Monday, July 25, 2011

One A Week Reviews #29: In Her Skin

Reviewing In Her Skin for DVDsnapshot turned out to be a nice surprise. Simone North knocks the ball out of the park with a first film that, yeah, wobbles in a few places, but on the whole is a triumph!

Official Synopsis:

A desire for a new life turns a jealous obsession into a disturbing game of identity theft in this terrifying psychological thriller based on a true story. Homely loner Caroline (Ruth Bradley) longs to escape her tormented adolescence and finds a way by living vicariously through popular girl Rachel (Kate Bell), who seemingly has it all. But Caroline's longing to be someone else soon transforms her hope of breaking free of her own life into a twisted need to replace it with Rachel's. Sam Neill, Guy Pearce, and Miranda Otto all give flawless performances as the parents of the tow girls whose lives threaten to intertwine in a deadly way.

Our Take:


Just because a film is inspired by true events does not mean you need to spoil the plot in your one sentence description on its page.

In lesser hands, this story of a young girl's murder and it's affect on her family and her killer could have been a ploddingly obvious Lifetime movie of the week told from the mother's point of view. Instead, In Her Skin is a stunning first feature from Australian television producer Simone North. With a stunning aesthetic, fine photography and a well-done score, this is the kind of deluxe production you're surprised to find flying under the theatrical radar. If anything, the viewpoint here is confident enough to be almost distracting in places, and the artistic touches don't always mesh with a story based on an actual murder.

Told in three segments and set in 1999, the story follows events from the point of view of Rachel's parents, then her killer, and then finally her own. Mike and Elizabeth Barber are the parents as played by Guy Pearce and Miranda Otto. The immediate kick-off into melodrama should be heavy handed, but these actors, especially Otto, tear into the material fiercely and finely. They engage the audience from the very beginning without carrying things over the top.

Friday, July 15, 2011

One A Week Reviews #28: The Wild Hunt

This week it's a surprisingly engaging drama reviewed for Dvdsnapshot about Live-Action Role Players that'll have you wondering who might be blurring fantasy and reality.

Official Synopsis:
When Erik's girlfriend leaves him for another man – a man entrenched in the world of live action role play – he has no choice but to pack up and follow her, plunging himself into a strange and disorienting world where people take their medieval costumes and rules of play deadly serious. As Erik stumbles through this world, rules are broken, jealousies inflamed, and the game turns frighteningly real. With The Wild Hunt director Alexandre Franchi accomplishes the near impossible, crafting a dark and twisting thriller set entirely in the world of LARPing. Shot on location in an actual Quebec village built specifically for live action role play, The Wild Hunt blurs the line between fantasy and reality.

Our Take:

To brutally paraphrase Chekov: “When you introduce a Mjolnir in the first act, you have to have someone use it in the third.”

It's almost a shame to watch The Wild Hunt knowing anything about it going in. What looks like a cheap, well-photographed middle ages or Viking tale kicks off engagingly enough with furs and fires, fists and facepaint. It's a bit ham-fisted but quickly reveals the actual premise: these knights and crusaders are a bunch of present-day dudes playing pretend on the weekend. Knowing that going in – and even seeing it in the trailer – doesn't prevent a barking laugh when two guys break character to start fighting over the rules.

When Lyn, the rather depressing-seeming girlfriend of our trustily milquetoast lead, Erik, takes off with a motley crew of dudes in a van to go play Camelot in the woods, he does not do the sensible thing and box her stuff up to set out on the curb. No, he decides to go follow her and navigate the “thine” and “thou” crew to get her attention. At his side to guide him is his brother Thor, who takes his LARPing a bit too seriously.

At first he just has to try navigating this crowd's maddening – irritating - devotion to their shared dramatics and attempt fitting in to go force his girlfriend into communicating. He then again screws up being sensible by not taking off when she picks her bully friends over dealing with him. Soon it stops mattering when someone unstable starts taking the game far too seriously.

Friday, July 8, 2011

One A Week Reviews #27: Kaboom

Is it showing my age to admit I've been a fan of Gregg Araki since I first saw The Living End in college? It was the mid-ninties and my early twenties. That film broke big on the Indie scene for him but the film I connected with more was The Doom Generation. Never before had I seen nihilism or young adult hormones portrayed quite so candy-colored before...

The new film, Kaboom, is a bit of return-to-form for him after the wonderful, meandering stoner comedy Smiley Face. (Shockingly and appallingly, I have yet to see Mysterious Skin, but I'm moving it up the Netflix queue to resolve that). This is more of a looser Nowhere, an assemblage of sexually-charged near-misses and scenes threatening a tragic third act, here given some breathing room and a dash of David Lynch-style ominousness. The cynical and hyper-sexualized teens that have populated most of his films are here. His dialogue is in that same smart-aleck style but here is slightly lighter and looser as well. Sadly, the sprawl and dream-logic seems to get tangled up in the mystery story structure of Kaboom. To paraphrase Joe Bob Briggs, there's too much plot getting in the way of the sex.

Smith, the lead, is an aimless bisexual college student hot for his roommate and involved with one of his two gal Fridays. He also may be the "chosen son" and trigger of some pending possible apocalypse. Or it could just be the arduous ennui of turning 19. Between random sex-romps and the mystery of a possibly-imaginary trio of animal headed murderers, things stay off-kilter for the duration. What Araki captures best is that teens-and-twenties sense having an aimless, endless future in a world threatening to go over the edge coupled with a messy, sprawling libido.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

One A Week Reviews #26: Savage County

Welcome to the halfway point - week 26, and a happy 4th of July to ya, if that's what you're into. I was gonna save this for my big 31 review October (yes, I work ahead to try and fit in with the cool kids) but, on this most American of weekends, I thought "why not feature that most American of horror tropes, the crazy backwoods family?"

Especially as it's time to call a moratorium on this crap. I'm crazy backwoods familied out. I'm not sure when MTV started producing horror films like My Super Psycho Sweet Sixteen and this, but I'm all for bringing it to the teens - even if the results are as reheated to the rest of us as this film is. (I haven't seen Sixteen to judge.) Reviewed for dvdsnapshot, and presented for your mind-bogglement as a break from time spent with your own probably-crazy, possibly backwoods family...

Official Synopsis:
Patrick and his friends should never have set foot on the Hardell family property. The stories are true, you see, and the Hardell's - Willard, Kasper, and Orry - are not friendly towards unwelcome guests. And so after a dare gone badly wrong, Patrick and his friends are on the run for their lives, the gruesome trio hot on their trail and out for blood. A slasher in the classic mould, David Harris' Savage County is The Texas Chainsaw Massacre meets Hostel - a bloody thrill ride of brutal kills and the desperate fight for survival.

Our Take:

Films today are edited for short attention spans, but Savage County takes it to the next level. It's not just that every sentence of dialogue has to be constructed of a minimum of three shots; this is the first film I've seen that'll cut away from actors mid-expression. (Perhaps overkill since they seem to have so few of 'em.) In many scenes it looks like the technique from old cheap movies, like those by Doris Wishman, of cutting away from the actors whenever they're delivering a line to cover for all the sound being dubbed in later. (Upon further consideration, I think this is actually the case.)