The Year in Film: 2011’s Underrated Gems

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 13th December 2011.

Last week I ran through my cinematic disappointments of the year. Of course, I hadn’t seen New Year’s Eve at the time. Starring every actor working in Hollywood today and Jon Bon Jovi, this ensemble piece comes from those responsible for the similarly structured Valentine’s Day. A stomach ache inducing mix of cheese and saccharine, the multiple strand storyline eventually collapses under its own weight and like me, you’ll be counting down from ten with the stars, only because it means that the film is almost over.

It wasn’t all bad out there in the multiplexes this year. Here are my underrated or undiscovered gems for 2011.

Rango came and went without much fanfare in March. Directed by Gore Verbinski, the man at the helm of the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films, this clever and witty animated feature starred the voice talents of Johnny Depp, Isla Fisher, Ned Beatty and Bill Nighy, amongst others. Following a wise cracking pet chameleon who is separated from his owners and accidentally becomes the sheriff of a town inhabited by desert dwelling creatures, Rango is much more sophisticated than your average animated film  and will play strongly to kiddie and adult audiences alike. Admirably, it was released in 2D only.

A little while ago, I wrote a piece about the horror comedy Tucker and Dale vs Evil. A film festival darling, a thoughtless decision by a US theatre chain representative denied the movie a mainstream cinema release. Now available in Australia for rental or retail, this low budget affair tips the rules of horror films on its head as two well meaning hillbillies get mistaken for serial killers by a bunch of stupid teens. As the college students become more and more convinced that they are being “hunted”, they accidentally off themselves in hilarious and bloody ways. Starring the versatile Alan Tudyck of Serenity and Firefly fame, Tucker and Dale vs Evil is great fun and will hopefully find its audience on DVD.

Super, a very black comedy from James Gunn, the writer and director of splatter horror laugh-fest Slither, has just had its Australian premiere in November at the Gold Coast Film Festival. Reminiscent of Kick Ass, it stars Rainn Wilson from TV’s The Office as an everyday man whose life spins out of control after his ex-junkie wife, played by Liv Tyler, relapses and falls into the arms of Kevin Bacon’s crime kingpin. Becoming The Crimson Bolt, a super hero armed only with a monkey wrench, Wilson is joined by Ellen Page as his deranged sidekick Boltie.

Dark and violent at times, but laugh out loud funny throughout, Super really resonated for me. With the current glut of super hero movies on the market, it is refreshing to see a different take on your traditional storyline. In this case, the super heroes are much more disturbed and mentally unhinged than the villains. Super will hits Australian shelves in early January and comes highly recommended.

Published in: on December 20, 2011 at 09:27  Leave a Comment  
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Movie Review: Tucker & Dale vs Evil

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 18th October 2011.

Think about the storyline for your average horror film. Does this sound familiar? A group of nubile college students heads out to the woods for a camping trip. On the way they insult two hillbillies, who then proceed to extract revenge by killing off the promiscuous teens one by one. Yep, it’s pretty much the framework for a whole raft of slasher movies.

What if you reversed the concept, following the film from the hillbillies’ perspective? Except this time, the yokels are simple but friendly folk, and the teenagers are familiar with the rules of horror movies. Every good natured move the hillbillies make is interpreted by the teenagers as an attempt on their lives, and one by one they meet their demise through a series of hilarious mishaps.

Sounds like the perfect horror comedy. And it possibly is. The film’s title is Tucker & Dale vs Evil and it has just hit Australian DVD and blu-ray shelves after a difficult birth that saw it come extremely close to a theatrical release and possibly become a major hit.

Alan Tudyk, one of my favourite actors, stars as Tucker. You might remember Tudyk as the popular character Wash from the short lived Joss Whedon sci-fi western series, Firefly, and the subsequent big screen film, Serenity.  As Dale, you have rising actor Tyler Labine, who was most recently seen as chimp handler Robert Franklin in this year’s surprise hit, Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Also starring as college student and love interest Allison is Katrina Bowden, best known as the cute but dim Cerie in TV sitcom 30 Rock. A solid cast for sure.

The director is Eli Craig, making his feature film debut. His short film, The Tao of Pong, is available on YouTube and is great fun.

Filmed in 2009 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, the completed film premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival to cheering audiences. A subsequent screening at the prestigious South by Southwest in Austin, Texas also received a rapturous response.

A mainstream distributor became interested in the project and put the film through a test screening which resulted in overwhelmingly positive figures. Thinking that it was all a mistake, the distributor held a second screening which came back with similar results.

The final obstacle in the US film release process is the booking of movies by the cinema chain owners. Unfortunately, based on one screening, a major chain didn’t think it had potential and turned it down. And with that, Tucker & Dale vs Evil missed out on a major US cinema release. It premiered in Australia last week as a direct-to-DVD title.

I have a tendency to support the underdog, and after reading about the film’s history, I immediately rushed out to buy a copy. And I have to say that it doesn’t disappoint. Deliciously gory and hilarious at the same time, the film is a refreshing take on a worn genre.

Tucker & Dale vs Evil deserves mainstream attention. It is an absolute shame that the latest The Not-So-Final Final Destination chapter is taking up cinema screens when a much smarter and deserving film is relegated to the small screen. I guess it happens all the time.

So gather a bunch of friends, find the biggest TV that you can, buy (and don’t download) Tucker & Dale vs Evil and have yourself a great night in.

Published in: on October 18, 2011 at 22:10  Leave a Comment  
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