Sunday, February 27, 2011

Review: The Box (2009)

Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Cameron Diaz, James Marsden

…you’ve got to be kidding me. You REALLY have GOT to be kidding me with this. I mean…god, who ever thought green-lighting this movie would be in any way productive to the world? Sigh. People, this is something of an absolute. A film so mindbogglingly bad that it defies all forms of written language even trying to describe it. But I will try to, anyway…for this, folks, is The Box. Vomit, cower in fear and cry now while you can; it’s going to be a long ride.

The movie starts off with some fake ‘reports’ from a police department, I guess, about a guy who got burned in a horrible accident. We then switch to Virginia in 1976, where Cameron Diaz and James Marsden are a couple living in a stereotypical 70s style home. They get woken up in the middle of the night to go outside, where they receive a package. In the kitchen, they open it up to find another, smaller box – what, is this one of those psychological riddles about finding boxes inside boxes inside boxes? – and a note, saying that Mr. Steward will visit them soon.

Of course, this is taken very calmly and without any kind of bewilderment whatsoever. It’s not like in the real world where this kind of thing would be highly suspicious and would disrupt the flow of their day. No, in this fucked up reality, we just go right along with our daily, mundane, shitty lives like always! Their son comes out and James Marsden looks at him like he has no idea who he is. Get used to that confused schoolboy look – Marsden exploits it like a cheap whore.

"My face seems to be frozen in an expression of wide-eyed boyish charm!"

The next day, the son, named Walter, is standing outside waiting for the bus and also mouthing off like a little douche at his mom for no good reason. You know, I'm against child abuse like anyone else, but these scenes are really pushing that limit for me!

At school, Cameron Diaz is apparently a teacher too, as she teaches a rather small class about Sartre’s famous No Exit, which I’d much rather be partaking in than this movie. A student in her class asks her why she limps; even though we never actually see her limping if you watch close enough – if there’s any artistic intent behind that, it’s lost on me. He then tells her to take off her shoe, and she does it, revealing her deformed foot. Why does she do this instead of being a responsible teacher and tell the kid to stuff it up his ass? Because this movie was written by an idiot with no conception of reality, of course.

What’s that? You say the same idiot wrote Donnie Darko?

Well, now it all makes sense.

Seriously, WORST TEACHER EVER if she lets her students push her around like that. I mean c’mon, grow a little bit of a backbone! So then pretty much the next ten or fifteen minutes of the movie is all about Cameron Diaz’s deformed foot. Because…I guess that’s really all they have. You really, really want me to turn this movie off fast, don’t you?

"Wait! I'm here to deliver a performance you will forget 5 minutes after the movie ends!"

Oh, wait, no; we also have Frank Langella showing up with half of his face deformed and rotted off from some accident – remember the thing from the beginning about the accident that happened? Yeah, apparently he’s the victim. He is also the mysterious ‘Mr. Steward’ from before. He tells Diaz that if she pushes the button on the box, someone she doesn’t know will die. But she will also receive a million dollars! He says if she doesn’t push the button in 24 hours, he will come back and give it to someone else instead. Basically what the whole story is trying to go for is that these aliens or demigods or something, it’s never clearly explained, are ‘testing’ humanity to see if they’re ‘good’ enough not to be exterminated. If enough people don’t push the button, humanity gets to live.

Okay, we’re just going to have to make some fucking bullet points here, because there are just too many things wrong with this plot:

- Who says these guys are accurate judges? What gives them the right? I don’t even care if they’re godlike beings; they can FUCK RIGHT OFF if they think they’re going to judge all mankind based on whether or not people push a damn button!

- Ripping off Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy ain’t cool, man.

- Why is this such a complicated plot? Aren’t there any…simpler ways to go about judging if humanity sucks too much now? I mean…this is REALLY frigging elaborate!

- The plot LITERALLY boils down to pushing a big red button. An old cartoony cliché is the basis for this intense psychological thriller!

- Don’t these aliens have anything more important to do? They don't have any intergalactic businesses to attend to so they just screw around with us? That's...weak. Really weak.

Luckily, though, Langella came at exactly the right time, as the family is having some heavy financial troubles, so then we get some stupid, wall-banging scenes of Marsden and Diaz trying to figure out what they will do with the box. I especially love this one scene where they’re about to go to bed and Diaz tells Marsden to turn off the Christmas tree. She says that if they don’t turn it off, it could start a fire and kill them all. Marsden’s reply? “Everyone dies.” Yes, they did indeed just turn a conversation about CHRISTMAS LIGHTS into a PHILOSOPHICAL ENDEAVOR. Be amazed! Seriously, guys, don’t try to be philosophers. You’re in a movie about aliens and big red buttons on boxes. GET SOME PERSPECTIVE.

"You think we should fire our agents after this?"
"Oh, definitely. Even going into porn would be a step up after this one."

So the next day, they sit around and deliberate some more until Diaz remembers – big shock – that the plot is supposed to move forward! So she just goes ahead and pushes the button. I don’t think they ever actually use any of the million dollars, but James Marsden does start to piss Frank Langella off by spying on him and using his cop father-in-law to dig up dirt on him. Which really GRINDS FRANK’S GEARS, man. So now Frank threatens the family and sends weird bleeding-nose zombies that he possessed over to Diaz’s house to creep them out. That’s really classy, isn’t it?

Oh, and get this; the super powered extraterrestrial beings in charge of this insanity haven’t perfected the mind-control thing yet. Yeah, not exactly qualified to be down on Earth messing with us then, are you? That’s like having a doctor come in to perform a life or death surgery on you only to have him say he forgot his eyeglasses today and hasn’t learned the final step of the surgery yet. How incompetent are these a-holes?

Yeah, and that isn’t even all yet! Apparently Langella’s character is actually just one of the aliens/extraterrestrial beings using the damaged dead body as a host. In addition to this, he has regenerative powers. But he does NOT use them to repair his face. How that makes sense, I will never know.

So then Diaz and Marsden both go to the library for different reasons. In a rather cruel choice of words Diaz tells the half-faced Frank Langella that she wants to see him face to face. That isn’t really important, but I thought it was pretty funny anyway. In the library, an old woman who is apparently Langella’s wife tells Marsden to follow her into this room where there are three pillars of water standing upright that are apparently – get THIS – doorways that can lead to either eternal damnation or personal salvation. Are we still in the same movie? What the fuck does this have to do with ANYTHING else in the film, at all?

Then Marsden gets sucked into one of them in a promo for the Universal Studios tie-in ride that will never exist, and the movie turns into 2001: A Space Odyssey. No, really. It pretty much rips off that hyperspeed warp sequence without changing a damn thing but the colors. Because this movie has no shame.

So after ripping off yet another classic work, Marsden gets dropped off back at home in a display of special effects that probably cost more than most of the rest of the film combined, and Diaz is already there herself. Why? How? Fuck it, insert your own answers.

Then at this wedding their son gets kidnapped, and so does Diaz for that matter. They’re taken, oddly enough, back to their own house…where Frank Langella is waiting. Again, doesn’t this guy have anything better to do with his time? Like clip his toenails? So he tells them some more rambling, overly complicated horseshit. Basically their son is blind and deaf, and if James Marsden does not shoot Cameron Diaz in the heart, their son will never be cured. But they will be allowed to keep the million dollars that we don’t even see them spend or talk about. And if Diaz does die, then their son will be cured to live in a world where his father murdered his mother in cold blood and it’s all his fault. Isn’t that just peachy?

…fuck this; I’m just going to end the review in one sentence: James Marsden kills his wife, their son is safe and someone else presses the button on the box as Marsden is arrested for his crimes.

That’ll be a fun story to tell in prison, won’t it? “No, no, man, there was this box, and my wife pressed the big red button on it, and then we got a million dollars, and then all this weird stuff started happening, and then Frank Langella with half his face gone told me I had to kill her or else my son would be blind and deaf.”

Yeah, not flying there, and it certainly isn’t flying here. The Box is a dud. It’s horrible beyond belief. You could fill several football fields with everything wrong with this movie – what I’ve done here is only the tip of the iceberg. This is truly, wholly loathsome, one of the rare films that has absolutely NOTHING about it that is likable. So don’t watch it. Stay as far away as possible!

But never fear, for next month comes...

He's coming for YOU!

None of these images are mine. They're all copyright of their original owners.

Cinema Freaks Presents: The Observer's 2010 Oscar Picks and Predictions

Well, the Academy Awards are tonight and all the critics are making (or rather, have made) their predictions and personal preferences as to who will and/or should win at the big event. That being the case, I have decided to make my own list. Yeah, I know this is a little late, but better to do it at the last minute than not at all. Obviously, I have not seen every nominated film and a bunch of my predictions might end up being dead wrong, but this is just for fun, so do not take this too seriously; I am just trying to give my humble opinion just like everyone else. Now, for the sake of time and simplicity, I am only going to do "the big six", but that should be okay. If I do this next year, I may expand the list, but I don't know yet. For now, however, let's get started:

Best Supporting Actress:
Amy Adams (The Fighter)
Helena Bonham Carter (The King's Speech)
Melissa Leo (The Fighter)
Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit)
Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom)

Who Will Win: Amy Adams, though I will not be surprised if Melissa Leo won instead.
Who Should Win: Hailee Steinfeld
Why: Okay, if I get any of these predictions wrong, I think it will probably be this one. To be fair, this may be because there does not really seem to be much consensus for this category. There seems to be a leaning toward Leo, but it is by no means definitive. I am instead going to go with her co-star Adams just because her star power has been continuously rising over the years, and the Academy may like to give her a feather for her cap, especially since she plays against type in her role as Charlene Fleming, a sex bartender who becomes the love interest of protagonist Micky Ward in "The Fighter". All that being said, I think that Steinfeld should get the award. As Mattie Ross in "True Grit", she brought strength and warmth to a character that is initially very cold, and was able to stand on her own against seasoned veterans. True, she technically did play a lead role as opposed to a supporting one, which bothers me a little bit, but that's the Academy's fault for claiming to know so much about films and yet they do not even understand a fairly standard definition for a certain part of a movie! Regardless, she has been placed in this category, and I thought she was the best one, so I am going with her.

Best Supporting Actor:
Christian Bale (The Fighter)
John Hawkes (Winter's Bone)
Jeremy Renner (The Town)
Mark Ruffalo (The Kids Are All Right)
Geoffrey Rush (The King's Speech)

Who Will Win: Christian Bale
Who Should Win: Christian Bale
Why: This is actually a difficult choice for me, because I liked a lot of the guys in this category. Still, like almost everyone else, I am going with Bale. He simply nailed his part as Dicky Eklund in "The Fighter". He really looked and acted like a man with a lot of problems and a bit of a loser, but underneath it all just wants to help out his family. At the end of the film, they even show a clip of the real Eklund, and the similarities are spot-on. Yes, I am sure the producers did that on purpose to show off how good Bale had done. Well, guess what: they have a right to do so.

Best Actress:
Annette Bening (The Kids Are All Right)
Nicole Kidman (Rabbit Hole)
Jennifer Lawrence (Winter's Bone)
Natalie Portman (Black Swan)
Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine)

Who Will Win: Natalie Portman
Who Should Win: Natalie Portman
Why: This one is pretty much set in stone. Portman, as Nina Sayers in "Black Swan" goes from being a nice yet troubled ballerina whose desire and discover her dark side sends her into a downward spiral in which the line between her reality and her imagination becomes blurred. Portman has always had a bit of an innocent look to her (well, except maybe when she was a little girl in "Heat", ironically enough) so the role was a perfect fit. She also apparently went through intense physical training to prepare for the part, and preformed much of her own stunts. All of this considered, she definitely deserves the part.

Best Actor:
Javier Bardem (Biutiful)
Jeff Bridges (True Grit)
Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network)
Colin Firth (The King's Speech)
James Franco (127 Hours)

Who Will Win: Colin Firth
Who Should Win: Jesse Eisenberg
Why: It is no surprise that Firth is the favorite. He put on a great performance as the stuttering King George VI, who in "The King's Speech" learns to find his voice as well as his confidence. From watching it, it appears that he worked hard to get the dialect down right. However, my pick goes to Eisenburg simply because he was able to blend into the role so well and effortlessly. That last part is critical: while Firth did a good job at getting the stutter down, I could never get it out of my head that he had worked to get it right. I do not mean to attack his performance; if "King" gets any award at all, I would prefer that it goes to him. The reason why Eisenberg edges him out in my mind is that it he gave a great performance as Mark Zuckerberg, the smart but arrogant mastermind behind Facebook in "The Social Network", and he did it without making it look difficult. Even if Firth's role was technically more challenging that Zuckerberg's role, I still give the latter the win because, in my opinion, it is better to excel in a modestly difficult role than to pull off a challenging role but make it look like you may have tried to hard. Now I don't really believe that Zuckerberg sounds or has ever sounded like that (same is true with George VI), which is usually a bit of a problem, but as I implied in my review, I'm just focusing on his characterization in the film, nothing more. Anyway, I think Firth will still win because of the overall fondness for "King" over "Social", as well as the fact that it is easier for them to give an award to seasoned actor who has appeared in a number of highly acclaimed films rather than the kid from "Zombieland". A little unfair, but that is kind of the way it goes with the Academy. Still, if Firth wins, more power to him. If Eisenberg wins, however, it will be a pleasant surprise, at least for me.

Best Director:
Darren Aronofsky (Black Swan)
Ethan and Joel Coen (True Grit)
David Fincher (The Social Network)
Tom Hooper (The King's Speech)
David O. Russell (127 Hours)

Who Will Win: Tom Hooper
Who Should Win: Darren Aronofsky
Why: The award should go to Christopher Nolan for "Inception", but the Academy doesn't know anything movie categories, so I will not dwell on it. Anyway, Hooper won the Directors Guild Award which, according to Roger Ebert, predicts the winner of this category 90% of the time. I think I will just leave it at that. As for my personal choice, there is a certain amount of irony to it. I will admit that I did not like "Black Swan" as much as some other people did; there were too many parts that were just kind of gross and I though some of the characters and elements were a little too weird for it's own good. Still, I enjoyed it overall: Portman was great as I already mentioned and I think Aronofsky did a great job of incorporating professional ballet with the gritty violence, sexuality, and overall darkness that inhabited the mind (or reality) of the main character. So even though I don't think it was as good a psychological thriller as, say, "Jacob's Latter" and I thought that the director's previous work on "The Wrestler" was better, I still think that the imagery that Aronofsky used is intriguing enough for me to bypass my own personal bias and decide that he deserves the award.

Best Picture:
127 Hours
Black Swan
The Fighter
The Kids Are All Right
The King's Speech
The Social Network
Toy Story 3
True Grit
Winter's Bone

Who Will Win: The King's Speech, with a very small possibility of "The Social Network" pulling off an upset
Who Should Win: Inception
Why: Kind of a boring choice. Even though it's chances of winning in this category are slim, people just love"Inception" (it was number three on my Top Ten list for 2010), and for good reasons. It combines a complex plot line with great special effects and even manages to throw in an emotional element into the mix. Imagine, an action/thriller movie that makes you think! "The King's Speech" as I mentioned in my review, is a very solid, entertaining movie. However, it is still a little surprising to me that this is the film that is (likely) going to be chosen. I understand the politics behind it (the Academy likes royalty, British people, real-life stories, etc.), but I just think that it is weird that this movie should get so much acclaim. I expected it to be a nice, humorous, feel-good story, and it met those expectations, but nothing more. I do not want to degrade the film in any way because it was very good; there just wasn't anything that particularly amazing. Now, a lot of this has already been said by supporters of "The Social Network", but I have similar reservations for that movie as well. It was a smart, funny, and poignant film with a talented cast who played interesting characters, and it was much better than I thought it was going to be. But even though I think it deserves more than "King", I still don't think it was a masterpiece or the beginning of a new generation of film-making like people say it is, or at least imply it (David Fincher and Aaron Sorkin are not exactly newbies to the industry). It was definitely above-par and I enjoyed it, but that's it. Don't get me wrong: "Inception" is not an untouchable monument peaking above the clouds; it is not even Nolan's best work ("Why so serious?"). But it still took what could have been an average, or even a bad, movie and instead brought forth the true abilities of film-making: to have people be both awed by the images as well as get emotionally involved in the story. And that is why I think it deserves the Best Picture Award.

Happy Oscar Night!

The King's Speech (2010)

Starring: Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush, Helen Bonham Carter
Director: Tom Hooper

This film stars Colin Firth as the future King George VI, who suffers from a lifelong history of stuttering. When his wife Elizabeth (Helena Bonham Carter) recruits an unorthodox speechtherapist named Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush), he begins to realize that his speech is less a physical problem than a psychological one. As he begin to improve his abilities, he alsomanages to find his "inner voice" as he overcomes years of insecurity just in time to lead Great Britain into the Second World War.

I really don't have much to say about this movie, mostly because the plot is pretty straightforward. The only thing I can really comment on is the cast. Firth is great as the future king. In the opening scene, when he is forced to give a speech in front of an enormous crowd, you can see and feel the hesitation in his voice and appearance and you instantly feel sympathy toward him; he is like a small child suffering from stage fright. Geoffrey Rush is great as well. As Logue, he treats George, whom he calls "Bertie" (the royal is still Prince Albert when they first meet) barely any differently than anyone else and comes up with unique ways to get him to calm his nerves (my favorite part is the "swearing routine"). Helena Bonham Carter's role as the future Queen is relatively small, but she does well, and the same goes for Guy Pearce as King Edward VIII.

The one I really enjoyed, however, was King George V, played by Michael Gambon: he is a proud and majestic ruler who perfectly represents the now-deceased Victorian era that he grew up in. He lectures his son on the importance of keeping up with the times, though his angrydemeanor gives the impression that he himself would rather not have to deal with the "lowly" modern world. And as shown by the way he treats talks his sons, he is not a very nice guy (have to give credit to Gambon for having versatility; after all, he is mostly for playing Dumbledore in the "Harry Potter" films).

The only disappointment in this whole production was Winston Churchill, played by Timothy Spall.Granted, he only has a few scenes and he was really just there for show if anything else, but I still felt like they could have done better. I mean, its Winston Churchill for crying out loud! This is no offence to Spall; I am sure he has had better performances, like he did in...the "Harry Potter" films. Okay, seriously, what is with all the "Harry Potter" cast members? You got Carter, Gambon, and Spall. At this point, I wouldn't be surprised if Hitler were to get replaced by Lord Voldemort!But I digress...

Overall, the film is very well done. I am not going to get into a whole thing about what was factually accurate or not, nor and I going to get into whether it will/should win the Academy Award for Best Picture at the Oscars tonight (I will address that issue here: I am just focusing on what it is, which is a solid, entertaining movie. I recommend it.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The Social Network (2010)

Starring: Jesse Eisenburg, Andrew Garfield, Justin Timberlake
Director: David Fincher

When I first heard about this film, I blasted it as a stupid "white adolescent melodrama" with a plot that should have not been used for a long time. Need proof? Here you go: I stated that I never wanted to watch it. However, after all the praise it has received, both from critics and people I knew, I finally relented. Well, I have been wrong before, and I admit I was wrong this time as well. Here is why:

The film starts off with a Harvard student named Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenburg) who after a scuffle with the university, agrees to meet with two identical twin brothers named Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (both played by Armie Hammer) about the creation of a website made exclusively for Harvard students. He ends up taking this premise into his own hands, however, and with the help of his best (and only real) friend Edwardo Saverin (Andrew Garfield) and Napster founder Sean Parker (Justin Timberlake) he creates the phenomenon what would eventually be known as Facebook. As it turns out, however, success can come with a price.

Despite the title, the film is not so much about Facebook as much as it is about the human story behind it, and there is one central theme to this story: betrayal. There are a number of back-stabbing that ensues, or at least it is perceived, and that leads the characters to fall from the heights of their success. Granted, their fall is cushioned by millions of dollars worth of corporate revenue/settlement agreements, but still, it hurts. While they may enjoy the riches that Facebook provides them, the amount of emotional bitterness that they develop never true recedes.

The characters themselves really bring the story together. Jesse Eisenburg does a great job playing Zuckerburg, an intelligent but arrogant twenty-something who strives to be successful and gives a great amount of time devoted to his craft. This comes at the expense of the people around him, with his harsh anti-social behavior and cold demeanor that makes it appear ruthless and uncaring; it is almost like he has Aspergers. But the final scene of the film, which is simple but poignant, seems to indicate that much of what he does is a cover because he feel like he has to do it rather than wanting to. This gives the character not so much a sense of sympathy, but a curtain amount of ambiguity that makes you ponder whether he is really the person that you think he is even after the movie ends.

The rest of the characters are impressive as well. Saverin sticks with Zuckerburg through thick and thin, only to be, you guessed it, stabbed in the back. The Winklevoss's are depicted as the typical Ivy League snobs who want to get their way, aided with great accents, yet there is still the feeling that even if they legally did not deserve the rights to Facebook that they were somehow double-crossed. Timberlake does well as Parker, a playboy who angered the corporate world by selling free music online, stealing revenue from popular bands at the time such as *NSYNC...oops. Well, despite the awkward casting, it still works, as he takesZuckerburg under his wings, though it appears that even he is not immune to the entrepreneur's scorn. Are you beginning to understand why this guy doesn't get much sympathy as a character? Still, that's sort of makes the story interesting: there are no real heroes or villains in this picture, only people, with flaws and all. It is all held together thanks to the partially darkened yet soothing atmosphere usually seen in David Fincher's films as well as Aaron Sorkin's rich writing abilities (I guess I owe them an apology too, don't I?).

There has been a lot of talk about the accuracy of the film. Some movies are better at depicting real-life events than others; I thought that Sorkin's screenplay for "Charlie Wilson's War" was fairly spot on. However, I think he took a few more creative liberties with this picture, because from what I have been able to find out, neither Zuckerburg nor the rest of the players involvedbelieve that the film is that realistic. As much as I hate it when films distort real-life people and events (and I can imagine that some of these people got rightfully annoyed when they saw it and said "Hey, I didn't do that; that's totally unfair!"), I have to accept it as an unfortunate compromise when it comes to bringing it to the big screen. I mean, let's face it, in the end its still about a bunch of guys creating a website; if they were going to make the film at all, they had to add a few things to spice it up! Anyway, that being said, I find that it is best to focus on the film purely from an entertainment standpoint. And from that point of view, it excels.

It is hard to believe I would be saying this a few months ago, but I recommend this film. Now if you will excuse me, I need to go check on my Facebook account...

Review: Exam (2010)

Director: Stuart Hazeldine
Starring: Adar Beck, Gemma Chan

"The test is simple in comparison, yet it will determine who leaves this room with a contract of employment, and who leaves with bus fair home."

Movies are a consumer’s commodity, with a lot of them being mass produced and tailored to fit the expectations of a group of people determined to be ‘the masses.’ That doesn’t mean they’re bad. I don’t want to come off as one of those pretentious snobs always looking down on whatever’s ‘mainstream’ as some kind of lower art form. There are plenty of mainstream films that are just as good as underground ones, but there’s also a certain joy in finding a film from a director I don’t know, with actors I’ve never heard of, and having it be completely awesome and blow me away. Hence…Exam.

This is just a treat. It’s a taut, mind-bending thriller set only in one room – you never see outside the small, dark room the 8 characters are placed in. The basic plot is that there are a group of people put in a room and asked to answer one question, or else they won't get the prestigious job they're applying for. Now, it's never stated what the job is, and only flashes are given of what's happening outside the room (some kind of futuristic society where a huge viral pandemic has happened). They’re given pieces of paper, but the papers are all blank. So what the heck is the question? That’s what they have to figure out.

The setting of Exam. A dark room where no-one enters and no-one leaves until the time is up...or unless they accidentally slip up.

The characters aren’t even given names. In a somewhat humorously racist twist, the black guy is called Black, the Arab guy Brown, and so on – they’re just called by nicknames regarding their physical attributes. These characters are constantly locked in a battle of wills. Like Cube and other similar films, you get the one guy that’s really standoffish who acts like a dick the entire time, and you get the level-headed characters who want to look at everything logically, and the one who is just plain odd and out of touch with reality. But where Exam succeeds is exactly how well it pulls off these clichés, as I found myself completely immersed in these characters.

Throughout the film you’re barely given any clues on what the hell is going on outside the room, what the job is or what the exam is actually about. It’s all left in the dark, and you are guessing most of the plot along with the characters. Little slivers of background information are expertly placed in between the tension, and they add a lot of flavor to the movie. The focus isn’t even really on any background information – just on the dramatic tension between the characters as they try to find out what exactly the answer to their puzzle is. They get more and more desperate over time and things really, really get out of hand.

The psychological tension continuously builds throughout the film.

And that’s why this is such a good movie. These characters really go nuts – I mean they really go at each other, and things get a lot more intense than I expected. I won’t spoil too much, as I really think everyone should go see this film for themselves, but the whole tension is captivating and the final twist is good. Exam succeeds with strong writing, a natural vigor and a staunch devotion to the thriller genre that is admirable from the point of such an underground picture. You don’t know any of the actors in this film, but if the world has any justice, you will see them, as well as the director and writer of this film, again soon.

Review: One Missed Call (2008)

Director: Eric Valette
Starring: Shannon Sossamon, Ed Burns

"That's not my ringtone."
-A Doomed Girl

Well folks, this is one of the big ones: One Missed Call has been named number 2 on Rotten Tomatoes’ Worst Movies of All Time list, and I’ve been putting this review off for too long. Right from the get go, I see the first thing wrong with this horror film about people receiving killer missed calls on their cells – nobody would ever call these people. They’re far too bland and characterless to ever receive any willing phone calls. But then, I guess that’s why they’re getting killed off. Let’s dive right into One Missed Call.

Our film begins with a fire burning down a building – a fitting metaphor for the movie in general, no doubt. We’re not really given any information on why this is important, but the movie does have more important scenes to show us like a random black girl looking into her super-rich-person outdoor pond in the backyard and getting pulled under by a hand. The hand also then pulls her cat underwater, too.

Hey! You can kill all the one dimensional expendable characters you want, BUT YOU LEAVE THE CATS ALONE! We’ll have your asses!

Then we cut to a party at this girl Beth’s house. She’s talking to a guy who claims to be psychic, as he apparently knows that she’s thinking about him. I hope he puts those talents to good use. Then the girl from Buffy the Vampire Slayer season 7 comes over. You remember the one who was in that one episode saying that she knew she was going to die inexplicably? Yeah. She’s now in another movie about pretty much the same thing. She tells Beth that she just came from the funeral of that other chick who just died – why anyone else at the party wasn’t is anyone’s guess. She then gets a phone call from the dead chick, except, oooooh, it’s her own voice on the other line, screaming in pain!

Hokey. What, are you going to have black cats walking under ladders next? At least give us a little effort.

So the next day Leann – that’s the chick’s name – sees imaginary centipedes crawling on peoples’ hands! Why? Let’s just make up a reason: she’s actually been targeted as bounty by a Lovecraftian monster centipede who has sent his minions to come capture her. There. Makes about as much sense as anything else. We then cut to nighttime where she calls Beth on the phone and tells her some weird things are happening. All while every person she sees is apparently a mutated ceramic muppet. Weird.

??? This is never explained...

Then she’s on this bridge and a power line gets hit and she falls…eh, not quite the ‘teacher death’ in Final Destination, but I’ll give it a C minus.

Meanwhile, this detective guy is told his sister is dead. He goes in, puts on some gloves and sticks his hand in her mouth, pulling out a tiny red orb thing, which I guess is supposed to be candy? I don’t know. Why did he stick his hand in her mouth? Is that just how he grieves? By sticking his hand in his deceased loved ones’ mouth? That’s pretty sick, guy.

Then that psychic kid from earlier gets it the next day as he and Beth are sitting outside by a construction site – why is it that every horror movie always has stuff going wrong at construction sites? It kind of gives them a bad name, doesn’t it? He forgets his phone as he’s walking away, calling the whole thing crap the entire time (a dead giveaway that you’re going to die in a horror movie). As he comes back across the street, saying that he would forget his head if it wasn’t screwed on, a pole impales him through the chest and kills him instantly.

Oh come on, movie! That’s not even funny. You could have had his head get cut off. THAT would have at least gotten a chuckle or two. Step up your game, movie!

"I just got a text from an unlisted number. It says...this movie fucking blows and anyone involved in it has no future...hmm, might as well just press 'Delete.'"

So after everyone forgets about this guy, who isn’t even given a funeral scene or anything, Beth and the detective from earlier meet up and exchange numbers because they’re the ONLY ONES who realize something weird is happening, of course. Beth and this other chick named Taylor are heckled by a weird guy from a TV show called American Miracles, where they perform exorcisms and praise the Lord to get more ratings. Take THAT, religion! One Missed Call – 1, Christianity – 0. Hah!

While Beth and the detective investigate stuff, Taylor goes on TV and – get this – her phone is put on the table and ‘exorcised.’ Or rather, shouted at. Yeah, all the guy really does is stand there and scream at Satan to stop possessing the phone, like he’s scolding a small boy to stop eating cookies before dinner, or something. After a few rounds of Extreme Shouting Exorcism Fun Time, Taylor gets so tired of it that she allows the evil ghost to strangle her right there on live TV. Of course, the TV producer guy in the back is asking if they got the shot so they can air it. Take THAT again, religion! Take THAT, big name TV studios that are only in it for the money! How DARE you try to make a living?

He's probably harmless.

Oh, and yeah, he’s screaming at a CELL PHONE. I mean really, man; take a look at yourself. You’re on TV and screaming at a cell phone. I think there are some points in life when you really have to stop and say, wow, I’m a complete failure in every respect. And this is one of those times.

So, yeah, after that bout of heavy-handed moral lessons from a movie about killer cell phones, Beth and the detective dude are suiting up for the FINAL BATTLE…or really, just for more superstitious Japanese crap that the Americans ripped off. While doing this, the detective reminisces about his sister: “She was the baby. I was supposed to protect her.” He’s about as convincing and exciting as a guy trying to decide whether to buy Dill pickles or the state’s home brand. If your actors don’t even sound excited about the script, you’re DOING SOMETHING VERY WRONG.

That’s the thing with this movie; was it even supposed to be taken seriously? There is literally no dramatic tension to any of the supposedly gut-wrenching scenes in here, even when characters DIE. That one kid who got impaled didn’t even get a cursory mention afterward! I know they can’t be expected to dwell too long on drama in a horror movie, but god damn, man; show a little humanity! How am I supposed to be in suspense if the film itself doesn’t treat its suspenseful situations with any gravity? What are those weird muppet things anyway?

Sorry. That last question has nothing to do with the paragraph it’s included in. It’s just never answered in the movie and highly bothers me.

So Beth and her new pet detective (not Ace Ventura…that’s a different kind) get into some more emotional talks as he sees some scars on her arm. This triggers the horrifying involuntary mental response of a FLASHBACK! In the flashback, Beth is a little girl who has a crazy mother who likes to burn her arm with cigarettes for no reason. We see her telling Beth to go cry to her father and…

My DVD broke at this point and I had to resume the movie later. But in place of the snarky comments I would have graced this scene with, here’s a picture:

I hope this relieved the pain of the film for you...

When I got the DVD to work again, Beth was looking up this mental institution where they traced the missed phone call messages to. It was burned down – remember that scene from the beginning with the fire? Yeah, the movie apparently learned how to tie scenes together. Let’s give a round of applause…well, no, I don’t really feel like it. She goes to the burnt down hospital…does not pay the taxi driver for some reason…and then her detective friend meets her and they go inside.

Cue laugh track anytime.

Inside, they crawl around in the dark and Beth finds the corpse of this woman who is apparently the mother of the little girl from the opening, who was saved from the fire. Why did no-one bother to take this corpse out of the building when they put the fire out? Why is she carrying a cell phone? Who the fuck knows. The corpse then comes to life, tries to strangle Beth, cries, and then just kind of…stops. Beth and the detective leave, and then they have to go tell the little girl her mother is dead.

The detective sees a picture on the wall of the girl’s room that apparently leads him to believe there’s a camera inside her teddy bear. Yeah, I know it’s stupid, but the movie is almost over. And whaddya know? There IS a hidden camera inside the teddy bear! I guess…the mother placed it there to secretly spy on her kids? The tape shows the older sister putting on a black hoodie and cutting the younger girl – the one still alive and living with the detective – with a big knife. The mom comes in and stops them, locking the older sister in the room to have a fatal asthma attack while she takes the younger sister to the hospital to cure her bloodless, un-scarred arm cut. Yeah, real nice editing there movie.

But seriously, what kind of parent is this that she lets her daughters do shit like this in the first place? It’s said in the film that it wasn’t the first time the younger daughter had been found seriously hurt. So what the hell? The answer to parenting isn’t a secret camera to spy on your kids, you fucking Neanderthals! Get help! You’re a failure as a parent and as a human being. GOD.

So yeah, the little girl has one very contrived line: “But she always gave me candy!” Which is supposed to tie together the plot about how people keep dying with little red candies in their mouths, but it doesn’t make any sense, so whatever. The detective goes to Beth’s house where he gets stabbed in the eye by the evil, eeeeevvvviiiiiillll older sister ghost-thingy. Then the mother’s ghost appears again and gets rid of the poltergeist, and the day is saved!

CELL PHONES ARE BAD. Can you see the big shining neon signs yet?

But not for me! This was a horrible movie. I mean, how much LESS sense could you possibly make? Nothing about this movie is coherent or logical! Nothing about it makes any sense in any realm of reality! Is it one of the worst movies of all time? No. But I can certainly see why people would make the argument. Fuck, I need some aspirin.

Thanks to for several of these images! And the others aren't mine either. They're the property of whoever owns them.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Review: Final Destination (2000)

Director: James Wong
Starring: Devon Sawa, Ali Larter

In the year 2000, there was a movie made that was groundbreaking, original, horrifying, intelligent and mature. This…was not that movie.

Final Destination begins with a rich white kid named Alex going on a plane trip to France for his high school graduation. And already I’m wondering, what kind of high school sends their students to France as a graduation present? Do they attend the Richy McRichRich School for Rich Kids? Caucasian Meadows High? Alex tells his mom not to remove the tag on the briefcase because he believes it’s good luck. You'd think this would have some significance in the movie, but nope. It's just setting up how much of an unmitigated pussy our main character is. Seriously, the kid's a wimp. The fact that he does ANYTHING heroic in this movie at all is a testament to the very convenient writing more than any actual development. Ugh.

Then through some home-video-style tracking shots of his room in the dark, the camera arrives on the alarm clock, which flashes 1:00, which is the movie's cue to transition to the flight departure board at the airport flashing a similar number. This poor directing brought to you by the same guy who made Dragonball Evolution! The graduating class is made up of all white kids, all interchangeable from one another – they're identical balls of disposable dough and hair gel, each with the same crass under-knowledge of French and each with parents who can buy them an SUV in the blink of an eye. Alex gets handed some pamphlet about death not being the end, and this gets him spooked at the scaaaary coincidence of the flight time being the same number as his birthday (9:25) and the shutters of the flight departure board moving. Creepy! Oh, wait…no it isn’t.

Then some kid comes up to him and says, “Alex, let’s go take a shit.” His reasoning is that hot girls might not like them if they take a shit on the airplane.

…You really don’t want me to be interested in this movie at all, do you? Did I mention the same director made Dragonball Evolution? I can't decide which one is less mature!

They board the plane where the friend who was worried about girls not liking him tells those same girls that he has a urinary tract infection and can’t switch seats with them. Real counter-productive there, guy!

"Help! This movie is simply way too hammy and clichéd!" 

Alex gives up his seat for the two girls and then the plane blows up horrifically. Oh, wait, no; it was a dream. Then he goes fucking nuts and starts screaming about how the plane is going to blow up. He gets in a fight with this kid named Carter, who I guess takes it really personally when people act crazy, and they get taken off the plane along with a teacher, Carter’s girlfriend, Alex’s friend Tod, this one kid who was in the bathroom at the time, and a random girl. They sit around for a while when the plane actually does blow up after all. Oops.

YOU DON'T FUCK WITH THIS FACE! This is his Mean Face. Or his 'taking a shit' face...I forget which.

They all get interrogated by the FBI and then go home to wallow in depression. Everyone pretty much treats Alex like dirt because he had this unexplained vision and yet nobody really seems too interested – until later, that is, when people start dying. Yeah. Don’t do anything logical like have him see a counselor about his problems or anything. That would make too much fucking sense.

At the memorial event for all the dead students, Carter gets in another fight with Alex for no reason (because he has nothing better to do, I guess) and that random girl, whose name is Clear Rivers, gives him a flower for saving her life. Clear Rivers? That’s a weird fucking name. What, was she one of those Native American children whose names are more like nature catalog descriptions? Maybe she’ll name her son Muddy Puddles. Or Sharp Rocks. The possibilities are endless.

Oh, and while I’m at it, one of the kids is named Billy Hitchcock. Yeah, because when I think of this movie, I’m going to think of Alfred Hitchcock’s name now because you did that. Clearly the resemblance between this movie and Hitchcock’s classic, inventive thrillers is striking! I’m just shocked.

Then we see Tod on the toilet again. Because you didn’t get enough of that the first time, you get to see it again. Seriously, how many movie characters get shown taking a shit twice in the same movie? After that, Tod gets killed when some water in his bathroom comes to life and makes him trip into the shower where he somehow strangles himself to death. Yeah, can’t make this up, people. It’s like if MacGuyver constructed a death trap. It’s just insane! Everyone of course dismisses it as suicide, and when a shredded up newspaper gives Alex a clue – they’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel here – he rushes over and gets arrested. The detectives laugh at him when he tells them about his vision and then just let him go.

Don't even ask how this happened; the writers don't know either!

So then Alex hooks up with Clear, and he tells her that he thinks that Death is trying to kill them off because they didn’t get killed when they were ‘supposed to’ in the plane crash. Like Death is a serial killer that actually chases after people in a black cloak with a scythe. Is this movie making you dumber yet? Pause the movie now just in case, and do a few basic math problems to exercise that big brain of yours which probably isn’t getting a lot of work out of a movie like this.

Done? OK. They go and break into the funeral home where they find…the Candyman! AHHHH!

He tells them that Death is coming for all of them. How does he know this? Never revealed. What is he doing creeping around the funeral home in the middle of the night? Not answered. Why is he even in this movie? Because they didn’t have any other black people in the movie. Or just because their quota for ‘wasted horror actor potential’ had not yet been filled, and they decided that Tony Todd was a seasoned veteran of that kind of thing. Either one works – pick and choose your own explanation! Get creative. He never shows up in the movie again anyway, so whatever you pick will be fine and dandy!

So then Alex goes home and sits around in his room some more trying to find – oh, God – a pattern for how Death is killing everyone off. A fucking pattern! Are you for real? It’s not like this is a scavenger hunt. You don’t get a prize for jumping through the most hoops and figuring out the big riddle. Well, these kids get to stay alive, I guess; but that’s not a reward for any of the rest of us watching this shitfest! And again, it’s like they’re trying to say he’s a physical bogeyman running around going OOGA BOOGA BOOGA!

Alex talks to Clear about it at a random, generic intersection where by COINCIDENCE everyone else who survived the plane disaster shows up, too! The teacher is coming out of a store, Little Billy Hitchcock is riding his bike down the street and he almost gets run over by Carter and his girlfriend Terry, or something like that. Carter decides to pick a fight with Alex for no reason at all, literally, and Terry stands conveniently in the middle of the street to tell everyone to stop fighting. Or else they’ll all be dead.

That’s when the bus comes out of nowhere and hits her. Even though in broad daylight it should have seen her from a mile away and slowed down, this is the movie’s most famous scene, so I guess I’m just supposed to shut up and deal with it.

Then we get the revelation that the teacher is next to die. She’s alone in her house moping to some random friend on the phone about how her life sucks now when a computer blows up for no reason and slits her throat. Then she falls to the floor as her house catches fire, where a kitchen knife falls at the PERFECT ANGLE to stab her in the stomach and kill her. Excuse me while I laugh uncontrollablAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Okay, I’m done. All this right before Alex arrives and picks up the knife, putting his prints on it and setting him up to look like the murderer. Good job, dumbass; good job!

Tom and Jerry would have been proud. So would most of the ACME corporation, I think.

Now he’s on the run! The police are after him and he’s got to shack up with the other survivors and BE A REBEL! They drive around in Carter’s car until Carter goes nuts and tries to kill himself on some train tracks. Alex pulls him out, but then Billy gets all huffy about how Carter is next and he doesn’t want to be around him, like it’s contagious. Just like before with that Terry girl getting hit by the bus, Billy stands in exactly the right spot and gets decapitated by the train right at that very moment. OH. HOW. CONVENIENT.

So then Alex, holed up in a cabin all alone and talking to himself like a crazy person, realizes that Clear is actually the next to die! He rushes to her house, which is guarded by the cops who are looking for him, where he finds her trapped in her car, victim to a million and one failed Looney Tunes traps. Yes, even Tom and Jerry wouldn’t do these traps, unfunny as they are…damn, I really want to finish this review; if you’ve seen the movie you know how dull it is. How little surprises can you have in a movie? Both characters live, they go to Paris with Carter for some reason (I guess he’s a friend all the sudden…) and then Carter dies because he saves Alex from dying. Yeah. The movie ends on the death of a character nobody liked and who barely did anything throughout the film but act like a whiny little pussy. SURPRISED?

Whew, this was an annoying one. I mean, come on; this is pretty much a Saturday morning cartoon, not a horror movie! Final Destination embodies pretty much everything wrong with a lot of these late 90s and early-mid 2000s films that were just so lame. That’s really the core of it. Lame writing, lame acting, lame directing, lame stories…just lame ass movies in general. This is more of a comedy than a horror movie, and if you think it’s scary, I have another horror series that might chill you to the bone, too:

Disclaimer: I actually think Goosebumps is much cooler than this movie.

That about sums it up. Don’t watch this crap, it sucks. The end.

None of these images are mine. I took them from other people. I did not create them.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Review: The City of Lost Children (1995)

Director: Marc Caro, Jean-Pierre Juenet
Starring: Ron Perlman, Judith Vittet, Daniel Emilfork

The City of Lost Children was nothing less than a total acid trip from beginning to end. Starting off with a surprising and shocking scene involving multiple Santa Clauses, the film establishes right away that it will not be a ‘normal’ venture…I mean, look at this first scene. It’s just…eh, let me show you:

After that mind-fuck of epic proportions, the movie evolves into a rollicking, colorful sci-fi adventure with a ton of creativity albeit the very, very little sense being made. I think the fact that this was in French created more confusion, as I probably missed a few things in translation, even with the subtitles. But that's not to say this isn't good. There are a few moments in the first half hour or so, like right after that Santa scene, where you get all these weird little clone-guys screaming simultaneously…and it’s pretty much unbearable. But the movie improves, and throughout the film even the most non-French speaking individuals will be able to follow the story pretty well.

The story, about a mad scientist who kidnaps children to steal their dreams and make him eternally young, is told with vibrancy and energy, and it becomes a lot of fun even when you don't know what's going on. The directing, with all its strange, alien colors and architecture, is just splendid. It’s really like nothing you’ve ever seen before, as it looks like some sort of steampunk world, if it was crossed with a 1930s gangster environment. Like there’s this one scene in a bar that just overflows with scenery that looks like a hybrid between Once Upon a Time in America and The Fifth Element. That’s just so weird I can hardly take it. But it works. It really, really works.

The characters are all really good, too. I surprisingly found myself really drawn into them – in fact, I’d say they were the main reason I kept watching the film. The lead is oddly named One, played by Ron Perlman, who is a simpleminded circus strongman who is pretty much the kindest soul you’ll ever meet. You don’t get a whole lot of backstory about him (or any of the characters, really), but it’s implied that he’s a protector of the weak and helpless. He protects his younger brother, who has been kidnapped by the mad scientists, and he protects young, tough-as-nails orphan Miette (Judith Vittet) for most of the movie, too, calling her his little sister. Miette doesn’t show a lot of outward emotion but feels for One in his simple, emotional quest to save his loved one, and helps out accordingly, breaking away from her friends in the orphanage and the oppressive (and really odd) pair of conjoined twins that domineer over them all. These two characters are just really enjoyable to watch, and the simple emotional arc they are a part of is sweet, involving and captivating. They’re helping each other. That’s as pure and simple as it gets.

There’s also Krank, who is the leader of the Cyclops, the group of strange mad scientist/soldier types who was apparently a little child who was aged prematurely by the ‘original’…who has been shrouded in mystery. He wants to steal the childrens’ dreams to become young and stop himself from decaying completely. He talks to this odd brain thing in a test tube that seems to know everything, and eventually leads them to the ‘original,’ who lives in a submarine under the sea. But not a pineapple under the sea. That would be going too far even for this movie.

These Cyclops guys are grown up children who weren’t given a chance to have a real childhood, because, well…they’re clones of some freak scientist who now lives in a submarine. To gain back their childhood, they have to take it away from other children, so really, nobody wins. The Cyclops are victims, too. They’ve been created against their will – they didn’t have any part of it. There is a tragic undertone to all of this, if you can believe that after seeing some of the images this movie throws at you. But that's really part of the movie's genius. I did end up buying the 

Add into this whole thing a plotline about the conjoined twins trying to kill One and Miette to get back some gold they apparently stole, and this becomes a right jam-packed epic. There’s always something going on on screen, and the film never becomes boring. This works because the atmosphere is dreamlike and surreal, and it runs deep to the movie’s core. This is an authentic work of art that is quirky, silly, morose and pensive all at once. If you like movies that entertain on a bit of a higher echelon, The City of Lost Children will deliver fully. I want to watch this again someday and I think I'll notice new things and perhaps gain a new understanding of it. This is just one of those movies that really caught my attention, and that's why I'm sharing it with you all.

None of these images are mine and I take no credit for any of them.