I had read the novel that "The Shooter" was based upon, "Point of Impact" by Steven Hunter. It was an engrossing read and I could not put the book down until I finished it. The one thing that struck me was what a good film it would make. After seeing the film, I saw something very different from the source material. First, the events of the novel are brought up to present day as opposed to 1991 when the events of the first novel took place and the main character is marksman who was on a special mission in an African country protecting contract workers putting up a oil pipeline as opposed to Vietnam. Mark Wahlberg is a likable actor and perfect in any protagonist role he plays but may have been too young for the role and still has the East Coast/Boston thing going when the character was supposed to be a Southerner. Characters were missing, the drama and motivation is also missing in favor of action sequences of which Antoine Fuqua has made a specialty. One scene has an old gun expert virtually explaining out all of the narrative and background for what seems like 10 minutes to get around having the movie deal with it itself. The villains are not even despicable enough, they don't have enough screen time and we basically see characters getting roughed up by nameless thugs who are quickly dispatched in two minutes. The character of the FBI agent Nicholas Memphis was an important one in the book. He is a marksman also but haunted by a mistake that rendered his deceased wife paralyzed and is a clumsy agent who rediscovers his capabilities once more when he learns of inconsistencies and aids Bob Lee in clearing his name. All of this swept aside and Nick Memphis is merely a rookie agent fresh out of the academy and it doesn't help that Mike Pena doesn't even play up the comic relief potential of the character merely looking like he is constipated with something in his eye. This could have been a great action film but it chose to go with big explosions and bloody shootings with a younger cast at the expense of a compelling, suspenseful story with characters who were real and that you cared about. I know this is not a book review site but I had the same feeling after watching "Sum of All Fears" where they changed the nationality of the villains and made Jack Ryan young in the guise of Ben Affleck. I judged the film without taking into consideration the literary source and found the film to be rote, banal and underwhelming.
I have always seen silent films as comedies such as those of Charlie Chaplin or Harold Lloyd. I had not seen the more serious works. Having seen "The Unknown" on television, I never imagined that I would have been moved by a silent film. Lon Chaney's expressions are so clear and jump out of the screen at you. He conveys a mixture of anger, sadness, and seething hatred hiding underneath a forced smile. It is all in his eyes. Also, you see a young, fresh faced Joan Crawford, as the beautiful assistant to Chaney's supposedly armless knife thrower. The lovely assistant has issues where she is afraid of men's arms which is why she is so at ease around Chaney who has a shady past and keeps some strange secrets to himself, including his desire to "own" his lovely assistant. The lengths that he goes to are unbelievable and disturbing. Who would expect less from Tod Browning. This was a fascinating, effective film work.
French director, Louis Malle's "Lacombe, Lucien" is an honest film about one young man's journey into accidentally becoming a Nazi collaborator during occupied France in the 1940s. Pierre Blaise was not an experienced actor when selected to portray the titular character. This could have been disastrous in most instances but Malle's instincts pay off. Blaise's boyish looks and blank stare are the perfect mix in pulling off the tabula rasa that is capable of evil if the circumstances are right. Lucien works as an orderly and helps out at a farm where his mother is shacking up with the owner while his father is in a German prison camp. He goes through life doing chores and farm work taking delight in killing animals whether it is for food or just for something to do (as in the scene where he kills a song bird out of boredom). This rugged, survivalist approach to life is ideal for a life on the farm in the country, however; the world has changed and after being rejected by his teacher to join the Resistance, Lucien seeks to find his place and purpose. By accident, he has a tire puncture on his bike and finds himself at the collaborator headquarters after curfew. Lucien is accepted by them and given drinks, prestige, money, and fine clothes especially after inadvertently turning in the school teacher who had previously rejected him. Taking to this newfound prestige, Lucien uses his power over a Jewish tailor and his family to court the tailor's beautiful daughter, France, and holds the fact that he can turn them in anytime he likes to force them to accept him and to woo France. Lucien is such a misfit that he has no concept of family and thinks bullying his way into their lives will make them accept them. In a strange way, they begin to grow on each other. The tailor even says, "No matter how hard I try, I find it difficult to dislike you." to him. Even in his very limited way, Lucien grows to care about them but can only go so far as he is completely devoid of emotion when consoling France and forces her into sex after she becomes hysterical about her father being sent away. This film conveyed what is the most troubling about this period of history which is that the people who collaborated were regular people who only cared about getting prestige even though it was temporary and it was hollow and devoid of any integrity. They dance, drink, laugh it up and listen to both the German and English news and "split the difference" in order to get a semblance of the truth. One aspect of these scenes was the Great Dane. The way the dog is filmed it was as though he is subtly performing. Sitting quietly, leading Lucien up the stairway and offering a consoling paw to an upset France. The other intriguing character is that of the hotel maid. A homely looking woman whose face shows a life of hardship, reveals upon initiating Lucien into losing his virginity that she is biding her time until the Americans win which is a certainty, only to hurl anti-semitic insults at France upon seeing her with Lucien. This hatred was not borne of any nazi sympathies but rather her frustration at the fact that France has beauty, youth and is treated as an equal for the party and most of all she has Lucien's affections. Despite the maid's strong feelings for Lucien, he has no feelings for her or most people. His show of affection is throwing money at them whether it is his concerned mother or the Tailor's family after being hurt by him. Up to a tragic conclusion that is merely mentioned in text on the screen, the film is powerful in its' simplicity whether it is in the main character or the seemingly peaceful scenery. The most powerful scenes are between Lucien who is a brute with clout and the tailor who tries to cling to his civilized, bourgeoisie ways despite having lost all prestige and status and is very trepiditious around this boy brandishing this power over him and his family that could destroy them so that he can be accepted by them. I am still thinking about this movie 2 days after watching it, very chilling indeed especially since the young actor, Pierre Blaise would die in a car accident with two companions (Time Magazine, Sept. 1975) a year after the film's release.
"Audition" is really the first Takashi Mikke film that I have seen. After hearing a lot about the new wave of Asian films that bring extreme violence and sexuality to shocking effect, I was not sure what to expect. I was aware that it had been a horror film and that something disturbingly horrific was going to happen by the film's end but it still managed to catch me off guard. The film starts off innocently enough with a widower encouraged by his teenage son to put himself on the market and find himself a new wife since he is not getting any younger. He goes about it in a novel way, having a friend in the film business who puts on a bogus casting call to help him find a woman who will be good "marriage material." At this point, this film could be a light romantic comedy. The man becomes bewitched by one of the women, Asami, who is very quiet and seems to be more than meets the eye. The two start to date and see each other more and the man slowly learns little by little about Asami and a tortured past. When the man undertakes his own investigation into her past and it is learned by her that the audition was merely a pretense for him to ask her out, he finds himself in nightmare he would never have dreamed. Many will say that the film is too slow and does not give any indication to being a horror film in the early part of the film. I think this makes the final 20 minutes of the film all the more effective. We are in this man's daily life of solitude and sadness and are with him when he becomes rejuvenated after finding Asami and just as shocked and surprised by what she really is capable of doing. The performances are very good, especially that of the actress who portrays Asami, she brings a mix of vulnerability and danger that is perfect. I found myself going back and forth between feeling sympathy and loathing towards her character. There are definitely disturbing imagery and brutal scenes of torture which are graphic and not for the feint of heart. As far as an initiation into the work of Takashi Miike, this film will be good barometer for whether or not you are ready for some of his other work.
This film was a surprise because I came across it on the Lifetime Movie Network and watched a few minutes to kill some time before another program began and found myself entertained. First of all, what rescues this from being standard direct to video fare is the direction of action film helmer Mark L. Lester. In addition, the cast which includes James Remar and Adam Baldwin, has some underrated talent in it. Most surprising of all is the dynamic between Julie Le Page as the hit woman with the lam and former "Baywatch" babe, Erika Eleniak as a single mother with her troubled teenage son on road trip to her mother's place in Texas. Julie hits all the right notes as the manipulative, sociopathic hit woman who regards the unwitting mother and son as ride over the state lines with a stash of a million dollars. The female characters are strong, Julie, physically and Eleniak as the mother fighting for her son's life and makes the film very compelling. The road movie through the desert crime caper is nothing new nor original ("Thelma and Louise," anyone) but the performance of the sexy Le Page and the twist of ruthless hit woman teamed up with single mom trying to do the right thing brings a very interesting dichotomy to what could have been an otherwise forgettable film.
"Yu Ming is Anim Dom" ("Yu Ming is my Name") is an extremely clever short film that speaks volumes with a very simple, straightforward narrative. The film follows young Yu Ming, a young Chinese man, who is bored with his life working in shop for his family. A dreamer, he randomly picks a spot on a spinning globe to move to and comes up with Ireland. Checking out a book in the library, he learns all he can about Ireland and sees that Gaelic is their official language. Yu Ming then sets out to teach himself the language. Upon moving to Dublin, Yu Ming finds that no one can understand him. Because of this he feels as though he is not speaking it correctly and does not understand that most of the people can only speak English and they mistakenly think he's speaking Chinese. Although comical, it is sad at the same time and shows an outsider more interested and knowledgeable in the Irish culture than the natives themselves. It shows a loss of cultural identity that may or may not be reversable after so many years. I have to say that the film inspired me to learn more about Gaelic as well: GJUNG is Anam Dom. : )
"Harry and Tonto" is one of those films that surprises you. It seems very simplistic with an old man traveling with his trusty cat, however; there is more to the film than that. Harry(Art Carney) is a 72 year-old man displaced from his apartment building in New York that is scheduled for demolition. This is when his journey begins taking him from his son's home and comes across various people along the way including Ginger, a 16 year-old hitchhiker, a former lover with a shaky memory (Geraldine Fitzgerald), his bookstore owner daughter, Shirley(Ellen Burnstyn) in Chicago, a vitamin salesman, a Las Vegas hooker and an Indian Chief. Harry is an intelligent man in his twilight years prone to fussing over his aging cat. The film is good natured and at the same time sad. It plays as a slice of life movie but one thinks of the old saying, "It is not the destination but the journey that matters." Art Carney gives a very real, complex performance while being understated and I am not surprised that he won an Oscar for this film. I am glad that I finally came across this film and certainly appreciate it more as an adult than I did as a kid.
Having seen the original "Hills Have Eyes" and was bowled over by Alexander Aja's "Haute Tension," I anticipated his take on this recent remake of a well know horror film. I have to say that Aja stayed true to the original but then built upon that further and made some improvements that worked. The effects were impressive, most notably, the mutant make up effects and the acting was better especially with the characters of Bobby and the son-in-law. The infamous trailer attack scene is much more brutal and shocking than the original. The only problem I had with the film was that it dragged in places much like the original had and the characters are never really sympathetic but rather a bunch of boorish, whiny people (with the exception of the older daughter and the dogs). Having watched the original, I knew who was going to die and I think this took away from the intensity but Aja did a wonderful job at recreating and updating the film for today's audiences.
I watched this on a Spanish language channel in Orlando, FL back in the early '90s. They did something right with "Ladrones du Tomba" since I watched the entire film and did not speak very much Spanish at the time. It has all the ingredients of an entertaining slasher: cool, low budget Indiana Jones angle with the grave robbers, foolish, reckless teenage characters, a zombie killer with a battle axe and a beautiful "last girl" that has lungs to give even Jamie Lee Curtis a run for her money. It doesn't have a big Hollywood budget and a lot of the night time scenes were dark and murky but it did not skimp on the blood and gore. The latter looks fake at times but this was not unusual for this time period for special effects. LDT is a must for B-horror movie aficionados if you are able to find it.
"Shark Attack 3: Megaladon" is not only direct to video fare but an unintentional laugh fest. Some movies lend themselves easily to being heckled as seen with "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" and this keeps up the tradition. I think what made this hilarious was that the people who made this were probably thinking they were coming up with a cool film with clever, witty writing and, of course, it comes across as making a fool of itself. Let's start with the junk science: supposedly the shark was being attracted by electrical pulses being generated by a fiber optic line underwater(this is not the case), not to mention the dubious nature of the shark tooth and the chock-a-block stock footage, some of which looks as though it was taken in the 1950s. Second: The lady scientist who changes from being a bookworm to seductress asking her crew if they're checking out her a55 again. There is also the lovable rogue hero who cracks wise and spouts one memorable line that stops the film cold in its track and leaves the viewer in abject disbelief(I had to rewind it to make sure I heard what I heard). Not to mention the special effects which run the gamut from photoshop (one friend said that boat superimposed over the real footage of a shark coming out of the water was reminiscent of "Land of the Lost") to flat out Commodore 64 era CGI. There was one old dude who reinvented the English language ("Abso-f*cking-lutely!", "Bull-f*cking-sh*t!)and even a bad lawyer joke("They're the sharks you should be worried about!" (drumbeat) Another note is that I thought most of the actors had bad speech impediments and looked as though they were reading cue cards, however; it appears as though Bulgaria is filling in for Mexico and that these were Eastern European actors trying to speak English with a Mexican accent which came out as something closer to a stroke induced slur. Also, keep an eye on the scenes when they are supposedly going at full speed in their boats and when they cut to a close up of the actors, the water is calm and still. As poorly made and acted as this film was, it was so bad that it was entertaining and should be elevated to cult status like "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes."
"Hitch" is a romantic comedy vehicle for Wil Smith. It has some interesting ideas and does a wonderful job of capturing the magical New York as it's back drop. Smith is very good as a leading man and comic relief and he is both in this film. Playing a "romance" consultant for guys who are hopeless, he is a Guru who knows of what he preaches. We find that his near scientific knowledge of wooing the fairer sex comes from a particularly devastating experience he had when he was younger and that it is his mission to help others who are truly looking for romance(he draws the line at helping those with less savory intentions). Smith finds his suaveness and his own savvy becoming useless when he comes across a gossip reporter who is tracking down an heiress who is dating one of his clients played by the always hilarious Kevin James. The problem with the film is that it resorts to goofy, slapstick humor when all else fails(the shellfish allergy scene is an example of this). Also, the chemistry between Smith and Eva Mendes is not convincing. This is no reflection on either actor but there was no convincing conflict between the two. All in all, this is yet another vehicle but Kevin James did steal every scene he was in and brought the funny to a movie that is merely standard, assembly line, multi-plex fare.
"Miss Congeniality 2: Armed and Fabulous" is everything the first one was and less. Gracie has been stood up by her love interest from the last film (Benjamin Bratt must have had better things to do)and is back to being her slovenly, tomboyish self again. We like to see that a character has grown and evolved and learned something but we see all of that was for naught with this sequel. We end up going through the same tedious process all over again and pretty much the same story. The only difference is that instead of a love interest, Gracie is forced to team up with another female agent played by Regina King, who is every bit a diamond in the rough as she is. Already, we know these two who are at loggerheads will grow to like each other and become friends. And Gracie has to come to the rescue of her friend from the first film, Miss America and William Shatner from comically ruthless kidnappers. Michael Caine is absent from this, being replaced by Diedrich Bader as a flamboyant stylist who has to retrain Gracie. Gracie is left to be public image mascot for the FBI which seemed really far fetched for me. Despite a few funny moments (Gracie mistaking the real Dolly Parton for a female impersonator), the film is a total retread. Although, Gracie is likable enough, it would have been better to have a different type of story or vehicle. The chemistry works between King and Bullock but again the story is too much of "been there, done that." I also felt that it was heavily padded out as well. There are even bloopers during the end credits which are not the least bit funny. "Miss Congeniality 2" makes one appreciate the first film much better and to wish that Hollywood would invest in more original projects.
This film surpassed my expectations. I was not certain what to make of the DVD cover boast of "earning more than $6 Million in the North American Box Office" nor the cast of Quebecois actors, of which, I was not familiar with (I was thinking it was Marc Messier, the hockey player and not the Canadian actor in it). "Les Boys" is a good slice of life movie that gives outsiders like myself a glimpse into Quebecois culture where hockey is seen as a sanctuary for people of all walks of life. The coach/owner of the team, Stan, puts together an amateur league consisting of a surgeon, lawyer, fast talking real estate agent, a TV producer, auto mechanic, a junkie musician,a policeman and Vern, who is a walking almanac of hockey facts and figures. Many of these men are dealing with difficulties in their everyday lives which include problems with women, money and, in the case of one character, keeping his homosexuality a secret from his team mates. Les Boys band together to help out Stan who has got himself into debt with a loan shark. The film is low budget but what makes it work, and work well, is the chemistry between the characters. They seem very real and the scenes in the bar emphasizes this camaraderie and makes the viewer understand why these men look forward to playing hockey so much and have a love for it that competes with that for their wives and girlfriends. The film does become clichéd towards the last quarter and a friend of mine whose knowledge of hockey would rival Vern's, pointed out how the jersey numbers on the villain's team were those of famous English-Canadian players like Gretzky and the numbers on the Boy's jerseys were of French Canadian players like Mario LeMieux. It's subtle nuances and details which make this film a labor of love for Quebec and the institution of hockey.
"Land of the Dead" marks the return of George A. Romero to the Zombie genre which he revolutionized with the 1968 "Night of the Living Dead," ten years later with "Dawn of the Dead" and 1985's "Day of the Dead." What sets apart Romero's films from other zombie/undead movies is that there is a sense of continuity, the element of the unknown(the audience like the characters in the film do not know what caused or started this epidemic), the psychological ramifications of being in a apocalyptic situation and the underlying social commentary reflecting the zeitgeist of the time that the film is released (although all 4 films are supposed to take place around the same time despite that being left ambiguous). "LOTD" shows a society that has learned to live with the dead taking over. There is the class struggle where the wealthy live in the heavily guarded, luxury fortress of Fiddler Green run by the corrupt Kaufmann played by Dennis Hopper. The lower class people live in squalor and some even take jobs of going outside of the complex and looting stores for luxury goods, food and supplies for the residences in the midst of the "stenches"/zombies. The zombies are able to be distracted by "sky flowers" or fireworks, giving the looters leeway. However, a zombie gas attendant, Big Daddy, seems to evolve to be able to communicate, learn and reason (to a degree since he cannot comprehend the jackhammer not being able to work unplugged) and this seems to create a new challenge for the living who view the zombies as stupid and target practice. Cholo (John Leguizamo) believes that if he is in collusion with Kauffmann then he will be guaranteed a spot amongst the upper class which juxtaposes with the protagonist, Riley, who only wants to leave to go up North because "there is nothing there." The film is full of gore and flesh eating but the scenes where you had the tourists having their pictures taken with safely restrained zombies and the zombie being used for paint gun target could be seen as George A. Romero's take on zombies being trivialized and turned into comedy. The class struggle is also obvious and there have been many posts on message boards about Dennis Hopper's character being reminiscent of the Bush Administration and Rumsfeld. Especially the scence where Kaufmann says to the invading zombies, "HOW DARE YOU!" "LOTD" is not Romero's best film but I did find it better than the "Dawn of the Dead" remake which skimped on the social commentary which made the original so effective. I hope that Romero is planning another opus in this genre.
"Haute Tension" is one of the best horror films I have seen in years. It is appropriately gruesome and shocking and does not take the wise cracking, action movie based horror movie approach that so many recent horror films have taken. The film is well made and paced and builds up the suspense to a crescendo and does not overstay it's welcome. One would have found it unusual for French cinema to be the one to revitalize the horror genre which has become hackneyed and trite in Hollywood (so many want to refer to it as psychological thriller). The story follows 2 college co-eds visiting the homestead of one of the girl's family on a school break. A mysterious man in a mechanic jumpsuit and old truck (reminiscient of the one in "Jeepers Creepers")comes to the house in the night and brutally murders the family, kidnaps the girl and overlooks her friend who has to pursue the killer to rescue her friend. Director, Alexander Aja, does not make a pedestrian, light weight horror film and the deaths in the film are disturbing and brutal. There is no humor or comic relief and the blood literally soaks the camera lens. The sense of dread and the unrelenting suspense and pace makes this a refreshing breath of fresh air from all of the PG-13 rated "Scream" wannabes that have been hitting the multi-plexes. Wes Craven had reportedly seen "Haute Tension" at Sundance and has hand picked Alexander Aja to remake "The Hills Have Eyes" and have free artistic licence since Craven had pegged him as the "future of horror." There is even a plot twist which you will either love or hate but it fits in well with the film. The performances by Cecile de France, Maewenn and the actor who portrays the killer are perfect. All in all, this is a French film that deserves to be seen in American multiplexes and a must see for horror movie fans the world over who have been having to settle for mediocre horror for many years now.
I saw this film without having any idea of what it was really about. I assumed that it would be a light romantic comedy but I was very mistaken about that. (Possible spoilers ahead).
Audrey Tautou plays a young artist named Angelique who has become smitten with a cardiologist, Loic (Samuel Le Bihan). The film is divided into 2 parts. The first half is from Angelique's perspective and many things seem to occur offscreen or are left ambiguous. What is fascinating is how our expectations allow us to fill in the blanks ourselves and make assumptions about what is going on. It feels like a light romantic comedy but then it takes a strange turn when Loic, who is an upstanding, well respected Doctor with everything going for him (pregnant wife, successful practice, well respected by his colleagues) is arrested for assaulting one of his patients. It is then that the film switches to Loic's point of view and we see something more sinister and disturbing. What began as a simple act of kindness leads to destroying the Doctor's life. Audrey Tautou has that sweet, pixie look that you would not associate with an Erotomaniac (romantically obsessed person) who will do anything to eliminate anyone in the way of her happiness with the Doctor, who doesn't know who she is. This is what made the film so chilling and reminded me of Htichcock's "Psycho," playing on the audience's expectation and using it to ultimately shock them in the end. Very well made and effective thriller.
"The Hills Have Eyes" made an impact on viewers back in the 1970s and the white bread, all American family being stalked and terrorized by a savage, cannibalistic family in the middle of the desert away from civilization terrified viewers and reflected the dark side of the American dream in post Vietnam war America. The concept of this contrast is strong and gives a certain social commentary which makes this Wes Craven film an intelligent horror movie. The "civilized" family slowly loses all the amenities of civilization, first when their car breaks down and they lose food and electricity and slowly become not too different from the antagonists especially when members of the family are murdered and the family baby is kidnapped by the savages. The theme is also illustrated by the 2 family dogs, Beauty and Beast. Beauty is completely tame and unsuited to survival which leads to her demise whereas Beast, has a primal, hunting instinct and a blood thirst which makes him suited to exacting revenge upon the cannibals. The cannibals aren't supernatural creatures but rather primal humans who kill to survive and to obtain tools and goods for their own living. The daughter, Ruby, of the cannibal family, shows compassion towards the other family and even wants to escape from her own. In contrast, the patriarch of the "civilized" family is a bigoted, stubborn lout while his wife is docile and goes along with everything he says. The children represent the baby boomer generation that goes along with their parents traditions at the same time thumbing their nose at it as when the daughters share a cigarette and the one daughter and her husband go for a conjugal romp. And the father's stoic, unyielding manner juxtaposes that of his son-in-law, Doug, who is easy going. However, Doug changes when he has to rescue his infant daughter from the clutches of the cannibals. The family of cannibals have their patriarch, Papa Jupiter, who sees the family as intruding and forcing their lives onto them and has a seething hatred for them. This can be seen at the source of many a conflict in the news these days. Although, the film is tame by today's standards, some of the death scenes were still unsettling and it brings up the question of what we would do if we were stripped of all that ties us to civilization and left bare to fend for ourselves. Would we become the "savage" family and kill if our survival depended on it. I think a truly disturbing, effective horror film not only gives you the frights but makes the viewer reflect upon themselves and contemplate the darkness that lies within the human psyche.
"Walking Tall" is "inspired by a true story" which means the names and places have been changed compared to the more closely biographical 1973 film of the same name about a Tennessee sheriff, Bueford Pusser, who used his own form of justice carrying a "big stick" to clean up the polictical corruption that ran rampant in his county. The hero has become Chris Vaughan, returning to his hometown in the Pacific Northwest after a 2 year duty with the military to go to work in the mill only to find the mill closed down and the town in economic ruin centering around a strip club/casino complex and adult bookstores. When Chris Vaughan (Dwayne Johnson aka The Rock)notices cheating at the casino and his young nephew overdoses on crystal meth supplied by the casino's thugs, and is himself left for dead, takes matters into his own hands by inspiring the downtrodden citizens and becoming a no nonsense Sheriff who wants to clean up the town and restore it to its former glory. "Walking Tall" has been stripped down to a more simplistic, formulaic, crowd pleasing film. What saves the movie is The Rock himself, he has great screen prescence and there is a down to Earth quality to him. The scenes with his friend and sidekick played by Johnny Knoxville seem very natural and not forced nor contrived. The Rock even showed respect to the family of Bueford Pusser by having a screening of the film in Tennesee and visiting the Bueford Pusser museum. "Walking Tall" was entertaining and the Rock and Johnny Knoxville were likeable enough. Unfortunately, it is still a by the numbers action flick but the one good thing about it is that it leaves one looking forward to the Rock's next film which will hopefully be a breakthrough showcase for his underestimated acting talent.
"Gothika" has the promise of being a dark, Twilight Zone type story where a psychologist at an asylum played by the always beautiful, Halle Berry, drives home from work and finds herself having to take an alternative route and comes across a mysterious girl. After trying to help this girl, Berry's character awakens to a nightmare of finding herself as a patient in the asylum where she worked at for the brutal murder of her husband, the director of the asylum, a few days earlier. Of course, there are visions and mysterious messages appearing on the wall stating that she's not alone. The more she tries to convince people she is innocent the more delusional they believe her to be. This is a creepy premise and has been done before other films but what made the film work earlier in the story is that it was a mystery why she was there. Could it be that she was truly mad all along? However, "Gothika" takes the well travelled path and becomes a typical thriller with the supernatural aspect becoming less and less important. Ultimately, the film does not work and the conclusion betrays the basic premise, making a lot of things seem contrived and unlikely. Unlike a film like "Identity" or "The Sixth Sense," "Gothika" merely disguises itself as being like those films but really is the same old routine. The director, Matthieu Kassovitz, does a good job creating a dark, foreboding atmosphere and Halle Berry is doing a nice change to her typical role but it's not quite enough. Penelope Cruz is notable standout, putting aside her bombshell image to play a deeply, deranged patient.
After the box office success of the live action, "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," I suppose it was thought that more of Dr. Seuss' works could be mined for more $$$. The Cat in the Hat is a good, simple children's book but very short. The premise is too small and narrow for the scope of a feature length film. What is worse is the casting of Michael Myers as the Cat. There was a time when his comedy was fresh and funny but now it is stale and Myers uses the same schtick he's repeated many times in the Austin Powers' films and even reverts to the Coffee Tawk Linda Richman voice on several occassions. The adult actors all look foolish even in doing broad comedy. Amy Hill as the narcoleptic babysitter is reduced to a cheap sight gag and Alec Baldwin is a good sport. If it wasn't for his moving performance in "The Cooler" I would have been concerned that his career has been reduced to this. Kelly Preston just has to look pretty but doesn't have much else to do. Sean Hayes has a couple of comic moments as the germophobe boss. The problem is much of the story is carried by Myers mugging in a cat costume amidst very good Seussian set pieces and an irritating amount of CGI effects and the 2 child actors who give very good performances in the middle of all of this mess. Containing it's share of bathroom humor, there is even a cameo by Paris Hilton dirty dancing in a little skirt. (Wonder how much her paycheck was?) Overall, the film whether you choose to look at it as children's film or otherwise, is a waste of time, money, talent and effort and totally lacks the spirit of its orginal source. What's next? A big screen version of "Dick and Jane" (see Dick run)?
"Fifth Floor" was actually better than I had expected. What makes it rise above the other, run of the mill B-movies/television movie of the week is the good performances from lead actress, Diane Hull and the supporting cast including Sharon Farrell and Bo Hopkins as an orderly who abuses his authority and terrorizes the young heroine.
Following a young college co-ed disco dancer who is inexplicably poisoned by strychnine in her drink is determined to be a suicide risk and delegated to the titular "fifth floor" psychiatric ward of a hospital for observation for 72 hours. Of course, a lecherous orderly makes things difficult for Kelly and her stay ends up being prolonged and not even her fiancee believes her cries for help. Diane Hull who played Kelly, manages to convey vulnerability and strength at the same time. The only people she can trust are the fellow patients on the ward who help her with a couple of escape attempts. The supporting cast is a who's who of character actors including a younger Robert Englund a.k.a. "Freddy Krueger" as one of the patients. One stand out performance is Sharon Farrell as Melanie, a truly broken woman who may have been made worse by her stay on the fifth floor and trapped there. Looking like Farrah Fawcett, she definitely conveyed the manic madness and becomes an unlikely ally of Kelly. Bo Hopkins, as the abusive orderly, is chilling and disturbing as the villain. The movie was made in the late 1970s and this is very noticeable with the CHIPS like background music and 3 disco dance numbers. Although a bit contrived at moments and an ending that ends abruptly, the film held it's own on it's B-Movie budget and I would go as far as to say that I liked it better than the similarly themed, "Girl Interrupted" which also was based on a true story. Nothing more is made of the true story that this film was based on or when it happened. I have heard of a similar film about an undercover reporter who poses as a mental patient and this is only known to one psychiatrist who unfortunately dies and every time the reporter attempts to tell the staff they give him more tranquilizers. It seems unlikely that this could happen but at the same time it is plausible under certain extreme circumstances where people are going to assume that you are paranoid. Very scary thought indeed.
David Cronenberg is one of the big names of horror, dealing with the visceral and biological to great effect as in "Shivers," "Videodrome" and others. "Dead Zone" was a very effective Stephen King adaptation to the screen but his relatively early film, "The Brood" is flat despite a promising premise. The film deals with a divorced single father of a young daughter estranged from his ex-wife who has joined a psychological therapy group run by Oliver Reed's character. The ex-wife's rage and bitterness over the divorce has resulted in physical side effects such as sores and eventually mysterious, child sized humanoids who dispatch and murder all of those that she feels anger towards. The film has a wonderful concept, we have all felt rage and it is frightening to think of these thoughts coming forth in a physical manifestation. The problem is that the "Brood" is not menacing and the violence is very mild and apart from the cub licking scene, doesn't seem to push beyond the edge as much as Cronenberg's other films.
"Hell Night" is your run of the mill slasher film and definitely not one of the better executed (no pun intended)ones from the golden age of these movies from the early 80s. The movie doesn't develop or introduce any of the characters but rather jumps into the party scene where a big brother and little sister fraternity are having the titular hazing Hell Night. Linda Blair looks very cherubic and is supposed to be the lead aka the survivor but she spends most of the movie running around squealing just like all the other female characters in this movie. Didn't they learn that what made "Halloween" work was that we had a female character that was able to use her wits to battle the killer rather than being a damsel in distress. Anyways, the teenagers are taken to an old abandoned mansion where a brutal mass murder took place years before and the grotesquely deformed son was never found. The whole back story is literally recounted by one of the characters and then we just have a bunch of people being seperated and wandering around for ages in dark corridors before being killed. I watched the trailer on the DVD and realized that it gave away the whole film in only 3 minutes while I wasted 90 minutes watching this tedious rehash of other similar slasher films. The marketing campaign seemed to emphasize the fact that Linda Blair was in the film and that this somehow would make it a masterpiece like "The Exorcist?" I couldn't even say this movie is bad in an entertaining, campy way, it is just plain boring.
"Big Fish" seems to be a departure from Tim Burton's usual fantasy fare. Of course, there are fantasy elements especially in the flashback sequences that illustrate the tall tales told by Ed Bloom (Albert Finney playing the old Ed and Ewan McGregor portraying the young Ed Bloom), but the story deals more with how one views life and not telling bold face lies to bolster one's image. The latter is the thinking of Ed's estranged son (Billy Crudup) who returns after 3 years to reconcile with his ailing father and find out who the real Ed Bloom is but finds himself hearing more "exaggerated" tales. The film is sad but at the same time life affirming. The son finds it difficult to understand his Dad's view of life until speaking with some of those whose lives had been touched by the man. The fantasy sequences are well done and the acting is superb. Ewan McGregor plays a likeable younger version of Ed Bloom and Alison Lohman is easily believable as a youthful version of a still youthful Jessica Lange as Ed's wife. The movie plays out as a fairy tale but also deals with the strained father/son relationship and the realization that one's perspective on life can make it interesting rather than mundane. Nice departure for Tim Burton and fine performances by the whole cast.
One of the better horror films to be released recently.
(Warning: Possible spoilers).
Eli Roth's "Cabin Fever" was a pleasant surprise, especially after seeing such unscary films like "Freddy Vs. Jason" that have passed as horror in recent years. "Cabin Fever" is the story of 5 young people going up to a cabin in the woods after graduation to celebrate by getting drunk, high and laid but all of this changes when they receive a visit from a stranger who is vomiting blood with his skin falling off.
There is a nice set up to the horror action when we are introduced to the characters and their personalities and how this will determine how they deal with the impending events that will await them later in the film. The introduction of the creepy hillbillies in the only general store for miles was also a nod to such early '70s shockers as "Deliverance" and "Last House on the Left," the easy listening ballad that plays in the early part of the film is from the latter film and performed by actor, David Hess who also starred in the 1972 Wes Craven film.
The suspense build up and the psychological way that the characters react rang true to me and this made it all the more terrifying especially when they easily shun even one of their own who they suspect being infected with the mysterious disease that eats one's flesh. It is also clever how the cause of infection is revealed to the audience making it all the more suspenseful to see the unwitting characters who are trying to avoid being infected so easily come across the contagion. Thrown in the mix is the isolation and a mad dog that comes around to terrify them every now and again. SPOILER BEGINS!!!!!!! The movie goes at a good pace but the only problem that I had was with the way that it concluded. Early in the film, we see the characters delighted by the kindly old man in the general store telling them stories and offering hospitality and when one of them points to a rifle, the old man says matter of factly, "That's for the n***ers." The shock of the characters and the audience is real since this was unsuspected and it nicely showed the dark side behind a seemingly quaint facade. However, this line is merely a set up to a punchline at the end of the movie when a trio of African American young people comes to the store and the old man says, "Here, it's all cleaned and like new for you, my n**ga." and they all shake hands and laugh and sing dixie while drinking tainted lemonade well after the main characters meet ugly demises. The film was an effective, suspenseful, gross out, horror film that created an atmosphere of dread and then goes the comic route at the end of the movie inexplicably. I don't know if the director was trying to be politically correct or trying to go for a relatively upbeat happy ending. It is a horror movie and one goes to to be scared and disturbed. At least it didn't take the self knowing, tongue in cheek route that countless horror films have taken since "Scream" came out. The film did manage to elicit some scares and squeamish moments from me and that is not an easy task either since I have watched so many horror films and thought that I had become desensitized. So with the exception of the last 20 minutes or so of the movie, I strongly reccomend this film.