12 December 2009

Movies - Last Seen

Short reviews for these films below.

9 (USA, 2009)

Doesn't live up to all the buzz this film created prior to its release. I mean, the visual details and technical achievement are there, it is clear that Shane Acker, the director, has the imagination scale to create multi-layered structure of visual details and very fluid and dynamic action sequences, but most important thing he cannot do - write a decent story.
Whether it's his personal inability to think of a better narrative and design believable characters, or it was pressure from the studio and producers to dumb it down, but instead of appealing story and convincing characters he decided to go on embarrassing sentimentality and exaggerated melodramatic emotions, adding to this some confusing religious references. The core mistake, I think, was misunderstanding of the target audience, and thus wasting big potential of this animated film.
A story about artificial intelligence, that eventually rises against its own creators, is nothing new in science fiction. This is one of more shallow and pointless examples of it.


Driven to Kill (USA/Canada, 2009)

Enjoying his quiet life and writing crime novels, former Russian mafia member, Ruslan, receives invitation to his daughter's wedding. Going home to New York, his old territory, only brings back the bitter disputes with his former acquaintances, that apparently try to assassinate his ex-wife and daughter. Seeing that his family is threatened, Ruslan decides to have his revenge, shooting his way through the mob and breaking bones, skulls.

Always awful as actor, Seagal is making pure trash for many years now, but this movie is lacking the juicy pulp required to enjoy something like that. Extremely boring, mostly painful to watch and just plain embarrassing.


Letters from a Dead Man (Russia, 1986)

This unusual post-apocalyptic movie, created in Soviet Russia just few years before the collapse of the regime, is a grim philosophical prophecy about the possible future for human race.
After nuclear war the remaining human population is struggling to survive among the panic, radiation and diseases. The movie follows an aging scientist with clear symptoms of post-traumatic shock, as he walks through the city ruins, leaping over dead bodies and looking for the food and medicine for his dying wife. As he visits isolated underground refugee locations, the film reveals the depressive state of desperate people, trying to make sense of their condition. Some express fierce accusations and hatred toward human nature, some are remembering the beauty in human existence, some are trying to adapt and some just want to die, seeing no hope.
The gloomy visuals of the film and the apocalyptic scenery are simply stunning, creating very depressing mood, so suitable for the content. The film is maybe not as poetic and not as expressive as Tarkovsky stuff, but it's quite artistic on its own.


The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (USA, 2009)

This film creates the same feeling as seeing older person trying to blend among young people in the night club. Hey grandpa, wearing colorful clothes and jumping around doesn't make you any younger, you old senile fool. Your pathetic attempt to look hip and cool only emphasizes your late age, and frankly, your lack of common sense as well.
Tony Scott is that older person when it comes to directing such bad screenplay, because the result is him pretending very hard to be cool. Energetic music and strange camera movements, together with frantic editing, are not what's making moving images into film. Artist you are not, Mr. Scott, neither good entertainer. Waste of time.


Brüno (USA, 2009)

Baron Cohen does here again what he does the best - embarrassing people by putting them into extremely awkward situations. The pranked people feel stupid and the viewers get to laugh hard, it's just perfect outcome. The nature of a prank is that the performer is taking severe risk of being violently attacked, after all people don't like when someone offends them in most shameless ways. And so the biggest achievement of this film is Baron Cohen dropping himself inside quite dangerous situations, in which he instigates the victims, but keeps holding his character with a patience and endurance of a Renaissance Fair performer, no matter how bad things are evolving around him. Having his character, Bruno, as extremely sticking out homosexual doesn't really help, especially when most of his victims were selected because they are quite sensitive to the issue.
But laughs, jokes and shaking of the head with disbelief aside, what about the cinematic quality of this movie. I must say it is not as good as Borat in overall impression. The adventures of gay Austrian are less coherent and interesting than of his Kazakh predecessor, the character is less likable and more mean than funny. It seems that Bruno mostly just annoys people, while Borat had much more going on for him. The pranks here are much shorter, the movie was built around more shallow character and thus the result is one dimensional and less complex. How do you protect yourself from a man with two dildos? Exactly.


A Perfect Getaway (USA, 2009)

For a self-reflective movie, one which includes conversations about cinematic techniques of suspense and storytelling, this movie is not very smart or sophisticated at all. I guessed the main mystery - who are the killers, even before the movie started. Just from seeing all the trailers and promotional campaign, indicating that there is a twist in the end, I knew what will be actually revealed even before I pressed the Play button, it was that predictable to me.
So when I started watching this I knew the ending, but during the movie I was constantly hoping it will not be this way, that the writers will go extra mile to fool me, eventually. But no, it didn't happen.
In our interactive world of information and disinformation, when viral promotion and extra involvement of the potential viewer are a common thing, I would expect more sophistication and misleading clues from such film. In the end it 's just another thriller, interesting to watch because of its charismatic actors and decent story, but it seems that the screenplay was written in 90's, making it just way too simple.


Funny People (USA, 2009)

Not as funny as I hoped it will be, but Apatow still writes excellent scripts. The movie has great dialogs filled with sarcasm and cynicism and interesting story with enough emotional weight to get viewers involved.
I liked it, I was pulled inside and enjoyed it till the very end of this ride.


Female Prisoner Scorpion: Beast Stable (Japan, 1973)

Another movie in the series about renegade female prisoner known as Sasori - Scorpion, and it's pretty good one. This time she is trying to hide from the vindictive cop after cutting off his arm, helping a young prostitute who's been impregnated by her retard brother, and also going after some yakuza group for torturing and imprisoning her and other woman.
In one brilliant scene during the opening credits, she is running trough the city holding bloody cut arm of the cop, connected to her by the cuffs. The sequence was clearly shot from a distance, and the reaction on the faces of people seeing such bizarre scene is real.
The film is maybe less exploitation and less erotic as usual Pink Eiga example, but it's very representative of 70's era. There is great retro vibe in this one, anyone who loves this decade should see this film.


Late Bloomer (Japan, 2004)

Unique and disturbing look into the soul of handicapped man with physical limitations. Following closely his daily routine and people in his life, which are mostly his caretakers, the film exposes deep and complex picture of crippled psyche, filled with desires and strong emotions trying to burst out of disabled body. But physical conditions are stronger than inner ardor, unable to express his passions and to receive them back from another human being, he is developing disastrous rage and frustration inside of him, leading to eventual murderous collapse.

This film is defined by many as horror, but I respectfully disagree. Although there are some creepy moments and one freaky scene when he is waving the knife, this movie is about different kind of scaring. Coming from young Japanese director and featuring one hell of an ending shot, that can make even Antonioni jealous, this feels more like a twisted moral slap in your face. Highly recommended, but not for everyone.


The Hangover(USA, 2009)

First I have to say, this movie is somewhere at the low end of cinema as form of art. Honestly, it's hard for me to understand how a person can be considered a film director when he shoots only most basic scenes and just using upbeat pop music and fast edited images to tell a story. Seriously, the cinematic language used in this film is simply defective and retarded, but the movie is sure funny as hell.
This is indeed highly entertaining and enjoyable piece of crap, an instant cult, so all the negative things that I may pour on it are pretty much pointless and unnecessary, because if the movie makes you laugh and you feel good when it's over, than who the fuck cares about stupid camera angles.


Grace (USA/Canada, 2009)

A messy blend of feminist concepts and a bit of mother issues are making this, somewhat Oedipal movie promising but underdeveloped. The director sure knows what he is doing, creating very unpleasant feeling of rotten matter and decay with gruesome and direct images, of buzzing flies, for example.
A young pregnant woman looses her husband and unborn child in the car accident, but out of primal instincts and grief she decides to carry the baby inside of her to the end. The baby turns out to be alive after the stillbirth, but apparently he needs to feed on blood to survive.
The film starts great, the pace, the selection of color palette, the introduction of characters, the symbolism, this is truly masterful work. The disturbing but quiet feeling that something bad is about to happen is leaking from every shot. But somehow I expected more shocking violence and repulsive images, sort of uncontrollable spin of events that will result in bloody slaughter. Not in this film, despite modest attempt to do so. Maybe because the beginning director was afraid to loose control over the plot, but this hesitation creates empty vacuum in the film, which resolves somehow by the end, but it's lowering the impression from the film.


Blast of Silence (USA, 1961)

Interesting idea framed with great start and excellent ending, but everything in between is truly shameful. It begins with unfortunate miscast of the main character, played by the director himself, who maybe knows how to shoot on film but sure sucks as an actor, and it continues with weak writing, but maybe it's because the movie dates back to the '61.
Social misfit and a loner, raised in the orphanage and later became a hired killer, arrives to New York to do a job. While carefully planning the assassination, he is meeting old friends and having some doubts about his life.
The film is mostly narrated by a third person and it's the main technique to tell the story and define the character and his thoughts. Beautiful black&white scenery of New York in the 60's adds to the classic value of this outdated film, that doesn't really stands the test of time.


Pandorum (USA/Germany, 2009)

A man wakes up from a long sleep on a spaceship only to discover that the fate of all human race lies upon his shoulders. But before he gets to play Adam and Eve, he needs to overcome the collapse of humanity into the animal-like sort of state.
The film works great with the sense of fear by placing it as the center of the events. In the beginning it is unfocused and very abstract, you don't really get to see the face of it, just feel the sharp sense of danger coming from the darkness. The danger is overwhelming, it's everywhere and you can't fight it, you can only run from it. As the film develops further the fear is going through personification and gets clear source, but it suddenly has many forms. The immediate embodiment of the fear has reasons and consequences, that maybe don't cause that primal and irrational wave of panic, but they are terrifying on their own, probably on much higher intellectual level.
German director Christian Alvart does really good job crafting absolutely believable situation and convincing acting, not every filmmaker knows how to create suspense and be in control in every second of his film. That was very impressive directional work, and the way it's stays hidden only emphasizes his achievement. Also Ben Foster should get more recognition as an actor, he is excellent every time I see him in a role, and here his powerful performance awakes paranoia mixed with fear by facial expressions alone.
The story, the content itself, might get some negative comments, but that's just genre and studio limitations. And it doesn't really matter for the enjoyable viewing experience anyway.


Gamer (USA, 2009)

As oppose to the previous works of this duo of directors, that did both Crank movies, the Gamer is not funny at all. It is very serious dystopian look into possible future that might be more real than you think. The visual chaos on the screen, as much as the lives of the people in that movie, is painfully pointless. Who is shooting who, why things exploding, where are they going and what are they doing, what is the purpose of it all? The reality itself is build out of separated and disconnected fragments. Here is a night club with dancing people, that seem like they are always there, here is a talk show with faceless applauding audience, that seem like never go home, and they are all doing the same thing over and over again, like some kind of programmed characters. Every scene of this film feels like you are inside a computer game, like when you go off the course to the wrong direction, that is not on the path of the storyline, when you just go exploring the virtual territory of your surroundings to find yourself in obscure area of artificial world build by computer code and raised to life by never resting electrons. The reality in the Gamer is lifeless and fake in the same manner, only intentionally, to make a point. Inside this bleak terrain of emptiness and hollowness there are number of people that still have some humanity left in them, people that want to get out of the powerful technological shell, to feel human again.

But while I have no complaints about the very interesting content of the movie, which I think deals with the whole Simulacra and Simulation thing much better than Matrix did, I don't think that hyper fast and erratic visual presentation with somewhat schizophrenic editing was the best way to go with such content. This film is first of all a love letter to the science fiction movies of 80's. In deeper analysis I could probably recognize dozen different movies from that decade, starting from direct references to Blade Runner and ending with concept similarities to The Running Man. Therefore adopting extreme cyber visuals, very dynamic and superficial, I can even use the profane word - "postmodern", makes the whole thing less suitable. But I get it, I understand why the directors are using such form, which they are also trying to condemn. They say that there is no escape from the video game, that we are all stuck inside of it, you cannot just wake up, pull the cable out of your head and see the truth. There is no real redemption, no savior, we can only be gamers.


Thirst (South Korea, 2009)

Extremely complex and multi-layered story, exploring different sides of human existence, with somewhat romantic lyricism. The film is constantly evolving, changing its themes and appearances, dealing with multiple subjects like religion, the nature of morality, human passions, survival instinct and hypocrisy. It seems that Chan Wook Park, that already established himself as one of the greatest directors in history, collects here all main human weaknesses and just collides them with each other, trying to show their essence and purpose through the process. Maybe due to this broad range of references and subjects the film demands more from the viewer and may seem confusing and unfocused, but with a little patience and necessary second viewing things should get properly received.


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