Wednesday, July 12, 2017

The Hunter (2011) - 3 stars out of 10

The Hunter (2011) - 3 stars out of 10

Everything about “The Hunter” looks great on paper.  Willem Dafoe and Sam Neill in lead roles, a cat and mouse (well, hunter and Tasmanian tiger) plot, the “action and adventure” classification, and the exotic locale of Tasmania.  Unfortunately, the sum falls short of the potential that these parts promised.  Dafoe gives the performance that we hoped for and the cinematography is beautiful, but the script plods along at a snail’s pace, Neill doesn’t add much to the film, and there is a very limited amount of action.  It was a struggle to focus because it seemed like nothing was happening for the majority of the runtime.  I suppose that if this was labeled as a drama, I would have approached it with different expectations but with a title like “The Hunter,” how could you expect anything less than a Rambo-esque film?  The story was interesting and could have been enhanced by a duality of actions in the jungle scenes matched with the drama of the family.  The also could have created more intrigue by better incorporating more of the mysterious biotech company.  I certainly won’t be revisiting “The Hunter” at any point in my life but it could be worth watching if you love Australia and are looking for sweeping cinematography of the landscape.

[Pictured: Dafoe offers an interesting performance amidst a slow-moving script]

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Touching the Void - 6 stars out of 10

Touching the Void - 6 stars out of 10

“Touching the Void” is a documentary that recalls the incomprehensible survival story of Joe Simpson and Simon Yates.  The Academy did not consider this to be a documentary since so much of the film is comprised of reenactments but I cannot see this logic.  The interviews and narration by Simpson and Yates are the key to our accepting this journey as truth.  Without the documentary feel, we could easily mistake this for a far-fetched fiction.  The casting of Brendan Mackey and Nicholas Aaron is so perfect that you will spend the entire film believing that the tragedy was either caught on camera or that the victims actually recreated their climb.  Even though this film does an amazing job of retelling the events, exercise caution because there are two sequences that contain explicit language (i.e. shouting the f-word about 20 times in a row).  “Touching the Void” establishes a unique blend of informative narration paired with reenactments that engage our emotions.  You won’t believe this story until you hear it straight from the mouths of the survivors.

[Pictured: This film will make you second guess why anybody would want to climb an icy mountain]

Monday, July 10, 2017

Blink (1994) - 2 stars out of 10

Blink (1994) - 2 stars out of 10

“Blink” was a pretty rough movie to get through.  To start, it is soooo 90's!  There are two types of 90’s films.  One type makes us feel nostalgic and long to relive the music and style of this time.  The other type feels dated, annoying, and overly corny.  This film is the latter.  There are moments that are so embarrassing by today's standards, like the final scene with the song lyrics.  It reminded me of every awkward date I ever had and I really question whether there ever was a time where an audience would enjoy that sort of cheesy dialogue.  And lest we not forget the weird I'm-stripping-in-front-of-a-violinist-but-she-can't-see-me-because-she's-blind sequence.  The story is your typical lovers'-quarrel-turns-into-dangerous-conflict plot without many surprises, and let's throw in a villain whistling Three Blind Mice for good measure.  On top of that, the f-word gets tossed around over and over for no particular reason.  I am not sure what “Blink” aspired to be but it lacks anything that would qualify it as a quality movie.  Skip this one and stick to the nostalgic 90’s films.

[Pictured: Even its inclusion of cultural music couldn't win me over.  It just made everything else seem even more odd]

Friday, July 7, 2017

Captain EO - 2 stars out of 10

Captain EO - 2 stars out of 10

What do Michael Jackson, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, and Mickey Mouse have in common?  The only possible answer is “Captain EO,” the 1986 3-D film that was featured in Disney parks around the world.  This over-the-top film harnessed the energy of the King of Pop in order to popularize the Disney parks with teenagers.  It also cost over $20 million for its 17-minute runtime.  The “Captain EO” experience went beyond your standard film.  It is credited with repopularizing the 3D genre and featured in-theater effects that were synchronized to the film, such as lasers and fog.  Jackson’s sidekicks include several creature puppets and his nemesis is played by a young Anjelica Huston.  Of course, the story culminates in an enormous dance sequence with two original songs written by Jackson.  The 4-D experience thrilled audiences when it was first released but the film itself is rather disappointing.  For its price tag, the special effects are lackluster, the creatures are a far cry from the Muppets, and the script is cheesy.  Jackson’s dancing is as stunning as ever but this is a reminder of why he never made it as an actor.  It was featured in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland and EPCOT’s Future World, but it quickly became dated and served as a piece of nostalgia for the latter half of its showings.  While the controversial accusations against Jackson pressured Disney into replacing the show in the mid-90’s, EO’s demise was already overdue.  I’ve included a YouTube link of the film below and will leave it up to you to decide whether “Captain EO” was an innovative collaboration between the biggest names of the 1980’s or an overpriced short film that fell short of its potential.

Captain EO: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4TZWZMjJ8k

[Pictured: Captain EO may be the most 80's thing ever created]

Sunday, June 25, 2017

TiMER - 7 stars out of 10

TiMER - 7 stars out of 10

“TiMER” takes an absolutely amazing sci-fi concept and adapts it to be used in a romantic comedy.  And surprisingly, it fits!  The idea of having a timer that counts down to a significant life event is fascinating.  I have always felt that “In Time” took this amazing concept and completely blew it.  Lo and behold, “TiMER” already existed and perfectly executed the idea.  It will prompt self-reflection on whether you would want to know if you could, what happens if you fall in love with someone who isn’t your soulmate, and whether there is a preordained plan for us to meet the right one at the right moment.  It has the style of a rom-com but the story operates on a much deeper level.  The characters are well-written to make us care about their fate, with the acting of Emma Caulfield, Michelle Borth, and John Patrick Amedori helping the characters feel relatable within the sci-fi context.  While I enjoyed the film, I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone.  It could be a perfect PG-13 comedy for parents and their teens, but then they throw a ton of unnecessary f-words into the script that limits its family appeal.  If you are tired of the romantic comedy equation, “TiMER” takes the genre to another level with its unique story.


[Pictured: Would you want to know? The story raises some really interesting questions]

Friday, June 16, 2017

Trash (2014) - 7 stars out of 10

Trash (2014) - 7 stars out of 10

"Trash" is an unexpectedly interesting foreign film whose story is twofold: its unique crime storyline keeps us on edge while serving as an expose into the difficult lifestyle for the poverty stricken people of Brazil.  It is far fetched at times but never goes beyond a reasonable stretch of the imagination.  It may seem odd to have a Portuguese cast alongside Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara, but it makes sense within the context of the story.  These stars are actually outshined by their Brazilian costars, Selton Mello (the corrupt cop) and Rickson Tevez (Raphael).  These actors provide the emotional intensity the drives the entire film.  There is no weak spot amongst the deep cast of foreign actors.  The story is fairly predictable yet satisfying in that we encounter a few surprises but everything is resolved in a familiar way.  I appreciate the theme of doing what is right no matter what it takes.  Most of us would take the reward and avoid conflict but the moral compass of these characters is inspiring.  I didn't appreciate the portrayal of the missionary priest as a swearing alcoholic.  I understand that the character needs to be rough around the edges to make a difference in the slums but the character would have been much better if he was a saint at his core and chose to get his hands dirty when necessary.  Beyond the acting, the film is beautifully filmed as a travelogue of the varying socioeconomic areas of Rio de Jeneiro.  "Trash" isn't the greatest crime adventure that you will ever see but if you enjoy the genre, you will be very happy with the way that it plays out.


[Pictured: The inclusion of interview segments creates an interesting stylistic feel while fitting perfectly into the plot]

Monday, June 12, 2017

The Blair Witch Project (1999) - 7 stars out of 10

The Blair Witch Project (1999) - 7 stars out of 10

"The Blair Witch Project" unintentionally became one of the most important films of the 90’s.  It is an anomaly in that its importance to its genre supersedes its actual quality.  This film changed the found footage genre forever, establishing an unprecedented amount of realism within and surrounding the production of the film.  Let’s take a step back and explore the concept before we explore the actual film.  Three actors (playing the role of student filmmakers) travel deep into the Black Hills of Maryland to create a documentary about a legendary witch.  For the duration of the film, the actors were literally stranded and completely lost in the woods.  Behind the scenes, they would follow a GPS to hidden film canisters that would provide clues to their next location and individual instructions to help them to develop their characters.  Onscreen, a combination of improvised acting and pure terror creates an atmosphere that is absolutely surreal.  The terror came from the production crew who, unbeknownst to the actors, planted creepy props throughout the woods, scared them with noises throughout the night, and deprived them of food to elicit realistic, emotional responses.  The characters are never heard from again but their equipment and video footage is discovered in the woods a year later, which is what the audience is watching.  "Unsettling" is an understatement.  To further enhance the nonfictional narrative, one of the first internet viral marketing campaigns was employed to make potential audience members believe in the truth of this legend.  This included a website that listed faux police reports and evidence to portray the documentary as truth, flyers at film festivals with contact information for anybody who had information on the missing actors, listing the three actors as “Missing, presumed dead” on IMDB, and even a historical tv special on the Blair Witch legend that was aired on the SciFi Channel.

The film’s significance cannot be overstated but the film is far from perfect.  The concept leads to large portions of the film where nothing really happens, though it is all part of the buildup to the very end (which many argue is anticlimactic but I believe perfectly ties the story together).  My main issue is the extreme amount of profanity.  I understand that the actors are trying to portray the tension and terror of being lost in the woods, but most of it is unnecessary (134 f-words and 62 s-words in 81 minutes).  It is also frustrating that during the scary sequences, there is so much shaky cam that you can’t really see what is going on.  Again, this makes the story believable but causes the scene to lose its intensity.  So why do we love to watch 81 minutes of film where not much happens?  Because the concept is so unique and the emotions are so raw that the line between fiction and nonfiction is completely blurred.  This simple film had a budget of $60,000 and went on to make over $248 million at the box office.  “The Blair Witch Project” may not be most peoples’ cup of tea, but the influence of its found footage style and viral marketing campaign can still be seen in the popularity of films like “Paranormal Activity” today.


[Pictured: The iconic and most emotional moment where Heather Donahue apologizes to her family and friends amidst her terror]