Drinking Buddies (2013)

Drinking BuddiesReleased: July 25, 2013. Directed by: Joe Swanberg. Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick. Runtime: 90 min. 

Drinking Buddies is an experimental romantic drama/light comedy directed by Joe Swanberg that follows best buddy brewery workers Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) who also like each other, but they both have other romantic interests. This is a film bathed in the idea that beer taints the ability to make good decisions, and you can’t always tell if what you’re doing is right or wrong. It’s like you’re looking at the situation through a glass of beer. This is what helps this film differentiate from other generic romantic drama/comedies, even though this still isn’t good. 

The material at hand just isn’t strong. I learn that the film is entirely improvised, and there wasn’t a script written, only a vague outline of plot and order in which events might take place. This is something that does allow the acting become more believable, but it’s a film that just largely fails. There are just so many other performers who are a lot better at getting laughs from their audience. The actors in this film only get an occasional chuckle. But the cast, also including Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, is quite charming. 

The banter between them all is sometimes pretty good. They all have a great chemistry, which saves the film a bit. even when it’s a bit awkward at times. But heck, Kendrick could have good chemistry with a wall. The chemistry between everyone is very sweet. It’s a realistic look at relationships and how picking the person you’ll spend your life with is a hard decision. It’s a look at the confusing times of relationships, too. 

Everything’s a bit frustrating because the viewer probably just wants the two couples to swap partners. The film is sometimes frustrating (this is mostly the third act) and sporadically funny. This finds a strange balance between mildly charming (because of the cast) and mildly boring. The characters are okay, just simplistic. This is just all pretty boring and often frustrating, and it’s just intensely forgettable – and it all feels pretty empty by the end of it all.

Score: 50/100

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You’re Next (2013)

You're NextReleased: August 23, 2013. Directed by: Adam Wingard. Starring: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen. Runtime: 95 min.

I love horror films. It’s one of my favourite genres. A lot of them aren’t that great, but I think if there is a great one – it’s always a lot more pleasing than say, a good animated film – because that’s a consistent genre. One good horror film of 2013 comes in the form of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, that actually premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2011. It’s the latest film to enter an indie horror sub-genre called mumblegore; so I guess that name indicates you should have a tolerant stomach for gore.

It follows a mildly simple premise that, upon hearing about it, you probably wouldn’t expect much out of it; but I couldn’t help but be excited about it because of the trailer’s effective use of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.” The plot: The Davison family are having a wedding anniversary at their house that’s isolated and a run through the woods away from their neighbors. In some brilliance – and evident premeditated planning – the neighbours get killed off in the opening scene. During the family’s dinner, an arrow flies through the window. They are under attack. Little do the attackers expect, there is a guest in the home that has a knack for putting up a wicked fight. 

The pretty Australian Sharni Vinson portrays Erin, the true badass of the film. It’s nice that it turns the way films portray women as weaker than men right on its head. It’s also refreshing that this film gets set up like one’s average revenge horror flick, but turns out to be a really fun, lite satire, in the way that the title is self-aware (you’re next, guys!) and filmmaker Ti West portrays a character who is a filmmaker, to name a few examples. It’s just self-aware a lot of the times, too – and a lot of the kills are really fun. 

That’s the point, right? Movies like this are just very entertaining. It’s told with the thrills of The Strangers and the witticism and entertainment value in the vein of Scream. While it not be as scary as the former or as hilarious as the latter, it still has its fair share of each – and it turns out to be a film where a lot of the characters aren’t helpless. Some still make some pretty crappy decisions, but that’s expected. The only type of horror where usually the characters don’t make the worst decisions is in psychological horror. This is definitely not that sort-of film.

There’s a great amount of surprises in this film. Don’t worry, none will be spoiled. One criticism I have is a scene at the end, which I didn’t think was necessary – but it did show this film is just here to entertain the hell out of you. Simon Barrett writes the film very well. One aspect that is really cool are the animal masks the villains wear: a fox, a lamb, and a tiger. Their animal masks, and their crossbows as weapon of choice, says that they’re predators (well not so much the lamb). Also, and more importantly, that humans have animalistic instincts. I think that’s a hidden meaning in the film – and one that’s some great food for thought to be found in a horror flick. 

Score80/100

V/H/S (2012)

VHSReleased: September 6, 2012. Directed by: Various (including Ti West, Adam Wingard). Starring: Adam Wingard, Joe Swanberg, Helen Rogers. Runtime: 116 min.

V/H/S is a found-footage anthology film featuring five main short films built around a frame narrative, that also works as its own short film experienced in snippets. As with most found-footage films, the cinematography is all over the place, but at least the shaky cam shots are well-edited. How the filmmakers make an excuse for taking the found-footage approach, meaning the reason why the characters are using hand-held cameras, are unique. In one segment, the story is shown from a main character’s glasses that have a hidden camera in them; in others they’re just documenting experiences; and one uses a Skype approach.

I’ll tell you a bit about each segment answering if they’re scary or not, but I’ll try not to spoil too much – it’s just the basics, really. The film opens with a gang of unlikable hoodlums wreaking havoc upon unsuspecting citizens and ugly old buildings. They are tasked by an unknown third party to enter a house and recover a rare VHS tape (apparently we’re living in the 1990s), but in order to find the correct one they have to watch the footage on the tapes, because there’s unfortunately no title on any of them saying “It’s this one!” This segment is the one experienced in short snippets; it’s not very interesting or scary, but having a frame narrative is better than not having one at all, because it gives the appearance that the film is more focused.

Onto the segment that made me scream like a little schoolgirl at a drive-in. Well, not really, but I did have to turn it off three times and catch my cool the first time I tried watching this film. This segment, called “Amateur Night,” follows a group of teens who go out to a party to pick up women. The main guy named Shane has the glasses that captures everything on video. It seems to me that he is doing it so he can either watch his sex film for his personal pleasure or just sell it if she’s hot enough, or just post it on the internet. These guys are simply a bunch of drunk college kids trying to get lucky, but the point-of-view is intriguing. The plot basically teaches me that I shouldn’t pick up women from bars who have strange feet or only say “I like you.” Kudos to the actress and the special effects in this segment. This segment is awesome and truly scary (in my eyes, at least), but I doubt I’ll re-watch it because it’s really too freaky for me and experiencing it twice is enough. Definitely one of the best segments and a really good fifteen minutes (estimated) of cinema.

The second segment is called “Second Honeymoon” and is directed by Ti West. This one is a simple short with a boring build-up, okay characters, an awkward chemistry and no great pay-off. It’s not very smart and West largely handles this dully and it’s not scary at all. The only other works by West I’m familiar with are his awful short segment in The ABCs of Death, the god-awful Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (I should review that soon), and his great film that premiered at TIFF in September, The Sacrament. Apparently he’s not good at directing or writing shorts at all, because this one isn’t impressive.

The third segment is a mysterious one called “Tuesday the 17th”; it’s gory and fun and seems to promise a simple camping getaway premise. The foreshadowing is well done, leading up to an okay pay-off. The execution by writer/director Glenn McQuaid is pretty good. It’s about as scary as a regular slasher flick, which is to say it’s more thrilling then terrifying.

v_h_s-06The fourth segment is my favourite. It’s freaky and ultimately quite scary. It’s not as scary as the first segment, but it’s entertaining and has an interesting ending. It’s effective during its brief runtime. I like the camera angles, too, where the webcam films whatever is happening – and there are two cameras, one capturing what’s happening on Emily’s side, and what is happening on her boyfriend’s side (as pictured above). Kudos to the Emily character (portrayed by Helen Rogers) for staying in a creepy and potentially haunted apartment for so long. Rogers is a cute actress who captures paranoia well; and she strikes me as an older-looking and brunette version of Chloë Grace Moretz.

The final segment is a haunted house premise (like the  previous segment), where a few party animals walk into a house where a party is supposed to be happening. Craziness follows and I think the execution is pretty good. It doesn’t make the most sense or gets fully explained, but it’s creative. Some static in the cinematography adds an unsettling layer. It’s at least much scarier than Ti West’s attempt.

When I like four out of six segments, I think it’s a mild success. This is largely an experimental film, and while the cinematography is overall weak, it’s an enjoyable horror experience. Another weak aspect are the characters who really suck, but keep in mind there’s no time for development because of the limited time for each segment. The segments range from not scary at all to very scary, but I think there’s at least one or two segments most horror fans will like; besides, if you don’t like one segment, you might like the next.

Score60/100

Question: What was your favourite segment?

TIFF13 Review: The Sacrament

sacrament_01Ti West sends his movie regulars into an isolated village called Eden Parish. Patrick’s (Kentucker Audley) sister has been missing for six months, but out of the blue, he receives a mysterious letter from her (Amy Seimetz). It tells him to take an airplane to somewhere, where there will be a helicopter to bring him to the undisclosed location. He decides to bring a few colleagues along, who work for a  journalism company called Vice. Vice practices immersion journalism, a style in which the journalist immerses themselves in a situation and with the people involved, and the final product usually focuses on the experience, not the writer themself. AJ Bowen portrays the main journalist, Sam, while Joe Swanberg portrays Joe, the camera man for much of the film.

Once there, they are plunged into a situation straight out of a horror film, and real-life; as they find themselves fighting for their lives after the leader of the commune, known as Father (Gene Jones), instigates a mass suicide.

sacrament_02Father wants to protect his people from threats of capitalism and materialism, and all the other things of America that threaten their way of life. Father has a way of getting into the heads of those who are in his presence, even Sam during an interview, in one of the film’s best but bewildering moments. The interview is quick and hard to absorb completely, and I think that’s the point. It feels like The Father really does have a way of getting into peoples’ thoughts. It is easier for him to get into the thoughts of his people. He asks them to give up their worldly possessions to fund his vision. He goes around as a church and picks up people for his cause, where he makes them work and sleep deprives them and easily brainwashes most.

This is Ti West’s modernized way he sees how the events of the infamous events at Jonestown unfolded. Father is the stand-in for the infamous Jim Jones, who led one of the largest mass suicides in history back in 1978. This is an interesting subject for a feature film. It’s slow but it feels like an expert’s interpretation of something that fascinates many, and it features a great finale. The sheer meaning of Jonestown is hard to portray, because one can’t fully understand, but West sure portrays the facts of it well. He has a great understanding of suicide cults.

sacrament_03 (1)This isn’t pitched as a found-footage film, but as a documentary. These events are both terrifying and told with great realism. It is also all the more terrifying that it is so realistic, and that it has actually happened – and not just something from someone’s mind. It’s a solid premise. There is enough shock value to keep many, well, shocked. It has the intelligence of a documentary film, and the sheer suspense of a great horror film. It is often hard to watch as well, but it’s a great food-for-thought flick, and it leaves an impact on people’s memory. The ending is predictable, but some won’t be able to predict the insane way in which the events do happen. As someone who is fascinated by the events that unfolded at Jonestown, and as a lover of horror films, I can say this is a great ride, and an interesting look at the depths of religious fanaticism.

Score85/100