Friday, April 29, 2005
Cuban and Wagner Tap Soderbergh to Direct Six HD Movies; Simultaneous Release Planned
I like Steven Soderbergh. A lot. I think he's a cool filmmaker. Mark Cuban on the other hand is kind of a creepy dude with lots of money and a burning desire to be involved with film. He's the scariest kind of guy, because while I'm creeped out by him, I think he might actually be on to something, and I am curious to see how it turns out. People who pose for photos with a wad of money hanging out of their pocket generally have bad judgement, which leads me to believe that anything this guy does is bound to suck. But people who hire Soderbergh to direct movies generally have good judgement, so he can't be all bad. Maybe it's the partner, Todd Wagner, who has the good judgement, and Cuban is the guy who is going to bring it all crashing down.Here's Mark Cuban's blog.
You decide if he's going to destroy movies or not.
Wednesday, April 27, 2005
While the indie film world gets excited about Caveh Zahedi's new film I AM A SEX ADDICT
, take the opportunity to go back and watch his great first feature, A LITTLE STIFF. The film is painfully awkward and totally alive in a way that few are, stemming from Zahedi's lead role as himself, and the story based on his own experience of falling for a fellow art student. The female art student and her boyfriend play themselves in the film. Zahedi was putting his own life front and center in his narratives, and seems to be the unsung forbearer to the current crop of narramentaries that are making the festival rounds, especially FOUR EYED MONSTERS
, in which the directors step in front of the camera to reenact many of the more awkward moments from their own relationship. It's great to see Zahedi getting so much attention for his latest film, and he certainly deserves the praise, but it's unfortunate that he had to wait almost 15 years for the audience to catch up with his vision.
You can purchase the film on VHS from Caveh's site
, or you can rent it from Facets
(they do rentals by mail).
Tuesday, April 26, 2005
Quinzaine des realisateurs 2005
Daughters are missing and dads are freaking out at the Director's Fortnight 2005. I'm very disappointed to see Lodge Kerrigan's film KEANE announced as part of this year's Director's Fortnight. I saw the film in Telluride, and thought it was one of the worst of the year, and here it is, almost a year later, playing at another of the most respected film festivals in the World. Perhaps it's there as a companion to the film ALICE from first-time director Marco Martins. The description of Alice reads:
"Alice, a child of two, mysteriously vanished from nursery school. Mario sets out on a single-minded search for his daughter. His method is very painstaking: so as not to miss any chance of picking up the child’s trace, he systematically screens and studies the video tapes recorded by the surveillance cameras situated around the city. Thousands of children’s faces are filmed, then photographed, blown up and pinned to Mario’s wall, in the hope that Alice’s face might appear."
KEANE also contains a story of a father searching for his missing daughter, which seems invented from the very first WAY over-the-top scene. The lead in the film gives one of the most cliched "crazy" performances I've ever seen, pulling out all the stops with no character consistency. He doesn't appear to have any known disease, just the affliction of "crazy." KEANE is all about an actory trying really hard to give an amazing performance, and it fails miserably. I hope ALICE fares better.
Saturday, April 23, 2005
The Girl From Monday, Krush Groove, Breakin' 2
I hope you all had a good weekend. To help close it out, I'm giving you three reviews. In addition to all those films I mentioned last time that'll be coming your way soon, also expect reviews for Melinda and Melinda
as well as Kung Fu Hustle
. You don't want to miss it.
The Girl From Monday
Review by Jon Waterman
Welcome to the future. You will witness an existence where a revolution has put corporations in charge of everything, where people are bar coded, and where having sex increases your personal worth and buying power. Of course, not everyone likes this system. A group of counter-revolutionaries have formed to disrupt the conglomeration’s plans. The scheme goes awry and things get even more complicated when a visitor from outer space comes down to bring a fellow “immigrant” back home. Got all that?
Director and writer and composer Hal Hartley brings a vision of the future that's slightly reminiscent of Brave New World
. All of the societal differences seen here are quite viable, and maybe even too scary to think about. So, that aspect of the story and the writing I enjoyed. However, the subplot with the aliens and them adjusting to the new culture, etc. could have been left out or made into a separate movie. The woman from outer space doesn’t contrast this world with our own or provide any sort of perspective on the problem at hand. Instead, she sits in this guy’s apartment learning how to live on the world, soaking in knowledge like Johnny 5 from “Short Circuit.” Visually the movie isn’t very appealing either.
This is an example of digital video movie making gone awry. Cinematographer Sarah Cawley provided some of the most amateurish camerawork I’ve seen in a professional production. I can only assume there is some reasoning behind using what appears to be auto exposure (where the backgrounds are drowned out in a sea of white) and for staying handheld. The canted angles were such a regular feature that they hardly seemed representative of any type of mood or emotion conveyed in the scene, but rather what looked cool. The frame rate wasn’t even consistent with the film print, so the video looked grainier and slowed down so that the soundtrack would match up. It’s very shoddy production value, but maybe there’s a reason I just don’t understand (besides keeping the budget low – please tell me it’s something other than that).
I would say that the acting kinda sucks, too, but I actually see a bit of purpose behind that (which leads me to think I’m missing something about the rest of it). The delivery is robotic and wooden most of the time. However, if you look at their facial expressions, you’ll see what the characters are really trying to say. You have Hartley regular Bill Self (playing the lead character/counter revolutionary boss Jack) with his bouncy eyes contradicting his stone face. And you have Sabrina Lloyd as the corporate woman who buys into everything sold to her that speaks rigidly, yet obviously shows pain in her eyebrows.
The dry dialogue and interactions create this interesting noir feeling, which would be helped with a more intriguing or (necessarily) complex storyline. The science fiction isn’t as intense or as central to the plot as it could have been, either. A simple current tale about corporations trying to take over some aspect of human nature would work just as well. Yet, it’s still an interesting satirical look at where our society could be heading that provides some good lines, but mostly it’s forgettable.
Review by Jon Waterman
Russell and Rick are running an independent rap music record label out of their small apartment. They just broke with their first major radio hit, thanks to Russell’s brother’s group Run DMC. Everyone’s clamoring to buy it, and it sells out instantly. The problem is that they still don’t have enough cash to print the records needed to meet the high demand. The banks won’t give them a loan, because they’re a rap label, so Russell resorts to getting involved with a loan shark. He needs to find a way to pay him back before the deadline or else.
Okay, the story is actually pretty lame. Even though it’s based on the early days of Def Jam Records, some of the elements just don’t make sense to me. For instance, why wouldn’t the bank give them a loan with all those promised sales? But more importantly, why couldn’t Russell pay the loan off once he sold all the new records? Where did that money go? Besides that the writing by Ralph Farquhar (the TV series “Fame” and “Happy Days”) is rather standard fare.
It’s hindered even more by the lead actors giving their best efforts at speaking slang. It especially doesn’t work for Sheila “Why are you tripping?” E. And this is one of the problems with using musicians/singers/rappers as actors. Surprisingly, most of them do a pretty good job. The Fat Boys provide some good comic relief and Run (aka Joseph Simmons) legitimately holds his own. But don’t expect magic from most of the rappers. Just enjoy the music coming from the likes of the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J, New Edition and Kurtis Blow. With an old school lineup like that, you don’t mind breaks in the plot for a few musical numbers.
The movie isn’t as lame as you might think. Even though the plot suffers from some problems and the acting isn’t the most authentic, the whole thing runs surprisingly smoothly and looks pretty good. Director Michael Schultz (“Cooley High,” “Car Wash”) holds the picture together very well and provides a very visually interesting backdrop. Unlike movies such as “Breakin’,” “Krush Groove” looks and acts like a film. There’s a sense of realism and professionalism that comes across to the audience. And, although that doesn’t make up for the shortcomings, it definitely enhances the strengths. There’s some great music in here and if you let the lame plot slide past you, it’ll be pretty enjoyable to watch.
Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo
Review by Jon Waterman
Turbo and Ozone are back and dancy-er than ever! This time, they are in danger of losing a youth center that they renovated and currently teach break dancing in. Some fat cat is looking to tear it down so that he can build a mall or something more profitable in it’s place. He convinces the government that the building is not up to code and should be demolished. The only hope of saving it is to put on a break dancing show in the community so that they can raise the money necessary to make the repairs. Under such rigorous time constraints, can dancing really save the day?
Director Sam Firstenberg takes over where Joel Silberg left off. Except Sam dropped the simple hand-off. Paired with cinematographer Hanania Baer, he tries too hard to be cool and trendy. The first clue is the overabundance of fish-eye lens shots (complete with characters purposefully looking into the camera, making it seem like a documentary crew should have been incorporated into the plot). There’s also the rotating room sequence. These splashes of pizzazz can only cover up the movie’s otherwise lack of ability to entertain. And the lack of story.
There are probably only about twenty pages of actual scripted dialogue in the film. It’s complete with standard villains, predictable jokes and situations and an awkward, unfruitful (and un-understandable) love triangle subplot. Written by first and last timers Jan Ventura and Julie Reichert, it reaches the length of a feature film only by incorporating the strangest and most out of place song and dance sequences imaginable. Like a virus, break dancing infects everyone that is unfortunate to come across its path. The kids take to the streets and take with it cops, firemen, old people and other passersby. When they aren’t randomly assembling for a constantly moving party, they’ll abandon the plot for some spur of the moment dancing.
The sad part of it is that the dancing isn’t as good as in the first film. The little kids, who are more prominent this time around, are still awesome and a lot of fun to watch, but most of the stuff is rather tame. It’s hard to imagine that this sequel can be any lamer than “Breakin’” yet here we are. The directing is worse, the dancing isn’t as cool, the story is rather crappy and the acting…. The saying goes, you can only go up from here, but whoever said that forgot about staying at the same sub-par level. Actually, it probably did get worse, because we take away the helpful agent character and add a non-English speaking love interest for Turbo. I hope they got some draft picks with that trade. Simply put, the boogaloo wasn’t electric enough for my taste. Now, who wants to run into the street and have a roaming dance party?!
Sunday, April 17, 2005
Well, I'm back. I know I've promised a few older films, but this time I'm back with a couple of newer movies that are still in theatres. I will be back later with reviews for...can you believe?: Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo, Krush Groove, Cooley High, Car Wash, House Party and House Party 2. It just don't get any better than that. I'll still chime in with my thoughts of all the new things I see as well as those timeless classics. So keep coming back.
Review by Jon Waterman
Oh Dae-Su was captured after being released from police custody one night. Without knowing why or who was behind it, he was locked in what seemed to be a hotel room for fifteen long years, commemorating each one with a self-inflicted tattoo. Upon his release, he set out to take revenge on his captors. Once he finds them, he finds himself in need of closure. In order to find out why he was held captive (while his wife was murdered – which was blamed on him), he must do some detective work and utilize every single resource he has. If he doesn’t find out the truth, something unspeakable might happen.
Director Chan-wook Park (“Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance”), alongside cinematographer Jeong-hun Jeong, creates a remarkable, dank world in which the Dae-Su explores. His visual style is somehow subtly flashy. All of the “cool” camera tricks and maneuvers actually have meaning and substance behind them, which is pretty rare these days. He knows just the right angles and perspectives to make the story and the visuals come alive.
In addition, the acting is some of the best I’ve seen, especially in a foreign film. Normally foreign movies that make it across seas are known more for their directors or for the stories told, rather than the acting. This film does well with all three. Min-sik Choi (“Shiri”) plays Oh Dae-Su to perfection. He effortlessly blends in a balance of comedic oaf and rugged action star, while at the same time delivering powerful, emotionally draining scenes. There is no way you won’t be on this guy’s side. Ji-tae Yu (“Attack the Gas Station!”) plays a wonderfully evil villain without resorting to the typical conventional behavior. For once, the bad guy isn’t transparent. And Yu makes it particularly tough to really get inside his mind and truly understand his perspective, thus making him that much more frightening. The only weak part is by relative newcomer Hye-jeong Kang who plays Mi-do, a sushi chef and Dae-Su’s potentially untrustworthy love interest. She has mostly good moments, but sometimes slips into over-acting.
The big surprise ending actually isn’t all that surprising. Well, at least the major element of it isn’t. But the whole scenario is virtually un-guessable and incredibly shocking. But more importantly, the film grabs you (as Dae-Su grabs the suicidal man on the top of the roof) right from the beginning and never lets go. You’ll run through the gamut of emotions without ever feeling like the film is disjointed or trying to be something it’s not. The movie is simply amazing and without question one of the best films I’ll see this year.
Dot the I
Review by Jon Waterman
On her Hen Night (bachelorette party for readers in the US) Carmen is forced to kiss a stranger in a restaurant (it’s tradition). The kiss turns out to be something extraordinary, something unexpected, something that neither can forget. Carmen rushes out of the restaurant to escape, but that young man (Kit) is able to find her later on. Armed with a video camera, in order to save a potentially fleeting moment, he attempts to start up any type of relationship. Carmen is torn between this fun-loving, exciting new guy and Barnaby, the dull, rich man she loves stuck back at home.
Here we have the psychological thriller that couldn’t. Written and directed by first (and hopefully last) timer Matt Parkhill, everything that was supposed to shock or amaze or twist or blow you away just completely fizzles out like static. Besides the insanely predictable plot, the movie also suffers from some of the worst dialogue I’ve heard in a very long time. Clichés and cheesy lines abound, especially in the beginning. One could make an argument that knowing the end, that sort of make sense, but it doesn’t matter. That kind of material draws me right out of the excruciatingly long 92-minute picture.
The acting was equally abysmal. Natalia Verbeke (Carmen) has a couple good scenes, although really I just mean facial expressions/reaction shots. The rest of her performance is rather blah. Although, considering that English isn’t her native language, it’s a little more impressive. Also taking on English as a second acting language is Gael García Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries”, “Bad Education”) as Kit. He handles the nuances of the language quite well, but placed in such a humdrum story, his proven talents essentially go to waste. Worst of them all is the unbearable James D’Arcy. It’s pretty easy to see why up to this point he’s been a forgettable television actor. His performance was incredibly forced and painfully stagy. He exuded the subtlety of a rhinoceros with as much charm.
Not everything about the movie was incredibly terrible. The cinematography by veteran Alfonso Beato gave the film a little promise. Also the division and utilization of both film and video, which was so integral to the story, turned out surprisingly well. But that’s about it. The editing was unnecessarily choppy and the throw back shots to previous moments in order to clarify what we already knew in the first place (or could remember on our own) edged on downright insulting. I mean, they replayed an entire scene that had just happened to show us another “twist” in that scene. And I basically knew that twist before the scene happened the first time. Simply pathetic.
Sunday, April 10, 2005
With this post, I'm stepping into uncharted territory for filmbrats. I'm reviewing a film that has two versions playing in theaters. But more importantly, I'm stepping into the pornographic film fray. Sex in cinema is changing rapidly. Not just how it's perceived, but also how it's performed by the actors. Joe has a nice editorial on the subject called "Doing It" that you all should read. But there'll come a point where the two industries won't be quite as different as they once were. "Deep Throat" was something of a forerunner in this movement and its director foresaw this trend twenty-odd years ago. Hopefully, you all agree that my reviewing this film is legitimate and warranted in terms of film study an dcriticism. And if not, well...then just don't read it and I'll see you next time.
Review by Jon Waterman
Note: There are two versions of the film circulating in theaters. One is the English dubbed version and one is the Japanese original language track version. The subtitled version runs a half-hour longer than the dubbed. This review is for the longer, subtitled version.
The Steam family is working on something big for the World Expo. They hope to unveil something that is sure to be a turning point in 19th century civilization. It’s an invention that everybody’s looking for. He who controls the ball holds all the power. It’s up to the youngest Steam boy, Ray, to keep the device away from the clutches of evil. The only problem is knowing who can be trusted, even within his own family. Ray soon realizes that something must be done quickly, because the problem is escalating with every second.
Speaking of metal balls, it must have taken some to pitch this movie. “I want to make a period piece about steam engines and their potential in the late nineteenth century. I’m going to set it in the United Kingdom, but released theatrically in Japan. Oh, and it’ll cost more than any other animated film we’ve done so far.” If I were an executive, I would have hid my massive bag of money (complete with yen sign printed on the side) as if it were a coveted steam ball. It’s hard to imagine audiences of any type really buying into this concept or becoming invested in the film. I can only imagine that the names Katsuhiro Ôtomo (Director of “Akira” and writer of “Metropolis”) and Sadayuki Murai (writer for the “Cowboy Bebop” series and the film “Perfect Blue”) got this project off the ground. Anyone that knows anime just got a semi.
Unfortunately, the movie takes an extraordinary long time to really get rolling. There’s a lot of drab exposition, that’s relatively essential (but still dull), during the first half hour or so. After the engine warms up, and all the cylinders start pumping, it’ll pull you back in. The momentum builds, so if you can hold out for a little bit, it’ll be worth it. For such a story, there’s a great amount of futuristic devices and portents of doom to go around. The climactic battle is one of the most fascinating and engaging to be projected in years.
The acting is predictably and typically bad, as Japanese voice acting is prone to over the top, cartoony performances. The animation looks pretty good and gives a great example of how standard cels and computer generated images can work together, instead of competing for attention. The scenery isn’t anything too spectacular (England’s not known for its beautiful landscapes), but the inventions and technology presented look really cool (especially in action). What the movie lacks in subtlety (if you can’t tell the anti-corporation, big business and government logic I don’t know what to tell you. But more importantly, their last name is Steam for cryin’ out loud! A smidge of tact would be nice) it makes up for with a fun, exciting adventure…eventually.
Review by Jon Waterman
Note: This review is for a hardcore, pornographic production. Some language within this text may not be appropriate for younger readers.
This is the story of a young woman who just isn’t satisfied in bed. Sure, she enjoys it to some extent, but there’s just nothing magical going on. There are no bells ringing or rockets exploding or whatever you want to call it. So, she goes to the doctor to see if something’s physically wrong with her. He discovers that for some reason, her clitoris is located in the back of her throat, rather than down below in the normal place. If she wants to experience any type of orgasm, she’ll have to take the man’s organ all the way in so that she can be stimulated.
Written and directed by Jerry Gerard, “Deep Throat” is a surprisingly accessible pornographic movie. It seems to be less about turning people on than it is about creating a goofball picture that includes sexual activity. Some of the one-liners are groan-inducing and of course the actors that deliver them have no idea how to do so. Yet, there’s a strange charm in the whole thing that makes it slightly funny anyway.
Sometimes I think his desire to be taken as a legitimate filmmaker overshadows his abilities. For instance, during Linda Lovelace’s first deep throat experience, he edits in all those bells ringing and rockets exploding to show us that she’s finally hit her sexual high note. It’s an unwelcome dash of pretentiousness that just sort of explodes in your face. Not only that, but to start the film off, we’re treated to a credits sequence longer than any of the male genitalia you’ll see in the picture. We see Linda driving along the streets, returning home, for what seems like half the hour-long movie. We don’t need a cool down right at the start.
But who really cares about plot and the direction and all that stuff. This is porn we’re talking about. How’s the action? Well…the actors don’t look all that great. One of the main women is pretty mature (not pretty and mature). And ladies, I hope you like mustaches on your men, because there are some bushy ones to be found here. What really throws it all off, though is inconsistencies with the plot. I know that sounds weird, but let me explain. Earlier in the film, they show Linda getting bizzay with some dudes as part of this orgy thing. She looks perfectly happy and quite into it. I think it would have been much better to see her bored out of her mind, stiff as a board, wishing something would happen. Especially, since to contrast this, while giving the deep throats, she looks like she’s in pain. I don’t see any enjoyment in her face at all. Speaking of her face, some of the saliva mixed with whatever is smeared underneath her nose in a couple scenes, which makes it look like she’s got some snot action going on. Not exactly attractive.
Overall, the film is an interesting concept. It works as a quirky fun movie that you could take your friends to see to make fun of. It seems like it wants that. As a pornographic feature, it could use work and doesn’t really provide anything too exciting or boiling hot. Essentially, the film falls victim to its own intentions.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005
Okay, I'm back once again with a couple reviews. The one most of you are probably interested in is for the current number one movie in America. See what I think of Sin City. And while you're at it, might as well read my thoughts on Nobody Knows. I still have tons of older flicks to catch up on, so keep checking back.
Review by Jon Waterman
“Sin City” is a collection of stories that oddly and briefly intertwine. First there’s Hartigan, a cop looking to prevent a pedophile from claiming another victim. Next there’s Marv, the against-all-odds tough guy who’s determined to find the killers of his beloved hooker Goldie. Lastly, there’s Dwight. He’s out for revenge in the name of his waitress girlfriend. In order to accomplish his goal, he enlists the very capable help of some street walking ladies.
Auteur movie man Robert Rodriguez teams up with auteur comic book man Frank Miller to direct a motion picture version of the popular graphic novels. This isn’t one of those typical comic-to-screen adaptations. What we have here is a shot-by-shot remake of the books, using the pen and ink drawings as storyboards. The result is a comic book movie unlike any other. Whereas “The Hulk” unsuccessfully tried to capture the essence of its source material by dividing the frame into several panels, “Sin City” accomplishes the goal by staying true to the cinematically unorthodox views and angles. Sometimes some of the motion seems unmotivated, but the nearly expressionist cinematography makes up for it.
What the movie doesn’t quite achieve the way it wants is the stark contrast. There are clear moments where the world you see is pure black and white, just like in the illustrations. However, most of the time, you’ll see a lot of gray tones in there. I understand that getting pure black and white frames while still calling it a live action picture would be impossible. You’ll always have some level of gray scale detail imposing. I still wanted to see more of a contrast. There are certain moments where the distinction is clear and purposeful, such as anytime you see Marv with all his bright white bandages, or Kevin the silent assassin’s glasses. There’s no good reason more of that type of effect couldn’t be used.
It would have been better than the other effects you see throughout the picture. I have no problem with wanting to create a fantasy world from scratch. That’s why the mostly digitally made sets aren’t an issue. But it’s another thing when crucial props are made in post. I’m talking mainly about the cars. The car chases looked absolutely horrible. The motion was cheesy and cartoonish and very far from fluid. The cars aren’t the only awkwardly moving objects, sometimes it happens to the actors, too. The CG in this movie is a hack job.
The acting ain’t too great either. All the male characters adopt this ultra gruff voice that may suit their character, but it makes them all sound like the coach from “Major League.” They seem too involved with sounding tough to give a worthwhile performance. The ladies are equally bad (please stop hiring Brittany Murphy). They’re just there to be sexual objects anyway.
Despite it’s flaws, this movie is incredibly entertaining. There’s plenty of action to keep you going. The stories, while slow to start (and shouldn’t have been lifted verbatim from the comics), are interesting and well constructed. Younger audiences and parents need to be aware of the abundance of violence. Expect more beheadings and nut-crunching than you’re probably used to. The black and white makes the violence more sensational, as well. Overall, this movie is the closest you can get to watching a comic book.
Review by Jon Waterman
Keiko is a single mother who has to take care of four children. She works a lot, but still can’t adequately provide for all of them. To help compensate for the lack of funds, she houses them all in a small apartment and lies to the landlord by saying it’s just her and one son. This means the kids are trapped inside, or else they could be evicted…again. She starts working and leaving more and more and for longer periods of time. The oldest son (still pre-pubescent) is left to be the man of the house. Money comes from the mother every once in a while, but how long can they last in such a situation?
This depressing and frustrating Japanese film is based on true events. It works as an okay study of child behavior. They have to deal with strange and extreme circumstances as well as improvise, as things get direr. They are incredibly strong-willed past the point of believability were the characteristics applied to American children. However, they are still kids, and as such they don’t always make the best decisions. That’s where the interest comes in. From watching Akira, the eldest, slowly descent into a self-serving, uncaring slob you can’t help but feel anger. You’re angry at the mother’s selfishness and idiocy, and for even having the children to begin with. You’re also angry with the children for not doing more to help their situation, despite the potential consequences.
However, mostly, you’ll be bored. The pace of the picture is unbearably slow. It’s drawn out in such a way that you practically feel like you live in the apartment with them. You’re just as trapped. That’s all well and good, analytically speaking, but as an audience member it’s the kiss of death. Why would you want to leave your boring apartment to see a movie about kids in a boring apartment? Hirokazu Kore-eda is a fine director with a nice, simplistic style. He puts a lot of emotion right up there on the frame. This piece of work however isn’t nearly as entertaining as his equally slow “After Life.”
The film is almost guaranteed to get a rise out of you. It just may not be in the way the filmmakers intended. You really feel the 141-minute running time. It takes a long time to get to the substantial events that truly shape the film. Too many situations and locations are revisited too often to keep your interest, despite that being part of the point. Worst of all, I don’t really feel like I knew the kids, even after spending so much time with them. The film had an interesting story to tell, but it just wasn’t accomplished effectively.
Friday, April 01, 2005
Hey everyone. Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I just recently got over an illness that kept me away from the computer. But I didn't shy from the tv or movie screen, so I have a huge back log to work through. For now, to sort of make up for lost time, I'm bringing you no less than FOUR new reviews. I'll be back with more next week. Promise.
The Ring Two
Review by Jon Waterman
Samara is back. Okay…actually, she’s still around. The infamous tape is still circulating and spreading around, because in order to avoid being a victim of it, you must make a copy and then have someone new watch it. Somehow it all gets tied back to Rachel and her creepy son Aidan. However, Samara -- the girl from the tape -- is looking for more than quenching pangs of revenge with them. She wants to inhabit Aidan’s body. Rachel must find some way to keep this from happening. Is it possible, or will we all be doomed?
You know, I was sorta hoping that this movie wouldn’t fall victim to the typical safe sequel trap. But it did. Everything that made the first film so great and fun to watch is missing now. What happened to writer Ehren Kruger between 2002 and now? This effort is still better than the Japanese sequel, however all the intelligence of this film has been drowned (pun intended). It gets so bad that the answer to most of the questions you could ask about the story or the plot (that you shouldn’t have to ask in the first place) is “because she’s dumb!”) Rachel wasn’t dumb before. Blame it on mental instability due to supernaturally attempted murder, but there’s no reason for her to just stop her car for so long while herds of rabid deer chase after it. For that matter, herds of rabid deer shouldn’t have been chasing her car!!! What was that all about?!?
It’s just one of the many things that are left unexplained, or just not dealt with correctly. Please…like she can just walk right into a crime scene house or an ambulance unescorted and have time to perform her lame investigative duties. Ugh. That happened early on, but the rest of the film is equally disappointing. The tape plays a very small role. It’s left on the back burner in favor of a pathetic, unrealistic search for Samara’s mother. The cinematography and directing lose a lot of their mystique and creativity now that Hideo Nakata (director of both Japanese movies) has taken the helm. And you can just guess what having a Japanese director working with English speaking performers did for the acting side of things.
After the success and legitimate goodness of “The Ring,” perhaps I was expecting too much. The majority of the film is uninspired, head scratching (in a bad way), more conventional suspense schlock. With all of that said, the ending (one-liners and eye-rolling dialogue aside) would have made a very nice, appropriate finale. However, a couple of saving grace minutes (with hints of pathetic) can’t blow an audience away without some form of build-up. Simply put, it’s much, much better than it’s Japanese sequel counterpart, “Ringu 2,” but much, much worse than the first US film.
Review by Jon Waterman
Mai is trying to find out more about her boyfriend’s mysterious death. So, she heads out on an investigative mission to see what’s really going on. Along the way she runs into Reiko, who is hiding her son Yoichi, because he’s exhibiting some very peculiar behavior. Even though Sadako’s body was found in the well, is it possible that she’s still haunting? The general public believes so. If you happen to see the widely circulating tape, make a copy and show it to someone else before seven days, or else…you may just die.
That’s about all of the plot points that you really need to know. However, the movie will give you a whole bunch more. I’ve never seen so much filler exposition. By the time anything substantial happens, the credits are practically rolling and everyone’s fallen asleep. And any action or potentially heart stopping sequences are too short to be worthwhile and wouldn’t be exciting to begin with. It’s not just that the film lacks any real element of horror, it’s that it still tries to pass itself off as scary. Even if the story were to be played out as a straight drama, it would still fall just as flat.
Hiroshi Takahashi (who also penned the preceding “Ringu”) can’t quite exude the same vibe or flow this time around. The plot drags out and swirls around several characters that we as an audience have no interest in. I don’t really care about Mai and she doesn’t make me care about her. She’s not really so much a main character as she is in the background while other supporting characters do things. I suppose she has the most lines, but she doesn’t personally move the story along or contribute anything substantial. The others don’t give anything worthwhile either, though.
The acting once again is lackluster, although not as screechy and annoying. Instead Mai (played by Miki Nakatani) gives a “look, this is me being scared” performance. Her facial expressions substitute for dialogue quite often, which is good, because I’d rather not hear anyone in this movie talk.
By the end of the movie, you’ll be scratching your head at the strange litmus test of a solution. Questions will go unanswered, but you won’t even care that they aren’t. You’ll just want it to be finished. Don’t go into this expecting suspense or horror. Expect a whole lot of extremely boring talking, shots that look like they were taped on a pixelvision camera, and some of the same situations you came across in the first film. Honestly, it’s just not worth going back to this well. It dried up long, long ago.
Review by Jon Waterman
During the civil unrest in Rwanda, the Hutu militia began to take over. To enforce their power on the streets, they started to kill off the Tutsis, a group that they refer to as cockroaches. With times growing ever more desperate and the Hutu’s plans for genocide becoming more of a reality every day, the Tutsis needed a place to hide. Their refuge came in the form of an international hotel, which technically sits off of Rwandan soil. However, they may not last long there, either. Foreign aid and soldiers are retreating and the UN can’t possibly hold the Hutu off at their base and at the hotel at the same time. Will help come in time?
If you want to feel horrible about being American, then boy do I have the movie for you. These people didn’t get the manpower that they needed, in part because we didn’t care enough about the story. If we don’t care about the story, then it doesn’t get covered on our news and we don’t start asking our government to help them. Granted we’re not the only country that retreated or neglected them, but it’s still amazing that our perception and attitudes of such situations matter. You can also easily blame the media and the government for their lack of involvement as well. What this is all boiling down to is that the film makes you greatly aware of the fact that while you’re lounging about at home, flipping through the channels or watching the news, there are human beings in need hundreds of miles away. This film puts many faces to the problem.
Two standout faces belong to Don Cheadle (hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina) and Sophie Okonedo (his wife). This is mostly because they are the most prominent figures in the film. They carry the weight on their shoulders, and once again make the audience feel horrible for not bearing some of the load. I don’t think the movie could be any more emotional without making the entire audience suicidal. It’s laid on thick. These people didn’t get a break from their exponentially sad, destructive, frightening lives and you don’t get a break from watching it. The tension is so thick that it’s nearly unbearable to watch and completely unthinkable to imagine living through. As a result, “Hotel Rwanda” is an amazing story well worth telling and well worth sharing. However, it’s also one that is at times too shaming and heartbreaking for its own good.
The Birth of a Nation
Review by Jon Waterman
The Civil War was a time of great turmoil where once friendly families began fighting each other to the death. The film focuses on two such families, Cameron and Stoneman, as they attempt to deal with post-war society. This is Reconstruction told from the point of view of the Southerners. Their whole world is being flipped upside down as blacks become free and the North starts imposing its laws and rules. Dun Dun Duuuunnnnnnn!
“A PLEA FOR THE ART OF THE MOTION PICTURE: We do not fear censorship, for we have no wish to offend with improprieties or obscenities, but we do demand, as a right, the liberty to show the dark side of wrong, that we may illuminate the bright side of virtue - the same liberty that is conceded to the art of the written word - that art to which we owe the Bible and the works of Shakespeare.” Looking at this opening title card, it’s evident the film is prepping itself for the inevitable controversy. The “dark side” they speak of is the North and the virtuous “bright side” is the Confederate South. If this sounds like anything you couldn’t bear to watch, even to learn from this gross ignorance, then consider yourself warned and move right along.
Despite the horrible message of the movie (to give you a small clue as to where the filmmaker’s mindset is at, all black characters that have to interact with whites are played by white people in blackface), it is an incredible piece of filmmaking. Director D.W. Griffith puts together a silent epic tale that is actually pretty easy to follow (even without the program). What helps the audience out the most is the recognizable locations. Every set is shot from one angle. This way, when you return to the scene later on in the film, you remember that particular set-up instantly. The locations show off great depth. There’s almost always some level of background action, and the detail of the interiors actually make them look like rooms rather than sets.
The film very much acts like a historical text (biased as it is). To emphasize the portrait in time aspect, some of the opening scenes will introduce the characters and then close in a vignetted frame that looks like they’re posing for a painting. Also the movie includes several historical reenactments (complete with cited sources) to tie everything together in a more concrete timeframe and emotional context. Usually this works, except for the excruciatingly long Civil War battle scenes. Any time a soldier dies, it’s just plain funny.
In fact, all the acting is laughable. It’s too exaggerated even for the stage. And the whole film is unbearably long. There’s a sequence where we spend about two minutes watching a squirrel until it runs away. Shots drag on like this all the time. Sure you can follow the story line, but don’t be surprised if you drift asleep or feel like running away yourself. The visual impact of the film is immense, but it’s not enough to counteract the unbearable pace of the three-hour running time inundated with pro-slavery trite.