Archive | May, 2012

A Scanner Darkly – Review

14 May

Living in a world where our every move could be closely monitored by the government without our knowing is a terrifying concept. For all we know, this may be happening already. I could be under surveillance as I sit here writing this review. Then again, maybe I’m just being paranoid; moreover, this paranoia is the essence of A Scanner Darkly.

Seven years into the future, nothing is secret and everything is questionable. Bob Arctor (Keanu Reeves) is a police officer working deeply undercover amongst a group of junkies addicted to a new drug, Substance D. These junkies consist of the clever and possibly homicidal Barris (Robert Downey, Jr.), the spaced out loser Ernie Luckman (Woody Harrelson), the paranoid Charles Freck (Rory Cochrane), and the dealer of the group Donna Hawthorne (Winona Ryder). Soon enough, due to a suit that hides the officers identity while at the precinct, Arctor is assigned to spy on himself, and deal with the junkie turned informant, Barris. As this vicious conundrum of identity and trust keeps unraveling, Arctor soon beings to lose control of who he is due to “cerebral cross chatter” and the other effects of Substance D.

The initial main drawing point of A Scanner Darkly is the bizarre and intriguingly surreal animation. After the film had been shot it was than edited over a period of 15 months using Rotoshop, which the director, Richard Linklater, had used in a previous film, Waking Life. This stunning use of animation gives the film an other worldly feel that I’ve never experienced before with a movie. It was realistic, than at the same time, was artificial.

With films like Requiem for a Dream and Trainspotting, the theme of drug addiction and withdrawal is not new. What A Scanner Darkly does differently is explore this theme with a deeper level of subtlety. The film doesn’t use eerie music or impressive camera techniques to make the viewer uncomfortable. The Rotoshop animation helps, but what I feel is the driving force of paranoia is the way the story is told. Up until the very end, the viewer has very vague impressions of what is real and what is not. The story is expertly told from both the sides of the police and the junkies, so when these worlds collide, it’s enough to make your brain split down the middle.

This story is definitely classified as science fiction, but a lot of what occurs in the film is funny. Robert Downey, Jr, Woody Harrelson, and Rory Cochrane are fantastic at playing the three most paranoid characters I may have ever seen. The way these characters handle themselves using the backwards logic of drug use is very entertaining, yet in no way condones the use of drugs.

The government in this semi-futuristic society only adds to the paranoia backing up the film. Sure, the characters are nervous, but shouldn’t we be just as nervous? I can honestly say that I have no idea just how deep the government, the FBI, the CIA, etc. can probe into the lives of everyday citizens. I wouldn’t call my uncertainty fear, but I would say that there is a good chance that we very well may be watched by “Big Brother” sometime in the near future.

I love how everything about A Scanner Darkly relates back to paranoia. The psychology behind Arctor, the drug abuse, and the overpowering government are incredibly fascinating.  As a film, A Scanner Darkly succeeds in making the audience feel strange and nervous, all while telling an intricate narrative. I’m definitely interested in going out and finding my own copy of Philip K. Dick’s original novel, which this story is based on, and seeing how Dick tells the story. For now though, I highly recommend A Scanner Darkly. It is a fantastic film.

The Crazies – Review

11 May

To me, modern American horror is not the strongest of genres. It seems that most of these movies that call themselves “horror” resort to using jump scares that are accentuated with loud musical cords. That isn’t horror; merely a startling scene. The Crazies is definitely guilty of this and other horror movie clichés, but with the help of adequate performances and some genuinely scary scenes this movie pushes itself up above the typical American horror film without ever achieving greatness.

In the small town of Ogden Marsh, Sheriff David (Timothy Olyphant) and his deputy, Russell Clank (Joe Anderson), are enjoying the new spring weather at the first town baseball game of the season when one of the townspeople walks onto the field with a shotgun. David handles the situation appropriately, but soon discovers along with his wife, Judy (Radha Mitchell), that many of the residents aren’t just acting strangely, but also savagely violent. The military soon intervenes to contain this mysterious “infection” in their own twisted way leaving David, Judy, Russell, and local teenager, Becca (Danielle Panabaker) to escape the town.

The faults of this film are glaring when they are exposed. There were multiple times during The Crazies where a scene got strangely quiet, and I knew exactly what was going to happen and when. This could be just from years of watching horror films, or it could be that they have gotten so generic recently that it’s just easy to catch on to what the film makers are going to do next. This is unfortunate for this film, because in other respects it strived to break through the realm of mediocrity.

The Crazies is at its scariest and most memorable when it deviates from this pattern. There are brutally satisfying scenes that gore freaks will go crazy for, but there are also very subtle moments of terror when we catch a glimpse of something in the background that the character does not see. These scenes sent chills down my spine and some even made me uncomfortable, which is good for a horror movie.

The story itself is pretty generic. This is a remake of a 1973 film of the same name by horror master George Romero, and for the time when the original was released, the story wasn’t so over told. Pretty much, there’s a virus in a small, nice town that demands evil military intervention. We’ve seen this before. It was even satirized in Slither, which I would actually choose over this movie.

By this point in my review, it probably appears that I didn’t like this movie. That’s not true. For what it was, it was enjoyable, and definitely  better than a lot of horror films. The characters all had depth and I cared for each one in their own unique ways, especially Deputy Russell, who had a great character arc. The acting was all good without ever going into anything above what was needed, and a lot of the scenes (especially one concerning a Crazy and a pitchfork) were actually scary.

The main issue that I have with this movie is that it falls into generic territory way too much.  If I saw another scene of a character arriving just in time to save the day, I would….well I don’t know what I would do, but I saw a lot of that. The film makers really tried with this one, and for the most part, The Crazies is a successful horror film. It’s not something I would strongly recommend, but for the people whole love films like 28 Days Later, than I would say this might be a worthwhile escape for just a couple of hours.

Reservation Road – Review

9 May

To preface my review for Reservation Road, I think it’s appropriate to point out that not many movies have the intensity to push me to the verge of tears. It takes special kinds of films, like The Green Mile, to do this to me. Now I can say that Reservation Road can be added to this small list due to its excellent character development and intensely realistic themes.

It is a day like any other in a small Connecticut town. Dwight Arno (Mark Ruffalo) is driving his son, Lucas (Eddie Alderson) back to his mother’s (Mira Sorvino) house after a memorable afternoon at a Red Sox game. Ethan (Joaquin Phoenix) and Grace (Jennifer Connelly) Lerner are driving their kids, Josh (Sean Curley) and Emma (Elle Fanning), home after a recital that Josh was in. While making a pit stop, two lives collide as Dwight accidentally hits Josh with his SUV, killing him. Instead of stopping, Dwight drives away out of fear. Now comes the turmoil of both families; one struggling with overwhelming guilt and the other obsessing over the truth.

It would have been easy enough for this film to turn into a run of the mill melodrama, but I feel that it succeeds in crossing that line and becoming something much more powerful. This is done by the remarkable performances of the lead characters. Joaquin Phoenix lights up the screen with his fits of anger and sadness, showing that he has a very wide range of emotions as an actor. Jennifer Connelly also travels across a large character arc from despondent and grieving to a woman just trying to get on with life.

The most interesting character for me though is Mark Ruffalo’s character, Dwight Arno. Recently, Ruffalo has caught my attention as being a fantastic and deep actor. His character in Reservation Road is very difficult because even though he has done a terrible thing, he is not a bad person. In fact, he is a very good hearted person who just so happens to have made a terrible mistake. There were times where I was hoping Arno would come out unscathed, but then it would dawn on me again that what he did is near unforgivable.

The use of children in this movie also hits like a sucker punch to the throat. Seeing how kids react to a tragedy like this is difficult to watch. Elle Fanning gives an impressive performance as the little sister whose brother has been killed. Eddie Alderson also gives a fine performance, although Elle’s character gets to explore more emotion.

There aren’t any tricks in Reservation Road, and for good reason. The camera work and cinematography are just fine, but nothing special. If their were loads of stylized camera movement and dramatic lighting, than the story would feel less intense I feel. Terry George, who also directed the powerhouse Hotel Rwanda, puts story and character development above all else.

There are a few plot points that feel a little stretched. By that, I mean they seem rather unlikely. For drama’s sake, they work pretty well in creating extra depressingly awkward tension and suspense. If the viewer can suspend some disbelief, than these points won’t be a problem. It is true, however, that the other realistic points are affected by the unrealistic.

Reservation Road is one hell of a film. Terry George succeeds, almost 100%, in creating an intense, believable narrative full of pure human emotion and the consequences of our actions. After watching this movie, I tried to put myself in the places of both Ruffalo’s and Phoenix’s characters. This gets you to thinking about your own morality and ability to handle loss. Sure, the film may feel melodramatic at times and there may be some unlikely scenarios, but don’t let this stop you from seeing Reservation Road.

Good – Review

7 May

I remember exactly when I bought Good, solely because I have no idea why I did. It was a strange moment when I was holding the case, staring at it with a strong urge to buy it. I never heard a peep about this movie, but for some reason or another, I decided to add it to my collection. Popping it in for the first time,  I was worried that my intuition would be wrong, but I was pleasantly surprised.

John Halder (Viggo Mortensen) is a literature professor who is offered an honorary position in the Nazi party because of a novel he wrote with themes of euthanasia. As a man who is against many of the positions of the party, he is reluctant to join, but feels like he must in order for his career to progress. Over time, Halder finds that his steadfast morals are beginning to erode, especially when he must decide to be faithful to the party or to his Jewish best friend, Maurice Glükstein (Jason Isaacs).

The strength of this film is its ability to be incredibly powerful and moving in such an understated way. There is really nothing in Good that is overblown or flashy. Its best scenes are the ones between a couple of people sharing an incredibly intimate or intense dialogue. There is an excellent scene where Halder is at a concentration camp dressed in full SS attire. As he walks the grounds, we follow him and witness disturbing actions that take place around him. He is obviously affected by what he sees, but is ultimately powerless and is merely a cog in the Nazi regime.

Viggo Mortensen gives the best performance of his career in my opinion, playing a quiet but convictive character who is full of both intellect and flaws. Jason Isaacs gives a more overt performance as the socially tormented Jew, Glükstein. Gemma Jones gives a phenomenal performance as Hadler’s ill mother who is both disapproving and loving. On a side note, Mark Strong was briefly in the movie, and while his performance isn’t as special as the others, it was surprising and cool to see him.

The location and cinematography are fantastic. Being shot in Hungary, the film has a very European look, and and beautifully captures the time period of 1933-1942. There are times where the surroundings seem very theatrical, which is appropriate considering this is based off of a play of the same name by C.P. Taylor. The cinematography also stands out. There is excellent implementation of shadow, which give some of the more dramatic scenes more emphasis. There are exterior scenes which also make great use of natural light. There are also scenes where the camera flows really nicely, although there isn’t much to really rant and rave about, save for an excellent long take near the end. All in all, this film is aesthetically beautiful.

Good is great. I feel like not enough people know about this film, and it doesn’t really get the appreciation it deserves. Sure, it is nowhere near as epic as Schindler’s List or The Pianist, but it succeeds at giving audiences a more subtle look at the slow burning beginning of the Holocaust and how good people ultimately became a part of it, even if they had no intention to. It is a powerfully moving film with excellent performances and should be seen by everyone.

The Avengers – Review

4 May

One of the first thoughts I had after leaving The Avengers last night was, “How can I review this film and still give it justice?” I’ve been training for this movie since I was a kid by watching the television shows, playing the games, and reading the books of the various characters in this film. I have so much to say, and worried that I’m just going to start rambling about how awesome it is. I’ll give it my best shot, so forgive me if I sound like a giddy school girl.

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Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is back with a vengeance in The Avengers, with plans to take over the world using the energy of the mysterious and ominous Tesseract.  Now, the director of S.H.I.EL.D, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles his team of extraordinary individuals. These are: the millionaire playboy Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.); the demigod Thor (Chris Hemsworth); the super soldier Steven Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans); gamma radiated scientist Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo); sharp shooter Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner); and super agent Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johannson). Together they are The Avengers, and Loki is in for one hell of a battle for Earth.

The outstanding thing about this movie is that every superhero gets their share of screen time. One isn’t more important than the other, and every single one plays a vital role in accomplishing the mission. Even Hawkeye and Black Widow, who didn’t get their own individual tie-ins get a lot of screen time and are just as significant as characters like Thor and Captain America. I can even say that each hero got their own moment of just jaw-dropping awesomeness that my friends and I are still talking about.

I was a little worried that this movie was going to feel like it went on for too long with a run time of almost two and a half hours, especially since I was at the midnight movie and I had a small inkling of concern that I was going to fall asleep. I had absolutely no cause for concern. First of all, the movie felt like an hour and a half tops. The fact that I was in that theatre for two and a half hours is mind blowing. I just did not want the movie to end. Also, when the film first started, I immediately was wide awake and ready to go.

The special effects here are absolutely phenomenal. New York City is almost annihilated at the end, and it looks great. The fight scenes were also brilliantly choreographed and edited so that we got to see how each member was contributing to the battle. There was one long take in particular that travels all throughout the Manhattan battlefield to show all of the Avengers taking on numerous villains. It was so satisfying.

The performance were top notch. Tom Hiddleston is fantastically menacing as Loki, making him a villain we love to hate. Downey Jr. is appropriately sarcastic, and Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth pull off the tough talking but heroic persona of a superhero. The scene stealer in The Avengers, however, is Mark Ruffalo, who I didn’t put enough faith into. His Bruce Banner is very mild and soft spoken, but when he Hulks out, the audience is treated to the best Hulk scenes to grace the big screen.

I know I’m going to get a lot of heat from this next statement, but I believe that The Avengers surpasses The Dark Knight. Go ahead and disagree. That’s absolutely fine, but I can honestly say I was never more entertained by the action and surprisingly deep characters of The Avengers, and it was awesome to see all these heroes onscreen at the same time. It is the best super hero movie ever made, by far, and the scene during the end credits make me very impatient for the next one. I 110% recommend The Avengers, and I can’t wait to go back to the theaters and see it again.

The Mechanic – Review

2 May

Just to be clear, this is the review of the 2011 remake of The Mechanic and not of the 1972 original version. This film appears to have everything that would appeal to an action movie fan, like myself. There was lots of action, great explosions, loud gunplay, and Jason Statham kicking ass for an hour and a half. That definitely sounds like a movie I’d want to watch, and sadly I don’t think I ever need to see it again.

Arthur Bishop (Jason Statham) is what you call a Mechanic. He is tasked with assignments to assassinate various individuals, but make it appear like an accident, a message, or as if someone else is to blame. When Bishop gets a contract to assassinate his mentor and friend, Harry McKenna (Donald Sutherland), he is hesitant but still carries out the mission as normal. Complications arise when McKenna’s dead beat son, Steve (Ben Foster), approaches Bishop to begin his training to become a Mechanic, Arthur is put in the position to take him under his wing and get revenge on the man who ordered the hit on Harry, Dean (Tom Goldwyn).

The disappointing thing is, this movie started out really cool. The introduction really set the stage for what the feel and pace of this film was going to be like. It was quick, loud, and exciting, so naturally I was ready for more and couldn’t wait for what other great action set pieces were ahead of me and how the story would play out.

The Mechanic had absolutely no idea what kind of movie it wanted to be or what storyline it wanted to follow. It was like the film makers had a set plot which can be visually seen as a road. As long as they stayed on this road, they would have a plot that was appropriate for the movie. All they had to do was follow it. But they soon went off a very shady exit and started an uphill climb that was taking them in the wrong direction, but at this point they totally forgot about the road they were on. When they reached the top of the hill they finally remembered that they were riding on a totally different road and had to drive really fast back to the original road to get to their destination. I guess that’s kind of how the movie felt.

I was really enjoying the original story involving the conspiracy around McKenna’s death, and the addition of Steve was great, but the movie just strayed way too far. Ben Foster and Jason Statham played their characters very well, but everything else was so cliché and generic, it was almost pathetic. There is a scene where McKenna is telling Arthur how much of a “damned disappointment” Steve is. I’ve heard this speech so many times in so many different ways, but this is the blandest and most unoriginal. Dead is also a generic, boring villain who doesn’t really do anything at all. The villain is one of the best parts of an action movie, so if they area boring, then it’s a big detraction. Another thing I’m sick of is digital blood effects. They don’t look good! STOP USING THEM!

This movie certainly isn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. The action sequences towards the end were just what I was looking for in the rest of the film. The rest were pretty forgettable. Ultimately, that’s what The Mechanic is: forgettable. Look at The Transporter series, The Expendables, or Chaos. Statham obviously has talent for action films, and the director, Simon West, did Con Air, which is one of my favorite action films. With all of these credentials, this was a really disappointing movie.

There have been films that have succeeded in cramming in a lot of plot twists, points, and characters. One Jason Statham film that does this is Killer Elite. There is a massive web of different characters and situations that make the movie pretty confusing at times, but the impressive and memorable action, the three dimensional characters, and internal struggle along with the external makes this film highly enjoyable. The Mechanic has a bland story and generic characters, which makes it hard to really enjoy the film.

I’d say that if you’re a fan of Jason Statham and you really want to watch this, go ahead, but it really isn’t what you’re expecting. This movie has a lot of potential with both the plot and the emotions, but it goes the absolute wrong way and becomes really boring. This is a a black spot on the career of Statham and something I’m probably not going to watch again.