(Note: I was going to give up on sending comments to the Onion film poll this year, because I'd tried to write some blurbs this past week and just ended up frustrated. But today's the due date, and I thought I'd give it a Hail Mary by writing out some ugly paragraphs first and then working with that, maybe winnowing it down and rewriting 'til I had something good, or 5pm rolled around, whichever came first. So I sat down and ended up the with the results below. By the time I got to the third entry, I found myself, unintentionally, writing in the style of early Vern, but I went with it anyway, because Vern is brilliant. [My writing isn't brilliant, that is, but Vern is.] But I didn't want this first draft to go to waste, especially since it includes a bit about running zombies I've been meaning to write for about 3 1/2 years now. Enjoy. Oh, and serious SPOILERS, of course.)
Joshua is great because it is ambiguous. Is the formula poisoned, or is the dad just paranoid. The kid probably killed the grandma and the dog, but we never see it. Sam Rockwell plays the dad, and he's great because he's still the same Sam Rockwell type character, but now with a family and he tries hard to be a family man, but you can tell he's still a swinging dick, like Zaphod. He has some fancy important Wall Street investor job, and he admits he would've beat up his son in elementary school. I think the kid isn't a sociopath at all, but is pretending to be one. Like the piano recital where he intentionally plays Twinkle Twinkle Little Star all atonally. We're supposed to think he's going to kill his little sister, but he's just trying to free himself from his family -- and her as well. He doesn't think they love him. It's possible they don't, really. I think he wants to save his sister from being raised by this family. He hates this upper class without the class thing. The irony is the parents do, too.
The Host is great because it is scary and funny, like Jaws. It is the 21st Century Jaws. It's cool because, unlike Jaws, they don't hide the monster for 2/3 of the movie because they couldn't get it to work. They show it right from the get-go, attacking people on a bright sunny day by the river, where everyone is picnicking. It's well done and hardly ever looks like crappy CGI. What does CGI mean anyway? Computer, Graphics, and then "I". Incorporated? Institute? Anyway, instead of three guys on a boat who have to work together, it's a family without a mom that needs to come together to defeat the monster after it takes the youngest daughter. People have compared the family to the one in Little Miss Sunshine, but the grandpa doesn't snort heroin. He does die, though, and it's real shocking and sad. I don't know why it's called The Host. There's a subplot about how the Monster has a disease that's infecting people, but it becomes pretty clear that it's not true. I think it's just a story concocted by the government so the American government can come in and test this biological bomb called Agent Yellow, which is funny because they may as well have called it Agent Kill The Slants. (the movie is Korean.) The bomb and the Monster are even shaped the same, and both are from the American government (because some dipshit U.S. scientist made a Korean intern dump a bunch of chemicals down the drain into the river, which made the Monster). But that part isn't really important, what's important is that the Family is fairly normal and they get past their sibling squabbles and try to get the little girl back, but there's a twist at the end that says that Family isn't about being related to people but the people you bring close to you and are important to you.
Superbad is great because it is very funny. You can look at the poster and know everything you need to know about the movie. Three high school kids, looking awkward with their mouths hanging open, looking anything but super or bad, but there's the title right there underneath them. It's about how these three kids try to get booze for a late-night party to impress some girls. What's great about it is that while the three kids are dorky in their own ways, there's none of that movie high school clique bullshit where there are Jocks and Nerds and Cheerleaders and Goths and Foreign Kids and it starts to look like a White Wolf role playing game. The girls might be a little more popular than the three guys, but it's kinda hard to tell. One of the guys has that distinct Revenge of the Nerds look, but he acts like he doesn't. In fact, his part of the movie is how he learns to unlock his inner Superbad. The part of the movie about the other two kids is about how they're the best of friends but they're gonna have to move away from each other and take a step into maturity. I love how they're such close friends, one of them can walk into the middle of the other's P.E. soccer game and start a conversation like they were in the hallway or something. And everybody yells at that kid like he's done it a million times before. And then that kid kicks the soccer ball out of bounds, like ah fuck you. The two kids are Michael Cera from Arrested Development and Jonah Hill. Cera is always great, but I was really impressed by this Hill guy. He supposedly was in Knocked Up, but I don't remember him at all. I guess he couldn't make up enough "wacky" improv shit and was cut from the movie. Maybe he was trying to actually play a character, I don't know. But here, you can't help but notice him. The word that gets thrown around here is "volcanic". Cuz he's fat and loud. But it's true. He metaphorically explodes. It's like a filthy teen version of Laurel and Hardy, with Cera's sad bird-like face and Hill all sputtering fury. Oh, and I almost forgot to say something about the two cops. They're awesome. They don't take their jobs seriously and fuck with people and share in-jokes like they were still in high school. It's clear that they are the future versions of Cera and Hill if they don't move apart and grow on their own. They'll be in jobs they aren't suited for, kinda joined at the hip and not going anywhere. Funny enough, the cops hardly ever interact with Cera and Hill.
28 Weeks Later is great because it's fucking scary as shit. It's a sequel to a zombie movie that I think was one of those painted-on-film deals, like the Beastie Boys' "Shadrach" video. This is just film, tho. It's about running zombies. I'll come out and say it: I like running zombies. I know people bitch about them all the time, but they're scary to me. I think history and technology has passed the slow zombie by. There was a time when we didn't have 24 hour news channels and iphones and phone cameras and shit, and back then, you could believe slow zombies could fuck up the world. If you wanted to tell somebody about the slow zombies, you had to use a phone with a rotary dial. You know, you would dial a number then have to wait for the thing to spin back around before you could select the next number. (that's where the word "dial" comes from.) So of course, some slow zombie would eat your ass before you could get that last "1" in "911" out. But if slow zombies attacked today, it would be terrible for about five minutes. But by the next five, it'd be over. The cops and the firemen would take them out, there'd be phone camera pictures on the internet, people would send text messages to each other -- OMG ZOMBEEZ LOL -- and that would be that. Zombies have to be able to be faster than the fastest communication devices available. But running zombies? Especially the ones in that Dawn of the Dead remake, where a dead body would turn into a zombie instantly? Fuck that, it's over. You can't text shit, they're on you already. These 28 X Later zombies are like that. One drop of blood gets on you and you're a zombie. And then they fucking run after you. See, I'm a fat guy and can't run, so this is terrifying. I'd be like Uter in that episode of the Simpsons where he's trying to get on the bus before the Civil War re-enactors get him, and he can't make it because he gets that pain in his side that fat people get when they run. I been there. It sucks. Not the beating up, just the side-pain thing.
Anyway, what makes this zombie movie so good is that a) it's really fucking scary, like I said, b) the acting is particularly good, especially Robert Carlyle who's a guy who left his wife to die by the zombies so he could get away. He's rewarded for his cowardice twice -- once by being set up as a big-wig for the reconstruction of England, and once by getting himself infected by his wife, who turns out is immune to the zombie disease but can carry it around in her eye. This is also one of those movies that plays with your expectation about who lives and who dies. The filmmakers know you know who the big stars are, who's being made out to look like a hero and a badass, who you think is going to be sympathetic, and then they proceed to fuck with you in a surgically-precise manner. So between the running zombies, the way they kill off people unexpectedly, and just the atmosphere of hopelessness, this is one incredibly tense flick, almost suffocatingly so. I watched it in broad daylight on my TV and was shaking by the end. Oh, and there's one horrifyingly great scene that shows this is probably one of those Iraq War metaphors (what with the U.S. army coming in and occupying a place it doesn't really understand), where the zombies get loose in the "safe" area and sharpshooters are ordered to start picking off people, even though they can't tell who's a running zombie and who's just running cuz they're panicked and don't want to turn into a running zombie. That's fucked up.
Once is a great movie because it's a love story without the love story. That is, it's an unrequited love story. Well, no, it's not exactly unrequited, but nothing happens. People compare it to Before Sunrise, but I never saw it, so couldn't tell you. I think the biggest sticking point for people about this movie is the music. See, it's about a street musician who has some songs and some big dreams who meets this Czech chick who plays piano, and they enter a musical relationship that helps them both. Some people seem to think that, unless the music is the second coming of Thriller or OK Computer or something, then the whole thing is hogwash. Like no one anywhere liked anything that wasn't less than perfect. Like Celine Dion and Creed never sold millions of records. I'll be honest -- the music isn't anything I would ever buy. I don't hate it, it's just not my thing. But again, that's not the point. The point is that it means a lot to the guy and girl who wrote it. It expresses the stuff they couldn't express otherwise, I mean if they could, they would and wouldn't bother with songs or chord changes or stuff like that. You can see it in their faces when they perform. That's the point of the movie. The best part of the movie is when they first get together in a music store and he teaches her a song he wrote. She picks up on it almost immediately, and he goes from sitting in a music store strumming a guitar to all-out performing, forgetting where he is, getting lost in the music. I've never heard of this Glen Hansard guy before, but what makes it great is that he seems like a real musician and not an actor, probably because he is a real musician and not an actor. He comes across like some guy you might meet in a pub (British for "bar"), just a really friendly and down to earth guy who's got his problems but is too nice to worry you with them. I'm not as sold on the girl -- it gets kinda blurry as to whether she's playing the foreigner who doesn't know English and the foreigner who doesn't know English and so is having trouble with her lines -- but she sure can play the pianninny and you get, after that music store scene, why he might fall for her.
The irony is that while they meld perfectly when they perform and open themselves up emotionally, they can't seem to do the same when not performing, and two people who belong together end up apart. All it probably would've took was an "I love you", but they couldn't pull the trigger. It's a sad movie, but not too sad, and I think people have a problem with that, too. Like the two should've been crazy, throwing shit at each other when they weren't performing, but we've seen that before. There's probably truth to that kind of drama, but that seems like movie bullshit to me. This is more realistic I think. I'd call it a mumblecore musical, but the word "mumblecore" doesn't exist and is not a marketing term devised by hipsters to create a buzz around indie movies shot for $4.99.