Tag Archives: Emily Browning

Trailers of the Week — A Good Week for Cthulhu, Australians, Drug Lords

Monsters Dark Continent

Look, I’m not saying that Cthulhu, Australians, and drug lords are interconnected. I’m just saying they all enjoyed terrific trailers this week. Coincidence? Decide for yourself. I’m not your mother. (Or am I?)

The great thing about this week is that nearly all the films are ones I hadn’t known of or had only heard about in passing. While it was a tremendous week for the Cthulhustralian conspiracy, I’m going to make it wait a moment.

RHYMES FOR YOUNG GHOULS

This is the trailer of the week. I’ve tried writing on it now a few times, but I take the subject matter too personally. I’ll save the lectures for another day.

Suffice to say that films by, starring, or about Native Americans and First Nations peoples are far too few. It’s a rare thing when the voices of a few artists can contribute to speak not just on an endangered culture, but one we’re responsible for eliminating. It’s special to me because those few voices were once joined by tens of millions, and when stories are told by the few surviving, you can sometimes sense the power of those tens of millions in every word.

SPRING

Wow. In two minutes, Spring does what The Strain has failed to do in a season – send chills up my spine. If you’ve read two words from me, you know I’m a horror movie fan, but if you’ve read more than two words, you know I’m pretty elitist about it. I want my horror smart, psychological, otherworldly or supernatural, based on complex characters. I want to be scared to the point I’m a heartbeat away from laughing. I want to be terrified to the point where I’m begging you for a jump scare, just for the adrenaline release.

Spring looks disturbing in all the best ways, with hints of the quiet build and uncluttered presentation of Scandinavian horror, the color and alluring romanticism of Italian horror, the body horror and catharsis narrative of American horror, and the social malaise metaphors of Lovecraft. If it all comes together, this could be a special horror movie.

MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT

Gareth Edwards helmed the first Monsters, and his use of clever, low-budget trickery and knack for brilliant visuals nabbed him the director’s chair for this year’s Godzilla. What’d I think of Godzilla? It has some of the best trickery and brilliant visuals you’ll see this year, paired with godawful story delivery and acting.

Tom Green (no, not that Tom Green) takes over for the Monsters sequel and what could’ve been a direct-to-DVD mess looks like the Godzilla movie I wish I’d seen, but with 1,000% more Cthulhu goodness. Lines of giant tentacle beasts combing the dusty land, overpowering our modern armies. Tiny Cthulhuraptors engaging in desert jeep chases and being tackled by army dogs.

Yeah, it’s more military hoo-ra-ism, but we really do some nice hoo-ra-ism. [I’ll be honest, Re-reading that last sentence gives me pause after talking about Rhymes for Young Ghouls.] I worry about the acting and the staying power of the visual effects – for modestly budgeted sci-fi films, you usually have to choose one or the other, and it’s possible the trailer contains all the best shots. Still, there’s a visual confidence here, and it looks closer to the Godzilla reboot I wish I’d seen than the one that came out. As a trailer alone, this generates real buzz for a film that has next to none.

FELONY

Ooh, but this looks good. The setup is fairly basic – a hero cop (Joel Edgerton) has a few beers and accidentally hits a teenager on his way home. A veteran detective (Tom Wilkinson) takes it upon himself to clean up the incident and make sure the right questions aren’t asked. A crusader (Jai Courtney) decides it doesn’t all add up, and pursues his own investigation.

That’s a million straight-to-DVD plots right there, but the difference is this pedigree – Wilkinson’s ability to play real-world fearsome is rare, while Courtney and Edgerton are two of Australia’s best up-and-coming actors. Edgerton has shown a chameleon quality you wouldn’t expect by looking at him, and he also had a hand in writing one of my films of the year thus far, The Rover.

It doesn’t hurt that Felony has already came out in Australia to rave reviews.

GOD HELP THE GIRL

Emily Browning, 25, will probably be playing teenagers until she’s 35. She just has that look. This is a problem, since the Australian actress has been on the verge of breaking through as a mature, complex performer for years now. At some point, something like her Sleeping Beauty, brutally experimental and tonally haunting, is going to break through into the mainstream and serve notice that she’s a powerhouse talent.

Until that point, if she’s going to play a high schooler, let’s hope it’s at least in indie films like God Help the Girl. Director Stuart Murdoch, of chamber pop band Belle & Sebastian, seems to have found a colorful, energetic visual style that reflects the baroque, yesteryear tone of his music. I’m not expecting this to blow the doors off the theater, but if it can convey the bouncy yet melancholic tone unique to Murdoch’s band and achieve the same lullaby quality through its visuals and Browning’s performance, we’re in for something charming and – dare I hope – reassuring. And reassuring isn’t often a priority in movies at the moment.

KILL THE MESSENGER

I’m glad Jeremy Renner’s getting back to some character acting. He’s the kind of actor who you have play Carmine Polito in American Hustle, or San Jose Mercury News reporter Gary Webb here, not on whose shoulders you rest an entire franchise (hi, Bourne, Mission: Impossible, potential Hawkeye movie).

Who was Webb? He was a reporter who revealed that the Reagan Administration had shielded drug dealers on U.S. soil from prosecution, as a way of funding their suppliers, the Contras, in their CIA-backed coup of Nicaragua. And 20-odd years later, we wonder why the children of Central America are showing up on our doorstep, and act like they aren’t our direct responsibility for what we did to their countries in the name of the Cold War.

Though he was torn apart by mainstream media in the 1990s for his claims, much of Webb’s research was later vindicated. He died in 2004, having committed what was ruled a suicide. By shooting himself. In the back of the head. Execution style. Twice.

I fully expect, and hope, for Renner to nail this to the wall.

Paradise Lost is the other drug lord movie, starring Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games) and Benicio Del Toro (Che) as Pablo Escobar. In truth, it looks pretty iffy, and I’d much rather leave you wanting to go learn more about Gary Webb.

The Unexpected Guilty Pleasure of “Pompeii”

Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love Kiefer Sutherland

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Despite being a historical city in Italy located under the shadow of an active volcano, it’s remarkably easy to mistake “Pompeii” for Wisconsin. After all, both are major producers of cheese. Pompeii is the kind of campy, period movie in which none of its actors speaks in their natural accent. The British actors sound somewhat American and the American actors all sound vaguely English, except for Kiefer Sutherland, who sounds like Vincent Price. Pompeii is as good as B-grade schlock gets without becoming A-grade schlock. I really do mean all this in a good way.

First, some history. Pompeii was a real Roman city covered over with ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in the year 79. Though architects first rediscovered it in 1599, they reburied it, knowing that the government at the time would have destroyed much of the suggestive art that came out of it. Pompeii was lost to history until parts of it were again unearthed in 1748. It’s captured a place in people’s imaginations since then because of its ash layer. Firstly, the ash protected artifacts from moisture and decay, preserving them nearly perfectly. Secondly, voids were found in the layer that engineers realized were left by the citizens who had become trapped in it. Pouring plaster into these voids recreates exactly the poses of an entire city of people when they died. It might be morbid, but it offers an incredibly detailed window into another place and time, as well as a somber remembrance to a city forgotten for more than 1,500 years.

Emily Browning;Kit Harington

Pompeii the movie involves almost none of this. It centers on a gladiator, Milo the Celt, whose village is annihilated by Roman invaders. Many years later, he’s brought to Pompeii, where he falls in love with the daughter of the city’s governor, Cassia. The two are played by Kit Harrington (Game of Thrones) and Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events), but the movie’s stolen out from under them by Kiefer Sutherland (24) and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Mr. Eko from Lost). Sutherland, who’s made a career of raising B-projects to A-quality, knows exactly what kind of movie he’s in and creates a campy, smarmy, snarling, scenery-chewing villain whom it is truly a delight to hate. Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays the gladiator Atticus, who’s earmarked to fight Milo for his freedom. He’s charming in a way the self-serious Harrington isn’t. As the two inevitably come to fight side-by-side, rooting for Atticus comes so naturally, it doesn’t seem too much of a chore to root for Milo by association.

A small detail Pompeii gets right that better sword-and-sandal epics like Gladiator forget is showing us the bustling life of the city itself. Early on, Cassia’s carriage is stuck in a traffic jam, so she decides to hoof it the rest of the way home. The colorful street scenes of peddlers and carriages and morning constitutionalists is enthralling. It’s not the dusty, realistic market of Kingdom of Heaven, but this little touch makes the city feel like a Pompeii that exists – maybe not the one from history, but one that would be pretty pleasant to roam around. Unlike some of Paul W. S. Anderson’s other directorial efforts (Resident Evil and Death Race) there’s some thoughtful art direction and costuming happening here. Things do get a little shaky once the volcano erupts. Why worry about outrunning a wall of flame when it’ll wait for you to deliver a cheesy one-liner to your vanquished foe, after all?

Go in expecting camp, and you could be pleased. The action is energetic and involving, the romance is inexplicable yet heaving, and the humor is best when unintentional. If that sounds like too much affectation for your movie dollar, it’s not something I’d argue you have to go see. There are better movies out and Pompeii will be just as eye-rollingly pleasing when it comes to home release. If you like B-movies you can simultaneously cheer for and laugh at, this one’s a keeper. If you don’t like B-movies, Pompeii won’t convince you otherwise. One important note – you won’t lose out seeing it in 2D. There are a lot of things a movie like this could do with 3D – Pompeii just isn’t the one to do it. Pompeii is rated PG-13.

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