Wednesday, November 24, 2010

3 Reviews: Doghouse / 30 Days (sequel) / Alice in Burtonland.


I saw a preview for “Doghouse” a few years back, just before its initial European release and long before U.S. distribution would land this film in my mailbox. Danny Dyer was heavily featured in the trailer and I had just discovered his particular “charm” after his performance in Severance. In “Doghouse”, Dyer hits familiar notes as the egotistical womanizing jerk in a troupe of British mates taking a holiday trip to the small village of Moodley. Their goal is to distract best friend “Vince” from his recent divorce through drink and rough-house drinking in a small town atmosphere away from the city life the boys were usually living. The seven mates arrive in the town only to find it a near-barren wasteland nearly devoid of life and split up to wander around. Things hit the fan when they’re attacked by the blood-crazed cannibalistic female residents of the town… the “Zom-birds”, if you will.

Okay, that’s the premise of the film. What this film is really about, however, is a grown man coming to terms with his own maturity and recent divorce. He has done everything the right way for so long, only to wind up losing his wife because she’d grown “bored” with their life. He is frustrated and angry, he feels as though all women hate men, and his buddies are all coping with different stages of their own lives. So he and his buddies run from one hiding spot to another, chopping, stabbing, burning, and otherwise behaving in a rather ungentlemanly manner to the towns’ female zombie residents. Because, what this film is really about is a bunch of goofy blokes getting attacked by female “zom-bird” slags.

Brit-slang and dry wit humor blends with a decent amount of prat-fall gags and gory F/X. The verbal interplay remains consistent between the characters, each character seeming like lifelong mates out for a weekend jaunt away from their spouses. While Dyer may own most of the film, he’s in strong competition with the extremely likeable and nerdy heart of the troupe, Matt. Mikey, desperate to please and impress his blokes, also rises to the occasion time and again. The movie is funny and kept me entertained from start to finish with a group of loveable goofballs. Even the misogynistic Dyer comes off as redeemable when all is said and done.

4.5 out of a possible 5.

30 Days of Night: Dark Days

A story has a beginning, middle, and an end. The original film featured a fairly standard ‘siege’ premise when the Alaskan City of Barrow faces a month without sunlight and the hungry assault from a clan of vampires. We followed Eben as he made difficult choices and struggled to save the people he loved from a terrible fate. We had a beginning as the sun set and Eben was unable to help his estranged wife catch the last flight out of the city. The people of Barrow settled in for a harsh month and a mysterious stranger had disabled communications with the outside world. The middle came in a wave of hunger as the vampires took to the city, slaughtering and killing with reckless abandon. Eben struggled to keep his family and friends safe from the harsh cold and the unrelenting horror that stalked them. And he faced the end of his story, but for that you should see the original 30 Days of Night and probably stop reading this review. That’s the end of the story.

But with any successful property, there’s always an attempt to recapture lightning in a bottle. Attempting to expand the tale beyond its fitting end, Dark Days continues to follow Stella in the aftermath of her survival against the undead. She has published a book about her experiences and is touring the country to spread her tale, to create a wider awareness of the vampires’ existence. She’s caught the attention of the undead and a number of people who are actively hunting the monsters. Lured by a promise to disrupt their ‘system’ by killing the vampire known as “Lillith”, Stella once again does battle with the undead and makes several startling discoveries.

Actually, it’s not all that startling so much as it’s just lazy writing. We find out that vampires who burn in the daylight can be reconstituted, completely destroying a number of scenes from the original film. Lillith is about as threatening a vampire as can be when she has almost no lines and pretty much struts around the screen and stares people to death… there’s no depth to her character and she completely lacks the menace of the first films lead vampire. Heck, she isn’t even nearly as threatening as the first films child vampire. Added to the growing list of problems is the introduction of “Dane”, a “Good Guy” vampire who is somehow able to curb his thirst and attempts to help Stella and the new Scoobie Gang track and hunt down the undead. In the wake of her towns’ destruction, Stella has become a chain smoking, booze swilling, teeth-clenched grumpy pants “tough girl” semi-hero straight out of central casting. One of the best parts of the film features the death of a fellow hunter when he turns, leading one of the cast to say “We’ve never had to kill one of our own.” Stella flippantly mentions that you get used to it, to which I’m looking back at the events of the first film as Eben did all the dirty work while Stella sat around crying. What, precisely, is she supposed to have gotten used to? And what’s with the attitude?

Dark Days does feature a number of good gore effects. On its own and ignoring the back story of the original film, it’s a fairly good vampire hunter film. But when you compare it with the original, or when you look at it as a continuation of the characters struggles, it fails on an epic level and reminds you that a good sequel should always respect the original films ending.

3 out of 5.

Alice in Wonderland

What, precisely, was wrong with the original story of Alice that Tim Burton felt the need to only sort of and kind of address its original premise with this supposed sequel to the original story? It is never billed a sequel, of course… it is presented as a wholly new vision to the original Lewis Carroll story as presented time and time again throughout the years. It is designed to look like Alice, it is designed to feel like Alice, but the original story certainly didn’t leave enough room for a headlining Johnny Depp to chew up the mess of dialogue and deliver Carroll’s poetry in a dreadful hodgepodge of semi-European dialect accents and drunken Captain Jack slurring. And yet Depp goes out of his way to out-weird himself in full make-up while Burton forces the cast and crew into one poorly designed green room effect after another in an attempt to recapture the same exact vision he’s already brought us time and time again. It’s like Burton just takes a weird story, adds more weirdness to it, grounds it with the same thematic presentation of EVERY single other film he’s ever made. Take a deep breath, try to relax, and enjoy the film for what it is…

Alice is a young girl who might very well be mad. Her father disappeared some time ago, possibly dead though we never really find out the truth of it. He might have just gone mad himself, and his former estate is now owned and run by a family friend whose own son is preparing to propose marriage to the young Alice. He’s well-to-do, of course, and everyone expects the girl to accept because it’s only sensible and everyone does the sensible thing in a sensible world… except for the one single outsider that Burton continues to place in all of his films, leaving that one person to deal with the hostility and persecution of a normal world again and again and again! I FREAKING GOT IT WITH EDWARD SCISSORHANDS YOU TIRED HACK OF A … .deep breath. Enjoy it for what it is. So, Alice the loon takes off right after the proposal and chases the Rabbit into the hole and goes through the motions… again, it seems. We’re told that she’s doing all of this again by the residents of Wonderland, who are all familiar enough with Alice to hope that she is the right one. You see, this isn’t just a remake of Alice… it’s a sequel, I suppose, though they didn’t ever say it was going to be a sequel… GARGHGHGHGH!!!! Because the original material isn’t weird enough? Because WHY?!?!! I’ll tell you why… because Johnny Depp is the Mad Hatter, and Mrs. Tim Burton needs more screen time to weird up the theater with her bizarre British mannerisms when she’s really just a tired old slag!!! ARGH!!!! Deep breath!

The movie isn’t bad… it’s just nothing we haven’t already seen, and nothing we haven’t already coped with, and nothing to do with Alice in Wonderland when all is said and done. It’s a hodgepodge collection of random elements from the story swirled around to tell the same exact story Tim Burton made famous with Edward Scissorhands, Big Fish, and countless other fantasy adventures. Fans are going to enjoy the work because it’s the same thing he’s done over and over again, but I couldn’t stop marveling at how magnificently he managed to work in more and more screen time for both Depp and his own wife. The Red Queen and the Mad Hatter were important to the story, but didn’t have near the presence they happen to carry in this reworking of Carrolls original story. So, to be fair, it’s neither incredibly bad or awfully good… it’s another Tim Burton movie in a glutton bundle of Tim Burton films.

2.5 out of 5

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