Wednesday, July 28, 2010

#34-Altered (2006)


Altered.The film is about a group of crazy alien-hunting nut-jobs who, when on a hunting trip capture one of the evasive creatures and bring it back to their home. One of them claims to have been abducted before, and his an implant to prove it. Claiming that the alien mother-ship can track and follow him especially with them having a creature they lock themselves up in his garage for safety, and slowly begin to rot away at each other and the alien in the middle of the room.

The film is just bad. Just bad in general. It was avalible for instant play on Netflix one day, it was short, sounded cool and I was bored. From the director of The Blair Witch Project, a film that doesn't require much direction, and it shows. The film looks terrible, has a clunky feel, and a lot of the time nothing going on. The acting is bad as well from four unknowns who for the most part should remain unknown. It takes place in a garage which gives it a drab feel and a very boring atmosphere, with absoloutly no creepiness at all.

The only saving grace to the film is some decent special effects, which we hardly see. The film is stupid, slow, boring, and had terrible acting. Some cool alien special effects that we never see definatly cannot make up for all those mistakes. I should've known with this straight-to-dvd horror film, but alas against my better judgement I gave it a try, and it came back to bite me. Won't being doing it again anytime soon.
I Give Altered A:

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

#33-Hedwig And The Angry Inch (2001)

Hedwig And The Angry Inch

Most of the films that are on my "Top Whatever" are films that I have seen years ago. This is not the case with Hedwig And The Angry Inch which I saw for the first time only about a month ago. It is based on an Off-Broadway musical written by and starring John Cameron Mitchell, who also writes, directs and stars here. The film is often compared to The Rocky Horror Picture Show for obvious reasons. A transexual main character, darkly humourous elements, and puck rock themes. It has even gotten to the point where midnight showings complete with shadow casts of the two films are shown back to back. I however, despite how much the midnight movie freak within me disagrees, can easily say that Hedwig And The Angry Inch far surpasses even the best elements of Rocky Horror.

The film is about a young boy named Hanzel (Ben Mayor-Goodwin) who is living in communist East Berlin right after the wall has gone up. Not going to school as a child, Hanzel has nothing to do but listen to American Forces Radio, where the great glam rockers of the eighties are constantly on display. David Bowie and Lou Reed being his all time favorites. By the time he has reached teenagehood, he cannot wait to get out of Berlin, and the opportunity presents itself in the form of Sgt. Luther Robinson (Maurice Dean Wint) whom falls in love with Hanzel, and Hanzel with him. The two plan to flee the country and escape then get married in America. This is impossible however because of complete cavity searches, so Hanzel's mother (Alberta Smith) gives her identity to Hanzel and gets him into a doctor to perform the operation. Unfourtanetly, the doctor cuts to short and leaves, now Hedwig (John Cameron Mitchell) with a "one inch mound of flesh". later in America, Sgt. Luther finds a new boy and leaves Hedwig on her own. To support herself she tries to become a glam rocker similair to her favorites in late 90's America, while falling in love with a strict Christain boy Tommy Speck (Michael Pitt).

Lets get this out of the way, the performance here by John Cameron Mitchell is simply fantastic. In this role he completely embodies the character of Hedwig so thouroughly it is uncanny. He was nominated for a Golden Globe for the performance and her surely deserves more recognition than that. He has a great voice that he uses to belt out some fun tunes, great comedic timing and inspiration, and a high bar of expansive dramatic set pieces that cannot be topped. His portrayal is fun, energetic and inventive, and even with wacky costumes and tons of make-up, he manages to bring out some truly deep emotion when the time is right.

The performances across the board are astonishing. Mitchell, Pitt, and Smith all perform admirably. One of Pitt's earliest performanes is a real treat to watch, since I've been enjoying his work ever since I discovered him in Funny Games. Another great, and key performance comes from Miriam Shor who plays the character of Yitzhak another character in drag, this time a woman as a man, and the back up singer in Hedwig's band, who play mostly in salad bars. There are very few other roles in the film, as the stage play was originally a one-man monolouge by whomever was playing Hedwig. The story was expanded here, and these characters being full fledge, and as such the main part of Hedwig is given the most screen time. So much screen time, there are only four supporting roles making five major roles total.
"The moutains streched up to the sky, sometimes higher"

The music in the film is awesome as well. The music was taken exactly from the play to the movie, and the songs written by Stephen Trask are infectious and addictive. They are less glam rock than say Bowie or Queen, but closer to the punk-rock hair bands of the same era. All of the band members have a great stage presence, as all the performances were done live. The songs make you want to get up and jump around, bang your head. In fact I bought the CD and have put some of the songs on my exercise playlist. When the songs are rockin', they rock, but like all great rock band's, Hedwig also has some medatative slow songs, that in all honestly make me feel connected to him. In the context of the story, and the character of Hedwig the final song: Midnight Radio is one of the greatest songs of all time, and is truly heartbreaking.

The story written my Mitchell is near percfection. It has characters we love, and side with, as well as root for and connect to. Hedwig is a truly inspirational creation and I hope there are people out there who look at this, and use it as inspiration to fufill their dreams. The screenplay is strong and unique, with flashbacks and story-tellings of an amazing ability. The direction by Mitchell proves he is more than just a pretty face for screen fame, but a great force to fight with in the directing world. In front of the camera, he is great, and behind the camera he is a genius. Mitchell might as well have redefined the medium with this film, and is someone that I am keeping a very close eye on.

The costumes and make-up are superb as well. Hedwig is a treansexual, and has to be created by make-up in that sense. But being a glam rocker he has all kinds of crazy make-up and costumes that make him a truly Bowie-an figure. Hedwig is to Hanzel, what Ziggy Stardust was to Bowie. Hedwig is sometimes a punk-rocker, a store clerk, a man, a woman, and even a bee-hive queen from '73 but what ultimatly comes out is his humanity.

Hedwig And The Angry Inch is one of the best, and one of my favorite films of all time. The inspirational story of being who you want to be, and dealing when you have to shows us that being human is not always a gift, but it is never a curse. During all of her turmoil and trouble she never gives up on her dream, and technically fufills it. One of the greatest creations in film history, potrayed by one of the best actors, and given the best platform by one of the best directors. Musically the film is a miracle, and the screenplay is phenomenal. A groundbreaking story that is humours as well as hurtful, giving us a true view of the world, whether we face the same challenges as Hedwig or not.

I Give Hedwig And The Angry Inch A:

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

#32-District 9 (2009)

District 9

The surprise hit movie that attacked theatres in the summer of 2009 is coming this way. District 9 was a surprise hit comercially when it was one of the few action films realesed that year, that wasn't already part of an established franchise. The film was also a critcal darling, using its third world message to win over even the toughest of critics. Originally a short film from director Neill Blomkamp, District 9 was action on a budget, being given only $30 Million for production, take that in comparison to Transformers 2 given $200 Million that same year.

District 9 did have some force behind it when it was realesed. It was produced, and greatly enthused by famed Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson. The film was also in the shaky-cam style that has grown to be quite popular and finacially success these days. Not to mention the film had great marketing tools, with 'Alien Free Zone' and 'MNU Only' signs nearly everywhere. The film may have been small but it definatly knew what it was doing, and even earned itself a Best Picture nomination at last years Academy Awards.

The story takes place on an alternate version of planet earth, where in 1982, a large alien space craft landed and floated of Johannesburg, South Africa. The aliens are kept in camps in Johannesburg, and are not allowed to speak with humans. In preperation to move the aliens or 'Prawns' as their called, a man by the name of Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is assigned to the job of removing, and relocating them. In a raid of one of the alien houses, he comes across a strange vile of liquid, which he accidently breaks upon and gets covered in it. What happens to him I won't say, as it is very fun to see, but as you can probably guess, it isn't something good. There in lies the story of District 9, a sci-fi action movie that is guranteed to please audiences, all the while throwing political overtones, for those willing to catch them.
"Is that cat food?"

While I did enjoy the film quite a bit, I am one to say that I don't think District 9 is that great of a film. My main problem with it was the style. I can enjoy shaky-cam mockumentary films, I think that they are fun, and if done right very enjoyable. In that sense, I think District 9 is a success. I can enjoy regular film styling, where you have multiple cameras set up to capture the action, rather than one trying to make it feel real. In that sense, I think District 9 is a success. When combining the two however, and talking about the finish product in lies the problem. The two styles have nearly become genres. I am willing to go out on a limb and call Shaky-Cam a genre over a style. And when combining these genres I don't think the finished products feels right. The film moves at the right pace, and his good camera work, but when jumping between footage of interviews telling the story of this man, and watching the story of this man actually unfold take place one right next to the other, we get a very weird clash of camera work, and therefore emotion within us that just can't seem to mesh with one another, and therefore fails.

As far as the politcal message goes, I can see what they are trying to get across. However, I also felt like this may have been an afterthought. You can see overtones of almost anything in any movie if you look hard enough for them (see my review of Avatar) and while it may have been planned, it may also not have been planned, but an accident completly. Whether or not it was there on purpose or not, I'm glad to see the message getting some attention. It could bring some very nice bright young directors to the action genre, trying to tell their story and share with us the problems our world still faces on an everyday basis. And judging on other recent action films, they definatly need a face-lift.

Sharlto Copley gives a very strong performance as Wickus. One of my favorite characters of action movies to come out recently. He is funny, intense, dramatic, and smart. He creates a character that we want to see through to the end, that we root for, and connect with. Another amazing bit that comes with District 9 is when we care for the aliens. The aliens aren't real people, the main one potrayed through technology by Jason Cope, but they are given emotion and characterists through a very strong sceenplay that also make us fall in love with them.

Based on what I've written above, it may sound like I hate the film more than I do. I actually found the film better on an entertainment level than on a critcal level, by which it is also very nice. It had great action moments, a good hero, a devilishly evil villian, a cool plot and a lot of other things going for it. Neill Blomkamp should be very proud of his work, and I see him having a very nice career in the future. Sharlto Copley and Jason Cope perform very well, the film has a great screenplay and is fun to watch. The films styling choices do hurt it, even if every so slightly.

I Give District 9 A:

Friday, July 2, 2010

#31-Caché (Hidden) (2005)


I find it rather odd that I have managed to post thirty reviews previous to this, and have only one be from a foreign country. This wouldn’t be so odd, but I tend to watch a decent amount of foreign cinema, so I don’t know why I’ve neglected to post about them. Anyway, Caché is a French film from acclaimed director Michael Haneke. Most movie-goers stateside would most know him for his work on Funny Games (a love/hate film for me) which was a shot-for-shot remake of his own French film.

Honestly, I’m surprised Caché is more relevant in America than it is. While it certainly isn’t an obscure title, it isn’t one to be called popular. It’s from a director who is well known for a specific type of film. Is a pretty smart thriller, and stars
Juliette Binoche, who has been in her fair share of American productions. I can understand some people not wanting to read subtitles, but with dubbing (which I furiously detest) I can’t seem to reason why foreign films have made more of a splash than they have yet.

Caché tells the story of a pretty typical French family. Out husband character (
Daniel Auteuil) is a decently successful talk show host, which topic consists mainly of literature. His wife Anne (Juliette Binoche) happens to be a book publisher. The two have remained moderately common in life, and even have a school-aged son (Lester Makedonsky). The typical life is then disrupted, when they begin receiving tapes from an anonymous mailer. While this is odd enough, the tapes only contain footage of the exterior of Anne and Georges’ home. Since the tapes make no eminent threat, the police cannot help the family, who try to go on living, while simultaneously attempting to catch whomever is trying to disturb them.

I am not typically one for thrillers. Because nothing is ever truly original, once you’ve seen enough of the same thriller, you begin to know how they work. There is only so many possible out comes for films, that all basically revolve around the same premise. I was however entranced with Caché. I couldn’t stop watching, I was deeply rooted into the mystery and the people. I wanted the story to keep going, I wanted to know happened, I actually thought along with these people, which made the film that much more realistic, and enjoyable.

"Who is Majid?"

Binoche and Auteuil perform magnificently. The Lovely Bones should’ve taken a note on how to deal with a family in stress, that is on the brink of falling apart. In fact, near everyone in the cast takes on some interestingly different roles, and pulls them off rather nicely. Auteuil was not a name that I had taken much notice to prior to Cahcé but I will defiantly be on the look out for him in the time to come.

One thing that is done very well on the part of Haneke, is that he keeps the direction very simple. There is no sweeping shots of grandeur, no fancy camera movements or angles, for the most part he has a single camera, posed in a fairly average position for the length of a scene. This was a smart move, is it fits with the rest of the films style, since these people are getting videocassettes over DVD’s of some sort, it adds a somewhat simplistic element to everything that was going on. Haneke can direct, but here he made a smart decision to let the actors portray the emotion over the camera.

And though I had my doubts about this one walking in, it is simply one of the best modern thrillers. While the idea to begin with is not something new at all, by about the half-way point the film has begun to twist and turn, and you won’t be able to keep the story straight, which is good. One problem that I had with it, is one that I have with most thrillers. While reading a mystery novel, the goods ones anyway, they give you the clues along the way so you can figure out the answer on your own. With most thrillers, and bad mystery novels, the clues are there, they just never tell us about it until the very end. Caché, while falling victim to this, did somewhat overcome by having an ending that I greatly appreciated, some won’t like, in fact I fear that most won’t like it (the ending, not the film as a whole), but those who do are in for a treat.

Caché is easily one of the best thrillers of our time. While not original, the film is smart, smoothly and simply directed, has great acting, and characters we believe in and root for. We don’t get any clues as to what is going on, but in the end I suppose we don’t really need them. Similar to shaky-cam films, all we get is the information the characters get, which is a small mistake here, in an otherwise near flawless film. It will leave you breathless all the way through, and just when you think its safe to take in some air, it pulls you right back in.
I Give Caché A: