If hillbilly horror comedy was an established genre, Tucker & Dale vs. Evil would be its Citizen Kane. Making his feature debut, director/co-writer Eli Craig tries to replicate the success ofShaun of the Dead. The result is a mixed bag: Craig includes familiar horror tropes and gross-out humor, yet his cast never possesses the chemistry that helped make Shaun of the Dead a classic. Moreover, Craig repeats the same joke the for the film’s duration, so once we reach the climax, some staleness is inevitable. I found myself mostly enjoying the movie, anyway, since the titular evil is from an unlikely source.
Midway through a classic episode of Seinfeld, Jerry intentionally bombs a stand-up routine by asking the crowd, “What’s the deal with cancer?” His tasteless bit is a reminder that comedy and fatal disease are uneasy bedfellows. Jonathan Levine’s 50/50, a comedy about a young man with cancer, understands this tension well. It never makes light of cancer, instead using warmth to consider how humor is critical to how the man copes. There are moments where laughter offers needed relief, and others where it is outright courageous. With seemingly effortless power, this is the rare dramedy that earns every chuckle and tear it strives for.
Based on the nonfiction bestseller by Michael Lewis, Moneyball is a baseball movie that will appeal those who bored by the sport. It does not romanticize athletes. In fact, it is overtly critical of how the sport functions. Sure, there are scenes for those who adore America’s pastoral past-time, and the screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin offers a fascinating look at the inner-workings of a fledgling club. Yet the film embraces an outsider’s perspective, showing us how intelligent player analysis can overcome misguided intuition. Moneyball’s star may look a little like Robert Redford, but this ain’t The Natural.
Early in The Interrupters, an epidemiologist matter-of-factly states that violence is a disease. He makes a strong case, noting that like a disease, the best way to stop violence is by changing a population’s behavior. Still, the scientist is a secondary player in this documentary, directed by Steve James. Simply put, James records fearless members of the group CeaseFire as they try to stop young people from killing each other. His film is set in Chicago, but the problem does not end in one city.
Forty years and dozens of torture porn films later, writer/director Rod Lurie remakes Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs with few significant deviations. The 1971 classic was ahead of its time because of its willingness to get nasty; its influence is so widespread that before Lurie even began, he would have a tough time justifying the remake’s existence. Sadly, the skeleton of the original is there and its dark heart is missing. Like Peckinpah, Lurie is not a timid filmmaker. But whereas Peckinpah is ostensibly about violence, Lurie’s remake succeeds only as exploitation. With ham-fisted editing and an unpolished message, Straw Dogs never packs the thought-provoking wallop strives to achieve.
Denmark’s Nicolas Winding Refn cut his teeth with the Pusher trilogy before catching international attention with a series of viscerally bizarre films. Bronson tells the story of England’s most notorious prisoner, a man who loves to get naked and grease himself up before attacking prison guards. Refn’s follow-up is Valhalla Rising, the story of One Eye, a brooding Viking played by Mads Mikkelsen, who never speaks a single line of dialog.
Refn’s latest is Drive, a minimal, existentialist thriller. Ryan Gosling stars as a stunt man who moonlights as a getaway driver for hire. The Driver does little else – he’s at peace behind the wheel – yet develops a shy relationship with Irene (Carey Mulligan), a warm-hearted young woman. Soon the Driver gets into serious trouble when a job goes bad, and now a vicious producer (Albert Brooks) wants him dead. At this year’s Cannes Film Festival, Refn won the Best Director prize, which is no surprise given his atmospheric visuals and flair for combining pathos with shocking violence. Opening tomorrow, Drive is already one of the year’s best films. I recently talked with Refn about his film, his depiction of violence, and his terrific electro soundtrack.