This week on The Shelf. we’ve got gravelly-voiced heroes fighting raptor-looking aliens, entitled yuppies taking on animal-masked psychopaths, and for a nice change of pace, a directionless high schooler trying to make sense of the world. Also, more horror, more drama, and three bonafide film classics. That’s a pretty decent haul, I think you’ll agree.
It seems like this is a franchise that won’t go away, even if it took nearly a decade for the third installment to come about. Riddick, written and directed by David Twohy and starring Vin Diesel, follows 2000’s Pitch Black and 2004’s The Chronicles of Riddick and deals with the further exploits of intergalactic outlaw anti-hero Richard B. Riddick, who has a vicious temper and the need for steampunk eyewear in order to see things during the day. He’s joined in this movie by Katee Sackhoff and Dave Bautista.
I didn’t get to see this movie, but you’re in luck! Our own Dan Casey saw it in theaters and here’s a bit of what he had to say about it:
It’s been nine years since the last Riddick film, so writer-director David Twohy makes sure to inundate the audience with guttural, corner of the mouth, expositional voiceover from Vin Diesel, as we find Riddick buried alive and left for dead on an alien world. Visions of sugarplum fairies (read: flashbacks to weird future-fascist foursomes and Karl Urban sneering) dance in Riddick’s head as we see our hulking hero crawl out from the debris, tend his considerable wounds, and try to survive among the incredibly unforgiving elements. Of particular merit is the film’s creature design, which manages to impart a familiar xenobiology to its varied beasties and gives them a menacing, deadly edge all at once. The effects and the score are top notch and do a lot to elevate this from Redbox hate-watching rental fodder to supremely satisfying matinee silliness.
At its core, the film is a two hour-long game of cat and mouse, but the roles of “cat” and “mouse” continue to shift and evolve as we meet new characters and our heroes escape old horrors to face fresh ones. Whether it’s Riddick versus the local wildlife, Riddick versus mercenaries, mercenaries versus mercenaries, or everyone versus monsters that look like Dr. Mengele’s version of a Skeksis, the name of the game is always “hide and go seek, but with 100% more murder,” which, as I understand it, is what worked so well for Pitch Black in the first place. In fact, from what I gather, it seems like Twohy and Diesel went out of their way to make this essentially a remake of the 2000 film, but, for my money, it works. Those of you who are tired of the “monsters in the dark” probably won’t be lining up to see Riddick anyway, but Twohy pulls it off well enough to keep the viewer entertained and engaged throughout.
The Blu-ray comes in an unrated version, which I’m sure has even more violence and sex, because why else release it? You can also, if you so desire, get the entire Riddick Collection which features all three theatrical films plus Peter Chung’s animated film, Dark Fury.
I’d heard some good things about You’re Next from people who were able to attend Austin’s Fantastic Fest or could catch the screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival, but the trailer didn’t have me overly convinced. I mean, it’s just another home invasion slasher movie, right? I’ve seen gore, I’ve seen brutality; what did this movie have that the others didn’t? After beginning to watch the Blu-ray, I thought my misgivings were going to be 100% justified, and then, almost in an instant, I clocked a change in both the film and my reaction. It gets really good, and it stays really good until the end. Why? Tone, my friends, tone.
The film, written by Simon Barrett and directed by Adam Wingard, purposely begins as your average story of an affluent family in a secluded home being tormented by masked invaders, but slowly, the real story comes into focus as the bodies begin to pile up, and that’s when the fun really starts. Without having any jokes or gags in the movie, the reality of the situation suddenly becomes funny, despite the horrible violence being perpetrated. A lot of this comes from the naturalness of all the actors involved. Wingard and Barrett populate their movie with filmmakers and “mumblecore” staples, like Joe Swanberg and Amy Siemetz, and also horror staples like AJ Bowen, Barbara Crampton, and one of the best horror directors working today, Ti West, to give a real verisimilitude to what might have been a very arch, we’ve-seen-it-all-before horror movie.
The story follows two rich parents whose grown children and their significant others make a pilgrimage to the forested neighborhood to stay the weekend in a huge house. We see in the opening scene that some creepy people with plastic animal masks are lurking in the neighborhood and have already killed the neighbors. We become aware pretty early on that the family is “next,” but the shit doesn’t really hit the fan until a seemingly average dinner when the siege begins. Quickly, Erin (played by the awesome Sharni Vinson), the girlfriend of Bowen’s character, establishes herself as being the only one physically and mentally able to deal with the threat, and she does her best to keep everyone safe even as more and more people begin to die in nasty ways.
Low budget horror movies tend to try to be as graphic as possible just to stand out from the crowd, but You’re Next does a really great job of showing you what you need to see and faking what you don’t, shot in a completely artful way. It’s creepy and exciting and funny and terrifying all in equal measure and for this type of movie, that’s pretty impressive. It’s not groundbreaking, but it bends the genre enough to keep you interested, the performances are all top-notch, and the resolution is bloody and satisfying. A huge recommend from me.
You’re Next didn’t do very well at the box office, so let’s all support it by getting this movie on home entertainment. The Blu-ray has a brief but entertaining making-of and not one but two commentary tracks, one featuring Barrett and Wingard and the other featuring Barrett, Wingard, and stars Sharni Vinson and Barbara Crampton. Both are a lot of fun and very enlightening. I never tire of hearing how indie horror movies get made, and you won’t be disappointed with either track.
There are romantic comedies and coming-of-age dramas made every 23 seconds in Hollywood, it seems, but if one is actually able to depict things in a realistic way, it’s immediately a breath of fresh air. The Spectacular Now is one of those fresh-air breaths. It has a very good pedigree coming into it; its writers, Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber penned (500) Days of Summer and its director, James Ponsoldt, directed Smashed, and both films wrecked me in good and different ways. Here, they’re adapting the novel of the same name by Tim Tharp about a bright but completely unmotivated high school senior who comes from a broken home and who has to figure out what his life is going to be if he’s ever going to get out of his sleepy Florida town.
The film stars Miles Teller as Sutter, the burgeoning alcoholic who is charismatic and well-spoken but doesn’t get good grades and puts alcohol in every drink he has. After being broken up with by his “perfect” girlfriend (played by Brie Larson) due to his ennui, he finds himself unsure of what to do with himself. He soon meets a nice, good-grade-getting girl (played by Shailene Woodley) who is not popular or worldly at all but in whom Sutter sees something that might be good for him. Whether he’s good for her in return, however, is very much at the core of the story.
The film has some very wonderful performances, including some small but pivotal roles by people like Bob Odenkirk, Kyle Chandler, and Jennifer Jason Leigh. There are moments that delight, moments that frustrate, and moments that leave you feeling like you’ve been punched in the gut, but it’s in these moments that The Spectacular Now proves itself to be more than just your average teen drama and is actually willing to deal with these people as imperfect and flawed individuals. The ending might leave something to be desired, but overall, it’s a really terrific movie that captures a moment in the life of anybody grown up enough to watch it.
Fruitvale Station – The final day in the life of Oscar Grant III is depicted in this award-winning first feature by filmmaker-to-watch Ryan Coogler.
Lee Daniel’s The Butler – Forrest Whitaker plays the stoic title character who worked in the White House under several different presidents played by actors you probably never thought would play those characters.
Carrie – Remember when the director of Boys Don’t Cry directed a remake of Brian DePalma’s adaptation of Stephen King’s first bestseller? Well now it’s on DVD and Blu-ray, so you can not watch it in multiple formats.
Thief – Michael Mann’s first feature, starring James Caan, gets the Criterion treatment.
In the Heat of the Night – The winner of five 1968 Oscars, including Best Picture, about racial tension and a black police officer in a Southern town.
Rififi – This brilliant French thriller from 1955 will tell you almost exactly how to pull off the perfect jewel heist. It’s tense, man.