Monday, March 29, 2010

#21-Brazil (1985)


To even begin with the film of Brazil, you need to know what happened behind the scenes. Much of which is still reported on as one of Hollywood's biggest calamities. The film was written and directed by former Monty Python animator Terry Gilliam. Gilliam's fantasy was bleak, dystopian, and very distant from what modern American's had recently seen in fantasy, with films like Alien. In Europe, Brazil had a running length of 142 minutes, where it was met with critical and commericial success. A major battle between the films creators, and the American distributor cut out major portions of the film, cutting it down significantly to 94 minutes. Gilliam feriously protested this, and without the consent of the studio showed the film to the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, where it won Best Picture, which then prompted the distributor to meet with Gilliam halfway, realesing a 131 minute version, which still performed poorly at the US box-office.

Much like the controversy behind the film, what happens in front of the camera is hard to follow, and understand. In a fictionalized version of Britain, Johnathan Pryce plays a man by the name of Sam Lowry, a low-ranking government official. Strangley enough, Sam constantly has fantasy daydreams of rescuing a damsal in distress. Sam is sent to to rectify a mistake, the governement accidently captured, and killed a man by the name of Harry Buttle, instead of suspected terrorist Harry Tuttle. When arriving at their home, Sam finds that a woman in the second floor, is an exact replica of the woman he has been dreaming about. Through a series of incidents, Sam meets up with both the mysterious woman, and the real Harry Tuttle, and soon becomes a wanted terrorist himself, and has to deal with this, his love life, and his plastic surgery addicted mother, all while trying to fix his air conditioning.

While it may sound like a comedy of errors, Brazil has got to be the best social, and political satire film, since Dr. Stranglove. Terry Gilliam has woven a very intense story here, and it certainly shows. While the film is largly a visual fantasy, and even some story elements are taken from classic fantasy story, the film is actually largly grounded in reality. Nothing seems to be going right for this character, even though he is just a low-ranking official. The film also delves into political satire, on both sides of the pond, with the film being based out of England, and largly poking fun at parliment. But also noting the failures of America's current political system. The film has a strangly modern feeling to it, even watching it now, with major sub-plots dealing with terrorist bombings, drug addiction, and plastic surgery.

"Here's your recepit for your husband, and my recepit for your recepit."

Now, the verison of the film that I saw, was the original 142 minute directors cut. Now, I am not saying that this film is just dark and bleak for fantasy, it truly is dark, and bleak, and even somewhat depressing by the end, especially what it has to say about the current human. Terry Gilliam is excellent at fantasy but what he does even better is reality. And that is where Brazil succeeds for the most part. This is one of the best films I have seen this year. The top three from my first twenty-one reviews definatly include Brazil. And while I did like it a lot, the film does come with a few minor problems, but first with the positives. Johnathan Pryce gives a stellar performance as Sam, and was very good at what the role was. A man, with too much to handle, and tons of stress, slowly unwraveling is a lot harder to do than most would think. Roberto De Niro does a great job in a realtivly small role, not really that small, but for a movie of this length. It is a bit of a switch from the regular De Niro, and a nice switch indeed. One of the best performances though comes from Kathrine Helmond, who plays Sam's insane mother, addicted to plastic surgery and fashion, she provides much of the humor of the film, and much of the satire, which goes hand-in-hand all to well.

One of my minor nit-picks with the film comes from its length, running two hours and twenty-four minutes long does seem to show at some points, and there are many times when I thought: 'oh, I guess that's the end', and it just kept on running. It never seemed to end (though it makes sense now why), but it was sometimes, hard to pay attention. This is not helped by the fact that the story is very, very thick, with lots of characters, and names, and times, and people, and things, and sub-plots all revolving around one person, making the whole thing seem very crowded, this is deeped, again with the Tuttle/Buttle mix-up, that the viewer constantly has to sort out mentally.

Amazingly though, Brazil is still an excellent film. Faults like those usually ruin a movie for me, but Brazil had a strange dreamlike effect on me, and was a thrill to watch. The film has meaning, and passion, and thought, and people we can relate to, all while surrouding itself in an incredible visual package that makes it a pleasure to sit through. Things like convuluted story, and running length seem like small complaints when you look at the picture as a whole. Terry Gilliam has created something special here, and I hope he comes back to dramas, and satires similair to this film. The cast, direction, and writing are all great. Topped off with excellent costumes, sets, cineamatography, lighting, and score. Brazil, is truly, a film to behold.

I Give Brazil A:

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

#20-Daybreakers (2010)


Okay, before we start anything here, can we talk about how awesome this one-sheet is? (One-sheet for those who don't know, is the industry word for poster). For me, this is the perfect kind of movie poster. It's simple. Has the title. Has the realese date. Catches the viewers attention, and you pretty much know what it is going to be about. I've been looking forward to this movie for a long time, even before it was officialy announced. Why and how you ask? Let me explain.
Back into 2003, the directors of this film, the Spierig Brothers, made a little independent zombie film called Undead. It had a budget of around $1 million, and was given limited realese, along with some festival screenings. The film sold incredibly well on DVD, and while not being a great movie by any means, I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Now, six years later, the Brothers are back again, this time with vampires and $30 million. I heard they were making a movie about a world overrun by vampires, about a year after this was announced, I saw the Daybreakers trailer, and basically, I had a freak-out.
Now, in case you don't know, Daybreakers takes the premise of your typical zombie and vampire films, and turns it on its head. The world has been virtually overrun by vampires. Not crazy, insane, brainless vampires, but vamps that run buisinesses, and drive, and drink blood coffee. People that do not get enough blood, go crazy and turn into your run-of-the-mill brainless vampire. There are a few humans left in the world, and those who are, simply try to survive. Unfourtanetly for the vampire society, the human population is almost extinct, and they are running out of blood, so soon, every will be "Underdwelers", going crazy, ravenous, and consuming all.

"I don't touch human blood."
For a weird horror genre-bender, Daybreakers actually has a fairly nice cast attached to it. Ethan Hawke plays our main vampire, with Sam Neill as the evil corporation executive. Then we have our heroes, played by Claudia Karvan and Willem Dafoe. Surprisingly, the cast does fairly well for the most part. Ethan Hawke does a fine job as our main character, and Willem Dafoe is always fun, especially in supporting roles.

The Spierig Brothers (Michael and Peter) do a good job for the most part, adapting their script to the big screen. Unfourtanetly for them, they aren't the best of writers, and these wonderful actors are given some pretty bad dialouge to read. Most of the effects are done decently, and there is a substanstial amount of gore in the film as well. The only problem is, the entire film takes place in one town, which would be fine, but the entire world is suppose to be overrun, and all we ever see is the tiny little town. Also, a good surprise, the Brothers managed to fit a little political message in here as well, and hopefully people will pick up on this, with the healthcare bill just being past and all.

Overall, Daybreakers was a fun goofy ride. It was a film about vampires taking over the world, and thankfully, it knew what it was, and never took itself to seriously. The make-up, and visual effects are done rather nicely for a moderate budget, and they had some very good actors to play some interesting roles. Unfourtanetly, the budget was a little to small for the scope of the project, and the dialouge is a little weak. But like I always say, there is a difference between a good movie, and a fun movie, and Daybreakers was definatly a fun ride.
I Give Daybreakers A:

Friday, March 19, 2010

#19-Moon (2009)


Okay, by this point, you've either heard of Moon, or you haven't. The film was near completely devoid of any major critical attention outside the blog-o-sphere, and where it was given the spotlight it didn't have much time. Bloggers and online filmcritics across the globe came together to celebrate this little sci-fi gem, and gave it a unanimous 'thumbs up' after it premiered at the Tribeca film festival last year. This film has a ton of support around it, and if you pay attention to the online community, you may even see a little hype being created about it. But the question is the same, indie film or not. Does it live up to standards?

Before we get into the real review process of this film, lets just take a look at some of the raw talent behind it, because it is backed very strongly by a few people. First up is Duncan Jones, the director and co-writier. While his name my not seem like much at first, just wait until you hear that this is the son of David Bowie. Yes it true. This is Jones' first job at directing outside a few commercials, and surely did his dad proud. A darling of the indie scene, Sam Rockwell is virtually the only actor on the screen. It is a unique role written specifically for him, and for a good 80 minutes, you'll be seeing no one else. Finally Kevin Spacey does have a genuine role to play here, believe it or not. He is in fact the voice of the robot GERTY, and to get Kevin Spacey in your movie, even as a voice, is something to praise.

While Moon is a very small film, in every sense of the word, one place it breaks out of those standards is the story. Had it been given a bigger budget, this plot could have been intensified a lot, but as it remains it is still excellent. Astrounaut Sam Bell is on base at the Sarang Moon Mining Fecility for three years, or so his contract says. He is the only crew on board, aside for a small companion robot named GERTY. Being alone is such a deserted place does crazy things on the brain, and Sam knows this, even as he begins to experience some himself. But what if, he isn't the one going crazy?

"Okay Sam"

The two words uttered above are virtually the only thing that GERTY ever really says, and outside a few messages sent to the base by various people, Sam Rockwell is really the only person on the screen for most of the movie. His job of playing a man who is trying to save himself from insanity, with the idea of freedom just a few weeks away was done spectacularly. He had a lot of Oscar buzz online about this, and personally, I thought it was all going to be hype, but he sincerly does a great job. I can understand his not being recognized, but I do hope that some day, someone congradulates him on an excellent performance.

For a first time director, Duncan Jones does amazing as well. He had the ability to make his low budget sci-fi movie stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the best of the bunch. And for being a low budget sci-fi movie, it has a pretty good plot to boot, and even has some nice special effects, and great make-up. Whether or not he is as talented as his dad is unclear, but I definatly will see what he does in the future.

I only had one key flaw with the film, being such a great film, I'm kind of sorry that I noticed it, but after a few weeks of seeing it, it did come about. The film succeeds amazing on three key levels. Acting. Directing. And writing. But unfourtanetly for Moon, it does little for anything outside of those three categories. It is a low-budget sci-fi movie, and there is little about that we can help, but in the end, it is still just a really well made sci-fi movie. Similair to my probelms with last years The Host, which I thought was just a great monster movie, Moon is just a great sci-fi movie. So overall, I highly reccomend Moon, even despite this complaint. The general audience, as well as the art-house audience will enjoy it greatly, and that is because it is a great movie.

I Give Moon A:

Monday, March 1, 2010

#18-Blood Simple (1984)

Blood Simple

Similarly to Ellen Page starring in Hardy Candy before being famous, the Coen brothers wrote and directed this film before they were famous. Infact, Blood Simple is what launched them into superstardom. Maybe not with audiences, but after their first film, they had already caught the attention of professional critics across the board. And now, nearly 26 years later, the brothers have yet to make a bad film.

Now, the Coen brothers have three basic genres that they seem to work in. It is strange because the genres are so different, yet they can do good as easily as one as in the other. The first genre that they can work in, is what they work in with Blood Simple, the straight thriller. Next up is what they followed Blood Simple with, the straight comedy, much like Raising Arizona. Their third and final genre is my personal favorite to see them work in. The Comedy-Thriller, such as Fargo. Part of what they do so well is writing. They continue to produce highly original screenplays for their films, and then pull them off in a simply awe inspiring tone.

Abby is cheating on her saloonkeeper husband, Marty. The object of her affections is Ray, one of Marty's bartenders. Marty hires Visser, an unscrupulous detective, to kill them. But Visser has other, more lucrative plans of his own. So begins a calculating round of double and triple crosses, that will have you not only questioning the characters sanity, but your own, as you try and figure out who is really after who.

"You're the idgit!"

Firstly, the writing (again) is terrific. And through a number of differnt circumstances, the Coen's have begun to have to split up duties on the credits. Joel typically gets directing credits, and Ethan usually gets productin credits, and they share the writing, though they both help in each category. I feel that the writing for the film is very strong, but the direction needs some help. I think compared to some other Coen films, Blood Simple is one of the weaker, simply because they haven't quite worked out their game plan at this point. Other technical aspects of the film are wonderous however, with great cinematography, and an excellent score from Carter Burwell.

The acting here is something to behold as well. It is one of the first prominent roles for Frances McDormand. She is excellent here, as she always seems to be, and is even better in one of the best Coen films Fargo. We also get very nice performances from John Getz and Dan Hedaya. But, you cannot talk about this film, without talking about the amazing performance from M. Emmet Walsh. Walsh then, is the equivalent to Javier Bardem now. He's a great actor, but here he especially shines, just because he is so creepy.

Simply put (hah, simply Blood Simple, hah) Blood Simple is a film to see. The Coen Brothers are amazing in writing, as they always are, but do suffer quite a bit in the direction department. Technical nuances, such as the score and cinematography stand out noticably, and for exactly the right reasons. Not to mention good performances from John Getz, and Dan Hedaya. A great one from Fraces McDormand. And one of the best in screen history from M. Emmet Walsh. Plus, what could be the most intense final climax I've seen in film, in a very, very long time.

I Give Blood Simple A: