Monday, October 17, 2011

MEGA-REVIEW CATCH-UP!!! Tucker & Dale, X-Men: First Class, Perfect Host, True Grit, and more...

Tucker and Dale Vs. Evil

Let’s take a familiar story and set it askew. College kids on vacation decide to head off into the backwoods, get drunk, go swimming in the lake, generally act like the irresponsible punks that they are and then they run afoul of some redneck locals. It’s a familiar horror film trope. But what if the redneck locals really are just well meaning good ol’ boys? What if the problem is a series of mishaps and miscommunications? This is our basic premise behind the story of “Tucker and Dale vs. Evil”. Our title characters are best friends setting out to repair a dilapidated cabin recently purchased by Tucker with his life savings. When our erstwhile pair manages to rescue one of the kids from drowning, the others believe that she’s been taken hostage and the rednecks are full of ill intent. The kids attempts to “rescue” their friend result in a series of brutal accidents, leading our duo to believe that they’re the victims of some “suicide-murder pact” perpetrated by the girls friends. They also come to believe that they have to protect the girl from her friends and events continue to spiral and escalate out of control. The results, although tragic, are also pure slapstick hilarity.

Alan Tudyk and Tyler Labine are fantastic as the title characters. Their performances keep the characters engaging and it’s their convincing friendship that keeps the audience interested in the events surrounding them. Their reactions to the brutal deaths are hilarious. Labine is simply brilliant as the well-meaning but somewhat na├»ve Dale while Tudyk plays it much more straight as Tucker, a man who sees his lifes’ dream turning into a nightmare. It’s a great comic pairing and works especially well with the premise of the film. There are a number of decent gore effects, including the trailer-spoiled death by wood-chipper but the film goes beyond the simple slapstick comedy by giving us a pair of likeable main characters for whom to root when they must eventually face the “evil” of the title.

4.5 out of 5.

X-Men: First Class

So I didn’t expect much out of the new X-Men: First Class film and was kind of surprised to read and hear so many good things about it. I still wasn’t convinced to give it a theatrical viewing, but eagerly snatched it up as a Netflix DVD rental. Based on the comic book franchise, “First Class” gives us a look at the Xavier Institutes’ past and the friendship between the Professor and his nemesis, Magneto. We find an early introduction to several characters in the franchise, the story takes place at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, and we get an incredible villain portrayed by Kevin Bacon. All of the promising comments bore tremendous fruit and the film takes you on an action packed thrill ride with an engaging story. All of this, of course, hinges on the very real possibility that the viewer has absolutely no interest in the comic book or is able to completely forget key issues regarding the characters introduced to the story.

We’re treated to an introduction to Alex Summers, the younger brother of familiar X-Men icon Cyclops. In this film, the younger brother is a prison inmate released from solitary confinement in order to join Xavier’s band of misfit mutants. Although his relationship with Cyclops never comes up beyond naming him Summers, as a fan of the character his placement in the film is frustrating. The portrayal of Alex as an arrogant punk instead of the insightful archeologist and compassionate hero he is in the comics rankles my feathers a little further. But, that would just be one character out of several that included a Banshee AND Moira MacTaggert born in America without the slightest hints of an accent, a female “angel” with insectoid wings and the ability to spit acid or fire or some such, or a completely superfluous character whose only purpose from the moment he hits the screen is to die an ignoble death. I’m not precisely certain how much of the “comic book” actually became included with the film, but I would suspect they had little more than a list of names and powers when the writers hammered out the script.

I suppose a lot of the film can be forgiven for taking such incredible liberties, but I’m a purist at heart and I think that some continuity needs to be maintained when developing a franchise film based on a franchise comic book. I know a lot of people saw this film as the direction in which comic films should be pushed, but it didn’t push the right buttons for me. It’s largely a fantastic film and it’s a shame they had to drag several characters over the coals in order to get it made. I would recommend the film for anyone who has no interest in the comics and would warn purists that there are A LOT of changes to some beloved characters in the series.

3.5 out of 5.

The Perfect Host:

Skeet Ulrich, a fugitive on the run, manages to charm his way into the home of David Hyde Pierce on the night of a dinner party to be hosted by Pierce. Unfortunately for “Fat Johnny Depp”, DHP is not the mild mannered host we originally assume him to be and events quickly spiral out of control. The film mostly revolves around the interplay between Pierce and Ulrich, the latter of which seems out of his depth throughout most of the film. Hyde Pierce is a psychotic bag of trouble for the Fugitive, showing off a scrap book collection of previous dinner “Guests” and taunting Ulrich about the direction of his life. We also find out that Ulrich’s crime is not all we originally believe it to be, as we get constant flash-backs to the love of his life and her medical problems intercut with scenes of the detectives looking for Ulrich. As DHP continues to torture, mock, and humiliate his victim, Ulrich begins to show the audience more of who he really is and we get a real game of Cat & Mouse.

The film delivers some improbable twists and turns and should have probably ended a little sooner than it’s run time, but it had its heart in the right place and was cleverly performed. The real highlight of the film, however, is David Hyde Pierce. There are so many scenes where Pierce just dominates the camera and gives us a glimpse into a mind that is just flat out bizarre.

4 out of 5.

True Grit: (remake)

So the Coen Brothers got together and decided to throw together an updated remake to a classic John Wayne film? I wanted to see this one in the theater, but circumstances prevented me and it took awhile for me to get around to giving it a spin on the DVD player. Having only seen the original once some random number of years ago, I thought it was a fair story that held up well. The Coen Brothers didn’t really do a lot to change it up or deliver something especially new, but this is a much darker version of the story. Jeff Bridges is fantastic as Rooster Cogburn, but he lacks some of the warmth that John Wayne brought to the role. It could be better with the story the Coens choose to tell but the story really does belong to the character of “Maddie”… the young actress portraying Maddie should have a heck of a future. She’s not the spit fire comedy relief of the first film, but is rather a tragic heroine struggling to cope with the loss of her father and the responsibility of caring for her family. She’s a hard girl and her scenes with Le Beouf are exemplary. Probably the weakest aspect of the film is the LeBeouf character. However it seems perhaps it was purposefully so, as Matt Damon seems too soft for the role of a Texas Ranger. Maddies’ cutting remarks hit very true to the mark and LeBeouf is often humiliated throughout the course of the film. He doesn’t seem at all to be the hard-bitten trail hand he claims to be.

I'm not entirely certain why, but I just can't think of much to write about for this film. It was a good film, but nothing I could just talk about for paragraphs at a time. Anyway, I recommend it.

4 out of 5.


I’ve never been a fan of the “first person” shaky cam affect used in perhaps a few too many recent independent film projects. Troll Hunter follows a documentary crew as they stalk the moves of a known bear poacher. We quickly discover that the poacher is far more than he seems and the crew finds out that Trolls exist. There are different species running wild on preserves throughout Sweden, and its’ the job of this poacher to hunt them when they escape. And that’s what this film is… there are several great scenes, but it’s a lot of running through the woods and some great CGI affects to animate the Trolls our crew comes across. There’s some government conspiracy goodies, some science behind the existence of trolls, and we get a lot of information regarding the mythology of these creatures. Fun film.

4 out of 5.


This wretched drivel is werewolf fan fiction romance disguised as a serious attempt in film making. The mind numbing “plot” involves a strange woman on the run from her abusive boyfriend, arriving in town, seducing the town “hero”, and then turning him into a werewolf… sorry, that term is never actually used. They get turned into CGI glowing wolf-like creatures of blurry nonsense. Oh, god… and then we find out that the guys female best friend has been one of these creatures all along, but she’s a good woof and yadda yadda blah blah blah. This movie started off slowly, revved it’s engine maybe once throughout the debacle, and then finished us off with an anticlimactic series of endings before mercifully rolling the end credits. There are worse movies out there, but this debacle was a total waste of time.

1 out of 5.