The Magical and the Mundane – Mini Reviews

 

Dungeons and Dragons

Justin Whalin, Marlon Wayans, Jeremy Irons and others ham it up in this cheap-looking, boring, badly acted and generic fantasy flick. It features a been-there done-that plot and some truly abhorrent special-effects. Not recommended.

The Fellowship of the Ring

Director Peter Jackson brings the famous Lord of the Rings novel to glorious life in this first instalment of the now lauded trilogy. Wonderful direction, solid acting, groundbreaking special-effects and excellent action sequences abound in this epic fantasy for the ages.

Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth is a wonderfully dark, mesmerizing, wonderful fantasy film filled with gorgeous visual effects, both digital and practical, and outstanding cinematography, as well as a thoughtful and mature story.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/pans_labyrinth/

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Things That Go Bump in the Night – Mini Reviews

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The Blair Witch Project

A group of college students go out into the woods to film a documentary about a number of urban legends surrounding the town of Blair. Natural acting, great pacing and genuine horrors abound in this masterful classic.

Dog Soldiers

While training in the woods, a group of British soldiers are besieged by werewolves and are forced to fight for their lives. It is campy and silly, but it is also a thoroughly enjoyable way to pass the time.

Darkness Falls

The tooth fairy has gone insane and kills all who look upon her in the small town of Darkness Falls. Bad acting, bad writing, bad pacing and a general lack of knowledge make this film anything but scary.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/darkness_falls/

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/dog_soldiers/

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/blair_witch_project/

The Day After – A Lawrence Retrospective

https://soundcloud.com/roonerspism-2/the-day-after-a-lawrence

Transcript:

Alex Keenan-

That panic and pandemonium was a sound-clip of imminent nuclear war from the movie “The Day After.” Released in 1983, the film is set in Lawrence, Kansas and Kansas, City Missouri. Chronicling life after nuclear war, the film showcased many scenes that featured well-known Lawrence and Kansas City locations destroyed and severely damaged by the global catastrophe taking place in the film. “The Day After” generated a fair bit of attention and controversy after its release, but thirty years later, do Lawrence citizens still remember the movie that showed their city in ashes? I sat down with two Lawrence residents to find out. First I spoke with Sabrina Marino. As an extra in the film, Sabrina discussed what it was like to see the movie upon its release.

Sabrina Marino-

I don’t know. In the heart of the United States having something like that happen, where you think it’s going to happen in the larger populations at the edge, I think that’s the startling thing, the difference. One of the most impressive scenes was the K-10 scene. They had all those cars out there and then just watched them like little toy cars just burst into flames and go flying. That was really cool, but it was also very shocking to think that you’re just going over to Kansas City for dinner and then you’re gone.

Secondly, I spoke to Michael Valk. Valk was living in Lawrence at the time of the film’s release, but refused to watch it. After listening to what he had to say, it wasn’t hard to understand why.

Michael Vosk

My generation grew up with nightmare visions of mushroom clouds on the horizon. When I was in grade school, I can remember wondering if the world was going to last long enough for me to get to junior high school. I really had no desire to see it happening, and then really just didn’t necessarily want to go back to revisiting that sort-of nightmare.

Though “The Day After” was released just over three decades ago, and the Cold War has long since passed, it’s clear that there are still some Lawrence citizens that remember the possibility of this film’s nightmarish apocalypse.

This is Alex Keenan from Inrealreeltime.wordpress.com

The Grey – Once More Into the Fray

It is cold, so very cold. The darkness is gone, replaced by stinging, blinding snow. You aren’t in your seat, you’re lying in snow, it is all around you. You can feel the cold, piercing, like a knife into every inch of your skin. You gather your wits and look around. The plane is in pieces, scattered across an ocean of white. Through the howling wind you make out a noise—it’s someone screaming for help. Fighting through the cold and shock, you run towards the noise to find a man still belted to his seat, he’s hysterical, there’s a dead body in the seat next to him. You free the man and together make your way towards the fuselage of the plane. There are other survivors there, but it’s clear that not everyone made it. They’re all mortified. You remember that it’s your job to protect them. You get a fire going as quick as possible. The others speak of rescue, but you know it won’t come. This is the middle of the Alaskan wilderness, in the middle of storm season. Nobody is going to be able to find you. Oh yeah, there is also a pack of wolves, watching your group from the darkness, waiting to pick you all off one by one.

 

This is the set-up for “The Grey,” and it is one of the most exciting, terrifying and memorable survival films to come along in ages. Liam Neeson plays a lonely roughneck in charge of protecting oilrig workers from wildlife at a remote Alaskan refinery. On their way back to society, the plane crashes, stranding Neeson and a few survivors in the middle of nowhere. On top of having to battle cold, hunger, fatigue and working-out a route back to civilization, the group is being hunted by a pack of ferocious wolves.

 

“The Grey” mixes elements of nature survival, monster films and even elements of philosophy and questions of spirituality. Neeson’s character Ottoway is a man with a sad past. Flashbacks to someone perceived to be his wife, and sorrowful narrations of his inability to “get” her back, paint a backstory of tragedy and loss. One haunting scene early into the film, in particular, establishes Ottoway’s tragic inability to stop fighting to survive, despite having lost the desire to live.

 

This is not a film of uplifting messages and positivity. The survivors’ trek out of the wilderness is filled with horror, dread and the constant threat of death. “The Grey” sends a strong message about happenstance, and makes it clear that even if your will to live is as strong as can be, nobody is safe from death.

 

The touches of spirituality, or lack thereof, in “The Grey” makes the groups’ fight for survival feel very down to earth. They discuss the existence or absence of a god and the possibility of life after death, or that death is all there is. The survivors all try to find something to believe in, something to keep them going. For some, it’s the prospect of a higher-power watching over them, for others, its their skill and determination to not give up.

 

Acceptance is another major theme in “The Grey.” Characters that start off fearful or unlikable undergo change in the hostile environment. A character that brushes the crash, and subsequent fight for survival, as fate’s way of being cruel, is forced to accept that his best hope for survival is to work together with the group. A particularly poignant scene involves a character’s acceptance of his death. Lacking the energy to continue moving, and just wishing to have a few moments of peace before the end, he sits against a log, taking in the gorgeous view of the world, before the sounds of the river before him are replaced by the growling of approaching wolves. “I’m not afraid,” he says to himself, before the wolves take him.

 

“The Grey” is a truly beautiful, somber, haunting and heart-breaking experience. It’s a continually gripping film with plenty of nail-biting suspense. It’s a bleak, yet somewhat hopeful, reminder of our mortality. Even in the face of insurmountable odds, even when there is no hope, humans can muster the will to keep fighting, and when the fighting fails, we can muster the will to accept our fate, to accept the inevitable, and to not fear the end.

Drive – Gosling Take the Wheel

The Driver comes from somewhere. Where exactly is never established, but where he goes depends on what he gets paid. For the right price, the Driver is anybody’s to use. He knows the streets to him, the city is a river. His car is the water, and his route, the path of least resistance. He can outrun anyone driving anything, and that is what makes him the best at what he does.

So begins “Drive,” a neo-noir, crime drama adapted from the novel of the same name, and directed by Danish director Nicholas Winding Refn. As mentioned before, “Drive” follows the story of the Driver (Ryan Gosling), an unnamed character that excels in driving fast cars, at high speeds. Aside from being a masterful getaway-driver, he also works as a Hollywood stuntman and a mechanic.

Things are going normal for the Driver until a new neighbor, Irene (Carey Mulligan), moves into the apartment next to his. The Driver and Irene do not speak until her car begins having troubles and she takes it to the same auto shop that he works at. With some prompting from his boss and friend Shannon (Bryan Cranston), Driver takes Irene and her young son Benicio on a drive around the city. The three of them have a great time, and Driver begins to open-up to Irene, having enjoyed their time together.

One week later, Irene’s husband Standard (Oscar Isaac) returns home. Standard has been in prison for years. Contrary to standard scriptwriting procedure, Standard does not feel jealous or threatened by the tall, rugged man spending time with his wife, but rather, he sees a professional with whom he can pull-off a big score. Standard, with the help of some ne’er-do-wells, sets-up a heist, with Driver slated to be the group’s getaway. Things don’t go as planned, and when the consequences of his and Standard’s actions threaten to envelope Irene and Benicio, Driver does whatever it takes to keep them safe.

“Drive” is a simple film. Its plot is one of little depth. Very little time is spent providing reason or motive behind characters actions. It’s clear from the start who the bad guys are, and who the good guys are. “Drive” doesn’t aim to be surprising or radical in its storytelling. This makes it all the more astounding that the movie is so entertaining and memorable.

It’s hard to describe what about “Drive” makes it such a compelling movie to watch. The movie is very slow to get going, with an excellent car chase right out of the gate giving way to a long stretch of zero action. Most of the first half of the film is spent watching Driver, Irene and Benicio as they grow more attached to each other, and these scenes have very little dialogue.

When it gets going, however, “Drive” never lets up. The sudden influx of violence is jarring at first. What starts out as a seemingly tame movie, evolves into a visceral and violent, yet oddly stylish crime movie.

The acting in “Drive” is one of its greatest strengths. The performances are all very natural, with each character seemingly like a real person. Gosling in particular, completely sells his portrayal of the Driver.

The Driver is clearly not without desire or emotion, but it is all kept beneath the surface, implied, without ever being shown. He cares for Irene and her son, and his desire to protect them feels sincere. His actions paint the picture of a ruthless killer, but the sadness and tired in his eyes betray the disinterest of his demeanor. He is both a character brimming with personality, and one with almost none at all. Gosling gives the film a strong and dangerous lead that still feels entirely vulnerable.

Aside from an excellent array of licensed tracks, reflecting the Noir theme “Drive” aims for, composer Cliff Martinez has provided a superb original score, with some truly beautiful ambient pieces.

“Drive” is the kind of movie that shows there is elegance in simplicity. Everything it does works, from the incredible car chases, to the tense and gritty violence, and to the subtler, quieter moments.

The Bling Ring – No Puns, This Film is Torture

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It’s very rare when a movie is so unentertaining that it’s simply torturous to watch. Even bad movies usually have a certain charm in their awfulness. Yet, there are variants, films that are not bad or good, but fall somewhere between the cracks. Competently made and not lacking in quality, movies of this kind are the hardest to judge as pieces of entertainment, because there’s quite simply, no way to know who will or won’t be entertained.

Enter “The Bling Ring,” a semi-factual recounting by director Sophia Coppola, about a group of ne’er-do-well teens so anxious to live the good life that they resort to pilfering the homes of the rich and famous living in Hollywood. “The Bling Ring” is a beautifully shot, well-acted and at times disturbingly accurate commentary on the deification of celebrities in modern America. The scenes of theft are flawlessly filmed, conveying perfectly the size and value of these extravagant mansions with a variety of swift and coherent cuts, and one spectacular aerial shot.

Were it judged purely on its production quality, “The Bling Ring” could very well have been a strong contender at the Oscars for best direction, camera editing and cinematography. Too bad its plot is a disastrous exercise in time wasting.

After his family moves to Calabasas, California, shy teenager Marc Hall (played by Israel Broussard) transfers to Indian Hills High School, and quickly becomes friends with the rebellious Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang). Rebecca is obsessed with fame, and in her desire to live a life of luxury, and Marc’s desire to have friends, he and Rebecca begin a series of burglaries. Their antics soon catch the attention of their friends, and their two-person team grows to five.

For weeks, Marc and Rebecca, along with their friends Nicki (Emma Watson), Sam (Taissa Farmiga) and Chloe (Claire Julien), spend their nights looting celebrity homes, visiting night clubs and partying, all the while buying extravagant clothing (or just stealing it from celebrities), doing drugs and driving without licenses, while high on drugs.

It doesn’t take long for the word to get around town, and the nation, and soon, the five are being referred to as the “Bling Ring,” so named for their celebrity burglaries.

It is clear that “The Bling Ring” aims to be a dark commentary on American obsession with celebrity culture. The young cast of characters is based on the lives of the real group of young thieves that committed a series of similar robberies on Hollywood homes. The film does an admirable job of drawing attention to modern society’s “fame no matter the cost” message, and the dangers that such a message can pose to children and young-adults, but it does it so well, that the movie is physically and emotionally painful to watch.

It can be assumed that nobody is supposed to like the characters in this film. They are not meant to be viewed as heroes, and their actions are meant to be detested, but what does that mean for the entertainment value of the movie?

The teens in this movie are sickening and utterly repulsive in their behavior. The way they speak to one another about how “cool” or “fab” the things they are doing is, the way they joke as they drink, and smoke, and snort their way through drugs and alcohol, and then crash their cars into people as a result, the way they use Sam, the adoptive sister of Nicki, who is young enough to be in grade school, in their thefts—it is all disgusting to watch.

The talented cast, of both new and experienced actors, almost all do an admirable job with the material they are given, but again, the material is all garbage. Until the ending, which fails to satisfy or provide any sort of insight into the points the movie continually brings up, the script is utterly directionless. The characters bumble their way onto scenes, laughing, dancing and wasting time, until the scene wraps and they do it all over again in the next scene, and so on, until the movie ends.

There is no message in “The Bling Ring.” It draws attention to the rising prominence of celebrity idolization, but that is it. It never takes a stance on the issue; it just points at it and lets the audience do all of the thinking the scriptwriter should have been doing.

Nothing about this movie is fun to watch, and some of it is nearly unwatchable. One particularly horrible scene involves one of the underage characters and her thirty-something boyfriend preparing to have sex. In her drug-induced state of unbearable stupidity, she pulls out a gun she found in during a burglary and waves it in front of her partner’s face, giggling like a moron as she feints pulling the trigger, before the gun goes off in a wall. This scene serves no purpose other than to waste even more time. No lessons are learned by are characters and no consequences are faced for their actions.

“The Bling Ring” is a beautiful film to look at. The cinematography is wonderful and the Hollywood locations all look gorgeous, but the film just is not any fun to watch. It succeeds so well at portraying its cast of morally-bankrupt characters that it becomes a nauseating pain to sit through.

The Walking Dead: Season 3 – Dead Dog, No Tricks

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It’s astonishing to think how successful AMC’s runaway hit “The Walking Dead” has become. What started out as a small 6-episode experiment, turned into the most viewed program on public cable. Conceived as a way to test the waters of zombie-dramas, the original season saw stellar reviews and ratings, with most all of the complaints stemming from peoples desire to see more of the show. More is indeed what they were given, but it seems in its efforts to become the next big thing on TV, Waling Dead has lost its way, and it’s hard to see how it could come back.

Season one focused on one thing: its characters. It was lacking in a focused narrative, and the plot being used to string the six episode arch together (the groups’ desire to live), was nothing new. Yet, it all worked by being thrust into an uncharted territory of TV. There were no character-driven zombie shows on television, so despite its weak overall plot, season one thrived on its cast of well-rounded, interesting and identifiable characters.

Season two was essentially season one stretched into 13 episodes, and while it wasn’t entirely successful, the show remained compelling by it’s refusal to change what wasn’t broken. The survivors were still trying to survive, but managed to find shelter at a farmhouse. While this had the unfortunate effect of pulling the drag-chute on finding new shelters, it gave the survivors a chance to settle down and contemplate the possibility of returning to a normal life, without constant worry of the infected. The show delved deeper into the personalities and behaviors of each of the survivors (save a few) and it gave insight into each survivor’s personal wants and needs, as well as allowing room for character growth. The season was slow, especially the first eight parts, but it was worth watching for the characters, and a solid season overall.

Season three is a whole different ballpark. Things start off strong for this season. After the farm is besieged by the walkers, the remaining survivors decide to hole-up in a seemingly abandoned prison. Their fight to enter the prison and clear it of walkers is harrowing and exciting, if a little predictable, but it provides plenty of thrills and a few chills. One scene in particular involving an axe and someone’s leg is bound to leave knots in a few stomachs. The group soon learns that the prison is currently occupied by four inmates that survived the prison’s first battle with the infected. The two groups come to heads and the result is a first couple of episodes that indicated this would be a strong season, and maybe the best season yet… then the show reintroduces Andrea, and everything falls apart from there.

In the season two finale mentioned earlier, while the survivors managed to pile into an RV and escape the chaos, Andrea, a fellow survivor and all-around atrocious character, was left behind, possibly for dead. Turns out she survived with the help of her friend Michonne, a character the show just introduced, but takes great pains to imply that her name carries weight and importance for those that have not read the graphic novels the show is based on. Michonne and Andrea have been surviving the brutal winter by moving place to place and not drawing attention. Poorly-written dialogue fills the crux of their journey, and far too much time is spent with them before the plot advances. The two are captured and taken to a settlement by a scouting party. After the two are deemed safe by the settlement’s denizens, and its de-facto leader, Michonne and Andrea are invited to join the town of Woodbury, and the show has never recovered.

Woodbury is to the Walking Dead what Yoko Ono was to the Beatles, it may be gone, but the effects it had on the show have been devastating. Woodbury marked the lowest point the show has ever fallen, not only because the entire plot of Woodbury (its denizens and its horribly-written leader, The Governor) is an awful waste of time, but because the rest of the show became tethered to the fate of the useless city. So much of this show changed for the sake of tying everything into Woodbury. Everything suffered, because it had to in order to fit with the Woodbury plot.

Characters became less interesting, because they had to be. Characters made stupid decisions with no reasoning, except that they had to. Characters are put into dire situations, including sexual assault, torture and bodily mutilation, because they had to be. Characters remain silent when their words hold the potential to save lives, because they need to. All stories evolve through conflict, but the best stories write the conflicts around the characters, Walking Dead shoehorns its characters into conflicts with utter disregard for previously established character traits. The writing has become a disjointed, inconsistent mess with all the subtlety of a Klaxon in a Library.

“Walking Dead” still has the setting, the violence and the superb music that helped to define it over the years, but the storytelling and entertainment are taking a nosedive from orbit and headed for disaster.

“JayHawkers” Premiere

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Thousands of hands clapping, the thunderous cries of an ecstatic crowd, a glorious finish with a standing ovation, no, this is not a sports event, it is the premiere of “Jayhawkers,” the new Kevin Willmott film based around the University of Kansas, and the life of former basketball player Wilt Chamberlain.

“Jayhawkers,” which was shot back in 2012, was conceived years ago under the name “Wilt of Kansas.” Willmott says the idea to make a movie about Chamberlain, a National Basketball Association superstar, as well as a former member of the University of Kansas’ basketball team, came shortly after his death in 1999. The original film was to be a biography about Chamberlain’s entire life, but budgetary restraints caused Willmott to condense the scope to focus on key moments in the lives of multiple people, including former KU coach Forrest “Phog” Allen, KU Chancellor Franklin Murphy and Chamberlain.

“We couldn’t raise the money to make the big film, and when that stalled we made other movies,” he said. “Coach Self suggested Justin (KU basketball player Justin Wesley) for the role, and that’s when I decided to really make a much smaller film and make it about “Phog,” Chancellor Murphy and Wilt, and that’s when Jayhawkers was really born.”

The part biography, part dramatic comedy, and part historical commentary flick premiered in Lawrence, Kan. last Friday the 14 at the Lied Center. Showtime for the film was at 7:00 p.m. but that did not stop plenty of eager moviegoers from arriving well in advance. The sold-out film was shown in the Lied Center’s main, two-story auditorium, which has a max capacity of 2,000 people.

Early reception for “Jayhawkers,” from audiences and in terms of ticket sales, has been very positive. According to Tamara Falicov of KU Film & Media Studies, almost 7,000 people attended the film’s premiere. Willmott has been thrilled by the audience feedback so far.

“It’s been really great. People seem to really love the film and there was a lot of excitement before the film,” he said. “I think people were just really anxious to see this story told. We’d always gotten a lot of support for the film. It was a really great event.”

The experience at the premiere reflects Willmott’s enthusiasm. Nearly the whole audience chimed-in to laugh, cheer and clap on multiple occasions during the initial screening. When the movie ended, the applause lasted for over a minute, with Willmott himself having to calm the audience down to close the premiere with more thanks. As he left the stage the audience once again resumed cheering and applauding. As the applause subsided, and patrons began to leave the theater, they chatted amongst each other about the film, most of what they were saying being positive.

“It was exciting, because I knew a lot of people in it,” said Barbara Ballard, assistant director of the University of Kansas’ Dole Institute of Politics. “It was like watching a story you’ve heard before, but it went into so much more detail. It was just fun and exciting to watch.”.

The premiere weekend seems like a resounding success for “Jayhawkers,” and if the audience numbers at the Lied Center are any indication, the film is looking at a successful future. While the film currently is in limited release, it is set to have a wider release when it opens in Kansas City, Kan., later this spring. For those interested in seeing “Jayhawkers” sooner, but missed the premiere, the movie will be showing again on Friday February 28, at Liberty Hall, located in downtown Lawrence.

Side Note – here is my audio review of “Jayhawkers”

Audio Transcript

Alex Keenan (Me):

Jayhawkers” in its original conception, was to be a biography about Wilt Chamberlain.  Beginning with his death at his home in 1999, the movie would then have jumped back “Citizen Kane” style to earlier key moments in Chamberlain’s life. The film released this year is less biography, more historical-commentary, with the lives of Chamberlain, two KU basketball coaches Phog Allen and Dick Harp, and the university’s chancellor Frank Murphy serving as the main characters of the film. Set during the 1950’s, Chamberlain, played with conviction by first time actor, and KU basketball player Justin Wesley, is visiting KU under recommendation for recruitment onto the Kansas Jayhawks. Shortly after his arrival, Wilt discovers the hardships of being a black college student in rural America. Though “Jayhawkers” draws attention to the issues of racial segregation in the twentieth century, the film is more about the effort to inspire change in Kansas’ views on racial equality. The movie has traditional scenes of segregation, colored man enters store, gets shooed out by white person, and so on. It doesn’t demonize or glorify either side however, and rather it just points out that these sorts of horrible situations occurred. Aside from Chamberlain, the story also focuses heavily on the life of “Phog” Allen. Set during the tail-end of his career as a basketball coach, Allen hopes that Wilt’s recruitment onto the Jayhawks will give them the edge they need to win another championship before his retirement from coaching college ball. Aside from providing an intelligent, restrained look at progressivism and change in racial equality, the “Jayhawkers” touches on notions of perseverance and determination. “Phog,” played masterfully by Kip Niven, wants so badly to prove that Chamberlain can change basketball and force the sport to open-up to players with talent, regardless of their race.  All the while, “Phog” struggles with accepting that his old age is catching up with him. Another standout performance is given by Jay Karnes, known for his roles in USA Network’s Burn Notice, and FX’s Sons of Anarchy. Murphy is a man determined to make KU a university of equality, and Karnes captures the Chancellor’s refined, professional demeanor perfectly. In addition to the great acting across the board, “Jayhawkers” benefits strongly from its aesthetic presentation. An independent, and relatively low-budget endeavor, “Jayhawkers” takes a less-is-more approach to storytelling, and lets its locations, rather than extravagant set pieces, do its storytelling. The film is shot entirely in black and white, with the lights and darks contrasting beautifully, especially in a nightclub set shown frequently in the film. The all-jazz soundtrack further complements the aged look and feel, and the props and sets are all era-appropriate. It’s a great-looking and sounding film all around. “Jayhawkers” is a great experience. Its basketball scenes may be lacking the flair of larger-budget sports flicks, but the history and culture behind the film, lend the scenes a sense of importance and familiarity. The characters are all brought to life by the well-rounded cast, and the story is one of historical significance. Whether you’re a fan of sports films or just looking for a good period piece, it’s easy to recommend giving this a look.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween – Like a Knife in the Heart

What is fear? Fear is a biological response to things perceived as threatening or harmful. What does it take for something to instill fear? Fear is universal but all humans experience it for a multitude of different reasons. A giant spider sitting in the bathtub, the approach of armed military forces or an unpleasant medical diagnosis, all these can be cause for fear. John Carpenter, acclaimed horror director, took a simpler approach in the 1978 horror classic “Halloween,” and struck fear into audiences around the world with the films central antagonist, Michael Myers, a voiceless, faceless (essentially) killer with one motive in mind, kill everyone he can.

This was typical slasher-film (movies about killers wielding sharp objects) stuff, even for the time, but what made “Halloween” such a scary film was its subtlety. The cast was typical, a bunch of hunky, dopey or sexy teens acting dumb and getting picked-off one-by-one. The characters were hard to sympathize with, as their dialogue was hokey and the acting was wooden, but their deaths when the killing starts, it’s scary because it feels real.

With the relatively low budget the film was made on, kills were not over-the-top with gore, most were implied, rather than shown in full detail. Without the gore factor, Carpenter was reliant on building tension to be scary. Characters would wander around dark buildings and empty houses for minutes before Michael would make an appearance, adding to the idea that this was a real killer. Michael did not rush out into the open swinging a hatchet, severing limps and lobbing-off heads, he watched, waited and struck when the moment was right. It preyed on the very real fear of being watched from the shadows by someone dangerous.

To accurately and appropriately reboot the Halloween franchise (which included several awful sequels) great care had to be taken to capture the spirit of the original. Whatever the reboot’s director, Rob Zombie, came up with, it had to match the subtleties of the original, while putting a fresh spin on the series. Well, “Rob Zombie’s Halloween” got the spin part right, and that’s about it.

In the original “Halloween” the story starts with a young Michael Myers murdering his older sister. His parents come home, catch him with the knife, and the movie cuts to several years later, with his baby sister being all grown-up, and Michael locked in an asylum. The remake takes a similar approach, but to its credit, it actually manages to make the introduction, which fleshes out the story of young Michael, interesting, despite it taking away from the character’s mystery.

In the reboot, young Michael (played by Daeg Faerch) has a hard life. He is not the blank slate he was in the original, but rather a troubled, disturbed child. Michael is frequently bullied at school, has no friends, his older sister resents him and his mother’s boyfriend is a pig. In all of this, Michaels mother Deborah (played by Sheri Moon Zombie) is the one beacon of hope in a life of misery. Despite her best efforts to keep Michael happy, he naturally ends up going off the rails, and kills his entire family, save his baby sister Laurie, and Deborah.

During his mental assessment at the asylum, Michael and Deborah meet his new doctor, Doctor Sam Loomis (played by Malcom McDowell). During his attempts to converse with Michael, Loomis is attacked, and assesses that he is truly insane. This drives Deborah into a depression, and she ends up taking her own life.

Several years later, Laurie is in high school, and Michael is still in the asylum. Driven by an inexplicable desire to see Laurie again, Michael kills his way out of the asylum, and the murder spree begins. Loomis, who has made a living selling a book about Michael’s life-story, feels like it is his responsibility to stop him. He enlists help of the town sheriff, Sheriff Brackett (played by Brad Douriff), then he sets-off to stop Michael.

“Halloween” had everything it needed to be both a good remake, and a great horror film in its own right. Despite his borderline obsession with violence and gore, Zombie shows genuine signs of inspiration and originality with a few of the moments in the film. The fact that Loomis, who was a much more caring character in the original, is now a pompous celebrity, works great with McDowell’s performance, and it adds a dynamic to the character that, while different, works fantastically to establish motive, as the personal details he placed in his book are now at risk of endangering young Laurie Strode, and his guilt for being responsible comes off as genuine.

The introductory sequence also shows a few sparks of brilliance. Sheri Moon, who is typically dreadful, gives a performance reflecting that of an actual mother. Her affections for her son and her mental breakdown are heartbreaking, and Sheri Moon pulls off the role without a hitch. The decision to give Michael a backstory detracts from his formerly unknown motivations for being a killer, but Faerch adds a layer of sympathy to what used to be a faceless, unsympathetic monster.

Where the movie fails is in its utter lack of horror. There’s nothing scary about this movie. The excessive gore, constant profanity and graphic nudity are all disturbing, shocking and typical of modern horror films, but where the original built horror through tension, the remake has about as much subtlety as a thunderclap. Kills are excruciatingly graphic. Blood flows like water in this movie. Throats are slit, heads are cut-off, people are stabbed and faces are crushed, and it’s all shown in so much detail, that, while it’s undeniably disturbing, it’s also comically over-the-top. Nothing about the violence and death feels genuine. The character’s that die are all completely unlikable, as they’re all drenched with Zombie’s typical sheen of grossness.

The original “Halloween” is a masterwork of horror. It has aged considerably, but it still works as a horror film, because it understands the fear of being stalked by a killer. Zombie’s reboot is a typical gore-fest, lacking enough originality to be a good standalone, and lacking enough scares to be a good horror movie. It’s a bad “Halloween” film, and a bad horror flick.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/1179254-halloween/

Gamer: Review – Move Over Uwe Boll

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Video-game adaptations are traditionally bad movies. Rather than capture the spirit of the game or license they are based on, video-game movies tend to be cheap cash-ins lacking in quality and originality, aping the stories of other, more popular films, and slapping icons, such as Agent 47 from IO-Interactive’s Hitman series, or the Umbrella Corporation from the wildly popular Resident Evil series. While video game movies have a reputation for being bad, most actually provide some harmless, cheesy fun. Gamer is not one of these.

To call Gamer a bad video-game film would be a disservice to bad video-game movies, to call Gamer a bad movie would be a disservice to bad movies. Whether viewed as a connoisseur of video-games or a casual movie-goer, Gamer is an absolute pain to sit through, and an ugly, mean-spirited film that not only insults the culture of video-gaming, but the intelligence of humanity as a whole, but not for lack of trying.

On the surface, Gamer looks like the perfect video-game film, and a solid action blockbuster in its own right. Rather than being based on any existing license, Gamer tells its own story, giving it room to not only experiment and play with concepts and tropes in video-games, but to take an insightful look into the culture of video-gamers, and the possible effects (if any) that a world-wide acceptance of video-game and real-world violence could have on society. Add to that the films cast, including Keith David, Gerard Butler, and Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, and the directors of the viciously entertaining Crank films, and it’s hard to see how this movie could go wrong, but it does.

Gamer’s greatest flaws lie in its atrocious storytelling, which comes off as both pretentious and condescending due to its misdirected attempts at social commentary, and in its inability to feel like a video-game movie. It has been said that the directors of Gamer love video-games, but nowhere in this film does that show. They clearly love violence, as they go to great pains to show heads exploding, limbs tearing and blood spraying in detail, but it’s all so token and traditional of films of this type, that it does little to bring to mind the violent games it supposedly draws inspiration from.

The story of Gamer had the potential (as said before) to be something unique and special. With its semi-dystopian and corporate-controlled future, it had a chance to explore the many dangers of a society that not only glorifies violence, but actively markets these violent “real” video-games to the public. Instead, it’s a lazily written story that includes wrongly-convicted soldiers, top-secret and morally questionable experiments gone wrong, a corporate conspiracy to enslave humanity, Terry Cruise jiggling his pecs, and shoehorned, improperly used video-game terminology.

Our story follows the exploits of Kable (Gerard Butler), wrongly convicted and sentenced to death for the murdering soldiers. In this future, death-row inmates are chosen to be part of the worldwide phenomenon “Slayers” a “real” video-game where they fight for their lives in cordoned-off abandoned sections of cities, acting as battlegrounds for the game. The inmates don’t technically fight for their lives, as they are under the control (by way of magical computer chips) of their respective users, civilians that control the actions of their inmate through a virtual system, turning the users into the controllers and the inmates into the in-game avatars. Once it’s discovered that Kable is an unstoppable killing machine, what was to be his execution by video game, becomes his best chance for escape and his only hope of finding his wife again.

Make no mistake, nowhere in the confines of “Slayers” or the life simulation “Society” (a lazy, mindless, horrible attempt to poke fun at the popular Second-Life video game) does anything in this movie feel like it’s coming from the minds of actual gamers. The whole thing, and every video-game themed joke, gag, reference and tribute plays out like the imaginings of someone who’s only ever seen a video-game being played, but never played it themselves.

“Gamer” takes stabs at gamers and gaming culture at large, any chance it gets, but it never does so out of a self-referential sense of irony, or in the spirit of fun. It plays on clichés and gamer stereotypes, but it doesn’t challenge or satirize them, it merely points them out and ramps them up. “Gamer” takes place in a world where society is video-games, and in this society, gamers are crude, disgusting, self-indulgent parasites. They’re presented as rapists, murderers, pedophiles, gluttons, playboys, playgirls, celebrities, shut-ins, morons, geniuses, but never once are they presented as normal. These stereotypes exist, but in “Gamer” they’re all that exist. There is no grey area. In a world run by video-games, society is a disgusting, morally-bankrupt wasteland.

Even if it weren’t a failure as a video-game movie, it would still be a failure as a movie. Strip away the game-related aspects, and all that’s left is a poorly-written, badly directed and unoriginal movie, with a mean sense of humor, and zero self-awareness. The actors do the best they can with what they’ve got, though when they’re given such golden lines as “tighter than a nuns c**ch,” they’re fighting an uphill battle on a hill made of discarded razor-blades.

The action in gamer is ugly, undefined and poorly shot. Half the time the movie is going for a shaky, hand-held look, but it doesn’t work when it’s juxtaposed against the constant overlay of computer graphics. When the movie opens up, and the action takes place in larger arenas, there is too much slow-motion, and no focus or momentum to anything.

“Gamer” is a bad movie. It is the kind of bad that is so bad, it is insulting that people charged money for it. The only good thing to come out of this film is that it gave people jobs for a few months. It is an insult to gaming culture, to gaming as a pastime and to human intelligence altogether.

 

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/gamer/