Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Cheap Thrills (2013) (R)

Director: E.L. Katz
Starring: Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, David Koechner
Rated: R

When money gets tight how far are you willing to go for some quick cash? A new father faced with eviction and the sudden loss of his job finds out the hard way in the intensity dark comedy Cheap Thrills (2013), directed by E.L. Katz and written by David Chirchirillo and Trent Haaga. Shot in only twelve days, Cheap Thrills delivers the punches early for its main character Craig, played with a heavy sense of stoic inner turmoil by Pat Healy. The viewer is drawn quickly into Craig's situation, laying his woes before them in the first few scenes, leaving him plenty of time to be dragged along into the true depravity the film has in store.

Deciding to grab a drink before breaking the slew of bad news to his wife, Craig is reunited with Vince (played intimidatingly well by Ethan Embry), a friend from high school who makes a living in collections, serving as the free spirited Yin to Craig's dower Yang.

Enter Colin and Violet (David Koechner and Sara Paxton), newlyweds out on the town in search of some laughs in honor of Violet's birthday. What follows is a series of seemingly innocent dares proposed by the happy couple to their new friends. Finish a shot first, win fifty bucks. Get a girl to smack you in the face first, cha-ching. But after a bet gone wrong at the local strip club, the gang decides to take the party to the couple's abode. What follows is a game of cat and mouse as the dares and the stakes grow ever larger. Seeing this as an opportunity to get out of their fiscal situations, Craig and Vince decide to play along, but at how great a risk?

Bringing a heavy touch of realism into this already grey world with the aid of tight shots and handheld camera work, a claustrophobic element helps to broaden the feeling of dread Craig and Vince face throughout the feature. Unyelding in how twisted the dares become, the writers never give the audience a second to figure out where the story will take them. Koechner, with his charismatic approach to the character of Colin, draws you in with charm and salesmanship, while the beautiful Paxton keeps you guessing with her ambivalent tone and delivery, traits they don't waver far from throughout the piece.

Not for the squeamish, this dark (not putting it lightly) comedy delivers an emotional gut punch from beginning to end. Unrelenting and unapologetic, Cheap Thrills will have a special place in the realm of cringe worthy fair that will keep you on edge well after the credits roll. Get ready to question some life choices, or just sit back and enjoy the ride.

Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) (PG-13)

Director: James Gunn
Starring: Chris Pratt, Vin Diesel, Bradley Cooper, Zoe Saldana,Dave Bautista
Rated: PG-13

As I write this, the soundtrack to the film in question is blaring on a loop through my earbuds. A purchase made mere hours before actually seeing said movie. I would have purchased it even if the movie tuned out to be a dud, because it's that good. Imagine a summer road trip playlist put together by Tarantino himself. What amazing times we live where O-O-H Child by The Five Stairsteps can play over the final battle scene of an Action/Sci-fi/Comic Book romp and it actually works. And that is what makes this film so brilliant, it takes the ludicrous and does just that, makes it work. But I digress, Guardians of the Galaxy is, no doubt, the most satisfying experience I've had at the movies in a long time.

But what's the premise? Where to begin... A wisecracking thief who was abducted by aliens when he was a child, is forced to team up with a bounty hunter, who happens to be an anthropomorphized raccoon, and his cohort, a tree creature with a knack for turning a phrase, along with a warrior seeking revenge, and the beautiful but lethal daughter of a tyrannical ruler, all in order to save an innocent planet from total enihillation. You with me so far, or did I lose you at bounty hunter raccoon? Now, imagine, if you will, trying to explain that plot to your mother as she smiles politely at you in quiet bewilderment. And to add more ingredients to this casserole of amazing, the entire plot ties into the nine other films from the Marvel Universe (Iron Man, Captain America, Thor, you get the picture).  Now that you have a crash course in the Guardians pedigree, why should you see it?

To start, Guardians is completely aware of how crazy it's core idea is and does not sugarcoat it one bit. This film embraces the eccentricities of both plot and character, playing to their strengths completely. A skill Writer/Director James Gunn has always shown as a trademark of his work. His past projects such as Slither (2006) and Super (2010) prove Gunn knows how to take outside the box concepts that normally would be scoffed at as too edgy or strange and builds a world which is difficult to look away from. His early years at Troma Films (The Toxic Avenger (1984), Tromeo and Juliet (1996)) gives Gunn a definite step up in that department. With the help of co-writer Nicole Perlman, a relative unknown, she and Gunn have this script perfected down to the several bits of fanboy fodder they have peppered throughout. Round that off with a stellar cast (Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Bradley Cooper, and Vin Diesel to name a few) and you have got a nod to what fans want, a movie for fans as well as their non-comic book loving significant others. Yes, they will love it too.

If the trailers, soundtrack and overall perfectly suited cast of actors haven't grabbed you yet then let me throw this monkey into the wrench: Guardians does what the Stars Wars prequels failed to do for many lovers of the original trilogy, it keeps the heart and comedy that Star Wars used to have. You care about Rocket Raccoon. You feel for Groot, the sentient tree creature. Chris Pratt's turn as Star Lord will give you back those slick lined Han Solo moments that Lucas decided to would add nothing to the new chapters in the Star Wars saga. You will feel like a kid again, a feet that few films deliver in these cookie cutter times in cinema history.

I giggle when trying imagine what would happen if Gunn had pitched this to any studio other than Disney/Mavel, because they simply wouldn't get it. Only proving that any idea is a good idea if just given the right vision. And this was purely the vision of fans of the comics who have created a new audience for something that we never knew we wanted. And for that, we thank you.