Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Review: Haunter

Copyright: IFC Midnight
I love dream sequences. In some way, dreams were the original proto-movies, and we as a species probably started making films in our head long before even paintings existed. Haunter uses the dream space as the main setting for the plot and the action starts from the beginning.

A young teenager named Lisa lives with her parents and a small brother in a big family house. She wears a dark Siouxsie and the Banshees t-shirt and looks gloomy. The rest of her family, however, looks perfectly content in their everyday, mundane activities. It soon revealed that Lisa is the only one who understands that they are living the same day over and over.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Review: Kick-Ass 2

Copyright: Universal Pictures
In the first few minutes, Kick-Ass 2 looks exactly like the first movie in the franchise. We see the same characters doing the two same things - being normal teenagers and fighting crime. Also, they are having the same moral dilemmas about the nature of masked vigilantes, apparently totally unresolved by the events of the first movie.

It seems almost as if Jeff Wadlow didn’t know what he was he supposed to do for the first third of the film, so he kind of did what the other guy did before him. Then, when the story starts to splinter, Kick-Ass 2 kind of finds its own (crooked) sea legs.
On one side, Dave Lizewski, who is also the costumed hero Kick-Ass, wants to continue fighting the evil on the streets and wants to have Hit-Girl by his side. The problem is that Hit-Girl, or Mindy Macready in her everyday life, resists this notion because of their commitment to her new guardian.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Review: The Way Way Back

Copyright: Fox Searchlight Pictures
The shortest way of describing The Way Way Back would be to say that this movie is a mash-up of Adventureland and Little Miss Sunshine. But, although it is short, it’s also unfair.

Here again we see a dysfunctional family and its single member who finds sanctuary in a band of merry water park employees. Duncan (played by young Liam James), a reclusive 14-year-old, is forced to join his mother and her new boyfriend Trent on a summer vacation in a beach resort town. He despises the obnoxious Trent with a quiet burning rage and at the same time he can’t relate to his daughter or their summertime middle-aged alcoholic friends and neighbors. In despair, he discovers Water Wizz, a local run down water park and his enthusiastic manager, Owen.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Review: We Are What We Are

Copyright: Entertainment One
The Parkers, an isolated family that lives on the edge of town, loose one of its members in a random accident. She leaves behind her husband, two teenage daughters and a small son. The father Frank, devastated and driven by his religious fervor, determined to go on. Without their mother, the eldest daughter Rose becomes tasked with the preserving the generation old family rituals, in spite of the fact that she knows that these involve a dug up cave with a prison cell beneath their house.

We Are What We Are avoids several major potential problem points. First and most obvious is that it’s not a hillbilly horror. It depicts a family of murderers, but they are not raging lunatics or inbred mutated monsters. Frank, impressively played by Bill Sage, is a caring father, and at the same time a ruthless ruler who reigns over his children. He does what he thinks he has to do, torn by it on many levels, but it still doesn't make him stop. His daughters are even more “normal” in the sense that they constantly question their actions. But the death of their mother denies them the an observer role and forces them to become an active participants in the process, one way or the other. I found this approach much more appealing than showing a grope of senseless banjo playing freaks bent on killing spree.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Review: The Iceman

Copyright: Millennium Films
This review will be mostly about Michael Shannon, because this movie is almost entirely about him. His acting is a skill honed to perfection, and it clear in every second he spends onscreen. Every single look, posture or a pause between his sentences speaks for itself about Richard Kuklinski, a ruthless contract killer from New Jersey. The Iceman begins when young Richard meet his future wife for coffee in the sixties. In that point in his life, he is only a small-time employer in a porn film lab owned and operated by the mob. Because of the violent reputation he acquired in the dingy pool halls of Jersey City, a chance meet with a mob underboss becomes an opportunity for a career change. He soon becomes known as the Iceman.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Review: Pain & Gain

Copyright: Paramount Pictures
Seem to me that Michael Bay has always been an easy target for ridicule. The man is marginalized (not in a commercial sense) because his work lacked a compelling authorial vision. Over the years, his film became know for their hollowness and complete focus on profit-making, clear in the Transformers series. His current legacy stands at box office figures and successes.

His he last film, however paints a different picture while it remains very much Bay-like. It’s the Miami in the mid-nineties. The U.S. economy is booming, and the American dream is just a few easy steps away. Fitness instructor and unsuccessful con man Danny believes in that dream, and wants to work on it in the same way he works on his muscles - full of enthusiasm, but without too much thought.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Review: Dark Skies

Copyright: Dimension Films
Imagine a haunted house. Now, detract ghost, demons, evil spirits or any other supernatural entities, and add E.T’s malicious cousins. This is, in essence, the plot of Dark Skies. It may sound ridicules, but it actually turned out to be a pretty decent horror movie.

The Barrett family is living a normal life in the suburbs. Daniel Barrett recently lost his job, while his wife Lacy is trying to keep the household running, as well as raise her two sons and give them a regular, happy childhood. But gradually, the Barretts start to witness a weird series of events involving their alarm system, flocks of birds and other unusual events.

They try their best to carry on living like there is nothing strange happening, but soon, the occurrences start to take up a more threatening form. Not long after that, the family begins to suspect that the forces that are haunting them are not from this world, but instead, that the came from beyond the stars.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: The Last Stand

Copyright: Lionsgate
The biggest difference between this movie and previous ‘’classic 80s’’ action films Arnold Schwarzenegger made is its director Kim Jee-Woon. Interestingly, his modern outlook made a crucial difference, and gave The Last Stand a subtle, but important feel that came from a person new to the standard Hollywood action scene. His talent became well known in the West after the incredibly creepy I Saw the Devil (Akmareul boatda), and it’s no surprise that the American producers came knocking.

Of course, Jee-Woon’s presence has been cast in the shadow of a larger Hollywood figure, fresh out of a government job in California. This film was Schwarzenegger big comeback feature, not counting a few came appearances and The Expendables 2, where he had to share the spotlight with other childhood heroes to many of us born a few decades ago. Here, he has all the attention to himself, although he is constantly surrounded by a fantastic supporting cast, ranging from Oscars winners (Forest Whitaker) to comedy relief characters played by Johnny Knoxville and the incredible Luis Guzmán, who is so natural as a scared, hesitant small town deputy that he doesn’t even look like he’s acting. Even the legendary Harry Dean Stanton has a small role as a tough farmer.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: This Is Not a Film

Copyright: Kanibal Films Distribution
Art is liberty, or at least it should be. In the case of Jafar Panahi, an Iranian film director, art became a liability after he received a six-year prison sentence, along the additional twenty-year ban on film-making.

This movie opens with him in his Teheran apartment, were Panahi is under house arrest. While he awaits the outcome of his legal battle against the sentence he received on the charges of creating propaganda against the Iranian government, he decides to “make” his last planned movie, or at least try’s to present its plot and scenes through narration and explanations. His friend and long time associate Mirtahmasb comes over and start to film him making improvised floor plans of houses and other locations, all in his living room. In the same time, outside, celebration of the Persian new year starts to sound more and more like gunshots from possible street clashes.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: A Hijacking

Copyright: Nordisk Film Production
A cargo ship, traveling in the Indian ocean is unexpectedly hijacked by Somali pirates. After a few hours, the shipping company in Denmark  that owns the vessel gets a call from a man named Omar. He is representing the pirates and demands a large sum of money for the release of the crew. The company’s board of directors is unsure what to do, but one of them, a CEO named Peter is certain he can handle it. After all, in his mind, the hijacking is just another negotiation opportunity, and he sees himself as the master in that field.

Majority of movies (especially those action oriented) sees the tensions and the waiting as only the buildup towards a climatic resolution. Here, those things are the main focal point of the plot. The psychological conditions of all those involved are examined in minute detail, even though the prolonged negotiation takes place over several long weeks. In Denmark, cooked up in their small office, the negotiation team led by Peter plays a weird game of experimental behavioral science and regular business trading, slipping in and out the idea that they’re actually dealing with human lives.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Review: World War Z

Copyright: Paramount Pictures
When it began, some controversy surrounded the production of this film, mostly because if its literary parent, the novel of the same name, written by Max Brooks (the son of comedy icon Mel Brooks)  and published in 2006. As the time went by, it became clear that the film will be drastically different compared with the original non-linear plot.

For those of us who read the novel, this didn’t come as a big surprise. First of all, the novel doesn’t have a  standard main character – it has a journalist who, throughout the course of the book, interviews different people in different parts of the world, shortly after humanity’s victory in World war Z – the first war that pitted humans against zombie-like creatures bent of killing everybody that emerged after a virus spread around the globe.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Review: Pacific Rim

Copyright: Warner Bros. Pictures
If you desire to do a great injustice to this movie, you should compare it to other works of its director, Guillermo del Toro. An even bigger injustice would be to compare Pacific Rim to del Toro’s best film,  the brilliant movie El laberinto del fauno (Pan’s Labyrinth).

But these movies aren’t comparable, simply because of the fact that they play in different movie arenas. Del Toro’s latest film was made with only on purpose in mind – to look stunning on the big screen. Its story is based on the notion that good giant robots called Jagers, piloted by humans, fight against giant monsters called Kaijus. These huge, mindless aliens appeared on the bottom of the Pacific ocean, traveling to Earth through an interdimensional portal. Every human relationship in this movie is mostly irrelevant; the robots vs. monsters is the only really important thing, and it requires no additional reason or explanation.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Review: No One Lives

Copyright: Anchor Bay Films
An unnamed driver travels through a sparsely populated part of the country with his girlfriend. On a chance encounter, they interact with a group of people at a local bar. Soon after, Driver resumes their journey, not knowing that he became a target of opportunity for a criminal gang. The gang acts, not knowing that the driver isn’t an ordinary man, but something much more sinister. They attack on the open road, and take their bounty – the vehicle – to their clubhouse. There, locked in a secret compartment in the booth of the car, they find girl. They recognize her as a student that was kidnapped a year ago, after a mass murder took place at a party she attended.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review: Upstream Color

Copyright: ERBP
I’m not certain what this movie requires from its viewers - maybe a bit of faith, or an attitude towards art that doesn’t demand reason before compassion towards imaginary characters we observe on the screen. Whatever that requirement might be, watching Upstream Color is definitely a challenging experience.

After he made Primer, director, writer, cinematographer and actor Shane Carruth did something unusual - he didn’t immediately try to transform attention that he righteously got into money. Instead, his energy went towards new movies - first, the failed A Topiary that we will probably never see, and now, Upstream Color. In this picture, everything we got in Primer is still here - unusual story backed up by an unwillingness to compromise on any level so that the audience can get a broader, but a more plastic understanding of the plot. The difference is that in this film, Carruth focuses on leaving words behind, and deals primarily in images and sounds.