2010

Movie Review: Kidnapped (2011)

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There are days I worry about my own sanity after I’ve finished watching a movie featuring horrible things happening to innocent people and I realize I was looking forward to watching the movie. Thankfully I can breathe a sigh of relief when I can tell you I didn’t actually enjoy watching these horrible things happening- in the case of KIDNAPPED I fully did not enjoy the experience, but the film is crafted and made with a great amount of skill. Does that make it a brilliant work of art or something I can recommend- not so much.

What we have here is pretty cut and dry- a family is excited to be moving into a new house until it is invaded by masked robbers and they are held against their will until the intruders have completed their robbery. The plot is straightforward and pulls no punches in fooling you it’s more than that. I believe it’s best knowing that going in than assuming you are in for anything ground breaking or full of twists and turns since that will likely leave you even colder at the end.

Speaking of the ending- I won’t spoil it, but to say it made me feel dead inside might be an understatement. I don’t mean that in that it made me feel nothing in fact it’s quite the opposite. It unsettled me by how blunt and to the point it was without really giving much of a warning. However, it also doesn’t exactly sell or enhance anything that came before it so aside from how effective the ending is it doesn’t stop me from saying I found little to no enjoyment from the experience- in fact if I came out “enjoying” the ending or the overall experience I’d insist someone lock me up right now and strap a straight jacket on me.

I can’t in good conscience say it isn’t possible for people to like this movie because it would be far too presumptuous. The film is well made and is quite tense and disturbing in the way that it seems fully plausible given how direct and realistic it is. There is a split screen sequence towards the end that is incredibly well don’t and unites the two ends in an extremely effective way.

The performances of the actors sell every frame of the film- unless of course you decide to watch the dubbed version which I got some choice cuts of when I tried to sit through. Do not waste any time with the dub because it is exceedingly awful and horribly done. The voice actors at times were either working from a different script or something got lost in translation since there is a moment where someone gets mixed up in the gender of a person who has just been killed- in that they say the opposite gender of the person who was killed. Watch it in the language it was intended for and it will be much more effective.

This is a thriller that’s mostly all about attitude. There are not a lot of elaborate kills or even extremely gory kills- although when people are “offed” it is brutal and unsettlingly realistic. The majority of the film is defined by the performances and the stretches of sequences where not a lot is being said and the camera is locked in on a close-up as we take in the facial expressions and terrified cries or screams.

When the credits roll on KIDNAPPED the question you should ask yourself is not did I enjoy this, it’s should I enjoy this? When it’s all said and done I can recognize the skill at which this was made and how great the performances are, but at the end I was sort of in a hurry to erase these images from my head. When I say something like that it’s not because it is a bad movie, it’s because it is so well made and plausible that I needed to purge the film from my brain so I don’t sit in fear that someone is going to burst through my door. Also, it’s disturbing to put yourself in the protagonist’s shoes and imagine how it would feel if this was happening to your family. So yes I would say KIDNAPPED is worth a watch, but I would also recommend taking a hot shower and scrubbing intensely to cleanse yourself of the ugliness the film exposes you to.

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Movie Review: Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

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I don’t know about everyone else- but I remember my Christmas holidays to contain 100% less naked dirty old man penis than was present in the “whimsical” RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE. Granted this film does not even try to cater to the traditional tale of Santa Claus that people like me grew to know and because of that, I suppose I can let the abundance of graphic male nudity slide- but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t find it a bit awkward. RARE EXPORTS in a general sense is more of a skewed Christmas adventure than a full blown evil Santa horror movie and I have to say, that disappointed me more than just little.

RARE EXPORTS follows a very different lore of Santa fables where rather than a jolly old fat man that travels from house to house to deliver children gifts and holiday cheer he’s a giant demon-like monster that cooks and eats naughty children. Unfortunately for the foreign residents in this film the nasty old codger was frozen and buried in a mountain right by their home and a group of Americans have carelessly dig him up to make bank and didn’t account for the throngs of violent naked hobo looking helpers might take offense to them uprooting their hungry leader.

I’m all for different cultures making movies that cater to other likeminded folks, which is probably the only reason I won’t come down too hard on RARE EXPORTS. To be honest a good portion of the movie I found to be pretty effective and well made, it’s just that the way it all adds up was very unsatisfying and left me quite cold at the end. There chunks of sequences that have very interesting dynamics at work that fizzle out at the end or just don’t resonate as I would have liked. As this is a variation on Santa that I personally am not familiar with I’m not shocked that I don’t love this film but even for pure entertainment value I just didn’t feel like the film succeeded at following through with a lot of the cooler ideas they were presenting.

The film easily had me hooked with the idea that I was getting set to watch a demon Santa round up and chomp down some bratty kids, but it became pretty evident that this was something that ultimately wasn’t going to happen. It’s teased around several corners, but never followed through on. There are a lot of very dark elements here involving a child’s fear of this looming evil Santa and the violent behavior of the “helpers” which is displayed in a disappointingly sanitized way and replaced with a more disturbing commitment instead.

Here’s where I start really feeling the disconnect from me and the filmmakers. There is a ton of set up teasing at a battle between the protagonists, Santa and his helpers which we almost get to see- then we get something else altogether. Instead of a brash of fighting the protagonists spend the finale running from dirty naked old men that are furiously springing with their naked male genitals swinging around on screen steadfast for the little boy that’s with the adult men. The film goes so far as to actually depict all of the naked men running towards this little boy in slow motion- yes full frontal slow motion male nudity in a scene where they are all focused on going after a small child. Call me old fashioned, but this kind of twist is not only awkward, but certainly not appropriate for what basically ends up being an adventurous kid’s movie.

Visually the film had a good vibes, but there just is not a clear direction for where they wanted to take this story. There’s blood here and there, dark story elements and eventually the movie becomes all about a kid saving the day in a sort of light hearted Christmas season fashion. I quite simply just did not get it- no commitment was given to any specific tone that would make this easy to classify or recommend to anyone. I can tell you now on the volume of slow motion full frontal old man nudity alone people I’ve known for years would stop talking to me if I seriously recommended they watch this movie.

It’s more than just a slight possibility that I am not the target demographic for this movie- but I have to say that apart from my specific complaints I wasn’t mad that I watched the movie from beginning to end. RARE EXPORTS: A CHRISTMAS TALE ends up being a movie that’s constantly removing a mask to reveal a new type of movie underneath- each of them a little less satisfying than the next but each with interesting features. I have to cover my tail and say that I cannot recommend the film to many people except to say there are some obscure redeeming aspects to the film. However, the finale of the film is far too strange and inappropriate for me to ever be able to say I would ever find myself longing to watch this again. If you’ve seen everything the watered down Christmas movies have to offer and want something different RARE EXPORTS will fill that bill and then some.

Movie Review: Good Neighbors (2010)

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Anyone that has ever lived in an apartment has had experiences with all types of shady individuals. There’s the very quiet withdrawn person that is usually easy to live by but secretly deep down you think they are weird and may have deeper issues. There’s the obnoxious and loud neighbor that blasts their music or shows no respect for anyone around them- the list could go on and on. GOOD NEIGHBORS is a film that combines all those clichés and assumptions into each character and wraps them in a film that isn’t quite as subtle as it seems to want to be.

New Montreal resident, Victor (Jay Baruchel), moves into an apartment complex and makes acquaintance with his new neighbors Spencer (Scott Speedman) and Louise (Emily Hampshire). Spencer is wheelchair bound and a bit mysterious where as Louise is very peculiar and has a deep love of cats. The area they live in has been plagued by a series of rapes and murders that have other tenants on edge. Victor begins to develop feelings for Louise even as she becomes increasingly more peculiar when another neighbor murders her two cats.  Victor attempts to be the buildings go to nice guy by building a ramp for Spencer and walking Louise home from work until there comes a point where things in the building may not be exactly what they seem.

GOOD NEIGHBORS is through and through a character driven thriller that for a majority of the film seems more mumblecore than straightforward thriller. For the first half of the film we basically just witness each character interact alone or with each other as we establish just how their relationships might end up until a specific turning point. There comes a time when each character has a very odd character quirk that starts the beginning of plot twists. Instead of going down the path of who might do what the motivations are put right on front street and we know the intentions of the characters but they overlap so we instead question who is going to come out on top.

The character of Louise is the very definition of weird cat lady. In some ways she was my least favorite character in the film, but she also has some of the most intriguing character moments. Victor at times seems to be the easy target of shady behavior because he’s the new guy and a bit delusional but all three have very strange habits or behavior that trying to predict their behavior is pointless. The unpredictable nature of each character does add to the tension but also became grating on my patience.

The set up of the film seems to be focused on the mystery of who the looming serial rapist/killer is, until about halfway through it takes a complete left turn and that mystery is almost completely wiped clean and we focus only on the repercussions of characters actions and what will become of each of them. The series of small twists are interesting to some extent but ultimately I rolled my eyes more than a few times. The turning point had me much less interested on where the film was going to end and much more interested in the performances of the characters.

GOOD NEIGHBORS is not a terrible way to spend a couple hours but when it comes to horror/thrillers that are filled with similar works such as this there are much better options out there. Genre buffs looking for some gore will be bored to tears aside from a couple blood spurting scenes here and there as the film relies on the mood set from the characters. Scott Speedman was a lot of fun to watch in the film and in many ways carries it to the end. If GOOD NEIGHBORS does one thing effectively it’s the fact that I will likely be judging all of my neighbors even more harshly from here on out because it proves that there really is no confident way of saying you really know what people are capable of.

Movie Review: A Horrible Way To Die (2010)

There are certain expectations that came to mind when I sat down to watch A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE. One is just a plain and simple stalk and slash movie and the other based on the title is brutal wall to wall gore. Apparently I need to start checking my own expectations at the door because while the movie is about a killer and it has moments of brutal gore it is by no means as generic as I expected, the gore is not nonstop and it’s much slower and moodier than I ever could have predicted.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE takes two stories that slowly inch closer and closer to intersecting. The first story is that of Sarah (Amy Seimetz), a recovering alcoholic that is fresh off an extremely unhealthy relationship that causes her to be somewhat cautious and withdrawn but starts warming up to a fellow AA member, Kevin (Joe Swanberg). The second story is that of Sarah’s ex-boyfriend, Garrick (AJ Bowen) who has just escaped from prison. It becomes clear right of the bat that Garrick is psychotic and that he was in prison for a series of brutal murders which he gets right back to once he’s escaped. Garrick’s side of the story is that of a road trip that is presumably leading toward Sarah’s direction while Sarah’s story is that of a blooming relationship as well as mentally coping with her relationship with Garrick and his escape.

The film is an exercise is extreme patience and mounting tension. It takes an extremely patient viewer to stay with this movie and enjoy it as much as I did. The horror slowly builds and is not quite as in your face as most gene efforts but there are moments of horrific violence for the gorehounds to chew on. The rest of the movie focuses on mood alone- especially on Sarah’s side of the story because while she is an interesting character her story isn’t near as compelling as Garrick’s. Even when we see Garrick the film does a great job at giving him great character moments where we can surprisingly sympathize with such a murderous monster. The sympathy comes at several moments that he wishes he could keep from doing these horrible things but is overcome by an overwhelming blood lust which somewhat coincides with Sarah’s struggle with alcohol- albeit Garrick’s addiction is far more disturbing.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE while far from being something I would tell anyone to rush out and see would be far less so if not for the terrific performances, especially by AJ Bowen. Bowen brings to life a disturbingly plausible murderer- one that feels guilt and frustration with his inability to retrain himself from killing almost everyone that crosses his path. For quite some time most of his performance is done silently while the camera stays in for close-ups so we can watch him emote rather than bark out a lot of dialogue. It also helps that Bowen has an intimidating physical presence- not to mention he rocks a perfect police mustache through most of the film.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is not without its shortcomings. Some of the cinematography is quite good but there is quite a bit of shaky cam used during some attack scenes and even just plain dialogue scenes. The timeline of the film does become a bit screws as there were jumps of Bowen sporting his cop-stache after he’d shaved and then the next scene he’d have a full lumberjack beard. The film is exceedingly patient (slow in other words), so while it was not an issue for me I know there are audiences that will not appreciate the slow build.

A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE thrives on building tension the chilling performance by AJ Bowen. There are some moments of brutal violence and disturbing visuals but they serve only to enhance the overall mood of the film which is extremely dark. Director Adam Wingard presents an extremely intimate story between two people and the widespread consequences of their relationship and if you can stay with it till the end the payoff is great even if it may not make you “feel” good about where it goes. A HORRIBLE WAY TO DIE is not for everyone, but I think the title serves to make that point pretty obvious.

Movie Review: The Perfect Host (2010)

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Almost each and every time I’ve ever watched a movie with the word perfect in the title I’ve come away feeling the film couldn’t be further away from being described as such. I realize of course that the title is not describing its own quality as a movie, but more a means at conveying the type of character the film is based ob, which I still feel doesn’t fully hit its mark. THE PERFECT HOST was a frustrating overall experience that features a very good performance by David Hyde Pierce but the film is a very mixed bag of decent tension, quirky humor and an excess of twists.

Things just are not going well for John Taylor (Clayne Crawford) and they keep getting worse. From the start of the film we meet John as he’s just completed a bank robbery and has sustained an injury of some sort. He ditches the car he used before the robbery and his disguise and finds his way to a convenience store for some kind of medical supply where he is mugged by another robber who is holding up the store. From there the police have identified him as the suspect of his previous robbery so he ducks into a rich neighborhood looking for a place to lay low. After being refused by a religious woman he fingers through the mail of her neighbor and finds a postcard that he uses as a way to sneak his way in Warwick Wilson’s (David Hyde Pierce) home as he’s preparing for a dinner party. John believes his troubles are close to being over as he tries to lay low in Warwick’s home but soon finds out that things are only beginning to get even worse.

I am pretty conflicted over how I ultimately come down on THE PERFECT HOST. On one hand I really liked the first half of the film and liked certain aspects of the last half. However, when it comes down to it the last half of the movie is a little too quirky and a little too convoluted. The first half was very straight forward and did a great job at building tension then the twists start coming in rapid succession some clever and others induced eye rolling. THE PERFECT HOST is the film equivalent to a jack in the box- you constantly turn the handle all the while anticipating the toy to spring out but the longer it takes the tension builds but you grow suspicious of just how satisfying the culmination of events will be. The only real difference is this jack in the box pops out spinning a jack in the box of its own over and over and you sit there wondering when it will end.

The deeper into the film you get the less original it feels. The twists do not separate the film enough from other cat and mouse games in films or torture movies especially in recent films like THE LOVED ONES or I SAW THE DEVIL. Having a handful of twists did not make the movie memorable instead it eroded my patience little by little. The progression of events in THE PERFECT HOST begins as a well paced and acted thriller to tense horror thriller to a quirky horror comedy and ending somewhere as a mix of all those aspects just leaves a somewhat unpleasant after taste.

David Hyde Pierce definitely goes down as the most memorable aspect of the movie. He gives a pretty great performance and even after the movie started to sour on me he remained an effective crazed movie villain. There is something very disturbing about a bad guy that is as polite, friendly and likable as Pierce is and when everything comes back around it’s even more disturbing after one of the final twists.

If there’s one theme that sticks with me even if I’m not thrilled with the overall product is that things are never quite as they seem or that appearances can be deceiving. The movie does a lot of things right in this regard but writer director Nick Tomnay just tries to push things a little too far. THE PERFECT HOST is A pretty compelling portrait of severe mental illness or even deranged fetish fulfillment it’s just frustrating that the overall tone also suffers from a multiple personality syndrome.

Should you find yourself bored one night frustrated that you’ve seen all the movies at your local Redbox or Netflix watch instantly queue I can fully support breaking down to watch THE PERFECT HOST. There are a lot of very memorable moments both in tension and even comedic moments plus a very capable and creepy performance by David Hyde Pierce. If the movie catches you at the right moment in the exact mood it calls for then it may more than justify the time it takes to watch. As it stood for me however, it resonates as a passable thriller that just happens to have some very compelling elements.

Movie Review: The Reef (2010)

THE REEF can be described fairly simply as an Australian version of OPEN WATER. However, if someone described it that way to me I’d be turned off from watching it because I am not a big fan of OPEN WATER. THE REEF to me is a much better film and one that capitalizes more on its premise than OPEN WATER did. There are still some hiccups that prevent it from being the be-all-end-all of minimalist survival films especially ones involving sharks, but THE REEF is still an extremely effective people versus nature survival thriller.

The setup is this- a group of five friends set out on a snorkeling trip to a remote island and on their way back to mainland the boat scrapes unexpectedly on a reef that flips the boat leaving it ready to sink at any minute. The group then decides to make a swim back to the island since the current is pushing them and the boat further away, but one of them stays behind not willing to swim in shark infested waters. Once the group of four is out of sight of the boat and no land in sight they realize that a great white shark has taken great interest in hunting them. The group begins to panic as they rush to make it to land before the shark picks them off one by one.

The set up is reminiscent of OPEN WATER but the key similarity are the people floating in the middle of the ocean with nothing but miles of water underneath and a shark lurking in the depths waiting to attack. What THE REEF does better than OPEN WATER is that since there are more characters we don’t have to wait until the very end to see someone get annihilated by the shark. I also feel like the tension is greater in THE REEF than in OPEN WATER.

This film is also based on actual events so at the end we see text of what presumably happened with the member left behind at the boat and are to assume the shark attacks happened as depicted. Some of the more nail biting moments are when the shark is circling the group and Luke, the male member of the group, slaps on some goggles and watches beneath the surface as the shark approaches and swims off in order to keep an eye on if they are ok to move. It’s when Luke puts on the goggles and is looking into nothing but deep blue water and nothing moving that the tension amps up because you feel like the shark could strike any second.

The film shows great restraint from showing over-the-top gore during the shark attacks- keeping to the realistic tone by just showing what the group can actually see and selling the emotionally devastating effects of feeling helpless as a friend is violently attacked and eaten by a shark that will likely come after you next. I felt a great deal of dread immediately after the initial attacks that leaves the victim wounded and screaming at the surface before the shark comes back to finish the job. I found it deeply unsettling due to the strength of the performances and the realism of the situation.

If the tension doesn’t get to you first then there’s also the breathtaking scenery on display. Visually the film is bursting at the seams with beautiful cinematography and the shots of the ocean are spectacular. Add in that actual footage of sharks was used for a majority of the scenes just adds to how realistic, beautiful and tragic the whole film ends up being.

As was the case with OPEN WATER if you have a problem with a lot of buildup with short shots of action then you might have an issue with THE REEF. There is more action and shark attacks to be had here however, but there is a decent amount of character development to get through beforehand though. THE REEF does a great job at building tension both in regards to the shark and between the characters themselves. The film takes the OPEN WATER premise and amps things up a notch with just a dash of JAWS to spice things up. THE REEF may not be the shark classic you’ve been waiting for but it’s still a great way to spend a couple hours.

Movie Review: I Saw The Devil (2010)

Every so often I can watch a movie and have one scene that takes place and immediately after I have that feeling that tells me I’m going to love the film even if the ending doesn’t blow me away. I had exactly that moment during Jee-Woon Kim’s brilliantly twisted I SAW THE DEVIL, except if it was just one scene I’d have been happy, but I SAW THE DEVIL is chock full of some pretty jaw dropping scenes of action and violence. With a hefty runtime that contains an almost non-stop barrage of intense character conflicts and shocking brutality Jee-Woon Kim has given movie lovers a sublime cat and mouse game that is at times hard to watch but also impossible to take your eyes off of.

Min-sik Choi stars as the deranged serial killer, Kyung-chul, who has a penchant for stalking women and sexually assaulting them before he brutally murders them. Byung-hun Lee also stars as the secret agent, Kim Soo-hyeon, who plans a vicious revenge plot against Kyung-Chul after his pregnant fiancé becomes the latest of Kyung-Chul’s victims. Soo-hyeon soon becomes a monster himself while catching Kyung-Chul, harming him in horrific ways, releasing him back into the public and repeating this loop multiple times.

I think the most disturbing thing about I SAW THE DEVIL is how watchable it ends up being even with all the brutal and sadistic the violence upon women and other characters. Jee-woon Kim is unafraid to show you uncompromising shots of shocking violence and giving them to you in an almost nonstop fashion. When the characters are not maiming each other they are involved in sequences of dialogue describing sadistic intentions or sneaking in some dark uncomfortable laughs. The conflict the audience takes on is how far we are willing to accept Soo-hyeon’s revenge before he becomes almost as unlikeable as Kyung-chul. Of course Kyung-chul is morally reprehensible as a character and it’s natural to want to see him get what he deserves but what you don’t want to happen is to see the man tasked with being the hero descend to his level to the point where you don’t take joy in the revenge. Luckily, I never got to the point where I felt the psychopath Kyung-chul didn’t deserve the torture, but did feel the dread of the consequences of Soo-hyeon’s actions.

The performances are phenomenal; Byung-hun Lee embodies the damaged psyche of a mourning lover while also putting on the mask of a vengeful monster at a believable and almost scary level. Min-sik Choi, however, at times upstages Lee with his disturbing portrayal of a completely miserable human being. Choi plays a calm cool and collected serial killer and looking into his eyes becomes absolutely chilling and hearing his voice just adds tension to the scenes. Choi embodies the character that shows no remorse or regrets for his actions at a sickening and disturbing level.

If performances and impressive character drama don’t do it for you, then if for nothing else you should see I SAW THE DEVIL for one scene in particular. I don’t want to spoil the whole scene but just keep an eye out for a scene where the beaten and bloody Kyung-chul hitches a cab ride. Once that scene kicks in buckle up because it is a wild, wild ride.

If my overwhelming praise hasn’t already sent you running to go check it out you’re already missing out. I loved I SAW THE DEVIL more than any English speaking movie I saw throughout 2010. I didn’t revel in the gratuitous and brutal violence, but I admire the filmmaker’s commitment to it and I was left in awe by how it affected me. The cinematography is gorgeous, the script is sharp and sometimes funny and the two main performances are phenomenal. I don’t believe that any movie perfect, but I have very little if anything to gripe about here. Jee-woon Kim’s I SAW THE DEVIL is an intense, brutal and haunting work of art that I personally won’t soon forget.

Movie Review: Black Death (2010)

I’ve always had somewhat of an issue with movies that take place in medieval times, mostly because the style of speaking kind of gets on my nerves or ends up being ridiculous and silly. I have become a huge fan of Christopher Smith since stumbling across TRIANGLE a couple years ago. I then started going back through his catalog and checked out SEVERANCE and then his debut feature CREEP. TRIANGLE stands as my favorite of his so far, but BLACK DEATH is not far off, plus it’s a completely different beast than the mind bending puzzle that TRIANGLE was.
BLACK DEATH begins in a village that has been taken over by a sickness that has washed over the countryside universally referred to as the pestilence. The plague is said to be God’s next punishment upon the people in order to cleanse our sins. A warrior of God, Ulrich, comes riding into the village claiming to be sent by holy command to find a village rumored to have no signs of the sickness. Ulrich enlists a young man, Osmund, to lead them to the village where they aim to find a witch and bring them back to burn. The quest leads them to a village where they find themselves facing not only the threat of pestilence, but challenges of their faith as well.

As much as I love a nice uplifting story or a triumphant hero’s journey, BLACK DEATH is far from either one of those. The title isn’t just the name for recognition it’s also the perfect descriptor for the film. The soul of the film is inherently dark, with all the hatred for non-religious people and the hatred for those who believe in God. The scope of BLACK DEATH is incredibly bleak, yet the film is very infectious for being so dark and depressing.

Christopher Smith as a filmmaker has been able to establish some very precise moods in each of his films. CREEP, TRIANGLE and BLACK DEATH all have a very bleak scope while also being very atmospheric and creepy. SEVERENCE has some of the same characteristics, but I found it to be funnier and therefore considerably less bleak. In BLACK DEATH I have to give Smith all the credit in the world for taking a time period like this and making me love it like I do when normally my personal preferences are setting me up to hate it. The film might not be action packed, but it moves like a freight train from one scene to the next with engaging dialogue and conflicts. Towards the end of the film the who’s right and who’s wrong back and forth between pagans and men of God is both engaging and chilling.

The heart of BLACK DEATH is the characters which are performed admirably. I mentioned my distaste for how cheesy medieval can be and I didn’t find a single moment in BLACK DEATH remotely cheesy. The actors all treat the material seriously and not one of them takes their role over the top by becoming overly boisterous or upstaging any of the other actors. Sean Bean stands out to me of all the actors as Ulrich, giving what I would call a quiet subdued performance but also showing a very understated sense of rage and intimidation.

Visually the film is very dark and employs what I would call shades of grey color scheme. BLACK DEATH makes a name for itself by being very moody and atmospheric without being showy. There are no fire breathing dragons, no grand scope sword fights and no storm the castle sieges; instead there are lots of handheld up close and personal battles between a small group of people and tense scenes of dialogue. The threat of the pestilence is always present but never in your face and the warrior’s journey feels desperate and always kept my interest on the film from beginning to end.

Christopher Smith continues to impress with his filmmaking ability and BLACK DEATH is just another notch in his belt. The film is carried with ease on the strength of the performances and mood that is established early on. Much like the pestilence BLACK DEATH grows quietly within you except the film while dark and depressing is actually a joy to watch. You will take no pleasure in what happens to any of the character but can appreciate the style and skill at which the film was made. BLACK DEATH might be an acquired taste for some, but for fans of Christopher Smith I can’t recommend the film enough.

Movie Review: Red White & Blue (2010)

I find it incredibly frustrating when I come across movies that play at movie festivals and it takes way too long for them to find their way to my neck of the woods or even to DVD in a decent amount of time. You build a certain level of hype when a movie gets good word of mouth then you have to wait and wait and wait to see it. I’m not exactly sure how long I waited to see RED WHITE & BLUE, but I do know it’s been too long. Simon Runley’s slow burn thriller really sneaks its way into your brain and then proceeds to have its way with you during the finale. The drama during the first 3/4 of the film really deepens the impact of the ending minutes. Take my word, if you were 100% on board with these characters the finale will be a deeply disturbing and troubling experience.
Erica (Amanda Fuller) is a young and troubled girl that cheapens herself by sleeping with every man that moves and never the same guy twice. She meets Nate (Noah Taylor) and he shows interest in her but not in a sexual manor and the two start a friendship. Things take a shocking and devastating turn when a previous sexual encounter with aspiring rocker, Franki (Marc Senter) comes back into her life. The three find their lives flying headfirst into a deadly collision as things spiral out of control.

The thing I love about good indie filmmaking is the way the films masterfully manipulate my perceptions and feelings. The truth is that through a majority of RED WHITE & BLUE I found myself actually pretty bored. The first hour or more of the film jumps around quite a bit and there just is not much going on as far as conflicts or action. What the film does do is take you deep into the character development and lets you get a good and clear perception of the characters before they hammer you at the end. The technique left me quite shaken by the end and it’s not because I was scared, but because of the emotional journey you are forced to endure in the end. If you make a connection with ANY of the three characters, the conclusion of RED WHITE & BLUE will leave a lasting impression.

Of the three main performances I believe that Noah Taylor stands as the star of the film. He knocks every scene he’s in out of the park and Amanda Fuller plays her character just as well but is not quite as scene grabbing as Taylor. The weakest of the three is Marc Senter and it’s not because he’s terrible, there are just moments I didn’t find him very believable and slightly awkward.

I’d also like to point out the music used at the beginning and the end of the film. The music choice gives the film a very clear and distinct old school horror vibe. The brief and deliberate notes really added to the tension of the last half hour, almost to the point where I was scared to move or blink and miss any single second of what was happening. With all the tension and horror of the finale it’s very easy to neglect the fact that a lot of the subtext to the film is very sad and tragic rather than cruel and mean spirited.

As for that ending; I hate to talk it up so much but in this case it really redeemed everything I didn’t like about the first hour. The events of the finale are disturbing and quite horrific, but in my opinion the film should not be considered horror. The majority of the film is full on drama and the end shifts it into more of a thriller with hints of horror. The violence is quite disturbing but at the same time, a majority of it happens out of camera view, minus one specific scene in the final minutes. The most disturbing thing about the finale is watching what happens to these characters you’ve connected with and no matter which one it is, it becomes somewhat hard to watch.

I was left floored by RED WHITE & BLUE despite all the problems I had towards the beginning. At first I thought the film completely lacked anything resembling focus and lots of scenes seemed to make no sense whatsoever. As I moved closer and closer to the end this sense of understanding, awe and dread just washed over me and I gained a whole new level of respect. I love a movie for challenging me and making me second guess myself and that’s exactly what RED WHITE & BLUE did. It took quite a while to shake the film from my brain and that’s another aspect I admire about it. RED WHITE & BLUE is a film I can confidently say is not for everyone but is a film that everyone should give a chance. This is the type of film that justifies my love for independent movies and why I love the art of cinema in general.

Movie Review: Tangled (2010)

It’s been a while that I’ve been truly taken aback by a musical, but Disney has time and time again never failed to impress. I didn’t love THE PRINCESS AND THE FROG, but I did like it, but it’s safe for me to say that TANGLED exceeded my expectations while still not surpassing some of my previous favorites like ALADDIN and THE LION KING. The voice acting is top notch and the animation is not quite as dazzling as Pixar’s work, but still very magical and exciting to watch.

TANGLED is the story of a girl, Rapunzel (Mandy Moore), who is born to a king and queen after the mother is healed by a magic flower. The flower that healed the queen was previously being used by a woman, Mother Gothel, who used the flower’s magic to keep herself young. To attain the magic once again, Mother Gothel kidnaps Rapunzel and locks her away in a tower as Rapunzel’s hair has absorbed the flower’s magic. The king and queen send out floating lanterns each year on Rapunzel’s birthday in hopes that she will return and by chance Rapunzel meets a wanted thief, Flynn Ryder (Zachary Levi), who makes a deal to make her wish of seeing the lanterns up close come true.

I’ve had a love for animation since I was a kid and even today I get excited for most of the animated films release each year. Over the years I’ve especially taken a liking to the 3D computer generated animated movies that came along from Disney and Pixar as well as Dreamworks. TANGLED doesn’t quite touch my favorites of these types of films like HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON or THE INCREDIBLES, but it is still a very entertaining and at times very heartfelt film.

TANGLED is a very interesting and fun take on the fairy tale of Rapunzel. I probably could do without the musical element behind the film as I don’t find a majority of the songs as memorable or catchy as previous Disney musicals but as it stands they are not terrible by any stretch of the imagination. It’s definitely a film that should please the whole family; even adults will find some big laughs along the way.

The animation while far from Disney’s best is still quite striking, especially during the scene with the floating lanterns. It’s the characters though that deserve a lot of the praise as each one is designed uniquely and voiced perfectly. The two best characters in the movie though don’t even speak and that’s Rapunzel’s faithful chameleon and a determined horse named Maximus. I found the horse to be the funniest part of the film.

Personally, I think the animation and the characters are the key selling point of TANGLED, but I know that the songs are a big part of the film too. As I mentioned though, I just don’t think the songs are anything to write home about. The song during the flying lantern scene and one of the earlier songs I really enjoyed, and others I just didn’t think had a rhythm or theme that I could really get in to. None of them are terrible pieces of music; they just aren’t up to par with earlier Disney musicals.

There are plenty of reasons to recommend TANGLED to just about everyone and the flaws will not ruin the film so it winds up being a very enjoyable piece of family entertainment. It’s not every day that I really like a film where the two best characters don’t even have a single word of dialogue. Kids will get a kick out of it and adults won’t feel cheated either. TANGLED fits in nicely with the Disney filmography but does not stand near as tall as their best efforts.