Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Rainforest Café: Eli Roth’s “The Green Inferno” is an Infernal Mess

I guess we should all be thankful that Eli Roth has only managed to direct four (not including this month’s Knock Knock) feature films in his not-quite-illustrious career. Believe me, it’s all for the better. He’s fine when he’s helping out his friends by making short films (well, hello “Thanksgiving” trailer from Grindhouse) or making an ass out of himself in stuff like Piranha, but man this horror movie obsessed director makes truly horrendous films. He really just makes the same film over and over again: films in which young people of privilege enter dangerous foreign lands and end up being slaughtered, whether it’s a cabin in the woods, Eastern Europe, or in his latest effort, the Amazonian jungle. Unfortunately, everything you’ll read about how Roth made “The Green Inferno” will be ten times more fascinating than what he put on screen.

Let’s breakdown some of things Roth has mentioned about “The Green Inferno” and how it turned out. If there was any indication that Roth is one of the vainest directors in the world (and there are not surprisingly many) he has said his Green Inferno looks like a Terrence Malick film. First of all, Malick’s films are actually shot on film not whatever hazy digital garbage director of photography Antonio Quercia shot on. The film is as ugly as the movie itself, which was probably the point. The film also stars a woman with no real acting talent whatsoever. She’s Roth’s wife. No surprise there, though they seemed to have tied the knot after the film was shot. Lead Lorenza Izzo plays college freshman Justine and she just wants to make a difference. She hates genital mutilation, for instance. Who doesn’t? Izzo comes across as a D-list version of Eliza Dushku, who was already C-list anyways. She joins up with a group of campus activists who want to head into a South American jungle to protest an evil lumber corporation. Fine do that. Seems pretty dangerous to me. Roth says the film is a commentary on what he refers to in today’s society as “slacktivism.” In which the younger generation uses social media to complain about issues and support causes without ever actually doing something about it. Um, Mr. Roth, doesn’t flying to another country and chaining yourself to a tree in the middle of the jungle count as more than a tweet? But I digress.

The first half of the film is the story of college protesters, but on their way home their small plane crashes and lands them in the middle of the jungle. The irony is that the native people they were trying to protect turn out to be cannibals and decide to serve the students for dinner. Roth even cast a real tribe (they’re not really cannibals though, if you really wondered) as the natives – people who had never heard of let alone seen a film. With “The Green Inferno” Roth, ever the horror nut, is attempting to pay tribute to the cult films he loves – here the subgenre of Italian cannibal films, such as “Cannibal Holocaust.” Though, ever the narcissist, he mostly ends up copying himself, as the film follows the same formula as his torture porn hit Hostel. That film’s first half played like a frat boys go to Europe sex comedy before nosediving into the dangers of Americans traveling to foreign countries. This time it’s just college activists heading into the foreign jungle. Same dog, old tricks. And this time Roth can’t even make the activists more appealing than horny frat guys. They’re all clichéd dummies (you’ve got your potheads, your vegans, etc) who we can’t wait to see get ripped apart. At least the graphic makeup effects are decent. Once the film’s cannibal plot kicks in it’s pretty relentless; I’m not sure what they had to slip to the MPAA ratings board to secure an R rating actually. And I’ll give you a guess whether genital mutilation figures in somehow.

When disgusting, graphic violence is the only appealing aspect of your film (besides its nicely designed opening titles), I’d say you failed. Even in a horror film. The gore works but nothing else does. Roth has created a movie filled with so many uninteresting characters, played by actors who can’t act, an uninvolving story, and to top it all off it all just looks ugly. Not to mention all the unintentional laughs – pray Roth never makes a straight out comedy. You’d be doing yourself a favor by just watching the superior “Cannibal Holocaust” instead; it is way more barf-worthy (in the good way, of course).  GRADE: D+

Trailer for The Green Inferno on TrailerAddict.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Cold Mountain: “Everest” is a Visceral Experience if Slightly Emotionally Void

If you really want to know why anyone would want to climb a mountain like Mt. Everest, you won’t find the answer in the film “Everest.” The answer is probably found in many of the other mountain climbing-related texts whether it’d be the documentary “Touching the Void,” the IMAX doc “Everest,” or Jon Krakauer’s best-seller “Into Thin Air” which tells the same story as 2015’s “Everest” (though the film isn’t technically based on the book). But as with most narrative films if you strive to actually learn about a real life incident, you’re better off reading the book or at least the Wikipedia page. That’s not to say that “Everest” isn’t a well-made film; it features terrific performances and some truly suspenseful sequences. It works as a docuthriller, but there’s just something missing. I missed the emotional connection with the characters who are almost as thin as the air to which they ascend.

The film stars Jason Clarke as Rob Hall a New Zealander who leads a tourist group called Adventure Consultants. This group trains and guides those willing to spend the money to summit Mt. Everest. All 29, 029 feet of it. The film is set in 1996 and some familiar faces round out the cast of real life climbers who wish to scale the mountain. There’s Josh Brolin as Beck and John Hawkes as Doug. Michael Kelly plays writer John Krakauer who is also part of the expedition.  There is one female climber played by Naoko Mori, but otherwise most of the female roles are rather passive. We’re talking about Keira Knightly as Rob’s pregnant wife at home, and Robin Wright as Beck’s wife at home. Jake Gyllenhaal shows up as well as a guide in another group who are planning to scale the mountain at the same time. This sort of causes complications. As anyone who would have the nerve to climb the world’s tallest mountain, there’s a lot of testosterone fueled rivalry going on which will eventually lead to tragedy. Oh, and the fact that mother nature can be extremely brutal when she wants to be.

The film’s first have, as directed by Bathasar Kormakur, is fairly straightforward in terms of narrative. There’s nothing truly flashy about the camerawork or editing. The film feels more like a documentary which makes sense, while the film’s second half skews into disaster movie mode after a freak snow storm causes trouble for those still up on the mountain. For all of the setup leading to the inevitable disaster that eventually occurs William Nicholson and Simon Beaufoy’s script doesn’t manage to flesh out the characters all that much which is sad because Beaufoy is responsible to some truly great scripts including the outstanding “127 Hours” (My guess is that he was brought in just for rewrites). That’s not to take anything away from the spectacle that is “Everest.” It’s certainly a sight to behold and it very intense and suspenseful. The film might rely just slightly too much on CGI shots of the mountain which take away from the nauseating height – which might actually be a good thing.

“Everest” is a truly cinematic experience. It tells and important true story about humans’ extreme adventures. It doesn’t quite delve as deeply into the experience as much as one would think but it’s still worthwhile. It presents Mt. Everest as beautiful as it is dangerous. It’s successful at showing us cinematically the people who feel like need to climb to its top to be in place where no human should ever be able to go. It just fails to answer the question on every audience member’s mind: why? GRADE: B

Trailer for Everest on TrailerAddict.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

To Grandmother’s House We Go: “The Visit” is a Creepy, Weird, and Generally Satisfying Thriller

No one is more sick and tired of found footage films than me. The more time that passes after having seen “The Visit,” the new thriller from the once-great M. Night Shyamalan, the more it grows on you. There are certainly elements to the film that can only be described as weird. And it’s rather funny – on purpose. The more you think about it the more you realize that was sort of what Shyamalan was going for; something strange and silly with decent scares. It feels like a crowd pleaser, it feels like the type of film he used to make – the one you want to tell everyone about. It’s not nearly in the same vein as say “The Sixth Sense” but that’s no surprise. He hasn’t made a genuinely satisfying film in many years but this seems like the first step back in the right direction.

If you’re sick of the overuse of “found footage” style of horror films that have saturated the multiplexes lately there’s not much I can say to convince you that “The visit” is very different. However, this is easily one of the best looking and well-shot of all these types of films. And of course it is, because look at the who’s behind the camera. Shyamalan isn’t going to compose ugly shots with low quality film even though the majority of the film’s footage is supposedly being shot by a young girl no older than fourteen. The story consists of a single mother (played by Katherine Hahn) who sends her two kids to stay with her estranged parents, whom her kids have never met. There’s older daughter Becca (Olivia DeJonge) who’s an aspiring filmmaker and her younger brother Tyler (Ex Oxenbould). Becca has decided to document her stay with her grandparents by shooting a documentary about her family. Tyler is the typical annoying younger brother; who likes to rap. He raps a lot. It’s weird. Some people liked this characterization; I found it uncomforable and unnecessary and didn’t add anything to the film except make it more bizarre. But I digress.

Becca and Tyler’s grandparents, known only as Nana and Pop Pop are played by Deanna Dugan and Peter McRobbie. They might be the strangest horror film couple since “The People Under the Stairs.” These two elderly actors give fine, weird, full throttle performances. They are peculiar people and they do weird things – and Becca and Tyler notice it. They seem nice enough, but the film wants us to agree that these folks seem just a tad… odd. It feels like a set-up for a Goosebumps book to be honest, but the film has playful fun setting up some of the oddities of this couple and Becca and Tyler’s concerns as they realize something isn’t quite right. Nana stares into a well and even chases the kids underneath the house. There’s also way more old lady nudity here than anyone could have been expecting. And that’s where Shyamalan seems to be having fun: by showing us stuff we’re not quite expecting, including a late story plot development that makes sense and isn’t all that predicable. And let's not forget the best use for human feces since "The Help."

The film does have some solid moments of fear but I never would call it all that frightening. You jump here and there and there’s a modest sense of foreboding, but it mostly consists of Nana and Pop Pop showing up within frame when you’re not quite expecting them. The film is more creepy than outright scary and there’s a strong playful quality with well-timed humor that ups the enjoyment factor immensely. Even if I wasn’t the biggest fan of the Tyler character, he did have some pretty decent lines and moments. The film also feels almost too oddly sentimental by trying to delve deeply into a broken family but the drama isn’t as well earned as it is in “The Sixth Sense.” Ultimately the sappy stuff fails to bring much emotional weight to the proceedings but there’s far more going on here thematically than in any of his recent films.

“The Visit” is practically a joy to sit through after so many painful missteps. It’s easily Shyamalan’s best work in years, though that doesn’t seem so much as a compliment than as a statement of fact. “The Visit” has enough thrills and laughs and originality to make up for its shortcomings. Some people will likely find the film ultimately silly and lame which would also make sense. However, it’s certainly one of the better shot found footage films in a while. Shyamalan just may be starting to get his grove back, and I like it.  GRADE: B

Trailer for The Visit on TrailerAddict.