Review: The Sound of My Voice

I don’t even know how to begin summing up The Sound of My Voice. It’s really hard to try to describe this film without giving away too much about the experience itself. It really benefits the viewer to go in from cold. Watch the trailer, and then watch the film. But being able to experience the mystery and confusion alongside the characters is important in this story, and heightens the experience.  It’s a fantastic film. Chilling, haunting…it gets right under your skin and stays there long after you leave the theater, but not quite in the way you might imagine it will.

The Sound of My Voice is the story of Peter (Christopher Denham)  and Lorna (Nicole Vicius), a couple who has decided to infiltrate a small cult operating out of a basement in a normal, nondescript Los Angeles residential neighborhood. Their plan is to secretly film a documentary about the group’s activities, centering on its charismatic leader, Maggie (Britt Marling – also co-writer of the film). Maggie claims to be from the year 2054, and is preparing her followers for upcoming dark times and a transition to a “better place.”

Maggie herself is an enigma. We don’t really know much about her, other than what she tell us (the truth of which is obviously questionable). Marling is phenomenal in the role. Vulnerable, yet strong and authoritative (sometimes even intimidating), she carries the character with an almost ethereal grace, yet manages to make her charming and realistic as well. For the leader of a new-age-y cult, she is surprisingly accessible and down to earth in her dialogue and interactions.

Marling and co-writer Zal Batmanglij masterfully weave a complexly nuanced, emotional tale. Tension builds in an instant and you never know what is going to come next. Maggie (like the film itself) is completely disarming – possessing the ability to get into the minds of her followers and disassemble them from the inside out, laying bare secrets and shames that have been buried as deep as possible.

The Sound of My Voice introduces far more questions than it attempts to answer, and that is part of its allure. As the story progresses, it is secretly adding layer upon layer of mystery, and it is only when you leave and start considering the past 90 minutes do you really start to examine exactly what you have seen. Aspects of this story were still coming into focus a day later. And not all of the questions are obvious – this film really takes the time to reward viewers who put a lot into it, and there is a lot just below the surface if you are willing to dig a little and really consider the film and the story it is telling.

The Sound of My Voice is in the middle of a limited theatrical release, so be sure to keep an eye out for it. It’s a hauntingly beautiful piece that is a fantastic example of what can be achieved when genre works on a tight budget. As I said earlier, it’s really hard to sum up without giving things away, so I’ll leave it at this: It was pretty incredible, I loved every moment of it, and it’s totally worth your time.

Review: My Sucky Teen Romance

The Seattle International Film Festival (SIFF) is officially underway. I kicked it off by ditching work early yesterday to check out the new film from writer/director Emily Hagins, My Sucky Teen Romance.

My Sucky Teen Romance tells the story of a group of friends gathering together for SpaceCON – a scifi/horror convention. While this has always been an annual event for them, this year marks the last time that they will be together for the foreseeable future, as our heroine, Kate (Elaine Hurt), prepares to leave town. A simple weekend turns complicated, however, when she meets up with her crush, Paul (Patrick Delgado), who happens to be a newly-turned vampire.

I had a lot of fun watching this one. This film carries a great deal of charm. It certainly isn’t perfect (the actors’ delivery can be a bit stilted at times, and the story dragged a little at the bottom of the second act), but watching it made me really happy – I was having a great time in that theater, and that goes a very long way. The music selections are great – the bouncy, light-hearted, 8-bit-style opening sequence put a huge smile on my face and set the tone for the rest of the film. The cameo appearance by the king of all movie geeks had me giggling and bouncing in my seat like a 7-year-old, and the film features one of the greatest movie-within-a-movie sequences that I have ever seen.

The actors carry their roles fairly well. They are certainly not 100% polished, but they do turn in decent performances. Particularly the Kate and Paul characters. The actors have a great rapport and really pull off the awkward, nervous teenager characters in a believable and likable way. It’s impossible not to root for them. The rest of the cast is particularly strong  in their comedic ability. The funny parts and various one-liners come across great.

Hagins is a young filmmaker – both in terms of age and in body of work. My Sucky Teen Romance is her third film. She started out when she was twelve with Pathogen, the story of a zombie outbreak that spreads through contaminated water (the making of this film was the subject of the documentary Zombie Girl: The Movie). While she is still developing her style, it is clear that she has a ton of passion for film. I will be interested to see what projects she tackles next, and to see how she develops as she gets more experience under her belt. She is still coming into her own and finding her voice, but I am excited to see where her journey takes her.

My Sucky Teen Romance is about 80 minutes of light-hearted, geeky fun. It was picked up by Dark Sky at SXSW in March, but no word on a release yet. Keep an eye out for it and check it out when the opportunity presents itself.

Comics Club – The Stand

Full disclosure up front – I am pretty new to the comics scene. Before this, I read The Dark Tower series (through The Battle of Jericho Hill), The Sandman series and The Watchmen. I loved all of them. So while I am absolutely enjoying the medium, and look forward to expanding my knowledge and collection in the future, I am still finding my footing and am not able to discuss it with the same level of knowledge/detail as someone who has been a part of the club since childhood. So when I sound stupid, don’t get pissed at me.

On to The Stand

The Stand is one of my all-time favorite books, and arguably, one of Stephen King’s best. It was first published in 1978, and then published in an expanded, un-cut edition in 1990 (this version included about 400 pages that were cut upon the initial release due to the publisher’s fear that the book would be too long). I first read it in high school, and have been in love with it ever since. I’ve read it multiple times, and have loaned it out to several friends, so my crappy $7 trade paperback is one of the sorriest, most pathetic-looking books you have ever seen. It is barely holding itself together, yet I can’t seem to part with it. I keep it around and it lives on my bookshelf, even though I have graduated to the Kindle and now do all of my reading electronically. It’s still part of the collection.

I have been wanting to read it again for awhile now, and opted instead to start on the comic series this time around. It seemed like a great way to both revisit one of my favorite stories and delve deeper into my newly-discovered love of the comics medium.

If you have no knowledge of The Stand whatsoever, it one of the best stories of good and evil out there. A government-engineered super-flu (known here as “Captain Tripps”) is accidentally released and wipes out most of the world’s population in the span of a few weeks. The handful of survivors begin having alternating dreams – one of an old woman on a farm in Nebraska, and one of a faceless dark man in Las Vegas. Both sides begin gathering survivors for one final showdown to decide the fate of humanity.

I was a little curious about how the story would shake out as a comic – the book is freaking ginormous, and I wondered how much of the story would be kept in-tact. As it turns out, most of it was there. It is absolutely still the story of The Stand. All of the important characters and events are present, just condensed. No huge changes were made to the story – it was just told quicker and with fewer details.

My favorite part of The Stand has always been the first section, where we see the effects of Captain Tripps and watch as society crumbles in its wake. A lot of what I enjoyed about this section was the attention that King paid to the bigger picture – seeing people react to disaster and the end of life as they know it.  We were introduced to characters and situations that we never went back to again (largely because the scenes ended with the death of the characters, through one means or another). It helped to paint a larger picture of what was happening to our civilization: People dying quietly in their homes, rumors about the flu’s origins spreading, government cover-ups, revolts, the reactions of soldiers tasked with keeping the situation contained, etc. King grabbed the opportunity to go more macro with the story and take it beyond the characters that we would be focusing on throughout, and I loved the effect that it had. I had expected these elements to be largely left out of the comics in favor of focusing on our main characters, but writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa managed to include enough of it to get the point across.

I think my biggest beef with the comic was the climax. The events felt really rushed. All of the elements were in place, it just seemed to have more of a build in the book, and the culmination here felt rather abrupt. Ultimately, it didn’t really ruin anything – the story was still told, but the pacing just felt off.

I thought the art style was pretty solid – the characters were all well-realized (though, thanks to the mini-series from the ‘90’s, it’s impossible for me to see Tom Cullen look like anyone other than Dauber from Coach). I particularly liked the way illustrator Mike Perkins handled Flagg (the Big Bad) – which is a difficult character to handle visually since he is both a monster and just a regular-looking dude. But the wild hair and the way they did his eyes helped to make him look a little more than “normal” and then they were able to stretch his appearance to otherworldly when he was in full-on monster mode. It gave the character that surreal quality he generated in the story without having to resort to something obvious about his physical appearance.

Overall, I found The Stand to be a good translation of the original story, as well as a good reading experience. If you love the original like I do, everything that you enjoyed about it is still there, just often to a lesser degree. And if you haven’t read it before, this will still give you an opportunity to become familiar and well-versed with the material. Either way, totally worth checking out.

Review: The Avengers

First, there was Iron Man. And we nodded and said, “Wow, that was pretty fucking good.”

Then, came The Incredible Hulk, and we said “That was way better than that piece of boring shit Ang Lee put out a few years back. Thumbs up. Good job, Marvel.”

Then, came Iron Man 2, and we sat up and said “Marvel may be onto something here. That was a good sequel, and they don’t seem to be bringing the lazy. 3 movies, and they haven’t flopped any yet. I wonder what happens next.”

Then came Thor, and we said “Hells fuckin’ yeah. Hail Asgard! This movie took a complex mythology and adapted it into a charming, relatable story. Didn’t really expect that to work, but I loved it. Another success.”

The came Captain America, and we were on our feet screaming, “FUCK YEAH! Marvel is 5 for 5! Superhero movies reign supreme!”

And then we sat back and waited with a mixture of excitement and terror for the Summer of 2012 to kick off with The Avengers. Every movie we have seen since 2008 was leading us to this moment. The culmination of everything that had come before. Would Marvel be able to pull it off? Would their streak continue? Would they successfully be able to wed the previous 5 into a harmonious (and very polygamous) union that would please the throngs of waiting fans?

HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT. YES.

This flick rocked. It seamlessly bound together the characters and their individual storylines, and wasted not one single moment of its run-time. Nothing wandered, and nothing was superfluous. Every scene was building toward something, adding on layers as we went. Every opportunity to enrich the story and the people in it was used to its full advantage. The result is a wildly entertaining adventure that will literally blow your mind out the back of your skull.

A huge part of what has made the preceding Marvel movies so great is the emphasis placed on character development. The filmmakers have all taken care to make sure we know exactly who these heroes are. They are not content to simply let them be guys in suits. So much work has gone into developing and showing us their personalities. To helping us understand their motivations. This attention to detail has been what keeps us coming back for more – giving us heroes we can understand and identify with. Characters that are more than just the standard Good Vs Evil. My main question going into The Avengers was “How the hell are they going to combine all of these characters, as well as tell an engaging story, all while not sacrificing the characterization that we have come to know and love from these films? How will they keep the personality behind the heroism from be reduced to a simple afterthought?”

The answer is simple: You hire Joss Whedon. Joss. Fucking. Whedon. The the master of managing large casts and complex stories. Under his guidance, every character had his/her moment. Everyone had the opportunity to shine, and every single character contributed to the greater story. Nothing was simply thrown in, and everything had a purpose. Even Scarlett Johansson’s character. When I saw the Black Widow in the trailer, preparing for the big battle, I thought, “Aw, there are all the superheros and she has her cute little guns.” I had expected her simply to “be there” but to only loosely be involved. But she pulled her fucking weight, and played a role equally important to the rest of the characters.. Whedon was on top of everything here. Nothing slipped under his radar.

The actors were all awesome. Ruffalo, especially, rocked every scene that he was in. He stepped into the rule of Banner and The Hulk and owned the living shit out of it. Tom Hiddleston was again incredible as Loki. The actors all played so well off one-another that you would think that they had been part of a larger group for years.

The script is well-written, with lots of punchy, Whedon-y dialogue that allows the characters to be clever, but is not so over the top as to change their tone. The only drawback (very minor) is that Whedon dialogue comes so fast that while the audience is laughing/applauding/whatever over a line, we missed the next few lines that come after it. So a second viewing is probably necessary in order to catch everything, but that’s something that I will never complain about.

In a way, the making of this movie mirrored the story itself. Each actor is coming off of his own individual film, all helmed by separate directors. They were united as a team under the new Master, Joss Whedon, and tasked with working together to bring us the best possible product they could. I imagine everyone had to adjust to the idea of taking these larger than life characters and assimilating them into an ensemble cast. I mean, I’m sure it didn’t come down to blows on set or anything like that, but…actually…strike that. I am absolutely choosing to believe that Downey was a dick and Hemsworth was throwing people around and Ruffalo, as the new guy, was raining blows down on just about anything that moved. And Whedon was the Nick Fury that pulled them all together and convinced them that they could be more than the sum of their parts, and that miracles could be achieved with a little teamwork. Yeah. That’s the story – you heard it here first.

Welcome to the Summer of 2012. We’re off to a hell of a good start. Get to the theater this weekend and have your mind blown. Marvel has done it yet again, and even better than we thought they could.

Joss Whedon is King.

From my DVD Shelf: Wake Wood

Last night I pulled Wake Wood off my shelf and sat down to watch it for a second time. It was released in 2010 by the newly-revived Hammer Films, and came straight to DVD in the U.S. I came away feeling much like I did after the first viewing – a decent, fairly effective film that sported a lot of good ideas but was ultimately flawed.


Wake Wood is the story of Patrick (Aiden Gillen) and Louise (Eva Birthistle) – a married couple who have recently lost their only child, Alice (Ella Connolly). They move to the small town of Wake Wood to try to start fresh and move on from the tragedy. But Wake Wood isn’t your typical small town. Its inhabitants practice a pagan ritual that will return the dead to life. Naturally, this seems like a gift for the grieving parents, but such gifts rarely come without a price. Desperate to see their daughter again, they perform the ritual and Alice is returned to them for 3 days. But as time goes on, they begin to wonder if the Alice returned to them is the same Alice that was buried, as strange, dark events begin to transpire throughout the village.

Between the rural setting and the pagan rituals, Wake Wood has a real Wicker Man feel to it, which I like. There is something very intriguing and mysterious about the idea of a small group of people keeping ancient traditions alive – traditions that have long since been forgotten by the rest of the world. This aspect was one of the things Wake Wood does particularly well. The ritual is well thought-out and constructed – there is a mechanism behind the magic being portrayed, and everyone in the community plays a role in it. 

The thing I like is that the ritual may be unnatural, and an affront to the natural order, but it’s not malicious in nature. The people of Wake Wood are not an evil world-ending cult. They are not trying to placate an angry god. They are just people longing to see their loved ones one last time and to say goodbye properly.  It’s a practice that they have been following for generations, and it is a part of life in Wake Wood – the town must band together to carry it out, and thus, it is a part of everybody who lives there. The practice of this ritual binds them together as a community.

The acting in Wake Wood is pretty solid, for the most part. Gillen and Birthistle are both great in the parental roles, and really sell the sense of loss and grieving for Alice. Timothy Spall is well-used as Arthur, the town leader. Harkening back to the classic roles of Christopher Lee, you want to believe the things he says (and can certainly understand why Patrick and Louise believe them), but you are a bit suspicious of him at the same time. Everything he says is just a little bit sinister.

Ella Connolly carries the role of Alice fairly well, but doesn’t hit every note. The Evil Child is a very familiar trope among horror audiences, and it can be very difficult to carry out effectively. Connolly is perfect as the live, happy Alice from flashbacks of her life, and as the darker version of herself once things really start to head south. It’s in the middle where she falters. Her performance isn’t nuanced enough to convey the underlying evil (before it becomes overt) in the second act. The other characters are reacting to it, but Connolly isn’t bringing it – so it isn’t terribly convincing at this point in the film. She embodies the character more completely in the third act when she can just be full-on evil.

My other gripe is the ending. Without diving too far into spoiler territory, it seems a bit forced for the story and unnatural for the characters. It really feels like they were going for a particular type of ending, rather than one that best fits the story being told and offers it the best point of closure.

All in all, Wake Wood is an atmospheric, emotional tale that doesn’t really bring anything new to the table, but does manage to bring back a classic vibe that you don’t typically see in horror films today. While not perfect, it is absolutely worth a watch.