Monday, August 9, 2010

The Last Exorcism (2010; Daniel Stamm)

How could I have passed up a screening of this? Knowing my tendency towards all things Eli Roth and mockumentary, the idea of combining the two was just too sweet for me to pass up. I needed a few days to reflect on my exact reactions, but now I think I got them reined up.

Raised to be a minister, Cotton Marcus has been deeply seated in the church community for almost his entire life. Events have unfolded over the years that make him question whether or not being a pastor is his true calling, but he sticks with it for the time being to help people with his natural gift to entertain. He decides to let a small documentary crew accompany him on his final exorcism before he announces his retirement to reveal to the public just how fake it all is.

People can take this movie a lot of ways. It could easily be seen as a heavy handed swing against religion, or even a final revelation that maybe there are truths to be had in the supernatural. Peoples bias on the subject (including mine) will sway their opinion one way or the other, but I really don't think that was the intentions of the film. I think, like other projects attached to Roth, this is a film for enjoyment.

Let me explain. I was so torn on some aspects of the film as they felt as sort of a betrayal to the mockumentary movement. I have fully explained my opinion on what they should and should not consist of (here, here, here, here, etc...), but this experience showed me a little bit of a different light (similar to that of Cloverfield). The Last Exorcism contains both CGI and a musical score. Now normally I found those things so distracting in mockumentaries that I never really felt they had a place in what was supposed to be a reflection of the real world. Something to me really clicked in this one, though. The score highlighted the events properly without taking over and the CGI, while a stretch, really can't be held against the film for realism if I allow the score.

So what is this? This was a piece constructed to be entertainment. They wanted to make a movie that utilized the strengths of mockumentaries and the strengths of more standard fiction movies. It may still seem sort of incompatible, but watch it and see if it really is that much of a problem.

On other notes, the light-hearted tone through large portions of the film help lean your opinion towards the entertainment part of the realism vs. entertainment argument and it has been a long time since such a solid lead has been seen in a mockumentary. Seems like I haven't really found a lead so compelling to follow in a mockumentary since the Blair Witch Project itself, and that is something special. The only part I have to dock heavily for is the CGI-laden ending, because despite leniency for the CGI, the ending will definitely leave most people a little stunned.

Score: 4/5

Notes: Eli Roth.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

8 1/2 (1963; Federico Fellini)

I have been struggling to find the inspiration to put more work into this site. In a sort of strange coincidence, I managed to find my inspiration in Fellini's 8 1/2. This is a film so strongly built on incoherency of inspiration that it fit perfectly with my conundrum.

To try and define 8 1/2 in simple descriptions such as mine seems like it would do more harm than good. In the most concrete form, it is a character study about a famous director who wishes to create a film that acts as his autobiography, but at the same time seems to be his last grasps with confronting the life he has lived. As he tries to unveil the scope of his film, he seems to struggle more and more with justifying the events that to most others seem like a surrealistic take on the state of loneliness.

8 1/2 is a film that very much speaks for itself, so my review will be short and sweet. Films such as this are so hard to pigeon hole into categories as they feel so layered and lovingly composed that to skip over any of the content feels like as much as an injustice as trying to tear the film apart. It is a piece that seamlessly blends reality with dreams and than mixes them both into cinema. It makes you question the state of the characters, the state of Fellini, and the state of yourself. The score is phenomenal and it isn't very often you see a film so gorgeously shot that still manages to keep your attention with it's full, gripping content. Despite the hefty length, 8 1/2 flutters by in an instant and will rattle your world.

I really did mean short and sweet, however I hope that the impact of films like this continue to inspire me to write and will hopefully have more up soon.

Score: 5/5

Notes: After rewatching Santa Sangre again recently as well, clowns are more and more becoming everyday occurrences of life.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Last House on the Left (2009; Dennis Iliadis)

Let me set something straight. I hate remakes, but I also hate Craven. As far as I am concerned, almost (stress almost) every single Craven film could be improved with a remake so my expectations for this were a little higher than other remakes (i.e. higher than no expectations at all). Just needed to make sure I got that out in the open before I started talking anything in detail.

Two dumb girls get kidnapped by psychos who are on the run. Pretty sure we all know the rest.

The first thing I noticed about the remake is that the two girls are drenched in American culture and my feelings are they deserved a portion of what they got. I choose to look at certain events in a different light and it makes watching this film, and even Craven's original, very tedious. It isn't that I choose to have it out for Craven, but when you make characters like these (which seems to be more and more common) I find it insulting to my intelligence. Not every single American goes out all over looking for drugs and partying with strangers. It brings it to an even lower level knowing that the creators have a full range of control over how they want to craft these girls, but intentionally choose to make them lawbreaking scum bags.

It isn't that they weren't completely aware. They tried to form touching moments for one of the girls by giving her a brief back story about a dead brother who always told her to try her best, but that just doesn't cover it. I find it hard to not spoil things when writing negative reviews as I feel compelled to just pick it all apart, so you might want to stop at this point and know I don't like this movie.

Now for the spoiler moments. That back story is what drove her to give up drugs temporarily and try her hardest to be a great swimmer. However, when it becomes essential for her to swim for her life, she gets shot down and dies. So what does that tell us? Are we supposed to interpret these events as she was a failure? It most certainly seems this way, and in that case, how am I supposed to bond with her? Are they trying to call me a failure too?

The entire film is built around what happens to these girls and the affect it has on the other characters. However, having the entire first segment be a mound of insults to my person and an absolute frustration in general makes enjoying the second segment a stretch. I will give it credit for being relatively solid in the portion dealing with the parents, but it isn't perfect and even if it was it couldn't save the whole from being a mess.

Score: 2/5

Notes: Was it needed to remake an insulting movie into an even more insulting movie?

Friday, March 26, 2010

Man on Wire (2008; James Marsh)

I have finally decided to take a step back from my never ending mountain of work to write another review. I have had a lot of films mulling in my head, but I just haven't had the time to make anything concrete. So here you go.

A documentary that explores the life and achievement of one man's dream.

Like most of you, I have never given a second thought to tightrope walking. I went to a circus once when I was little, but I never really ever gave the concept a chance. So coming into a film about a man whose dream was to tightrope really worried me that I wouldn't be able to connect to his dream. To miss the connection in a documentary such as this would be catastrophic to its message, but I was determined to try.

As I watched the images flutter across my screen, I realized I wasn't watching a documentary about tightrope walking. I was watching a documentary on dreams and the people who would give it all for a shot at them. Philippe Petit, the focus of this piece, was so struck and captivated by a single moment in his teenage years that it proceeded to craft the rest of his life to the achievement of this one, miraculous goal. To be able to witness a person so determined and motivated that they never seem to falter. A person so willing to embrace a goal so far from reach that they will do anything to get only a step closer.

“What a beautiful death to die in the arms of your passion.”

To amplify the power of the event, it is retold by Philippe and his comrades with such an intensity that it is like they are being thrown right back into the days where it all unfolded. The score put behind the events is subtle and upbeat to the point where it feels like it is pushing you along with Philippe to go conquer your own dreams. It makes you reflect on yourself and how far you would go with a friend so driven by an object of their desire. This documentary, despite how far off his dream may be from your own, has the power to connect to anyone and may even inspire people to change their lives. This is the impact great films should have.

Score: 5/5

Notes: Watch this documentary.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Pandorum (2009; Christian Alvart)

My life is once again filled with classes and stress, so the intervals between reviews will increase. On the bright side, however, a few friends and myself decided to sit down and make a pact between us. During the year 2010, we will all watch three hundred films we've never seen and no less. This also gives us motive enough to do the other thing we wanted which is to try and be a little more fair. We've always neglected certain areas of cinema and skipped releases we "knew" were going to be awful, so this is our chance to turn that around. So while watching all these films will give me even less free time, what time I have I should be able to squeeze out a review or two because lord knows I'll have enough material to write about.

The earth is suffering extreme overcrowding, resources are low, and all that boring stuff. The solution? A shuttle sent out into space found a planet almost identical to ours and so a plan is set in action to have people shipped over there to make more room. Shit breaks, stuff goes wrong, and everything is dark and metallic.

To be absolutely counter intuitive, this isn't a film I was actually planning on skipping. When it first released I had no idea what it was and more or less just let it sail past me, but recent talks around me got me interested and so I thought I would check it out for myself.

First thing that caught my metaphorical eye was the soundtrack. While somewhat modern, it also felt like it had a tinge from the horror of old. While by no means fantastic or inspiring, it was a step above just throwing tense ambient sounds into the mix.

Second thing, the lighting. I understand a lot of the criticism of sci-fi horror, because visually many of them do look alike. The fact of that matter is, though, that how else would you design a tense atmosphere in a spaceship? The structure is reasonable considering the direction technology is going, and having the dank, dark steel corridor sort of triggers your reaction by itself now.

The most important part of this film to me, though, was the structure of it all. This film could have derailed itself in all sorts of ways, but it managed to keep itself tight throughout most of its playtime. I think the perfect comparison would be Neil Marshall's The Descent. Much like Marshall's work, Pandorum relies heavily on the mystery and darkness to propel fear, but after everything begins to clear up little by little, the film picks up the pace into more of an action setting. It all goes back to my belief that the less you see, the more you are afraid. The over exposure usually kills the tension in a horror film, but if you shift the whole film with the exposure, it all flows much easier with much more effect.

As far as the weaknesses go, while the characterization of each of the survivors was clear, they felt a little cliche. I don't want to delve too much into the story so you are able to go in as blind as I did, but one character in particular had an action sequence which, while it could have been effective in another film, just felt out of place in the reasonable reality that was already constructed so carefully. However, that being said, I would not be lying if I said that had someone wanted to shoot Alien now instead of so long ago, knowing the conventions of popular cinema today, it probably would have come out something like this.

Score: 4/5

Notes: Think The Descent with an Alien twist to it all.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Lovely Bones (2009; Peter Jackson)

My feelings behind the announcement of this title were very strong. The idea that Peter Jackson might start honoring his humble beginnings by giving us another
Heavenly Creatures was just blowing my mind. I just kept thinking to myself how nothing could go wrong, because obviously Peter Jackson is immune to the trends of the spotlight...

A very young teenage girl gets murdered. However she refuses to leave the land between the living and dead so she can observe what is happening to the people who were around her.

If the very ominous "..." didn't give it away, that was sarcasm up in the first part of this review. Being under the spotlight with high financing seems to have finally killed Jackson's chances of handing us another Heavenly Creatures (let alone another Bad Taste). The wonderful soul behind the somewhat twisted message is completely absent for this recent attempt.

First off, if you are trying to decide whether or not a certain scene requires CGI, it doesn't. This film felt like a gigantic test of my tolerance for computer animation. Half of the effects were completely unnecessary. They were supposed to express the wonderful creativity that was the land between Heaven and Earth, but one can find beautiful locations on Earth that fit just as well and don't kill the atmosphere nearly as bad. Look at Lord of the Rings for example, which was also shot by Jackson and the environments looked absolutely breathtaking in some scenes. While on that topic, I'm no expert on the book, but half of the imagery and symbolism just felt absolutely needless. Throwing in imagery and CGI for the sake of having them simply doesn't cut it, sorry (just look at Halloween II).

Now to just to throw the rest out there and meet my minimum requirements, the soundtrack was interesting at a few points, but ultimately just distracting, poorly timed, and kinda loud. The acting was mostly solid (Stanley Tucci did wonderful) but the characters weren't given much to work with within the story arch. The entire message of the film sort of gets jumbled between all the abstract, useless sequences and it really just falls apart.

Before ending, I will give it a few positive spins. A small handful of scenes actually were well executed and enjoyable, and even though I had a perfect example lined up it got buried under the garbage pile in my mind, so that is all I got.

Score: 1/5

Notes: I know it doesn't release until 2010, but IMDb insists on 2009 and who am I to argue? Also, they didn't have faces on the back of milk cartons. What the hell was up with the cheap looking digital film?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Eli Roth

It has been an obnoxiously long time since I did a director column so I figured now is as good a time as any (I'm right between two films. Also no, I doubt I'll have time to review them both).

Fell in love with film after watching Alien. Went through film school winning an award or two and than was stuck in limbo for a while before finally getting financing for his first piece, Cabin Fever. The rest is history.

I figured I was more in the mood for praising someone instead of ripping their careers apart, so here you go. Eli Roth is one of the most outstanding young horror directors of our time. He, like most good actors and directors, started as an extremely geeky film nerd. This background and intimate knowledge of film helps lay the groundwork for all of his own pieces, each showing a fantastic connection to the works that came before him.

To paraphrase Quentin Tarantino, Eli Roth is the future of horror. All of his films have shown us he is fully capable of taking us places we don't want to be and we love him for it. Here is for hoping he brings us Thanksgiving sooner rather then later.

Other Notes:

Huge fan of the Olsen twins.

Is a Bear Jew.

Has always made profit on all his films. In order, 15 times budget cost, 20 times budget cost, and 3 times budget cost.

Most Well Known Films Include: Cabin Fever, Hostel, Hostel II