31 July 2011

Movies: Small Town Murder Songs

Small Town Murder Songs (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1429392/

Crime Drama.  Also billed as a thriller, but I'm not exactly sure what is considered 'thriller' about it.

Set in a small Mennonite community in Ontario, a young girl is murdered and dumped in a field. The local chief of police must deal with the sins of his past as he tries to solve the murder.
We meet the police chief, Walter, and find that his duties are pretty much those of any small town police - pull over the occasional speeder, putter about town, say "hi" to folks. But then the body of a murdered woman is discovered. The Ontario Provisional Police come in and take over the investigation.

Stars Peter Stormare as police chief Walter. In all actuality - when I saw the title of the film, and saw that Stormare was the lead, I decided to watch the film. Seriously, that was enough for me.
Has a supporting cast of folks you may or may not recognize. It was kinda cool to see Martha Plimpton in it and immediately think "The Goonies", especially because we don't see her much. She does well in her role too.

The film isn't so much about the crime or solving it, that story line is there to bind everything else together.  The film is more about Walter. Walter's past. Walter's attempt to redefine his self. Walter's past and present relationships, and the impacts of his choices on his family and their interaction with him.

The casting and acting, no complaints. Stormare really nails his performance. The depth of the characterizations was fine and seemed to match with the importance those characters held in the story. Filmed and edited well, nice flashback integration to fill you in on Walter's past and its significance to the film.

The pacing seems a little slow, but that also plays into the sense of the small a farm community. The film is only about an hour and 10 minutes long. The pacing makes it feel a little bit longer, yet tells the stories in an economy of time that fits the story. They don't waste the time they use, yet the film doesn't feel hurried to its conclusion either.  I suppose that's why it doesn't feel so 'thriller'-like.

I also really liked the music of the film. Unfortunately the volume of the music is way loud in comparison to the mix of sound of the film around it. It jars you, it's over powering. I am thinking that's the intent of the filmmaker, but I felt it rather off-putting. Still, I liked the soundtrack. It really fits the film and matches its setting.

The film as a whole has a Coen-brothers feel to it. Sort of a "Miller's Crossing" and "Fargo" vibe and although it is not very like those films, "Fargo" is the closest match. I don't know if that's just coincidence that Peter Stormare was cast for Small Town Murder Songs and it has such a "Fargo" vibe or not.  Regardless, I could watch all three films on the same night and not feel that I saw the same movie twice. The Coen-brothers vibe is mentioned as a compliment, not as a complaint nor an attempt to say their style was copied.

I liked the film despite feeling slowly paced and a little loud on the soundtrack. Worth watching for the performances and story and being overall a good film.

29 July 2011

Movies: The Adjustment Bureau

The Adjustment Bureau (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1385826/

Billed as a sci-fi romance thriller. Probably more accurately a fantasy romance thriller. I didn't notice anything that would qualify the film as sci-fi, except that it's based on a story written by Philip K. Dick, an author generally classified as a sci-fi writer. You've probably seen or heard of more than a few films based on his stories.*

It's about a young politician, David, that by chance meets a young ballerina, Elise, on the night that David lost election to the senate. There was just something about her that inspired him to give a non-standard concession speech, a speech that resonated so well with the voters it actually sets him up well for the next senate election. Three months later David meets Elise again by chance on a bus. This is when we're introduced to a group called the Adjustment Bureau, who spent the rest of the film trying to split the two up and keep their lives from intersecting again.

It's a pretty interesting story that unfolds as you learn more about the Adjustment Bureau, what they do, how long they've been doing it, and where they come from. The explanation of their existence raises at least as many questions as it answers, if not more. Different folks interpret the meaning and parallels different ways.

Stars Matt Damon as David, Emily Blunt as Elise, and supported by a fine supporting cast. No complaints on the acting from any of the cast.

Filmed well, staged well, good subtle special effects work. Interesting concept. Yeah there's some romance-stuff in there too. But that's sort of central to the story to fuel the drive of David to continue to pursue Elise through the film. Their deep attraction is explained as the story plays out.
I think the best thriller portion of the film kicks in during the final half hour. The first hour and change introduces you to the players, the Bureau, slowly exposes more of what's going on. By that final half hour you know pretty much what is going on and need to see it played out to a conclusion.

It isn't a big film, and by that I mean it isn't chock full of effects and screaming and explosions and collapsing buildings and gunfights or anything remotely close to a Michael Bay film. Actually it's probably the complete opposite of a Bay film. This film has plot, dialog, emotion, some depth to the characters, the fantasy is integrated well with 'normal' reality, and you are allowed to freely breathe through the film.

If I had a complaint it would be that the David/Elise relationship just felt a little less than authentic for some reason. It just didn't quite seem as authentic as, say, Damon's Jason Bourne to Marie relationship in the Bourne Identity. Perhaps it had to do with the film having to tell verbally instead of showing the strength and depth of the David/Elise relationship? Everything we know about them is explained in snatches of dialog.
I suppose another would be the sudden disappearance of David's best friend near the end of the film despite his seemingly larger influential role spanning the first 2/3 of the film.

How does this stack up with other adaptations of Philip K. Dick's works? Probably fairly in the middle.
Regardless of the minor issues, by the end of the film I realized that overall I did like the film. I'm not gushing about it, I just liked it. I found that despite the first hour seeming methodically paced as it steps through everything, the payoff was worth the wait.


Edit: Rethinking Fantasy vs. Sci-Fi on this film.
I suppose one could argue that technology advanced beyond our understanding would appear to be magic or supernatural in origin. Thus the hats, maps and other tools-of-the-trade that the Adjustment Bureau uses could be really advanced technology, and the members and their abilities could be some super advanced race that 'guides' happenings on Earth. End result would be sci-fi. But it still seems to me to be of such an advanced nature it still seems more fantasy than sci-fi. A lot of 'pure' science fiction has some basis in the physics as understood at the time it's written. I can see that being a possibility, to a point, in this film, but I'm still not sold on that classification.

27 July 2011

Movies: Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0978764/

Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Action/Adventure drama. Yeah that's a mouthful.

About a young girl referred to as "Baby Doll". That's not her name, but that's the only reference we ever get to her. She uses her imagination to deal with being in a terrible place (mental institution) by putting herself in a different sort of terrible place (brothel), where she uses her fantasies to plot and execute an escape for herself and four of her institutionalized companions.

Film starts out with us watching Baby Doll as she finds out that her mother just died. Her stepfather is less than broken up about it. Actually he can't successfully suppress a smile at the news. After the funeral he checks out the will and realizes he gets nothing - all property goes to Baby Doll and her sister. Stepdad is a little miffed about that. He tries to get to Baby Doll, she fights back, so he then goes to the little sister. Kills her. Baby Doll tries to shoot him, doesn't succeed, he gets her institutionalized by blaming the sister's death on her not being able to handle the grief over her dead mother.

Yes, that's the opening sequence and without a bit of dialog. The movie really gets going in the mental institution. Stepdad pays the sketchy head orderly to take care of Baby Doll so she never talks to the cops. She finds out she's going to be lobotomized in 5 days.

Here comes the point when folks might get lost. Baby Doll's way to handle the situation she is in is to imagine  herself trapped in a brothel, a brothel where all the mental institution inmates are the dancing 'working girls' prostituted to gentlemen clients. The institution staff serve corresponding roles as brothel workers, guards, pimp, dance director.

This brothel world is all in her head, her imagination, her way of dealing with the reality of her situation.
When she dances in the brothel world, she goes to an inner place where a wise man tells her what she needs to do to achieve freedom. This is a fantasy world within her fantasy world.  Each time she dances she goes to this other world, where she and her compatriots (four other inmates of the institution) try to achieve the objectives to reach freedom. When her dance ends, she's back in the brothel.

It's crazy, watching a fantasy within a fantasy within the larger story context. It's visually stunning and stylistic. This film is like a video game comic book music video. It feels like Alice in Wonderland meets the Matrix in Lord of the Rings set in a mental institution with sprinkles of Brazil.
And it's great!

Where else are you going to see a film that has steampunk zombie nazis, zeppelins, helicopters, dragons, goblins, giants, robots, a mechanized battle exoskeleton, youngish girls in skimpy garb firing machine guns, slicing enemies in half with katanas,  wire-fu, and more?  Whew. Practically everything.

Directed by Zack Snyder of Watchmen, 300, remake of Dawn of the Dead fame. Well, he directed The Owls of Ga'Hoole too, but I never felt an urge to see that film.

Emily Browning sporting blond hair plays the central character Baby Doll. She played Violet in Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.  She was also the central character in The Uninvited. Great supporting cast as well, including Oscar Isaac, the smarmy head orderly Mr. Blue, who was Prince John in Robin Hood and Orestes  in Agora.  Also has Jamie Chung, who played Chi Chi in "Dragonball: Evolution." Holy crap I thought I reviewed Dragonball. Guess not. I'm sure it was my best review ever. In my head.  And, for those who give a crap about pop culture and stolen cell phone pictures, Vanessa Hudgens is in a grown-up movie for once. And I say that without having yet seen "Beastly," which I'm debating on whether or not to bother keeping on the Netflix queue. My gut instinct is to nix it. Hmm ... Debate over. It's gone.

Great visuals, pretty good story, paced well, great music. Cast did great. I didn't pay much attention to quality of dialog, nothing stood out as terrible. Pretty much the film quickly establishes the sort of worlds occupied by the cast and everything basically flows within the rules of those worlds. Each world has clearly separate requirements for suspension of disbelief: the real world level, the re-imagined as a brothel level, and the fantasy during dance level. What's really slick that Snyder does is he ties her fantasy objectives to things set within the real world. You see her objectives almost right away during the opening sequence. Snyder is kind to the viewers by giving a quick reminder in-story of these connections between the real world items and fantasy world objectives.  He clearly observes the Chekov's Gun principle of drama - and not just with the objects, but with the people in the real world and how they reappear in the bordello fantasy world.

I didn't mind the borrowing from various stand-out films of particular genres because they're all mixed together into the same fantasy world where nothing belongs with anything else and it all makes sense in the greater whole of the film. It didn't feel like Zack Snyder was stealing from other filmmakers, it felt more organic, like Baby Doll's fantasy worlds were shaped with the cultural entertainment influences a 20yr old would have experienced.

It's a crazy fun trip within a trip in the head. I thoroughly enjoyed the film and will probably watch it again.

25 July 2011

Movies: Fair Game

Fair Game (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0977855/

Drama based on real events. It's about the leak outing Valerie Plame as a covert CIA agent and the aftermath in the context of the run-up and prosecution of the Iraq war.

To me the film seemed to follow details and events that I recall from the stories in the news at the time.  It also portrayed views into the Plame/Wilson personal lives and the event's impacts on the couple. 

Acted very well by Naomi Watts as Valerie Plame and Sean Penn as her husband Joe Wilson. Solid supporting cast as well.  Paced well. I really enjoyed the film.

It is pretty much a procedural drama shown in sequential order, no flashbacks or anything.  The film integrates actual news clips to punctuate the story and even includes a bit where Naomi Watts as Plame begins her testimony to Congress and it fades into footage of the real Valerie Plame giving that testimony.

If you expect your films to be flashy and explosions and machine guns and karatekungfufisticuffs extravaganzas or space aliens ripping out people's brains and lasers and rocketships you'll get none of that here.  If you enjoy watching a group of leathery elderly ladies pretending to be in their early 20s shopping for clothes and shoes and imagining they're desirable, you won't find that here either.
If this was purely a work of fiction it probably wouldn't be that great of a thriller/drama. But it's a lot more compelling when you saw the events play out in the news then get to see them dramatized into one coherent story.

This is one of those rare stories that will probably anger or frustrate all of its viewers on some level, but for different reasons based on where they fall in the political spectrum, how closely they followed the news reports of the issues and which news source they trust the most. I don't trust any single news source, but I realize not everyone takes the time to follow multiple news sources to try to filter out the source bias. Green Zone was similar in angering its whole audience, although it was a work of fiction based on information that later was verified to be pretty close to what the film portrayed. Fair Game could possibly be as divisive as Green Zone to its viewers.

24 July 2011

Movies: Skyline

Skyline (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1564585/

Scifi thriller about aliens invading Los Angeles.

Jarrod and his girlfriend Elaine travel to LA on Jarrod's old friend Terry's dime. During the party that night Terry springs the idea of Jarrod moving to LA to work for him. Elaine isn't too enthusiastic, especially because she's pregnant and needs some stability. Everyone crashes, then are awakened at 4:30 am or so when super bright lights start dropping out of the sky onto the city. Anyone who looks into the light gets covered in black squiggly lines, their eyes go grey, they are compelled to go outside and disappear. While watching a second wave of lights hitting the city later in the day they see that thousands of people are being sucked up into giant space ships.

Sound sortof like every space alien invasion flick you've seen before? Sure, slight differences, but the same thing. Aliens show up, people are sucked into ships or killed or whatnot, the folks the cameras are on from the beginning run around trying to not get grabbed too. People yell at each other. Arguments about what to do. Military shows up to fight the aliens, seems the nuclear explosion might have - oh wait - nevermind.

Yeah - the $500,000 filming budget and $10million special CG effects budget is really apparent in this film. Cast with a couple of top B-list supporting actors Eric Balfour, Donald Faison and David Zoyas, plus a bunch of lesser knowns. To be honest, those major cast members did fine in their roles. You can't blame them for the script or dialog.
The camera work has some really weird shots at times, like using wide-angle lenses outside to show people get out of their car then pan up to show the condo building - it's weird looking, especially the parallax around the edges of the frame during the pan. The CG effects look like they were all done with Adobe After Effects.

I suppose if no other "aliens attack city and grab people" films existed this thing would be jaw-dropping.  If this was the first film of its type after the cheapy effects from 50's era space films it would be awesome. But it isn't. Unfortunately for Skyline, other films do exist. Films that did the story first, films that had better dialog and scripting, films with better effects. There's not near enough in the film to make up for the unlikable and shallow characters and bad dialog. Watching one of the major characters get smashed by a giant alien foot didn't disturb me one bit. His character had done nothing to make him likable.

One thing that really stood out was the awful opening sequence. I saw awful because they show us a bit just as the invasion starts, show a title card, start 15 hours earlier, then lead back into what you just watched at the opening of the film. Why show us twice? They could have started on the airplane ride in to the city and been fine.  The end sequence is rather crazy too. Felt tacked on as an afterthought. Probably wasn't. I would think it's more a matter of directorial inexperience - but I see this was directed by the guys that directed Alien vs Predator Requiem. And those guys have shittons of visual effects experience going into this too. Probably why they could pull off the effects they do on a $10mil effects budget. Yeah - the low budget shows, but they do make the most of it.

Not really a great use of an hour and a half of film watching time, to be honest. So many other films have done similar stories better. I know - they tried. They didn't set out to make a bad film. It isn't terrible, it just isn't especially good either. If you're picking films on a limited viewing budget (budget of time or $) you can spend that hour and a half on something better. If you aren't concerned about that, go for it. It's an okay film for the budget they had, it just didn't do anything for me.

That said, I'm fully prepared to put myself through this again by watching Battle: Los Angeles. I'm expecting pretty much more of the same, just with bigger stars and a bigger budget. Or it could surprise me.

23 July 2011

Movies: Cedar Rapids

Cedar Rapids (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1477837/

Comedy about Tim Lippe, small-town insurance agent. Yes, Tim grew up in that small town and has never been away. His hopes and dreams and world view are all as small as the town he lives in. But circumstances require he go to Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to represent his insurance company at an annual insurance convention. He meets some folks and gets exposed to a world much bigger and darker than he ever imagined.  Thus we watch Tim transform from a naive man-child into a somewhat worldly man-young adult.

Stars Ed Helms as Tim Lippe. You probably remember him from The Hangover, The Office, a crazy one-episode bit in Wilfred. Plus there's John C. Reilly (from practically everything), Anne Heche, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Stephen Root (again, recognizable from practically everything), Kurtwood Smith, Sigourney Weaver, Rob Corddry and a slew of other recognizable comics and comedic actors.

It was a cute story. Written well with a good cast, acted well, filmed well, paced and put together well. I really enjoyed this film. I think I smiled through the whole thing. Smiled out of sheer continuing amusement. The story just unfolds and the funny naturally happens because the cast delivers so well. The comedy isn't entirely in the background. There's a healthy mix of nuanced comedy with a few 'blue' comedy bits tossed in as well.
I think what helped the film work was the story and characters are somewhat layered. Instead of a one-note film populated with one-dimensional stereotype characters the main character and the immediate supporting cast all get a few extra layers that mix some tragedy with the comedy. Casting the other comedic actors and comedians in even minor one-dimensional supporting roles helped keep the right ambiance for the film.

Definitely worth watching, didn't feel like I wasted time on it at all.

20 July 2011

Movies: The Mechanic

The Mechanic (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0472399/

Action / Thriller - a little more on the action and less on the thriller.

In this film's context, a 'Mechanic' refers to a 'hit man'.  Arthur the hit man works for a group that contacts him, gives him a job, he kills 'em, they pay him money. Some assassinations might be messy and obvious, others may be subtle and thought to be accidental or natural deaths. Just depends on the needs of the hit. In any case, Arthur the hit man is hired to take out his mentor, his father-figure, the man who trained him. Apparently the mentor took money to blow a job that got five of the company's assassins killed.  Much as it pains him, he takes him out. But his guilt prods him to reach out to his mentor's son, protect him, to take him under his wing.

Stars Jason Statham as Arthur, Donald Sutherland as the wheelchair bound mentor, Ben Foster as the mentor's son. Plus a few other supporting actors you'll recognize.

Definitely a film that plays to Statham's strengths as an action film star. Much like his roles in films like the Transporter series. Could almost be a transporter if it wasn't so assassiny. This easily could've been a decent Luc Besson film from the looks of it.  Foster gives a good performance as well, he's been pretty consistently good as an actor so far. Sutherland's performance is effortless as anticipated.

Has some decent fight scenes, gunfights, headshots, even an edge-of-the-seat scene involving a garbage disposal. The opening sequence before the title card is kinda neat too. Good bloody violent fun :)

The story premise isn't exactly original, nor is it exactly unpredictable either. But that's okay - it's written rather well, acted well, filmed well. I didn't see any glaring issues. Despite some serious stretching of the suspension of disbelief in a couple spots, which is pretty much expected in action-thrillery films these days, it is still a worthwhile and entertaining action / thriller film.  Easily meets the RMVA (recommended movie-viewing allowance) for action/thriller films.

15 July 2011

Movies: Due Date

Due Date (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1231583/

Comedy starring Robert Downey Jr. and Zach Galifianakis about Peter (Downey) trying to get home to L.A. for the birth of his first child, a delivery via scheduled C-section. He briefly bumps in to Ethan (Galifianakis) outside the airport, causing a slight mixup of carry-on items. Peter re-encounters Ethan on the plane, where a small conversation involving the words "cell phone" "terrorist" and "bomb" gets Peter shot by an air marshal (with a rubber bullet) and both of them kicked off the plane and put on the no-fly list.  As all of Peter's luggage is on the aircraft, including his carry-on items, he has no money and no ID. He has to get to L.A. Re-enter Ethan in a rented car, offering to take Peter to L.A. as he's headed the same way.  Interstate hijinks occur. Can Peter make it back to L.A. in time? Can he survive the trip?

Yes - sounds like this could unfold in a manner very similar to the classic Planes, Trains and Automobiles (PTA).  Two strangers, stuck in the same car, trying to get home by a certain date (Thanksgiving in PTA's case).  Crazy stuff happens along the way.

Except the stuff that happens in Due Date is weirder, darker, more disgusting in some cases, sometimes more outlandish and unreal.  Not quite the feel-good comedy classic that is Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Here's the thing. Galifianakis can pull off the man-child with no social skills and no filters character quite well. A lot of his more recent film characters have been that guy. I have no complaints about Galifianakis being good at that type of character, even his stand-up is kindof that way. Downey Jr does that Downey Jr thing he can do - he is a very good actor and has great comedic sensibilities, even when he's playing the neurotic straight-man.  Basically both guys do quite well in their roles as given to them.

But in the end the film just felt like someone reworked the PTA script and threw stuff in there to one-up the original script - make the straight man (Downey) more high-strung, make the chubby guy (Galifianakis) live in a wholly different weird universe, then hit the same PTA beats: get in a vehicle, driver falls asleep and car crash, a friend picks 'em up in a pickup truck, lots of yelling back and forth, do some other crazy shit, involve a dead relative, add the ta-da at the end.

Due Date has its moments that can bring on a chuckle or guffaw, some might make you turn your head and go 'ewww' while you laugh a little at the absurdity and wrongness, but it just doesn't work as a whole in the end. Not like Planes, Tranes and Automobiles. In PTA you come to care about the characters, it's silly and funny, everyone has Thanksgiving dinner. In Due Date you don't really give a crap about either character because neither has endearing qualities. Plus it brings up plot points to only dismiss them too easily or completely ignore their resolution, some leaving gaping holes.  Kindof sloppy in ways.

It's amusing at times, it was filmed well, acted well for what they're given to do. But as a whole the film is soulless despite the efforts of its cast. It can't avoid being compared with Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and just looks bad in comparison.  And I don't even have to re-watch PTA to understand that.

So what went so wrong in this film? I dunno - but I don't think it was the cast. Surprisingly it was directed by Todd Phillips, the same guy that directed Road Trip, Starsky & Hutch, School for Scoundrels, The Hangover (I and II), Old School, and even helped write some of those scripts as well. This film did have four credited writers. Sometimes that's a warning flag - original story gets new writer to punch it up, someone hates the rewrites and brings a different guy on, director signs on and makes more screenplay changes, nothing resembles the original film idea. Maybe it got punted around so much that someone just said, "make the freakin thing now while we have all these folks signed on then try to polish up that turd." I got no clue. It just doesn't work well, especially when compared with similarly themed films that worked so much better.

14 July 2011

Movies: Never Let Me Go

Never Let Me Go (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1334260/

British Drama / Romance plus Science Fiction.  IMDB doesn't classify it as science fiction, but it is. It's emotionally dark and understated science fiction is what it is. Problem is I can't really say much about the film without spoiling it, and part of the impact of the film hinges specifically on not being spoiled before watching it. If you plan to watch this I would recommend not reading IMDB quotes from the film (has spoilers), and avoid the random reviews/comments on the film.

Stars Keira Knightly as Ruth, Carey Mulligan as Kathy (she was in Pride & Prejudice with Keira), Andrew Garfield as Tommy (Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, Social Network, gonna be the next Peter Parker, etc).

In a nutshell, we meet Kathy. She's a care giver, and she reminisces about her life growing up. She was raised in a special school, much like being raised in an orphanage. The children are all taught, grow, learn, create, play and live together in the school while confined to its immediate grounds. Kathy is a quiet and supportive type. Tommy is a boy that's sometimes emotionally explosive and struggles a bit in art class, the other kids know it, so they pick on him. Kathy takes a liking to him and helps keep him grounded.  Ruth is Kathy's friend but inserts herself between Tommy and Kathy, effectively stealing his affections away from Kathy.  Even after they leave the school as young adults their lives intertwine for a bit as they find their places in the world.

Yes - all that is the start of the emotional romance drama stuff, love-triangly. I left out the under-under story bits that shape and affect their actions, their decisions, their lives.

Overall I liked the film. Great story. Filmed and edited well too. Acted well by the cast. The actors got you to care about their characters and what they experience. I can't think of anything that seemed like a weakness in the film. But I can imagine it isn't exactly everyone's 'cup of tea'. It is deliberately paced, and it's possible that it might feel slow to some moviegoers. I didn't mind the pace, there was enough interesting going on to keep my attention without feeling bored.

For a science fiction film there's no robots or explosions or laser fights, none of that. This is the best kind, where the science fiction is 'just' a part of the world, not a character of the story. What makes the film powerful is how the people in the world live in, and accept, the world they inhabit. It's sad, it's dark, and when you really think it through it is almost terrifying.  But it's subtle enough some folks will miss the significance if they aren't paying attention. There's probably a few folks that watched the film going "the hell - this is a chick flick" and completely miss the real story.

I have in mind a "movie continuum" and where this would fit among similarly themed films. Similar in theme, but not exactly rehashes of a tired cliche. Sort of a "Movie A is here, Movie B is here, and Never Let Me Go fits here along that continuum. But I can't name films A nor B because [spoilers]. So I just wasted your time with that thought.

I guess I can say this - if there's no way in hell you can sit through a romance drama styled film you probably can't sit through this one. I sat through it long enough to pick up on the underlying sci-fi story and stayed because it intrigued me.  And the end of the film made my wife cry. So, yeah, I liked it. Good film.  I haven't decided yet if it's re-watch-able or re-watch-worthy, but I suspect I probably will watch this one again if the opportunity presents itself.


I'm not saying I considered the film was good because it made my wife cry. I'm not an ogre. I don't take delight in watching her develop emotional connections to films that reduce her to tears. What I'm saying is I can understand how it made her cry and suppose that if I actually did have a heart it's possible it could have got to me.

11 July 2011

Movies: Meskada

Meskada (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1461249/

Crime drama. Stars Nick Stahl, Norman Reedus (Boondock Saints), Rachel Nichols, others.

The story revolves around the investigation concerning a child killed during a burglary in Hilliard township in Mesakada county that leads to a smaller, poorer township of Caswell.  Hilliard detective Noah Cordin (Stahl) grew up in Caswell and tries to use his old friendships as a means of investigating there as well. As the murdered child was the son of a county board member she uses her influence to begin blocking industry from buying a 5-years abandoned plant in Caswell. The new industry would provide 400-500 much needed jobs to the economically hard-hit Caswell.  Small town loyalties and rivalries begin interfering in the investigation.

I do take umbrage at film summaries that say the kid was 'accidentally killed' during the robbery. There is no 'accidentally' when the child surprises you while you're robbing the place and you whack 'em in the head with a pry bar. That's not a spoiler. The film isn't a mystery.

I saw this film primarily because I saw the trailer, thought it might be interesting, and saw it starred Nick Stahl. After seeing him in HBO's Carnivale and films like Sin City and Bully I keep an eye out for anything he's in. Yeah - Terminator 3 isn't the brightest spot on his resume, rather miscast IMO.
The film had good to great performances from its primary and supporting casts.

However, the film is deliberately paced, as in plodding. Slowly. Plus there's a few plot issues that aren't entirely resolved. Sure that works in some films, but this film wasn't quite good enough to get away with that. The characters, conversations, events and overall story just weren't quite compelling enough to make up for it. So, good as the performances and technicalities of filming went, the overall film feels slow and flat.

Yes I enjoyed the film on some level, but not enough to be recommending it to anyone. A shame, too, because the cast did so well with what they had to work with.

09 July 2011

Movies: The Informant!

The Informant! (2009) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1130080/

Drama based on a true story. Also a bit of a comedy, but a comedy that occurs naturally due to actions of folks and circumstance.

Mark Whitacre, a vice-president at agri-business giant Archer-Daniels-Midland (ADM) is in charge of a project where the bacteria that are supposed to be producing lysine are under performing. He reports to his superiors that he's been in contact with a Japanese competitor who informed him their lysine project is being sabotaged by a mole in the company, and for $10million he will tell them the name of the saboteur and give them a bacteria resistant to the virus that's causing the problems. ADM security calls in the FBI, who question Whitacre. During the meeting Whitacre leaks he knows that ADM has been meeting with competitors to illegally collude and fix prices in the market so that everyone can profit.  Whitacre becomes an informant for the FBI to collect evidence of the price fixing.

Stars Matt Damon as Whitacre, Scott Bacula as one of the FBI agents, and a whole bunch of recognizable comic actors in supporting roles and bit parts including Joel McHale and Patton Oswalt. Why so many comedic actors? Probably because they can deliver dramatic performances that are naturally nuanced by their comedic sensibilities without obviously leaning in and winking at the audience. And this story is rife with such natural comedy it plays straight to their performance strengths.  Great to good performances from all.

A couple years ago I watched a documentary about this very story. I initially avoided watching the film because I saw the documentary, but then I finally gave it a go. The film touched on pretty much all the details the documentary touched upon, it may have even included a few things the documentary didn't have. And yes- the true story is about as naturally funny as the film The Informant! seems to make it because of Whiteacre's actions and motivations. Overall I enjoyed the film. They did well with the material. They made no effort to make it funny, they let the story tell itself.

Same old same old drama based on a true story disclaimer that "if you're not into the dramas based on true stories blah blah blah" and "if you like 'em, you'll probably like this one".
I liked it, but I already knew the story.  Not especially a must-see film, but not a waste of time either. Worth watching if you're into films involving corporate shenanigans.

08 July 2011

Movies: Rubber

Rubber (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1612774/

Indie Comedy / Horror. A sort of revenge horror flick, I suppose.

Robert is a tire laying in a junk pile in the middle of the desert. Robert picks himself up and, after a few wobbly attempts, finally starts rolling along on his own. He encounters a plastic water bottle and tentatively rolls over it. It makes a nice crackly sound as he crushes it. He encounters a scorpion, rolls over it, nice crackly sound. He encounters a beer bottle. No nice crackly sound. Robert gets angry, shakes, and the bottle shatters. Robert encounters a rabbit, shakes, rabbit explodes. Robert discovered he has psychic powers of destruction. He sees a pretty young brunette drive past him in her car, he stops her car. He seems enamored with her. As he's rolling up to the car a man driving a truck hits him, releasing his hold. She continues on into town. Robert recovers, follows the road into town, and explodes the truck driver's head.

Yes - the film is about a rubber tire that has psychic powers and goes on a rampage exploding the heads of people that anger him. But that isn't all. There are spectators. Spectators in the middle of the desert with binoculars and watching the film unfold. Those spectators represent us, the viewers. In actuality - during the opening sequence one of the characters pretty much breaks the fourth wall and makes a long speech telling us, the viewer, exactly what sort of film we will be watching. We are returned to the spectators from time to time during the film to remind us of that.  By constantly breaking the wall between the spectators and what they are watching they continue to include the viewing audience as a participant. There's even times when I, as a viewer, was about to gripe about something, then the film cut to the spectators and they voiced it. Which tells me the film maker knew exactly what he was doing to his audience.

A mix of bad to okay acting, a mix of a few lesser-known actors you may have seen in other films and complete unknowns. The rolling tire effects are actually accomplished well. Technically the film is put together well, especially considering the budget and equipment used.

It is a low-budget revenge horror film that is an amusing commentary on low-budget revenge horror films and, to a lesser extent, a commentary on the people that watch them. There can't be any surprises because they explicitly tell you up front exactly what the movie is, then they do it. Heck - just watch the trailer. That's a good summary of the film. In the full feature a little more exposition that takes place, and it has more scenes and you see the spectators, but the whole of the movie is basically more of what you see in the trailer.

But it does have its charm, when you view it with the right frame of mind. I did like it in some fashion, it has its amusing moments, but I would never be one to claim it's a brilliant must-see film.  It's still better than Mega Python vs. Gatoroid.  The longer I reflect on the film, the more I like it. It's a grower. Weird.

I mean, come on, it's a tire. With psychic powers. It kills people. What level of entertainment expectation can you have with a premise like that? Just enough for me, apparently.

07 July 2011

Movies: Cyrus

Cyrus (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1336617/

Drama / Romance / Comedy

John has been divorced and living on his own for seven years now and never really moved beyond that 'just divorced' state. His ex tells him she's going to get married, which he is okay with for the most part. She convinces him to go to a party with her and her fiance. At the party he starts and fails at conversations with single ladies in attendance. Miserably fails, attempt after attempt. Except (gasp) one gal (Molly) happened to catch him peeing in the bushes. She tells him she overheard one of his attempts at conversation, then ends up going home with him.
After a couple more trysts John notices Molly keeps leaving in the middle of the night while he's sleeping, so he follows her home to try to figure out what's going on. While snooping around her back-yard he encounters Cyrus, Molly's 21-year old son that still lives at home. Turns out she's been a single mother Cyrus's whole life. She home-schooled him, he still lives at home, they have a daily life routine, and John has upset the balance. Cyrus seems to be taking his mother's budding relationship well, but after a couple of odd things John realizes Cyrus is actively, but stealthily, attempting to prevent the developing relationship between Molly and John.

Yep - that same old "child throws stick in the relationship spokes" story. The big difference being that the child is a full grown adult-child still living at home with mom.  Cyrus talks adult, but his actions speak otherwise.

Stars John C Reilly as John, Marisa Tomei as Molly, Jonah Hill as Cyrus. Plus Catherine Keener as John's ex-wife Jamie.  A good solid cast of comedic actors playing in an almost straight-up drama, and they all do well in their roles. Yep - the comedy in this film isn't played up, it just happens as a result of events and interactions. This isn't joke delivery time, nor slapstick time. Don't expect the John C. Reilly you usually see in comedies, don't expect to see the Jonah Hill you see in comedies. They play the parts serious. This isn't comedy of exaggerated absurdities like you'd see in The Hangover, it's comedy of subtleties. 

Filmed in a style called "mumblecore" - complete with handheld camera throughout, oddly timed cuts, angst. In reality it is low-budget production style and values with a sizable budget and established actors at their disposal. I have to say the hand-held tight camera shots got annoying and tedious quickly. I realize that's part of the 'charm' of the indie-low-budget-talkie dramas that are mumblecore, but it quickly annoyed me. I have no clue how much of the dialog was improvised, in keeping with mumblecore tradition, some stuff seemed more scripted than others. Not bashing on the cast, they did well.

In some ways I did like the film, in others I wasn't impressed with the film. I wasn't even expecting a comedy of exaggerations as one might expect in a cast with Reilly and Hill. The film was okay,  it had its amusing moments, but I would not have missed out on anything had I not watched it. I'm glad I waited until it hit Cinemax or whatever it was on to watch it instead of Netflixing the film. Saved me some mailbox turnaround time for a different film I might have enjoyed better. Although that isn't always the case (I'm looking at you, The Resident. Shame on you)

05 July 2011

Movies: Conviction

Conviction (2010) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1244754/

Biographical Drama based on true events

After Kenny was wrongfully convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison, and after they had exhausted his appeals, Betty Anne puts herself through law school to get her brother released from prison.

Stars Hillary Swank as Betty Anne Waters, Sam Rockwell as her brother Kenny Waters. Also has Minnie Driver and Juliette Lewis.

Overall a good film and compelling story. The story is interspersed with flashbacks to Kenny and Betty Anne as children. The flashbacks try to impress how close of a relationship the two have, to explain what compels Betty Anne to sacrifice everything to get through law school to find some way to exonerate her brother.
Some of the early part of the film seems a little disjointed because of the cuts to flashback and back, but that smooths out as the film progresses and quickly becomes apparent that knowledge is necessary to emphasize the brother/sister relationship.
Some of the other character relationships aren't nearly as established/fleshed out, so some aspects are a little less convincing. But the story isn't really driven by the periphery, so I suppose that's why those parts suffer a little.

It is a good movie and a great story. They do fail to reveal one detail about Kenny, his death. Which is a shame. They could've put that in with the summary titles at the end. I suppose they wanted the film to end on a positive note.

Rockwell's performance is top notch as always, though his time on screen is considerably less due to incarceration. Outstanding 'aging' of his character from pre-arrest to 20 years in prison.  Swank just didn't seem to show aging near as much - she looked pretty much the same at the start through to the finish.  Juliette Lewis, as small as her part was, was amazing as well. Especially her transformation from her appearance in court to her 18-years later self.

And, as always with films based on true stories that aren't straight-up documentaries, there are some composite characters, some fictional conversations, some scenes, some time-shifting of events to make a story that's a little more coherent on film.

If you aren't much into the biographical drama sorts of films this one doesn't do anything that will change your mind about that genre. Whereas if you do like those types of films, or enjoy true life crime/law films this is a good one to watch. Good, not spectacular, and not a waste of time.

02 July 2011

Movies: The Resident

The Resident (2011) http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1334102/

Billed as a Horror/Thriller. They forgot a few key words in that billing.

The film is about a young doctor that gets a new apartment after breaking up with her boyfriend. She gets an incredibly priced deal for a huge apartment in a building that's seemingly occupied only by a friendly handsome landlord and his grandfather.  At night she hears strange noises, we get camera angles that are indicative of someone spying through mirrors and peepholes.

Stars Hilary Swank as the doctor, you'll probably remember her from many films in the past few years. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is the landlord, you'll probably remember him as the Comedian in The Watchmen. Christopher Lee as the grandfather, he's been around forever and you've seen him in plenty of things. Lee Pace is the ex-boyfriend. Who? If you watched the short-lived Pushing Daisies he was Ned the piemaker. Glad to see he's getting more work. He isn't around much in the film to really judge how he's doing is his non-pie-making role. But I really liked Pushing Daisies.

Now, one would think that a strong core cast like that would be a good solid base for a film.
But take this into consideration: It went straight to video.
Yeah. I know! A good core cast and it goes straight to video?
Unfortunately for me I didn't know that tidbit of information until after I watched it.  Lucky for you, you are reading this now.

If you have ever seen any film that involves someone hiding in a house/crawlspace peeping in on someone, obsessing about them, stalking them, getting all weird and crap, you have pretty much already seen this movie.  There will be no surprises.

Now - the cast does fine in their roles. The movie is technically filmed well, edited okay for the most part. There was one reference to something that supposedly happened that I missed, so either the scene was edited out or my brain had already fallen asleep from boredom and missed it.  No - I didn't fall asleep. My eyes were open the whole time. But I did say boredom. Nothing new at all in the plot. It is so much like many of its similarly themed predecessors. I admit I did watch the whole thing, sort of out of curiosity and hope that there would be something redeeming about the film. Nope.

Tell you what - if you have never seen a film that involves obsessive stalker creeping into a tenant's apartment, or someone's house, or whatnot. Go ahead, watch it. You'll get to see all of the obsessive creeping in residence stalker films ever made all rolled up into one film.

Oh yeah - the key words missing from the film type of "Horror/Thriller"?
Boring. Recycled. Tired. Premise.

 I hate getting so negative, especially when I like the cast. But jeez.

Just so this isn't a total loss, give Pushing Daisies a look-see. It's funny, it's quirky, and the cast really makes the show.  It's like a pop-up story book on TV. It lasted 2 seasons, well, actually half and a one. The writer's strike kinda killed it mid first season. ABC put it into scheduling hell after that and it never really recovered.
In addition to Lee Pace it stars Anna Friel, Kristen Chenoweth and Chi McBride. Plus it has Swoozie Kurtz - and she is awesome. The guest-stars in various episodes help make the series too.
** ah shoot - it used to be streaming on Netflix, but it isn't any longer. The DVDs are still available. It's a shame, though, I wanted me some instant PD.