Here’s Looking at Film, Kid

Cloverfield lives up to hype, expectations by Matt
January 27, 2008, 3:27 am
Filed under: Film Reviews
**** out of *****
If Godzilla finally mustered the courage to ask The Blair Witch Project out for a few drinks and the two shared one glorious night of passion, the resulting cinematic child would be something called Cloverfield.Cloverfield, which is produced by television bigshot J.J. Abrams and directed by relative newcomer Matt Reeves, is a monster flick filmed entirely on handheld camcorder. It’s a film that, quite literally, drops the audience into chaos as a gargantuan monster attacks New York. We are the embedded witnesses as Rob (Michael Stahl-David) and friends trek through the ruins in search of his damsel in distress, Beth (Odette Yustman).
But the plot really isn’t what’s important in Cloverfield. The imperative thing to remember is that there is a giant freaking creature with four arms, tentacles and a mean case of fleas reaking absolute havoc on the city and knocking tank shells aside like they were gnats. After waiting months to catch a glimpse of the thing, the monster both completely surprised and satisfied me. It’s a completely original creation, strange, frightening and colossal.
The handheld camerawork (which has, apparently, caused extreme cases of nausea) is nothing new, of course — but it’s innovative here in that something as epic and grand as a skyscraper-toppling creature can be brought down to the human level and truly involve the audience. In the special effects department, Cloverfield doesn’t disappoint. There are some truly breathtaking shots in this film involving both the monster and the ensuing destruction.
If I were to criticize anything about the film, it would be the absence of anything fresh in the story or dialogue department. In this respect, Cloverfield falls just short of what 2007’s The Host managed. As unique a film as Cloverfield is, it’s still lacking in truly gripping characters and plot. But, as stated earlier, those things really take a backseat to the fact that there’s a huge monster having its way with the military.
After months of hype and speculation, Cloverfield manages to live up to its end of the bargain and fulfills the promise it made last July — to be a truly kickass American monster flick. This is a volatile, intense film experience that I highly recommend. Make sure you catch it on the biggest screen you can manage.

I Am Legend brings Matheson’s novella to the big screen … finally by Matt
December 21, 2007, 3:06 am
Filed under: Film Reviews

Film Review
I Am Legend
Directed by Francis Lawrence
Starring Will Smith
Rated R, 101 mins

**** / *****

There has yet to be a perfectly faithful adaption of Richard Metheson’s I Am Legend, a novella I rank without hesitation in my top five books of all time. It is a brilliant character study of one man alone in a world gone mad — where creatures hunt the night and loneliness haunts the days. And even if it isn’t completely loyal to the source material, director Francis Lawrence’s I Am Legend is about as close as we’re going to get. And it’s a pretty damn good movie to boot.

Will Smith plays Robert Neville, a military scientist and the last man on Earth (or so he thinks). In 2009, a virus intended to cure cancer goes airborne and mutates a percentile population into ravenous creatures known as Dark Seekers. Neville, one of the few humans immune to the virus, spends his days alone, gathering food, hunting and holding conversations with mannequins he’s staged in a video rental store. At night, Neville barricades himself in his home and tries to sleep through the inhuman howls of the Dark Seekers roaming the streets outside. Neville is mankind’s last hope — and he only preservers to find a cure.

Smith commands the role of Neville with a subtle honesty — this is certainly one of his strongest performances to date. Crafting such a vivid and entertaining film out of what is, essentially, an hour of Smith and a German Shepard roaming about a desolate New York City, is a challenge. But Smith and Lawrence are more than up for the challenge, and the result is a fantastic film, part action flick, part quiet character study.

The creatures in this film — the Dark Seekers who, for lack of a better word, are basically vampires — are truly frightening. The first glimpses we catch of these things, illuminated at the fading end of a flashlight, are some tense moments. The creature design is just excellent. These aren’t the mutants of The Omega Man. These are the vampires that Matheson envisioned for his novella — swift, cunning and ruthless.

Yes, the film takes a few hefty liberties (the ending, for starters, is drastically different). But the central story and themes are present. We feel Neville’s loneliness and desperation as he strives for what may seem like a futile goal. As I said … we have yet to see a truly perfect adaptation of the novella. But Lawrence and Smith have given it everything they’ve got, and the end product is great.

Three is a magic number by phoqueoff
December 8, 2007, 7:11 am
Filed under: Film Reviews

Hey everyone! I’ve just finished writing a trio of movie reviews. There are a couple more on the way, but it’s finals week here, so I don’t have a whole lot of extra time. Anyways, enjoy these ones!


Film Review:
Cassandra’s Dream
Directed by Woody Allen
Starring Ewan McGregor, Colin Farrell
Rated PG-13, 108 mins

** ½ out of *****

The newest Woody Allen venture is a slightly mixed bag. The story of two English brothers, giddy after the purchase of a gently used sailboat, the titular Cassandra’s Dream, Allen’s latest, despite a talented cast, falls short. Ewan McGregor and Colin Farrell are Ian and Terry respectively, an ambitious would-be real estate mogul and uncharacteristically lucky gambler and mechanic. When a high-stakes poker game goes awry, both brothers are forced to call upon rich Uncle Howard, Tom Wilkinson, for help. Unfortunately for them, Uncle Howard demands a price that neither of them may be prepared to pay.

On the plus side, both leads are not only convincing, but sympathetic, Farrell particularly so as a man torn apart by his sins. The triangular power struggle between both youths and their distant, yet ever-present uncle provides tension, but like the rest of the movie, it fails to satisfy. Unfortunately, the film, as a whole, ultimately goes nowhere. The ending and climax are both abrupt and do not pay off. Half of its characters are simply forgotten, while the two leads are rather hastily dealt with. In the end, Cassandra’s Dream’s comments on greed and ambition are too frivolous to carry any real weight; the film succeeds only in leaving the audience feeling cheated of dénouement.

Paranoid Park
Directed by Gus van Sant
Starring Gabe Nevins, Lauren McKinney
NR, 85 mins

**** out of *****

Another new offering from an established filmmaker, Gus van Sant this time, left me feeling more satisfied. An exploration of underground skate culture in Portland, Oregon, Paranoid Park is a confessional written by Alex, a high school student on the fringe of the dissident skating scene, daydreaming to one day play a real role therein. After a night at Eastside Skate Park, dubbed “Paranoid Park” by the runaway punks who reign supreme within the confines of its concrete basins, Alex takes part in the unintentional murder of a train station guard. The film is a recount of the subsequent events, told in Alex’s own words, awkward stumbling over words and all. What truly succeeds here is the spot-on portrayal of adolescence and the desire to be a part of that subversive scene on the edge of which every teenager finds themselves at one point of another. Lauren McKinney adds a touch of tenderness and intelligence as Macy, a friend of Alex. And yes, she does have acne. It’s about time that we see a zit on screen that is not part of a joke. Van Sant’s soundtrack, an eclectic mix of cool, classic jazz, punk anthems, and even nature sounds, despite its radical variety, somehow works as a whole; it underscores perfectly both Alex’s skater daydreams and his disorientation after seeing a man killed.

In addition to adolescence on a grand scale, Paranoid Park provides its viewer with a glimpse into the life of Portland youth. Those familiar with the Pacific Northwest will recall that Portland has one of the highest percentages of homeless teens in the nation, a population whose constituents were responsible for the creation of the titular skate park. Although, it is worth mentioning that the “Paranoid Park” shown in van Sant’s movie is located in a different area of town than the actual Paranoid Park.

Like Gus van Sant’s other films, Paranoid Park can be a bit lacking in the substance department. The long walking shots of brooding teenagers can border on superfluous, but the film works in the end. I found its quiet dreaminess to be an extension of Alex’s state of mind. Paranoid Park is more than just stylish pretension; its slow pacing may not appeal to everyone, but its depiction of adolescent dislocation rings true.

This is England
Directed by Shane Meadows
Starring Thomas Turgoose, Vicky McClure
NR, 101 mins

***** out of *****

My favorite of the three, This is England is a hilarious, heartfelt, and later, scary and tragic piece of cinema. From its euphoric beginning to its sobering conclusion, This is England takes hold of you through its surprisingly talented young star, Thomas Turgoose. Turgoose as Shaun exhibits a natural gift for comic timing as a young misfit who falls in with a crowd of punks in 1980s England. Margaret Thatcher’s politics and the events of the British/Argentine war loom in the background and underscore the darker elements of Shaun’ story, specifically racism. The juxtaposition of the happy-go-lucky, Doc Martin-buying days of Shaun and his new band of friends with Shaun’s initiation into a neo-Nazi-like group of racists hits hard in the minds of the audience. Turgoose is backed by a charming and eclectic cast, including the beautiful Vicky McClure as Lol, and the sheer oddity that is Rosamund Hanson as Smell. Strangely endearing, Hanson as Smell is one of the film’s most hilarious aspects. What made This is England even funnier was seeing it in Rennes and witnessing attempts by the French to translate such phrases as “Maggie is a twat,” into their native language. It’s no surprise that this film has been hailed as the best British film of 2007, as it is, without a doubt, one of the best of any nation this year.

At last! A post! by phoqueoff
November 1, 2007, 4:57 pm
Filed under: Film Reviews

Disclaimer: I apologize if the movies I write about have been out in the States for ages. As I am currently in France, and most American films experience a delayed release in Europe, I may often be writing about films that came out months ago.

Also, I share Matt’s distaste regarding the release of another Saw sequel. I have yet to see any of them, and the fact that a new one is shat out by Lionsgate every year does nothing in the way of making me want to change that.

Anyways, on to the review!


Film Review:
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford
Directed by Andrew Dominik
Starring Casey Affleck, Brad Pitt
Rated R, 160 mins.

*** out of *****

The above header will be the first and last time I write out the ungodly long title of this movie. From here on out, I will use the simple acronym TAOJJBTCRR. As it turns out, my simple acronym is not simple and is extremely awkward to type. Therefore, I will simply refer to the film as The Assassination. Everybody good to go? Fabulous.

Part moody period piece, part gun-slinging western, The Assassination is a film with an identity crisis. The effects of publicized arguments between novice director, Andrew Dominik, and studio executives are apparent: the resultant film is not allowed to delve into its characters the way it wants to, and has no grand action set-pieces to help pass the time. What the viewer is left with is an inundation of mind-numbing narration that breaks the cardinal rule of cinema: show, not tell. Every action, every glance, every gesture and possible thought that the film’s characters produce is explained by the cumbersome narrator. This does a great disservice to the film’s stellar cast. Casey Affleck is more than capable of letting the audience know what he is thinking, as is Brad Pitt. The narration hurries the story along to such a point that dialogue is nearly eradicated. Excellent supporting cast members like Zooey Deschanel and Mary-Louise Parker have almost nothing to do, save stand prettily in the background while their daily activities are explained overhead in painful detail. This split personality can be attributed, not only to studio woes, but also to the fact that The Assassination is only the second film from director Andrew Dominik. His inexperience shows in his inability to balance the inner workings of James and Ford and the thrust of the story.

What is perhaps most disappointing about The Assassination is that I truly believe there is an excellent film in there somewhere. The dynamic between Pitt and Affleck is intriguing, and the casting choices for both titular characters, as well as for the rest of the film’s roles, were quite well done. Affleck in particular was especially moving in his performance. The film, in appearance, is beautiful and grand; it simply lacks the foundations to support its grandiose settings. I honestly cannot say whether the film’s mediocrity is a result of studio interference or simply a mistake on the part of co-writer/director Dominik. What I do know is that the excess of narration kills the film’s momentum, and reduces the audience to children sitting cross-legged before an adult with a storybook. Personally, I feel old enough to read for myself.

Kingdom stumbles, soars by Matt
October 9, 2007, 6:48 am
Filed under: Film Reviews


Film Review
The Kingdom
Directed by Peter Berg
Starring Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Garner
Rated R, 110 min.

*** out of *****

Riddles are fun. Here’s a good one I heard the other day: I have rivers without water, forests without trees, mountains without rocks and towns without houses. What am I? Answer: A map. Here’s another one: I am political without scenes in the House of Congress, action-packed with only a few explosions and three shootouts, pro-American with an anti-war message and powerful without being manipulative. What am I? Answer: Director Peter Berg’s ensemble piece, The Kingdom.

Berg – who directed The Rundown, one of my favorite action films of the new century – has with The Kingdom achieved a sort-of political-action-thriller hybrid. And what’s this below the surface? Why, it’s a diatribe on American involvement in the Middle East. It’s refreshing to see an action film so overtly thrilling and grandiose and yet so mindful of the well-worn conventions of the genre. But I think that’s what keeps The Kingdom from achieving true greatness; it’s simply too much for one film.

The film opens with a brutal terrorist attack on an American compound in Riyadh by Islamic extremists. After negotiating his way into a five-day stay on Saudi soil, FBI Special Agent Ronald Fleury (Jamie Foxx) assembles a crack team (Chris Cooper, Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) to travel to Saudi Arabia and bring the men behind the bombings to justice.

Now here’s the part of my review where I say, “From here, the movie plays out like your typical …” except that I can’t bring myself to do that with The Kingdom. It can be very loosely labeled as an action film. But when was the last time you watched a top-notch action thriller with a heavy dose of social/political commentary touching on topics as diverse as race relations, religious extremism, revenge, war, family, violence and consumerism? Berg manages a deft juggling act with all of these themes through the film’s two-hour runtime.

Certainly, The Kingdom is genre bending at its most daring. But filmmaking this risky requires subtlety, control, simplicity in its themes, complex though they may be. For rookie director Berg, nuance doesn’t come easy. At its core, “The Kingdom” is still a procedural action film

Performances are solid from each of the leads (Bateman is particularly enjoyable), but the most stellar performance arrives courtesy of relative newcomer Ashraf Barhom, who plays the sympathetic Saudi colonel, Faris Al Ghazi. I’d like to see an Oscar nod float his way for Best Supporting Actor.

So here we have Syriana with a dash of action, a post-9/11 political film for the theater crowd. It’s a tough film to pinpoint, though – I’m still not entirely sure if I enjoyed it or not, to be honest. But it’s worth seeing for its distinct style. The Kingdom simply overshoots expectations, leaving the audience in its wake, scratching their heads and shrugging their shoulders as it rockets past. In its first act, the film struggles to decide what to do with itself as the dozen genres within vie for power. As it flounders, though, something emerges. Amid the few unnecessary aspects of The Kingdom, a truly fantastic piece of cinema clambers to the surface, gasping for air. It’s simply a shame the film doesn’t allow itself time to breathe.