31 May 2011

Movies: The Wrong Man

The Wrong Man (1956) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0051207/

This Hitchcock thriller is a rarity in that it was based on a true story. Christopher "Manny" Balestrero, bass player in a nightclub, goes to his insurance company to borrow money to fund his wife's dental work and is mistakenly identified by the tellers as the armed robber that had hit the place twice in the past year.  We watch as he struggles to prove his innocence and keep his family together through his ordeal.

Stars Henry Fonda as Manny, Vera Miles as his wife Rose, and features the only Hitchcock appearance in one of his films where he actually talks.

If Hitch didn't tell us at the outset that the film is based on a true story this film would actually feel like a run of the mill mistaken identity story. According to the film trivia (and wikipedia) this film is also considered a rarity in that Hitch didn't change the facts of the story much. Apparently he left some of the exonerating evidence unmentioned in the film to ratchet up the suspense.

Even for a Hitchcockian thriller the film is heavily paced. I've noted on other Hitch films how the pace seems to slog along before Hitch suddenly slugs you in the gut at the end and leaves you breathless. Not so much in this film - perhaps the 'sticking to the facts' intent of the film interfered with the standard Hitch formula.

The film is still produced well for the most part, it is Hitch after all, but compared to his other work before and after it almost felt phoned-in at times. Fonda plays his part well. Most of the cops 'n lawyers cast are fine in their roles too. As a married couple the Fonda-Miles chemistry isn't really there, even before their troubles begin. Despite having two kids they kiss like strangers, she almost pulls away at times, though Fonda seems the more devoted of the two. Miles seems a little more over-acty than Fonda early on in the film, but she is still subtle compared to some of the other minor supporting cast.
The casting was rather amusing too in that Manny's family is all Italian except for Fonda. And Manny's kids show up a couple times so that we know he's a family man, then we never see them again. 

Here's where being a film historian would come in handy, and why my not being a film historian works against me. I don't know how many mistaken identity films had already been produced by '56, but I know there's been a lot of 'em made, especially for TV, by 2011.  These days recreations of stories like this end up on various basic-tier cable channels with much lower production values accompanied by worse acting. The 'mistaken identity plot' film will feel very recycled to today's film viewers.  Perhaps many of the following production scripts were influenced by this one? The adage that "truth is stranger than fiction" may have applied to the film in '56, but by 2011 fiction has overused the whole "mistaken identity, arrest, real criminal caught and innocent man exonerated" storyline.

I like Hitchcock's films. I try to catch the ones that aren't in the handful of Hitchcocks that are always trotted out like Psycho, North by Northwest, The Birds, Vertigo.  This film is good enough but not Hitch's best. It seems old hat today because that story has been done over and over. It's significant in that it's based on a true story, but really isn't a necessary watch unless you are striving to see the bulk of Hitchcock's films.

29 May 2011

Movies: Chain Letter

Chain Letter (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1148200/

Horror film. Big budget production with a low-budget feeling.

A high-schooler playing World of Warcraft receives an instant message (obviously not from in-game) seemingly from his in-game opponent praising his skillz, then the IM-er sends him an email. Upon opening the email the kid finds it to be a chain letter that says something along the lines of "pass this chain letter on to five people within the next 24 hours. If you break the chain you will die." There's a bit more flowery language to the letter, but the gist is all that's important. High-schooler's sister busts in the room to kick him off his computer because hers locked up, so she sends the email to her buds as a joke.
And it begins. Some send it on, some don't. Those that don't start dying. OOOH scary.

The only actors I recognized were Keith David and Brad Douriff. Douriff was wasted in his role as a high school teacher, David got to do a little more stuff as the cop investigating the deaths. A bunch of obvious college graduates were cast as high-school students (B-movie playbook). Minor supporting characters pop in and out of existence randomly. Some even show up a couple times before disappearing. I don't mean they get killed off, they just don't show up again because their significance is fleeting. The "parents" only showed up when necessary for a scene - which amounts to maybe once or twice. I think. I didn't really care.

I really don't have to explain the plot, it's quite obvious from the content of the chain letter.
The dialog is terrible.  The use of very dated cultural references was agonizing. OJ Simpson? Unibomber? Y2K computer glitch mania? MySpace? Seriously? A 2010 film trying to make a point about "technology is bad and strips away our privacy and freedoms," invents a virus that works on any computer or cell phone through email and text messages, then punctuates their argument with references from decades ago (in internet years)? Yeesh. They must've been trying to sell this film for ages.

As expected lots of scenery chewing happens. It's as if almost everyone who gets only one scene plays their part on edge and all their emotional baggage explodes into every conversation.  The poor cop couldn't talk to anyone without them going rabid in his face. Granted - his choice to interview friends and family of a dead kid at the kid's funeral was probably a poor one.
Poor Brad Douriff had to reign it in to play his teacher role but he still popped the eyes and looked like he was about to start biting faces. And I like Douriff when he's cast properly - shame on production for wasting him like that. Hopefully he got paid well.
The killer? He dresses his face up like Darkman (bandages) whether he's in his lair or out on the prowl. His lair has a layer of water on the floor with constant drips from the ceiling - because that's what scary killer lairs look like. Most of the time he kills and leaves the body at whichever location he catches up to them, though he has taken a couple back to his lair alive for whatever reason that never really makes much sense.

The end of the film isn't really an end. It looks more like they ran out of footage, "creatively" edited things into a loop, then tossed in an epilogue that isn't an end to the movie or the epilogue itself.  Yes, an aimless meandering plot that ran out of time, and it shows. Just like the ending of Nine Dead. And just as good a film.
I especially liked how the investigating cop had a series of flashbacks to significant clue events and people that occurred during the film even though he was not present for them to happen. And by 'especially liked' I mean rolled my eyes and groaned.

Seriously - it's like they took Jason, dressed him as Darkman, took the machete away and gave him chains as a weapon (chain letter - get it? nudge nudge), mixed in some Saw and Final Destination 'creative killing scenarios' - tossed it in Tom Dickson's blender and poured this out. "B-movie smoke. Don't breathe this." 

I wouldn't recommend seeking this film out to watch it. It isn't even worth it for the 'watch a bad film for curiosity's sake' experience.

Yeah - I knew it was a terrible idea to watch this film before I put it in the queue, but I don't get to rule my Netflix queue with an iron fist. When the film arrived the wife didn't recall watching the trailer or expressing interest in it, which is understandable because we saw the trailer ages ago before the film was released to theaters back in October 2010. Then once we started watching it she realized the crap we were in for and told me I shouldn't listen to her when it comes to film choices - which I countered with sometimes she does make me watch real good films against my will and I thank her for that. Besides - how better to be able to appreciate good films than to have bad films for comparison?

28 May 2011

Movies: The Fighter

The Fighter (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0964517/

This Oscar-nominated biographical boxing drama, and Oscar-winning for Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, is worth the watch. Even if you have no clue about the original story, it is filmed and acted so well it is worth the time. Stars Mark Wahlburg as Micky Ward, Christian Bale as Micky's half-brother Dicky Eklund.

I couldn't help being reminded of Raging Bull. But that's because both films are biographical boxing dramas.  Stylistically they are different films. There's something about Scorsese's style that really sets a gulf between the two.  Interestingly enough Scorsese was asked to direct, but he declined.

That doesn't mean The Fighter is a lesser film than Raging Bull. The primary and supporting actors in the film breathe genuine life into their characters, Wahlburg and Bale especially.  And the guy playing Mickey O'Keefe, Micky Ward's trainer, is especially authentic considering he's playing himself in the film.

We see Micky's relationships with his family, good or bad, Dicky's crack addiction and incarceration, and how Micky's relationship with them changed over time as he went on to win the WBU light welterweight title.

The story is told well, most likely dramatized, amalgamated and fictionalized in places for dramatic license and flow, but that's sort of understood for any biographical drama. I imagine they hit the proper historically accurate beats - otherwise there would've been a lot of press crying foul. Which would be quite easy on their part considering HBO did a documentary on Dicky Eklund's crack addiction, and ESPN and HBO televised their fights. So these guys have had some documentation done about them before the film was made.

It's a compelling story and a good watch, and is one of those rare cases where the film hype is accurate.

24 May 2011

Documentary: Catfish

Catfish (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1584016/

Nev is a photographer. After one of his photos was published an 8 year old girl, Abby, used his photo as the basis of a painting, then contacted Nev to show him. Nev really liked the painting, and a through-Facebook pen-pal relationship developed with Abby showing him more of her paintings, and Nev sending her photos from time-to-time for her to paint.  Nev got to talk with Abby's mother Angela on occasion over the phone, then got to talk with Abby's older sister Megan.  More and more of Abby's family and family friends 'met' Nev over Facebook and friended him too - all appreciative of how nice he was to encourage Abby's painting.  Nev and Megan's phone/text/Facebook relationship blossoms.
This whole time Nev's brother Rel, and their friend/roommate Henry, have started documenting Nev's relationship with Abby and her family as it unfolds.

This arrived from Netflix today and I couldn't even recall why I put this film on my Netflix queue.  I think I may have heard someone in a podcast mention it in passing or something, but they didn't go into detail about the film.  Usually a flyby comment doesn't grab my attention, but I can't think of any other way I would have heard about this film and not remembered anything about it.
I don't recall ever watching a trailer for it either, which is how I usually target films for the Netflix queue. But through the wonders of the internets you can:

Yes, this is a real documentary. It is not a thinly scripted mockumentary. The film is edited together, paring 9 months of footage down into a coherent linear narrative.  Nothing was staged or re-shot. Watch the bonus after-film interview for a little more insight into that.

This documentary works because it is a linear narrative that starts soon after Nev begins corresponding with Abby and carries us, the viewers, through Nev's developing relationship with Abby and her family, ultimately taking us along with Nel, Rel and Henry as they drive up and meet the family. This is a trip that's worth taking.

I like how the film uses Google Earth to tie parts of the narrative together. The use of Google Earth, GPS in the car, cell phones, Facebook, Google - all that shows how embedded into normal daily routines technology has become, and also hints at the impacts of technology on social interactions.  Yes it has handheld cam work going on, but the shaking is usually kept to a minimum. I think I saw one of the guys carrying a tripod with 'em too, which means they probably used 'em when convenient.  The sound isn't too bad considering the guerrilla filming style, and I think I saw a separate sound recorder in a couple of the scenes, which would explain why.  Despite it's low budget origins it's a good watch on the small screen.

I enjoyed this film and I recommend it for anyone, especially social networking types. And if you're reading this review or have Liked me on Facebook, you probably fall in that category. But if you avoid it due to being  documentary-averse I understand, but you're missing out.

I'm glad I chucked this in the ol' Netflix queue and completely forgot what it was about, except for the sleeve description, before watching it. That made the viewing experience that much more enjoyable.  If you choose to watch the film, I want that open, unencumbered and unprejudiced experience for you too. I recommend not reading up on any reviews that spoil the film. That's why I'm making sure not to spoil it.

If you happen to watch on DVD/BluRay I recommend also watching the after-film interview on the disc. After watching the film, of course. You get to hear Nev, Rel and Henry talk about the events after a couple years having distance from the filming and editing process and having had time to digest the experience and its impact on their lives.

Bonus - usually the wife groans any time I get a documentary to watch from Netflix, so of course she groaned when this one arrived too. She happened to be sitting there when I started watching the film and it quickly sucked her in to the story. She stayed for the whole thing and enjoyed watching the film too.

23 May 2011

Movies: Ed and His Dead Mother

Ed and His Dead Mother (1993) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0106792/


We first meet Ed as he retains a lawyer and goes to court for killing his mother. Ed insists he didn't kill his mother because she was already dead, although he admits to severing her head.  As the trial gets under way we hear the story, which starts about three months earlier.
Ed's mother died about a year ago (remember - this is three months before the trial). Ed is approached by a man representing a company (Happy People, Ltd) that can give Ed's dead mother life, for the modest fee of $1000. Ed, ever the mama's boy and still grieving her loss, gladly accepts the deal.
Now we watch the hi-jinks as Ed and his uncle deal with Ed's mother and her increasingly wacky ways, the recently released convict that Ed's mother put in prison, the tantalizing neighbor across the street that's taken a shine to Ed, and the company that gave life to Ed's mother.

Stars Steve Buscemi as Ed, Ned Beatty as Ed's Uncle Benny and John Glover as the Happy People Ltd  rep.  Glad to see John Gries make an appearance as the revenge-hungry convict (he played Uncle Rico in Napoleon Dynamite and Ben's father in Lost).  Also was a kick to hear They Might Be Giants playing over the credit scroll.

I'm not sure how this film gets billed as horror. Sure, the mother starts off dead and gets reanimated. But there isn't anything remotely scary about the film, so calling it a horror film is being generous. Plus as far as comedies go, it maybe hits 'amusing' at times, so it's also generously lumped in the 'comedy' category. The cast does fine for the most part, although the mother is probably played the most exaggerated. Buscemi and Beatty do fine in their roles - they play 'em straight and allow whatever humor in the script to happen on its own.

I'd suppose this film is amusing at times because it is absurd. The plot is absurd, the characters are absurd (even when played straight).  About the only reason I watched the film is it's from 1993, has Buscemi and Beatty, and I heard that the box of corn flakes on the breakfast table were HyVee corn flakes. And they were.

Not a great movie, not exactly terrible.  Easily forgettable.  I wouldn't recommend seeking it out unless you're driven by curiosity, as I was, or bored (as I was) and it happens to be on.

I did notice this is the last film Jonathan Wacks directed, and the last film written by Chuck Hughes.  Now I'm not saying this film stomped their careers dead, I'm not implying this film flushed their careers into the crapper. I'm just noticing that coincidentally it was the last film for both of them as director and writer.  I also noticed it had a $1.8mil budget, showed on ONE screen, pulled in $673 its opening weekend and grossed a whopping $1,097.  Smells like a vanity or write-off production with those numbers - that's what, a -99.9% return on investment? Yeesh.

21 May 2011

Movie Series: Chronicles of Narnia

Chronicles of Narnia

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (2005) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0363771/  (TLtWatW)
Prince Caspian (2008) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0499448/  (PC)
Voyage of the Dawn Treader (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0980970/  (VotDT)

I recall reading the whole Narnia series of books ages ago. I sought out the first book, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (TLtWatW) after seeing the 1979 animated version. I liked the cartoon and it spurred me into reading the book. Then I collected the rest of the series and read those all too. The story telling was a bit more approachable for younger minds than Tolkien's works and Herbert's Dune series.

I enjoyed all the movie adaptations. I suppose TLtWatW looms giant in comparison to the PC and VotDT adaptations in scale - a heck of a lot more seems to happen in that first film, but it is a great start to put the viewer into Narnia and explain some of its history, history the later films depend on.

I just watched the most recent film, Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Ten minutes in and I realized I had very little memory at all of the Prince Caspian film. So I stopped watching, watched PC instead for refresher, then restarted VotDT.  There is a lot the later films don't explain because they proceed with the assumption you know who the Pevensies, Aslan, Narnia, and the White Queen are.  VotDT is especially dependent on its predecessors.

I like the cast continuity, just as with Harry Potter series. Lucy and Edmond grew the most between the films, which makes sense as they're the youngest two cast members.

With these films I expected to sit back and be entertained, just as with the books, and I was. Good solid fantasy stories with enough action and suspense for family viewing.  Just as with the Harry Potter series, this series would make for a great multi-night experience.  However I'd save the Harry Potter nights for a period of time right before seeing the last film in the theater, or if you're going to wait for the DVD/BluRay, make an event out of it then.  The Narnia series you can get started on now with this trio of films. 

I hope folks are inspired to read the book series - just as I hope folks were inspired to read the Harry Potter books, or Tolkien's books after watching the Lord of the Rings films.

There are whispers of The Magician's Nephew for 2014 and The Silver Chair for 2015.  I look forward to seeing those as well.  As both of these stories are relatively Pevensie-free there is no need to wait for them to have a multi-movie Narnia experience. Magician's Nephew will show the origins of Narnia. The Silver Chair brings back VotDT's Eustace.

15 May 2011

Movies: I Saw the Devil

I Saw the Devil (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1588170/

murder/revenge/horror/torture/drama flick

This import from Korea is about a secret agent that tracks down the serial killer that killed his fiancee. Instead of killing him, the agent catches him, beats the crap out of him, releases him, then tracks him down again -- all to extend the serial killer's suffering, to make him pay for what he did.

As a Korean film all dialog is subtitled. That doesn't detract from the film in any way- one quickly gets used to reading dialog and watching at the same time. Most action-laden scenes don't have dialog anyhow.  There's plenty of time to not miss anything, unless you can't stomach the scene.

If you've seen "Oldboy" then you'll recognize that film's title character actor Min-sik Choi, he plays the serial killer in this one. Quite effectively too, he plays him as a generally emotionless psychopath with sociopathic tendencies.

This movie is graphically violent, bloody, disturbing. The makeup and effects are top notch. Heck the whole production, from settings, camera work, fight scenes and sound are top notch. The story keeps you riveted, though the more squeamish will probably avert eyes at some parts. The film clocks in at 2 hours 21 minutes but it certainly doesn't feel that long. The pacing of the film gives you time to start relaxing after some parts, but not enough to bore, and progresses well.
The only complaint I voiced was about the agent's tendency to drive against the direction of traffic. I can see maybe once because of the immediacy of that situation, but this guy seemed to do it quite a bit.

What makes the story and film work is the emotional component - the agent is driven by his grief and it shows, finally breaking through at the end. However the film ends a little further down field on the 'revenge-crazy' scale than I'd anticipated it would. Even if you've been numbed by everything up to that point it takes it one step further.  But that's probably part of the message, the agent's becoming a monster to take out a monster.
As for the 'hero' of the film being an agent I'm sure it's to explain why he's highly trained in hand-to-hand combat and has access to some spy tech.

The characters feel real. This film is on a whole different level than American revenge/torture flicks that are similar to the "I Spit on Your Grave" or "The Last House on the Left" remakes, for example. Even though they may be similar in graphic violence and gore, ISoYG and TLHotL characters are rather two dimensional in comparison to "I Saw the Devil" character portrayal. Considering that IStD is subtitled, I thought it rather impressive to overcome that language barrier and be that effective.  Perhaps the quality of character development and the acting in this film made me less mindful of the graphic violence - it just didn't have that 'here is an absurd violent graphic revenge act for the sake of violent graphic revenge act' feel to it.

A solid film, but I'd only recommend it to people who can handle grisly fare. 

14 May 2011

Documentary: Exit Through the Gift Shop

Exit Through the Gift Shop (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1587707/

This documentary is about Thierry Guetta aka "Mr. Brainwash".  We meet his self years ago, after he emigrated to the US and started a clothing store. But that's just establishing the baseline of who he was before he became "Mr. Brainwash."  He's obsessed with videotaping everything. Everywhere he goes, everything that happens around him. While visiting his cousin, French street artist "Invader," he follows him and films him putting up his works around the city. Thus begins the multi-year obsession of Thierry to insert himself into the street artist world, filming anyone and everyone he can follow. To gain acceptance he tells them he's making a documentary about street artists. In reality Thierry has never made a film, knows nothing about putting a film together, he just records everything and stuffs the tapes in boxes, thousands of tapes, never to view them again.
He accumulates thousands of hours of footage on many street artists, including some of the best-known.  But his new goal was tracking down English street artist Banksy to document his process too. But it doesn't end when he meets Banksy. Thierry's life takes a crazy turn when, on Banksy's advice, he decides to become an artist himself.

I thought this film was rather amazing from a couple of standpoints. One was the thread of seeing these street artists and some of their work, getting a bit of the history of street art morphing into actual art shows. The larger story - Thierry's transformation - is just something to behold. Especially if, like me, you've never followed any of this history before.  And then to hear how the street artists comment about Thierry's transformation and what it means, if it means anything, is especially interesting.

Good watch if you're stuck for what to watch and aren't in any particular genre mood, Great story from start to finish. Put together really well with some really good footage for art history - capturing the street artists doing what the do and why.  Plus an interesting commentary on the commodification of street art and the folks involved in that process.

Movies: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1 (2010)


10 May 2011

Movies: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0814255/

Child-friendly adventure film.
In a modern-day world we find the Greek gods still exist.  Zeus discovers his lightning was stolen. He meets up with Poseidon on the Empire State Building and gripes about it. Poseidon is all, "no way. you know we can't steal each other's powers." And Zeus is all, "yeah, but your kid can. That's right- I think your son stole my lightning and I want it back in two weeks or there's gonna be war." Poseidon is all, "..."
Then we meet teen-aged Percy, Poseidon's kid. Except Percy has no clue he's Poseidon's son, and obviously he hadn't stolen Zeus's lightning. He's a dyslexic ADHD struggling his way through multiple schools while his mom lives with a stinky step-father that Percy can't stand.  But after the substitute English teacher turns into a fury and almost kicks his ass Percy finds out who his father is, finds out that his best friend and that one of his teachers are guardians assigned to keep him safe, Percy is plunged feet-first into the fires of destiny.

From the moment I saw the trailer I hadn't planned on watching this movie. First reason: the title is too long. Second: The title font looks all Harry Potter-ish. Third: the remake of the Clash of the Titans and The Sorcerer's Apprentice both came out around the same time. My initial impression by 'judging the film by the poster' response: it just seems a piggy-backy and a desperate studio attempt to cash-in after hearing Clash was being remade and Harry Potter had already been snapped up.
Then I found out that yes, it is based on a series of post-Harry Potter books, books for that same demographic, a series of books I never heard of. Not that it made any difference to me at the time.

Then I noticed the film was making a run on Cinemax. I figured what the heck, I'll give it a look-see.  Mostly because I'm a sucker for Greek/Roman mythology and get curious about fiction set with that as a back drop. That was my downfall with Clash of the Titans - the curiosity overrode my instincts.

That opening sequence with Poseidon and Zeus? Yeah - that was pretty cool, even though I poked fun at it in my description above. And it has Kevin McKidd (Vorenus in Rome) as Poseidon. And Sean Bean as Zeus. That's kinda neat casting. Then there's Catherine Keener as Percy's mom, Joe Pantoliano as his stinky step-dad, Pierce Brosnan as a centaur? Uma Thurman as Medusa? Rosario Dawson as Persephone? Wow. Talk about biggish names in the cast, even if some are rather tiny parts. And there's more - but this paragraph is getting too long.

So I have to admit my first impressions were partly off.  This movie was a lot more entertaining than I thought it would be.

The film almost felt more respectful to the old mythology even while weaving their modern addendum than Clash of the Titans was. CotT pretty much ignored it and wrote their own.  But there were a few irksome licenses taken with some of the mythological figures. For instance, I would think Medusa shouldn't be making an appearance after having already been killed by Perseus. And the hydra was already killed by Hercules, although I suppose it's possible another hydra existed. That the Olympian pantheon of gods had hundreds of existing demigod children. They must've been partying on Earth somethin fierce.  And all these Olympian shenanigans, the hundreds of demigods-in-training, the entrance to Hades and Olympus all taking place in the U.S.A - I guess the Olympians abandoned Greece? Weird.
Despite straying a some from classical mythology, I figured I'd roll with it. And the film actually did well despite the detours.

Production-wise the film is good. Most of the CGI integrated well. Medusa's head was particularly well done.

The younger cast members that I didn't immediately recognize did fine, considering the bulk of the film revolved around them instead of the more seasoned bigger-name actors.  The director, Chris Columbus, has made many a favorite film, including a couple of Harry Potters, so this film was right in his sandbox.

I didn't really pay attention to the quality of the dialog, the film was entertaining enough that I just sat back and watched everything happen. Nothing stood out as terrible. I do recall that the kid playing Grover the satyr had a couple of amusing one-liners. There were some instances of spontaneous knowledge that go unexplained, especially involving Percy's sudden tapping of Poseidony-inherited powers.  I just made this face :/ and let 'em slide.  I never did understand why Zeus decided that, out of all the demigods in existence at the time, Poseidon's kid was the one that stole his lightning. Nobody even knew where the kid was, except for Poseidon and the guardians.  Perhaps it was explained and I missed it?  All I can surmise is Zeus is paranoid about being overthrown by one of his brothers (Poseidon or Hades) and just jumped to the conclusion that it was Poseidon's kid due to the rules between gods and demigod contact and the history behind the rules. Still it's a huge leap of logic.

Over all the film is entertaining. I enjoyed it, I'm glad I gave it a shot. Young'uns might enjoy the film too. I'm not aware of how much Greek/Roman mythology is taught to them in schools, so if they aren't getting much of that sort of background some things in the story might escape their notice.  I doubt this film (and its upcoming sequel) will be as loved as the Potter series, but it stands good enough and entertaining enough to be worth the watch. Not an instant classic, but not terrible either, sortof middling. I liked it more than the Clash of the Titans remake, but then I was sortof biased against CotT from the get-go anyhow.

I just remembered one thing I thought was particularly unwarranted. The scene that shows mid-credits. It just seemed a harsh fate for Percy's stinky step-dad, considering all they established was that he was stinky and orders Percy's mom to get him beer in a gruff voice. He didn't deserve his fate.  If he were a wife-beater or something then I'd understand it.

08 May 2011

Movies: I Spit on Your Grave

I Spit on Your Grave (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1242432/

Remake of the 1978 original film by the same title, though the original film was originally titled "Day of the Woman" before it was edited a bit before re-release under the current title.
I never saw the original. After seeing this film I don't want to see the original. Not even for comparison. After reading a bit on it there is no need for me to see it. Even though I sometimes try to see remakes vs. originals, this time - no.

Technically it is a rape/revenge film, but it also qualifies as torture porn.
It's about a city-raised writer, Jennifer Mills, who rents a remote cabin in the boonies to have a quiet place to work on her next book. Three local turds and their mentally handicapped friend bust into her cabin and terrorize her. She escapes, brings the sheriff back with her, then (who didn't see this coming) it turns out the sheriff is in cahoots with the turds. Then the poor girl has a really bad day. Yeah - that's understated.

Though the clips of the original I've seen look like low-budget quality, there isn't any low-budget quality about this production. It seems like a decent rewrite of the original script, based on the summary of the original story I read.  Good acting by the cast, especially Sarah Butler (playing Jennifer).  You can see a clear difference in her approach to the character before the assault and after. And it isn't comically over-the top. The gal sold it. Decent special effects. Great location choices, good camera work. Good sound work. The first half seems to follow a more-or-less logical and realistic progression of events within the scope of cardboard stereotypes and stereotypical behavior, the latter half stretches the 'suspension of disbelief' envelope. But that's about the extent of the praise I can muster.

Dressed up as it is in the trappings of top-notch production, it's still a bit much. The stretch starting 17 minutes into the film to about 30 minutes in covers the first round of assault - which is basically terrorizing the gal until she runs off and encounters the sheriff. Then the first rape scene hits us about 38 minutes in, followed by another escape, another capture, and another brutal multiple rape scene, culminating in her final escape from her captors about 52 minutes in. 35 minutes of repeated assaults, escalating in brutality. That is just way too long, too much. That's a full third of the film.  And as you know, it's a rape/revenge film, so after all that comes a bit of a cooldown period before we get to the revenge part.  Which then gets way more graphic.

In comparison the remake of "Last House on the Left" was less stomach-churning than this film, and as brutal as LHotL's rape scene was, this film's is worse.

Real people and real criminal cases of certain serial killers (e.g. David Parker Ray) are fucked up enough. My imagination works just fine without having to be graphically shown what happens. Same goes for horror fiction. 'Less is more' works fine, and sometimes 'More is more' is just plain unnecessary.  And if the original film is as brutal as this (though I suspect it was more brutal), I really don't need to see it. Even if it is considered the top controversial film of its era. 

If you have an iron constitution and don't bat an eye at the Saw franchise or Hostel films you might be able to watch this film. Might as well watch "Imprint" while you're at it.  Why "Imprint"? Because that's the film that not only made my wife cover her eyes during certain scenes, I had to Mute the sound during those scenes too, because covering her eyes wasn't enough.  This film? She got up and walked out for parts of it.

If you can't stomach Saw and Hostel and can't handle B-movie gore fests, you really don't want to see this film. Probably isn't safe for children.

Yeah - that 'probably' was facetious.

Unless you're training a posse of young serial killers with deep rooted psychological problems.

06 May 2011

Movies: Machete

Machete (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0985694/

Remember 2007's Grindhouse? The Death Proof/Planet Terror double feature from Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez? Grindhouse had a fake trailer for the film Machete. That trailer was so popular that Rodriguez made this film.  He even got a couple of the folks that were in the trailer back for their roles in this film.
And if you didn't see Grindhouse - why not? Granted - Death Proof dialog would put any insomniac to sleep and is best viewed by fast forwarding through any scenes that don't have cars or Kurt Russel in them. Not because you want to see Kurt Russel so much as if he's in the scene you aren't being bored to tears by chicks blabbing on and on and on about nothing while QT films their feet. But geez. See 'em if you haven't. Just for that Grindhouse experience.

In a nutshell, Machete is about an ex-Federale codenamed Machete that was hired to take out a Texas state senator, only to be double-crossed by the guy that hired him.  Now Machete is out for revenge.

Straight-up violent action/adventure/revenge flick. Stars Danny Trejo as Machete. Trejo's first leading-man role too. And he's supported by a cast of well-knowns and lesser-knowns such as, oh, Robert De Niro, Don Johnson, Steven Seagal, Cheech Marin, Tom Savini, Jeff Fahey (Lapidus in Lost). OH, did I mention Jessica Alba and Michelle Rodriguez? Yep - both of 'em, in the same film. Talk about 'holy shit lookit that cast'.
Oh yeah, Lindsay Lohan showed up too.

Even better - this film was almost exactly what I expected it to be. I expected it to be an over-the-top, kitschy, violent, bloody, insane action flick with cheesy lines. I wasn't disappointed.  It had decapitations, defenestrations, even a crucifixion. It was extremely stereotypical and tongue-in-cheek. By extremely stereotypical I mean racist, but I think the point was to highlight how shallow and stupid racist stereotypes are. Even had a Wilhelm Scream (sample).  Steven Segal was in top form - complete with Six Million Dollar Man sound effects, the worst Mexican accent ever and the cheesiest death scene I've seen in a long time.

Top to bottom this could have been another chapter of the El Mariachi trilogy. Or it could be in the same universe as El Mariachi, the film 'feels' are rather indistinguishable. Heck, El and Machete could get together and take out someone else that's oppressive and bad. Just ignore that Trejo and Marin show up and die multiple times in the Mariachi series. 

Yep - what I expected and more. Good stupid fun. If I could gripe about anything it would be the 'grindhouse film effect' that was applied to the start of the film seems to have disappeared early on and never to return for the rest of the film. It didn't maintain that feel throughout the film nor did it insert cheap production mistakes the way that Black Dynamite does.  But that's okay - I think it's just applied just long enough to get the viewer in that headspace, then got out of the way.

So yes - I liked it. It was good at being as bad as I expected, in a good way. Popcorn nite for sure. Too much bloody headsplitting violence and boobies for the kids, especially if you don't want your kids to see LiLo boobies. But if that were the case it's too late if they've been on the internets.

04 May 2011

Movies: Black Swan

Black Swan (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0947798/

Beautiful dark psychological thriller. Stars Natalie Portman as Nina, a ballet dancer in the corps (basically everyone who isn't the lead dancer is in the corps).  The director of the troupe, Thomas, announces that his lead dancer is retiring - which just might be code for he's tired of her and has cast her off.  Thomas wants to start the new ballet season with a production of Swan Lake with a twist, that twist being the same dancer will perform both the white swan and black swan parts.  Nina, who has spent her life to be the perfect dancer, sees her chance to grab that led role. Thomas agrees she'd be perfect for the white swan part, but she's so mechanically perfect she lacks the feeling and abandon he wants for the black swan part. Nina's ambition goes into overdrive as she starts pushing to get that part.
We watch events unfold from Nina's perspective. As we see deeper into Nina's life, her relationship with her controlling mother, her relationship with the other dancers, the depth of her ambition we start realizing that the line between Nina's perceptions and reality have blurred. The more she pushes, the more she crumbles, the more her paranoia intensifies, and we realize Nina's perception, and probably her mind, are teetering on the edge of psychotic insanity.

Directed by Darren Aronosfky. I really like this guy's films. I wanted to see Black Swan solely because he was directing it. "Pi" and "Requiem for a Dream" put Aronofsky on my instant watch list. "The Fountain" and "The Wrestler" didn't let me down, they just glued him in place on the instant watch list.  Black Swan? Didn't disappoint me in the least.

The story worked for me. Puts a good dark spin on the whole "X goes mad striving to be perfect" type film. And it moved fast too. It didn't dawdle about.  We start with Nina and we stick with her to the end, we don't even bother seeing what other cast members are doing.  Even if ballet is the last thing you want to slog through, the final third of the film is such a wild ride you'll forget about it.

In some ways I'm reminded of All About Eve, probably because of the replacing of the aging star with the new young thing plotline. I liked All About Eve and recommend it as a classic that should be seen at least once. But All About Eve was made at a different time with stage play sensibilities and its dialog and following of various characters reflects that. In contrast Black Swan stuck with an economy of dialog and distraction. It showed us and didn't make sure to tell us too in case we missed it.

Such economy was also reflected in the locations and sets, there were just enough to tell the story, which kept things feeling sequestered in a small world. The apartment Nina lived in with her mother enhanced that feeling of being trapped, which parallels Nina's feeling trapped. Trapped in a small world trying to please her mother, her director, even her goal to achieve perfection on stage.

The CGI effects used, sparsely but effectively, were amazing. One particular moment is just mind-blowing in what it shows visually and what it represents under the surface.

Portman's performance in the film is outstanding, both physically and in the range of emotions she had to express, sometimes contrasting and overlapping in instants. She every bit deserves the Oscar she won for it. The supporting cast was amazing as well, especially the most recognizable members Barbara Hershey, Vincent Cassel and Mila Kunis. Reading about the physical preparation that Portman and Mila Kunis did for the film just makes their performances that much more amazing. Extra thumbs up for Kunis for yet again getting in a great quality production that is miles away from That 70s Show. Any failings by cast performances would've marred this production. Everyone did their part to sell us a golden ticket on the Willy Wonka downward spiraling boat ride into Nina's madness.

Out of all the films I've watched recently I'm having the roughest time articulating why I liked this movie. I even waited a few days after watching it in order to try to collect my thoughts. I've come to the conclusion I'm just going to have watch it again. I love good mind-trip films, and this was a really good mind-trip film.  Perhaps it'll take a couple viewings to properly process, much like multiple viewings of American Psycho.

02 May 2011

Movies: The Winning Season

The Winning Season (2009) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1293842/

We learn early that Bill is divorced, an ostracized father, directionless, a washed up basketball coach, a drunk, and pretty much all-around failure in life. An old friend of his, a principal at a local high school, asks Bill to coach the school's girl's basketball team. It becomes apparent that Bill was the last choice for the job.  The team consists of six girls - one member is the principal's daughter and another is on crutches, apparently on the team just to have enough girls to field a team.

Stars: Sam Rockwell as Bill the coach, with a great supporting cast of more and lesser-knowns. Rod Corddry (you've seen him in plenty of stuff) plays Principal Terry. Bonus was casting Margo Martindale (Mags from Justified) as Donna the busdriver.  Martindale is a solid actress and plays a character in this film more along the lines of characters she's played in the past.  But if you haven't seen her as Mags in Justified you're seriously missing out.

Directed and written by relative newcomer  James C. Strouse. I've not seen nor heard of any of the three other films he's written, nor the one other film he's directed.  The way the film was shot and edited shows a lot more maturity than the small body of work listed on IMDB for him would lead one to anticipate.

Just by hearing the musical choice for the opening sequence and watching the first scene when Principal Terry first asks Bill to coach the team, you immediately know this film is 1) A sport comedy-drama 2) a feel-good family film. You can almost guess the whole movie start to finish just from knowing the gist of the film.  And yes, it really does follow that formula.  What formula? The "dude has a wrecked life, coaches girl's basketball team, starts getting his shit together, relationship with daughter goes to hell, things go down hill and look completely bleak, things get better in the end" formula. We've seen it plenty of times in other films. There are a couple of surprise story lines embedded in the film I wasn't anticipating, but that's cool. The little curveballs help the film.

But despite being formulaic, this film has something else going for it. For one - the casting. Sam Rockwell is a master at inhabiting his roles. The girls cast for the team - all perform their roles well. Margo Martindale has played similar roles before, but she's a master at playing them and only helps the film be even better. The whole cast works well with each other and really connect in a believable way. That sells it right there. I didn't spot any obvious "acting" happening. Second - the film works as a feel-good film. It does a good job of getting us to care about the characters and what happens with them. Third - it is funny when it is funny without any hint of trying to let the audience know they should find it funny. No winks, no going over-the-top on anything. Fourth - although it revolves around girl's basketball, it really isn't about basketball except as the central driving force that ties the cast together from start through finish. It isn't really a MacGuffin, but almost.

Maybe what helps the film is knowing the story ahead of time and just sitting back to watch it happen because the cast does well. There are some weaknesses in storylines getting touched upon and handled quickly and gently, but it is a feel-good film. And it succeeds at that. 

Honestly the only reason I gave the film a shot is because Sam Rockwell has done so well in past roles and the trailer looked amusing.  I wasn't disappointed. Plus it is a refreshing break from the dark, twisty, thinking fare I tend to gravitate toward.