Tuesday, December 29, 2009

#6-Avatar (2009)


After nearly twelve years of production, James Cameron's epic about giant smurfs is here! Just kidding, I loved that South Park. Anyway, Avatar was written right after Cameron finished Titanic in 1997. Cameron sold the rights to the film, but couldn't make it, as he had to wait for "technology to catch up" with his ideas. So, it is now 2009, and he realesed his film, and he needs you to go see it. Why? Because this movies estimated budget is around $500 Million dollars, thats right, half a billion dollars. And so far, with it making about $270 million in two weeks, its not that far of a cry. But, the question I have is in the advertising campaign. They are heavily relying on the fact that this is "from the writer/director of Titanic" and this is a heavy Sci-Fi film, and he is also the writer/director of Terminator, T2, and Aliens, why not markey with those movies Fox? Of well, look at its grosses, there is a reason I'm not in the add bussiness.

Now, upon seeing the advertisements for this film (which were terrible, by the way), I was very skeptical, it was definatly going to be totally awesome, or totally fail. For the most part, it was very awesome, but there are some things that bothered me about the movie, character and story wise anyway. Lets also not forget that this movie is nearly three hours long. Though I give credit to Cameron, because the movie kept most of its momentum going, and only felt long at about the two hour, forty-five minute mark.

Though you probably already know, Avatar is about a government program set in the future, 2154 is the year if my memory serves, and we have found a distant space planet, which we now call Pandora. On Pandora we find this little tiny rock that sells for a lot of money, and is a great source of energy. However, and indigineous people live on the giant threshold of it, and we need them to get off. So, we create half human, half Na've (the blue people) hybrids called Avatars that we can put people into. Hence, Avatar.

Now, I may as well point out what everyone else is pointing out, that the story is way over used, and to me seemed very cliche. Dances With Wolves, The Last Samuri, hell, Pochohantas all had the same basic principals that this movie does. You know, I'm just going to dedicate this paragraph to problems, so I don't have too many paragraphs. The dialouge also seemed very corny some times "my brother, the best scientist on the planet, was killed, all for the paper in his wallet" in dramatic voice overs certainly do not help this movie very much. The characters were, for the most part annoying, underwritten, and totally lacking in many human emotion. That being said, I though that the main Na've, played by Zoe Saldana, was both emotionally rich, and was played amazing. Also, the acting was pretty typical, and card-board-cut-out, by just about everyone else. Except maybe Sigourney Weaver....

"Sir, we got a native doing the funky chicken."

But, even with all those negatives, you won't really notice them until after the fact, and that's what matters. During the movie, you aren't thinking about things like that, (except maybe the acting), unless you go to the movie looking from a critical standpoint which most people do not.

Most people going into Avatar are expecting some pretty good effects, some action, and watching stuff blow up. And you get it. While there isn't a ton of action to the film, there is a ton of effects. While most people are praising the motion capture used on the actors, I think that the enviornment looked much better than the creatures themselves. They manage to make this entire world, which is ficticous, and not based on any real life plants or animals, and make it 100% belivable, and real.

The motion capture was decent, but some of it I just didn't like. The textures on the Avatars looked very fakey to me, but the real Na've looked really good, I don't know if that was intentional or not, but it was noticed, in fact, I think that the Na've look better when we don't see them as a human first. I have made the estimation that this is because if we see them as humans first, then we know what to expect from them as Avatars, and this whole motion capture stuff isn't perfect yet, so until you get used to it, it is a little underwhelming.

I have a lot of mean words for Avatar, but I won't post them here. For those going into this movie thinking it is going to be politcally powerful like most people are claiming it to be, then prepare to be dissapointed. If you are going into expecting a good story, prepare to be dissapointed, if you are going into it expecting great special effects, cool action, and just a plain ol' fun movie, then you will get your moneys worth.

I Give Avatar A:

Sunday, December 20, 2009

#5-Synecdoche, New York (2008)

Synecdoche, New York

The newsest film from the most original screen-writer today, Charlie Kaufman, Synecdoche (pronounced Si-Nec-Do-Ke), New York is an ambitious piece of fiction, that will hopefully keep you entire to the amazing ending. I love Kaufman's work, and I hope to review more on this site in the months to come, he truly is a genious, and needs to be recognized as such. First entered in contest at the Cannes film festival, Synecdoche, New York, is more grounded in reality that most of Kaufman's other work. That isn't saying much however. Synecdoche had the highest budget of any Kaufman film, and that is only twenty million. Unfoutanetly, this is also the lowest grossing film, making back only four million. Granted this film was only put in limited realese, and is the type of film a general audience isn't interested in seeing. This, like of all of his work, is very much a fantasy, visually, and storywise, in some cases, but its true heart is so grounded in reality, that it almost makes you happy that life isn't this great crazy world that he has envisioned, this is why I like Kaufmans work, it's mostly happy, yet underminingly depressing, and therefore, creates an amazing emotion.

First let me start by saying that this film has an incredible cast, including, but not limited to: Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Cathrine Keener, Michelle Williams, Samantha Morton, Emily Watson, Hope Davis, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Dianne Wiest, the list could just go on, and on. All of them perform so amazingly in this piece, especially because it takes place over the course of nearly thirty years. The characters age, and chance nearly ever frame, and the actors keep up and know how to move and speak. I think that Hoffmans performance alone by the end of this movie make it well worth watching, add in the rest of the cast, and everything else, and oh, it is such a great life experience.

The story, like all of Kaufmans work is original and groundbreaking. Caden Cotard is a playwrite, who is having trouble with his home life. However his plays are going fantasictally. Eventually, his wife leaves him, takes their daughter, and sends him into a mid-life crisis. Once his production of Death of a Salesman gets reviewed marvelously by critics, he is given a grant to make the world a better place through plays. So he sets out to make an epic, about life. Thousands of cast members, all with seperate storys, the play being over 17 years into production, and all taking place on a life-size New York set, inside an impossibly large wearhouse.

Now, I liked this story, well, I liked the idea anyway, it was fun, and intriguing. But, then you start to watch the movie, and he doesn't even get the warehouse until at least fifty minuets in. And this movie is about two hours long. So it was kind of slow at the beggining, but once it got rolling it was very interesting and fun. Ideas come into play about Cotards character within his own play, so while he's directing, thats part of his life, so then he has to direct himself, directing the cast, then he has to direct himself, directing himself, directing his cast, and so on and so forth, until we have nearly six Caden Cotards running around. It was very cool.

"I didn't jump Sammy! Get up!"

This is also Kaufman's first time directing a picture. And he did an okay job, an excellent job for a first time. However, like I mentioned above, the pacing seemed very off at some points, and the story had scenes that take thirty seconds, and scenes that take thrity minutes, and it all seemed very strange, with the jumping and editing. I feel that Kaufman is more of an Assitant Director than a full-fledged one.

The music, was also phenomonal in this film. Not only the music but the camera work, the whole sweeping city sky-line that is all in one tiny building, the excellent sense of lighing. The techinal stand-point of the movie was great. The make-up and costume design team really should be given some credit here, they make all the actors swap age rapidly, and the clothes keep up with all of them, and their characteristcs perfectly.

Now, with about fifteen minutes left in the film, I was thinking the entire scope of it over to myself, wondering how I was going to grade it and what I was going to write about it. I WAS going to give it a 3.5, because of the odd pace, and the slow start, but then, the last ten minutes of the film started. That is when I totally understood it. The whole idea behind this story that Kaufman had created, the idea behind the film, it's about life, and dealing with how much of a pain it is, and was there a point to us being created at all, will we be remembered, did we do something people will know forever, or will we just be forgotten about, like our great-great-great grandparents whose names we don't even know. And that is when I figured out how amazing the movie was. And how everybody, goes through the ideas and emotions at some point in their life. And I think it might have effected me strongly because I had just gotten out of that phase.

Overall, Synecdoche, New York, is an amazing film, from nearly every single standpoint there is. Lighting, script, music, costumes, acting, effects, make-up, and some many other things, including an amazing ending, with a great message. A slow start, and odd sense of direction do hinder the film slightly, but in no way make it any less enjoyable.

I Give Synecdoche, New York A:

Saturday, December 19, 2009

#4-Ils (Them) (2006)


Them, known in it's native France as Ils, is a horror film that was made in 2006, circled the festival circuit, made a killing in France, and was prominently reviewed, but never got a state-side realese. Now, its three years later in 2009, and the film is finally getting the attention it deserves. Them shys away from the torture-porn type horror we have come to know, and instead goes back to a Hitchcockian type of horror, blending suspense and slashing. Them is also based on a true story, and this isn't one of those movies that claims to be based on a true story and isn't, and it isn't a shakey-cam film either, it is simply true, which makes the final product that much more disturbing.

The plot of Them, or Ils, is quite simple really. It is about a young couple named Clementine, who is a school teacher, and Jared, a struggling writer. They live in a large farm-house on the country side of Bucharest, Romania. The day is coming to an end, and they start hearing strange noises outside. They think nothing of it. The noises the turn into flashing lights, and even louder sounds. The sounds are then inside the house. Like I said, simple. It's also been done before, a lot before, but this one is definatly better than most of them.

Part of what makes this such a great film is the chemistry between the two lead actors, Olivia Bonamy and Michael Cohen do a great job playing husband and wife. In fact, the acting here is solid by nearly everyone involved, even the characters during the open sequences were very strong, and they were only onscreen for about 5 minutes. That being said, there isn't that many characters here, just the couple, the two in the opening sequence, and three other side characters, but, they all performed marvelously.

Another part that I really liked about the film is that it was great from a techinal standpoint as well. The lighting, pacing, camera-work, and direction by David Moreau, and Xavier Palud, were all done magnificintly. Also, the sets that were used are very nice as well. The mansion has a proper gothic atmosphere and adds a very creepy element to the film. And like I said, the camera-work was very good, and some aerial viewpoints had this movie crawling with tension.

"They won't play with us."
Speaking of tension, this film has a lot of it. Each scene is filled to the brim with it in fact, it will make you sit back a little bit and think, "Wow, look at what scary movies used to be like." However, even though each scene is filled to the brim, there are not that many scenes in this movie. It's only about an hour and fifteen minutes long. But that isn't bad, because this movie doesn't need to be, and I feel the movie had a great ending, and made things very, very chilling, and maybe even...eye-opening, for lack of a better term, to those who don't really know about some certain aspects of Europe.

As much as I praise the film (which it deserves) I did have a few promblems with it. First of all, bits of the dialouge between the two couples seemed a little cheesy, because it is French, I watched with English subtitles, maybe there was a bad dub, but things like "Leave me. Go! You are our 0nly hope." were kind of strange for a movie that was pretty realistic. Also, some moments seemed implausible, or even some near impossible, but this is something that occurs with all horror movies. These, however, were my only complaints with the film, and they are pretty mimimal.

Overall, Ils, Them, whatever you want to call it, is an excellent horror film, hell, it's an excellent film all together. Great acting, story, and direction make it a winner already. But add in great thrills, suspense, genuine chill, and just a good old time make it even better. But, with some cheesy lines, and some strange decisions on some characters parts, drop this film from perfection.
I Give Them A:

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Recent Readings

Recent Readings is a new section of the site I've decided to start. It is where I'll post some quick information about books I've recently read. Usually it will be anywhere from 3-5 books per post, but since this is the first one there will be more. I'll give the title, author, and then some quick thoughts,. Sound good?

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time/By: Mark Haddon
I very good little book that I fear to little people have heard about. The story is intruiging, unique, fun, insightful, funny, and painfully sad, all at the same time. The author has only published two books since this, both of which I own, and I can't wait to see what he has next.

Johnathan Livington Seagull/By: Richard Bach

An interesting little novel this was, only about 100 pages long, twenty of which are taken up by full page, black and white photographs. Its like a fairy tale for adults, as it tells a very insightful message using little space, and animals for characters. A great quick read.

The Running Man/By: Stephen King
Probably the worst out of the three or four Stephen King book I've read. Published in the early-to mid point in his career, it was written under his fake name, Richard Bachman, and King should be glad no one knew it was him.

The Mist/By: Stephen King
A better King novel, though not the best by far. Originally published in one of his many short story collections, it was realsed singly when the film came out. Not bad, another good, quick read if you can't find something that grabs your attention.

House/By: Ted Dekker & Frank Peretti
With the two previously negative reviews of King, it appears he is no longer the king (haha) of horror novels. These two have created an excellent, though very confusing, ghost story, that weaves and winds, and strangly ends up winning you over

The Art Of Racing In The Rain/By: Garth Stein
Another excellent novel featuring an animal. This time, its longer, and more adult oriented than Seagull. It's an excellent book, well written, well paced, very funny, and very poignant. The Art...is sure to win your heart over, whether your a dog or a cat person.

The Talking Horse, And The Sad Girl, And The Villiage Under The Sea/By: Mark Haddon
The second book on the list by author Mark Haddon, is just as good, though very different. It's a collection of page-long poems, all on very different subjects. I don't read much poetry, but this seemed fairly well written and had some nice points.

Granny Torelli Makes Soup/By: Sharon Creech
A novel for children to young adults, Granny is again an amazing book. It's not heard enough about, and teaches a great message. It's one of my favorite books ever, and I've read it multiple times, I included it on this list so more people would know how excellent it is.

Monday, December 7, 2009

#3-Paper Heart (2009)

Paper Heart

You remember Charlyne Yi, right? You actually probably don't know her by name, but you definatly know who she is. She was in the movie Knocked Up, playing Seth Rogen's super high friend who wanted to swap babies with Kathrine Hegiel. "Like, do you ever get mad at your baby because it stole your stomache, but its cool, because it's your baby, so you share." She was a total scene stealer and one of my favorite parts of that movie, well as it turns out, Miss Yi is known for more than just supporting roles in raunchy comedies. Her bill curently says: Stand-Up Comedian/Actress/Musician. That is quite the impressive title now isn't it. She has lots of friends in hollywood as well, with many of them actually showing up in this movie, but you'll have to see it to find out.

The idea behind Paper Heart is very cool. Charlyne Yi doesn't believe in love, she doesn't know what love is, and she for sure will never be in love. So, she decides to take a camera crew across the country and document what she and the film crew find about love. Now, they have actual interviews, and actual people telling what they do indeed think love is. This part of the movie is real, and is filmed documentary style, with Yi behind the camera asking the people questions. However the film becomes less of a documentary when Yi meets Michael Cera, as she is introduced to him through the director. Cera and Yi quickly find themselves falling for each other, and the camera crew decides that their relationship should be apart of the movie, and the two find it hard to fall in love with their life being under a microscope. This part of the movie was entirly scripted, and is intertwined with the documentary, with Yi, and Cera playing fictionalized versions of themselves, infact, everyone is this movie plays themselves except for the director, who is played by Jake Johnson.

The acting in the movie was very nice by all. That being said, it's good, but not convincing, as the actors often deliver cheesy one-liners, some of which hit, and others that end up on the floor. Plus, since we've all seen Michael Cera, we all know his form of acting. You know, the quiet, nervous teenager, whose only real goal at this point in his life is to get laid? Yeah, same basic message here. But who am I to complain when like his subtly acting and his great sense of timing. Yi did good as well, and she had the same, awkward teenagery thing that Michael Cera does.

Why the title Paper Heart? Because during the documentary scenes, when the couples explain some of their stories, there are interlude of paper puppert acting out the story as they are told. It looks a lot like claymation, and you can often see Charlyne behind the sets working the puppets, intentially of course. I liked the idea, and it was very cool, but it seemed to take a little bit out of the movie for some reason. I was good used here, but I don't think I'd be able to watch an entire movie like that.

I liked the whole idea of combining a documentary and a movie together, to have multiple stories going on, but all having the motive of finding out what its like to be in love. While the docummentary parts don't delve to deep, and you won't learn anything new that you haven't heard from a Disney movie, they are still fun to watch and see. Yi and Cera's portion of the movie seemed to work nicely too, but they don't give any insight on love either, as their romance is more like how to deal with your life while being a star. And while they seem to work together seperatly, these three parts (documentary, story, and paper) they don't meld entirly well together, and it makes the movie seem rough and choppy sometimes.

For the most part, I enjoyed Paper Heart. And this is coming from a man, who doesn't really like romantic comedies (with a few exceptions). It was interesting, unique, original, and not cliche. It had an interesting idea and story behind it, which was supported by some good acting. Unfourtanetly, the film is short, at only about 82 mins, and you don't learn much in the way of love. The many film types work on their own, but don't meld well enough for them to conjoin into an effect movie.

I Give Paper Heart A:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

#2-Ink (2009)


The creators of this film would like to thank movie piracy. I'm not kidding, this movie was downloaded from fileshare nearly 400,000 times a week, before it was legally realesed on DVD. This story came about when no big studio wanted to pick it up for theatrical realese. The film was realesed on the directors website, and then it became one of the most illegally downloaded films of all time, thus, Ink was realesed on DVD, in a somewhat mass-market fashion. I stumbled upon this film while walking across my local rental house, and not seeing anything else that look as interesting (or that was in), and what I got was a mixed bag, but I was surprised.

Ink tells the story of what happens to us while we sleep, in our dreams to be more presice. As it turns out, people who have already died, come to us in our sleep and gives us our dreams. But of course, if some people can give dreams, others can give nightmares. Things called The Incubus are responsible for keeping us up at night, and making our sleeping subconcious hectic. When we die, we have a choice, to become a giver of good dreams, or a giver of bad. Our main villian, Ink, has chosen to be evil, and to join the Incubus, he must kidnap a little girl, and bring her back to the Incubus world. While being transported to this dream world the little girl is in a "coma", and her father won't come and see her for various reasons you'll have to find out. All this going on while the good dreams try and get her back from Ink.

While the plot may seem a little farfetched (which it admittly is) it is a movie, and a chance to escape, and create a world of which we wouldn't normally see. The story was nice, well paced, interesting, and, overall hopeful. The movie has a nice twist, and it could have easily made the movie very confusing, but the directors keep it simple, with no over, or underexplanation of the story, and everything fits well together.

The film has a very cool visual style that goes along with it. The Incubus look really cool, as does a lot of the other fantasitcal creatures. But a few of the costumes definatly looked like they were from a low budget movie. More cool style comes from the editing, which is quick, and choppy some moments, and slow and flowing in others. Post-production colors changes, switching to negative, painted backgrounds and other techiniques made the film very cool. The special effects were decent for this kind of movie, the subtle ones were the best, while the big obvious ones looked kind of hokey.

"You've done well Ink"

Most of the acting in this movie was done by newcomers. Most of them did an impressive job, if fact Chris Kelly had a duel role, and does very well. However, some of the other acting was up to par with his, it seemed really uneven, and some roles were bigger than others, and some of the small ones were done better than the bigger ones, and it seemed like it had an odd casting job.

The last note that I would like to pointout is the sets and costumes. Some of the sets were very good looking, and others looked like they were shot in an alley. The costumes were nice as well, granted some of them were kid of boring. Also, one of the charecters has a very big nose, which seemed to vary in size quite a bit. I don't know, just noticed it.

Overall, Ink was a very fun surprise, a cool independent film experience, and shows want-to-be film makers how a low-budget film is done. The style is cool, the writing is solid, and a good 30% of the acting is solid. However, that leaves another 70% of acting that I didn't like, and somes of the sets and costumes looked fake. I still enjoyed the film, as a whole experience though.

I Give Ink A:

Thursday, December 3, 2009

#1-Zombieland (2009)


It's been about two months now since Pantient Zero took a bite out of an infectious hamburger from his local gas-and-gulp. Symtoms include:
Swelling Of The Brain
Sweltering Fever
And an Undying Desire for Human Flesh.
Imagine Mad Cow, transformed to Mad Human, Transformed to Mad Zombie. Welcome to Zombieland.

Now lets be honest, anybody who walked into a movie called "Zombieland" hoping for a tour de force on modern culture, in a two-and-a-half-hour masterpiece driven by charater development, was probably an idiot. The plot is mostly as described above. We get one little sentence of narration descibing how the zombies came to be, and then we are thrown into a world of massacisstic cannibals hoping for their next fix. Other than that, our main plot follows four main characters. Columbus, Witchita, Tallahassee, and Little Rock, all named after their home towns. (Never use real names, it gets things too personal), and with Columbus' book of rules, they head off to make their way to Pacific Playland, hearing that is the only place left un-touched by zombies. But they are going to have to go through a hell've lot of them to make that far.

The acting in this movie is good. And yes, there are some moments that acutally require acting, and some touching, (if not sometimes depressing moments) of life at home before the apocalypse. Woody Harrelson does an amazing job, as he always seems to do. And that is really good for him, beause before Zombieland he hadn't had a box-office hit since the mid 90's. Speaking of box-office failure, this movie also stars Jesse Eisenberg, whose last big project was adventure land, which failed to make a connection, again good thing Zombieland came around to help this little Indie gem. Emma Stone is a relative new-comer to film, and does a decent job with a fairly large supporting role. Abigail Breslin appears to be taking a fouree into more adult films, which it really where she started. Little Miss Sunshine anyone? And yes, she is from Signs. All the acting here is well done and had some very good improv by some pretty much unknown comedians.

"It had to be a clown. No, no, you don't understand. It HAD to be a clown."

While it's name might seem daunting, this film is definatly a success at being a comedy. All the lines hit perfectly, there is some in-your-face moments, and other more subtle humor displayed here. But, do not fret horror fans, Zombieland features plentys of scary, and tension filled moments in between spouts of laughter. It didn't cut out on the violence either, its body count is high, and lots of blood fuel this movie with adrenilne. However, despite how many positives I have with the film, there are a few negatives.

The first opening sequences of this movie are hilarious. The first, maybe fifteen minutes are the absoloute best. If the entire movie was like the first minutes, it would be one of my favorites definatly. Though the film continues to be funny in its entirety, the rest of the movie is a little bit slower, and the humor is more evenly spaced, when originally it was just being thrown at you over and over. And me saying that it has slow moments isn't good, considering the movie isn't even an hour-and-a-half, that includes credits.

And lastly, also in the beggining, the film had a very cool, hip, kinda slow-mo-y visiual style that it had going on. I really enjoyed it, the music was perfectly tuned to each of the scenes, and the action was well oriented. But again, for some reason the action seems to get pushed to the wayside during the middle, and then the style and action comes back for the final act. I just thought that it was strange for it to come and go like that.

Well, Zombieland has officially become the highest grossing zombie movie of all time, beating out the Dawn Of The Dead remake, and it was the first zombie spoof to make a large profit in the U.S.. I have to say, it definatly deserves it, and the minor gripes that I had with it, are just that, minor. The acting was great, the humor was spot on, and when it was there, the action was fun. Overall Zombieland was a great experience.

I Give Zombieland A: