Posted on 11/29/09 10:34 AM
I?ve never read a single novel from Cormac McCarthy, but since viewing the literary adaptation of ?No Country for Old Men? in 2007 and now this year?s ?The Road,? I?m seriously considering to venture into this author?s work during winter break. ?The Road,? deemed unadaptable by many scholars and critics, is not your typical post apocalyptic movie. Try to get the images of ?Escape from New York? and ?The Road Warrior? out of your mind. This is a grim, dark, and depressing exercise into the end-of-the-world genre that has recently crowded the film world with the likes of ?2012? and ?I Am Legend.? Many who have viewed the movie with the literary source in mind have criticized the John Hillcoat adaptation merely because it fails to conjure up the same emotions the source material was able to materialize with your own imagination. Fortunately, since I?ve never read this book I have the privilege to see ?The Road? with an unbiased eye, judging the movie based upon its own merits rather than constantly making unfair parallels to its literary companion. With a very small cast, mostly consisting of Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, and Charlize Theron, ?The Road? is a relentless look into the fall of humanity, a nightmare of a picture although hard to watch is compelling and intriguing with major help from the on-screen chemistry between Mortenson and Smit-McPhee.
?The Road? is set in a post-apocalyptic future where an unnamed father (Mortenson) and son (Smit-McPhee) are trying to survive on little food and a gun with two bullets in it. Forget the clips you saw in ?2012? because ?The Road? is not concerned with CGI and special effects. This is a film grounded in reality, suggesting what the world would be like if it really were to end. The father teaches his son how to properly kill himself if the time is appropriate. The sky fails to show any sunlight of any kind, remaining dark grayish for nearly the entire production. The only time we get sunlight is when director Hillcoat flashes us back to when the family was together, father, son, and mother, played by Charlize Theron. ?The Road? may feel like it slogs along with a deliberate pace, but these flashbacks keep things interesting and eventful. Most are told through the father?s dreams. They are brilliantly shot and comfortably transitioned to. The problems the two survivors have to face is finding food, water, shelter, and avoiding cannibals. Yes, there are cannibals in the movie, and it is not a surprised to see humanity killing itself, falling down to the confounds of darkness like the tall trees falling in the woods while father and son endlessly escape death time and time again.
The trailers to this highly anticipated adaptation have sort of been a little misleading. Although vague, because I only watched it once or twice back when it was set to be released last year, I remember thinking this was depicted as an action picture in vein of post-apocalyptic action movies like ?Mad Max? or the recent homage ?Doomsday.? ?The Road? is really nothing like this at all. But it does have moments of suspense and thrills. Run-in?s with strangers who will do anything for a bite in a house, paranoia when the father thinks people are following them after finding a safe haven underground, and a beginning moment where father has no choice but to gamble on his son?s life after the latter merely being captured by a gang member inhabit the on-goings in this human natured based experience.
Charlize Theoron does a lot with little screen time in her role told through flashbacks. She represents a loss of hope; her fate is never a mystery, just a dark reminder to the father that the current world he lives in is filled with despairing emotions, fearful atmospheric tones, and discouraging promises. Part of her decision to depart is solely based on her decision to rear her child in a world this grim and morbid. Even though her death direction is hard to relate to, you can understand why she does the things she does. Her last scene is unbearably emotional, and this is a testament to both the acting and direction. Although a characterization is never built for the Theron character, she plays as a dream to the audience, one that is haunting the father eternally in his cognition. Tossing his last picture of her away does little in helping him forget about his dearly departed life partner. The father?s son claims he wants to remember his mother, and in a heart breaking proclamation, the father states, ?it?s time we start forgetting about her?the both of us.?
Although dividing audiences with its grim perspective, ?The Road? has been universally praised for its look and acting. Viggo Mortenson is superb once again as the unnamed father. His only objectives are to head south and maintain the life of his very young son. Loss, depression, anger, and frustration is all garnered through Mortenson?s performance. Even though he will likely fail in getting an Oscar here, his road to the holy grail is inevitably growing shorter and shorter. New comer Smit-McPhee is outstanding as the son, a child who has been born into this depressing world. A scene depicting his first encounter with a soft drink is both poignant and sad. Although you would expect him to gobble down the drink, the son passionately insists on his father taking a sip, and these kinds of moments make ?The Road? bearable. The on-screen chemistry between Mortenson and Smit-McPhee is at the epicenter of a world where all seems to be lost. The father?s undying will to live, and the son?s brave innocence keeps the audience involved and intrigued. It is a bleak, but altogether authentic post-apocalyptic experience.
The cast may mainly consist of Mortenson and Smit-McPhee but cameos by Robert Duval and Guy Pierce are also a welcome addition here. In particular, the performance by Robert Duval is extremely depressing and haunting, and it is all the more impressive based on the little screen time he shares with the audience. One of the admirable elements in ?The Road? is Hillcoat?s direction. Every moment where you are beginning to get relaxed, something dramatic occurs. The pacing is deliberate but there are moments like the encounter with Duval?s character that keep the narrative both entertaining and involved. Moreover, the set pieces and overall look of the film is devastating and solidly sold to viewers. Rotted away buildings, slanted power line polls, a bleak sky, little sunlight, lack of hygiene regarding the two leads, cold and isolated landscape, broken down cars laying in the middle of the roads, and abandoned houses makes ?The Road? feel all the more authentic and real.
However, some audiences may grow inpatient with the pacing exhibited by Hillcoat. His Australian western ?The Proposition? I have not seen, but is known for having pace issues. For me, this did little in tainting my experience. Viewers looking for explosions and gut wrenching CGI sequences will probably be disappointed by where Hillcoat takes us. ?The Road? is really not about plot, leaving the cause of this apocalypse marred in ambiguity, but focused heavily on the character of human nature. It begs to question what one would do in a situation like this. The son asks his father if they would ever eat a person if they were starving. The father simply answers no. And when the son doubles back with ?even if we were really starving?? The father states ?we?re starving now.? In a rather poetic sequence, the son may, or may not have seen another child lurking around a house where the father grew up. While the father was in the house, the son runs away to try and meet with this kid. The father does not believe anyone was there. Just like the cause of this apocalyptic occurrence, director Hillcoat leaves it in ambiguity. Isolation never felt more terrifying than exemplified here.
Ultimately, one would expect the novel to be better than the movie adaptation. But when was the last time the movie triumphed over the source material? The only instance I could think of is the Gregory Peck vehicle ?To Kill a Mocking Bird,? but even that proclamation could be argued and debated upon. When you review a movie one has to detach themselves from the book if they had read it before watching the adaptation counterpart. Likewise with my experience with Zack Snyder?s adaptation of ?Watchmen? earlier this year, I was able to view ?The Road? with little distraction and solely focused on the movie that was presented to me. Director Hillcoat, alongside screenwriter Joe Penhall brings you into a stark universe filled with nightmare and despair. The foreshadowed conclusion is extremely poignant and poetic, but a lack-of-hope lingers in the back of your mind given the exhausting experience your driven to witness. ?The Road? is not a movie I?m willing to watch again for quite some time, but delivers the emotional punch I was hoping for when first hearing about its acclaimed source material.
Posted on 11/28/09 09:38 AM
Fast cars, hot girls, and pure exploitation B-movie fun. That pretty much sums up why I enjoyed Rob Cohen?s 2001 hit ?The Fast and the Furious.? The latter made stars like Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, and Michelle Rodriquez household names and the chance at stardom. The sequel, titled ?2 Fast 2 Furious? is pure garbage entertainment. The flat one-liners that are suppose to be funny, the ridiculous chase sequences in substitution for simple drag racing, and the absence of basically every major component to the first movie, with the exception of Walker, hurt the second installment considerably. ?Tokyo Drift? was the first film to take the street racing world out of the country. Does it work? Not really. But it is a step up from its predecessor and features a fun little cameo from Diesel at the end. Justin Lin is now back to direct the franchise?s fourth installment titled, ?Fast & Furious.? As a fan of the original, and with the cast returning, you can say that I was more pumped for this entry than the regular movie-goer would be. Perhaps nostalgia has a lot to do with my love for ?The Fast and the Furious,? because ?Fast & Furious? is just as boring as its lame title suggests.
It?s been five years since Officer Brian O?Connor (Walker) rolled with the Torretto?s (Diesal) street racing gang. The opening sequence is similar to what unfolded in the original. Dom, with the help of some friends (Han from ?Tokyo Drift? for starters) and the supposed love of his life Letty, are seen hijacking fuel tanks in the Dominican Republic. After the heist goes terribly wrong, Dom feels compelled to leave after Han informs him of his departure to Tokyo. He fleas to Panama. His sister Mia (Brewster) suddenly calls her brother Dom and tells him that Letty has been killed. Trying to pull off his best Punisher impression, Dom goes to the states, as a wanted man, in search for Letty?s murderer. Meanwhile, Officer O?Connor (Walker) has been reinstated in law enforcement and now works for the FBI. He is assigned to track down Arturo Braga, the same drug lord whose responsible for Letty?s death. Receiving the same information in tracking down David Park, Dom and Brian finally meet for the first time in five years. They eventually form a shaky alliance to go undercover and capture the wanted Braga.
The story presented plays a lot like ?2 Fast 2 Furious,? but instead of embracing a ?buddy cop? mentality, Lin instead focuses on the wittered relationship between Dom and Brian. Of course there is a lot to be desired in terms of character and plot, but lets move on to what people really want out of these things; the action and entertainment. The opening sequence is the best of the bunch?well it is the only good action set-piece in the entire film. You can tell Lin put a lot into this scene, filling the atmosphere with fiery kinetic energy while showcasing a fun and action packed finale to end the hiest. The first and only race between Dom and Brian is mediocre, and probably way too complex for its own good. In the first film, director Cohen embraced simplicity and was better for it. Something about four cars simply racing in a straight line, while expertly shot intrigues me more so than a twisty, chaotic, ridiculous race. It would eventually come down to a quarter mile race, but the excitement that I was looking for was completely absent.
I think most of the blame relies on the poorly written script from Chris Morgan. It lacks the light fun that David Ayer was able to install in the first entry. Call me crazy, but the subplots involving Dom?s friends was part of the fun I had in 2001. In addition, ?The Fast and the Furious? focused on the cars and the drag racing that followed. You had a couple of scenes showing a variety of flashy car parts, an amusing street race, the desert filled ?Race Wars,? a fun race with a Ferrari, and an ending race that featured a pretty well-shot crash at the end. ?Fast & Furious? doesn?t really show much in terms of actual racing. It actually becomes quite boring. It seems to take itself way too seriously as a revenge picture. The climax, revolving around a chase sequence in a cave, is mediocre and underwhelming. It is nothing we haven?t seen before.
In terms of the franchise, I think this is on par with ?Tokyo Drift,? but there is more disappointment after watching this installment. With the exception of Walker, this cast is much more talented than what they have to work with here. Diesel exhibited this in ?Find Me Guilty,? Rodriguez in ?Girlfight,? and Brewster is probably better than everybody when she has a chance to be on screen. At the end of ?Fast & Furious? I questioned myself; ?Why did they have to make this?? I mean sure money is a good motivator, but studios and the assortment of people behind the film should have spread the excitement throughout the film, instead of selfishly blowing their load on the first 10 minutes. If you enjoyed the first three movie you?ll probably like this project just as much as you did the others. As for me, who only enjoyed the introduction film, this is a misfire. Since this entry has made more money than any of the other entries, a sequel is no doubt in the works. After the poor effort shown here, and striking out three times in a row, I think I?m finally ready to join the club and say this franchise is sadly out of gas.
Posted on 11/28/09 09:37 AM
With Quentin Tarantino?s ?Inglorious Basterds? to be released this coming Friday, the summer movie season is finally making its close. Has it been good? For the most part it hasn?t been, but this does not come as a surprise. I gave some summer blockbuster?s a chance. I sat down and watched ?Terminator Salvation.? After viewing it I promised myself I would not see ?Transformers 2″ or ?G.I. Joe.? ?District 9″ was appealing for many reasons. Its marketing campaign kept the film mysterious and intriguing, never giving too much away like other trailers have done this year (?The Lovely Bones?, ?Shutter Island?). Peter Jackson, the man behind the infamous ?Lord of the Rings? trilogy had his name slapped on as a producer. And finally, the film?s documentary style, shown in the compelling trailer, gave the alien project a fresh, but gritty appearance. I?ve had conversations with people who have claimed this thing to be the next coming of alien centric movie-making. Lets not jump the gun here. This is a very audacious and ambitious directorial debut for Neill Blomkamp, but ?District 9″ does not go without some minor flaws.
There is a spacecraft hovering over Johannesburg, South Africa in 1982. It has been there for three months, and nothing has come out of it. We send helicopters to investigate and find an alien race; starved, sick, and in need of great help. There ship has run into technical problems and we are the only ones, humans, who can help them. The film is told, as I aforementioned, in a documentary style. There are interviews with various people connected to the handling of the alien situation. 20 years have passed, and the company in charge of the camp where the aliens are being transported to is called MNU (Multi-National United), a company that specializes in weapons. The camp is called District 9. With the over-crowded aliens in a segregated area, the camps now resemble slums, think ?City of God? by way of ?Men in Black.? Nigerian drug lords have over run the camp, setting up a black market to make profit off this ugly looking alien race.
The film begins to reveal its central plot when focusing on Wikus, a newly promoted MNU field operative. His task is to relocate the 1.8 million aliens living in District 9 to a new area called District 10. He has backing from MNU private security forces. Wikus has clumsy and clownish behavior. He is not very careful when approaching the aliens about their evictions. At this point he seems to only care about making his father-in-law happy, the man who promoted him. Eventually Wikus finds himself in a mess of trouble. He becomes the worlds most wanted man, gaining the ability to operate alien technology, something the government and the slum lords have been looking to achieve for quite some time. Saying good-bye to his wife and the friends he leaves behind, Wikus finds his inner ?Dances With Wolves? and begins to form an unlikely friendship between an alien, or prawn if you will, by the name of Christopher Johnson.
?District 9″ dazzles with not only action, but an ingenious back story. The documentary style shown here is superb. It was a terrific way to introduce an alternate time line, further enhancing the authenticity and jarring rawness. Blomkamp captures some terrifying shots here. The aliens are disgusting to look at, resembling giant cockroaches. It is truly amazing to see these things, in millions, running around the district. It?s like watching a giant ant hill blown up for the big screen. Although Blomkamp awkwardly handles the language barrier (or lack there of) between human and alien, it is riveting to see the behavior these prawns exhibit. Some have justifiably said it is clearly unexplained why some aliens obey and act like civilized humans, and others resemble chaotic and savagery behavior. Can you ask the same question for humans? There are alien rights activists, and others who want to harvest alien DNA in order to operate there technology. The Nigerians go as far as to eat dead prawns to gain the ability to fire there advanced weapons.
The third act begins to drop some of the more intelligent aspects in its arsenal and raises the bar in terms of action sequences. Some of these shots are brilliant. Humans explode with a single fire of a weapon, and there is plenty of blood splatter to satisfy the more gore hungry crowd. The chase scenes are overlong but tense and nerve racking. Although I have not seen Michael Bay?s ?Transformers? sequel I have a hunch that many moviegoers are going to urge Bay to sit down and take notes from this first time director, whose first film here surpasses everything the veteran Bay has ever crafted.
Furthermore, I believe one of the more over-looked gems of the film is the characterization of Wikus. Blomkamp almost dares you to hate this guy in the beginning. Yes, he is funny but not in a way you would expect. If you Googled pencil pusher his image would probably be the first to pop up on the computer screen. Although he begins to form a friendship with Johnson as the film progresses, he never truly sympathizes with these prawns until the very end. He seems to be in it only for himself, and to keep this trait disguised but true-to-life was a remarkable achievement. Also, he fails to conform to the formula of overnight action heroes. Sure he blows stuff up, but he blows stuff up in the most clumsy way possible. He is a walking, talking, office working idiot. And I could not have had it any other way.
I think ?District 9″ is best remembered for its rich political allegory. It is not hard to think of the Nazi?s and the concentration camps, apartheid and the segregation in South Africa. Although its intentions are strong it is never overbearing. This is not a preachy film like ?Crash? where the message is shoved down your throat to the point of exhaustion. This is an action packed, horrifying science fiction film that comes very close to instant classic territory. Save for Wikus and Christopher Johnson, there are not many characters here that are fully developed. Watching the journey of Johnson was great, but there are approximately 1.8 million aliens inhabiting the area. I get why some aliens act differently from others on theory, but I wanted to get to know some of these prawns. When you present an interesting alien race I want to know everything about them, how they think, what there motives are, etc. We get one but I wanted more. Despite some very minor quibbles, ?District 9″ is a must see. It?s an original piece of work, something Blomkamp, a student of the producer Peter Jackson, should be proud of.
Posted on 11/28/09 09:36 AM
Recurring collaborations between actors and directors usually expresses a sign of success. DiCaprio/Scorsese, Damon/Greengrass, Depp/Burton, Washington/Scott, and Johansson/Allen are all modern day pairings in which have seen success critically, or in the box office. You can officially add Pitt/Fincher to the mix, and somewhere near the top because of their ingenious work behind the emotionally exhausting, fantasy age epic The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Both have shown what they can do outside their pairing, with Fincher?s superbly crafted Zodiac and Pitt?s wide variety of brilliant roles, ranging from the Edward Zwick epic Legends of the Fall to his most recent work in the Coen Bros. hilarious dark comedy Burn After Reading. Having previously worked together on Fight Club and Se7en, this dynamic pair has a three film win streak, and this is one of their best efforts yet.
The story is told in the year 2005, with the haunting Hurricane Katrina just nearing its target in New Orleans. An old women named Daisy (Cate Blanchett), in the hospital with little time to live asks her daughter Caroline (Julia Ormond) to open up a journal in which she hasn?t opened ever before. Caroline begins to read the story of Benjamin Button, a person who had been born under unusual circumstances. Anyone who?s seen the trailer, or is in fact alive knows the epic tale of Benjamin Button, the person who ages backwards. He?s born and abandoned to a young black women named Queenie, played warmly and solidly by Taraji P. Henson. The baby is the actual size of baby, but looks horrendous with wrinkles, etc. Queenie runs a house dedicated to the catering of the elderly, so this seemed like a perfect fit for Benjamin.
From crawling, to walking, to talking, and finally to moving out we see this odd character grow up right before our eyes. While he?s staying at the elderly house he encounters a couple of interesting people. Some are funny, sad, or lonely individuals. By far the most interesting and significant character is that in Daisy, in who Benjamin befriends. Although he appears to be much much older than Daisy, who?s the granddaughter of one of the elders in the catering house, they?re really very close in their youth. While Benjamin and Daisy are the heart of the piece, they?re only together for a brief period of time. While in his teens and twenties, Benjamin survives a WWII attack on his tugboat while Daisy pursues her dream of becoming a dancer.
The direction by Fincher is just incredibly strong, with dazzling visuals and brilliant camera work. While the script by Eric Roth is lacking when compared to Fincher?s direction, it is solid nonetheless. Roth is most famous for writing the screenplay for Forrest Gump, a film I?m not overwhelmed by like the masses that voted it best picture of the year. Unlike Gump, Button is a much more interesting character. Having spent his early years in an old age home, he has seen death time and time again. Throughout most of the picture Button seems content and just fine about his backward aging, and maybe his years with Queenie in the elderly home gave birth to that. He rarely ever crumbles under adversity, and even has confidence to engage in a tiny, but special affair with Elizabeth Abbott, a woman who?s not so much in love with Benjamin but just his peculiar case of aging.
Moving at a gradual pace, the film really starts to peak when Benjamin and Daisy decide to live together in a small duplex. Their relationship, while filled with love and romance, is burdened when Daisy claims she?s pregnant. This is the first telling signs of fatigue by Button, and while he remains in love with Daisy, he knows his daughter is going to need a father, not a playmate. The agonizing pain of nothing lasts forever is brutally depicted throughout this segment of the film. Benjamin Button feels like a life themed film, and how luck, chance, and death are inevitably apart of everybody?s days on earth. There are comedic segments between an elderly man and Benjamin in which entail the man claiming he?d been hit by lighting on numerous accounts. The symbolic representation of the clock, or it?s round shape in comparison to his biological father?s business of buttons all echo back to the films themes and motifs. Furthermore, this is a film focused on an unreal, but fascinating character and not an ordinary character living an unreal life. Maybe this is why I enjoyed this epic so much. My taste in films is not so much in plot, but in characters. Character driven films has always been my sweet tooth in film watching. Last years There Will Be Blood and Into the Wild set their places on my top ten list because they?re character studies on fascinating individuals.
There?s a lot more going on here than what I have stated in this review. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a near three hour film, and perhaps this puts a tiny wrinkle in what is an exceptional fantastical romance epic. It?s not as engaging as Fincher?s crime drama Zodiac, but to compare every film he does with the latter seems unfair and unreal. Whether it?s the complex characters, the fantastical journey, the themes on life and death, the moving music, or the top notch performances by Pitt and Blanchett, it?s almost impossible not to enjoy The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.
Posted on 11/28/09 09:35 AM
Pixar Studios can be seen as the current master in animation. ?Finding Nemo,? ?WALL-E,? and the ?Toy Story? films are all on the masterpiece level regarding animation film making. However, not too long ago there was a film titled, ?Nightmare Before Christmas,? a dark, sprawling musical dealing with a creepy Halloween-world filled with dark, unique, and quirky characters. Although computer animation is great and all, I really miss stop-motion animation. ?Coraline? is directed by Henry Selick, the helmer of the aforementioned ?Nightmare Before Christmas? and the stellar ?James and the Giant Peach,? an adaption that finely blends stop-motion with live action imagery. It?s easy to go into ?Coraline? expecting the next ?Nightmare Before Christmas.? However, people tend to forget what made Tim Burton?s classic a true creepy gem. It wasn?t so much the narrative that drove ?Nightmare? towards the scary side of things, but the imagery and odd-looking characters embedded in the work. ?Coraline? is not only a visual fiesta, but also manages to craft a dark and ominous story wrapped around strange characters and a talented voice cast.
Dakota Fanning is the voice behind Coraline, a ten year old girl who has just moved into a new apartment with her parents, voiced by Teri Hatcher and John Hodgman. The first 15 minutes or so reveals Coraline as a wandering and bored child. She tries to strike conversations with her parents, but they?re too busy working on the garden catalog. Coraline barely befriends Wybie, an annoying, curly haired boy who lives in the same pink Victorian where her apartment resides. He is surprised his grandmother rented to the Joneses, but nevertheless proceeds to give a doll to Coraline; it pays a striking resemblance to Coraline and has buttons for eyes. Furthermore, while wandering throughout her new apartment, Coraline discovers a small door, though on the other side of it there only appears to be a brick wall. However, when night comes Coraline follows a small mouse into the same small door, but this time revealing a spirally tunnel to a strange and dream-like world. Comparisons to ?The Wizard of Oz,? ?Spirited Away,? and ?Pan?s Labyrinth? will probably materialize in most viewers? heads after viewing this upside down paradise.
Why is it a paradise? Well, Coraline?s parents, though having buttons for eyes, pay extremely close attention to her, catering to her every need. Her new friend Wybie is reformed to a quiet mute, unable to speak or say anything; just the way our lead would want him. Instead of calling her other-world parents mother or father, she calls them other mother and other father. Although the first visit is a quick one, the picture endlessly revisits Coraline?s ?Oz.? Great supporting work comes in the form of Robert Downey Jr., Ian McShane, Dawn French, and Jennifer Saunders. They play Coraline?s quirky neighbors who provide amusing laughs and entertainment. As the film moves along the story begins to dramatically shift gears. Coraline?s fantastical world begins to turn into a nightmarish, anti-Utopian. This sparks ?Coraline?s? major themes; Life?s imperfections wrapped in a coming-of-age tale.
Kids who haven?t seen too many scary movies or weird looking films might be too freaked out by the direction Selick takes. At first the world is a beautiful looking piece of paradise. Flowers grow everywhere, birthday cakes come to life, etc. Selick takes this beautiful world and completely turns it onto itself. The more intelligent viewers, adults, will probably not be surprised to see Coraline?s fantasy turn to nightmare. Others, however, might be too scared to grasp the concept Selick adapts from Gainman?s classic novel. I think one of film?s most chilling scenes revolves around the turning point; Other mother asks Coraline to become permanently attached to this other-world, and tells her to replace her eyes for buttons. I don?t think you?ll find this type of scenario in a Disney film like ?The Little Mermaid? or ?The Fox and the Hound.?
?Coraline? does suffer a bit in its last act. Visually it is sublime, containing one of the more brilliantly crafted animation sequences in years, as we see Coraline?s ?Oz? slowly shatter, then recreate itself like a dream would do. Perhaps the story goes on for ten minutes too long. Coraline has to complete three tasks, and this sort of thing had the look and feel of a low-priced, kiddy video game you pick up at Target for 19.99. Nevertheless, ?Coraline? is a visual gem with a stellar cast of characters to support its satisfying story. The stop-motion animation style is a breath of fresh air and the dark and ominous look and tone is perfectly captured by brilliant filmmaker Henry Selick. ?Coraline? is such a delight it may even give Pixar a run for its money come Oscar time.
Posted on 11/28/09 09:35 AM
As an aspiring school teacher one of the many issues I may have to deal with down the road is school bullies. ?Carrie,? based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, is a horror film that deals with the social problems of Carrie Wright, a girl who seems to be going through hell. In a haunting first scene, Carrie experiences her unexpected first period in a gym shower. To say the other girls tease her would undersell the horrifying sequence that follows. Despite a teacher?s sympathetic brush, Carrie is still troubled at home. Her mother is a twisted, psychotic religious freak who abuses her. She brought her daughter up in isolation, and perhaps this gave birth to the supernatural powers Carrie seems to possess. She can move objects with her mind. But this is not to be mistaken as a gift like in the delightful family film ?Matilda.? In ?Carrie,? this gift is used in ways that are unquestionably evil- although provoked to such where the evil has no choice but to spurt and express itself.
It is easy to love Carrie mainly because of its famous final act. But I am going to take different a route. Sure, the final 30 minutes are riveting, but the latter cannot be given the right for such greatness without a well developed, fully fleshed out story. ?Carrie,? despite being relatively short, takes its time telling the story and developing its characters around the depressed Carrie. Some feel empathy for her, while others feel vengeful. Director Brian De Palma carefully builds tension with authentic characterizations. Additionally, he makes sure his cast is up for the King based script. Sissy Spacek is truly a tour de force as Carrie. Her performance is so well-rounded it?s scary. Others, like Piper Laurie as Carrie?s mother are satisfying and fire on all cylinders. The final scene, one that is just as surprising and creepy as anything you?ll find in a horror/thriller, brings the film full circle and shows the effects a tragedy will undeniably have on a community. In the world of ?Carrie,? the innocent is merely thrown in with the guilty. Don?t say I didn?t warn you.
Posted on 11/28/09 09:33 AM
Romantic films are usually not my cup of tea. The last pure romance film I truly enjoyed was David Gordon Green?s ?All the Real Girls.? Recently Nicholas Sparks adaptations have dominated the romance market, bringing the genre down a few notches in the past few years or so. The latter are formulaic Hollywood tearjerkers with no real sign of originality or ambition. Luckily, I was able to discover a gem of a film called ?Before Sunrise? via netflix. To get straight to the point; I loved this film. Richard Linklater has made terrific films in his career, with ?Dazed and Confused? near the top of the list. ?Before Sunrise? is not only his best film but instantly one of my absolute favorites of the genre.
The picture is mostly filled with a ton of intriguing and beautifully written dialogue. Two twenty somethings (Hawke and Delpy) meet on a train and strike a conversation while the destination resides in Vienna. Jesse (Hawke) manages to convince Celine (Delpy) to spend the night with him wandering around Vienna before he leaves the next day for the states. The scene that depicts the latter is possibly one of the best shot pick-up sequences in film history. Other sequences involving the two avoiding eye-contact in a music booth and a fake telephone conversation between their friends are some of the sweetest takes I?ve ever seen. Through nifty conversation and bi-curious encounters with several unique locals, we begin to learn more and more about Jesse and Celine. Furthermore, the direction steadily takes us swiftly through Vienna while simultaneously developing a love romance for the ages.
Perhaps the most over-looked aspect of this masterpiece lies in its creative ambition. This is a fairly simple love story detailing two individuals who are thrown together for one incredible night. Setting this story in Vienna gave the picture a kind of dream-like atmosphere. Although people rarely fall in love spontaneously like Jesse and Celine do, individuals dream of this occurrence eternally. What makes ?Before Sunrise? so relatable, despite its dreamy undercurrent is its intelligently written script from Linklater and Krizan. Kudos should also be forwarded to Hawke and Delpy, who share sublime chemistry on screen while interweaving natural and authentic performances. Linklater ends ?Before Sunrise? with tremendous ambiguity, and this may either make you feel hopeful, or deeply depressed. It all depends on how you connect to this romance, and whether or not you believe in spontaneous love.
Posted on 11/28/09 09:32 AM
Baz Luhrmann is a director with impeccable style and profoundness. He?s most famous for his take on ?Romeo + Juliet?, and the beautiful looking, slightly flawed musical experiment ?Moulin Rouge? which also has Nicole Kidman in the leading role. While watching ?Australia? it?s hard not to think of epic films like ?Gone with the Wind,? borrowing its epic scope on a number of things including a haunting display of racism and prejudice ideals, with this movie zoning in on the 30?s and 40?s time era. I must be forthcoming here because I was really looking forward to this, hoping it would ultimately redefine the epic genre while creating a fascinating world with interesting, upbeat characters. And for the first half of the film, I was relishing in my hopes and dreams. But around the time the Japanese invade Darwin I was tired, exhausted, and a tad disappointed. However, ?Australia? is still indeed worth the ticket price.
Nicole Kidman portrays Lady Ashley to the tee. She?s an English aristocrat who embarks on a long journey to figure out what her husband has been doing in the mysterious, yet rugged looking outback of Darwin, Australia. When she arrives she meets Drover, a sturdy man?s man who joins Lady Ashley, often called Mrs. Boss by young Nullah, played by Brandon Walters who undoubtedly deserves some sort of nomination for his perfect portrayal. If Abigail Breslin can get a nomination, why can?t Walters? We soon find out that Ashley?s husband is dead, suspected to be killed by King George, the mysterious old man always doing some sort of ritual in the mountains. A conspiracy done by Neil Fletcher, played by David Wenham is uncovered by Ashley and crew, and soon enough we are embarking on a journey in carrying a ton of cattle across the Northern Territory, in hopes to beat rival Carney Cattle Company to sell to the military stationed in portside Darwin.
The plot in the first act is a little thin but I was able to look past it. I enjoyed the upbeat, snappy tone of the dialogue and tone that?s embedded in this beautifully shot western segment. Their must have been at least one dozen references or tributes to ?The Wizard of Oz,? and rightfully so because ?Oz? was indeed a big part of the cultural world during this time era. There?s a lack of grief on the behalf of Lady Ashley in regards to her dead husband. Again, I was willing to look past this because Luhrmann designs a film that knows what it is, and knows what not to do. It seemed as if Luhrmann knew all the cliches and traditions of an old epic, and that?s why ?Australia? was likable and over-the-top with the quirkiness surrounding its characters actions. The stampede scene is done very effectively as we see our favorite character Nullah break the barriers of logic, something I was in quite shock over but compelled nonetheless. Furthermore the love tension between Kidman and Jackman is quite good, keeping consistent to the happy go lucky tone of the first half, despite some tragedies striking for our supporting cast that seemingly tag along during this long and dangerous epic journey.
The film?s second act, dealing with Drover and Ashley?s relationship, the fate of our young Nullah, and the Japanese invasion of Darwin is where the film starts to decline. Here?s where Luhrmann starts to abandon the originality of his cattle segment and dives deep into the epic cliche train ride. One character thinks another is dead, that character thinks the other is dead, a child in great danger with seemingly no hope, etc. I fair not to tell you how it all ends up, but I?ll let you know it?s nothing very shocking or ground breaking like I was hoping for. This act just feels lifeless, like popping a paper bag filled with air. I did not have any trouble with the long run time for ?Australia,? but this act kept pushing me to look at my watch while I tried to engross the cliche ridden segments of the haunting but perfectly shot war scenes.
Furthermore, some general errors installed in this film is it?s lack of characterization for nearly all of its characters;, with Nullah being the exception. Maybe this is why Nullah is my favorite character. We know the most about him, we care deeply about his fate, and we want to learn more about his background and culture. Lady Ashley undergoes an evolution but it doesn?t have much impact on the viewer because we really don?t know much about her. The same can be said for our hero Drover. I appreciated Luhrmann?s take on the fast paced western segments but if your going to execute fast paced sequences, you have to try and lace some development into the important scenes. He does try several times, but it?s just not enough to win me over into calling this film great.
?Australia,? despite heavy flaws with its second act and characterizations, can indeed be called a pretty good epic. It?s beautifully shot, acted to perfection, and shows a satisfying observation of racism. Is it the best picture winner we were hoping for? Not by a long shot, but it deserves to be seen by viewers who want to see multiple genres tackled in a single bound, despite a somewhat messy execution on Luhrmann?s behalf.
Posted on 11/28/09 09:31 AM
Lars von Trier has not exactly been the ideal director to find likable qualities in. He has been accused of putting stake in misogyny, and putting his cast through excruciating experiences while filming his works. He has also dubbed himself the best director of all time. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending upon your feelings toward this director?s style of filming, I have never seen any of his previous efforts. I meant to catch the Nicole Kidman vehicle ?Dogville? but with classes becoming more hectic and time consuming, my Netflix queue has not really seen much shrinkage in the past month or so. Overlooking his resume, nearly all of his films have been received with a mixed hand. For every one critic that called ?Dancer in the Dark? a musical triumph, there was another to tout it as pretentious, self-indulgent, and too experimental for its own good. Doing my own research on the particular auteur, ?Antichrist? is universally seen as a departure of sorts for von Trier. Usually his films focus on Anti-American notions and substituting set sound stages for immense movie sets. If you have read anything about ?Antichrist? you would already know the controversial buzz that has been swarming around the release regarding the explicit psychosexual content, and the shocking actions leading lady Charlotte Gainsbourg puts on herself in the films chaotically charged second half. Although ?Antichrist? may not be for some- perhaps unsuitable for most, there will be one or two in a mainstream crowd that will appreciate the artistry and craftsmanship of a work like the one exhibited by von Trier here. You can count me in the latter.
Right away von Trier lets the audience know that he will be placing you in a no-holds-bar type of atmosphere. The film is divided into six parts; a Prologue, four chapters entitled ?Grief?, ?Pain (Chaos Reigns)?, ?Despair (Gynocide)? and ?The Three Beggars?, along with an Epilogue. The Prologue is filmed in black and white, paced in slow motion sequence and scored to the beautiful aria ?Lascia ch?io pianga? from Georg Friedrich Handel?s opera ?Rinaldo.? Although some may label it self-indulgent, I found what I was watching a stunning sequence of events. While a couple is having sex with the baby monitor turned off, their child crawls out of a window and falls to his doom. Von Trier films the sex sequence in full form, showing the penetration in clear and concise fashion. Was it necessary? On some levels, it prepares the viewer for what he/she will be getting themselves into. On the other hand, it probably could have been done without, getting the full effect of the sequence without having to watch the deep sexual drive the two embark on. As for me, with or without the explicitness, the sequence is a sight to behold. Before an initial viewing of the film I thought I would be seeing a disgusting, vial, piece-of-cinematic torture porn much in the vein of ?Hostel? and ?Saw.? While the film would later wander into those territories, most of its first half is devoted to building tension and suspension, providing a beautiful gothic canvas for von Trier?s artistry work, and developing a conflict that will be eradicated and explicated through the stages of grief.
Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Dafoe play ?She? and ?He,? respectably. They are the only two cast member listed in the credits. After their child dies, She has been experiencing intense feelings of grief. It is obvious that she feels an immense amount of guilt for her child?s death. He, on the other hand, is a therapist who takes an interest in treating her himself. He knows it is unethical and probably inappropriate, but he states that ?no other therapist knows you like I would.? Through various breathing techniques and experimental emotional trial runs, Dafoe?s He tries to help his wife endlessly. He asks her where her greatest fears lie, and she claims the woods. Although at first confused, as it was her that decided to take their child to the cabin ironically titled ?Eden? with her to write her thesis last year, He figures it would be best to go to the woods and face her problems head on. They travel together to the secluded cabin, where after a little while; the film takes a drastic turn-of-events into the realms of psychodrama, misogyny, witchcraft, religious undertones, abusive behavior, patriarchy, and deep philosophical symbolism. It seems as if von Trier took all of these elements (and probably more I have not listed), put them in a blender, chaotically brushed them onto the film, and carefully glazed it over with superb acting and some of the best cinematography you will see all year (compliments to Anthony Dod Mantle who made ?Slumdog Millionaire? the great looking movie it is).
Are all of these ideas and thoughts processed well on the screen? Perhaps not, but I found it so thought-provoking, intriguing, compelling, suspenseful, interesting, ambitious, and unique that I was enthralled with this beast from start to finish. It is similar to my experience with experimental films like ?Mulholland Drive? and ?Donnie Darko.? Although the two latter masterworks are undeniably difficult to comprehend or make sense of on a first time viewing, I deeply appreciated all of the artistry and craftsmanship that went into bringing these innovative projects to life. Additionally, while von Trier works his way towards a second half filled with gore and gruesome bloodshed, he continually raises the bar on the mood and tone of the picture.
?Antichrist? is not a traditional horror film where things pop out at the screen in ridiculous and clichéd ways. This is an exercise in mood and tonal craftsmanship. The breathing and experimental emotional techniques used throughout the first half are extremely intense, and qualify for further viewing. There are two instances where He has to help She with her breathing routines. The latter is, for starters, well acted, and perhaps insinuates He?s continual progress to make She reborn in some fashion. One of the smaller conflicts tackled in ?Antichrist? is Therapist procedures vs. the natural order of human nature. Von Trier has stated that he was depressed when he wrote and directed this film, and his therapist character could be seen as a commentary on the medical practices he might have experienced or thought about while undergoing his depressed state-of-mind. But again, this is a small conflict in a film filled with many conflicts.
What many critics and audiences have responded to are the performances. This is probably the one single element nearly all viewers will agree on. William Dafoe plays an arrogant man, one who probably cares for his wife naturally but regretfully neglected their family while the child was alive. Although as great as Dafoe is, it really is Charlotte Gainsburg as She who takes the picture into new directions. I?ve read literature that claim von Trier films have always invested an emotional and tiring burden on its female cast. I can clearly see evidence to support this theory in ?Antichrist.? She?s devastatingly believable as a mother who is grieving and entirely authentic when her role is switched to display almost the complete opposite of what her character called for in the earlier segments. It?s a performance that has every right, privilege, and license to be nominated for an Academy Award, but there isn?t a thought in my mind that will defend the Academy?s ideology in choosing the safer picture over the more ambitious works.
At the risk of giving too much away, not everything appears as it seems. What looks to be a grieving couple longing over the loss of a child is soon removed from the film?s focal stress point. Devices such as the child?s autopsy report and the unfinished thesis of a year ago on misogyny are all brought to the table in von Trier?s second half. A scene that triggers the dark events to follow proclaims Dafoe?s He as having weird dreams. There is a scene involving a talking fox, three animals consisting of; a deer and its stillborn calf, a self-cannibalizing fox, and a buried black crow that refuses to die. All three are insinuated as ?The Three Beggars.? Perhaps guardians for this hell hole, in which She declares ?nature is Satan?s church,? the three animals play integral roles in the eventual downfall of the couple. Obviously done on purpose, von Trier drenches much of his second half in ambiguity. Sometimes this can be done the wrong way. For instance, David Lynch?s most recent work ?Inland Empire,? is so muddled and wrapped in its own cognitive world that we as the viewers, cannot cohesively make much of anything that was put forth onto the screen. While some may believe this philosophy can be applied to ?Antichrist? it is my fairly firm belief that this film indefinitely had a thesis behind it. What is it to be exact? Well, I?m not here to explain that, although the inner film student in me (I?m really not one, but I like to think I am) would love to share some type of interpretation to strike engagement in viewing this NC-17 film.
Contrasting in casting an interpretation of the film, I can simply tell you that if you watch this with a buddy who is into art house productions or strange movie experiences as much as you are, you will be endlessly debating the overall meaning and ideology behind the film. But reviewing a film is to answer the age old question; was it any good? This particular reviewer thoroughly enjoyed most of what he saw displayed on the screen. It poses fascinating questions regarding nature and its exchanges with religious and psychotherapeutic theories, regardless of whether he was offended or shocked by the three minutes of indefensible gore that von Trier chose to eradicate from his arsenal. To sum this up, ?Antichrist? appears to be a poetic study on a couple grieving over the loss of a child. However, explicated in its second half, the film dives into the nature of women, the battle of good vs. evil, the symbolic rebirth of man, the aforementioned conflict between Therapy and the natural order of human nature, the burdens one carries when processing grief, and the battles we face when confronted by psychological disorders. The ending is one that see?s a reverse in ideology for a certain character, and an occurrence that will probably have endless interpretations and contexts. Could I have asked for more?
Posted on 11/28/09 09:30 AM
After seeing 2008?s cinematic sleeper gem, ?Snow Angels?, my netflix queue has filled up with every film that director David Gordon Green has ever touched. I was so impressed at the way he captured those characters, and designing them in such a unique and interesting way without ever letting its somewhat cliche plot take center stage. I chose to watch ?All The Real Girls? first because it caught my eye with it?s leading lady. I love Zooey Deschanel. I?m a fan of nearly all of her work, and the second I saw her name on the cast list, this became a mandatory must see.
All the Real Girls is heavily focused on Paul (Paul Schneider), a guy who?s mostly known around the town for being a philanderer. He?s best friends with Tip (Shea Wigham), a strange character who always seems to have a chip on his shoulder when approached about Noel?s (his little sister) return from boarding school. Noel (Zooey Deschannel), a committed virgin, and Paul form an unlikely relationship that shakes the lives of these two characters with never ending issues and life lessons. The relationship between the two takes center stage in All the Real Girls, depicting a romance that has the look, feel, and issues a real relationship would have.
Likewise to ?Snow Angels?, Green has enough confidence in his characters to let them carry the film?s plot. A lot of Hollywood romance films like ?The Notebook? and ?A Walk to Remember? fail because they don?t have enough confidence in their characters to make the film feel real and authentic. They rely on a cliche plot and cheap tragedy ploys to entertain the masses. Green creates a relationship that has a sense of realism and scenes that make you cringe your teeth at its deeply honest portrayal of love. I love Green?s films because the characters are not cardboard Hollywood trash. Each character has different layers of emotion that?s perfectly captured throughout All the Real Girls.
Paul Schneider plays Paul like he?s been doing it his entire life. His character?s evolution is remarkable to see as it unfolds naturally on screen. At first glance, Paul seems like a dumb southern hick who?s looking to get inside any girls pants. Green teases us with his complex characters and multidimensional personality traits. Zooey Deschannel gives the most impressive performance in the film and her career. This is another character that undergoes a deep evolution, marking the strong and emotionally powerful effects Noel and Paul?s relationship have on it?s characters throughout the film.
This is not a film that?s focused on the events that happen in a relationship, but the effects a relationship has on it?s characters. Mid-way through something awful happens regarding the main story and Green wisely chose to stray away from the traditional heavy focus that?s always put on these events. I?m also glad he took the Paul and Tip friendship and put it in the backseat because this is another cliche that could have ruined the film. Although he could?ve made a movie based on those two plots, Green decided to let his unique characters carry the weight with amazing emotional depth and a tantalizing feel of legitimacy.
This is David Gordon Green?s second hit in my book. Although it doesn?t quite pack the punch of ?Snow Angels,? who says it has to? These are real life people dealing with real issues. It?s a love story that evolves into a coming of age drama that dives deep and deeper into the lives of these people. If you want to learn something regarding romantic relationships and what not, watch this because this is a film that smashes the elements of predictability, contrived emotions, and non-authentic characters into little pieces and stands for something original and honest.