Thursday, October 8, 2015

Review Apocalypto (2006): Oh Mel, if only you had paid better attention in school. The Mayans are not the same as the Aztecs.

genre: action, adventure, history (very minimal and highly inaccurate)

Will this film be educational? Does Mel Gibson redeem himself? Was he even sober when producing and directing this film? Or will it further empower the suspicion that he might be a tad racist? 

Braveheart, Mad Max trilogy and the Lethal Weapon series were all Mel Gibson movies I liked. They all had in common that they were unpretentious. Somehow Mel Gibson got very religious and embarked himself upon a crusade. To make movies that contain some kind of message. Passion of Christ is one example of this crusade. After reading several reviews on IMDB, I really had high hopes for Apacalypto. It started out great, but when the aggressors (Mayans) come into the picture it is nothing but torture, blood and be headings. The second hour the movie becomes interesting, because then it shows what this movie is really about. It is all about the action and the adventure. The hunted becomes the hunter. The beautifully filmed action scenes made me forget about the first hour and a half. All what has happened to the main character should be seen as one big prologue to the last half hour. I could talk about the historical inaccuracies, but what is the point. This is not about truth or facts it is about adventure. Although I do need to add that Gibson really got his facts wrong. I think he either got confused or he simply thought it was all the same but at one point he is having The Mayans perform an Aztec ritual. That is just preposterous and basically racist. I read that Mel Gibson said that he had a message concerning to this movie. So what is the message Mel? That Mayan people were cruel and ignorant or that the jungle is a very dangerous place. Or there is no place like home. Come on there is no message. And don't pretend there is. There is nothing to be learned from this movie because it gives a very limited view on cultural and historical aspects. As a whole experience this movie is very disappointing! 

It is a long time ago that I have watched this film and had written the review but I can still remember the anguish I felt after having seen it. It's one that angers you so much because some people will actually believe that all of what occurs is based on true historic stories. Especially since he let his actors speak the Yucatec Maya language. Somehow that makes it all seem authentic. But trust me this is not the case. In the end it does not matter that much since basically this is all just context to provide some thrilling action. In that respect this film won't be a total waste of time. However you won't be able to shake the feeling you have been conned. Watch at your own risk. 

Review The Killing Floor (2007): Edge of your seat thriller!

genre: thriller, horror

Marc Blucas (best known from Buffy the Vampire Slayer as Riley Finn) acts superbly. Even when it is obvious he is an obnoxious and arrogant man you will sympathize with him. Of course he is helped by the wonderful screenplay. But still it is an excellent performance. The pace of the movie is quite fast. The tension starts early and building up to the climax. When you think you know everything the story immediately goes another direction. The twists and turns are handled with care so that you don't loose the plot. At one occasion the main character is sent a video which he plays to find out really disturbing. Suggesting there are supernatural elements involved. You have to see it to believe it. But it did freak me out a bit. As a fanatic thriller and horror fan this is not easy to do! The particular scene lifts this movie to an ever higher level and me wanting to find out what the hell was going on. (It is a shame that they don't explain how they achieved the effect, but I didn't mind since it intensified the viewing experience a lot.) This movie surely delivers on the thrilling part. So definitely a must watch! 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Review A Christmas Horror Story (2015): Close but no cigar / Undercover Anthology film done wrong!

genre: horror

Not a classic and no fun at all!

By now the idea of doing a horror themed Christmas movie is quite old. But still horror is the exact opposite of what you would expect in a Christmas film. For these to be effective you have to focus on these differences and enhance them. A Christmas Horror came close but failed.

First of all this film goes wrong right from the start where we get introduced to several characters that are only tied because they are from the same town. At one point it comes clear that each of these groups of characters are part of their own little story making A Christmas Horror Story an anthology film. Now in the right hands they could have done something truly brilliant with this. Instead it reeks of laziness and that the film makers could not be bothered with writing enough story to make one compelling story. The result is that you get these short little segments that never truly stand out because they are all lacking proper characterization and buildup of suspense. Certain events escalate very quickly and when they do you hardly care for anyone. Also because most of the characters act like buffoons most of the time. There is no logic to their behaviour at all. They rarely have real dialogues and they also don't act like real people would. Now I do think this is mostly due to the fact that they aren't given time to develop. Only the best of actors can show depth in a short time span. And let's face it none of the actors in this film have what it takes apart from William Shatner. Why would you have him in the film and not be part of it all? In the film he is cast as a radio DJ who increasingly gets more drunk as he keeps pouring himself eggnog and scotch. His part could have been easily left out and it would not have made a difference. And why did they let him play his role so reserved? We know that Shatner can say the craziest things. So let him. It would have been so much better had they let him say those things while the horrific events were playing out Mystery Science Theater 3000 style. Or how difficult is it to let him say things of why he loves Christmas so much and then fade into one of the standalone segments to show the opposite? It would have been very effective.

There were some moments that looked promising but then simply faded and making you regret that you got hopeful for a minute. The badass Santa fighting hordes of his own Elves turned into walking dead easily could have been the highlight and regretfully I have to report that it never reaches greatness that some bad B movies can accomplish. Although I do have to add that the twist in the end concerning Santa was an effective one. It is one of the reasons why it's hard to rate this film lower because it does redeems itself a tiny bit. But in the end you have to judge the film as a whole and truth of the matter is that none of it is actually fun. Most of the time the scenes were just tedious. None of the standalone segments are truly exciting or thrilling. And they lacked ambition and creativity. How can you go wrong with Santa fighting zombie elves? That should have been freaking hilarious. 

After careful consideration I think that A Christmas Horror film is waste of your time. As a whole it fails to deliver the one thing a bad B movie should have plenty of which is fun. Avoid!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Review Tomorrowland a.k.a. Project T (20150: Light and hope versus Darkness and despair. Dare to dream and remain hopeful people!

genre: action, adventure, science fiction

To think I had been holding off watching this film since not many people were happy with it. And then to be pleasantly surprised of how much I enjoyed it from start to finish. Why are people so against this movie?

For one thing, Tomorrowland  isn't dark, gloomy and super serious. It has it's moments of seriousness but I thought those moments were well chosen. Maybe another reason why some people did not fall for this movie since it's plot wasn't that surprising and incredibly predictable. But you know what, I loved that while the plot was simplistic of nature I still got thrilled and excited by the events. Things move along quite fast only a few times (once or twice) did it seem to lose a little steam. Once I got caught up in the adventure it never let go of me. I loved how the film actually had a positive message to tell. Maybe they overdid it a little too much still these days it is kind off required since apparently people need to be convinced. I honestly struggle to find a reason for people absolutely not liking this film. Other than the fact that perhaps this film is more aimed at people who can easily escape into these films and let go of conventions. I thought that some scenes were incredibly hilarious and were laughing most of the time. (It could also be that I found it refreshing to see a fun film after all the dark and gloom in films Black Mass and Un prophète).

Tomorrowland is filled with action and spectacle. I honestly was not expecting this. I was dreading some dark and apocalyptic tale where they had to choose a select few being admitted to this new Utopian world. Fortunately for me it was nothing like that. And I very happily agree with the positive message. One should always be hopeful. Without hope there is no point in living. So yes, dream on people and let us keep the hope alive.

The acting is top notch. I usually am not a fan of kid or teen actors but I thought Britt Robertson as Casey and Raffey Cassidy as Athena were brilliant. Especially the latter makes on hell of an impression. The dynamics between her and the other cast members were very fun to watch. George Clooney let these kids shine but he was as much as involved into this project as they were. Actually it was nice to see him as as an old and grumpy inventor. 

I truly enjoyed this film a lot. It was a blast for me. And if you haven't watched it yet and you are held back like I was because of the bad reviews then do give this film the benefit of the doubt since it might surprise you. 

Review Un prophète a.k.a. A Prophet (2009): The rise of an underdog on the tax payers' money!

genre: crime, drama

Black Mass left a bitter taste and I wanted to check if other praised crime films truly were brilliant as stated or simply just as Black Mass are over hyped and overrated. Which brought me to Un prophète.

Fortunately Un prophète is far more deserving of it's praise. Although some major flaws do stand in the way of the viewing experience. I will get into these flaws in a while. Gangster and prison drama's rarely are light and amusing. Often they are harsh and confronting and makes you happy that you aren't in one. This film is no different and even makes you empathize with the main character at the beginning. Over the course of the film this shifts a little. But just because you empathize does not mean you agree or condone this person's actions. Only from how the situation is presented you sort of can understand why someone would choose his path. Malik does not seem to have many options. He is illiterate, not schooled and trained in any field and does not have friends or family. He is young and alone. I found it a little curious that we did not get to learn about the Malik before he got into prison. Very briefly he even said at one point that he was not guilty of the crime he was put in jail for. Naturally the prison ward or guard in charge was not impressed by that since all the criminals claim this. I guess director Jacques Audiard wanted to give the choice to the viewer. I think it does help the perspective significantly. If he truly is innocent then we are witness for the corruption of a young mind and soul that could have contributed to society more productively and legally. Or at least been given the freedom and choice to do so. That is assuming if he would meet the right people and incentives to seize and create his own chances and opportunities. Now this is taken away from him and he needs to survive. If you look it like this then all of of what happens in this film is incredibly tragic. If you choose to believe is already was quite corrupted and never would amount to do any good then it would be tragic also but more so incredible infuriating. Because here we see the making of a big crime boss that otherwise would have remained petty and insignificant. Instead of this guy being punished and helping him to redeem himself prison makes him a bigger problem and threat to society on the tax payer's costs. If that does not make you mad then I don't know what will. So again it is quite curious why we don't know exactly where Malik is coming from.

Leaving out his background for me would add a lot more but it's not that big of a flaw that would make me stop watching or anything. However the pacing and some of the events did make it hard to keep watching. The pacing is very slow. And most events are predictable to a tee. Still what kept me going was the desire to see how Malik would become a major player by using what he learned in prison. Let's face it, it's always fascinating to see an underdog become successful on his own merit no matter in what field. But did it really need that much time to get there? I don't think so. Because in the quiet moments not much is said and done. We never truly get to learn of what Malik truly wants. As far I can recall he never has real dialogues about that. I would assume that especially in prison you would have more than enough time for those thoughts. It is hinted that he is psychologically damaged and traumatized. But nothing truly important has been done with it so I wonder why we were shown these hints. Maybe to ensure our empathy. 

The biggest flaw though is the ending. Don't worry I won't spoil it. But for me it was unsatisfying. I expected so much more and a little more dramatics. Or at least some fireworks between Malik and César Luciani at the end. I mean this all still is fiction and you could at least let the characters express their real emotions even if it was just for the sake of the viewer to give the harsh reality a little humanity. And that is where Black Mass and Un prophete are similar. It lacks emotion and humanity. Both these movies show a world that is distant, cold and ruthless. 

Un prophète without a doubt is superior to Black Mass but also can't escape the pretentiousness and predictability. It wants us to tell a tale without actually telling enough. The consequence is that it is tasking and even gets boring. I refer to classics The Godfather and Goodfellas. Those movies are both long movies but are never boring. And till date are films you can watch over and over again. Why? Because they show you characters that are complete. You get to know them real well. Here most of them are kept mysterious. While that sometimes can be intriguing here it is the opposite. So certainly one to watch but you have been warned. 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Review Black Mass (2015): One of the worst and uninspired movies I have seen! Depp's performance is not that extraordinary. And if they aimed to make him look like Ray Liotta then why not hire the man himself.

genre: crime, drama

After hearing so much praise about this film and Johnny Depp's performance in particular I must have been expecting too much since what I saw was just average. Nothing extraordinary about the way he played his role. The movie itself is a disaster.

It's slow, boring and doesn't do anything other than fill you up with disgust for the main characters. Whenever things got interesting scenes got cut off so that we never got to see real explosive dynamics. Everything was resolved quickly and casually and none of what occurs truly matters since after 15 minutes or so you will know how the tale will end. You don't have to know the real story to see where it is heading.  Maybe I have seen too many gangster movies and then it becomes harder to be surprised. Although not too long ago I watched Blood Ties and I happened to enjoy that one a whole lot more. At least that offered something to hold your interest which was the relationship between two brothers. In this film there is a lot of talk about loyalty and friendship but none of the characters good or bad know the true meaning of that. These people aren't loyal or friends.  They are only thinking of themselves and would not think twice to do whatever it takes to stay on top of things. Maybe this is one of the major reasons why I dislike it. It's far too dark and takes itself far too serious. I get it. These were real gangsters who were the most ruthless and despicable people you can imagine. But come on even the worst of them had another side to them. Here they are all on the evil path. If you are going for realism then you do have to balance out the characters. The Godfather does this. Goodfellas does this. And most other good gangster flicks do. We also never get to really get to know the majority of the characters. I understood that Bulger was a menace. But what else? We briefly see that he had a wife and kid and that he cared about them. There must have been something about him that made his wife like him right? We don't get see any of that. With the result that the focus is on the criminal stuff which also is presented like it is an afterthought. I dare you to make sense of the story and the events because apart from me losing interest after only fifteen minutes they don't even try to tie up the events and the scenes. We don't get told how much time has passed which is disorientating and completely confusing. And still I could predict how everything would end. 

I don't know who Scot Cooper is. But I did some checking and he does not seem to have that much experience as a director. Which shows. Black Mass is lacking on many fronts. But the worst is that this film is not made with heart. It does not have a soul and personality. It's just a collection of scenes held together by a decent cast that try to do the most with the little they have been given. 

Please avoid this. Like I said at the beginning of this review that this is a disaster of a film. Only at very brief times will you feel something. Usually it will be disgust and dislike for Bulger. Other than that there is nothing to feel. And also don't get swayed by the people praising Johnny Depp. He is simply imitating Ray Liotta. Why not hire him in the first place?

Review Calendar Girls Murders (1984 TV): How can you go wrong with a main character called Dan Stoner?

genre: thriller, crime

You can't get more straightforward with a title like this. No chance of mistaking this for some kind of masterpiece. Or is there?

Nah, I am just messing with you. The only reason I was checking this out since sometimes thrillers like these can be very pleasurable to watch. And actually for the most part it is quite decent. It's how it ends where you realize you just wasted a good 90 minutes of your life. Calendar Girl Murders has a decent cast. You have Tom Skerritt as the seasoned cop Dan Stoner who is reluctant to be one but somehow always gets suckered back into his job because of his manipulative chief. I really fail to see how these dynamics are functional to the plot but it was nice to see anyway. Then you have Robert Culp as the big shot who is one of the first people you suspect for killing the women. And you have Sharon Stone who looks absolutely gorgeous. Doesn't she always? Whatever happened to her? But there are many more people and therefore red herrings which for the viewer is a good thing. If only they would have put a little more effort into building up the suspense and tension. The murders happen very quickly and bloodless. And for some reason most of the characters don't seem to be bothered by these murders too much and that simply detracts from taking the film seriously somewhat. If it weren't for the dependable actors this simply would be trash and a sleaze fest (without nudity. Hang on? Is that even possible? Yes, it is). Since this is a film produced for television the skimpy outfits and nudity is almost non existent but the calendar girls certainly are nice to look at plus they do their best to be very seductive. Or are my hormones speaking on my behalf? (Before I get accused of being misogynistic, I am joking of course.) 

Then you find out who the killer is. And I was like, yeah so? What about the motive? Surely there must be an incredible compelling reason behind all of this? And the answer ladies and gentlemen, no there is no good reason why you have wasted your time for 90 minutes. In the end it turns out that Calendar Girl Murder is as generic as they come and it is only digestible because of the solid cast and decent acting. Other than that there is nothing worth your while. Look maybe I am being a little too harsh. It is one of those movies that you could tolerate very late at night right before you go to sleep. Only when you do decide to watching this keep your expectations low, very low, very very very low.