Sunday, February 28, 2010

#17-Hard Candy (2005)

Hard Candy

Yes, before Juno, before Whip It, before she was really popular, Ellen Page starred in this little indie gem from 2005. It is directed by David Slade, who may not have made a very big paycheck off this film, but is sure to in the soon future. He also directed the hit vampire film 30 Days of Night, and is currently set to direct the 3rd Twilight film. It's so sad when an excellent director switches to the dark side. However, this is a very different Ellen Page then the one you have come to know and love. She is not your smart, sassy teen, but rather strong a brutal. And has a very short hair-cut.

While many have called for the reform of the MPAA's rating system for film, many say that Hard Candy is a perfect example why. While the MPAA currently rates film based on their content, such as language and violence, people question about film that have little bad content, but mature subject matter. Enter Hard Candy, a film that does have some strong language, and a little gore, but is much heavier-handed in political tones involving criminal penalty and molestation. Should films be rated based on context, or convention, or a combanation of both? Or should film go without rating, as to not ruin their artistic creativity, as some have also suggested.

Hard Candy is a very difficult film to process. And not an easy one to watch. Not because of graphic violence or anything of that sort, but because of it's story. It involves a young girl named Haley, who meets a man named Jeff over an internet chatroom. The two of them decide to meet, and as it turns out, Haley is 14, and Jeff is 32. They go back to his place, where we find out that he is a photographer, his home doubles as his studio, and he his brought back, and photographed many girls the same age as Haley. I think you get where the story goes from there. But, Haley is a lot more resiliant than she looks, and may even be more deviant and evil than Jeff.

"They teach us to never let a stranger mix your drink."

While much controversy will be stirred in the audience over to subject matter, this is where Hard Candy really sticks out. It creates such a dynamic conflict in the viewer. Do we root for the young girl, to hold her own, or do we root for the pedophile, who is being very physically mutilated by his would-be victim. I think this is one of Ellen Page's strongerst performances. Much stronger than her showing in Whip It, and about on par with Juno. Also here we have Patrick Wilson, who plays Jeff. He does a fairly decent job, and has to go through a very wide range of emotions very quickly, often switching over and over again per scene. Also, Sandra Oh shows up very, very briefly, but does play a very nice supporting role, in an otherwise small cast, consisting of a total five characters in the credits.

Another place that the film works very well in is the direction. David Slade does a very good job with pacing and style, creating a subperb tension, and unease between this two characters. You never really know which way it is going to go, and it works very well. The film also has a great visiual style and flow that it uses. The red walls that you see in the picture above, are sometimes the only major color on the screen, while everything else has been bleached out. Credit is also due to Brian Nelson, who wrote such an awesome screenplay, and kept things very equal between the characters, and dared to do something not many other people would have. Not to mention the amazing ending.

One of the few major flaws that comes with Hard Candy is the fact, that at it's core, it is basically a torture film. Granted less so than most others, this young girl does capture, taunt, tease, violate, and mutilate this man, much to her sick amusement. It doesn't help that the film also has a scene, that will have men crossing their legs, in fear for their family jewels. Hard Candy acts like it is a step above the other torture films, which it is, but that does not completely clear it of it's true face.

As a whole, Hard Candy is a very solid picture. It has a very interesting story, and payoff that will split the audience members in a half, and definatly create a stir with the group you are seeing it with. The actors all perform rather well, especially Ellen Page, who gave a solid performance for an incredibly hard role, at a relativly young age. David Slade directs well, keep the tension between these two evils at an equal, and also has a nice visual flair. It is however a torture movie, granted a very smart, and good torture movie, but still a torture movie nontheless.

I Give Hard Candy A:

Thursday, February 25, 2010

#16-Whip It (2009)

Whip It

Whip It. While the title may make it sound like a cheap porno, Whip It is actually a pretty decent film. To be honest, when I first saw the poster, I thought it was a movie about horse derbies. Just the way she is hunched over, and the helmet, and the title. But as I continued to grace this poster with my presence, I reached the bottom with the cast list, and caught the director, Drew Barrymore. Now, in the way of acting, Drew Barrymor is very hit and miss for me. I usually like her better in more mature, or supporting roles. She was perfect in Donnie Darko. But whenever it's her ditzy blond stick, I just can't stand it. Also to be noted, Drew has her own production company, Flower Films, which has been doing well lately, which is a positive sign towards her directing.

Also noticed in the poster, which I'm sure you've noticed too, this movie has Ellen Page. Yeah, Juno! It saddens me that Juno is what she is mostly known for. While I enjoyed her performance, and the film itself, I think that she has done many other things that are just as good if not better, which a lot of people don't even know about. The most popular of the independent movies she did at a young age was Hard Candy, which is my next review. But she has also done Smart People, The Tracey Fragments, and many others. I definatly think she is one of the best young actresses in Hollywood today, and can't wait to see what she does next.

The film was written by Shauna Cross, and is an adaptation of her novel Derby Girl. The film is about a small town girl from Texas, who on a whim, goes with a friend to Austin to see a rollerderby match. Through a series of events, this newly discovered sport becomes her passion, but her Mother would rather have her doing beauty pagents. The film flutters with other sub-plots, including Bliss having a fight with her best friend, and the unavoidable love intrest. This is where a lot of the films problems come from. The script is pretty weak, with the exception of a few scenes, and has some pretty annoying dialouge. I think this is what really brought it down for me, but certainly didn't wreck an otherwise great movie.

"Babe Ruthless!"

Whether it be a surprise to you or not, Drew Barrymore actually does a very nice job behind the camera with this film. It really rings of her, trying to tell a real story, of a strong young woman, but everything is very cute. Will I seek out her next movie just because she directed it? Maybe, it all depends on the film. This movie also has a very nice cast. And you can tell that they just had an excellent time making the movie, everyone feels very comfortable doing what they are doing, and interact very well with each other. The movie also has some very nice camerawork, following teams of girls round and round the track, and the action keeps the film movie at a very solid pace.

Like I mentioned above, the movie does have an impressive cast that does not end with Ellen Page. We get perfromances from Sarah Habel, Shannon Eagen, Kristen Wiig of SNL, Zoe Bell, Eve, Drew herself even shows up in a few scenes, as does Jimmy Falon. And it's not just the young hipster crowd that this film should appeal to. Infact one of the strongest performances comes from Marcia Gay Harden, who plays Bliss' Mother. There is a very well done scene, towards the middle of the film, with Bliss and her Mother sitting on the floor of the kitchen, having a very deep conversation. This scene was handled with particular skill both from the performers and Drew's, who keeps the scene very simple and clean. The rest of the cast also gives very solid shows, and it's nice to see Kristen Wiig getting some larger parts, as I feel she deserves them greatly.

Overall, I really enjoyed Whip It. It is definatly one of the best "chick flicks" to come out of Hollywood for a long time. Drew Barrymore proves to us that she can be trusted behind the camera, as well as in front of it, and she performs well, in both aspects. The rest of the cast does an excllent job too, and makes it very fun to watch them mingle. The films flaw comes from the script, which faulters just a little to much to go unnoticed. It doesn't completely ruin the experience, and you will definatly have a lot of fun watching Whip It.

I Give Whip It A:

Thursday, February 18, 2010

#15-Pi (1998)


Made in 1998, yet purposly shot in black-and-white, Pi, was the first film for Darren Aronofsky, and Sean Gullette, both who would later go on to star, and direct in bigger productions. Pi often comes with the subtitle Faith In Chaos which I personally do not attach with the film, but respect nonetheless. I understand why general audiences have trouble with films like Mulholland Dr., which are very far out there, and very long. Pi is pretty far out there, but rather short, just making it past the 80 minute mark, but this is a film that you should prepare yourself for.

This is a very confusing film, and has a lot of tecnical math terms that I caught myself trying to remember. The lack of color may throw some people off, but I actually found that I perferred it, as my TV looks a lot smoother in black-and-white. While I may get a little backlash for this, I like Pi more than Aronofsky's more popular movie Requiem For A Dream. Now, this does not mean that Pi is better, by I enjoyed it more. Like I often tell people, there is a differnce between a good movie, and a fun movie. Pi is both good, and very enjoyable.

Pi is virtually a three-trick pony character wise. It is about a mathmatician named Maximillian, who, while trying to figure out a pattern in the stock market, has a computer crash. Lost and befuddled, he throws bangs up his a printer a bit, to find that it spits out a seemling random pattern of numbers. These numbers, as it turns out are the key to the stock market. Max meets a fellow Jew and mathmatcian that thinks that the numbers are significant in Kabbla, and the church desperatly wants them. In fact, they may just do anything.

"You are, but a vessel."

Darren Aronofsky definatly set a high bar for himself after Pi. He shows that he certainly has an intensive style, but also knows how to use it, without going overboard. He knows how to tell people what to do, in order to get the correct reactions, and he is also a brilliant writer. While not used to quite the same extent, Pi features the same fast cuts, quick pans, and seemingly awkward zooms that later made him famous in Requiem For A Dream. While Aronofsky has ventured more and more away from his style, doing first The Fountain, followed by one of the most critically acclaimed films of 2008, The Wrestler, showing that he can be very verstile when he needs to be.

Sean Gullette does an excellent job playing Max. The film basically rests entirly on his shoulders, as the other main characters only get maybe twenty minutes of screen-time. That being said, the supporting cast is great as well, Mark Morgolis does an excellent job playing Max's long-time math partner, and friend, who encourages him to walk away. Ben Shenkman is also in the film, playing the Hebrew preist who slowly lures Max into dangerous territory. Though the film did have mostly solid performances, there was some third rate characters that really bothered the screen whenever then came on. But they had small roles, so it wasn't too bad.

Overall, Pi is an excellent film. Not only did Aronofsky do a brilliant job writing and directing, but also showed wanna be directors how to go about their first film. He set a bar, standard, and style for himself, that he would go on to use again, that people love, and is entirly his. The performances by the core cast were excellent, and Sean Gullette made a great start and name for himself with this film. Small problems do occur within the film, including some annyoing back-up actors, and it's very short running lenth. I cannot reccoment Pi to a Transformers loving audience, but if you are in the mood for something slightly weird, or a good brain busting thriller, Pi is one for you.

I Give Pi A:

Friday, February 12, 2010

#14-Mulholland Dr. (2001)

Mulholland Dr.

David Lynch, who is one of the top film-makers of this generation, in my opinion, brings us a startling dive into the mind of four people. Our is it two? Or three? These are the kinds of questions Mulholland Dr. raises, in it's attempts to slowly rot away at your mind.The film was originally set to be a television show on ABC, but was canceled after a failed pilot episode. While I don't think that Mulholland would have been as good strectched out, I do think Lynch could have pulled it off, hell, just look at Twin Peaks. One of the strangest shows on television, with enough weird concepts to put even the most artsy people off, and Twin Peaks remains one of the best remembered shows of the 90's.

Now, I'm warning you, if you are a typical moviegoer, you are not going to enjoy this movie. I hate having to give out warnings like this, because the films are so excellent, but you know that some people just won't like them. Even if you aren't a typical moviegoer, don't watch this until you are ready. There are some movies that you just have to be in the right mind-set for, and no matter how much you've prepared yourself, you are never fully ready for a Lynch film. Many people consider this his best, but I do think that he has one better film out, which I will be reviewing soon to come.

It's almost impossinble to explain Mulholland Dr. without giving away essential plot points, but, I can try. We have a young woman from Canada, who is moving down to Hollywood, California to become an actress. Her aunt is out of town, and she is able to stay at her place. But, upon entering her condo, Bette finds a woman, who has recently been in car crash, and lost her memory has been hiding inside. So, while trying to get a role, Bette decides to help this woman find her memory, along the way they encounter many strange people and things, that you won't believe, even after you see.

First off, let me say that this is David Lynch's most accesible movie, and the easiest to understand. That having been said, you will not understand this movie. I've seen it five times, and still have not come up with an explanation for everything. One thing that I always praise about Lynch films, is how he uses pretty unknown actors and actresses, but they all perform very well.
Naomi Watts, gives what is probably her best performance ever, which is very tricky, especially given the role she has to play. Laura Harring also gives a very riviting performance, as a woman with so much character, who may be just that. The film has a wide variety of stange creatues that make up the supporting cast, including: Justin Theroux, Ann Miller, Dan Hedaya, and many others, all of whom perform exactly as they should.

"Blue box, blue key."

One of the reasons I always love Lynch films, is they purposley give the middle finger to traditional narrative. Never will you find a film of his that is normal in anyway. With maybe the exception of The Elephant Man, but we'll let that one slide. I love films like this, for the same reason I love films with open endings. Because it leaves them open for interpertation, and that allows you to make them the movie you want them to be, thus hightening the experience a great deal.

The main story, which was explained above, is simple enough, and could have been turned into a nice, mystery thriller in the hands of another writer/director. But Lynch throws all sense out the window in the first act, puts a bag over your head, and spins you around and around, until you don't know where you are. This is another reason why I love Lynch, his films, at the heart, are all realtivly simple, and easy-going, but with a few sleight's of hand, he turns them into a complete fantasy land, turning everything on it's ear, and telling you it's the toe. His direction is simply fantastic, and his writing superb. While a few of his previous films weren't so good, all are aloud forgiveness, with Mulholland Dr. alone. Lynch alone made this movie worth seeing, backed up by excellent acting, marvelous attention to detail in production, and a great lighting department, Mulholland Dr. is propelled to the front of the pack.

The final thing I would like to comment on, before I finally wrap-up this review, is that I think Lynch should create a funhouse. Not a scary carnival funhouse, but a surrealistic walk-through ride of imagination. One of his best film attributes, is his ability to take sounds and images, and make them what they are not. There are moments in Mulholland Dr. that are some of the scariest I have ever witnessed, and if I were to dissect the scene, and break it down, I would have no clue why they would be scary. He also knows how to use lack of sound to create some very startling effects. One thing that he does perfectly to create tension, is if a camera is running down a long hallway, he makes it one continous shot. One, long, seemingly never-ending shot, which about midway through, loses sound completely, even when whatever jumps out from behind the wall, there is no sound, which makes even more terrifying.

As if you couldn't tell already, Mulholland Dr. is an excellent film. David Lynch (can't say his name enough) has created an amazing realm of peril and chaos, that only he could. I'd like to take a note from Michael Phillips who said "About half-way through, you'll have lost all your bearings, but in a good way, and you certainly won't mind." That about sums up the film, it makes sense, truly, it does. But you won't ever be able to figure out where all the loose ends tie up. Excellent writing, directing, imagery, sound, lighting, music, editing, set design, costumes, make-up, and much, much more definatly make this a film to see.

I Give Mulholland Dr. A:

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

#13-Friday The 13th (1980)

Friday The 13th

Friday The 13th. The cream of the crop. The essential slasher film. Everything rolled into one big bundle. My precursor of words have all been said about the precursor film. It was, and still possibly is the greatest slasher film of all time. It has defined decades of teenage moviegoers, as to what they come to expect from the horror film. And, films in general. It was the mother and father of too many sequels to count, which all made most of the Jason fans jaded over the past few years. BUT, earlier this year a remake of the original Friday The 13th was created. It met mixed reviews from fans and moviegoers alike. But even the quintessential Friday fans agreed, it was much better than the last few offerings. But the original! Its the original top notch film that set the bar for all horror movies to follow it. Not really. Infact many people claim that this film was just riding off of the success of a great horror film that came a year earlier. The original Halloween. Also to note the producers of this film have come clean saying the my previous statement was true. However, each seires began to make a name for themselves when they turned out to be the subject of way to many sequels, prequels, and remakes. But no matter how much you love, hate, or love to hate Jason, (and his mother) you have to agree that this film was part in the re-creation, or one of films most popular genres.

Friday The 13th opens twenty years before the films main story. The classic plot device of horny teenagers create the stage for the drowining of a young boy while at summer camp. An angry (and unknown camp counselor) confronts these two young lovers with more than they expected. A large butcher knife. Thats right all you young horror fans, Jason wasn't the killer. He was dead. (Sorry if this was to spoil anything for you but brute honesty hurts.) And if two dead teenagers wasn't enough to fill your appateit, the killer does what killers do best. Creates a very long night at camp blood. (If you get that refrence you are in a league of great people.) Pick-up about twenty years later. We first see a young girl hitch-hiking her way to Camp Crystal Lake for a summer job. The camp has been closed down, rightfully so, because of the tragic events that happened eariler, including drowning, murder, fire, and toxic water. She stops at a restraunt to get directions, when someone decides to giver her a lift. Upon leaving, they come across a man named Ralph who warns that "Camp Blood" carries a death curse. It turns out, he's right. So a new group of horny teenagers begins to try to re-open the camp during the summer. But, someone is lurking in the woods, stalking the youngsters. Getting ready to avenge a young boys death. Getting ready to kill them all off. One. By. One.

This is a classic horror film and you have to admit it. This film redefined the genre. As a br
ainchild of the 1980's, this film has all the trademarks of an 80's slasherfest. Teenagers. Revenge. Eerie lighting. A storm. And lots and lots of POV shots. While this was one of the first films for a then young Kevin Bacon, it marked the start of a downward slope for Betsy Palmer, who was a seasoned stage actress. Many critcs and fans panned her role in this film, and she later stated that she only did it for the money. Claiming that she needed a new car, and they offered to pay her one-thousand dollars a day. She said the first time she read the script she thought "it was a piece of shit!" However, despite some actors not liking their likenesss attached to the film it is. Others in the film include, Adrienne King, Harry Crosby, Laurie Bartham, Mark Nelson, Jennine Taylor, and Robbi Morgan.

Now lets be honest this film was not about acting. And it shows.While most of the cast does a good job with a lack-luster script, others seem to fall flat. Kevin Bacon, Betsy Palmer, and Adrienne King, all did an alright job with what they had. The others though were your run-of-the-mill teenagers. Not good. Not bad. Just somewhere in-between. They are nearly always dull, or over-acting, but what can I say, a low budget film, a low budget cast, except of course Betsy Palmer. Lucky.

Special effects m
aster Tom Savini is the grandaddy of these special effects, and it shows his keen ability to make the horrifying, gratifying. With a body count of ten, all dying in their own special and grusome way, it leaves lots of space for unique kills. Decapitaion. Arrow to the throat. Stab wounds, its all here, and Tom Savini makes it happen. While that may seem like a lot, and it probably was back in the day, lots of the shots don't last very long, or cut away before you can see much. They recently realesed and unrated cut of these films, which I have yet to see. I re-watched it for this review on an old VHS tape. But, even with these new extended additions, the film is only ten seconds longer. I know, lame right.

While nothing is truly original in this world, and this is a horror film, the script and plot wasn't that great. This may seem like a nit-pik, a horror movie is suppose to be about blood right? But I like originality in my script. Sorry if you think they're suppose to be simple, I wish I could live that way, but alas, I cannot. The greatest part of this movie is the ending. And even though I love this part of the film, it wasn't in the script, and the idea was thought of by Tom Savini. Its shocking, scary, gross and unexpected. My favorite part of the movie infact, and the scariest. But however many complaints I come up with for this film, I always find something new to enjoy about it. Overall, this film is great fun to watch. No matter how many times you've seen it, or if you just saw it when you were a teenager, its definatly time to give this one another view. Its a classic in every sense of the word. One of the key American films of the century, and in the highest ranks of the horror classics, Friday The 13th is nothing short of astonishing. Blood, guts, violence, and even some funny moments, this film will make you feel young again. It desrves a spot on the shelf of all horror fans, and on the shelf of all those who grew up in the 80's.

I Give Friday The 13th A:

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

#12-Adaptation (2002)


This shouldn't happen often, but it very well may, it seems, that I have reviewed two films, by the same film maker directly in a row. I got Charlie Kaufman fever, and I apologize. Charlie Kaufman, once again, the most original mind in Hollywood today, brings us his third motion picture to be reviewed on my site, that film being Adaptation. This film, is also very original, even though it is based on a novel, not really. The film is about Charlie Kaufman (no that's not a typo), who in reality was hired to write an adaptation for a book called The Orchid Theif, Kaufman was having trouble for the script, so instead wrote a fictionalized screenplay about him trying to write the screenplay. It was an interesting idea, and the studio liked, so though the film bares very little resemblence to the original, it still counted as an adapted screenplay.

The film follows a few main characters. Firstly, there is Charlie and Donald Kaufman, twin brothers both played by Nicolas Cage, Charlie is hired to write a script for a novel by Susan Orlean, played here by Meryl Streep. The Orchid Theif is about a nursery owner, who goes out and steals endagered species, and tries to cultivate them, or so he claims, this man is John Laroche, and is played by Chris Cooper, who won an Academy Award for his performance. The film flashes between three different time periods, of Laroche committing these acts, Orlean writing her novel and getting information, and Kaufman trying to write the screenplay. It was a very interesting way to go about things, and I enjoyed it greatly.

The film has a very large, and a very impressive cast. Nicolas Cage is always hit-or-miss for me. He definatly is a hit here. Though he looks little like real-life Kaufman, I can safely assume that he portrays him well, considering it is Kaufman writing himself. Whether or not the character is 100% true to form, I still thoroughly enjoyed his performance. Meryl Streep also gives a winning performance as Orlean, whose film version, is nothing like the real-life verison, real Susan Orlean made that very clear (you'll know why after the film). But I think that the real winner here was Chris Cooper. He got his first Academy Award nomination and win for this film, and he certainly deserves it. He is always convincing as the somewhat illiterate, yet startlingly insightful Laroche, who is an amazing character on his own.
"Damn, that's a voice-over again."

As much as a praise the film, that does not mean that it is without faults. The film is very quirky, and very funny, filled with in refrences for film-fans and movie-buffs, but unless you know the background knowledge for the film, you won't get all of the jokes, which are all very funny. Also, the film seemed very choppy at times, it's never really a fast-paced movie, but it is never really slow-paced either. I don't know if that is really a bad thing or not, but it was certainly noticed. This is also one of the most serious of Kaufman films, not serious as in dark and depressing (that would have to go to Synechdoche), but serious as in it is his least fantasitcal, especially if you don't know the background information.

The film is also very nice everywhere else. You've already heard my love of Kaufman from two other reviews, so I won't waste anymore space here. I feel that Spike Jonze really stepped up his game here from Being John Malkovich. While he was very good there as well, I felt that he was even better with Adaptation, getting to mess around with some cool lighting, and daydream techniques. From a technical standpoint the film is very nice too, with a good score, and some nice camera work and cinematography.

Overall, I felt that the film was very nice. It was fun, entertaining and original, of which are things film should be. Plus, we have the always clever writing and dialouge of Kaufman, some excellent direction by Spike Jonze, and great perfromances from the entire cast. However the film won't be for everyone, I can tell you that right now, with its quick ending, strange pace, and weird story, some people will definatly dislike the film. The cast did an excellent job, but so did the crew, with some great camera tricks, and some fun music.

I Give Adaptation A: