Wednesday, February 10, 2010

FROZEN! The Stuck-on-a-Ski-Lift Survival Movie - Reviewed! Plus: LOST! And More!

Well it's been a crazy couple of days. I was mentally prepping for a parental visit, set to take place this weekend, but due to the snowstorm (or fear of a snowstorm) in the east coast, said visit has been postponed until next week. So now, I am forced to decompress, figure out my now-wide-open three day weekend, and then mentally prepare all over again. Oy. Meanwhile, in anticipation of the impending overabundance of family fun time, I tried to load up this week with lots of actual fun time. On Tuesday, I managed to score last-minute tickets to the Clippers vs. Jazz game on the cheap. Knowing that my brother is a diehard Jazz fan (despite being from CT), I had to jump on the offer. And it was a fun game. It had been a while since I'd been to an NBA game, and it was my brother's first-ever live Jazz game. For a man whose room was plastered with Stockton and Malone posters, that was a big deal. As for me, I was just enjoying being live at Staples with a giant pretzel and some live NBA action. Sweet! Last night, I went up to Universal Citywalk after work to check out a screening of FROZEN, which I had heard some good things about in recent weeks (and keep reading for the review!). And tonight, I'll be checking out an employee screening of WOLFMAN, which I am really psyched to see after many months of anticipation (so yeah, expect a review of that one very soon).

First of all, however, let's talk TV.

LOST thoughts:

- I was impressed, overall, with the two-hour season premiere of LOST last week. But, certain scenes and certain plotpoints left me a bit uneasy. In my review of the premiere, I wondered whether it would be difficult for the show to keep the narrative momentum going given the parallell timeline thing. I also expressed hesitation with all of the Temple stuff and the whole new cast of other Others that went along with it. In the premiere, the Temple scenes were fun, but undeniably hokey. Even worse, they embodied Lost's worst tendencies towards forced narrative ambiguity and deliberately broken dialogue for the sake of keeping secrets. Now, in Week 2, I think a lot of my fears proved well-founded. I'm sorry to say it, but this was one of the weakest episodes of Lost in a long, long time.

I mean, look, most of "What Kate Did" would have been fine filler material in your typical, above-average Lost episode. But this episode was also riddled with scene after scene of ultra-contrived writing that was just frustrating to watch. I mean, this is the final season, the time to deliver payoffs to all the questions that have been building and building. Does anyone really want an episode that in and of itself raises about 100 new questions? Worse was the manner in which these mysteries were presented. It was literally like watching Waiting for Godot or something. "Who are you?" "Someone." "What do you want?" "Not important." "What's in the pill?" "Do you trust me?" "Why should I?" "Do you trust yourself?" "Maybe." "Okay." UGH!

Lost - you can't have your cake and eat it too - we've been through this before. You can't have characters interact realistically one minute, and then have these scenes where, all of a sudden, people stop talking like people. If you want to create a sense of mystery and ambiguity, then think of a creative and organic way to do it. But for the love of Locke, DON'T have characters ask questions and talk to each other only to have them not actually say ANYTHING of substance. We get it, the Temple dudes are mysterious. But enough with this non-dialogue that serves no purpose except to make you want to punch Dogen and Lennon in the face. The thing that kills me too is that the Lost writers tend to turn this mode of dialogue on and off like a light switch. When they are ready to reveal answers, people talk normally. When they want to keep us in the dark, they have everyone speak in non sequitars. It's lazy and it's transparent. And it's frustrating to watch.

Meanwhile, the events in the non-plane-crash timeline never really grabbed me. I mean, there's only so much novelty in seeing the characters meet again under different circumstances. At this point, we've seen each characters flashbacks and origins ad nauseum. The alternate timeline just feels like another means of revisiting all that, yet again. In that sense, it's hard to get too excited about Kate and Claire off-island when it feels, to some extent, like a retread of what we've already seen. The "new" stuff on the island is way more compelling. Plus, this ep paired Kate and Claire, not exactly Lost's most exciting character combo. There was no Locke or non-Locke or Ben or Desmond. On the island, lots of Sawyer brooding and Jack flailing, and large amounts of our new Temple guardians who are thus far uber-lame, feeling like they walked out of some Final Fantasy game or something.

This was definitely not Lost's finest hour. Next week had better be a step up from this particular brand of weaksauce.

My Grade: C+

- MODERN FAMILY had a pretty enjoyable, Valentine's Day episode. And yet, I worry about this show, at least a little. Is it just me, or has Modern Family slowly been morphing from a random, wacky, and absurdist post-modern sitcom into, well, just a regular old sitcom? I mean, last night's episode definitely had its moments, but the whole thing could probably have been an episode of Full House. What's made Modern Family great in the past was that it kept surprising us by showing new, unexpected sides to its characters, and by having them play off of each other in unique, hilarious ways. Last night, everyone just acted as we'd expect them to, and every storyline was tied up with an "aww shucks" moment that would make Danny Tanner proud. Okay, I don't want to be an MF hater. I'm an MF'er! I mean, um ... ANYWAYS ... I still get a huge kick out of the individual performances on the show. Phil's semi-smooth, semi-dorky attempts to roleplay with his wife was hilarious. As was Cam's determination to help Manny find Valentine's Day love, and Mitchel's repurposing of an unused courtroom speech to defend Manny's honor. Otherwise though, this one never reached the comic heights of last week's outstanding ep.

My Grade: B

And now, a review of an indy survival-horror flick now in theaters - Frozen.

FROZEN Review:

- Ho-ly crap. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from Frozen, the ski-lift survival flick that recently wowed audiences at Sundance. But I will tell you this: Frozen is hardcore. This movie isn't messing around. Sure, it lulls you into a false sense of security, at least at first. For a while, the movie is light, jokey, conversational. We meet a couple of college kids and we get wrapped up in their all-too-relatable dynamic: two best friends, one of their girlfriends, and a serious case of third-wheel syndrome. But soon enough, things take a turn for the nightmarish. What starts as a run-of-the-mill day at the slopes turns into an all-too-plausible worst-case-scenario. The threesome goes for one last run before the ski park closes. But the operator mistakenly thinks they've already gone on their run, and shuts the ski-lift down while the kids are still perched high above the slopes. Soon after, the entire place is closed for the night -- and it's not scheduled to reopen for almost a week. Our characters are now stuck on the lift - it's nighttime, it's freezing, and they're impossibly high up off the ground - too high up to safely jump. And oh yeah ... there are wolves ominously wandering about in the snowy terrain below. Like I said ... hardcore.

Frozen, as directed by Adam Green (of horror movie Hatchet fame), is a tense, brutal, and nail-biting suspense film. But what Green does exceptionally well is that he balances the nightmarish, horrific parts of the movie with the more low-key scenes that are really more just about these three everyman college kids and their relationships. I was surprised at how fun and naturalistic the dialogue was in the movie. There are some really nice, snappy exchanges between the characters, and Green really makes all three likable yet average. There's Kevin Zegers as Dan - the would-be alpha male who's been spending more and more time with his new girlfriend, Parker, and less time with his best buddy, Joe. Parker, played by Emma Bell, seems to be your typical plucky blonde, at first, but we come to realize that there's a bit more depth and toughness to her than she originally lets on. And then there's Joe, played by X-Men's Shawn Ashmore., who sort of emerges as the star of the movie. Joe is Dan's childhood friend. He's a cool guy, but can be a little awkward and confrontational. He's slightly geeky - his first answer to a random "worst way to die?" question is to make an obscure Star Wars reference. But he also seems to have heart and chutzpah, and so you can't help but root for the guy. All three of the principle actors are good, though Ashmore and Bell really stand out. Bell in particular has some pretty powerful scenes when things start to look pretty desperate. Ashmore is charismatic and shows an everyman likability and acting range that we haven't really seen from him before.

It's hard not to watch a movie like Frozen and have an ongoing internal conversation about how you'd react in a similar situation. The characters in the movie are smart college kids, but they're not experts on survival. They do some pretty stupid things once they realize they're stuck on the ski lift, but who's to say what anyone else would have done differently. However, I do think that Green falls a little too in love with having his characters engage in witty banter, even when circumstances are dire. I thought it was kind of weird that the characters never really have a rational conversation about how best to escape their predicament. When one of the characters takes a huge, life-threatening risk in order to attempt escape, it happens very suddenly and without a lot of forethought. Obviously these characters aren't physics experts or anything, but still ... it's frustrating that they don't seem to really think things through all that much. And when they start talking about old girlfriends and favorite Christmas gifts - well, some of those moments are affecting and well done, but how about saying "okay, so let's run through all the possible ways we could get off of this ski-lift without killing ourselves."

My only other complaint is that on occasion, the movie gets a bit cartoonish despite most scenes being very realistic and naturalistic. It's tough to really criticize, because on one hand, scenes involving one of the movie's chief dangers - a pack of ravenous wolves - are a lot of fun. Very scary, creepy, and shocking. On the other hand, some of the wolf stuff is a bit over the top, and brings the movie more into B horror movie territory than it needs to go. I know some have complained that the circumstances that lead up to the college kids becoming stranded on the ski lift seem contrived. This part didn't really bother me, actually. The fact that all of them had stashed their cell phones is mentioned multiple times, and hey, it doesn't seem that far-fetched that you could get stranded at a ski resort if you stay there past closing.

By the way - it was fun seeing a movie set in New England with so many shout-outs to local locations that I know pretty well having grown up in CT and having gone to school in Boston. Loved the Newbury Comics product placement.

Frozen is an ultra-intense, memorable movie. It's one of those films where you come out of watching it feeling like you've just survived a harrowing ordeal alongside the characters. Parts of it can be brutal and hard to watch. It's not the sort of movie you'll be going back to multiple times. But I came away impressed with the filmmaking. What could have been a gimmicky movie is instead a great example of a simple yet high-concept premise done well. And to the movie's credit, I think I may now officially be afraid of ski-lifts. And wolves. Yikes.

My Grade: B+

- That's all for now. Check back soon for thoughts on WOLFMAN!

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