Sunday, May 30, 2010

#27-Tideland (2005)


Monty Pyton animator turned director Terry Gilliam makes his way onto the blog again! It’s his second time, and it hopefully it won’t be the last. He was previously on for Brazil, a film that I absoloutly loved. Tideland, one of his most recent attempts is one of his worst. I don’t think he has made a specifically bad film yet, but Tideland gets pretty close.

The story follows a young girl named Juliza Rose (Jodelle Ferland), who is the child of two very neglectful parents. Both into hard drugs, her father (Jeff Bridges) and her mother (Jennifer Tilly) are very bad for, and to her health. Having no friends being on the move constantly because of her father being a musician, she has no friends, except for her dolls. After her mother dies, and her father overdoeses, she continually escapes into a fantasy world, filled with many creepy characters and strange elements.

The film was universally panned by fans and critics alike upon intial realese. And I have to say, I don’t really disagree with them. The film is very weak for most of it’s course, having no real centerfold story, except for the life of this young girl, which we learn realativly nothing about. Her escapades into a fantasyland becomes boring after a few visits, as the movie plods along at a pretty slow rate.

The side characters are interesting and fun, more so than our main girl, which also leads to another problem, similair to the one I had with Everything Is Illuminated, where we want to see more, and are more interested in the dilemmas of the supporting cast than our leaders. Also to note, the film boasts having stars such as Bridges and Tilly, but they are hardly in the film.

Speaking of which, Jodelle Ferland gives quite possibly one of the best perfomances I’ve seen in awhile. And this is coming from someone who absoloutly hates children in film. She carries the film on her shoulders, completely on her own. But she has a very boring and plain character to play, which makes her performance something less. Nonethless, it is quite amazing.

I also applaud the films style and art direction. Its very unique in its use of special effects, and ideas. The dolls are particularly creepy, and the day/night transitions are very cool. Another thing the film has on it’s side was cinematography, which kept an otherwise slow and boring film interesting and fresh.

Overall, Tideland was a very mixed bag. The film had cool style, and an excellent lead actress. However, style cannot overcome substance, and a lackluster plot, slow story, poor character development, and pretty uninteresting people make the movie somewhat hard, and annoying to watch, it isn’t necissarily the bad, but that doesn’t make it good either.

I Give Tideland A:

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

#26-Friday The 13th Part II (1981)

Friday The 13th Part II
Aha! Mrs. Voorhees is back again...wait, thats not Jason is back once again! Wait no. Jason is...starting? I guess so. In the second installment of the Friday series, another group of unsuspecting teenagers are slaughtered by a vicious killer. However in Part II, five years after the events of the original, a group of young camp counselors set out on endeavour for training, but not at Camp Crystal Lake, one across the lake, but still in the same forest. Jason apparently was more that an imagination, as he saw his mothers decapitation from the last film, and has grown up and is ready to exact his revenge. On more horny teenagers. However, Jason is a little different than you expect him to be. How you ask. Guess what, no hockey mask. Thats a trait that didn't get picked up until the third movie. First the killer wasn't Jason, and now no hockey mask. This series is just full of surprises, just like this sequel, they are mostly good.

We open just three months after the events of Part I, with Adrienne King breifly reprising her role of Alice from the first film. She lasts about fifthteen minutes before meeting her own shocking demise. Driving down the road in an old beat up truck, we find the next two of Jason's victims trying to find there way to a camp not far from the infamous camp blood. Not very many people decided t0 come back for this sequel, Adrienne King and Walt Gorny as Ralph, as well as Betsy Palmer. The new campers are not much different from the last, infact, I swear one of them looked exactly like Kevin Bacon. The new lead is a young blond named Ginny, not Jenny, but Ginny, played by Amy Steel. She was one of my least favorite characters in the movie, and I found her acting to be very annoying. Needless to say I enjoyed Anrienne King as our "Final Girl" a lot more. The rest of the acting in this movie is what you've come to expect from a horror film. Where in any other genre it would be trash, but for a horror film, its passable.

Made after the major, and unexpected success of the first film, Friday The 13th Part II, was made the following year, while still having a meager production, this one was slightly higher, with about one-million dollars on their hands rather than five-hundred-thousand. Originally the story was suppose to end with the third, each Friday The 13th they would put out a new, unrelated film, and turn the movies into some sort of anthology story, much like the Creepshow franchise. However, after each film just kept on raking in the dough, Paramount decided that Jason was enough, and the anthology would just have to wait. Besides, when you try to do a series without the many villian, and turn it into an anthology story, things don't go so well, Just look at Halloween III. Yeah, thats what I thought.

While 1981 was a popular year for the then young franchise, having the films first sequel come and all, and a bigger budget to do it with, you'd think that the special effects would knock the ones from the first one out of the park. No. They didn't. Infact they were about the same. While this films death sequences were a lot more creative, they weren't quite as bloody. The worlds only true Gore-Hound, Tom Savini, decided to skip out on doing the effects for Part II, to work on a film called The Burning. The Burning was one of the Friday The 13th clones that came out directly after the first, granted its also one of the better copy-cat films, its obviously not as popular as the Friday films. It didn't have any sequels. At all. Of course with a series like Friday where you have at films that all come out within the same decade, its kind of hard to compete. While I did kind of bitch about the films lack of blood, this is patially due to the MPAA cutting out 48 seconds of footage, which included much more blood letting during the famous double impalment scene, and since they have not realesed an uncut version of this film, there was no way for me to have seen it.

This film lacks the natural tension and creepiness that the original had, and that I loved so much. This film is much more straightforward, with no fancy twist ending, no special mystery killer, it is your average stalk and slash summercamp film. I also think the original had an advantage of having Betsy Palmer, who did a great job with her role of playing a mentally unstable woman, who is doing bad things but for good reasons, so in some ways, you feel sympathetic for her. I honestly thought that it was a tough role, for a very complex character, that unfourtanetly didn't get enough screentime for explanation. However, what this films lacks in tension and atmosphere, it makes up for with unique kills, and a fair about of gore. While you have classic stabs, and slashers, you also get temple crushes, machete heads, and the personal favorite, the all time favorite double impalment scene.

The plot for this film isn't mindblowingly complex, but you probably didn't expect it to be, so its really not that big of a deal. But I do give new Friday writer Ron Kurz some respect of during the plot device of Jason, into an actual story, and tying up some loose ends with the films continuity, and making things move along briskly. But not too brisky considering the film is only eighty-seven minutes long, and it allows for some story to develope, but have the kills frequently enough to not bore the audience. I also give the writer credit for having the balls to have Jason kill a dog, and then make a joke about. I thought the joke was genuinly funny and well placed.

Overall, this movie is definatly a worthy sequel, and better than most that follow it. The kills are better, bloody, and more fun this time over, Jason is finally brought into the picture to keep things fresh this time around. The plot was more or less the same, but kept itself in perspective enough to make it feel real. But it lacked the creepy atmoshphere the original carried perfectly, and while the acting wasn't much better last time around, and least last time, the main character was at least decent. Plus, I do indeed miss the cult classic quote, "killer mommy, kill her, nowhere to run, kill her mommy"

I Give Friday The 13th Part II A:

Sunday, May 23, 2010

#25-Everything is Illuminated (2005)

Everything Is Illuminated

If I came into Everything Is Illuminated with one pre-conception in my mind, it would have to be skepticism. First of all, in order to be skeptical of something, for me anyway, there has to be some sort of hype behind it. Everything Is Illuminated was a critically acclaimed, but lacked any box office power, and even though critics praised the film, it was recognized at any major award hearings. The film currently has an 8/10 on IMDB. So, one could should come into this film expecting the best.

However, it did have a few things working against it. Firstly the film is written and directed by Liev Schreiber, who is known mostly for his acting career, as he became popular in the late 90's and early 00's with his work in the Scream film trilogy, and as a villian in X-Men Origins. Now, when you hand directing credits to a man whose film credits include the above films, you have to wonder what you are getting into, especially with a drama based mostly around WWII. Secondly, the film stars Elijah Wood. And while a lot of people like him, I am simply not a fan of his acting work. Sure he is decent, but he has never really stood out to me in any major roles he has performed in.

The film follows teh story of Jonathan Foer (Elijah Wood), a young Jewish man from America who sets out to find the woman who had saved his grandfather from the Holocaust. His guides are two Ukranian men, who are both slightly crazy. And elderly man, who may or may not be anti-semtic, his wannabe gangster Grandson, and a Boder Collie. The journey is to a town that his been wiped of the map called Trachimbrod, and what they find there, is utterly surprising.

Everything Is Illuminated is not a perfect film in any way, shape, or form. But it is better than I had expected going in. The film is slightly compassionate in its imperfections and I was greatly surprised by Schreiber's directorial skills. The film is based on a short-story of the same name, which I haven't read, and therefore cannot compare, I do however want to read it after seeing the film, which is definatly a postive.

"I am premium dancer"

Elijah Wood does better than expected in a rather tough role to play, being caught in a foreign land with many stranger people and things, and no one to really get along with. His performance is good, but not great, as I have come to expect from him. It may have been better had he not needed to compete with much more interesting supporting characters. Eugene Hutz gives an amazingly exaggerated performance as Alex, the younger of his two guides, who keeps things light, and humourus. another strong performance comes from Boris Leskin, who plays the grandfather, and who does a lot of the emotional heavy lifting towards the end of the film, instead of Elijah Wood, which was an interesting choice, but not one that worked well.

The music in the film was also very appreciated, with some fun songs by Russian punk band Leningrad, and some rousing scores from compser Paul Catelon. I must also praise the artist and mastery of the cinematography by Matthey Libatique, who keeps things very vivid in an otherwise slow and rather depressing film. When things need to be dark he also keeps the colors very light, even though in black and white. And only keeps the color red, which adds a very cool Schindlers List effect.

In no way is this film anywhere near the real of Schindlers List. Schreiber does a better job directing than expected, but it's easy to tell that he still could make it better with the films odd pace, a simple narrative that becomes rather confusing, and a very loose sense of direction. This is all fixed within the final few scenes of the film, but the rest is sometimes slow and hard to watch.

Everything is Illuminated is a decent WWII film, that rarely touches on WWII. For its unique choice and great techincal aspects, I applaud it. But all the emotion and comedy comes from supporting characters who have more of a role to play than our lead actor. Eljiah Wood is only semi-convincing as our main character, but is more deminished by an amazing performance from eugene Hutz. Schreiber isn't a bad director, in fact he is a very good one, especially for his first feature, but he can definatly improve, and I can't wait to see what he does next.

I Give Everything Is Illuminated A:

Thursday, May 20, 2010

#24-The Descent (2006)

The Descent

Coming in straight from 2006 is director Neil Marshall's horrific tale of The Descent. Neil Marshall, the previous writer and director of Dog Soldiers, made his return to film in a cave. Being one of the most positivly reviewed horror films of the past decade, by both fans and critcs alike, the real question was, does The Descent live up to the hype. While the film is now known all around the world, everyone should know that it is a majorly British film. With a mostly British cast, a British script, and was filmed in England and Scotland. All that for a movie set in America.

Now, before I officially begin this review you need to know a few things about this movie. Firstly it has two shockingly different endings. The European ending, and the American ending. The film was realesed nearly a year later in America than it was in European countrys. And upon test audience results, filmakers learned that most audiences on the western hemisphere found the original ending to dark. A small bit of editing fixed all that. I am here to tell you that I know both versions of the film, like the original ending more, and will be reviewing THAT film here today.

The story of The Descent is actually quite simple. It's about six women who go on an annual vaction in which they perform some sort of extreme sport, whether it be white water rafting, rock climbing, sky diving, it is always sure to be dangerously fun. So when the new year comes into effect they begin to plan their latest trip. They decide to hike up the Appalachin Mountains to go cave spelunking. Now for those of you who don't know, cave spelunking is when you repel down into the open mouth of an underground cave, and explore its trenches. So, once these women descend into the cave, they get trapped. And upon futher inspection, they realize that they are not alone in the frigid caverns.

I feel that the story for the film is great. I mean, though old, and pretty predictable, the setting of a cave is one that you hardly see anymore. Other than this film, it's hard for me to think of really other big ones that have come out in the past ten years. Anywho, a cave is the perfect place for a film to be set, it is a naturally creepy place because of all the cartoons we see as a kid, its cold, dark, wet, and the cave that was in this film (even though it was a set) was really good, because it had tight corners, and barely breathable air. And no matter how old you are, you're biggest fear, your worst nightmare, virtually everyone has some kind of fear of being stuck, not being able to move. The Descent takes your natural claustrophobia and exploits it, which is acutally more frightening than the beasts.

The acting in this film was decent. It wasn't spectacular, but I don't think that it really needed to be. Most scenes deal with six women in a cave. But, this is also where the acting hits its fault. Neil Marshall wanted to make the film with an only female cast because women talk about their feelings more than men do. So when it comes time to make these scenes become a reality, I lose faith in the film because I don't believe these women are fearing for their life. They are simply speaking lines, that you could tell someone had already written for them.

As for effects, the sets that were used for the caves were spectacular. I thought that they were real until I read that they were in fact sets on a studio. The blood in this film was extreme. I thank God, for, once again, for NEIL MARSHALL! He only used practical effects for the blood and gore in this film. Which is amazing because there is so much of it. And with the way most horror films are using are using blood and gore withe CGI, I just loved watching it. The only thing that I didn't like about the practical production was the actual monsters themselves. I wish that they would've stuck with darkness and claustrophobia for natural scares and tension, and left the monster to be implied. Since everyone has a natural fear of being stuck, the monsters kind of took away from natural scares, and a fear that the audience could relate to.

I appreciated the ending of this film and felt that it was an amazing addition to the film itself. It also, almost, made up for the lack of emotionality the charecters had. The ending was deep, heartfelt, and utterly disturbing. And I felt that it was the true ending, over the American version.

Overall, The Descent is one of the most intense, crazy, scary, frightening, well done, excellent, horror films of the last decade. The sequel is set to come out soon, and I am only somewhat excited to see, but I am for sure going to see whatever Neil Marshall does next.

I Give The Descent A: