Sunday, March 29, 2015

They Came Together: Indie “It Follows” is Overall a Creepy, Stylish Thriller

“It Follows” is one of the more original horror films to be released in some time. Though is anything truly original these days? Of course not. It's obviously influenced by past classics such as “Halloween” and “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and even a bit of of “The Ring” thrown in. It wins points for sheer style and its overwhelming urge to be a tribute to great horror films that came before it. It features a synth-heavy 80s film score, 70s style camerawork, and a clever premise with some decent frights and good tension. It turns out that horror films with simple but effective premises are the most successful and "It Follows" fits the bill.

The film stars Maika Monroe, coming off the similarly retro “The Guest,” as Jay who seems like a normal girl. She's close with her sister, has some close friends, and is dating an older guy and she'd ready to take it to the next level. Everything seems perfect until she finds out that this guy just passed along a curse that is passed through sexual activity. Remember how the slasher films of the 80s basically insisted that after having sex you have to die? This is literally the premise of “It Follows.” It seems that once you're “inflicted” some kind of supernatural force follows you until you die. Moral of the story? Keep it in your pants, kids.

Jay doesn't know if she's just crazy or if there really is some evil being following her. She gets help from her friends, and the guy across the street who appears to suspiciously resemble young Johnny Depp, who also lived across the street from the heroine of “A Nightmare on Elm Street.” Jay even sees a person staring at her while she's in class ala Laurie in “Halloween.” The film is an obvoius ode to these older films just take a listen to that retro soundtrack provided by Disasterpiece that wouldn't be out of place in an early John Carpenter film. Even the film's unknown setting feels very much like it's set in the past (which I assume it is, though Jay's friend uses a deceivingly futuristic touchscreen reading device in a clam shell, just one of the film's many mysteries). The young cast is pretty decent and likable even if they're not all that memorable; at least they seem relatively real.

I really enjoyed the retro feel of the film, which like the must-see “House of the Devil,” feels like part of a new group of modern indie horror films that defy genre classification. It also helps that the film is decently creepy and wholly atmospheric. I even jumped a few times. The pace sort of meanders a bit in the second half and I can't say I agree with some of the choices some characters make but otherwise I rather enjoyed “It Follows.” I like and appreciate what writer/director David Robert Mitchell has given us. It's obvious he understands and enjoys the genre and wants to give fans something they haven't quite seen before, even if it's a little rough around the edges. He does seem to care about music cues and overly stylized camerawork than about writing memorable characters but that's to be expected. At least he also cares about his film being scary. “It Follows” doesn't quite feel like a game changer the way “Scream” was nearly twenty years ago, but this usually under-appreciated genre is at least heading in the right direction.  GRADE: B

Trailer for It Follows on TrailerAddict.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

In Her Shoes: Disney’s Live Action “Cinderella” is Elegant and Charming

There’s not much in “Cinderella” that you haven’t really seen before and that’s probably one of the film’s strengths. Even if it loses points for originality, it just seems to do everything right. Far removed from the garish visuals and questionable plot elements of other live action Disney properties like “Maleficent” and “Alice in Wonderland,” this new cinematic “Cinderella” doesn’t alter much from it’s animated classic counterpart. After all, it’s a classic story, so why mess with it? If anything, it improves upon the Disney classic by fleshing out the characters and story a little more. And finally the relationship between Cinderella and the prince doesn’t quite feel as “oh I just met you and now I wanna marry you” creepy.

Our live action Cinderella is played by Lily James and she’s perfectly fine in the role if not particularly outstanding. The real selling point, in terms of casting, is obviously double Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett as the evil stepmother Lady Tremaine. She’s perfectly cast and surprisingly restrained in the role, no performance here is as over-the-top as the lavish costumes. There’s not much that can be said about the film’s plot because it’s possibly the most well-known Disney story of all time. Cinderella is practically forced to be a servant in her own home by her mean stepmother and ugly stepsisters. However, since Cinderella is so kind her fairy godmother shows up and gives her a beautiful gown to wear to the ball where she meets the prince, and there’s a pumpkin carriage and glass slippers etc. However, here Cinderella actually meets Prince Kit (Game of Thrones’ Richard Madden) before the ball where he’s quickly smitten. The two share more screen time then I’d ever imagine and so for the first time you actually feel like these two characters might actually be meant for each other.

Director Kenneth Branagh, who is no stranger to staging period pieces and costume dramas, actually works wonders with the material. The scenery and costumes are top notch as are the well-integrated visual effects (mostly the CGI animals). And the transformation scene is pretty magical in fact. The script was written by Chris Weitz who, with Branagh's assured direction, ground the entire story in a magical reality. Sure Cinderella seemingly has conversations with computer animated mice, but it somehow actually works on screen. He also gives Prince Kit more time for the audience to get to know him. After all, the story of Cinderella doesn’t quite work in a post-feminism world but somehow it all works as best it can. I wouldn’t call the movie a woman’s empowerment film by any means but when Cinderella does finally confront her stepmother you can’t help but think “You go girl!”

Does this new Cinderella need to exist? Not really. Especially since we got the fun and cheeky musical “Into the Woods” just months ago. With the current state of live action Disney films becoming popular it was destined and since it does exist I’m at least glad to know that it’s as good as it could have been, if not exactly the belle of the ball.  GRADE: B+