Sunday, January 6, 2008

Review: No Country for Old Men (2007)

First things first, i'm going to keep this review short (though i probably won't succeed). I'm keeping it short (or so i say), because to truly explain this film and appreciate it, one must see it in the theaters. You should spend less time reading this post and more time driving to the nearest movie theater. That means you!

Never in my movie going experience have I come across a film like this. What starts off with a simple plot (and remains simple throughout) ends up as the most complex and compelling film of the year. Maybe even the decade. Based of Cormac McCarthy's (one of this century's greatest authors) book, it perfectly adapts the mood, depth and intensity that the author aimed for. This is all thanks to the master duo that the Coen Brothers. They Coens have strayed from their bloody roots in cinema recently with films like Ladykillers and O' Brother Where Art Thou? (both comedies with a few dark undertones), but this film is more than a return to form. Mixing bits of deviously black humor, and lot's of violence, this film can easily be called their masterpiece.

Some might think the film is merely a "chase" movie, where the protagonist is on the run from a powerful bad guy, probably involving drugs, money, carnage and alcohol. Well, on paper, that's exactly what NCFOM is. But, the intensely deep characters, all filled with flaws and doubt, bring the film to an entirely different level; a level only a few of cinema's greats have ever reached with their films. What lies beyond the surface is an epic pondering on the fragility of life, and how the universe ultimately works. This is perpetuated by the villain's soon-to-be-famous coin tossings, wherein the fate of many characters is decided by luck and sheer fate. Everything about the movie becomes interpretation by the audience, especially in the closing scene of the movie. Be warned, you might feel different coming out of the theater than going in. It provides no answers about fate and destiny, whether there is rhyme or reason in the universe, whether god guides chance, or something more malicious and only gives you more questions.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Review: Fight Club (1999)

Whether you like David Fincher's Fight Club or not, there are things everyone should agree on. First, its a film that inspired a whole new generation like films often do, it will always be a pivotal movie in the 1990's, and everything about it oozes dark themes and violence.

You rarely get films like Fight Club these days... well, you rarely got films like Fight Club before Fight Club. In a wave of overused themes and Oscar-winning monotony, this film stands out like a bloody degenerate in a crowd of white-collar stiffs (in a good way). Considering its brand-name stars and Hollywood appeal, its incredibly thematic and actually challenges almost everything about the way we view the world. Its one the quirkiest films I've seen in awhile, which makes still wonder why it was such a hit considering its very out-there (almost convoluted) plot. It really does examine the way one becomes his own master through decomposition and death, then regeneration. Though some critics argue its shallow and merely an aggressive, anti-society train wreck, I think its a modern masterpiece.

The film opens with the story of Jack, a highly-paid, simple guy who just wants to sleep. His insomnia forces him to find comfort by attending multiple support groups for dying individuals, so he can "hug it out" (have I lost you yet?). It moves on through a long chain of events, and eventually leads him to a man named Tyler Durden, a free spirited, corporation hating macho-man who sells soap. This leads to the formation of a club where emotionally distant and bored office workers can beat each other up for fun. Again, more events lead to the formation of a cult, and an insane terrorist plot. I guarantee I lost you now. Though these sound like three different movies, it all adds up to be one big mind trip. This is a film you have to pay attention to if you want to enjoy it. Fincher's direction makes the entire movie plausible, and it all fits together like one grotesque puzzle. Both the lead characters, Pitt and Norton, give amazing, disturbed performances, and really epitomize the films underlying themes of self-deception, and how a man finds out himself (though not in a contrived way). If you haven't watched this movie, then go watch it without any preconceived notions of morality, social code, or mental disorders.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Review: 28 Weeks Later (2007)

Many sequels to truly great movies end up disappointments. This summer really showcased many of them, but one move somehow managed to avoid the sequel-itis and payed great homage to the original. And that's really all that 28 Weeks Later is; not necessarily a real full-blown movie, but one that pays tribute to the original and adds it own twist. Its just an adequate zombie film.

I'll have to admit, watching 28 weeks later is enjoyable. It has characters you actually relate with, real moral dilemmas (ones that many disaster/zombie flicks ignore, pretending most people are always heroic), and the plot itself is really thought out. The direction is above-par; many shots are plain gorgeous and breathtaking, but too often the audience is jarred around by the quick-cuts and shaky camera. There's solid performances throughout the movie, but none to really take note of.

Much like the 28 Days Later, it focuses on the human aspect as much as the disaster aspect, and depicts a few scenes that have you hating certain characters, and rooting for the others. By the end of the movie, it has one Achilles heel; it doesn't feel like a movie at all. It seems like some DVD extra packed on with the original to appease the fans, almost like a short film. Even the general, who is supposed to be the antagonist, is just left out of the last half of the film, and there is no closure with his character. Same with one of the main characters (the soldier), who helps an entire pack of people escape genocide, but then dies a gruesome death. There is an amazing part of the movie before he dies when he is pushing the car full of people and sacrificing himself, where he is able to die a heroic death; but when it happens, it is muddled and still seems entirely unbefitting and leaves you flat and disinterested.

Where 28 Days Later was a glorious epic, with monumental scenes and one of the coolest climaxes I've seen in movies made in the past decade, 28 Weeks Later is unsatisfying. You feel that you have watched a TV movie; not that it is low-key with cheesy acting, it just doesn't fill you up.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Review: 30 Days of Night (2007)

30 Days of Night was the one film I was anticipating the most this year; it's based off one of the most beautiful graphic novels ever created, the basic plot sends chills down your spine, and its directed by David Slade who did Hard Candy back in 2005. This film had all the makings for a box-office smash, and a semi-critical success. It only exceeded in the former. When I saw 30 Days of Night, I was both disappointed and relieved; but more disappointed.

The movie is set in an Alaskan town that suffers through a whole month without daylight. A bunch of roaming vampires scheme to invade the town, and literally suck it dry. One of the only villagers apt enough to take on the vampires is Eben (Josh Hartnett) the local sheriff, along with his of-again-off-again wife, Stella (Melissa George). Hartnett gives a really good performance, though it may have seemed better since it was contrasted by all the other supporting character's dull performances, including George's. The supporting actors have about three faces; scared, sad, and dead. This was on part due to Slade who never emphasizes the supporting cast, only Hartnett and George. I think anyone who saw the movie can admit there was one true extraordinary performance--- Ben Foster as the mysterious "stranger". Though his character is minimalized after the first half of the movie and then just disappears (I still don't know why he wanders into the town in the first place), his character is intensely creepy, and very quirky. He oozes impending doom, and really adds a unique touch to the film.

Sadly, when he warns Hartnett from inside his cell is the only dramatic tension the movie has--- AT ALL. The one scene that could have lived on in American culture, that could have defined the film and scared the crap out of everybody in a mile radius of the theater, is ruined. This scene was the first invasion of the vampires ransacking the town. But, there is no build up. There is no conditioning of the audience for the attack. This does not make it scarier or edgier when they do attack; it only makes it flat and hard to follow. The first scenes set up an eerie chill, but do not create true tension. I think Slade thought it would make it scarier if the vampire's just invaded the town without warning, and it might of been possible, but he kept us wondering whether they had invaded or not. When the first few people are killed in their homes, we have no sense of the gravity of the situation, we aren't even sure that they are invading the main setting; it could have been some other random town in Alaska. The lack of characterization makes us not care who is killed or who lived, and new characters keep being introduced who the audience has never seen. Slade also gives us no sense of where the action is taking place; he never sets up the town before hand so the audience can understand where the character's are fleeing to; we are left in the dark. Even the final scenes are left anticlimactic due to no tension. This film almost seems like an inside joke between friends, something that the outside world can't get in far enough to see. Besides that, the film looks gorgeous, and the vampires are scary as hell with their weird, picaresque euro-costumes.

With that I some up the main flaw with 30 Days of Night--- Slade did not take his cue from Alfred Hitchcock when the master director said, "There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it."

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Review: Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964)

First off, Stanley Kubrick's black comedy that is Dr. Strangelove is the most poignant and funny film of its time, and maybe all time. It encompasses everything you want in a movie, as strong script, excellent plot, amazing cast, and a master director.

Many people might think its outdated, but on the contrary, its just as relevant today as it was 40 years ago, even though we are no longer in the cold war. Global tensions, fear and hysteria, shady government leaders with insane motives. This relevance to our society, and how much it makes fun of it, might be a hard pill for some to take, but those people miss out on one of the best films ever made. As a black and white movie, its immensely beautiful. Each shot is almost like a painting.

The dialogue and character interactions really make up the movie. These scenes, like the president talking to the drunk Russian premiere, or General Ripper explaining how the Russians have invaded our bodily fluids, will have you rolling on the floor. But, the true humor comes out if you look a little harder. The more you pay attention, the more you get out of it, and you realize how rich this film is. Peter Sellers and George C. Scott give amazing performances and create characters you get attached to. This movie is rock solid even up until the ending, which i won't spoil. If you haven't seen Dr. Strangelove, than go watch it.. NOW

Sunday, October 7, 2007

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) analysis and video

Everyone can admit that 2001: A Space Odyssey is either one of the greatest sci-fi films, or one of the best movies ever. I did some digging, and uncovered this excellent video that basically sums up the complex themes of the movie. Check out this guys other videos, he also analyzes the shining.

Part one:

Part two:

Here's my original analysis . I wrote it right after watching the movie awhile ago, so its not as thought out and revealing as the video.

The Beginning:

The beginning of the movie starts with the dawn of man as apes. The proposition of evolution in this movie, though I don’t necessarily believe it, really does showcase the development of mankind through the ages. It starts with a pack of monkeymen, herbivores at this point, fighting off other herbivores for the limited resources (man vs. creature for resources). Then, the pack has to fight off another pack of monkeymen for a puddle of water they need to sustain the group (man vs. man for resources). A huge black monolith is then presented to the pack of monkeys, in which they seem to worship (discovery of higher life form). Then, the pack discovers the bones of a deceased herbivore, and use them as tools to kill other animals, and eat them (man kills creature for sustenance). Finally, the two monkey packs face off again for the puddle of water, and the leader of the rival monkey pack is killed with the newfound bones (man kills man). This shows the definite progression of mankind;
1. Man competes for resources, first with creatures, then other men.
2. Man searches for and discovers enlightenment through a higher form.
3. Man finds use of tools because of enlightenment, and uses tools to kill and eat other life forms
4. Man is forced to kill man in order to survive

The End:

Even more puzzling than the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey is the ending. Kubrick, after the films release, has stated that it is up to the viewer to interpret and analyze not only the reoccurring black monoliths, but the last 30 minutes of the movie. Once Bowman, the main character, reaches Jupiter, he sees a black monolith, and approaches it. He is then transported over vast, psychedelic landscapes through space and time. Then, he finally arrives in a room decorated with the styles of the future and the past (it is oddly white, sterile, and quiet, yet contains Victorian furniture). He sees himself as an elderly man eating at a table. That man then sees himself dying in a bed. The dying man looks up from his deathbed, and sees the black monolith. All of a sudden he dies, and becomes a fetus in a transparent womb. That fetus then transports itself to Earth. I have come up with an interpretation that has been combined with many others.

The ending is Kubrick’s way of coming to terms with life after death, and the next step in evolution for man. Bowman sees the black monolith, and is enlightened, much like the pack of monkeys. He is shown the vastness of space and time, since that would be the next step for human beings. The “future and past” room is much like the womb for a baby; it has all the necessities of life for bowman (I.E. food). Then, when he dies, he becomes the fetus. This shows two things: Bowman relinquishing himself to become a newer, better life form through birth (the “starchild”), and it shows the afterlife for man compared to the death of stars. Once a star implodes (dies), it becomes a smaller, different star (“starchild”). When the “starchild” transports itself to Earth, it gazes upon it curiously (probably contemplating how primitive its ancestors were when they discovered how to use tools and how to kill). This film is ultimately about the progression of man; where we were, where we are, and where we are going. It is set in the fictional 2001, because that is the birth of a new century; a new beginning.

Review: Dawn of the Dead (2004)

Dawn of the Dead is a true success story. It was somewhat highly acclaimed, it gained a decent fansbase, and it set Zack Snyder up for his smash hit 300. Honestly, its one of the only good zombie movies (along with 28 Days Later) in many (many) years.

Dawn of the Dead is not a perfect movie, or even close, but its one that you can sit back and just watch. It never gets too intense because many moviegoers want an enjoyable horror movie. It has a lot of humor, sometimes badly mixed in with the scary scenes. Honestly, its okay to mix horror and comedy at the same time, but it has to be dark, black humor, or just good ol' campy fun, but thats not the kind of comedy used in this film.

It is based of George A. Romero's film, but its a lot different. Its not a political or social allegory, its just a simple, fun to watch zombie flick (though it is really beautiful). The fight scenes and zombies themselves are amazing, but once or twice its a little fake (nuclear explosion from propane tank?). My hat goes off to Zack Snyder for making a watchable, way above par forumulaic zombie romp.