with great visuals to boot. (Note: it's not an animated film, that's just a screen cap of the children's book that's central to the story.) I really recommend it.

Tusk. Umm… well, it was different than anything else I’ve seen this year. So that’s something. And its sheer bizarreness was enough to make me want to keep watching until the end. So that’s something else. If you’re intent on watching a Kevin Smith movie, though, I’d recommend Red State first.

The Canal. This did nothing for me. It seemed like a vague rip-off of The Ring with a predictable twist. But a lot of people seemed to like it, so maybe it’s partially due to my bias against ghost movies and never finding them scary anymore.

As Above, So Below. Another found footage movie (I really need to instate a “no found footage” policy on this website or something, because you’re all probably tired of hearing me complain about it). Blah. This one had a grain of an interesting story in there, but I feel like the filmmakers came at it from all the wrong angles. I felt like I was watching National Treasure: Home Movies.

Only Lovers Left Alive. Okay, this is another one I loved and failed to plug. Jim Jarmusch’s tale of vampire lovers living out the end times (a.k.a. “culture” as we know it today) is quiet and moody and gorgeous, sad and funny and ironic. Add in Tilda Swinton’s androgynous albino good looks and Tom Hiddleston’s depressed mug, and you’ve got a movie I’ll be rewatching on slow nights for years to come.

Zombeavers. From the sublime, to the ridiculous. Though it was nothing particularly special, this horror comedy actually made me chuckle.

Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones. I’m not a big fan of the Paranormal Activity movies, and this slightly remixed entry into the franchise didn’t change my mind. At least it was a little different than the last however many sequels. I don’t think I could handle many more slightly rustling blankets as scares.

Starry Eyes. This movie surprised me in a lot of good ways. Truly horrifying body horror with an excellent performance behind it (Alex Essoe in the lead). There weren’t a lot original ideas at its core, but it was the execution that left me stunned.

Honeymoon. This didn’t blow me away, but it was intriguing. I would probably watch it if I were you, but… that’s about all I have to say about that. I did briefly think of this movie when I saw Gone Girl the other day, which brought up similar, disturbing questions about the relationship of marriage. Those ominous last lines: "What are you thinking? How are you feeling? Who are you? What have we done to each other? What will we do?"

Proxy. Weird, disturbing, occasionally morbidly hilarious. There’s a huge POV switch in the middle, which always throws me off. This kept me on my toes in a great way, and I liked it a lot, if only because it was so tonally strange.

There you have it. Turns out there were some hidden treasures I'd forgotten all about! I shouldn't be so cynical. And sorry about the lateness; I hope to be much better about posting in the new year. Have you seen any great movies in 2014 that you failed to mention? Tell me in the comments.