Jessica Chastain is incredulous as you are that she got roped into this mess.

Jessica Chastain is incredulous as you are that she got roped into this mess.

Review: Mama

Mama is a new film that was presented/produced by Guillermo del Toro after he saw the very short film on which this feature is based; he did not direct it. I feel like a lot of audiences are confused by that title. You can’t imagine how many people I’ve come across that just swear that The Orphanage (El Orfanato) and Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (which at least del Toro did write) were both directed by del Toro. I’m not sure I like this tactic by production companies because I feel it is somewhat dishonest and misleading and I can’t really blame anyone for being confused.

Anyway, the film is engaging enough but certainly nothing special. I was incredibly distracted by Jessica Chastain with dark, cropped hair acting very punk. It seemed a bridge too far from her, and if you’ve even seen the trailer, you will see what I mean about this being a big stretch.

The film is vaguely reminiscent of a 2003 horror film about the tooth fairy called Darkness Falls. This is not a complimentary comparison. Hate horror films or mysteries that fall apart in the third act? You’ll want to take  pass on this one.

The cinematography and lighting was absolutely terrible. I think it was so purposefully dark so you could put yourself in the protag’s shoes and feel scared in a dark room. However,  it was so darkly shot in several scenes that you couldn’t tell what was going on. On at least four occasions, I had to rewind the scene a bit to see what scary event happened because it was just too dark (think Alien v. Predator 2, if someone made you watch that at knifepoint). At times I felt I was only listening to certain scenes and it really took the “oomph” out of what were supposed to be some of the stronger and scariest sequences.

A cool bonus on the DVD was the entire short film on which this feature was based. del Toro introduces the short and there is also optional commentary available.

The DVD cover is a good indication of the darkness levels in the movie actually. Until I actually had the DVD in hand, I thought the little girl on the cover is holding onto a wooden door (spoiler alert: she’s not).

While I’ve seen worse, this is not a cogent enough film for me to recommend.

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Non-spoilery thoughts on World War Z.

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Something hit a nerve with me tonight at my increasing dissatisfaction with Hollywood. I’m going to use my experience tonight as a springboard into this rallying cry. Usually it’s James with calls to action, but I figure I’m overdue.

Tonight James, Ross and I saw World War Z. I’d been following the reviews on my RSS feed for weeks now, and was pleasantly surprised they were overwhelmingly positive. 

It’s proof Hollywood can make a decent Blockbuster film. It reads more like Contagion than Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead, which should hearten you. The pacing is excellent, the characters (those that are developed) are interesting, the music is good (can’t have zombie films without Muse, for more info, see my facebook note from 2008 or so stating such), and the cinematography is surprisingly astute. 

The film is not gorier than it needs to be and doesn’t play for cheap scares. One of my pet peeves with the horror genre is how laughs or funny moments will undercut the tension in some of the scariest scenes. This does not happen here, yet the film never takes itself too seriously as evidenced in the few moments of levity. I’d expect no less from Brad Pitt’s Plan B Production Company, but I think it’s difficult to reconcile in one’s mind that WWZ isn’t just a solid film for the zombie sub-genre, it’s solid overall.

While certainly not for everyone, if you even remotely think you will like or enjoy it, you probably will. I’m not trying to express that WWZ is the Citizen Kane of Z-flicks, because it isn’t and it’s not without its flaws.

That said, we need to ensure Hollywood keeps making more high-caliber action/thriller films for us to enjoy during Blockbuster season. Tell these movie moguls to take their prequels/sequels/threequels/midquels/shriekquels/remakes/screamakes/reboots/gorenography and to shove it.

If people deserve the government they elect, then audiences deserve the media we’re given. We have to stop settling for sludge or Hollywood will keep doling it out to us like farmyard critters to slurp from our industrial-sized troughs. 

I still believe in the power of the pocketbook. Vote with your dollars. Go out there and see the films that deserve to be seen. Tell Hollywood that we’re “mad as hell, and we’re not gonna take it anymore.

 

If you’ve seen the film, listen to the analysis over at Slate’s Spoiler Special podcast.

‘Road’ Films

What is it with films that have ‘Road’ in the title? Something about that word alerts the viewer that something about that movie will be utterly heartbreaking.

  • Arlington Road
  • Munger Road
  • Revolutionary Road
  • Reservation Road
  • Road to Perdition
  • The Road (Viggo Mortensen in the adaptation of the Cormac McCarthy novel of the same title)
  • On the Road (upcoming adaptation of the Kerouacian classic)

Can you think of others? Road Trip doesn’t count.

Review: Looper

Review: Looper

Looper, a post-neo-Noir time traveling enigma of a film began its theatrical run last week. I largely enjoyed the film as evidently so did many critics; the film’s current Rotten Tomatoes score is a robust 94%.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character lives in Kansas in 2044; Bruce Willis’s older version of the same guy resides in 2074 China. We see very little of 2074, which is good because you don’t feel like we are jumping timelines/locations, which would just add to the confusion in a time-travel movie.

The manipulation of JGL’s face to believably play a hitman who ages to look like Bruce Willis was done exquisitely. Admittedly, it is distracting for Gordon-Levitt’s first 5 minutes of screen time as he does not look as pretty and snuggly as in (500) Days of Summer or as sly and shrewd as in Inception. Swiftly, though, the viewer is able to suspend belief despite the trickery and can easily merge into the ebb and flow of the film’s fatiloquence.

Essentially, JGL plays Joe, an employee of one of the 6 major crime syndicates creeping around the US in 2044. As you have probably seen in the trailer, he waits in a cornfield with a shotgun (called a Blunderbuss for its potent power but rotten aim) and blows away any victims the future crime syndicate overlords send back for him to kill.

A friend of mine expressed reservations about the film’s body disposal method; he wanted to be assured that there was a reason to send executees back in time to be dispatched. Fortunately, the film cleanly explains the reason for the process within the first 5 minutes. Inconspicuously disposing of corpses in 2074 is nearly impossible because of biotechnology and other identifiers; it’s still somewhat easy in 2044 .

Structurally speaking, the pacing of the film is spot on. The second act does not grind us to a stop, but allows character exposition and important dialogue to be spoken emotively by the principals.

Seeing indie royalty JGL act against indie royalty Paul Dano is too good to be true. Besides both of them being in previous indies with Zooey Deschanel as their love interests ((500) Days of Summer and Gigantic, respectively), both of these young men have indie film oeuvres that would impress any Indie Spirit Awards attendee. This mutual background in independent film serves them well in the more dialogue- and suspense-heavy scenes.

Bruce Willis shows no signs of slowing. Truly, he refuses to apologize for his age. He isn’t trying too hard (like you see some aging actors attempt), he just knows that he is as bad-ass at 57 as he was at 27 and will still be awesome when he’s 80. Despite aging muscles, Willis is in top-form. He’s wonderfully svelte and agile in this film; he really moves like a cat. Honestly, he is aging with dignity and grace along with the ability to thwart villainy with acute alacrity. His boisterous yet strangely slinky performance in Looper has somehow made me excited to see him in the next Die Hard installment (see the trailer for A Good Day to Die Hard if you haven’t already).

Director Rian Johnson has also helmed Brick, a JGL showcase, as well as the incredibly beloved The Brothers Bloom (starring the equally affable Adrien Brody). Looper may seem like a frenetic choice for the director of the aforementioned cerebral offerings, but the first act is truly more like Bladerunner, Ridley Scott’s Cyberpunk classic.

The somewhat optimistic prognostication of the US in 30 years was my favorite element of the film. 2044 may be 32 years in the future, but it doesn’t always feel like it. In fact, some of the in-city sequences have more of a Boardwalk Empire feel than a futuristic one. Scenes outside the city do markedly feel more lifted from the first half of the 20th century rather than 30 years in the future. Advances in energy technology seem to be the reason for the split.

If society and technology (and nano-technology) kept advancing at the current rate, we’d probably end up with a Mad Max situation without some big energy solutions. Energy independence is not a partisan issue; everyone from Al Gore to George W. Bush have condemned our dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. According to many sources, including the International Energy Agency, conventional oil production peaked around 5 years ago; our current Peak Oil society has not however peaked in its consumption of (and desire for) black gold.

Looper’s future is full of solar panels and photo-voltaics that power everything from automobiles to homes. But don’t think that the movie’s inclusion of renewable energy is heavy-handed or preachy; on the contrary, if energy issues weren’t a pet interest of mine, I am not sure I would have even noticed.

Because renewables have a lower power capacity than their fossil-derived brethren (the high-quality ‘conventional’ stuff anyway), the filmmaker has not pulled any punches when showing that solar panels and photo-voltaics are not an invisible solution (like the mechanisms/receptors of their fossil fuel counterparts). This is perhaps best evidenced by the fact that the cars in Looper are small and completely cloaked in solar receptors. The source of the energy used by 2044’s denizens is never out of mind because they constantly see what powers their machines, which is starkly different to today where our fuels are put into tanks of the machines and virtually invisible (sans any smog they might emit).

Perhaps due to the future’s lack of high-return/energy dense fossil fuels, you will notice a limited amount of handheld technology in the future. Innovators have focused their ingenuity on solving the energy crisis instead of creating new gadgets, so you do not see many shiny toys; evidently we have had to reduce our overall consumption of energy in the future in order to survive and thrive. Life goes on as before in 2044, but energy is earmarked for more “important” uses, such as travelling, work, food preparation, and other practical activities.

While it is undeniable that renewables cannot presently provide for current levels of energy consumption (driven by a dominantly fossil-fueled society), do remember that 30 years have elapsed in Looper’s construct, so science has perhaps made renewables even more potent and efficient. This honing and improving of renewable hardware is believable, especially when new developments on the technical horizon are currently imperative to thwart the encroachment of a Mad Max-style dystopian future in real life.

Hopefully, this will be realistic oracularity and we can solve our energy demands peacefully and efficiently.

Overall, my advice for the film? Try to shut your brain off about the schematics of time travel and associated plotholes/inconsistencies associated therein. Just enjoy the ride.

Recommendation Level: Recommended

Why the Criterion Collection is Worthy of Jazz Hands

If I had three wishes from a genie, one would be for the entire, unabridged Criterion Collection on DVD.

It seems like every cinephile I know has been talking about how excited they are to see Quadrophenia (1979) on Criterion. It came out a few weeks ago and since its release I’ve been marinating on why I love Criterion DVDs to the extent that I do.

Composition:

Criterion is composed of mainly art house films, including foreign films, in both the DVD and Blu-ray format (and Laserdiscs back in the 90s). Many French New Wave, Fellini, Kurosawa, and John Ford titles are available on Criterion, but also brand new selections, such as Life During Wartime and Certified Copy.

There are many Criterion databases, but my favorite one is on IMDb. If you have an inkling that a film might be a part of the Collection, you are probably right.

The special features on each Criterion disc are without a doubt worth exploring. For instance, on the Grey Gardens disc, additional hilarious interviews of the Beales (the doc’s eccentric subjects) are done by the Maysles brothers. Then however, Little Edie and Big Edie interview the Maysles in a brilliantly-executed switcharoo. When special features on regular discs are so often throwaway padding, it truly is a breath of fresh air to see interesting supplemental material on the films we cherish.

Roger Agrees It’s Awesome:

Roger Ebert, in his memoir Life Itself, (which is going to be given the doc treatment by Uncle Marty), mentioned that during his convalescence from throat surgery, he found therapy in watching Ingrid Bergman films on Criterion. He opined that even though he was very familiar with Bergman films (even meeting the master himself several times), viewing the newly crisp contrast between lights and darks in Persona and Through a Glass Darkly was a life-changing experience.

Where to Watch:

You can find dozens of Criterion Collection films on Hulu+, which is Hulu’s premium service. It charges $7.99/month for this upgrade.

Many public libraries offer Criterion Collection DVDs (as well as regular DVDs and sometimes Blu-Ray) for their patrons to borrow. Check your local library’s online card catalog for Criterion DVDs or ask the friendly librarians for assistance.

Despite the $30-$40 price tag, there are probably several items you will want to purchase for easy repeat home viewing. For Criterion collectors watching their budgets, try the Eclipse series. It is a simpler, more streamlined collection, but still veritably awesome.

Stay Updated:

There’s a great Criterion e-newsletter that allows you to stay abreast of Criterion news. I like knowing which films have been selected for the Criterion treatment each quarter, and this is a good way to stay informed.  Criterion has its own blog, Current, which I find authoritative and entertaining.

Another excellent option for Criterion news is to follow its facebook page, which updates regularly but not so much that it becomes irrelevant. There’s also a Twitter page.