Tuesday, June 29, 2010

"Get Him to the Greek" Review

Until this past weekend, I’d never sat through a film as literally the only audience member. So that’s new.

Granted, it’s been nearly a month since the initial release of “Get Him to the Greek,” and admittedly, the screening was before noon on a Sunday, but it’s an experience that couldn’t help but enunciate exactly how often I wasn’t laughing. The silences practically echoed.

However, the scenario was hardly the film’s sole detractor; the Apatow-produced comedy was, in many ways, the polar opposite of what I expected. From a structural standpoint, I anticipated there being a harder driving force; I thought the plot—Which sees Russell Brand reprising the role of debaucherous rocker Aldous Snow from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”—would consist of a series of escalating outlandish and out-of-hand party sequences with the omnipresent ticking clock to keep it dramatically grounded.

But if anything, “Get Him to the Greek” is not only pointlessly cyclical in how it stacks its scenes, but cause and effect are tossed clear out the window. The gist of it is that the irresponsible Snow must be chaperoned (Cue Jonah Hill as record company intern Aaron Green) to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles for an anniversary concert in 72 hours. Writer/director Nicholas Stoller sets up countless potential snags for Green, such as Snow forgetting his commitment altogether, and the duo running impossibly late for their flight, but renders nearly every plot device irrelevant within ten minutes of its introduction. There’s no potential for suspense when resolution is always a few easy lines of dialogue or a scene transition away.

“Will he make it?” should be the audience’s imperative question, and I mean, of course he will, but it’s like Stoller isn’t even trying to make us squirm. Then again, his script is so heavy with missed opportunity that frustration and boredom may produce the identical effect.

And just when his story should be roaring to a climax, it all but sputters out. Our heroes make it to LA with time to spare, which they then spend mending spats with their significant others—A transparent and lazy attempt at adding depth to this lightheaded farce. It allows Snow to have his obligatory existential crisis before the show—Only to be reaffirmed by Green, acting for the first time, as a friend.

This has grazed into spoiler territory, I guess, so let me pitch you a better ending while we’re here. After much trial and tribulation, Snow and Green arrive at the venue with moments to spare. The lights are down; Snow steps on stage and belts out the first song. He is met with the rousing applause… of just a few hundred fans. Reality check. Now he can have his existential crisis. In finally coming to terms with his diminishing career, his friendship with Green is made all the more poignant, and his comeback single (which the film already goes out on) is all the more triumphant.

It’s not hard to rewrite a film that so narrowly jukes its own potential. I sought out “Get Him to the Greek,” even four weeks late, because I was sold on the trailer. The premise is strong, and the Brand/Hill combo under the Apatow umbrella seemed like a sure thing. The bottom line is it’s not all that funny; but even more disappointingly, its narrative backbone is flimsy. If a great story had been locked in, and had I felt even momentarily unsure that he would be gotten to said Greek, those echoing silences might not have mattered.

But when I’m not invested in the story, and I’m not laughing, I become painfully aware that I’m the sole occupant of a silent two hundred seat theater.


Sunday, June 27, 2010

FARCE/FILM Episode 50: Knight and Day, Get Him to the Greek

--> Episode 50: 06/27/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Kevin Mauer, Jon Mauer, Tyler Drown, Suman Allakki

Intro – 00:00
Top 5 – 03:15
Knight and Day – 10:12
Get Him to the Greek – 34:16
WMD – 50:34
(Tin Cup, 500 Days of Summer, Harry Potter 6, Better of Ted, Funny People, Green Zone, Hurt Locker, Alice in Wonderland)
I Can't Believe You've Never Seen - 01:26:16
(Gone with the Wind)
Chat Room Questions - 01:35:19
Outro - 01:45:49

"Knight and Day"

"Get Him to the Greek"

--Weekly Discussion--

This week, Colin discusses the expired politics of the 1939 film "Gone with the Wind" and his inability to sympathize with the protagonists. Should a film be examined strictly within its original context or should it retroactively be held accountable for their messages?

Thursday, June 24, 2010

LIVE show this weekend!

Sunday, June 27 at 8 PM EST - Check out FARCE/Film's live podcast of Episode #50 over at Ustream. Follow the direct link here.

Tyler will be back fresh from Amman, Jordan, Suman will be on hand with his opinion on Toy Story 3 (in 3D!), Jon will be drunkenly defending Killers, and Sonic will be joining us in a NEW FORMAT!

All that and more this Sunday!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"Killers" Review

The first fallacy of “Killers” is that Ashton Kutcher could play a spy. Yes, the same Ashton Kutcher that looks unsure if he’s holding his camera correctly in the Nikon ads. The second fallacy is everything else.

From top to bottom, the movie is just a structureless mass of contrivance and cluelessness, so ineptly executed and chaffingly unfunny that the awful-looking trailer actually oversells it. For starters, the courting of co-star Katherine Heigl is stuffed uncomfortably into the first thirty minutes, during which Kutcher plays it cool and takes off his shirt, and Heigl embarrasses herself by acting half her age.

The character she plays is a grown woman apparently so embarrassed to be seen on vacation with her parents that she tells Kutcher on their first date that her nearby father is a Russian pervert stalking her. She’s an neurotic teenager trapped in the body of a thirty year old, but it’s not like Kutcher is any deeper. Their behavior is often so adolescent that it wouldn't surprise me to learn “Killers” was actually a hastily rewritten “Cody Banks” script.

In all seriousness, there is one lame franchise to which it bears more than passing resemblance—“Meet the Parents.” Heigl’s father (Tom Selleck, in his first live-action feature film role in over a decade) is a virtual carbon copy of the hard-ass, maybe-not-so-retired CIA patriarch Robert De Niro portrayed (more memorably) back in 2000. His wife (Catherine O’Hara) is also an unoriginal caricature—The boozy grandma. It’s one of those readymade faux-quirky character traits that seems to be in constant circulation despite so rarely being used to any effect.

And as if the clichés Selleck and O’Hara wear like badges of honor weren’t enough, they’re never off-screen for more than 10 minutes because of Heigl’s weird unresolved dependency issues. But here’s the really strange part; after what feels like only a few short days, she and Kutcher inexplicably decide to get hitched, with the latter vowing to give up his dangerous secret lifestyle once and for all.

Fade out. “3 Years Later.”

Careful, you might get whiplash with the speed at which “Killers” makes a hairpin turn. The entire rest of the film is about a married couple facing a series of mysterious and unexciting assassination attempts with so little plot for point of reference that at the 90 minute mark, I wasn’t sure if the film was ending or halfway over (ending—Mercifully). It turns out that during the three years the audience isn’t privy to, our heroes have led a “Truman Show”-esque fake life, meeting new friends and neighbors that turn out to be sleeper cells that when activated, leap into clumsy, inarticulate killing mode.

There’s also some obligatory relationship tribulations peppered throughout for good measure—Some suspicion of infidelity and a potential pregnancy—But nothing that even momentarily alleviates the profound chore it is to watch these dull characters perform their lame fight scenes and deliver their insipid dialogue. To top it off, Kutcher and Heigel have about as much chemistry as a pair of Tom Sellecks.

“Killers” is maybe the worst-told film of the year. It’s impossible to discern from the wreckage who exactly is at fault, but the script (which surprisingly, is partly credited to Ted Griffin, who wrote “Matchstick Men” for Ridley Scott and “Oceans Eleven” for Steven Soderbergh) is nothing short of a disaster. The weak performances and bad direction only rub salt in the wound.

The network of miscalculations on display in "Killers" is so vast that ‘fallacy’ doesn't account for half of it—Failure is a better word.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

"Toy Story 3" Review

Great. Another funny and heartfelt animated adventure from Pixar. Throw it on the pile.

All sarcasm aside, “Toy Story 3” is the latest brilliant release from a studio whose creative Gatling gun has yet to fire a blank. Maybe not every cinematic shot they’ve taken has been a dead-center bullseye, but everything they touch falls somewhere on the gradient of good to great, which with eleven films under their belt, is certifiably ludicrous.

And since Pixar debuted its first feature, the original “Toy Story,” in 1995, its storytellers and artists have not only refined and mastered their craft, but they’ve done so without failing or having to repeat themselves. Sure, Disney forced their collective hand four years later into doing the follow-up, “Toy Story 2,” but now over a decade later, the studio is dropping its first voluntary sequel.

Maybe because “Toy Story” was such an important part of my childhood, and probably because I grew a lot in the four years separating it from its successor, I never shared the fondness I had for the first film with the second. That likely accounts for the pre-release uncertainty I felt towards this newest installment; I didn’t want to risk the disappointment of another fun but frivolous caper.

Fortunately, “Toy Story 3” almost immediately dispelled my doubts. It combines the rock-solid dramatic core of the studio’s recent work with the classic atmosphere of adventure and clever comedy the two prior “Stories” are known for. It’s a match made in heaven, and though “Toy Story 3” feels slightly redundant of part two at its foundation, the added emotional weight of the toys’ uncertainty that they even have a caring home to return to raises the stakes considerably.

Part three also benefits from feeling more intimate, and consequently, more focused than the trilogy’s middle chapter. “Toy Story 2” was an addition to “Toy Story” in every respect; new protagonists, and more action at a larger scale. “Toy Story 3” begins by stripping away many of the series’ established plastic personages because their owner, Andy (who has aged almost in real time between the releases of the three films), is preparing for college and has outgrown them. The cast is comprised of the best of the best (and Jesse, but whatever), though the narrative focuses squarely on Woody.

As such, not all of the toys’ stories reach individually satisfying ends, but as a unit their curtain call is bittersweet and touching. It is, after all, a film about growing and letting go, a more melancholy motif than some might expect, though Pixar has famously refused to shy away from so-called ‘darker’ themes. What’s genuinely surprising is that the studio made the third “Toy Story” film a vehicle for that ideal set. It’s a thread that finds the gang donated to a local daycare (which eventually becomes a prison-break scenario), and making one last trip home.

Really, when the worst thing you can say about a film is that a few of its jokes fall flat, you likely have something pretty special on your hands. That “Toy Story 3” also concludes a trilogy in such fine form makes it all the more a standout. With it, Pixar have proven once again their unrivaled integrity as a production house not only capable of creating compelling stories, but of franchising those stories in a way that respects and complements the original work. “Toy Story 3” is arguably the best of the lot.

In the coming years, Pixar has at least two more sequels planned, first for “Cars” in 2011, and then for “Monsters Inc.” the following year. If it was ever a concern that the studio was creatively stalling or financially motivated to revisit its established worlds, “Toy Story 3” should put those fears to rest. In fact, we better make more room in the pile.


Monday, June 21, 2010

FARCE/FILM Episode 49: Toy Story 3, The Killers

--> Episode 49: 06/21/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Kevin Mauer, Jon Mauer

Intro - 00:00
Top 5 - 01:21
Toy Story 3 (spoilers) - 07:20
Killers (spoilers) - 45:11
WMD - 56:11
(Little Children, 9, Saw, The Land Before Time, Valentine's Day)
Events and Outro - 01:09:51

"Toy Story 3"


--Weekly Discussion--

This Week, our hosts suggest that the “Toy Story” series has special impact on those that ‘grew up’ alongside the owner of the film’s toys, Andy. Does age differential impact the way we perceive its characters? What are some films that carry weight especially because of the age you saw them at?

"North Face" DVD Review

“North Face” is nothing if not tenacious.

The German-language mountain climbing epic paints the Swiss Alps circa 1936 its looming antagonist, quietly intercutting the narrative with restless shots of the mountain’s dark wall; alluring, beautiful, and mortally dangerous—And this is before our heroes plant so much as a single piton in its cliff.

“North Face” excels as a visceral experience, but the palpable atmosphere is played almost to a fault. Maybe it was the blasting AC unit, but I found myself zippering up my sweatshirt and pulling over the hood as the alpine ascent unfurled. Director Philipp Stölzl batters his audience with the sheer relentlessness of the frigid conditions, which makes on one hand for an uncommonly authentic portrayal, while on the other, renders the film a difficult watch. Overtaking the two plus hour running time is a feat in itself.

It doesn’t help that “North Face” is historical fiction. The true story never squeezes quite comfortably into the confines of screenplay structure, and in juking audience expectation, robs the film of its potential impact. Without giving too much away, the first half of the film is about climbing up the mountain, and the second half is about climbing back down; happy ending or no, when the credits roll, it’s tough to walk away feeling entirely satisfied.

Maybe a part of that is that we don’t get to know the characters very well. German climbing duo Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andreas Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) serve as our reluctant protagonists, renowned for their climbing prowess but whom must be coaxed into scaling so formidable a foe as the Eiger. They seem like two normal enough chaps—Maybe too normal. Scraps of personality are scattered across the first act, and despite a half-hearted attempt at a love interest, we never concretely understand what’s at stake for the characters on a personal level—That’s a huge hurdle to overcome in terms of caring what happens to them.

But if there’s one area in which “North Face” doesn’t disappoint, it’s in its cinematography. It’s a gorgeous film, with tremendous visual verve and an uncompromising aesthetic. Through camerawork, Stölzl portrays better than most the perilousness of the journey his heroes endeavor to undertake, underscoring the concessions made and the consequences of even the slightest misstep or equipment fault. It shows in key sequences that radiate suspense, with careful manipulation of the frame and superb audio editing.

“North Face” is not without its faults; for every technical achievement and beautifully captured moment, there seems to be an underdeveloped character or bit of perforated plot standing in its way. It’s an occasionally tense, exciting movie, though more often it’s an exercise in atmosphere, which it has in spades. From the whipping winds to the whiteout sheets of ice and snow that ceaselessly buffet Kurz and Hinterstoisser, “North Face” is a film that’s practically tangible.

Comparatively, its pacing and characters may sometimes feel uninvolving, but the most important character, the Eiger itself, is perfectly realized. And it’s one harrowing look.


"North Face" is available on DVD and Netflix instant queue.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

"Cyrus" Review

“Cyrus” packs big names for a mumblecore flick, and kings of the movement, brothers Jay and Mark Duplass, owe their cast a debt of gratitude. The three key players (John C. Reilly, Jonah Hill, Marisa Tomei) enliven their material with funny, understated performances that shine through the murky direction, and the success of “Cyrus,” however marginal, rests on their shoulders.

I might not be so inclined to denigrate the Duplass duo had I not attended a Q&A with John C. Reilly after the screening, the permeating undercurrent of which was that the two directors are full of shit. In describing their approach, Reilly euphemistically emphasized their preference for first-take performances and improvised dialogue. Something rang a bell.

Lynn Shelton, director of the stillborn Sundance darling “Humpday,” which just so happens to star Mark Duplass in its leading role, detailed using the same methods on her film: naturalism, with a hands-off approach to direction. Sure, it makes for an easy, artsy-fartsy sound byte, but it’s lazy filmmaking, and comes across pretentious. “Cyrus,” like “Humpday,” suffers for this lack of a pronounced, unified vision, and the camerawork, which is rife with hasty snap-zooms and cut together with questionable motive, feels artificial and distracting.

It’s a flagrant rejection of the Hollywood norms, which I can appreciate at its base level, but only on the condition that it provokes a better film. The promise of “Cyrus’s” premise is squandered on the Duplasses’ nonchalant mentality that no choices are preferable to bad ones. It’s almost as if, by passing directing duty off to happenstance, the duo want to render themselves immune to criticism—But the choice to make no choices is a choice too. A bad one.

I don’t mean to harp on why the Duplass brothers annoy me as directors. Maybe that “Cyrus” survives at all, despite the illusion that it was made practically by accident, is a testament to their talent as writers. It’s a simple premise; Reilly plays a man “in a downward spiral,” who meets Molly, a woman beyond out of his league. The only peculiarity is the uncomfortably close relationship she has with her grown, stay-at-home son, Cyrus.

Initially, Marisa Tomei feels out of place as Molly, but I guess when you’re casting the woman that comes between two men as ugly as John C. Reilly and Jonah Hill, you almost need a knockout as ballast. She colors the role, bringing dimension to a part that could otherwise have been swept aside and forgotten. Hill is also great, and more reserved than some may expect, in the title role, which calls for a loathsome, conniving manipulator. His rivalry with Reilly’s neurotic and sympathetic loser makes for a few really terrific scenes—And a couple that are probably too broad.

The tonal inconsistency of “Cyrus” is one of the reasons it ends up feeling not entirely satisfying. There aren't quite enough jokes to call it a comedy, and too few serious moments to call it a drama. Additionally, the decision to hire high profile actors, and the inclusion of some borderline “Step Brothers”-esque gags, appear to court a mainstream crowd that will likely be intermittently bored. Conversely, as a snooty art house film, it doesn’t dig deep enough, or get weird enough between Cyrus and Molly to really push any thematic boundaries.

At the risk of sounding redundant, I think that all falls squarely on the heads of the Duplass brothers, whose half-baked style and cloudy focus sabotage any chance for “Cyrus” to be a standout film. Their directorial absence and aggressive unconventionality detract from what could have been memorable as a more straightforward film.

Nevertheless, I’d still recommend “Cyrus” based on the strengths of its performances, but the mumblecore movement, as spearheaded by the Duplass brothers, underscores a lot of my least favorite qualities in filmmaking. Next time, guys, you may not have John C. Reilly to save your ass.


Monday, June 14, 2010

"Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time" Review

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time” is the sort of stupidly grinning blockbuster I might find intolerable if it weren’t so damn silly. Nearly every aspect is misguided, broken, corny, or all of the above, and yet when brooding melodrama is the status quo for summer releases, it’s refreshing to be able to laugh my ass off at the expense of a cheeseball like this.

Of course, I’m beginning to believe its many flaws were predestined; it is a video game adaptation, after all—And according to Rotten Tomatoes, the best yet. That I’m inclined to agree, despite its stagey references to the high-flying acrobatics of its virtual progenitor, speaks volumes. If there’s one thing the “Prince of Persia” film does right, it’s to downplay its video gaminess by crafting a story that isn’t exclusively a series of action sequences (historically, the problem with these adaptations is that they’re about as engaging as watching someone else play a video game).

Nevertheless, there’s still that wink and nod to the source material that I can’t imagine even fans care about. It’s as if, in adapting a book, a director felt the need to insert page-turn animations as scene transitions to remind the audience that his characters are adapted from a different medium. I don’t care what it used to be; it’s a film now.

Appropriately then, even more so than the somewhat-popular game series, “Prince of Persia” draws heavy influence from Disney’s other live-action flagship franchise, “Pirates of the Caribbean.” It’s painfully obvious that Jake Gyllenhaal is meant to be a charming scoundrel in the vein of Jack Sparrow, but that character and performance are a tough act to follow, especially when you’re doing the same routine.

Characterization is generally uninspired in the film, ranging from one-dimensional (Gemma Arterton as a feisty princess), to cliché (Sir Ben Kingsley as the Royal Council with an eye on the throne—Oops, spoiler), to the chin-scratching ridiculous (Alfred Molina as an ostrich racing bookie). It makes for a film that’s often funny in spite of itself, with earnestly delivered lines like, “You can’t organize an ostrich race WITH JUST ONE OSTRICH!” and curiously long reaction shots accentuating Gyllenhaal’s bizarre facial contractions.

But the Prince’s ultimate failure is that his film, in its transparent attempt at cinematic junk food, critically ignores its plot, which is as cavity-stricken as a decaying tooth. Granted, it may not consist of a string of forgettable action sequences, but “Prince of Persia” is instantly forgettable regardless because it never feels substantial, and its McGuffin—That is, the ‘dagger of time,’ which grants its carrier the ability to undo the present and travel a finite distance into the past—Is underutilized. In its stead are scenes chock-full of verbose and expository character herding devices, which for all their impatient roving, never manage to bring our heroes anywhere interesting or visually distinct. My whole experience with “Prince of Persia” is sort of a beige blur.

Had the film been cut drastically shorter and thematically simplified, there may have been a cute little family action film here, but instead, it submits to the running time penis-measuring contest; any title under 100 minutes need not apply. “Prince of Persia” clocks in at just under two hours, and with so little narrative cohesion, it’s not hard to start picking out the extraneous chunks. What you get is a messy and dissonant sword-and-sandals wannabe epic that carries not a single distinguishing mark.

Well, there is the one. “Prince of Persia” dares to attempt fun in an age of doom and gloom gravitas, and it succeeds—Albeit at it’s own expense.


FARCE/FILM Episode 48: Prince of Persia, Karate Kid, Cyrus

--> Episode 48: 06/13/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Sonic Kim, Kevin Mauer, and Ben Wong

Intro – 00:00
Top 5 – 02:24
Prince of Persia – 05:09
Karate Kid - 27:54
Cyrus (spoilers) - 51:30
WMD - 01:05:13
(Hannah Takes the Stairs, Toy Story 1 and 2, Vantage Point, Deep Water, Drag Me to Hell, Waterworld, Justified)
Outro - 01:17:20

"Prince of Persia"

"Karate Kid"


--Weekly Movie Discussion--

This week the boys discuss the remake of "The Karate Kid," which has polarized some audiences on the basis of their nostalgia for the original. Does or should nostalgia carry any weight on one's opinion? What are some films whose merits have been warped (positively or negatively) by nostalgia?

Friday, June 11, 2010

"The Karate Kid" Review

Sure, I went through a brief martial arts phase as a kid—I just didn’t have the attention span to devote myself to the discipline (Really, I think I just liked the idea of colored belts). Consequently, my grazing interest in the eastern fighting styles took me only as far as the ninja turtles; I saw the original “Karate Kid” last week.

Its remake, which swaps sunny California for China and Ralph Macchio for Will Smith’s son Jaden, plays by the same basic rules as the 1984 version, and despite a strikingly similar screenplay, manages to feel distinct through its subtle updates in plot, protagonist, and setting.

Carefully arranged and deliberately paced, this new “Kid” is anything but a quick cash-grab. It’s a carefully, almost delicately constructed film, but like the original, one that overstays its welcome at two plus hours. The pacing is curious for several reasons, not the least of which (as I might once have whined) is the attention spans of its target audience.

Normally, I would defend a film that takes its time telling the story, but both versions of “The Karate Kid” suffer from thematic redundancy. Every scene with our hero fleeing from oppressive bullies, wooing the girl, or training under his enigmatic master (a respectable turn by Jackie Chan this time around) serves the same principle function, and when you ultimately shortchange the audience on a convincing progression anyway, there’s no reason not to trim the excess.

But those boring patches are generally made up for by the surprisingly intense fight sequences—Especially from an audio perspective. The impact of each blow is authoritative, loud, and visceral, and during key showdowns, my audience became a chorus of ‘oofs’ and applause. “The Karate Kid” is a crowd-pleaser, no question, and a lot of fun to hear a reaction to.

The brutality of the combat is also surprising because the film is made and marketed for children and their parents. I don’t think anyone who sits down to watch a movie about kids fighting each other has much elbowroom for offense, but many may be expecting something tamer. “The Karate Kid” also has a strong moral core, teaching the tried and true self-defensive approach to practicing martial arts. Above all, it’s nice to see a film with almost an entire cast of children that doesn’t talk down or pander to a young crowd.

Of course, it suffers like so many sports dramas do, from the inherent predictability of an underdog story—And doubly so as remake of an existing film. 2010’s “Karate Kid” suffers from a lack of genuine surprises, but polishes it’s tired archetypes to a like-new finish; which is fortunate, because Jackie Chan swatting a fly is about the extent of the filmmakers’ willingness to innovate.

Still, it’s a movie that’s just too adorable to stay mad at. Chan and Smith work well together, validating the latter as a genuine talent (even if it’s largely as a carbon copy of his father), and contributing to the former’s best performance in years. Their bond is convincing, and their relationship is the emotional anchor for this more serious take on the 1984 original.

It’s worth noting that 2010’s “Karate Kid” has no actual karate in it, since Chan and China dictate kung fu be the more socially relevant discipline. I imagine this may confuse inspired kids, who show up disappointed to their first week of karate class.

Nevertheless, the film, like the values it teaches, is well balanced and focused. Maybe it would be more fun if it were aggressively on the narrative offense—But I guess that would be against the rules, wouldn’t it?


Wednesday, June 9, 2010

"Splice" Review

“Splice” is a step in the right direction for horror.

Every so often, I find myself pleasantly surprised by intentionally misadvertised entertainment, and writer/director Vincenzo Natali’s genetic genre mash-up is the latest such example. From a marketing standpoint, its scare-tactics are clearly the easy sell, despite their comprising only a tiny percentage of its thematic intent. ‘Hard sci-fi parenting metaphor’ is, after all, a much tougher pitch.

So expecting the tasteless creature feature from the trailer, “Splice” impressed me in its pursuit of a more complex emotional response than fear, and is successful in burrowing into your subconscious and picking at your psyche. It’s a thinking man’s B picture, which plays with the idea of morality on both a scientific and personal level. That it remains intellectually stimulating, even when the surface-area film dips into more traditionally hokey horror territory, is its greatest strength.

What’s so interesting about the story, in spite of what the trailer suggests, is that the creature artificially spawned by genetic engineers Clive and Elsa (Adrian Brody and Sarah Polley) is not an antagonist for the vast majority of the film. “Splice” isn’t about a monster—It’s about parenthood, and like with “Rosemary’s Baby” or “Eraserhead,” taking the associated fears and filtering them through a horror lens.

Besides the tail and the pronounced facial cleft, test-tube baby Dren (‘Nerd’ backwards, heh) is essentially human, and a big part of “Splice’s” inherent creepiness is that she’s treated in turn as a subject and a child—Warmly received, but caged and abandoned for significant stretches of time. The realization of this character by French actress Delphine Chanéac is another of the film’s triumphs. Her general lack of dialogue sometimes forces the performance to rely a little too heavily on pantomime, but that we can both feel for and fear Dren simultaneously is a testament to the range of the actrice.

Perhaps it's because “Splice” nails the big performances and the big ideas, and because the gears turning behind the action are so consistently fluid, that it’s all the more apparent when it stumbles over little things, like stilted motivation issues, and superfluous, grating secondary characters. Clive’s brother (Brandon McGibbon) and boss (David Hewlett), for example, are flat placeholder roles that transparently progress the plot instead of enriching it. The triangular relationship between Clive, Elsa, and Dren, and its weird morphing emotional permutations, is what “Splice” is at its core. It is a film with very few characters, but every moment not spent on that central dynamic feels like time wasted.

Still, that minor gripe is forgivable because “Splice” has two hugely important and rare qualities for modern horror—Original thought and fearless storytelling. The undercurrent of sexuality in the film, the internal dialogue on gender roles, is apparently one of the reasons no studio wanted to touch the script last year, but Natali’s film is a cut above the rest precisely because it isn’t afraid to make an audience uncomfortable. And it gets uncomfortable.

“Splice” gets a lot of credit from me in the abstract. The concrete film doesn’t quite live up to the incredible promise of the ideas behind it, but the very presence of those ideas is reaffirming to a degree, and that “Splice” received a wide domestic release is more encouraging still. Granted, it went on to perform below expectations at the box office, but was positioned against more breezy summer fare like “Shrek” and “Get Him to the Greek.”

The other possibility, and this suggests more consumer confidence than an ad man may be inclined to grant, is that “Splice’s” scare-tactics aren’t the easy sell. Maybe, like me, potential moviegoers just saw a trailer for another shitty horror movie instead of the interesting, offbeat experiment it is.

It’s Warner Brother’s loss, and the audience’s.


Monday, June 7, 2010

FARCE/FILM Episode 47: Ondine, Splice

--> Episode 47: 06/06/10 <--
Hosts: Colin George, Brian Crawford, Kevin Mauer, Brian Johanson

Intro – 00:00
Top 5 – 03:17
Ondine (spoilers) – 09:12
Splice – 25:36
WMD – 36:06
(The Box, City of God, The Incredibles, The Princess and the Frog, Jurassic Park)
Outro - 58:18



--Weekly Discussion--

Next week, the Farce/film crew will be catching up on the summer movie season, seeing Prince of Persia and the Karate Kid remake. What are some of your most anticipated films of the summer? What are some of the all-time classics?