Posts Tagged ‘motion picture

14
Dec
16

#33. The Wild Bunch (1969)

wild_bunch

Starring William Holden, Ernest Borgnine, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Robert Ryan, and Edmond O’Brien

Directed by Sam Peckinpah

The Short, Short Version:

Holden is Pike, an Old West gang leader living in a time coming to a close. After a small-town bank heist is found to be a setup him and his gang (Borgnine, Johnson, Oates among them) make their way to Mexico. On their trail is Deke Thornton (Robert Ryan), a former gang member who worked with Pike before being captured. Now in the employ of the railroad Thornton has 30 days to capture Pike using a ragtag group of come-alongers interested in the money. Pike strikes a deal with a Mexican General named Mapache for a load of 16 guns. Pike must keep his own crew together while getting the guns and not getting caught by Thornton. However, the General has some plot twists of his own…

Why This Made the Top 40:

I remember first buying the DVD from a Wal-Mart rack in Carbondale, IL while being in school there. One of my friends, Jason H., was emphatic. “There are like 300 Mexicans that die in one scene alone! It’s the bloodiest movie ever made.” I took it back to my dorm room, threw the disc into my computer, and watched it from my computer screen. Loved it. The final showdown scene was everything he said it was.

It’s been a few years since I’ve watched the film and now I have a 4k TV. Plasma aside, Warner Bros. did a great job transferring the film to blu-ray. For the most part it looks amazing. Sure, sometimes the excessive clouds of dust and smoke seem a little flat but overall the deep focus of the film makes it feel vibrant. One could complain about this and the sound being a little flat but it was a product of its time. Maybe one day it’ll all be cleared up but until then this transfer is a good enough one.

As for the film itself it turned me onto more of Peckinpah’s work. I almost considered “Major Dundee” and “Straw Dogs” but in the end I came back to “The Wild Bunch.” I do also recommend “The Getaway.” “Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia,” not so much.

Advertisements
03
Dec
09

Indie Watch: Sleeping and Waking

“Sleeping and Waking” is the latest film from director Joe Banno.

The Story: Sullivan Daniels (Jeff Allin) is an artist known for extremely detailed and harsh religious paintings and woodcuts. Faced with terminal cancer, he opts for an experimental treatment. Following the procedure he can’t draw as he once had, his mother believes he’s thwarted God’s will and his wife won’t touch him. He now must find a way back from the darkness of his decision.

Stars: Jeff Allin, Hope Lambert, Helen Hedman, and Ray Ficca.

For more information, check out the website at: www.sleepingandwaking.com

NOTE: The movie opens on Friday, December 4, 2009 at the Regal Park Terrace Stadium 6 theaters in Charlotte, NC.

12
Nov
09

Movie Review: Paranormal Activity

paranormal_activity

 

 

Quite honestly, the best damn tent-pole movie in a long time.

Starring Katie Featherston and Micah Sloat. Directed by Oren Peli

It’s gonna be rough trying to sleep tonight.

Before I get much further into the review, let me explain what I said in the first line. “Tent-pole” movies were ones that movie studios bank on to “pay for” all the other flops. Further insight: the Studios’ plan on one movie making the money that twenty movies will lose. The idea actually goes further back to when motion pictures were the “new technology,” and people gathered under tents at fairs and the like, huddled around a screen and watching a train pull up to a station or a cowboy point a gun at the audience and pull the trigger (reportedly several people ran out on this one).

What we have here is an indie horror film that delivers in a way that the previous horror movie, “The Blair Witch” can’t touch and light years away from anything “Cloverfield” could’ve ever hoped to be. Yeah, I said it. I put down my money and watched both; “Blair Witch” was a good campfire “ghost story” movie with an excellent marketing campaign (the webpage alone made you seriously think about the movie) whereas “Cloverfield” was an over-hyped “Godzilla” wannabe. And I’ll say it again: both movies fall short of this one.

Before I go much further if you have any inkling to go see this movie, do so. It’s worth the theater experience. And yes, it’ll scare the crap out of you. And stop reading now.

Still there? Alright. The story involves Katie and Micah (pronounced me-kuh). They live in a condo in San Diego. Micah is a day-trader who, encouraged by weird things happening in their abode, decided to invest in a high-grade prosumer videocamera. His live-in girlfriend Katie isn’t crazy about him buying the camera or even what he wants to use it for: trying to find out if their place is really haunted.

When they call in a psychic (Mark Fredrichs) to give them answers Katie spills the beans on her “haunted” past while Micah remains skeptical, videotaping all the while. The psychic gives them an answer they weren’t expecting: the condo isn’t haunted, but a demon could be plaguing Katie. Micah proposes setting up his videocamera to record their bedroom and what happens during the night, the camera firewired into a laptop and a mic capturing any and all sound.

Following this is the simplicity of horror that escalates: murmuring voices, their bedroom door opening and shutting, a sonic BOOM shaking the condo, and Katie being adversely affected by the ghost. Katie wants to leave but begins to believe that she truly is being the object of a demon’s affections, while Micah wants to continue videotaping and compiling evidence. Each morning Micah reviews the night’s videos and wants to know more while Katie wants it all to end. The demonologist recommended by the psychic is out of town, and the psychic himself doesn’t want to have anything to do with it, so they truly are on their own.

It gets much worse after Night 17. I’m still reeling from the final scene. You won’t see it coming…

With the lackluster return of the slasher flick, or rather the onslaught of horror remakes, I’m picky about what horror films I’ll see. The last few that I liked were “The Mist,” the first “Saw,” the director’s cut of “1408,” and “Session 9.” I can’t remember any other good ones (maybe “Murder Party”). “Paranormal Activity” got right what most current Studio productions got wrong: horror is about simplicity. The demon has a purpose and it will not stop until that purpose has been carried out. It doesn’t need to be explained by a lifetime of pathos or even some weird Nazi science experimentation with the occult. Sometimes the best horror is hearing footsteps and creaks in staircases, lights flickering on and off, unexplained shadows, bedsheets mysteriously moving, and the slow descent into insanity (or possession).

And these guys did it on an estimated budget of $11,000. Last weekend the movie grossed over $9 million. Take that next proposed horror remake.

If you haven’t made up your mind about whether you’re going to see it or not, just get up and go see it. This is the theatrical horror movie experience you’ve been wanting. While it’s fun to watch other people get scared, trust me, you’ll jump out of your seat as well. It really is all about the final scene.

My grade: B+

12
Nov
09

Movie Review: Where the Wild Things Are

where_the_wild_things_are

 

Substitute “wild” for “mild”…

Starring Max Records, Catherine Keener, Mark Ruffalo and the voices of James Gandolfini, Paul Dano, Catherine O’Hara, Forest Whitaker, Chris Cooper, and Lauren Ambrose. Directed by Spike Jonze. Based on the childrens book by Maurice Sendak

Wow. They kinda sucked the fun out of this one.

It’s been forever since I’ve read Maurice Sendak’s book. My dad read it to me and my brother when we were younger and I vaguely remember enjoying it (as well as the “Reading Rainbow” segment on it). It’s this childhood fondness that drove my want to see Jonze’s movie adaptation of the 1963 classic.

No offense, but I’ll take my “childhood memory” over the movie.

Max is one lonely kid: his older sister Claire is more interested in her friends than paying any attention to him. His mother (Keener) is a stressed-out single mom trying to deal with her job and life as well as the lives of her kids. One night while having a dinner date (with Mark Ruffalo) Max acts up: he screams, climbs the table, stomps on it, fights and eventually bites his mom before running out the door, down the street, and disappearing from sight.

Max finds his way to the water and climbs into a small boat where he heads out into the water and ventures for parts unknown. From the ocean he spots a light in the forest. Might as well check it out…

Scaling up a cliff he wanders into the forest toward the light where he hides, watching the “Things.” One of them, Carol (Gandolfini), is walking around destroying all their huts. Max jumps out into the open and convinces them not to eat him and that he’s a king who conquered vikings. Lacking any real leadership they make him their king. He promises a new world, new adventures, etc., and they take him for his word.

And let me discuss the “Things” for a moment: they’re morose. It would be like a party of severely depressed people trying to “out Eeyore” Eeyore (the melancholic donkey from “Winnie the Pooh”). Yeah, that fun. There’s the headstrong Carol (Gandolfini), the whining Judith (O’Hara), her bore-holes-in-trees partner Ira (Whitaker), low-esteem goat Alexander(Dano), Douglas the chicken (Cooper), and K W (Ambrose) a woman who seeks advice from owls Bob and Terry.

Max proposes an idea to bring everyone together: build a fort that only they can get into. It’ll have a secret underground entrance and a machine that will scoop out the brains of anyone who dares to enter without their consent. Happily they all come together and begin working on fortress.

As a “team-building” exercise, Max declares dirt-clod war, dividing the group into two. They all begin to have fun until someone gets hurt and Max’s position comes into question and his power falters. Max must come to terms and grow up or face the threat of being eaten by Carol.

Maybe in hoping for something great I faulted myself on this one. I wanted something more uplifting, something to remember being a kid and enjoying the book. I didn’t get that from this movie. The
“Things” and Max were stunted in his age-mentality. Maybe that’s what Jonze was going for.

The movie isn’t entirely depressing. There were happy moments but for the most part it’s a depressing movie. Not bittersweet but humbly sad.

If I can say anything good about the film, it’s technically amazing. With CG blending in with animatronics from the Jim Henson company (creators of “The Muppets”), the “Things” are incredible to watch. Jonze went above and beyond in creating characters, nay, a world all to itself. Maybe he gave us all a bit more to chew on then we wanted.

I find this movie tough to suggest. It’s well-made but if you’re looking for sweet, charming, whimsical,
uplifting, and overall warm-fuzziness, it’s not to be had in this one. I’m just sayin’.

My grade: B- (with points for technical achievement)

23
Oct
09

Horror Movies on DVD Review: Burnt Offerings

burnt_offerings

 

Thank God it’s ‘only a movie, only a movie, only a movie…’

Starring Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Bette Davis, and Burgess Meredith. Directed by Dan Curtis. Based on the novel by Robert Marasco.

The DVD should be a ‘burnt offering.’

The Rolf Residence (Ben, Marian, and Davey) are looking for a place to hang out for the summer. Answering a classified ad they happen upon a large mansion in the countryside watched over by an old woman (Eileen Heckart) and her wheelchair-bound brother (Burgess Meredith). The propose renting the house for the summer for $900 (price not adjusted for inflation since 1976). The Rolfs take a day to think it over and –what the heck- they return. The sister tells Marian (Black) that an older sister lives upstairs and needs to be fed three times a day. This older sister mainly sleeps all day, doesn’t want to be disturbed, and she can leave the tray of food out for her. Those are the only conditions.

The Bro and Sis leave and the Rolfs move in, quickly finding out that while the interior does have its antiques and a large photo collection, the fridge and icebox are fully stocked. A bargain if they ever knew one. Along with them is Aunt Elizabeth (Davis), a happy old woman wanting to kick back, do some painting, and smoke. None of them know or realize the terror that ploddingly awaits them.

The unknown, unspeakable terror residing in the house (where most terrors of the kind do) begins affecting Ben (Reed). He begins having dreams about a creepy chauffeur (Anthony James) at a funeral he attended as a boy. When his son Davey (Lee Montgomery) decides to go for a swim in the pool, he begins playing around with him only to constantly dunk him to the point of drowning. This drives him to smoke, keep his distance, and begin questioning staying at the house.

Marian begins acting strange as well. She spends more time caring for an old woman that no one gets to see (not even the audience) than about what’s going on with her family. Ben tries to get romantic in the pool with her and she pushes away. When they try to “do the do” on the front lawn she sees a light coming from the old woman’s room and freaks out. As the song says, “no sugar tonight.”

Aunt Elizabeth isn’t holding up too well, either. A tiff develops between her and Marian. She goes from “smoking and carefree” to “tired and lethargic” finally settling on “back broken and rendered immobile by an unseen force.” Ben has decided that the family’s gotta get gone.

Which is easier thought than done. While they did make a trip away from the house for Aunt Elizabeth’s funeral, Marian isn’t 100% sure that the house is the malevolent force behind everything. Then again, dressing as a turn-of-the-century woman, Marian isn’t 100% there to begin with. Ben wants to leave, Davey wants to make sure mom’s coming along, and Marian wants to stay. What follows isn’t so much terror as just a long way to go to wrap up a story.

In my version of Hell, I’m pretty sure this is playing and I have to be locked-down like Alex in “Clockwork Orange,” forced to watch. As far as the “evil spirits in house” movies go, there are a lot better ones (as of this writing, “Paranormal Activities”). The movie is slow, plodding, and severely uneven. Davey can’t decide which parent he’s for or against in any one scene. Marian, at the end of the movie, looks and acts like Marian at the beginning of the movie. The circa-Seventies cream-colored filters don’t help anything out. Did I already mention it was slow?

My grade: D

Hor-O-Meter Level: -2 (there is no obligatory quote for negative numbers)

22
Oct
09

Horror Movies on DVD Review: Christine

christine

 

It’s a love story about a boy… and his demonic car.

Starring Keith Gordon, Alexandra Paul, John Stockwell, Robert Prosky, and Harry Dean Stanton. Directed by John Carpenter. Based on the novel by Stephen King.

Arnie (Gordon) and Dennis (Stockwell) are best friends despite their roles in the high school caste system. Arnie is your high school nerd brought up being part of the chess team, forced to study a lot, wimpish personal character, etc. Dennis is the jock; the high school number one football player. Dennis puts up for and helps Arnie out because they’ve been friends since childhood.

Enter Girl #1: Leigh (Paul). The new girl in school. Dennis is suddenly interested in her and try as he might, fails on delivery; she already has a date for the dance after the big game.

Enter Girl #2: Christine. At first sight she’s a definite fixer-upper. She’s rusted-over, out-of-shape, and a little beyond general disrepair. For Arnie it’s love at first sight. The crotchety old man selling it (Roberts Blossom) said that his brother, six weeks dead, loved the car and that he’s selling it to get a condo. Dennis thinks Arnie is crazy and tries talking him, and the old man, out of the whole deal. No dice. Arnie buys the car on the spot and takes her to meet the parents.

Mom and Dad Cunningham disapprove of her and Arnie is forced to take her elsewhere, ending up at Darnell’s Auto Shop where owner Darnell (Prosky) throws his weight around, threatening Arnie in the event that there should be any mischief. Arnie agrees to the terms.

The football game provides the crux of future events: Arnie is going out with Leigh, a group of guys pissed at Arnie plan to exact revenge on his car, and Dennis zigs when he should’ve zagged and wakes in the hospital, an inch away from paralysis. Arnie comes to visit Dennis and they talk. Apparently, Arnie has been spending more time with Christine than his girlfriend, parents, or even best friend. Arnie concedes that Christine is almost finished and looking better than ever, and Arnie is reflecting that change in himself.

Thus begins Arnie’s slow descent into heavy metal madness with the help of Christine. His girlfriend refuses to get into the car after almost choking on a burger and Christine locking the doors, not letting anyone in. The guys who assaulted Arnie earlier in the film and even destroyed Christine are subsequently hunted down and dealt with. Christine is one mean machine.

Detective Junkins (Stanton) comes to question Arnie. It seems that Darnell was found dead inside Christine and the guys who harassed him were all murdered. Arnie shows his new attitude, protecting Christine. Meanwhile Leigh gets with Dennis and the two plan a way to get rid of Christine and hopefully save Arnie.

From the 1957 open with the “birth” of Christine on the factory line and “Bad to the Bone” playing in the background to Arnie’s introduction to the car to the car fixing itself or driving around engulfed in flames to the end at a junkyard, “Christine” is a great adaptation of Stephen King’s loves: cars, horror, and rock ‘n roll. If you’ve read his work, not just this novel, this movie is a great marriage of his themes with a story without necessarily being a 100% dead-on take on the novel the movie is based on.

The only real drawback to the film is that it’s interesting. Not overly-engrossing but better than amusing. To Carpenter’s credit the film has aged decently and the story can still hold-up without feeling completely stilted or stuck in its time. While our current culture thrives on more emotion being in a film, this one does a good job at mixing action and emotion without sacrificing too much of either.

Is it scary? There are a few parts that the easily scared can probably freak-out at, but for the most part it’s more a dissertation on the descent into metal hell than “this car will kill everyone.” That job was for the truck in “Duel.” It is an entertaining film, and the scene where the car is on fire running a kid down should be in the Hall of Greatest Scenes Ever Filmed.

My grade: B

Hor-O-Meter Level: 2 – “Eight dollars for beer nuts? This room is evil.”

14
Oct
09

Movie Review: Surrogates

surrogates_ver2

 

It’s an eminence front

Starring Bruce Willis, Radha Mitchell, Ving Rhames, Rosamund Pike, James Cromwell. Directed by Jonathan Mostow. Based on the graphic novels by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele

NOTE: I have never read the graphic novels.

I never thought I would be saying this, but this movie needed to be 30 minutes longer.

Bruce Willis plays Tom Greer, a cop in the future. What is the future you ask? Surrogates. Paraplegic scientist Canter (Cromwell) invents a robot that enables those who are disabled to be normal. Per se, a disabled person can sit in a chair and plug into a “Surrogate” which gives them the ability to experience life as any normal walking, talking person can. Over a period of time the Surrogates become more advanced gaining the ability to “look” like the person who is controlling/plugged into the surrogate. VSI, a corporation for the mass production of Surrogates, is created because if the disabled can get a robot version of themselves to experience life without the hassles of aging, getting hurt, or being sick, why can’t everybody else? Soon everyone signs up for a hot, youthful, athletic robot version of themselves.

A human resistance is formed and many cities have “dread areas” where humans live but Surrogates are not allowed. One area is ran by The Prophet (Ving Rhames), who prophecizes about the coming day when humans will revolt against the Surrogates. Incidentally, Surrogate creator Canter disagreed with the idea of Surrogates for the populace and is fired and humiliated for it; he now lives in seclusion.

Back to Greer. He and his wife, Maggie (Mitchell), share an apartment but never truly see each other. After a car accident killed their only son Greer delved into his work while his wife, scarred from the wreck, decides to live through her Surrogate. The world is now became 97% Surrogates and more image-based than before (actual humans are nicknamed “meatbags”). When Canter’s son’s Surrogate is executed by a weapon that not only destroys the Surrogate but its controller as well, Greer steps into a plot that involves Canter, the Prophet, an abandoned military project and the possible death/destruction of billions of people.

2009 has inevitably became the year in which science fiction movies have returned. Maybe not the best of science fiction movies, but better than I’ve seen in a while and scores better than anything the SyFy (shudder) network can offer up on a good day. While it may not be “District 9,” or even “9,” “Surrogates” does provide some interesting ideas and tries to deliver a social message about reliance on computers and the ongoing argument of image versus substance. In a day and age in which we’re on the third incarnation of “The Sims,” or the online game “Second Life,” or even the Facebook/MySpace apps of Farrmville and YoVille, it’s easy to imagine people wanting to live vicariously through an attractive and nearly indestructible version of themselves. If you were given the opportunity to live life lying back in a chair while controlling a robotic version of yourself that could do or say anything you ever dreamed of, would you take it?

Alas, the questions and social commentary the film tries to make are brushed aside for action sequences and plot points that feel like they’re in a race for the finish. At 89 minutes, “Surrogates” feels like a sci-fi picture rushed in order to get it out and on the screen. A good chunk of characterization is sacrificed in order to keep the plot going when it doesn’t need to be. The questions regarding humanity losing itself behind a robotic facade, or what being human really means, or even how far is too far are glossed-over as if the director is too afraid to be labeled “heavy-handed” or to have his work called a “morality play.”

Speaking of direction, it could have been far worse. If Michael Bay had tackled this movie it would have been more useless than “The Island.” Mostow shows capability but not the heart for sci-fi and that’s really unfortunate because this movie could’ve been great. I liked it, but if more characterization had been thrown in it would have been good competition against “District 9.”

At best you may want to set this one on “Rental.” The premise is what sells this movie because, frankly, Bruce Willis playing a cop is about as new as James Cromwell playing a scientist. This has slightly more intelligence than “Die Hard” but less plot and characterization than “I, Robot.” It is worth checking out for robotic Californization (perfect hair, body, etc.) as well as its dark humor (“for all I know you could be a fat guy, naked in his house…”) and while I saw it matinee, I can only suggest Rental or Cable.

My grade: B