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