Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The little film that could

*****
Until a recent excursion to Washington D.C., I had never heard of Terry Gilliam, nor had I heard of his 2006 (2005 UK) fantasy film entitled Tideland. I bought it, judging the movie by its cover and cast list - which I've heard is a bad thing to do - and hoping that I would not be disappointed by the $27 DVD. After watching the 121 minute movie, I can honestly say that I am not disappointed, but more intrigued, impressed, and mostly satisfied with my purchase.

In a world where fireflies are fairies who have names, plastic doll heads speak in varied dialects atop fingertips and squirrels talk, ten-year-old Jeliza-Rose (Jodelle Ferland - Silent Hill, Kingdom Hospital) escapes the reality of her drug-addicted father and the death of her mother. She finds companionship in the mentally damaged Dickens, played by Brendan Fletcher, and fear in Dickens' older sister, Dell, played by Janet McTeer, all the while trying to find herself in a world that could never accept her upbringing.

Even though she is just a child, Jeliza-Rose is forced to act much like an adult. Her two addicted parents make it clear that they cannot take care of themselves, so Jeliza-Rose is put in a situation where she has to take care of them. While her mother - played by Jennifer Tilly - mainly asks Jeliza to massage her legs, her father - played by Jeff Bridges - goes as far as to teach Jeliza how to prepare his meth and heroin injections, to the point where Jeliza arranges his syringe daily, catching his cigarette hand after each fix to make sure he doesn't light the house on fire. When her mother dies, Jeliza-Rose and her father run away to her grandmother's abandoned house in a place called Jutland. The first day there, Jeliza prepares an injection for her father to go on another "vacation," one from which he may not return. Dell and Dickens become Jeliza's temporary family, but their warped view on life only confuses the girl more, forcing her deeper into "the rabbit hole."

There is so much more to this movie, but to explain further would give a lot away - more than I already have! If you have seen and enjoy movies such as Pan's Labyrinth and Big Fish, there is a good chance you would enjoy the creativity presented in Tideland. The movie will offend and bother many people because it brings to light issues involving children, maturity, addiction and sexuality, but one need remember that it is a fictional movie; an imaginative story; a thought-provoking piece of art, and not something that should be taken so seriously.


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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

My sink is spilling cellophane

*****

I know it came out some time ago, but I only just got the chance to watch Michel Gondry's The Science of Sleep. Let me just say: I regret waiting so long... Gael Garcia Bernal is WONDERFUL.

Stephane, the son of a femme francaise and an hombre mexicano, is a twenty-something who finds it hard to separate what is dream from what is reality. After the death of his father, Stephane moves to France when his widowed mother makes him believe she has secured for him a creative illustrating job at a calendar company. This, in fact, is a lie she concocts to bring Stephane closer to her, leaving him with a job he hates (pasting titles on the tops of calender pages), an undersized bed (the same bed he slept in as a child, complete with little boy-inspired trucker bed linens), and a gorgeously intriguing francaise neighbour named Stephanie (played by Charlotte Gainsbourg)- but wait a minute; that isn't really so bad. Stephane and Stephanie become extremely close, sharing their inspirations, creative ideas and inventions from one-second time machines, to water composed of scraps of colored cellophane surrounding a forest in a boat.



Stephane's dreams include an eight-inch electric razor with metallic spider legs that he uses to overtake his boss, who stifles his creative ideas; he and his co-workers dressed-up in animal suits while performing a song to woo Stephanie; and swimming through the sea of the city to deliver his apology letter to Stephanie, which turns out to be about the length of a novel and the size of a cardboard display project. In my personal favorite fantasy, Stephane's hands each grow to the size of a small child and he fights off the responsibilities of his job, including the post-it notes stuck to his flag pole fingers.


All of Stephane's dreams take place on "Stephane TV," the fantasy world where he broadcasts his dreams to whatever audience, showing them how to make a dream.


"Hi, and welcome back to another episode of 'Television Educative.' Tonight, I'll show you how dreams are prepared. People think it's a very simple and easy process, but it's a bit more complicated than that. As you can see, a very delicate combination of complex ingredients in the key. First, we put in some random thoughts. And then, we add a little bit of reminiscences of the day... mixed with some memories from the past. [adding in some pasta] That's for two people. Love; friendship; relationships... and all those 'ships,' together with songs you heard during the day, things you saw, and also, uh... personal... Okay, I think it's one," Stephane tells his viewers as a dream materializes in a puff of red smoke from his cooking pot.

Without giving too much away, I recommend the movie to anyone and everyone - whether you are the creative type; a wet blanket; a movie lover or a bookworm, you will be able to find something you can enjoy and relate to in this movie.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

More Like "Plight of the Dying Movie Genre: Audiences Are Sick of Zombies"

*****

It's true; I don't know many people who are satisfied with the list of zombie flicks, especially those released over at least the last two years. Zombie-oriented films seem to have lost the ability to retain an interesting plot, although they are sometimes fortunate enough to make up for that impotence in gore and cheap screams.

Flight of the Living Dead: Outbreak on a Plane, formerly titled "Plane Dead," (2007) is a movie about zombies - who could have guessed it? The twist, though, is that they're on a commercial airplane, and there's nowhere to go but down.

I'm not even going to describe the characters specifically because they're pretty much the same as any other zombie/horror film, but I'll generalize: the hero, played by David Chisum; the girl, played by Kristen Kerr; the bad guy, played by Erick Avari (The Mummy); the bad-guy-who-makes-you-laugh-and-then-it-turns-out-he-isn't-really-so-bad-because-he-helps-you-not-die, played by Kevin J. O'Connor ("Benny" from The Mummy); and the creepy-yet-intelligent undercover agent, played by Richard Tyson. Of course, the movie also includes the novelty horror movie characters - the teenage lovers, the doctors and scientists, the children, the sinners, and even a nun.

A commercial flight takes off with all of its passengers, as well as a special cargo - so special that it has to be guarded by a nervous man in a biochemical containment suit weilding a machine gun. That cargo turns out to be one of the scientists' wife, who was exposed to a dangerous chemical that would reanimate her lifeless body, should her life be lost. The guard is there to make sure that she does not wake up from her slumber during flight, and he is successful until the plane is forced to fly through an intense storm that causes quite a ruckus on board. Bags fly out of their carry-on compartments; passengers rock back and forth in their seats; the cargo is throttled from side to side until, of course, the woman's holding tank is opened and she is awakened. It isn't until the guard shoots her, however, that she becomes a real problem, and since he is incapicitated by a large box that fell and, obviously, broke his leg, all he can do is shoot her and hope she stays down (which she doesn't).

He dies, obviously.

The scientists call down to check on their cargo, but when they get no word back from the guard, they are forced to investigate for themselves. With two zombies now roaming the holding deck, you can imagine what happens next... and thus, the undead and all the mayhem they bring are unleashed upon the plane's unsuspecting passengers. While everyone dies pretty gruesomely, four of the five main characters survive the flight and its subsequent downfall (The bad guy dies because, well, he was bad, and bad people die.).

Although the storyline was pathetic and expected, I found myself hiding behind my hands during certain scenes. This is not because the movie itself brought me unease, but because I am scared of faces - not normal faces, those are just weird - and they are abundant in this film. The flesh is torn away from the skin; the eyes are bulging, yellow and red; the ears are hanging off their heads, and I'm sure that's not where they belong. The worst face for me was the main bad guy's face; at the end, when he gets his "just desserts," his face is slashed much like that of Elizabeth Short (WARNING! the preceding image of the "Black Dahlia" is extremely graphic and I recommend you do NOT click the link unless you have a strong stomach and are not easily prone to nightmares.) and you can see his teeth, making it look like he's always smiling, just waiting to bite your face off. One thing that made the movie worthwhile, however, was that an Asian passenger strapped himself in his seat too tightly and couldn't figure out how to undo the seat belt on time, so he was torn-up by one of the flight attendants and flushed out into the sky by the force of the decompression after the side of the plane was hit by a missile. Good stuff.

Overall, Flight of the Living Dead was... eh. Watch it if you're bored, or just a zombie-lover, as I am.

The following is not a trailer for the movie, only a clip. It's the scene where the nun... well, just watch it.

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Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Superbad is super good

*****

Anyone who enjoyed Knocked Up from director Judd Apatow needs to see director Greg Mottola's film, Superbad. There isn't much to argue against that statement - it's even the first film I give five stars!

Seth Rogan is at it again, this time as the hilarious Officer Michaels, who, along with Officer Slater, played by Bill Hader, just can't seem to stick to the rules.

Arrested Development's Michael Cera and Jonah Hill (The 40 Year Old Virgin; Grandma's Boy; Accepted; Knocked Up) star as Evan and Seth (respectively), two graduating high school seniors who set a goal to get "laid" over the summer but face some obstacles along the way. Christopher Mintz-Plasse stars as their super-nerdy friend Fogell, who gets a fake I.D. so he can buy liquor under the name "McLovin." Fogell befriends Officers Michaels and Slater and embarks on his own wild summer night, while Evan and Seth do the best they can not to be arrested or beat up. Ultimately, these three geeky guys turn out to be pretty cool, each one wooing their girl and achieving a sense of self-dignity and confidence they had not previously had.

While the plot may seem a little played-out (American Pie; Revenge of the Nerds), it holds strong in Superbad because of the movie's unique cast and style.


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Monday, October 15, 2007

Good Luck Chuck baffles audience members, average rating "D"

*****

Reviews of Good Luck Chuck are so horrible that it will be surprising if we ever hear good things about Dane Cook again; critics and most audience members are all asking the same questions: "What was Jessica Alba thinking? Was she thinking?"

Though I so hate to stray from the pack, I actually enjoyed the new Mark Helfrich comedy. It was a cute, funny story that I had never seen in movies before, which was refreshing because most movies these days are sequels, prequels, or spin-offs.

Charlie, played by Dane Cook, is a quirky dentist who just can't seem to find love. In fact, every time he sleeps with a girl, she leaves him and marries the next man she dates. Once word gets out that Chuck is a good luck charm, women everywhere flock to his side, begging him for unbridled sex. Chuck doesn't mind at first, but as he continues to be the stepping stone for each woman's real relationship, he begins to feel used and melancholy.

When Charlie meets Cam Wexler, played by Jessica Alba, he believes he may have finally found his soul mate. The only problem is that when things start to get serious, Charlie fears that if he sleeps with Cam, he will lose her to the next guy she meets. So, he gets a little crazy, pulling stunts that include punching a random guy in the face and jumping out of a box in a penguin costume.

With comedic sidekicks Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury) as Charlie's horny best friend and Lonny Ross (Tina Fey's 30 Rock) as Cam's brother, the movie brings together a humorous collaberation of comedy and drama in a chick-flick package. Don't get me wrong, though - the movie is great for guys, too; there are plenty boobs and sex scenes, although they seem to be what most of the film's low ratings were based on.

Aside from the nudity and somewhat-lack of chemistry between Alba and Cook, the movie was a nice addition to this year's releases. Although it may just be swept under the rug as another failure, I will more than likely purchase it when it is released on DVD in a few months (if I am financially capable, of course).


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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Resident Evil provides nothing new for zombie-philliacs

*****

The zombies are still un-dead; the world is still in ruins; Milla Jovovich is still dressed like a street-walker; so what is new in the third (and hopefully final) installment of the Resident Evil series? Not much. Resident Evil: Extinction, released in late September, follows the storyline where it ended in the second movie, Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004).

After the T-virus outbreak at Raccoon City, a group of survivors are on the move, traveling in a caravan from city to city in search of a haven from the infection. These survivors include Carlos Olivera, the S.T.A.R.S. agent who first appeared in RE2, played by Oded Fehr (The Mummy; The Mummy Returns); L.J., the funkified scaredy-cat who avoided death about three times in the second movie, played by Mike Epps (Friday After Next; The Fighting Temptations); and newcomers: Claire, the strong-willed leader of the caravan, played by Ali Larter (House on Haunted Hill; Final Destination 1 & 2; Heroes) and Betty, the kick-your-ass/cauterize-your-bite-wound nurse, played by R&B Princess Ashanti (Coach Carter; John Tucker Must Die), amongst others.

The survivors set up camp at a seemingly-abandoned building, as would be expected from any "scary" movie, when a crowd of crows begins to swarm around them. Those birds, they realize, have been feeding on infected flesh - the bodies of the people the zombies killed - and now they want the survivors'. It is at this point in the movie that Alice (Jovovich) and the survivors are united in a throwdown, as Alice uses her newly-mastered superhuman telekinesis powers to encompass the fowl crowd in a sea of fire.

The caravan decides to head towards Alaska based on information Alice found in a diary that claimed the 49th state was free of infection. In order to make it there successfully, though, they need gas. Next stop: Las Vegas, Nevada - only now, the city is overrun by desert, its buildings covered in miles of sand. It doesn't take long before Dr. Isaacs (Iain Glen) of the Umbrella Corporation finds Alice in the City of Sin and sends his zombie minions out to take her down once and for all.

The movie was very predictable and not extremely innovative in its plot, but it turned out to be more entertaining than I expected. The main issue many fans of the Resident Evil video games have had with the movies is that few of the original characters have been in the movies; Alice, for example, is a completely new character who is never seen in the video games, along with every other character that appears in the three-film series except for two: Jill Valentine, seen in the second movie, and Claire Redfield, seen in RE3 (both are actual characters in the video game series).

Overall, the movie was acceptable - definitely not the worst zombie film ever made. As a zombie fanatic, though, I had hoped for better.


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Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Zodiac cast displays impressive knowledge and sincerity

*****

2007 brought some delightful films - 300, Spider-Man 3, even, and I cringe to say it, but, Shrek The Third (which, to my surprise, grossed $784,412,359 worldwide; about $624,412,359 over the budget they spent to make it) - none of which really enthralled me as deeply as Director David Fincher's Zodiac was able to. The movie literally had me biting my hand like my boyfriend's pessimistic Italian grandmother and wiggling underneath my bed covers. "I know who the killer is! I know who it is! I should have been there to catch him, the case would have been solved by now!!" That's what I screamed four or more times in my head throughout the movie.

I was so wrong. The players were so believable that I wasn't able to see how misleading some of the clues were; just as the detectives did, I followed certain clues without thoroughly questioning "Why"or "How."

The movie's cast was chosen perfectly: Jake Gyllenhaal, who has a short repertoire for an A-List actor (Jarhead, Brokeback Mountain, Donnie Darko), played the lead role, Robert Graysmith, a cartoonist for the San Francisco Chronicle in the late 60s and 70s, who in the end was the only person willing and determined enough to crack the code and discover the identity of the true Zodiac killer. This determination, however, became an obsession, subsequently destroying his marriage and his career as an illustrator. Gyllenhaal was able to evoke an understanding out of audience members, which allowed them to feel Graysmith's pain and his desire to solve the murders once and for all by writing a book of all the information collected from October 30, 1966 (the date of the first murder linked back to the Zodiac killer), to its being published in 1986. The audience was there, solving it with him step by step (only about 32 years later).

Mark Ruffalo, probably best known for his roles in 13 Going On 30 (2004) and All the King's Men (2006), played Inspector David Toschi of the San Fransisco Police, whom he looks just like in the film with his bow tie and curly dark hair and sideburns. His performance was admirable and sincere - he wanted to find the murderer so badly, you could see how much it pained him to let a man kill 37 innocent people (so he claimed in his letters; only 5 were officially known as Zodiac murders). He saw what the case did to his partner, and he fought against letting it get to him the same way.

Toschi's partner, Inspector William Armstrong, was played by Anthony Edwards, best known as Dr. Mark Greene from 1994-2002 on TNT's hit drama ER. His character isn't developed much in the film, but you are able to see how the case eventually breaks him down when he transfers out of Homicide because he could no longer handle "being on-call."

The film also starred Robert Downey Jr. as Chronicle reporter Paul Avery; a hot-headed, ill-mannered writer whose superiority complex drove him from the Chronicle to the Sacramento Bee, and finally, the San Francisco Examiner until he retired. Downey's character's life seemed to mirror that of his own (in former and even recent years), consumed by alcohol, depression, and severe social humiliation. I can't say I was impressed at his acting because he may not have been acting at all; then again, I fell in love with Downey in 1994's Only You when I was seven years old, so I can't hate him, either.

Zodiac also starred Brian Cox as Melvin Belli, the only man whom the Zodiac killer officially contacted for help from his "sickness" (is that what murder is?); Chloe Sevigny as Graysmith's blind date/wife/ex-wife; and John Carroll Lynch as Arthur Leigh Allen, the man believed to-date to be the true Zodiac killer as revealed in Graysmith's books, Zodiac, and Zodiac: The Identity of America's Most Elusive Serial Killer Revealed.

An interesting sidenote about the cast is that Gyllenhaal, Downey, Ruffalo and Lynch all bear striking resemblances to their real-life counterparts, Graysmith, Avery, Toschi and Allen, consecutively.

The movie was a great psychological thriller that left me with the most obvious question unanswered (who styled Ruffalo's hair?), but also with many affirmations: Gyllenhaal has got it all; Downey brings his work home; and cartoonists can solve crimes better than trained detectives and entire police forces compiled from 4 major U.S. cities.

Seriously, though, this movie sheds light on the hardships of the people involved, not only through the victims' and families' eyes, but also through the men and women who dedicate their lives to rescuing, protecting, and helping us. As a society, we let things go very easily, whereas these people are consumed by those same things. Maybe someday the case will be revamped and new technology will allow us to know absolutely that Allen is the killer; since he died August 26, 1992 of natural causes, we will never get his confession.


The movie's tagline:

"There's more than one way to lose your life to a killer."


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