LYT's Film Pick(s) of the Weekend 12-7-07

If you're a horror fan, see TIMBER FALLS this weekend. If you aren't, it won't be the one that wins you over. Call it The West Virginia Switchblade-Sickle Massacre. When a young couple (Edward Burns wannabe Josh Randall and Brittany Murphy wannabe Brianna Brown) go on a hike in a state park, they take the trail less traveled by, and that makes all the difference, as it’s inhabited by your average homicidal Bible-quoting lunatics with their own private dungeon.

There’s not much here you haven’t seen before in other permutations — save for the villains’ bizarre, impractical master plan — but director Tony Giglio doesn’t skimp on the goods, delivering ample amounts of blood, torture, sex, deformities, skinny dipping and the requisite dose of anti-red-state paranoia. No one who’s seen any horror movies will be surprised when a seemingly benevolent officer (Sylva, North Carolina's own Nick Searcy) turns out to be in on the plot the whole time, but you may be taken aback by how much you end up rooting for the leads to survive, which is a testament to their acting skills considering how annoyingly pretty they are. Giglio doesn’t quite seem able to decide what his tone is, incongruously mixing goofy redneck humor with harrowing scenes of intense pain, but horror fans should dig it nonetheless — I did. Not recommended for the devoutly religious, moralistic scolds or anyone with a sensitive stomach.

If you're not a horror fan, but you nonetheless want to make Jesus angry, there's always THE GOLDEN COMPASS, which I reviewed earlier in the week, but I find it hard to strongly recommend unless you already know and love the book (the former and not the latter holds true for me).

And then there's JUNO, which is an entertainingly quirky teen comedy – sometimes overbearingly so. Would any teen you know actually say “Silencio!” to a convenience store clerk? And how come none of them has a cell-phone...let alone a cordless phone, even? They all talk on phones -- with tangly cords – that look like giant burgers. I get it, it's just a surreal detail, but it's a clueless one.

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That aside, if you can get past the affectations, there's a good story with strong performances lurking at the heart of this tale of a young girl (Ellen Page, in a role that is definitely NOT a “breakthrough” performance, because when she was in X-MEN 3 you could decorate your Myspace page with her character, and that's pretty damn broken through, thank you very much) who's unfortunate enough to get knocked up after her first time with a sweetly nerdy track star (Michael Cera).

She chooses to put the child up for adoption, and thankfully the movie doesn't have her backtrack on this as one might expect, though she does have her doubts about the chosen couple – a would be grunge-rocker with no cojones (Jason Bateman) and a tightly wound control-freak (Jennifer Garner), neither of whom are quite what they appear. Meanwhile, Juno spurns her one-time lover for no apparent reason, creating the appearance of conflict so they can reunite later. It's not exactly “motivated,” per se – but the random moodiness of it is a bit like real life.

One thing I have to penalize director Jason Reitman on, however – the script solidly establishes that Juno's favorite music is '70s punk, and yet the soundtrack is all quirky nouveau folk, the kind of thing annoying dorks in Silver Lake like to play. And at the end (this isn't a spoiler) Juno even plays some of this stuff on the guitar, when you know that it isn't the kind of thing she'd be learning.

JUNO is not an award-worthy film. But it's fun, and it'd be unfair to burden it with too much unrelated baggage. And speaking of that...

It seems no-one can write about Juno without mentioning the scriptwriter, which is a testament to the degree to which said screenwriter, Brook “Diablo Cody” Busey (no relation to Gary and Jake, which may well be why she chose a pseudonym), has been working the media and creating her own larger-than-life image, playing up her past as a stripper, walking the WGA picket lines dressed like a suicide girl, and modifying her tattoo so that it no longer has her husband's name on it (they may really be broken up, but even if not, it's smart to pretend like she's available, and I'm sure she knows that). I respect anyone who can create that kind of persona and brand herself so quickly, but I think it distracts from the movie at hand, which has nothing to do with strippers or suicide girls. If she were pushing herself as an oddball Silver Lake neo-folkie, that'd be a different story, but when people see her and expect some kind of hot sex movie, they might end up being disappointed in the flick for the wrong reasons.

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