Posted by The Lam | Nov 6, 2015
BONE TOMAHAWK!!!!!!!!!!!!

Bone Tomahawk takes place in the 1890s in a small frontier town called Bright Hope.  After the arrival of a mysterious drifter, the town is stalked by shadowy, primitive Native American characters.  They murder a local farmhand and kidnap the drifter, the female doctor and a deputy.  The Sheriff is advised by a friendly Native American that the ones who conducted the kidnapping and murder are not considered true Native Americans.  They are primitive cave dwellers referred to as troglodytes, known for their savagery, barbarism and cannibalistic tendencies.  The Sheriff assembles a team including an elderly deputy, an itchy fingered gunslinger and a civilian townsman (husband of the kidnapped doctor) to track down the troglodytes and save the townsfolk.  Together, they head out to face the dangers of the wild where the chances of survival are fleeting.

Bone Tomahawk is a perfect merger of the western and cannibal-horror genres.  Clocking at 132 minutes, it runs a bit longer than some might expect for this type of movie.  I’ve described the movie to friends as a slow burn.  For the first hour and a half, the pace is slow more akin to a western film.  Time is spent with the characters, building and journeying with them.  There’s a looming sense of dread the further our characters go on their journey.  It’s not until the last 40 minutes or so that the movie kicks it into high gear and plunges into its horror side.  And it is unrelenting!  The movie is vicious and brutal with its killings.  Because we’re dealing with primitives, their savagery knows no bounds.

And both tempos, that of the western and the horror sides, are the keys to its success.  The western side builds our emotions and the horror provides the payoff.  I guess my only gripe is that with its longer running time, perhaps some scenes on the western front could have been trimmed for a more concise 90 to 100 minute hit.

Bone Tomahawk was helmed and written by first time director, S. Craig Zahler.  According to his IMDB credentials, he has only worked on a limited number of projects, none of them high profile.  Yet, he was able to secure funds to bring this script to life, and with a star studded cast on top!  The film is filled with talented performers including Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Richard Jenkins and Matthew Fox.  In more limited roles but doing exactly what’s needed is David Arquette, who plays the drifter, and horror favourite Sid Haig, who has a smaller cameo type role.  The film is working on a lower budget, no doubt, but still, you can feel those dollars stretech!

It’s worth a watch if you’re a fan of either genres.  This may be considered a preview to Kurt Russell’s other big western due later this year (Tarantino’s Hateful 8), and if he plays it like how he plays it here, we’re in for a treat!  Until next time, later geeks!

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Posted by The Lam | Nov 1, 2015
THE MARTIAN (THE MOVIE!!!!!!!!!!!)!!!!!!!

As promised, just a short follow-up on the Martian, the movie which was released last month.  I wrote a longer review of the book (here).

The movie is pretty enjoyable, and although it shifts a few scenes around, it stays pretty much true to the book at least as far as big scenes and bullet points go.  I mean, there are things that just won’t translate well to the big screen, so they kept a lot off.  Specifically, going into details with all the different math calculations and science.  They really streamline it all, and show you things, instead of bore you with details.

There were a few problems I had with the movie though.  I think the main one is the passage of time.  They did a good job with Watney, letting him appear more primal as the movie progresses, but pretty much everyone else looks the same.  So even though 400 days or so have passed, it just looks like a week to everyone but Watney.  The progression of time was also poorly translated in the scenes when Watney had to drive long distances.  In the book, it really emphasized how much he hated doing those long drives.  In the book, the first drive was just for a few weeks, as I recall.  The second drive was supposed to be something like four times that length and he truly dreaded it!  The dread didn’t come across in the movie.  And especially so because they just lumped that longer drive all into one montage scene, showing both Mars progress as well as Earth progress!  It was a feel good moment where in the book, it was one of the roughest of times.  They also took out a few of the different disasters that Watney faces during the long drive.

So while not exactly the book (and what adaptation is really?!), it still maintains the spirit of the book and is an enjoyable watch!  It’s not a movie of the year or anything, but it’s a fun big budget, low-thinking sci-fi movie that hits the right emotional chords.  Until next time, later geeks!

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Posted by The Lam | Oct 27, 2015
TURBO KID!!!!!!!!!!

I don’t know where to even begin with Turbo Kid!  I didn’t know what I was expecting and it’s hard to put together what I received!  But I’ll try!

Turbo Kid takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where civility is all but a distant memory.  It is a time when resources are far too few, requiring the processing and dispensing of human parts to create water.  We follow a young kid, only known to us as the Kid, as he faces insurmountable odds in an effort to take down a tyrannical warlord hell-bent on destroying humanity.  But the Kid isn’t alone!  Armed with a Mega Man type blaster, he’s joined by a quirky and mysterious young girl named Apple and an Indiana Jones-like alpha male hero named Frederic.  But are the trio enough to stop an army of spear-wielding, shoulder-pads wearing, bike riding hooligans?

Turbo Kid is a love letter to the 80s.  It’s so clear from the opening music number that we’re gonna get something 80s inspired.  So when we see the Kid scavenging for cassette tapes for his walkman or 3D Viewfinder reels, we’re not surprised!  For whatever reason, the 80s is it!  Forget the 90s and 2000s!  The visual style, the music, the costumes, the practical effects – they all help in bringing that atmosphere back.  One can’t help but think about the original Mad Max movies when seeing the costumes of all the different characters.  The synth heavy soundtrack is easily my favourite thing about the movie.  It’s catchy music and really helps setting the tone of the movie.  There’s a lot of things to love about the movie though!

The practical effects and gore are quite amazing and it’s quite an interesting direction choice to include it!  The movie could easily have been a children’s adventure movie had they not included all the blood and guts.  But for whatever reason, it’s there and so skews to a more “mature” audience.  I suppose it harkens back to the 80s style of movies when practical effects were more heavily used.  When a bad guy gets impaled by an umbrella creating a bloodstorm, it’s almost perfect that the Kid removes the umbrella and uses it to shield himself from the bloody rainfall.

The high-def cinematography was outstanding!  Everything looked so crisp and clean for a smaller budget movie!  This combined with the practical effects really made all the blood and guts really pop out!

Michael Ironside really shines as the warlord villain in the movie.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen him play such an over-the-top character (and this includes when he played Lt. Rasczak in Starship Troopers!).  The kid who plays the Kid is alright!  But I feel like of all the characters, he was the least interesting.  Perhaps as the hero, he’s a bit more vanilla than all the players surrounding him.  The best character really is Apple!  She is cute and charming!  There is a mystery behind her character and once you learn of what her deal is, all her quirkiness sort of makes sense!  She and the Kid inevitably fall in love and you can’t help but root for the two (mainly because of her!).  And when her secret is revealed, it made me wonder if naming her Apple was an allusion to a future technology!

If you love 80s inspired movies, you definitely have to watch this!  It is at many times random and inexplicable, but in the end, it’s all good fun!  Til next time, later geeks!

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Posted by The Lam | Oct 23, 2015
FUNNY GIRL by Nick Hornby

Funny Girl is the latest novel from Nick Hornby, released originally in 2014.  It pains me to say, but I had to put a Nick Hornby book down before I finished it.  I know.  Tragic.  I only read a third of the book, so it’s only fair to write a third of a review.

Funny Girl takes place in the mid-60s and follows Barbara, a young girl from Blackpool, England.  She is apparently a babe, having won the local beauty contest.  However, she resigns from being the beauty queen (champion?) as it would mean staying in Blackpool for another year, shaking hands and kissing babies.  No, she has bigger dreams of becoming a TV star, like her idol Lucille Ball.  Her first step is to move to London where she lands a job at a department store.  It’s here where she schmoozes and networks with married men who take her on dates and who are also intertwined with the entertainment industry.  It’s not long before she lands auditions and in one case, she scores the lead in a new BBC comedy series.  The show picks up acclaim for pushing the envelope (for its time) despite mild disapproval from the BBC.

I wish I could tell you more, but I stopped shortly afterwards.

I was disappointed.  I really didn’t want to put it down, but I had to.  I was hoping I would be hooked or gripped by something by the time I reached a third of the way, but it never came.  Neither the plot nor the characters were interesting.  Part of me felt like Hornby wrote this book to reflect some of the things he witnessed now that he’s working more directly in Hollywood, producing scripts.

Either way, I’ve read other Hornby books that were of less acclaim but that I still managed to enjoy.  He’s my favourite author after all.  So it sucks that I couldn’t get into it, but perhaps it’s not fair to expect every release to knock it out of the park.  But you know, there is tha-…

And that concludes the third of the review.  Later geeks!

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Posted by The Lam | Oct 20, 2015

Knock, Knock is the latest effort from cult favourite director, Eli Roth.  It’s also the first outing by Keanu Reeves since 2014’s much lauded John Wick, an action packed fan favourite.

Knock, Knock is about an architect named Evan Webber (Reeves); a happily married man with two kids.  On one particular weekend, the wife and kids go away to the beach house while Evan stays behind to catch up on work.  The first night is a stormy evening with what appears to be a torrential downpour.  That night, two unexpected young females show up at Evan’s door.  Drenched from head to toe, the buxom young lasses claim that they got lost looking for a house party in the neighbourhood.  Evan let’s them in to dry off and use his tablet to find the right address.  Due to the stormy night, it wouldn’t be 45 minutes until a cab arrives to pick them up.  And that provides 45 minutes for them to seduce him.  What seemed like fun and games the previous night turns into disaster and terror, as the two seemingly innocent seducers manipulate, confine and torture Evan.

Coming out of Knock, Knock, I had a difficult time categorizing what kind of film this was.  There was a little bit of horror, mystery, thriller and comedy in the mix, however, none of these outweigh the others.  Which perhaps is the first problem; the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be.  You come away from the film feeling unsatisfied.

"And theeennnn I took the red pill!"

It also didn’t help that the story was weak.  The story is filled with plot holes which takes away the levity of the film.  During the movie, I was thinking of all the different ways that Evan could get away or reasons he could provide to prove what happened at the end.   It all made it seem flimsy.  The premise of the movie itself seems scintillating, and perhaps that’s where the intrigue stops.  Another problem with the story is the characterization.  Evan Webber is essentially a good man, who is seduced and deceived. But apart from this incident, he's a wholesome husband and father. So it makes the whole thing seem nonsensical... like why did they even pick on him?  They provide some loose motive but it doesn't hold together.  In Evan's heat filled tirade, he even compares it to getting "free pizza"!  How could he turn that down?  It's different than say 2005's Hard Candy, which is tense and effective because as the movie progresses you find out that the innocent man is not so innocent. It brings reasoning to the punishment.

The acting, particularly by the two female leads is terrible.  Perhaps because they are two foreign actresses working with an American script.  They are over the top and not in a convincing or fun way.  The quality of their performances isn’t too far off from a stage production that you would expect to see at a high school play.  They are supposed to be threatening and evoke terror, but most of the time they just seem annoying.

The one redeeming feature is Keanu Reeves.  Perhaps he knew and understood how stupid the story is, but Reeves pulls off a performance of a lifetime.  I don’t recall any other of his performances where he shows such range.  It’s just a shame that it’s in this movie; likely a movie that not too many will ever see.  Thank the Lord.

So there you have it.  Knock, Knock?  Who’s there?  Nobody.  Nobody who?  Nobody go see this movie.  Later geeks.

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Posted by The Lam | Oct 16, 2015

(Note: this review is for novel and not the film which was just released.  Mild spoilers within if you haven’t read or seen the movie.)

Andy Weir’s The Martian is my kind of book!  It’s the kind of stuff that makes me appreciate being part nerd (and I do mean nerd and not geek).  The book appealed to the engineering side of my nerdiness.

The Martian is about a group of space explorers who land on Mars to further develop colonization efforts.  After a massive sandstorm, one of the explorers, a botanist and engineer named Mark Watney becomes separated from his team after colliding with debris.  Fearing his death, and perhaps their own, the remainder of the team blast off quickly from Mars in an effort to return to Earth.  However, what they don’t know is that Mark is actually alive.  Armed with limited resources, and his botany and engineering skills, Watney must stay alive for what he estimates is four years before he can be rescued by the next team.  However, Watney must survive the perils and hazards of Mars itself if he’s going to stay alive for four years.

The Martian is one of those rare books whose writing style cannot be repeated, or else face the criticism of being a knock-off.  Perhaps something similar has been written before, but I don’t think it’s achieved this level of mainstream success.  The book is written such that it is HEAVY on math, physics and engineering.  It’s written in a way to make it all same logical, practical and realistic.  But it’s made as accessible as possible.  The math that’s presented is never too difficult.  Andy Weir doesn’t bore us with differential equations and derivations.  It’s straight up simple math (addition, subtraction, division, multiplication).  For example, let’s say he has 800 potatoes but he needs to last 150 more days, how many potatoes can he eat per day?  And it’s this sort of equation that’s presented to us over and over.  And Mark has to do this if he’s going to schedule and plan his survival, or face eating himself to death (or starving himself, whichever end you’re looking at it from).  However, for those who might be thrown off by all the math (and there is a lot of it), the math is not the point.  If that confuses you, you can skip the paragraph and just take away that, “Mark’s fucked, he needs to do something.  What’s he going to do?”.  So for those who want it, it’s there!  And as a self-proclaimed geek, I’m glad it’s there!

The book flips between first person perspective when we’re dealing with life on Mars with Mark and switches to a third person perspective when it bounces to the NASA and rescue teams on Earth.  However, the first time we hear Earth’s perspective isn’t until about a third of the way through the book, so it was a bit surprising when it first hits you.

Regarding the story itself, it’s nothing that you haven’t read or seen before in any other mediums.  The story is about a man stranded trying to get home.  You’ve seen or read that dozens of times elsewhere, and to that degree, the Martian offers up nothing new.  However, as I allude to above, it’s in the writing style and approach that makes it unique from let’s say Castaway or Gravity.  The book offers all the twists and turns as you would expect for a story where someone is struggling to live.  It moves to a real cinematic beat; you can really visualize the story in a movie.  Mark Watney is a great character too, who never gets dull despite facing imminent death!  He’s cheeky and sarcastic and sometimes difficult to deal with, much to the chagrin of the Earth rescue team.  However, as he says, he can do whatever he wants, he’s the one fucked on Mars!

At the time of this writing, I haven’t yet seen the movie nor have I read any reviews (however, by the time this is published, likely I’ll have seen it, so I’ll write a short follow-up afterwards!).  I’m quite interested to see how far they go with all the math and logistics in a movie format.  Without seeing the movie, I feel like Matt Damon can really pull off the spirit of Mark Watney, so I’m excited!

Folks, give the book a read!  There’s a fun adventure ahead!  Until next time, later geeks!

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Posted by The Lam | Oct 12, 2015

Sicario is a very big punch to the gut.  But one that hits you in a good way.

Sicario, as the opening moments of the movie tells us, is the Spanish word for ‘hitman’.  The movie follows FBI agent, Kate Macer (Emily Blunt), one who specializes in cases dealing with kidnappings.  In the opening scene, her team invades a house tipped off to be holding hostages somewhere in Arizona.  Instead of hostages, they find dead bodies strewn up along the house walls – victims of a Mexican drug cartel.  It’s a scene none of them are expecting, and we can tell this, because they all discharge to the front yard to vomit.  Following this case, Kate is summoned to an FBI office where she is transferred and recruited to be part of a team lead by a Department of Defense consultant named Matt (Josh Brolin).  His casual demeanor throws her off and she is unsure of what she’s getting into.  Matt’s scope of work is a bit grander than what Kate is used to.  He is spearheading missions related to the stoppage of one of the largest Mexican cartels, led by a man named Diaz.  They are aided by a shadowy and mysterious figure named Alejandro (Benicio Del Toro), whose level of involvement is unclear.  It is clear, however, that his involvement is necessary.  On their first mission, Kate is at first told that they are going on a mission in El Paso, Texas.  However, it is soon revealed that this was a lie… they are going to Juarez, across the boarder in Mexico.  From here on out, Kate has to wade through a myriad of lies to understand what exactly she is getting involved with.

Sicario is a powerful film directed by an amazing Canadian director named Denis Villeneuve who did the outstanding Canadian feature, Incendies, the enigmatic, Enemy, and also Prisoners (didn’t catch this one though).  Villeneuve seems to have no problem diving and dissecting difficult and oftentimes, uncomfortable subject matter.  The story and characters of Sicario are all layered and as the movie progresses, a darker reality is revealed.

More than anything, to me, the movie is about the conflict between ideality and reality.  One tells us how things ought to be, and the other tells us of how things are carried out in reality.  Kate, an upstanding and moral agent represents the ideals that we believe the FBI and Uncle Sam represents.  Matt, however comes from the ground up and brings in the reality of the situation.  He’s a man that perhaps at an earlier stage in life, was in Kate’s shoes and saw things through a glass dimly.  But sometimes the road owns you and likely he learned the lesson that sometimes bullets move faster than bureaucracy.  Near the end, the ideals in her literally and figuratively get punched in the gut by reality.

The film is surrounded by great performances all around.  It’s very hard to tell between Emily Blunt and Benicio Del Toro who had the stronger go around.  Each was very effective in their roles.  If anything, Blunt’s performance represents one of the strongest female lead roles since Ellen Ripley from Aliens.  She’s not a badass like Ripley, but she is strong, and holds her own ground, even when playing with all the big boys in the yard.

The movie was shot beautifully by Roger Deakins whose worked with Villeneuve before and also a frequent collaborator on Coen brothers movies.  You’ve seen his stuff!  He shoots sceneries and landscapes with such a grandiose vision.  It feels like your eyes are cutting through butter – it’s that effortless!  On top of that, the score by Jóhann Jóhannsson, may have been my favourite things about the movie.  It’s a subtle score, and it’s not so much about music as it is ambient sounds that are used to emphasize the darkness that’s revealed with each passing scene.  It’s an effective example of how less is sometimes more.  The music just accentuated the forebodingness that you knew was coming.

I was really interested in seeing Sicario in light of watching Narcos on Netflix earlier this month (write-up likely coming soon), another outing dealing with drug trafficking and cartels.  As I was watching Narcos earlier this month, I was wondering what Sicario could do that’s any different.  Everything I wanted to see and learn about was all there (in Narcos).  However, whereas Narcos gave us a full glimpse on all sides of the drug trafficking scene, Sicario is simply more interested in the stateside affairs.  Which leads into the weakest aspect of the movie.  Sicario features a small side story about a Mexican police officer and seeing him take care of his family.  It’s very clear where this little story is going, but it never really pays off.  There wasn’t really a need for this side story, but perhaps it was used to show the humanity side of the drug traffickers.  However, I did like the very last scene and it’s symbolism of how all the drug trafficking conflict is like a soccer game.  And like a game, it must continue.

I have no doubt that Sicario will be bounced around during Oscar season.  It is a solid entry in 2015.  Go see it!  Until next time, later geeks!

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