Mike Saulters's blog

Review: Tangled

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Tangled

Everyone should be familiar with the basic story of Rapunzel from Grimm's Fairy Tales. Variations of the tale have been told for a thousand years. Tangled's take is true to Disney form, with some of the darker elements glossed over or removed -- Rapunzel, for instance, isn't traded to the witch by her parents and doesn't get pregnant out of wedlock. In this version, Rapunzel (voiced by a very mature-sounding Mandy Moore) rather than the tragic waif depicted in fairy tales is a strong, adventurous free spirit who wants nothing more than to see the world.

Sheltered and trapped by the lying, over-protective Mother Gothel (Donna Murphy), she is doomed to live forever in her tower until the thief Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi) stumbles into the grove where the tower is hidden. When she sees the chance to escape with a guide, and see the world, she jumps at the opportunity. As Disney villians go, Mother Gothel is intriguing as she pursues the pair. Described as a witch, she is never seen actually using any powers and is never herself threatening. She cleverly employs a pair of thugs to do her dirty work and proves to be the most powerfully manipulative Disney bad guy we've ever seen. In fact, given the situation in which she is introduced, Gothel could be a sympathetic character except that we quickly see how vain, self-absorbed and ultimately evil she is. Still, some in the audience may find it easy to identify with her as she's no Cruella de Ville.

Review: Skyline

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Skyline

I fell asleep last night in front of the TV while it played Independence Day, The Matrix, Scanners, Invasion of the Body Snatchers and The Mist, and man I had the CRAZIEST dream. Oh wait, no I didn't. I just went to a midnight screening of Skyline. This is one strange, stupid, screwed-up mess of a movie. As much as I really want to hate this film, Skyline sets a new bar for shows-that-should-be-MST3K-fodder. Some movies are meant to be serious and some are meant to be comedies. Then there are the little nuggets that, while meant to be serious, are just more comical than they were ever supposed to be. Watching this at midnight with a bunch of friends will remain one of my more enjoyable memories.

Skyline isn't just bad. It tricks you into thinking it might actually be good. Opening credits, first shot, you have an eerie and unspeakably insidious alien attack. Reminiscent of Shyamalan's Signs, people are holed up at home and spooky lights appear through the windows. (Actually, everything in Skyline is unfortunately reminiscent of something else) Unlike Signs, though, these lights elicit some surprising physiological effects that culminate in making people disappear. This is one of the most attention-grabbing 3-minute openings to a sci-fi/horror film in recent memory.

Review: Four Lions

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Four Lions

With his Drafthouse Films' first release, Tim League is taking a sizable risk, one that will hopefully pay off. Exploding onto U.S. screens in several cities this weekend (including Austin, of course), Four Lions takes dark comedy to new levels as it tells the story of a ragtag group of Muslims who have self-organized into a jihadist cell. Written and directed by Chris Morris, the film opened to moderate success in the UK this summer.

While the movie has received critical acclaim (Four Lions was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance and has just received five BIFA nominations), the real test for the film will be how it is received by American audiences. The arthouse crowd is well acclimated to British comedy, but with the exception of Monty Python, Britcom appeals to a soberingly small section of the U.S. public, so Four Lions will have to fight an uphill battle to fill the seats. A U.S. tour by Tim League, Bad Ass Digest chief editor Devin Faraci, and Chris Morris, as well as a "Twitter bomb" and great word-of-mouth publicity, should help.

Review: Paranormal Activity 2

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Paranormal Activity 2

Last year, the audience at Fantastic Fest was among many around the country to enjoy a midnight screening of one of the most deeply unsettling and truly frightening films since a man tore off his own face in 1982's Poltergeist. With a shoestring $10,000 budget, handheld cams, and unknown actors, Paranormal Activity rode a wave of good word-of-mouth to exceed a $100 million gross. Writer/director Oren Peli scripted believable, sympathetic characters and created unbelievable effects, weaving them masterfully into a terrifying experience. With a $2.5 million budget, Paranormal Activity 2 puts shiny bookends around the first story, but doesn't quite live up to the hype.

An audience shouldn't have to do homework to watch a movie, but I highly recommend you brush up on Paranormal Activity before hitting the theater for #2. Set two months before its predecessor, Paranormal Activity 2 retcons the story to include the family of Katie's sister, Kristi, including her newborn son Hunter, husband Dan, stepdaughter Ali and faithful German shepherd. Again presented as found footage, the film begins with some establishing scenes shot on a home camcorder as the family returns home with the new baby. These shots introduce the characters and provide a tour of the house ... then the film cuts to perhaps a year or two later, when the same tape is used to record the aftermath of what looks like a home invasion. Every room of the house is trashed, except the nursery. Nothing is missing, except a necklace that was originally a gift from Katie. After this, security cameras are installed in every corner of the house, allowing for a much improved picture quality and multi-angle scenes.

Alamo-Backed 'Badass' Film Website Launches

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Badass DigestToday saw the launch of Badass Digest, the super-secret Alamo Drafthouse project for which longtime film writer Devin Faraci recently left CHUD. The ultra-cool digest opened with dozens of articles already penned and posted by Faraci (@devincf) and others by collaborators Roger Erik Tinch (@tinch) and Moises Chiullan (@moiseschiu).  An eclectic mix of Faraci's musings on film and film-related happenings along with oddities from around the web, Badass Digest is fully integrated with Facebook and Twitter, allowing the "Badass Brigade" to immediately comment on and discuss articles with no pesky signup process.

In his introductory manifesto, Faraci promises "an unholy number of columns and features" including expanded coverage of food and booze as well as a return of his "Star Trekkin" column. Badass Digest is backed by Alamo Drafthouse owner Tim League and features links to the Drafthouse, Fantastic Fest, Mondo Tees and distribution company Drafthouse Films. The Badass Team page indicates that we may see articles at some point from Tim League and from Alamo staffer Henri Mazza.

With so many ventures, an online zine is a natural extension to unite them and publicize the brand. This inaugural release exhibits style and panache, but the question that first occurs to this writer is: How does this impact the relationship between the Drafthouse brand and movie website Ain't It Cool News

Review: Jackass 3D

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Jackass 3D

Please welcome our newest contributor, Mike Saulters, to Slackerwood. Mike was braver than the rest of us when it came to seeing and reviewing Jackass 3D, which opens in theaters today.

To call me a fan of the Jackass franchise would be an overstatement. I have seen the first two films on DVD as well as a smattering of the MTV episodes. Jackass, however, was never something that generated much excitement for me. Some of the stunts could occasionally make me laugh, or cringe, but I found at times that things felt formulaic as the same stunt was repeated ad nauseam. I can admit without shame that when first exposed to the series, I got my snob on and pooh-poohed the poo-poo humor of the show.

In case you have somehow been living under a rock or spent ten years studying silverback apes, I should explain the Jackass concept. Jackass began as a series on MTV in 2000 and made the necessary jump to movies in 2002. I say "necessary" because too much of the source material could never make it past network censors. Jackass has no plot, no story, no normal redeeming values you would expect to find in a film. It is a series of vignettes in which the performers subject themselves or other people to asinine, stupid and generally dangerous stunts such as application of a taser to the testacles or lighting one's hair on fire. Often, stunts will have a name attached such as "Poo Cocktail" but others are simply presented with no name or introduction.

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