Tuesday, May 18, 2010

9 – Shane Acker (2009)

First, what this movie has going for it. It has atmosphere oozing out its eyeballs. The look and tone of the film is wonderful. Every frame, every shadow has this wonderful texture to it.

I think my favorite visual might be 7’s bird-mask.

Visually, I was reminded of so many other films. And that’s not necessarily a slam, because the diversity of the sources "9" pulls its inspiration from is staggering. I saw bits of "Blade Runner," "2001," "Dead Space" (the video game), and "Robocop."

At one point I could almost hear Dick Jones’ ED-209 snarling in his robot voice, ‘you now have 20 seconds to comply!’ Oh, there’s no flashback like a murderous rampaging boardroom robot flashback.

And there’s a moment when 9 tells 5 not to look the machine in the eyes. It’s very reminiscent of “Marian, keep your eyes shut!”
And of course, there’s the unmistakable look of ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas."

The group of 9 look like a bunch of mini-Oogie-Boogies.

Now to the meat of the film.

I have always disagreed with the notion that books and films with Artificial Intelligence protagonists lack emotional poignancy.

Just in the medium of cinema alone, there’s the aforementioned "Blade Runner" and "Robocop" plus, there’s "A.I.," "Edward Scissorhands," "Frankenstein," "Pinocchio," "C-3PO & R2-D2" and "Battlestar Galactica."

There are people who just can’t get past the fact that these are man-made characters and therefore, they don’t matter or count.

Why not?

We matter, why?

Is it because we were made by God, in His image?

If angels had a hand in our creation, if God had their assistance, would that negate any meaning we have?

So why would life that was created through man not be just as real, just as profound?

Life, by definition can not be artificial.

It’s odd that I just watched Duncan Jones’ "Moon" which could be a companion piece as it really tackles a lot of the same issues as "9" and "Blade Runner."

Back to “9” specifically. At the beginning of the film these characters are more or less uniform. 5 is the exception.

He is interesting and funny and more sympathetic than your average cowardly sidekick.

9 also develops a kind of courage. He becomes a character that embodies kind of what the popular myth of Winston Churchill is.

He has that whole “evil must be stood up to” uncompromising belief that you can’t help but admire.

Another recent film I reviewed here r
ecently, “Glorious 39” featured a couple of characters like that, played by David Tennant and Romola Garai respectively.

There’s this kind of bizarre beauty as they call out each others’ number like names and it gets more and more touching as the film progressing.

They start speaking the numbers with meaning and passion where at the start, the tone of voice when they would speak the number of the others, the purpose was only to identify.

The personality in these faces is astounding.

Putting such character into burlap bags with lenses has me standing in awe of this level of artistry.

The way that 5 looks at you with this noble and terrified and courageous look shows the mark of an incredibly gifted and rare artist who understands the psychology behind aesthetics.

The nature of the beast is intriguing.

There’s this kind of symbolism when 1 sacrifices himself for the good of the collective and allows the machine to absorb him.

I don’t know if this was a spiritual or political statement or both, but it was clear without being too obvious.

And that is a fine line.

I have not cried since the 4th grade. I remember it very well. But every once in a while, a moment in a film will get me and I realize that if I were capable of tears, I’d be crying my eyes out.

“Pan’s Labyrinth” is the most recent example that comes to mind. But when one of these burlap characters perished, my heart just absolutely broke. I was crushed.

There is a very good reason why each of the burlaps, or whatever we’ll call these little guys, have their own solitary dominant trait.

To wax on about these would mean spoiling a couple of key revelations that come at the end of the film. And I know that just pisses some people off.

Suffice it to say that the creator of these 9 survivors had to have been both shaman and scientist in equal parts.

“9” has gotten a lot of mediocre reviews and that doesn’t really surprise me. It’s not an obvious film and most film critics just aren’t that smart.

“9” ranks up there with “Blade Runner,” “Minority Report” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” in the realm of philosophical sci-fi.

Anybody who tells you “9” was all atmosphere and no substance simply wasn’t paying close enough attention.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Invictus - Clint Eastwood (2009)

“Invictus,” Clint Eastwood’s story of how newly elected South African President Nelson Mandela used his country’s rugby team as an instrument of reconciliation, has its share of flaws, but in the end it’s inspiring in its own way.

If you’re generally turned off by sports movies, you don’t need to worry. The focus of the film is Nelson Mandela’s determination to bring black and white South Africa together. The use of Rugby as the symbol for that fight is incidental.

As the film opens, we are given a brief, cliff-notes rundown of the events leading up to Mandela’s Presidency. We’re shown his release from prison, his role in staving off a civil war and his inauguration.

To the shock and anger of many who put him in office, Mandela focuses on healing his country and moving forward rather than punishing his oppressors.

This determined reconciliation includes the sport of rugby, primarily supported by the country’s white minority. With so many in the country seeing the team as the last symbol of Apartheid, there is a push to shut the team down entirely.

Mandela, however, sees this as nothing but petty vengeance. He urges lawmakers to keep the team, including its colors of green and gold: the colors of Apartheid.

As the film moves forward, Mandela’s attempts to heal his country mirror the struggles of the rugby team as it tries to make itself fit to compete in the upcoming World Cup.

In the end, Mandela, his team and his country pull through in what we now know as one of the most profound changes in a country the world has ever seen.

Mandela is one of the great heroes of the 20th century and “Invictus” does his legacy justice.
It’s imperfections are easily overlooked. Yes, “Invictus” runs at least 20 minutes longer than it should and no, Matt Damon did not deserve his Best Supporting Actor nomination.

But in the end, the movie we are left with is a fitting tribute to the change one great leader can make, not only politically, but in the hearts of his countrymen. Morgan Freeman does a fantastic job of making Nelson Mandela more than just an historical icon.

While Eastwood’s film doesn’t match up to his other dramatic efforts of the decade like “Mystic River” or “Million Dollar Baby,” but “Invictus” is well worth the rental.

The Messenger – Oren Moverman (2009)

“The Messenger” follows Staff Sgt. William Montgomery, a wounded vet, fresh from Iraq whose new commission is to notify the next of kin when a soldier is killed overseas. When his commanding officer, Col. Dorsett played by the criminally underused Eamonn Walker, tells him that he will be spending the last three months of his enlistment on this, it’s plain that the Sergeant does not want this job. But as the Colonel tells him, being on a notification team is as much an honor as serving in combat.

“This mission is not simply important,” explains Col. Dorsett. “It is sacred.”

It’s hard to say at first whether Sgt. Montgomery is insulted or intimidated by his new orders. I suspect it’s both. But he insists that he’s not the right man for the job because he knows nothing about grief counseling and doesn’t even believe in God.
That’s when Capt. Tony Stone, chimes in. Stone is played by Woody Harrelson who got an Oscar nod for this role.

“We’re just there for notification,” he simply tells the Sergeant. “Not God, not Heaven.”

As Capt. Stone spells out the rules and procedure for making the notifications, we listen in a state somewhere between shock and horror at just how detached Stone is. The rules include always using the words “died” or “killed” as opposed to “passed away.”

The primary rule is never touch the next of kin. Stone tells his new trainee, “You are representing the Secretary of the Army, not Will Montgomery. So in case you feel like offering a hug or something, don’t.”

The first notification shows us just how brutal this “sacred” mission is.

Through the course of the film, we see Sgt. Montgomery and Capt. Stone make 6 notifications. Every one plays out differently, but each is devastating in its own way.
Over the course of the film, the “Messengers” are slapped, spit on and called cowards.

When we first hear Capt. Stone’s rules for notifying the next of kin, they sound callous, but as the film progresses, we understand that his approach is kind in its own way because it’s quick and gets them out of the way fast so the mourning families whose hearts they have just broken can get the news quickly and cleanly. It’s like taking off a band-aid. It might seem gentle to pull it off slowly, but in truth, ripping it right off is less painful.

Capt. Stone wants to get out of the families’ way and make room for the people whose job it is to heal these wounds.

Of course, this is complicated when Sgt. Montgomery tells a woman, played by Academy Award Nominee Samantha Morton, one of our best character actors, that her husband was killed in Iraq, only to find himself drawn to her. A romance, of sorts, blossoms between the two. But the focus is not on their relationship as much as what it means for two people who are broken to come together.

Montgomery sees the new widow at the mall soon after, confronting two army recruiters who are talking two teenagers into enlisting. She’s in a fit of grief and rage as she yells at them, “There’s a sticker on my coffin that says, ‘remains un-viewable.’ Nice big tall boys like you, what’s left can fit inside a shoebox.”
“The Messenger” is a film about the psychological effects war leaves on our troops, their families and our country as a whole. It’s clear filmmaker Owen Moverman understands mental illness. When Montgomery tells Stone that he almost took his own life after the firefight that left him wounded, he understands that when people are suicidal, they are profoundly confused about their feelings.

Most people who are suicidal can’t logically deconstruct their own psyches. When Montgomery tells Stone why he wanted to kill himself, he says, “The whole ‘living’ thing just didn’t make sense anymore.”
“The Messenger” is the most powerful and engaging film yet to come out about the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

“The Hurt Locker” may have gotten the Oscar, but if you really want to see the ugliness of war outside the battlefield, Moverman’s meditation on grief is a far superior film.

Valentine's Day - Garry Marshall (2010)

Garry Marshall’s “Valentine’s Day” begs the question, “Can a film critic write a review of a movie he couldn’t even make it six minutes through?” Well, this will be a short review.

In the opening sequences, we are treated to horrible acting, contrived emotions and dialogue that somehow manages to be stilted and sappy at the same time. I have a relatively high pain threshold, but I couldn’t even make it through the opening credits.
This is six minutes of my life I want back. Garry Marshall, I’ll take the six minutes any way you’d like to give it. You can come to my house and vacuum. I’m sure you can get the living room and at least one bedroom taken care of in six minutes. Or you can show up at work and give me a six-minute shoulder massage.

However you want to pay it back is fine, but Garry Marshall, you owe me six minutes.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

The Human Centipede (First Sequence) – Tom Six (2010)

WARNING: If you dislike being completely revolted, stop reading now!

This film has been hailed as the most revolting movie ever made. Aside from that, when I checked out the trailer, it looked appropriately creepy, appalling and all that good stuff. But promises like “goriest ever” or “bloodiest ever” have been made before, so naturally, I was skeptical. I was not expecting “The Human Centipede” to be the grossest movie I had ever seen.

I was wrong.

The reputation “The Human Centipede” has made for itself is well deserved.

A big part of the film’s impact was the horrifying revelations regarding the details of this “experiment.” So, if you’re planning to see this, proceed with caution. I might spoil something here for you.

As “Centipede” starts, we’re introduced to two American girls travelling across Europe. It’s a familiar enough horror movie setup. Of course, the girls get a flat tire on their way to a party.

Now, let the good times begin.

Predictably, the girls can’t get a cell phone signal. So they have no choice but to venture out in search of help. Hooray! They find a house!

They knock on the door and meet the creepiest man alive.
Six makes a wise decision at this point of the film and gets right to the nastiness. Normally in a film like this, there would be a drawn-out scene where the homeowner is pleasant and charming and the girls feel safe before the shock of having him turn out to be a sadistic weirdo.

Not so with Dr. Heiter. He makes a quick, fake phone call and then it’s straight to drinks with the date-rape drug. He’s yelling at them, calling them cows before they’re even unconscious. He’s malicious from the moment we set eyes on him and this departure from formula is very jolting.

Of course, if you’ve seen the preview, you know the girls are going to come-to in a hellish medical lab-looking room.

And Dr. Heiter explains the procedure in horrible detail. His goal is to have three humans share one digestive track.

I’ll just let that sink in.

That’s right. We’re going to graft mouth-to-anus, having the person in front eating, passing through the unfortunate soul chosen to be the middle piece (retch!) and then out whoever’s bringing up the rear.

I made the mistake of fixing myself lunch and then sitting down to watch this movie while I ate. This is the first film that has actually made me physically sick to my stomach. About a third of the way through my spaghetti, I was just done.

The most disgusting and hilarious scene (I’m not ashamed to say that this movie made me laugh out loud) starts as Dr. Heiter is taking his human centipede outside for a walk. The dude at the front stops suddenly, turns around and starts begging for the person behind him to forgive him. Before I could say to myself, “Oh God, no!” the doctor is shouting, “Yes! Feed her!” maniacally.

It was so sickening, but I could not stop laughing.

Suffice it to say that if you have the sense of humor for it and can handle the insanely, unbelievably nauseating, “The Human Centipede” will not disappoint you.

“Feed her!”

Monday, May 10, 2010

Daybreakers - Peter & Michael Spierig (2010)

The highlight of the week, especially if you’re a horror aficionado, is the Spierig brothers’ “Daybreakers,” starring Willem Dafoe, the criminally underused Sam Neill and Ethan Hawke as our hero: a vampire who just wants to do the right thing.

I’ll break the suspense now and just tell you this was a wonderful movie. So many thrillers rely on atmosphere and effects without taking character development and story into account that “Daybreakers” shows up as a truly delightful surprise.

Ten years into the future, the earth has been taken over by vampires. Under normal circumstances, taking over the world would be a victory, but there’s one problem here.

With the human population down to less than 5 percent, the vamps are running out of food.
At the beginning of the movie, we see a panhandler with a cardboard sign that says he’s poor and “needs blood.” Of course, the rich society vampires pass him by without a second look. And then the vampire cops collar him because I guess panhandling is something the undead just won’t tolerate.

Ethan Hawke, donning a scraggly beard and Amish-style hat, looks like one of the Children of the Corn all grown up. He’s a hematologist, working on a blood substitute, providing the vampire world with food when humanity becomes extinct. As it is, human blood is rare enough to necessitate human “farming,” where people are hung up and hooked into IVs and kept alive so their blood can be harvested.

Once the premise is set, the pacing of the “Daybreakers” is perfect. Character revelations and story developments are doled out at just the right intervals. We learn why some people chose to “turn” when vampirism broke out and why others chose to remain human.

Add to that the extensive political and social criticism of “Daybreakers,” and you end up with a multi-layered, frightening, funny and even emotionally rich allegory of good vs. evil in the form of class warfare. “Daybreakers” directly links fascism to classism and it makes its case eloquently, especially considering the fact that it’s a horror film.

The blood shortage causes riots in the street that recalls the kind of desperation we’ve seen on the news in communities around the world following different natural disasters.

When a vampire goes too long without blood, it turns bestial and loses its rational mind. So, as the lower-class slowly turns into wild, uncontrollable animals, they are exterminated. The film is very poignant in its depiction of these mass executions, reminding us that our characters inhabit a world where the rich kill the poor for the crime of being poor.

Meanwhile, amongst the human resistance, there are experiments going on looking for a cure to the vampire plague. They are constantly on the run, hunted by the military for their precious human, life-sustaining blood.

The mercenaries serve as an example of soldiers doing corporate work to feed the upper-class’ hunger for wealth without questioning their orders.

By the end of the film, the personal showdowns, the massive battles and the attempted “final solutions” put forward by both vampires and human culminate into a wild action frenzy that will entertain the hell out of you and make you think at the same time.

But if you’re one who doesn’t like their politics and entertainment mixed, never fear. “Daybreakers” is wildly entertaining as a horror/action film.

So if you want to turn off your brain and just enjoy the excitement, carnage and the humor you won’t be disappointed.

Legion – Scott Stewart (2010)

This movie has an enormous caveat and I’ll just give it to you up front. If you are not a horror movie fan, you will hate this movie.

Most horror/action movie fans will probably not like this movie.

However, if you’re a devoted horror buff who would rather watch a horror movie – any horror movie – than anything else, “Legion” is not a horrible waste of your time. If you love the genre, there are enough fun moments to justify the 90 minutes of life you’ll spend on it.

Take every zombie you’ve ever seen that pits a small, spunky group of survivors holed up in a big house, church, diner, etc. then replace zombie infection with demon possession. Then steal a plot twist from 1995’s “The Prophecy,” and write the worst dialogue known to man. Now, you have “Legion.”

“Legion” opens with an entertaining little sequence where a fallen angel meets, a couple of racist, then possessed, then dead cops. That’s followed by an ominous warning from some unidentified entity. It would have been nice if it was frightening, but we’ll have to settle for amusing.

Predictably, we are taken to a town that, if you’ve ever seen a horror movie in your life, we know is doomed. The name of the town is “Paradise Falls” and that is about as subtle as the film gets.

One pleasant surprise was that at one point, the truck stop’s jukebox plays, “I Just Don’t Understand” by Ann Margaret. I thought I was the only fan of that song.

As the first act starts, we meet our usual cast of characters that we know will be stuck together in the truck stop for the duration of the film.

There’s the spunky, pregnant soon-to-be single mother and the schmuck who follows her around like a puppy, nobly devoted to her even though she’s carrying another man’s child and won’t give him the time of day.

Then there’s the bickering middle-aged couple and their smart-alek teen. Of course, we’re given the troubled young man who’s running from his own personal demons, We have the truck stop owner whose life is a miserable failure because, well, he’s a truck stop owner.

And then there’s a fry-cook.

The siege begins with a crazy old lady who turns out to be possessed. I’m sure you’re familiar with the trailer. “Legion” is probably best known as ‘that movie that has the freaky old woman climbing on the ceiling.’

This sequence is admittedly entertaining. And there are a few more amusing scenes, one of which involves one of our doomed battalion being crucified upside-down and having his blood replaced with acid-pus.
And the action sequences when the truck-stop is under siege are fun enough to watch.

But at the end of the day, “Legion” plays out like a traditional zombie movie with a twist.

Aside from my theory that someone thought seeing an old woman crawling up the ceiling would lure horror fans into a movie theater, I can’t think of a single reason why this film didn’t go straight to DVD.

Friday, May 7, 2010


The list of movies that make you root for the bad guys is now on thetop10blog.com.

Aside from the obvious good taste they have, as indicated by putting out a Resident Film Snob list, the blog is quite fun to just click around on.

Hell, everyone loves lists, right?