Elijah Wood

January 12, 2015

Open Windows

CLOSED

Open Windows – Closed

It’s strange how a trailer can make you want to see a film, but upon seeing said film, you really have to question your judgement. This is exactly how I felt about “Open Windows.” There is an interesting premise, smart camerawork, and a few other things that standout, but I feel like this could have been a made for TV Lifetime or CW movie.

“Windows” is the tale of Jill Goddard, played by Sasha Grey, who is doing a press junket for her latest film “Dark Sky.” In the wings is Nick Chambers, Jill’s biggest fan, played by Elijah Wood. Nick, having won a contest to meet Jill, receives the bad news from her “manager,” Chord, that Jill is going blow him off for a night with her boyfriend. While Nick is heartbroken, Chord convinces him “don’t get mad, get even.” Add in a group of hackers, a case of mistaken identity, a kidnapping, a car chase, and some explosions, and that’s “Windows” in a nutshell.

Where do I start with this movie. I’ll say this, it’s not a bad film per say, but the fact that it’s so frenetic and there are so many things happening at the same time it’s a little confusing and it really distracts from the movie. It almost seems like the director really wanted to show you everything he ever learned about the Internet, hacking, and spying, roll it into a webpage view, add shaky cam, and boom, you have this film.

While the production is messy, I actually liked the acting. Wood is effective as playing the same character he’s been playing since he finished up the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy; the creepy looking man who still happens to look like a 16 year old kid. The other revelation is Sasha Grey, and I’m just not saying that because she is incredibly easy on the eyes, but she can actually act relatively effectively. Her portrayal as pretty much herself, is fun and just campy enough to be entertaining. Did I mention how good looking she is in this film…..

Overall, the premise of “Windows” has potential, but it trips all over itself with its technological thriller premise and editing style. If there is anything to watch it’s Wood’s desire to keep making small independent films that have promise, and of course, Sasha Grey.

Fun Fact: At one of the festivals the movie was screened at, the director, Nacho Vigalondo, said it was OK for the audience to slap him on their way out if they didn’t like the movie.

March 13, 2014

Grand Piano

IMITATE
Grand Piano – Imitate
I often imagine myself in pitch meetings for films. A bunch of guys, or gals, who think they are the smartest person in the room that has the next best ideas. These are the same meetings where we got bat nipples, thinking Superman can lift an entire Kryptonite island, and a fifth Paranormal Activity would be a great idea. With “Grand Piano”, I’m sure the idea was, “hey, let’s make a version of Phone Booth without the booth and put it in a music hall where the kid from North plays the piano.” As sarcastic as I might sound, I would have said “…..tell me more.” Unfortunately, despite the Hitchcock and Argento influence, “Piano” is much happier trying to imitate their style as opposed to creating a truly suspenseful experience.  However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t enough suspense to keep you interested.

“Piano” is the tale of Tom Selznick, played by Elijah Wood, a stage fright piano virtuoso still trying to live down one of his greatest failures.  With the help and encouragement of his movie star wife Emma, played by Kerry Bishé, Tom is ready to redeem himself in front of a packed house while playing the iconic piano of his mentor, Patrick Godureaux.  Little does Tom know that he is a pawn in a much bigger game and one wrong note could cost him his life.  I love to get a little melodramatic sometimes.

Overall, the premise of “Piano” is actually quite interesting.  It takes the best parts of films like “Opera,” “Speed,” and “Nick of Time” and gives it the sense of dread that you would feel in, as I mentioned before, an Argento or Hitchcock film.  There are several long shots throughout the film that add to the tension and add scope to the size of the performance that Tom is about to put on; and this brings me to the piano playing scenes, which are excellent.  Apparently Wood has a piano playing background, but I would assume that combining that with his acting ability, and perhaps a little CG and camera trickery made him look like the piano prodigy that he is in the film.

Outside of the look and feel of “Piano” that is where the film takes a bit of a nosedive.  Once the film gets underway there is a certain lack of suspense, and while I really do enjoy the performance of Wood, I never really felt that his life was at risk, and the film turns into a formulaic slasher film once a few people end up getting killed.

My other issue was “the voice.”  For sake of spoilers I won’t disseminate who’s behind “the voice” but for one it’s not Keifer Sutherland (by God I wish it was Jack Bauer on the other line) but the pay-off, again, is lackluster and doesn’t have the same “oomph” as the reveal might have had in the early 90s.

What has surprised me lately are the roles that Wood is continuing to take; he’s become less and less Hollywood and more and more of an Indie Horror Hero.  Since his turn as Kevin in “Sin City” (and that little cameo in “The Hobbit”) Wood has elected to stay away from the harsh light of Hollywood and star in quirkier fare, including the starring role in the underrated remake of “Maniac.”  While I don’t really buy Wood as a piano genius, his performance is still relatively strong and he is starting to remind me more and more of a modern day Peter Lorre.

While “Grand Piano” isn’t perfect, it does create enough tension throughout to hold one’s attention, but at the end of the day, it does a better job imitating then setting itself apart from those that wish to be Hitchcock, and the man who WAS Hitchcock.  Nonetheless, still worth a watch if you’re a fan of the technical merits of filmmaking.  Also, as an aside, kudos to Magnet Releasing for continuing to release interesting thiller/horror/bizarro films that take chances.

Fun Fact: A “custom” Bösendorfer is the piano used in the film, an Austrian manufacturer founded in 1828.

December 10, 2013

Hobbit Countdown: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

BALLS

The Fellowship of the Ring – Balls

One of the biggest no-no’s of pop culture is not messing up anything that beloved by a group of nerds.  And before I get nailed to a cross, I myself am a nerd and I use that as a term of extreme affection, I mean I married a Harry Potter nerd so I’m entitled to use the term nerd as often as I want.  As I digress, directors, writers, and actors have to tread carefully when trying to replicate a favorite fictional character because one bad line utter, one extra action acted upon, or one minor detail too much or too little can lead to the Internet banding together to destroy said director, writer, or actor.  It’s a tough gig to replicate things that are held in such high regard.  Now, back in 2001, a director from New Zealand, more famous for horror and gross-out fare such as “Meet the Feebles” and “Dead Alive” decided he was going to recreate something that everyone said could never be done; that tiny Kiwi, Peter Jackson, was going to recreate Middle Earth from J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal series “The Lord of the Rings.”  People thought, “The balls on this guy.  The closest he’ll ever get to a Hobbit would be to look in the mirror!”  Well……Jackson did have balls, and with a little help from the Brothers Weinstein, he has able to create Middle Earth, in grand spectacle I might add, in the first of three fantasy epics, starting with “The Fellowship of the Ring,” a film that not only changed the way film was made, but the way people thought about fantasy films as a whole.

I keep going back to the word balls.  As is in selling real estate, you have to have brass balls to sell an epic three-part series of films to Hollywood executives.  If you’ve ever seen or heard anything about either Bob or Harvey Weinstein, I would be crapping myself before my pitch.  Especially if I’m a short New Zealander with only a few films to my name and having never helmed a big-budget film before.  Balls……

Needless to say, the series was greenlit, and under the guidance of Jackson, it propelled him to instant fame.  Jackson was able to create a lived in world that included The Shire, the Mines of Moria, Rivendale, and the White Tower of Isengard.  “Fellowship” is the first part of Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” films that tells the story of a Hobbit named Frodo Baggins, who embarks on an epic adventure to destroy a ring of pure evil.  With three other Hobbits in tow, Frodo must avoid evil Ring Wraiths hunting for The Ring, and at the same time trying to avoid the temptation of The Ring itself.  Deciding that Frodo will need more than his fellow Hobbits to complete his task, a Fellowship is formed that includes a bow-weilding Elf, a stout axe-swinging dwarf, Gandalf the Grey Wizard, and two men, including one who might be the long-lost King of Gondor.

At heart, “Fellowship” is the obligatory opening film from a trilogy that grows in size and scope with every film.  You can see Jackson’s typical dream-like style plays heavily in the first film that reminded me a lot of “Dead Alive” minus a lawnmower used to plow down dozens of zombies.  His action scenes are a little wonky and sometimes the action gets lost in the details, but you can still see the makings of a director still finding his bearings.

The gritty battle scenes of “Fellowship” are a stark contrast to another fantasy series that was also getting underway in 2001; the “Harry Potter” series.  While “Potter” was written with a younger demographic in mind, the allegories and vision of Tolkien captured the imagination of a more mature, and older, audience.  I’m not here to knock “Potter” heads, but “LotR” has to be considered the more intellectual of the two series’, and that’s all I’ll say before I’m ripped apart by “Potter” fans.  But if they want to bring it, I’m here to answer the Horn of Gondor.

What made “Fellowship” such a success was the fact that Jackson made the impossible, possible.  He actually created Middle Earth by using New Zealand as the fictitious backdrop of a world of Elves, Hobbits, Orcs, and Trolls.  I mean, people travel to New Zealand to visit sets that still stand to this day.  The amount of detail still amazes to this day, and Jackson’s reliance on practical effects (for the most part) is something that Hollywood is sorely missing in this day and age.

Needless to say, the gamble had paid off for the Weinstein’s and New Line Cinema after “Fellowship.”  Of course there are some nit-picky things I can point out about the film, but it’s a fantasy film, and not all things make logical sense in a world filled with non-existent creatures and items.  What needs to be concentrated on is how a dream can come try and how one guy, with balls the size of the small island nation he hails from, was able to a film that still dazzles to this day.  That film is “The Fellowship of the Rings,” a not long required fantasy film to watch, but a necessary FILM to watch.

Fun Fact:  1800 Hobbit feet were made for the production of “The Fellowship of the Ring.”

October 30, 2013

This is Halloween: The Faculty

The Faculty: Underrated

104mins/Horror/Sci-Fi/1998

It’s a film by Robert Rodriguez, that when I say that, a shit ton of people that never knew that pop up with seriously? That Robert Rodriguez? Yes that one. I know it doesn’t have that Rodriguez feel to it, but after a few viewings it starts to become clearer. The story is simple as dirt, teachers bodies become taken over by aliens and a few students stand up to take them down. The film has a Breakfast Club mixed into Invasion of the Body Snatchers vibe in it. And that there for me takes this film to a different level you don’t get very much anymore.

The film stars Josh Hartnett, Elijah Wood, Shawn Hatosy, Jordana Brewster, Clea DuVall, Laura Harris, Robert Patrick, Bebe Neuwirth, Piper Laurie, Famke Janssen, Usher Raymond, Salma Hayek, and Jon Stewart. If that isn’t an amazing cast I’d like you to prove me wrong.

Like Matt said in our upcoming podcast, The Faculty is an underrated film. This is something that I’ve said for years now. Since the film came out in 1998, I’ve heard nothing but hatred toward this film. Every time it came up people would downplay the entertainment value and said that is was just crap. I would always come to its defense with how enjoyable this film is.

Trust me, Give it a shot this Halloween!

October 22, 2013

This is Halloween: Maniac (2012)

Maniac (2012) – Perspective

PERSPECTIVE

In modern horror, the thought of re-making fringe horror films is always confusing to me. What audience is this re-make for?  Who is going to see it?  Is it viable for a studio to release a film that maybe a handful of people will see, let alone be nostalgic for?  I raise my hand proudly!  I love cult horror films, they always hold a special please in my sick little heart.  Some of my fondest memories, like I’ve mentioned before, was watching USA’s Up All Night, and MonsterVision on TNT with Joe Bob Briggs.

While horror in recent years has been stripped of its soul and replaced with found footage and other nonsense, it’s nice to know that someone is still out there respecting the cult horror of yesteryear.  That person is Alexandre Aja.  This Frenchman knows his horror, even if its over-the-top, gut-wrenching, blood-soaked horror, its the horror that I love.  He knows just how far to push the exploitation envelop, and while he might not have directed the film I’m about to get into reviewing, he was the brainchild behind developing  the 2012 remake of “Maniac” based on the 1980 original.

“Maniac” stars Elijah Wood as Frank, a loner who runs a mannequin shop in an unnamed urban sprawl.  Devoted to his work, needless to say he has a hard time connecting with the opposite sex, so he does what any normal person would do;  he trolls dating sites (a plot point that quickly loses steam), murders, and scalps women.  That is until the day he meets Anna, a young artist interested in his mannequins.  While Frank tries to pursue a normal relationship with Anna, his thirst for blood is unquenchable and he continues to kill.

Sure, I’m simplifying the plot for sake of spoilers, but there is a lot to like about “Maniac.”  While there are are deviations from the original, namely the infamous “Disco Boy Scene” the remake focuses on Frank’s relationship with his mannequins, women, and his rather complicated mommy issues.  While the “Disco Boy Scene” would have been cool to see with modern SFX, it would have added nothing to the remake overall.  But fret not gorehounds, there are plenty of moments where you’ll forget all about “Disco Boy.”

Comparing the original “Maniac” to it’s remake is tough to do.  The original relies on tension, with a grimier and grittier look, very reminiscent to Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver.”  Joe Spinell, who was already a pretty rough looking dude, plays Frank to a tee and there is never any doubt he’s a maniac.  The on-screen murders are brutal and you feel the terror of his victims as well as the pain of Spinell who is acting against his will and can’t stop killing.

This time around Elijah Wood plays Frank, and while you might think Wood as a murderous creep is a tough sell, see what he did in “Sin City” as Kevin, or just see what he’s doing now as Ryan Newman on “Wilfred.”  Wood gives a convincing performance as the twisted serial killer who collects scalps, which he adorns to the top of his mannequins’ heads.

The choice to shoot most of the film from Frank’s perspective is an interesting choice.  It’s found footage without being found footage.  I would almost consider “Maniac” the serial killer version of “Enter the Void,” from Gaspar Noe.  You might even call this film a “first-person killer.”  There are a few scenes where the camera swings around to reveal Frank making a kill, but for the most part, I like the idea of “actually” see ing through the eyes of the killer.

Is 2012’s “Maniac” and improvement over the original?  It all depends on your perspective.  The original was playing up the fears of the still-fresh-in-their-minds “Son of Sam” murders in New York from the late 1970s, so it was reasonably timely and terrifying at the same time.  The remake is pretty much a shot in the dark, cashing in on the found footage craze and the dying out torture-porn aesthetic.  It’s also rips off some of the retro-style of “Drive,” however, I respect the fact that directors and writers who are fans of cult genre fare, like “Maniac,” decided to take the proverbial stab at making a genre film that only hardcore horror fans would be familiar with.  I salute Aja and director Franck Khalfoun for creating something with teeth to compete against dribble like “Paranormal Activity 45: Stop Moving Into This House!” and doing a little-known classic justice some 30 years later.

Fun Fact:  “Goodbye Horses” by Q. Lazzarus, is featured in another prominent film; 1991’s “Silence of the Lambs” which also featured a serial killer who murdered women.

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