Summer has (supposedly) officially come to an end, and even though I’m still away from home base and haven’t yet gone off vacation mode, I have neglected posting on here long enough.
It’s been a while, and I have to admit I’ve missed rambling on and on about my favorite – and not so favorite – TV shows and movies.
I spent the first leg of my vacation at my island summer home, which, while lovely and picturesque and minutes away from some of the most beautiful beaches in this country (yes, I’m biased), is seriously lacking when it comes to wifi access. So I had to make do with a crapload of books and a few usb drives full of random movies and TV shows I’d kept on the back burner for later viewings (i.e. until I was desperate for new stuff to watch).
Enter my ‘rainy day’ watchlist, which mostly consists of an assortment of movies that had either come highly recommended or had flown under the radar when first released and have since started popping up on various lists of “underrated” movies. And then there are those everyone always raves about and are simply not my kind of film, so I hadn’t even bothered until now.
This is going to be one long-ass post, so let’s kick off on a positive note:
Why did no one ever tell me about this gem? Or, more accurately, why did I never bother before today? Given my affection for all things cake, I should have watched it ages ago, if only for the very misleading, yummy-sounding title.
Layer Cake is frequently featured on various lists of so-called ‘underrated’ movies, yet I had never given it the time of day before now. Maybe it’s because, for the longest time, I didn’t think much of Daniel Craig. I held off watching the Bond films he stars in because his appearance didn’t sit right with me for some reason (and I realize how superficial that sounds, but despite my love for fair-haired men, a blond James Bond just rubbed me the wrong way).
I was quick to acknowledge I was wrong after I binge-watched all of them (that was before the flop that was Spectre, and sadly now that I finally jumped on the Craig bandwagon, he’s quit the Bond franchise). Yet I still didn’t feel like giving Layer Cake a chance.
Boy, am I glad I did, even at such a late date. It’s not your average drug dealer story, nor is it the usual Hollywood underworld flick. How could it? It has the distinctive look and feel of a good British movie – think Guy Richie at his best. The editing especially is reminiscent of his style, but then again I haven’t watched nearly as many British films as I have Hollywood flicks, so maybe that’s why.
Either way, it’s clever, funny at times, definitely well-written and well-acted. Bonus points for the non-Hollywood ending. There’s really not much more to say other than watch this movie, you won’t regret it.
This one was somewhat puzzling: it’s supposed to fall under the comedy/crime/horror genre, but it’s more a not-so-funny black comedy than anything else. So, coming in with any preconception or expectation, which were mostly based on the inaccurate plot summary floating around on any movie site, I was bound to be disappointed.
I mean hey, I enjoy Ryan Reynolds as much as the next girl, and who doesn’t find talking pets hilarious? I mean, even when those pets urge the protagonist to commit multiple cases of murder…?
That’s my first issue with the movie right there. It was marketing as a film focusing on a guy who can talk to his (evil) pets and seeks their advice to pursue the girl he has a crush on, until things take a sinister turn. So far, so good, except the actual advice doesn’t come until after he gets a date with the girl and totally blows it.
My main problem, however, aside from the missed opportunity of a shirtless Ryan Reynolds, is that, although placed in the comedy-horror genre, the movie was neither funny nor scary in the least. You know you have a dud on your hands when not even a cat talking in a Scottish accent can make you laugh.
The storyline is pretty simple: a guy living in a small town – where apparently the most fun activities to partake in are either karaoke nights or a bizarre combo of dinner & martial-arts-and-music show at a chinese restaurant – develops a crush on his English co-worker at a bathroom fixture manufacturer. She works in accounting, he works in shipping. It’s unclear how the british babe ended up in this dead-end town, but we soon find out that the guy is on some work release program and under psychiatric evaluation.
He seems totally likable, even though he’s clearly insane and rather stupid, and his boss is pleased with his performance. His psychiatrist, however, is not, but is still doing a lousy job even though the guy is obviously dangerous, if not to others, then at least to himself. He admits to ‘occasionally’ taking his meds before confessing he stopped taking them altogether, and via a series of flashbacks it is revealed that his condition, i.e. hearing voices, in particular his pet dog and cat’s voices, and having actual conversations with them, was inherited by his mother, who ultimately committed suicide. His dad was a dick and they all moved to that little town from Germany, which is mentioned several times in the movie but never actually explored as a plot point.
Neither is it explained why, out of all the people who like him, his crush seems to be the only one creeped out by him. She hides in her office when he goes looking for her and she stands him up on a date, while her two co-workers are both smitten with the guy. She seems rather snotty and ungrateful even after he comes to her rescue when she finds herself stranded outside the factory, in the middle of the night, drenched by the pouring rain.
What follows is, I assume, supposed to be both funny and scary, but it’s mostly just creepy and awkward. They accidentally hit a deer on their way home, the guy loses control of the car and veers off into the woods with the deer still dangling from the car, half-dead and stuck in the smashed windshield. It “speaks” to him, begging him to finish it off, and he does as he’s told: he picks up a knife and mercy-kills the poor animal.
Now, I get why this is disturbing. Killing an animal on screen should never feel right. But even without the crazy talking deer part, it’s still the humane thing to do, yet the girl is completely freaked out and runs out of the car and into the forest. He runs after her, knife still in hand, she trips and falls, and he falls on top of her, accidentally stabbing her. Like he did moments before with the deer, he finishes her off.
Back at his place, which is located over a deserted bowling alley for some reason, his pets debate the awfulness of the situation as he carefully chops up the body in tiny pieces and places them in containers that are inexplicably tiny for such a job. He does save the head, however, and places it in the fridge. Inconsistency #1: despite the abundance of gore while packaging up the severed body parts, her head is surprisingly blood-free. Inconsistency #2: he takes time to carefully package the body and stack all those containers neatly but leaves the rest of the apartment in a huge bloody mess. Inconsistency #3: why not just bury the body in the woods and save himself the task of dismembering the poor woman?
Meanwhile, his dog is playing good cop while the cat is being a bloodthirsty dick, perpetuating the stereotype in a very unfunny, cynical way. The cat is all about the killer instinct, urging him to succumb to his baser needs and reminding him how good it feels to take a life. He feels alive. The dog tries to remind him that he’s a good person who regrets killing his crush, that it was just an accident.
Things get complicated when the head in his fridge starts talking to him as well and asks for some company. Egged on by the cat, he takes his other coworker on a date that is supposed to end the same way his previous one did. Alas, it goes really, really well. He opens up to her, spends the night at her place, makes out with her at work the next day.
Things inevitably go awry when she decides to pay him a surprise visit the following night, and discovers the mess he made while dismembering the body. Although he desperately tries to keep her out and, when that fails, convince her it’s nothing to worry about, in the end he of course kills her too. The murder is followed by a third one, when the other coworker goes looking for her friend.
Meanwhile, the cops are following up on the investigation that started when someone discovered parts of the first body in the woods, which he carelessly left behind. It is unclear how and why they follow the leads all the way to the guy’s house, but by the time they do, he’s already confessed to his shrink and ties her up when she tries to call the cops. He (again, inexplicably) takes her on a ride out in the fields before bringing her back to his place as the cops surround the building.
Running out of options, he escapes into the bowling alley but damages a pipe as he climbs out of his apartment, causing a gas leak. After saying his goodbyes to his pets, he accepts that he’s about to die and gets blown to smithereens as the cops put the shrink in an ambulance.
We then get a ridiculous final scene where his three victims, along with his parents, sing and dance in color-coordinated outfits. It seems to me that the only reason this scene was put in was to give Anna Kendrick the chance to show off her pipes.
And that’s about it. I know I spoiled the entire plot for anyone bothering to read this, but believe me, I just saved you a couple of hours of mind-numbingly bad movie making.
In a World
If Layer Cake was a total hit and The Voices a complete miss in my search of discovering under-appreciated movies, then In A World was a surprising gem.
I’ve only really seen Lake Bell in a handful of TV shows (the only one that springs to mind is the awesome first few seasons of Boston Legal), so the fact that she wrote, directed AND starred in this one was definitely intriguing. It helps that the cast includes Demetri Martin, one of my favorite comedians, as well as Tig Notaro, but in the end it was all about her, and she did a fabulous job.
Its premise doesn’t sound very exciting: a female voice-over actor tries to find her footing in a male-dominated profession, in an effort that’s all the more difficult considering her father is a legend in the field and not exactly her biggest proponent. But the result is a fun, funny, clever little film that absolutely deserves some attention. It just goes to show what good writing, acting and directing can achieve even on a shoe-string budget, and that makes it all the more noteworthy.
Now You See Me 2
This one is pretty new and doesn’t really fall under any of the above-mentioned categories, but I figured I’d include it here:
Hollywood seems to have a very hard time grasping the concept of ‘leaving well enough alone’. The actual sequels to movies – and I’m excluding trilogies and franchises here – that can actually live up to the quality of the original movie (and its subsequent hype) are so few and far between than logic would dictate there’s no sense in attempting them.
And yes they’re at it, again and again, movie after movie, blockbuster after blockbuster. Now You See Me was a fun little film. It wasn’t supposed to be taken too seriously, but it was an entertaining couple of hours.
The second instalment, not so much. Replacing Isla Fisher with Lizzie Kaplan was definitely on the plus side, and casting Daniel Radcliffe as the villain in a movie about magicians was hilarious, but those two casting decisions are the only actual positive things I can say about the movie. The story made no sense at times, the plot holes made it even more confusing, the actual “magic” was gimmicky at best, and Mark Ruffalo was as annoying as ever, except this time even Woody Harrelson managed to be annoying as well. The one saving grace in terms of unlikely casting that the first movie boasted – Morgan Freeman as the bad guy – was predictaby reversed in this one, and I’m pretty sure the only one surprised by this was Ruffalo’s character.
Meh. Just meh.
Which brings me to the blockbuster.
Mad Max: Fury Road
Okay, let me preface this once again by saying I never cared for sci-fi stuff (including dystopian adventure movies), so it will be quite biased, but here goes:
I hadn’t seen the original Mad Max trilogy so I didn’t know what to expect from this one. God knows it took me a while to work up the courage and sit through the thing. Post-apocalyptic car chases aren’t exactly my type of movie, and I was a bit wary coming in, not only because of the genre but also because it’s basically the third sequel to a movie I know nothing about, except that it was starring Mel Gibson back in his heyday, long before the sexist remarks, racial slurs and drunken outbursts of recent years.
My apprehension was partly confirmed, seeing as I was plunged straight into a (very weird) world without preamble. Max is caught by odd-looking creatures and hung upside-down to act as a human blood bag while some even stranger looking villain, who apparently rules the place, graces the poor souls he reigns over with his presence before dousing them with a controlled dose of water. Immortan Joe, as I learned is his name much further into the movie, wears a skull-like mask that I guess we’re supposed to assume is crucial to his survival. The wasteland looks completely barren and the people look miserable and parched. Meanwhile Furiosa, a fierce looking chick with a shaved head, goes rogue and runs off in a truck called a “war rig”, whatever that is. Her cargo is water as well as a handful of beautiful and scantily clad women, who are apparently the boss’ wives, and thus begins a long, long chase.
As far as background info goes, there’s not a lot to go on. I imagine I’m in the minority of my age group who hasn’t seen the original films but not so when it comes to younger viewers, so the whole thing was a bit disconcerting, mainly because there’s a whole lot going on right away and several characters who go unidentified throughout the whole movie. It doesn’t matter though: if it’s non-stop action you want, it’s non-stop action you get once you push play. And that’s about the extent of it.
The first half of the movie consists solely of a long and violent car-chase: Furiosa is trying to get away from that hellhole and smuggle the wives out of there; Max is chained to the skeletal dude he’s been transfusing and joins a bunch of other similar looking dudes in hot pursuit of Furiosa, but of course his main goal is to break free from that group of weirdoes. There are spiky cars and a humongous speaker-rigged vehicle with a guitarist providing loud riffs as the chase’s soundtrack across the desert. It’s visually stunning, the action is well choreographed – and even more impressive when taking into account that most of it was practical effects and stunts rather than CGI – but after a while you get that “is that is?” feeling.
Max joins Furiosa and the wives and a long drive later they reach whatever she thought her destination was: the green place no longer exists, the women she encounters tell her, and Max floats a novel idea: they should go back where they came from. There’s water and vegetation there, so all they need to do is neutralize the small army of weirdoes on their tails, and of course their fearsome leader.
And this is where I started to get really irritated. As impressive as the car chase in Act 1 was, it didn’t really warrant a repetition. The second half of the movie is exactly like the first one, except their course is reversed and the direction and stuntwork goes all out. Yes, the editing of the fight scenes was spectacular, but it’s a two hour movie and so far all we’ve seen these guys do is shoot at each other while speeding through a desert. There’s zero character development, and the movie gives us no reason to root for the protagonists other than they’re branded the good guys from the beginning. I cared very little for whatever Max’s demons are, and when Furiosa “mourns” the loss of the green place the acting was laughable, which is quite an accomplishment coming from an award-winning perfomer with serious acting chops. The movie wastes all but the last few minutes following the crazy car chase and the main characters’ triumphant return, overthrowing the skull dude’s regime, doesn’t feel earned.
Bottom line: if it’s mindless action you want, this movie offers that in spades. If it’s a well-written storyline and deep characters, better try your luck elsewhere.
If you actually managed to sit through this entire post, I applaud you.
Stay tuned for an equally long part 2.