As pointless suspense exercises go, "The Strangers" at least gets off to a good start.
The movie's about an adorable, troubled couple (Scott Speedman and Liv Tyler) who travel to a rural house, where they're menaced for no reason whatsoever by three kids in freaky masks. That's pretty much it. Imagine "Funny Games" stripped of all its social commentary, dark humor and information about its killers, and you're starting to get the idea. It's so spare, it's almost abstract.
For a little over half an hour, the movie skillfully turns its hollow screws. Writer/director Bryan Bertino and cinematographer Peter Sova take their time building a relationship for the couple and a genuine sense of dread. (The first blurry appearance of a masked kid in the background is magnificently creepy.)
But somewhere after that -- somewhere between the 50th time the filmmakers play that stupid "you-see-the-killer-coming-from-behind-and-then-the-actor-turns-around-and-the-killer-magically-disappears" trick and the vapid snuff ending -- the movie loosens its grip. In fact, it gets repetitive and a little silly, no matter how hard Liv Tyler works at looking terrorized.
The best horror, and a lot of the fun junk too, comments on something dark in our society or in our hearts. "The Strangers" doesn't comment on a damned thing. ____
C; 90 minutes; rated R for violence/terror and language.
As a chronicle of an extreme surfing subculture, "Bra Boys" is semi-fascinating. As a chonicle of rough-and-tumble street life, it's appallingly biased and self-glorifying.
The documentary, narrated by Russell Crowe, uses candid video to paint a vivid (if repetitive) picture of the brawling and boozing "surf tribe" (read: gang) that rules Maroubra Beach in Australia. Co-director/co-writer Sunny Abberton offers a pocket history of the beach and his own family, which includes Sunny's pro-surfer brothers Jai and Koby. There's some impressive surfing footage (resulting, in one case, in one of the most painful-looking neck wounds I've ever seen), and it's interesting to watch the rough-hewn Abbertons and the community that worships them hanging with the likes of surfing superstars Laird Hamilton and Kelly Slater.
But thanks to the documentarian also making his family the film's subject, "Bra Boys" feels more than a little like a violence-glorifying infomercial. This is especially true toward the end, when Jai is charged in the self-defense killing of a convicted rapist and Koby is charged as an accessory -- and the documentary spends as much time on surfing as it does on the brothers fighting the charges.
Here's one summary of the film's mindset: It offers an "R.I.P." shout-out to the convicted rapist just before its end credits. _____
C-minus; 90 minutes; rated R for language, some violent content and reckless behavior.
We spend a lot of time slagging a movie we kind of liked as we talk about "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" during the Thursday, May 22 "Cort and Fatboy" broadcast. Good Lord I sound tired at the start of this one.
"Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" feels like an old romance re-kindled. The pleasure is still there, informed by nostalgia, but that pleasure is also ... complicated. Messier.
On balance, the first new "Indiana Jones" movie in 19 years is perfectly amusing. There are moments -- particularly in the film's first third -- that recapture the magic of the most beloved adventure series in movie history. Back in the hat and cracking the whip, Harrison Ford is brighter-eyed than he's been in a movie in a very long time. The paranormal mystery is fairly compelling, even if it loses some juice by swapping religious significance for sci-fi significance. There are funny moments, cool-looking villains and a couple of clever, easy-to-follow action set pieces that remind you just how good director Steven Spielberg can be at this sort of thing.
But there are also disappointments. Not "Phantom Menace"-level epic failures, mind you, but disappointments.
The film juggles way too many underdeveloped characters. There are silly, tension-undermining jokes involving monkeys and prairie dogs. There are too many shout-outs to previous films in the series. The script sets up big-deal relationships -- even bringing back Indy's one true love, Marion Ravenwood (Karen Allen) -- but does almost nothing with those relationships during its all-running, all-riddle-decoding final third.
Is "Crystal Skull" a flawless resurrection? No. Is it a lame reminder of our own mortality, revealing Spielberg to be an old duffer who's lost his touch? Absolutely not. Like every "Indiana Jones" sequel, it has its problems. It's a little cluttered, frankly, and the finale feels rote when it shouldn't. But it's also too diverting to call it a failure.
Brandon Bolt may be one of the best-kept secrets in webcomics. By day, the Portland resident is a commercial illustrator. By night, he produces "Nobody Scores!" -- one of the smartest, angriest comics on the Internet.
The strip's premise is simple. Four damaged people -- frustrated intellectual Raoul, corporate whore Sara, starving artisteBeans, and wild girl Jane Doe -- share a house and get into all sorts of R-rated trouble. That "trouble" is fascinating for a couple of reasons:
It tends to be unusually well-observed, furious cultural criticism that's unlike anything in webcomics.Sara embarks on get-rich-quick schemes that lethally exploit the other characters' weaknesses. Jane Doe goes to absurd lengths to try out the latest "alternative" crazes -- including riot-grrl roller derby and parkour and casual cynicism -- and leaves apocalyptic destruction (and more than a few bodies) in her wake. Beans is cursed with a fatal sense of Gen-X entitlement without any talent to back it up. And Raoul mostly regards the others with over-intellectualized disgust.
Also fascinating: the comic's complete ignorance of any sort of continuity. Bolt gleefully and violently kills every character in the strip over and over -- only to hit the reset button for the next installment. A lot of popular webcartoonists fall in love with their own characters and universes, maintaining increasingly unwieldy continuities that are more confusing than satisfying. Not Bolt. He wrecks the joint, repeatedly.
It's all beautifully written and drawn -- really, "Nobody Scores!" is one of the most expressively drawn comics anywhere right now, full of wild emotion and a brilliantly restrained color palate. It evokes nothing so much as the anarchic, ska-influenced comics of early-'90s small-press creators like Evan Dorkin.
It's a raging tone that would be difficult to sustain, but Bolt has somehow done it for over 250 strips since 2006, several times a week -- even though several of these single strips are longer than an entire week's run on most other webcomics.
I caught Mr. Bolt in IM a while back for a long chat about "Nobody Scores!" You can read an edited (but still ridiculously long) transcript of our conversation at The Oregonian's Web site.