Well, here's an early contender for the title of "Feel Bad Movie of 2013." Scenic Route stars Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler as two life-long friends whose relationship is, um, tested after they're stranded together in a desert. Unexpected fault lines in their friendship rise to the surface and eventually erupt into homicidal violence.
But even with the bond between Duhamel and Fogler's characters being strained to the point of psychosis, the scariest thing about the movie, directed by brothers Michael & Kevin Goetz from a script by Awake's Kyle Killen, has gotta be Duhamel's freaky, grease-stained mohawk.
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What Open Water did for scuba diving with your spouse, Scenic Route should do for road trips in the desert with your best friend. Directors/siblings Kevin Goetz and Michael Goetz have made for one of the most intense, effective movie-going experiences of SXSW... and it's only day two.
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The premise is simple: two best friends Mitchell and Carter (Josh Duhamel and Dan Fogler, respectively) hit the road to catch up for old times sake. The two have drifted, as adults tend to do, with Mitchell in a stable, if not passion-free marriage and career, and Carter as the aimless slacker. On paper it seems like Duhamel and Fogler are simply playing into their usual archetypes, he the handsome leading man and he the wacky sidekick, but Scenic Road turns it on its head and lets the actors beat the ever-living s**t out of them. Literally.
In fact, that's exactly how Scenic Route begins. We see two men, one of whom is sporting a Travis Bickle-esque mohawk (Duhamel, in what marks his most daring, impressive performance to date), in the middle of the desert, bloodied and bruised, fighting as dirty as the tattered clothes they are wearing. We haven't yet learned that these two are lifelong friends who have let unkind words and the unforgiving elements get to them. One of them takes a crutch to the other one's temple and everything goes dark. Only, that's not the beginning of the story, or the end for that matter.
The movie starts, innocently enough, as almost a buddy road trip comedy, but it descends into something else entirely. It is part-jet black comedy, part-horror film, part-moral drama, part-human study, and completely and utterly f**ked up. When we meet Mitchell and Carter moments after that shocking opening sequence, they look completely fine. Even more confusing, Mitchell doesn't have a mohawk. So how do they get there exactly?
After Carter makes his old truck they're driving through the desert in break down intentionally to spend more quality time with Mitchell, the two not only have to battle the elements (with no food and no water in the desert, which is as unrelenting in the day as it is the night), but each other. With nowhere to go and increasingly mounting tension, the two friends begin to unravel on each other, saying things they can't quite take back.
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High emotions, mixed with the delirium of being stranded in the vast desert — who knew wide open spaces could feel so claustrophobic? It sends the men into a tailspin, not only leading to that ill-advised mohawk (the free-spirited Carter somehow convinces the straight-laced Mitchell to get the haircut he always wanted... in the middle of the night, with a blade from a pocket knife) and eventually that vicious, violent fight.
What happens next, well, I don't want to spoil it for you. But whatever you think happens to these guys after their blood, sweat, and tear-soaked fight doesn't. The last 40 minutes of the movie, fittingly enough, takes a much different road than you thought it would. Somewhere at the intersection of 127 Hours and Buried, you might think you have finally figured out Scenic Route's path, but then it takes its own winding, twisted detour.
While there are some frustratingly distracting moments (including Carter's inane decision to turn down help when they first break down), the dialogue-heavy feature, which spends most of its running time on the side of a dirt road in the desert, never loses your attention. You hang on these men's every action, every word uttered, determined to find out if they make it out of this journey unscathed. Well, relatively speaking.
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A veritable case study in grown men, and their relationships with each other (a few visions of Fight Club danced through my head), Scenic Route will make you no less scared of what nature will do to you as compared to what the ones you love are capable of doing to you. Scenic Route is a movie that crawls under your skin and stays there for a while, thanks largely in part to its haunting ending.
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David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas consists of six stories set in various periods between 1850 and a time far into Earth's post-apocalyptic future. Each segment lives on its own the previous first person account picked up and read by a character in its successor creating connective tissue between each moment in time. The various stories remain intact for Tom Tykwer's (Run Lola Run) Lana Wachowski's and Andy Wachowski's (The Matrix) film adaptation which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival. The massive change comes from the interweaving of the book's parts into one three-hour saga — a move that elevates the material and transforms Cloud Atlas in to a work of epic proportions.
Don't be turned off by the runtime — Cloud Atlas moves at lightning pace as it cuts back and forth between its various threads: an American notary sailing the Pacific; a budding musician tasked with transcribing the hummings of an accomplished 1930's composer; a '70s-era investigatory journalist who uncovers a nefarious plot tied to the local nuclear power plant; a book publisher in 2012 who goes on the run from gangsters only to be incarcerated in a nursing home; Sonmi~451 a clone in Neo Seoul who takes on the oppressive government that enslaves her; and a primitive human from the future who teams with one of the few remaining technologically-advanced Earthlings in order to survive. Dense but so was the unfamiliar world of The Matrix. Cloud Atlas has more moving parts than the Wachowskis' seminal sci-fi flick but with additional ambition to boot. Every second is a sight to behold.
The members of the directing trio are known for their visual prowess but Cloud Atlas is a movie about juxtaposition. The art of editing is normally a seamless one — unless someone is really into the craft the cutting of a film is rarely a post-viewing talking point — but Cloud Atlas turns the editor into one of the cast members an obvious player who ties the film together with brilliant cross-cutting and overlapping dialogue. Timothy Cavendish the elderly publisher could be musing on his need to escape and the film will wander to the events of Sonmi~451 or the tortured music apprentice Robert Frobisher also feeling the impulse to run. The details of each world seep into one another but the real joy comes from watching each carefully selected scene fall into place. You never feel lost in Cloud Atlas even when Tykwer and the Wachowskis have infused three action sequences — a gritty car chase in the '70s a kinetic chase through Neo Seoul and a foot race through the forests of future millennia — into one extended set piece. This is a unified film with distinct parts echoing the themes of human interconnectivity.
The biggest treat is watching Cloud Atlas' ensemble tackle the diverse array of characters sprinkled into the stories. No film in recent memory has afforded a cast this type of opportunity yet another form of juxtaposition that wows. Within a few seconds Tom Hanks will go from near-neanderthal to British gangster to wily 19th century doctor. Halle Berry Hugh Grant Jim Sturgess Jim Broadbent Ben Whishaw Hugo Weaving and Susan Sarandon play the same game taking on roles of different sexes races and the like. (Weaving as an evil nurse returning to his Priscilla Queen of the Desert cross-dressing roots is mind-blowing.) The cast's dedication to inhabiting their roles on every level helps us quickly understand the worlds. We know it's Halle Berry behind the fair skinned wife of the lunatic composer but she's never playing Halle Berry. Even when the actors are playing variations on themselves they're glowing with the film's overall epic feel. Jim Broadbent's wickedly funny modern segment a Tykwer creation that packs a particularly German sense of humor is on a smaller scale than the rest of the film but the actor never dials it down. Every story character and scene in Cloud Atlas commits to a style. That diversity keeps the swirling maelstrom of a movie in check.
Cloud Atlas poses big questions without losing track of its human element the characters at the heart of each story. A slower moment or two may have helped the Wachowskis' and Tykwer's film to hit a powerful emotional chord but the finished product still proves mainstream movies can ask questions while laying over explosive action scenes. This year there won't be a bigger movie in terms of scope in terms of ideas and in terms of heart than Cloud Atlas.
While recent animated blockbusters have aimed to viewers of all ages starting with fantastical concepts and breathtaking visuals but tackling complex emotional issues along the way Ice Age: Continental Drift is crafted especially for the wee ones — and it works. Venturing back to prehistoric times once again the fourth Ice Age film paints broad strokes on the theme of familial relationships throwing in plenty of physical comedy along the way. The movie isn't that far off from one of the many Land Before Time direct-to-video sequels: not particularly innovative or necessary but harmless thrilling fun for anyone with a sense of humor. Unless they have a particular distaste for wooly mammoths the kids will love it.
Ice Age: Continental Drift continues to snowball its cartoon roster bringing back the original film's trio (Ray Romano as Manny the Mammoth Denis Leary as Diego the Sabertooth Tiger and John Leguizamo as Sid the Sloth) new faces acquired over the course of the franchise (Queen Latifah as Manny's wife Ellie) and a handful of new characters to spice things up everyone from Nicki Minaj as Manny's daughter Steffie to Wanda Sykes as Sid's wily grandma. The whole gang is living a pleasant existence as a herd with Manny's biggest problem being playing overbearing dad to the rebellious daughter. Teen mammoths they always want to go out and play by the waterfall! Whippersnappers.
The main thrust of the film comes when Scratch the Rat (whose silent comedy routines in the vein of Tex Avery/WB cartoons continue to be the series highlight) accidentally cracks the singular continent Pangea into the world we know today. Manny Diego and Sid find themselves stranded on an iceberg once again forced on a road trip journey of survival. The rest of the herd embarks to meet them giving Steffie time to realize the true meaning of friendship with help from her mole pal Louis (Josh Gad).
The ham-handed lessons may drag for those who've passed Kindergarten but Ice Age: Continental Drift is a lot of fun when the main gang crosses paths with a group of villainous pirates. (Back then monkeys rabbits and seals were hitting the high seas together pillaging via boat-shaped icebergs. Obviously.) Quickly Ice Age becomes an old school pirate adventure complete with maritime navigation buried treasure and sword fights. Gut (Peter Dinklage) an evil ape with a deadly... fingernail leads the evil-doers who pose an entertaining threat for the familiar bunch. Jennifer Lopez pops by as Gut's second-in-command Shira the White Tiger and the film's two cats have a chase scene that should rouse even the most apathetic adults. Hearing Dinklage (of Game of Thrones fame) belt out a pirate shanty may be worth the price of admission alone.
With solid action (that doesn't need the 3D addition) cartoony animation and gags out the wazoo Ice Age: Continental Drift is entertainment to enjoy with the whole family. Revelatory? Not quite. Until we get a feature length silent film of Scratch's acorn pursuit we may never see a "classic" Ice Age film but Continental Drift keeps it together long enough to tell a simple story with delightful flare that should hold attention spans of any length. Massive amounts of sugar not even required.
[Photo Credit: 20th Century Fox]
Comedy lovers, the big-screen pairing you've been waiting for is finally coming to fruition. Deadline.com reports that Josh Duhamel (New Year's Eve, the Transformers trilogy) and Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury) will join forces for Scenic Route, a comedy in which they'll play "two former college buddies who go on a road trip and become stranded in the desert." One's mind reels at the comic sparks that will fly when Duhamel's irresistible force meets Fogler's immovable object, with the hot desert sun there to stoke the flames of their screwball rivalry. Anyone who's seen Danny Boyle's 127 Hours knows that such a scenario is a fertile recipe for hilarity. The potential for this project is, literally, limitless.
No doubt toasting their good fortune as we speak are Kevin and Michael Goetz, who will direct Scenic Route from a script by Kyle Killen (The Beaver).
Click on the image below for more awesome photos of Dan Fogler: