Saturday, February 27, 2010

Review - The Hurt Locker (2008)

“There's enough bang in there to blow us all to Jesus. If I'm gonna die, I want to die comfortable.”

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty
Screenplay: Mark Boal

Plot: An elite Army bomb squad unit is stationed at Camp Victory in Iraq where everyone is a potential enemy and every object could be a deadly bomb. As days count down to the end of their rotation the introduction of SSG William James increases the risk for all those around.

It’s taken a while but finally The Hurt Locker is playing in Australia and in time for the Oscars as well. With all this in mind I can see why this movie is generating the buzz and the awards at the moment. What Kathryn Bigelow has produced is a movie with meaning and a message, yet it isn’t buried thanks to that. It’s allowed to breathe and operate like a tense action/thriller and yet if people care too then they can go deeper.

William James (Jeremy Renner) is a very interesting character and one that could be classed as the hero and the villain of the movie. He is an adrenaline junkie that can cause trouble for those around him, and yet while he seems to be an uncaring bastard there are small things that come out during the movie. What we really have is a character at odds with himself. Jeremy Renner is able to play both sides of the character perfectly and I honestly can’t think of anyone else in the role. If this character wasn’t successful then there would have been no hope for the film as William James is the soul.

The setting is a unique one as any movie set in Iraq could be very politically charged, however in a genius move the people are in the background, sure there are insurgents but they are not the only ones. On both sides there is no real need to paint one side good and bad; they are all just people in one of the worst situations you can imagine. One of the strongest ideas in this movie is that this is not a war movie, it just takes place during a war and because of that it doesn’t fall into preachy territory. This is an action thriller with the action being the highlight. Each action scene is a lesson in tension, the message comes through how people react and honestly Kathryn Bigelow and Mark Boal show us rather than tell us the important parts. It’s a lesson many directors and writers have forgotten.

Look wise this movie really does capture a country that is downtrodden by many factors. It’s beautiful in a way and suits the atmosphere of the movie. Trash is strewn down streets all of which can be hiding a bomb, there is a sense of heat that can’t be escaped, and except at some key points there seems to be no green as if it’s all burnt away. It’s an atmosphere that enhances the action scenes and like her movies before one the Bigelow uses to the most effect.

In the main character we have a message and yet you can just discard this and enjoy an awesome movie. It works on both levels and Kathryn Bigelow has really crafted a movie that is deserving of all the praise it is receiving. Go see this movie if you want to see how a great film is made.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Review - Near Dark (1987)

“Howdy. I'm gonna separate your head from your shoulders. Hope you don't mind none.”

Director: Kathryn Bigelow
Starring: Adrian Pasdar, Jenny Wright, Lance Henriksen, Bill Paxton
Screenplay: Kathryn Bigelow, Eric Red

Plot: Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar) meets Mae (Jenny Wright) one night and in short time is starting to fall for her. A kiss, leads to a bite and soon Caleb is changed and flung into Mae’s world which includes her surrogate family lead by Jesse Hooker (Lance Henriksen). Caleb will gain a taste for blood, he will learn to fear the sun, and most importantly he will live forever.

With Kathryn Bigelow up for an Oscar thanks to her movie Hurt Locker, I thought I would take a look at her take on vampires. This is considered a classic by many and is one of my favourite depictions of the vampire mythos. In this film the vampires are wanderers, constantly moving so as not to get caught and yet they have managed to create a family. It’s this family unit that for me is the most interesting part of the entire movie. These vampires are monsters, a certain bar scene that I won’t get into to much detail really emphasises the inhumanity of the group, and yet they are loyal to each other, they love each other and show traits that are all too familiar to humans.

By making the group close knit with genuine emotions we can buy that Mae loves Caleb, and it’s this love that develops between the two that drives the movie forward. Yet the love between the two is not shoved down our throats, they have scenes together but more is show rather than told. Mae holding on to Caleb in the background as other characters are doing their thing, glances, it is this subtlety that gives this love story more impact than most vampire movies that deal with this story. Not mentioning any names though.

Acting wise it’s pretty solid all around. I think big props have to go to Jenny Wright as Mae. With the other vampires I will say it was easier for them to revel in the darkness of being a vampire. Yet Mae has to come off sympathetic to the audience and yet different enough to not be considered human. This comes through in an almost fae way. Some of her earlier scenes she tries to describe the night to Caleb, just her delivery which comes off as a childish fascination is enough to lend her an otherworldly appeal. I also love Lance Henriksen as Jesse and Bill Paxton as Severen; these two basically give us the monstrous side of vampires. Lance is a bit more restrained as the father figure but can be imposing with just a glance. Paxton is just having a ball as Severen and you can’t help but smile at the chaos that is the character.

I’ve heard the visuals of this movie once described as poetry, I wouldn’t go that far but Bigelow certainly knows how to make a movie look beautiful. It’s funny to think how brutal these vampires are, how violent some of the scenes can get, and yet in the quieter scenes moments of beauty can occur. It’s all thanks to the focus Bigelow has, she knows what she wants and how to get the most out of her vision.

Also visually both night and day have a different feel and it seems to me that they are both set up to represent the species that are linked with the times. Day is shot in red and orange tones, making the most of sunset and sunrise; the day seems to thrive with heat and more importantly life. Night on the other hand keeps close to blue tones and comes across colder and more suitable for creatures without a pulse. There are also individual shots that seem to really stick with me. One of those is at the end of the movie as we have Caleb riding on a horse at night with lightning occurring. Just the atmosphere that is generated in the brief moment can bring chills to me.

Kathryn Bigelow has created a vampire movie that has both a potent love story, and vampires that are unique at least in films. There is a romantic nature to vampires but there is also a savage side and this movie shows both. If you are into vampire movies then I would highly recommend seeing this if you haven’t already. As it stands this is my go to movie when I want to watch a vampire film; to this day it still has the same hold over me as it did the first time I watched.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Special Broadcast

I just found a link and I really can't wrap my mind around it.

What we have here is a Twilight fan writing a letter of complaint about the recent Wolfman movie. I could describe the details but just click and read yourself. Damn kids and their fangled Twilight, back in my day we had Lon Chaney Jr. Well not exactly my day but you get the general gist of it.

I'm off to get a drink.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Review - Shutter Island (2010)

“Keep it together Teddy.”

Director: Martin Scorsese
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo
Screenplay: Laeta Kalogridis & Steven Knight

U.S Marshalls Teddy Daniels (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Chuck Aule (Mark Raffalo) come to Shutter Island to deal with the disappearance of a patient from the Ashecliffe Institute for the Criminally Insane. What should be a simple investigation is hampered by Dr John Cawley (Ben Kingsley) and his staff who appear to be keeping a secret. All is not as it seems.

My mind is completely blown by this movie; what could have been a somewhat run of a mill mystery is turned into something else, something grander thanks to Martin Scorsese. It all begins with the ferry trip to the island, were we are introduced to Teddy Daniels who is already off centre thanks to a severe case of sea sickness. Like Teddy small little things start happening to the film which make us question if what we are seeing is really happening. It’s hard to describe what I truly went through with this movie so I think I’ll start at the easiest place.

Acting wise Leonardo yet again shows people why he is one of the best actors around town, while being given able support thanks to Mark Ruffalo. Ben Kingsley also finally sheds the recent string of crap he has done and rises to the occasion. Sometimes the decisions of some actors make us forget how great they can be. Yet again credit has to go to Mr Scorsese; he knows exactly what he wants from his actors and the interplay between the characters is crucial to a film like this. Plot sometimes has to be told through subtleties.

Now on to the harder to define factor of this movie. The way this movie is edited, sound mixed, lighted, framed etc is tightly controlled and I swear that the movie was playing tricks with me. Some scenes the sounds didn’t seem to match what was being shown, sometimes it seemed some sounds were negated all together. Editing might be considered sloppy because cuts don’t match but it’s not, this is all part of the game Scorsese is playing. He wants to throw the viewer off, he wants them right there along with Teddy and the madness that is in the institute.

This style that Scorsese employs could be a turn off to some people. When things don’t match up people do have a tendency to just ignore, wanting to sweep it away and get to the end. I was just put on edge and developed a real empathy with the character of Teddy Daniels. The atmosphere, the cinema techniques, I was on a ride and loved every minute of it.

At the end of the day every element came together and has produced a very unique film. I plan on purchasing it on DVD so I can go back and try and find all the tricks Scorsese used. Even though people might be turned off I still have to recommend this movie. It’s damn good.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Horror Blogging

I love horror as much as the next man, woman or cthulu like beast, yet is there a place that I can find other like minded individuals? Well I wonder no more. Horror Blogger Alliance go click right now.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Review - Ace Ventura: Pet Detective (1994)

“I’ll have the plumbing checked immediately Mr Ace.” “See that you do. If I’d been drinking out of the toilet, I might’ve been killed.”

Director: Tom Shadyac
Starring: Jim Carrey, Courtney Cox, Sean Young
Screenplay: Jack Bernstein

Doing the time warp I’ve decided to go back to the movie that introduced the world to Jim Carrey. I can remember loving this movie when it first came out but then again I was thirteen. Since then I may have watched it maybe one more time in the sixteen years up to this point. So let’s see how this movie holds up?

Watching the movie again one thing becomes obvious and that is this is Jim Carrey’s show, without him I couldn’t foresee another actor brining over the necessary charisma to turn this movie from awful to good. What could have been groan inducing punch lines are actually funny thanks to the delivery of Jim. It’s amazing how much he brings to this movie yet at the same time it really highlights the problems in the movie.

Now I’ll get one thing straight off the bat, and that is I know this isn’t supposed to be high art. We are not looking at an Oscar winner but a good entertaining movie can become a classic in its own right. Now other than Carrey no other actor really stands out, and some just seem to be embarrassed to be in the movie. Plot wise it’s all set around the kidnapping of an NFL mascot, of course if you don’t like NFL or don’t even know what it is then you’re out of the game. I would say this movie really isn’t friendly for non Americans. Other than these two complaints nothing else is really a negative, but then again nothing stands out other than Carrey. Without him the movie would derail.

Honestly I’m looking at this review and I’m feeling angry at myself as I feel I haven’t talked about much. I think at the end of the day this movie will be noted as the break out of an actor who’s gone on to do so much better. Sure you might get a laugh from it but this is not a comedy classic. I own it now, I’ll watch it again, but maybe you could find something else of Carrey’s to watch.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Review - The Wolfman (2010)

“Terrible things Lawrence, you've done terrible things.”

Director: Joe Johnston
Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt & Hugo Weaving
Screenplay: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self

Last week it was vampires, this week we have werewolves thanks to the movie The Wolfman. In the story we have Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) coming back to his father’s estate after his brother is killed by what seems a wild beast. Of course it’s no beast, it’s a werewolf and thanks to a bite received from the monster Lawrence has a very hairy future ahead of him.

When I heard that Benicio Del Toro was going to do this movie it made its way to my must watch list, and it seems like most of the movies I want to watch it got hampered by reshoots and lots of other funky problems. But I kept the faith, finally watched the movie and came away feeling pretty happy. I say pretty happy as while I was entertained there were flaws that just got on my nerves.

On the positive this movie looks great; the Victorian set pieces really evoke the era. The moon plays heavily in the film and Joe Johnston always works to remind us of the ticking time bomb in the sky. Also the gloomy atmosphere is pitch perfect and reminds us of how sad the movie is, as the hero is the monster and as such there is no redemption. Mr Johnston also get a big thumbs up from me for some of the best dream sequences I’ve seen in a while. Wolfman wise he looks great and is a tribute to the universal movies of old. Rick Baker is a master of make up and I was surprised by how much practical make up was used in the movie, CGI is held off for the transformation and for the more difficult shots were the wolfman is performing beyond human limits. The CGI is not the best but any problems it may cause are quickly patched up by the practical. One last thing about the practical special effects; my god was there a lot of gore in this movie, they did not shy away from the brutality. Like the wolfman the gore was a mix of techniques but Rick Baker proved he could kick the ass of any computer. Acting wise I tip my hat to Anthony Hopkins who plays Sir John Talbot, father of Lawrence. You can really sense that he’s relishing the role and having good time.

I didn’t think I would be saying this but Benicio Del Toro wasn’t all that great in the lead role. Actually that’s not fair, the main problem is that he doesn’t seem to be given much to do, he establishes the character of Lawrence more aptly in the quieter moments but I wanted to know more, I wanted to see more of Lawrence so I could get behind the character and his horrific journey. Hugo Weaving as Detective Abberline was fine but the way he delivered lines reminded me sometimes of Agent Smith, at one point in the movie he says ‘Mr Talbot’ and for a minute I thought Benicio and Hugo were about to drop the Kung Fu moves. The major problem of the movie is it felt like two movies. I’m not sure how much the reshoots affected the end product but there just seems to be a lot of plot dropped by the way side and more action chucked in. From the point of Lawrence being bitten there seems to be a huge jump to Lawrence believing he’s cursed. There really isn’t much to connect the two points and just seems scenes were chopped to get to the point of transformation. The love story that also develops between Lawrence and Gwen (Emily Blunt) seems rushed and I had trouble believing in it.

If you like werewolf movies then you should give The Wolfman a look as it’s far from terrible, gore wise it’s not afraid to show you the brutal nature of the beast; also considering the calibre of werewolf movies of late this is a vast improvement. Entertaining? Sure. Thought provoking? Could have been. I’ll recommend this movie but only if you’re into horror, anyone else may find the movie a bit to shallow thanks to its rush to the disembowelment

Monday, February 8, 2010

Review - Black Dynamite (2009)

“Your knowledge of scientific biological transmogrification is only outmatched by your zest for kung-fu treachery!”

Director: Scott Sanders
Starring: Michael Jai White, Byron Minns, Tommy Davidson, Salli Richardson Whitfield
Screenplay: Michael Jai White, Byron Minns

Black Dynamite is one slick mutha who gets all the ladies and dishes out street justice to those who do him wrong. When he finds out that his brother is killed by drug dealers he takes it upon himself to bust a few heads to find his brothers killer. I know this sounds like a typical action movie from the blaxploitation era, but instead this is a loving tribute that at times can skewer some of the worst elements of the genre. Yes ladies and gentleman we have a parody movie and better than that it’s smart and really funny.

First things first I have to give major credit to Michael Jai White. His turn as Black Dynamite is awesome and he attacks his role with such zeal that you can’t help but love the character. It also helps that Michael Jai White is trained in martial arts and so the fights are often better than those in the movies they are parodying. But not to worry Byron Minns plays a character called Bullhorn who shows how bad the kung fu was in some of the movies; dodgy editing and all.

Scott Sanders also brings the thunder, the look of the movie just screams of movies of the era, and even though the story takes a dive into ridiculousness Scott makes sure that it’s always the focus and not the jokes which makes them even funnier as there is no pause for laughter, its just a full throttle ride. He also has a great eye for action which is very handy in this case as Michael Jai White does bring the goods and is impressive to watch. Overall direction is handled with care and love of what they are doing.

Passion just flows through this movie; at no time can you really say that someone is phoning it in. The jokes are funny and while some break the forth wall they never stop the movie, the plot glorifies the goofiness of where some of the stories go in the third act, actors really step up to amplify the clich├ęs yet never does it get annoying, basically this movie really does nothing wrong. Maybe the only negative that I can think of is if you’re not into cult cinema or blaxploitation then you will probably miss most the jokes in the movie. Still I would recommend a try as this really deserves to be held along such classic parody movies as Airplane, and Shaun of the Dead to name a few.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Review - Daybreakers (2009)

“Living in a world where vampires are the dominant species is about as safe as bare backing a 5 dollar whore.”

Director: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig
Starring: Ethan Hawke, William Dafoe, Sam Neil, Claudia Karven
Screenplay: Michael Spierig, Peter Spierig

I will try and not be biased but there are two factors that I can foresee that will taint this review a little bit and I just wanted to warn you. First off I’m a huge vampire fan and I’m sick and tired of Twilight. Vampires are not meant to glitter GOD DAMN IT. This movie is a breathe of fresh air compared to that turgid piece of drek. Secondly this movie is an Australian production and it’s great to see a movie coming from my home country, that isn’t concerned with the culture of us Aussies but instead just wants to tell a story and can be embraced internationally. Now with these two biases in mind, I ask the question is the movie any good or does it suck?

In Daybreakers most of the world has been turned into vampires. After harvesting nearly every human on the planet, blood supplies are low and things are getting out of control world wide. Enter Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) a haematologist who is working on a blood substitute. Without blood vampires are turning into monstrous sub vampires and the blood substitute might be the only hope for vampire kind. However ff the last strains of humanity have anything to do with it, he will give more than a stop gap solution but a permanent cure to the vampire disease. Personally this story stands out from the crowd of vampire movies and gives the audience something different to sink their teeth into. The plot allows for some nice envisioning of what a vampire world would be like, and does provide a pretty straight forward momentum without too much deviation.

Acting wise it’s a bit hit and miss. I like Ethan Hawke who gave a solid performance, he was a character that had a lot of baggage but I think successfully skirted the ‘woah is me’ mentality of many vampire characters. William Dafoe as Elvis, leader of the human resistance was okay, his accent slipped a little but I didn’t really care, good enough for the role. Probably the weaker acting was in the villain department. Sam Neil was okay as Charles Bramley owner of the American blood suppliers. He had fun with the role but was really let down with not having much to do and there fore wasn’t ever that threatening. Michael Dorman as Frankie Dalton was not really convincing at all, I never really got what he was supposed to represent. There did seem to be a few gaps in his characters logic.

Villains not being given enough to do? Gaps in characters logic? Welcome to this movies biggest flaw. It seems a lot has been cut out of this movie to make it lean. The movie really flew along and I kept getting the feeling there was supposed to be more character development and maybe a little more plot development with the sub vampires. Whether this was a studio decision or one made by the Spierig Brothers, I couldn’t say but while not feeling like a whole movie it still made sense and entertained. Also while I felt the movie lacked a big time villain to really provide that big ending, there was still enough threat coming from the all consuming hunger that every vampire had.

One big thumbs up has to go with Spierig Brothers for doing a lot with what little money they had. From my understanding this movie was done for around 20 Million and yet like District 9 which also had a small budget it showed big boys that you don’t have to spend 300 million to make a movie look good. Yes there is CGI that looks a little off but overall it’s not distracting. Speaking of visual effects there are some pretty damn decent practical make up effects and enough gore to make horror fans cheer. Oh yes people these vampires come from the Near Dark / 30 Days of Night school. Not wanting to give too much away but a big grin came to my face during a scene that was done in slow mo. There was a lot happening but the severed limb flying through the air was what caught my eye. I counted how many times it flipped in the air. Seven. I think.

I enjoyed this movie. Its fresh setting for vampires grabbed my attention, its visual style held it along with the central performance of Ethan Hawke. I really wish this movie was longer to fill some of the missing parts. I hope there is a director’s edition coming out on DVD as I would like to re-evaluate the entire movie then. If you like vampires; and by vampires I mean the proper ones not those vampire wannabe’s named Cullen; go see this movie.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Review - Ultraviolet (2006)

“Are you mental?”

Director: Kurt Wimmer
Starring: Milla Jovovich, Nick Chinlund
Screenplay: Kurt Wimmer

Kurt Wimmer was the man behind Equilibrium, which was a flawed film but had some potential. Rumours started floating about that the studio had hacked the movie up, so when I heard that he was going to helm a science fiction vampire movie with Milla Jovovich I was on board. Surely with the fan base Wimmer had gained with Equilibrium they wouldn’t touch this movie. Then the rumours started again that the studio had hacked the movie, except this time the product is possibly one of the worst films out there.

First off we have the acting, and while it’s always nice to be able to look at Milla Jovovich this does not make a good actress though compared with everyone else in this movie she does a fine enough job. Honestly most of the actors just either don’t seem to care or believe that because they are in a science fiction movie they need to turn the acting up to eleven. Best example of the over acting is Nick Chinlund as Daxus the villain of the piece. I guess they were going for quirky but damn is he just a piss poor villain, at no point does he seem threatening and even when he has 700 men behind him guarding his back he comes off as a weakling.

Next up we have the story. While I would love to be able to tell you the plot, it’s just a god damn mess. The simple premise is there are humans and vampires, and there is a special child who might have an antigen that will kill all vampires. Milla plays the vampire Violet who is trying to fight for vampire rights. Or something like that I don’t really care. As much as I would like to jump to Wimmer’s defence and say that the plot is horrid thanks to studio tampering, it’s just not the case. There is not a shred of good story telling and in the end the only reason why the studio took over editing is that they had to try and salvage something from an over complicated plot.

Visually the movie is at least unique but can be over done. Buildings, fashion styles, weapons etc nothing really matches and things seem to be designed with a ‘what’s cool’ mentality rather than what suits the world approach. Fights happen and while they can look pretty good they really don’t flow with the story, in fact there is a fight on top of a building where everything just stops so they can build up the tension for about 2 minutes. Honestly this movie seems to be directed by a nerd giving into wish fulfilment.

In the end this is not how you make a film and I’m really sorry Kurt Wimmer but you can’t hide behind studio tinkering you’re just not that good. I almost wish Kurt would write a script and then give it to someone else to make as this could produce better results. Avoid this movie; even those who make a point in watching bad movies should turn around and watch something else, WITH MY MIGHTY CAPS I RECOMMEND THE BBC SERIES ULTRAVIOLET, it too has vampires but unlike this movie it’s good.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Review - Toys (1992)

“There's a madman at the factory, and it's no longer me.”

Director: Barry Levinson
Starring: Robin Williams, Michael Gambon, Joan Cusack, LL Cool J
Screenplay: Valerie Curtin, Barry Levinson

What can be said about Toys? The original trailer was Robin Williams just standing in a field trying to pitch the movie to the audience, in fact The Simpsons even made fun of it once. It was weird and had Robin being as funny as possible, it also stood out from other movies, but it didn’t really work. In a way that sums up the movie as well.

When Kenneth Zevo dies it seems obvious that his son Leslie Zevo (Robin Williams) will inherit the company, however it turns out that Leslie’s Uncle, Lt General Leland Zevo (Michael Gambon) is the one chosen by Kenneth as there are fears Leslie is too immature to really be the one to look after not only the company but the employees. So set in this surreal world of a toy factory begins a battle between Leslie and Leland, where Leslie has to learn to grow up and become the man.

Honestly after setting up the plot etc I have no real clue where to begin with this review. I’ve watched this movie few times and do enjoy it, but it’s a mess. I really like the main theme that centres on childhood and growing up but not losing all the innocence, it’s nicely illustrated by what Leslie will become and what Leland has become. However sometimes the story and themes can be lost. It just seems like there was a message but it gets hampered by the characters or gets thrown aside just so a wonderful looking set piece can come to the front. The movie is deep but people might get tired of the digging.

With the two leads I have no problems with Robin Williams or Michael Gambon, they fit their roles well and play off each other so that it does seem like they are family. LL Cool J is also pretty damn good as Captain Patrick Zevo son of Leland, he has a good grasp of blending a hard militaristic personality yet softening it with decency. The problem with the acting is that these characters are supposed to be over the top in order to fit the surreal world of Toys, which means for the viewers there are no characters to really connect with.

So that brings us to the world of Toys. Visually this movie is awesome. Barry Levinson has created a world that is so weird yet completely seems realistic for the story. The toy factory allows for some nice set pieces, including a room that is shrinking while people are in it, a life size paper doll testing room and a computer room that any gamer would want. This movie could be considered art, just the visuals are unique to the movie and honestly the symbolism if any would be completely up to the viewer.

As a whole the biggest problem is that the movie is too ambitious. It’s trying to be something special and while it might succeed in one respect everything else isn’t up to scratch. If anything I would recommend one viewing for someone to just be able to take in what’s on screen. You may not get much out of the story or the characters but something you saw might just stick with you.