Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Nico The Unicorn" - - Time To Grow Up

If you watched the above clip you saw two things: A kid unicorn, and a kid Elisha Cuthbert

Pictured: Not Kid Elisha Cuthbert

But in between those two things, you see the heart of "Nico The Unicorn." You see Billy Hastings scribbling in his notepad. He writes out the word "Unicorn" then using those letters he lists different combination until he settles on Nico.

This movie is about being a child. It's about being young and hopeful and at the same time mature and realistic. His father is dead and his leg is busted after a tragic car accident. He's in a new town and his mom is almost always working

But, he has a unicorn!

 . . .that he can't ride because of his busted leg.

After I watched "Nico" I found out it was based on a book. Honestly, that doesn't surprise me. It is well-plotted with intriguing characters and dark themes. For example, Billy gets Nico by buying a horse with a fake unicorn horn from a sleazy freakshow owner who we see drunkenly beat the horse into a coma.

Then there's a non-graphic but still kinda intense scene of Nico the unicorn being born.

And, of course, there's this:

Now that's what a kid's movie needs: A mountain lion versus a horse. And I'm not being facetious; I think the main failure of most kid's movies is that A) they're boring and B) they're simple.

A mother sacraficing herself to protect her child? That's some pretty heavy stuff for a movie like this but it works because it raises the stakes. It makes the characters, even the animals, worth carrying about.

We learn in "Nico" that the mountain lion is the natural predator of the unicorn. It's been awhile since my Unicorn classes at Unicorn University, but I'll accept that as a fact in this movie's universe. The mountain lion does continue to harass both Billy and Nico, but then you have nice layering with the fact that the sleezy freakshow owner hunts Nico down later, wearing a CAT construction hat.

This movie is fun and sad. It is charming and oddly dark. "Nico the Unicorn" is a movie that I would not only recommend to parents, but I would easily watch it again.

One last thing: the music in this movie: pure 80's fantasy. Great stuff.

Monday, January 21, 2013

"The Sound of My Voice" - - Interesting Plot, Terrible Payoff

I get that this movie has its fans, and I understand why. "The Sound Of My Voice" is a well-crafted film with an interesting story and excellent acting. But reading the IMDB boards, there is a large number of fans who enjoy this movie simply for the ambiguous ending. And that's ridiculous.

Long before Leonardo's spinning top, movies have had "did they or didn't they" endings. I always thought everyone agreed that "The Wizard of Oz" was an actual journey to another realm. Recently though I've met a surprisingly large number of people who, discounting any sequels or prequels, who think that it was all just a dream. That's a valid viewpoint. I believe in all sorts of mumbo jumbo in real life and they don't so are actual beliefs affect how we interpret the movie.

But I don't know of anyone who loves "The Wizard of Oz" just because of the ending. Going back to "Inception," whether or not the top stops spinning is irrelevant because Cobb has grown as a person. If he is dreaming or not is not the point of the film. "Inception" is at its core a heist film using the mind as the prize. It makes the viewer a promise of a suspenseful action movie and it delivers.

"The Sound Of My Voice" is a mystery film that is never solved. All the evidence points to the fact that, yes, she actually is a time traveler. Between the secret handshake (actually a childhood game her mother taught her but when she goes back in time her mother is a little girl so the adult daughter plays it with the little girl version of her mom) OK I'm going to stop my train of thought right now because that last sentence shows the sort of acrobatics the movie goes through to prove she is from the future (the little girl/mother says "How did you know how to do that. I never showed that to anyone.") and then the movie ends with "BUT WAIT maybe she's just nuts!"

There's a federal agent who is out to stop the cult, but when we first see her, she is tearing apart a hotel room looking for listening devices. Why? Who knows, it was never explained. I assume it is because she was from the future as well, a sort of Timecop, but it's never explained because when you don't have an ending ambiguity will do.

I'm not knocking this movie just because of the fan base and their weird attraction to the belief "If I have questions after the film, it must be great!" I'm knocking it because it is a mystery movie, and it fails on that. It seemed like part one of a trilogy but if they decide to make another one, I will have to go back in time and stop the director before they even entered film school.

Or will I?


Thursday, January 10, 2013

"Cruel World" - - A Cautionary Tale

Horror movies, more than most genre films, seems to follow the trends of society. The 50's and 60's saw a glut of films where technology had gone wrong, creating giant ants or killer rabbits. During the 70's and 80's with the fear of serial killers, the slasher film was born with an unstoppable villain and a cadre of innocent victims. As we moved into the 90s, technology was once again the culprit but we were haunted by virtual demons like the Lawnmower Man or video games that sucked you into their world.

These are broad strokes, of course. The sci-fi menace still stalked films for decades, and the supernatural serial killer as well. But these trends are recognizable, even more so after the fact. So watching "Cruel World," reminded me of the "Reality Horror" trend that appeared for a few years in the early 2000s. Even franchise favorites got into the act with "Halloween: Resurrection." Was it because American society was anxious of the direction reality shows were going, or was it simply cheaper to shoot a film where you can be sloppy with handheld cameras and claim you're just trying to make it look real?

"Cruel World" stars Edward Furlong as former reality show contestant who was burned on national television. During a "Bachelorette"-style program at the last minute he is rejected for the hunk (I think it might have been a show with a "twist," as in the hunk was brought in near the end of the season after the nerd thought he had won the girl's heart, but honestly I'm not sure.) He predictably goes ape shit, which honestly I'm surprised doesn't happen more often given the embarrassment these contestants go through.

Our luckless contestant ends up deciding to stage his own reality show, and takes over a house, invites over a bevy of babes and hunks, and tells them if they win the show they get a million dollars. These kids don't know there isn't a million dollars. They don't know that if they get voted off, they die.

The question is, would it matter?

"Cruel World" is actually a good movie. The trailer makes it look like B-grade schlock but I watched this movie twice. I watched it years ago when it came out and I remembered a few of the challenges, especially this one:

I didn't remember for sure I had seen it before until maybe 15 minutes in re watching it all these years later, but it didn't diminish it for me. A good film is a good film. And terror, well, that's hard to pull off.

"Cruel World" is an indictment of reality shows: When the characters are going around introducing themselves (the brave one, the smart one, etc.) one girl says "Well I guess I'm the shy one" and another character announces "I'm the shy one. You're the Asian." The idea that white people have the character traits and the minorities are the minorities; that's an interesting subtext in a straight to DVD slasher flick.

It's an indictment of fame: How far would you go to be famous? To be remembered and acknowledged and talked about by people who have never met you? While I doubt the answer is "I want to be famous so bad I would pull out cow guts with my bare hands and eat them raw," that was the entire conceit of the show "Fear Factor." Of course, because "Cruel World" is a horror movie the "cow" meat is actually disguised human meat, it begs the question: How do we know those are really dog testicles contestants are slurping down on "Fear Factor."

The movie does have its downsides: the straight to DVD soundtrack detracts from the movie, the mentally challenged lunk seems a little overdone (although the fireman sequence is top notch), but overall "Cruel World" gets an A for effort and execution. Check this one out.