I've spent the last few weeks watching some really brutal horror movies and so I was in desperate need of fluff. Aliens In The Attic is a movie I've had on the back burner for a while and I just got around to watching it. It's really good. This is the type of movie Joe Dante would have made in the 80s and it's actually not too far removed from his movie Small Soldiers. The premise is exactly as the title suggests. While on summer vacation a bunch of kids wage war against an imminant alien invasion. Its an ideal family movie really with heaps to keep the kids entertained as well as plenty for the adults. There are some great subtleties in the humour and the miniature alien creations are fantastic. Also satisfying (for some weird reason) is that this was all shot in New Zealand. That place seems to lend a different aesthetic to any American movie made there. Aliens In The Attic... good stuff.
Robert Zemeckis is really lovin' the motion-capture animation. In fact he's really leading the way with films like Polar Express, Christmas Carol, Beowulf & Monster House. His recent one (about 12 months old now) is Mars Needs Moms. Its nowhere near up to snuff with the aforementioned movies but its quite an effective one nonetheless. The premise is stupid (I won't even bother explaining) but the performances and some of the scenarios are fun enough and it has a lean running time of 80 minutes. There's a cute message for kids to appreciate their mums more but thats about as sucky as the whole Disney morals go. The effects are wonderful and some of the 3D effects are delicious. If you liked movies like Titan AE, Treasure Planet and Battle For Terra then this flick should satisfy.
Robert Redford's newly formed "American Film Company" is dedicated to making historically accurate films with their founding belief that real life is often more compelling than fiction. Firstly that's a statement I disagree with. Secondly I am apprehensive about their intentions. Redford's previous movie "Lions For Lambs" was a disgustingly blatant piece of propaganda which shamefully warped facts about the war in Afghanistan... and so I have lost trust in him. The Conspirator is his latest film which presents the trial of Mary Surratt as a conspirator to the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. It's a legal film which explores the American constitution and what it means to a turbulent nation which has just come out of a civil war. The story is definitely compelling and from what I have read on the subject, it is indeed accurate... for the most part. In fact when reading about it there is a lot of detail left out of this film which would have been an enthralling addition. Anyhow perhaps this new film company's biggest mistake was to boldly declare that fact romps fiction because The Conspirator is a film which uses all of the typical cinematic trickery to hold its audience. Suspense, humour, shock and empathy... and so there is an obvious break from "fact" when liberties are taken to tell the story. Of course this is unavoidable and I enjoy a heightened story... I just had a problem with this mob posing so self-righteously. A good film nonetheless.
I would consider Terrence Melick an auteur. His films are all precise and patiently constructed. He takes his time to make films and whenever you watch one of them you get the sense that every frame as its purpose. Tree Of Life is his most recent project and I'm not too sure how to process it. Firstly there is no doubt that it's a bold and audacious film and its is stunning to watch. There is no conventional narrative as he tells the story of life and death as experienced by one family. Their life is mesmerising and I found myself totally caught up in their world... but I have quite a few reservations about the film which leave a bad taste in my mouth. While being audacious with Tree Of Life, I found Malick to be really arrogant and self-absorbed in his approach. Towards the beginning he presents a 30 minute montage exploring the creation of the universe and the evolution of all things. This in itself wasn't a problem for me because I understood its relevance to the film's themes. My problem with this portion of the movie is its length. 30 minutes is unnecessary and I felt like Malick was suggesting that some people aren't good enough for Tree of Life and he was essentially weeding out those without the patience to persist. I have no doubt many viewers turned if off and found a more self-satisfying flick to watch. Thats a shame because the meaty portions of the story are wonderful. With a less wanky approach this would have been one of the best films of the year... no doubt it will still get an Oscar nod regardless. I'll be disappointed if it wins though.
Alright, here's a weird one. Gooby is a family film about Willy, an 11 year old boy who has difficulty connecting with the world. He can't make friends and is terrified of change. When his parents buy a new house he is overcome with fear of what lies ahead and with an overactive imagination he conjures up a giant teddy bear to help him through it. The bear is Gooby (he hates his name because it sounds like snot) who becomes a parental/big brother figure for Willy. This is a strange movie which has trouble deciding what it wants to be. The interaction between Gooby and Willy is great and there's actually a touching story at the centre of the movie, however, the other portions are hokey and stupid. Eugene Levy offers a hinderance with a farcical character who brings the whole thing down a few levels. The other thing that confused me was that Gooby is (presumedly) supposed to be imaginary and yet other people see him at certain times.... anyway its a movie for kids which might actually reach some of it's more introverted viewers. Robbie Coltrane voices Gooby and adds sincerity and warmth.
The Whistleblower is a potent political drama/thriller starring Rachel Weisz in the performance of her career. She plays an American police officer who accepts a position with a UN affiliated peacekeeping contractor in Bosnia. During a routine investigation she uncovers a brutal sex-trade in the area which leads to a human trafficking racket that leads to high places within the UN. Local law enforcement, UN personnel and private contractors are involved in various levels of the trade and Weisz's character fights against personal dangers and threats to expose those involved. Its an incredible story and the abhorrent torture of these women is pivotal to the film's power. Weisz is incredible and she is joined by a fantastic cast including Vanessa Redgrave, David Strathairn, David Hewlitt, Benedict Cumberbatch and Monica Bellucci. The film runs at 90 minutes and this is not nearly long enough to tell this story. It fails to explore how such atrocities can filtrate throughout the peacekeeping ranks and this question weighed heavily on my mind. It's a true story and so there's no doubt it happened, but how do people who devote their lives to humanitarian efforts end up like this? Perhaps leaving the viewer with this question will encourage people to explore this more and I suppose that's a good thing. Nevertheless this is an excellent film. Rachel Weisz deserves accolades for this performance!
Yeah... nah.... I didn't like Soul Surfer. It's the true story of Bethany Hamilton, the 13 year old surfer who had her arm bitten off by a shark. With the help of family and faith along with steely determination, she pushes herself to get back up and compete in championships. There's no doubt its a powerful & inspirational story but the movie is made so badly. It reeks of over-sentimentality and tries to tug at every heartstring. The soundtrack is woeful and the performances are average... as is featured in the film, her family filmed her entire road to recovery and success and the real-life footage is featured throughout the credits... now THAT stuff is where the real power of the story lies. I would much rather see this story as a documentary and I believe there is a short-doco floating around. Perhaps I'll watch that sometime.
Expectations lessen drastically whenever Renny Harlin's name is attached as the director of any given movie. He's made a few good movies but he's mostly made crap. And so I wasn't sure what to expect with his new one, 5 Days Of War, which follows the perspective of two war-journalists caught in the Russio-Georgian War of 2008 (remember when the Russians invaded?). I'm happy to report that this is Harlin's best film (imo) to date. I'll do away with the negatives quickly and say that there are a few sparse moments of tackiness, the occasional bravado and a heightened soundtrack.... However, i think they're easily overlooked because Harlin has captured this war zone really well. The sense of emergency and desperation are prevelant and the SFX are amazing. The film doesn't shy away from the ugliness with quite a lot of barbaric and horrific stuff shown on screen and it amounts to an effective look into one of our more current accounts of war. I read that the film was partially funded by a faction of the Georgian government and so there is an obvious bias... but you can't help but see this more as a plea for the outside world to hear them. There is still conflict going on and the western world is still turning a blind eye. Renny Harlin DOES have some good films in him... hopefully this is the first of more.
I love the Planet Of The Apes film series but admittedly as the franchise progressed, the quality of the films cheapened.... and so it's fantastic to have a brand new installment that's not a remake and adds to the legacy of the original. It's an origin story which details how the apes first rebelled and it brilliantly acts as a springboard for a whole new series of films which could easily lead up to the classic 1968 film which started it all. We have seen much of this concept in the final two films of the original series but this movie gives us a much clearer and in-depth look at the uprising. For the first 20 minutes I was uneasy because I had difficulty dealing with the animated creatures. They just looked too computer generated and it broke the reality for me and separated my willingness to embrace the story.... fortunately the story was great though and the development of the ape's intelligence was captivating. I soon forgot about the CGI and went along with it. As a fan of the franchise, this completely won me over. I absolutely loved it!!! AWESOME!
There has been an endless abyss of images of the Beatles over the years and as a fan you think you've seen it all.... but then this film comes along. Scorsese has been given incredible access to a personal and private gallery. From George Harrison's childhood to his teenage years, through his entire musical career and right up until his death... the film is packed with images, conversations, interviews and home videos of George and it's a really in-depth and moving portrait of a reluctant legend. To the film's credit it doesn't skim the surface but (as with the Beatles Anthology) it takes its time to capture the man and give the audience a real sense of the man behind the music. It runs at 3 1/2 hours in length and I found myself still wanting more. As a fan I already knew music side of things (still learned a lot more) however I found the second half of the film much more affecting. His story leading up to his death and the testimonials from friends and loved ones is very profound and I came away with a real life-affirming optimism. It takes a great film to do that.
Fancy a mind-fuck? Well look no further. Forbidden Zone is a kitschy surreal and psychotic musical film that's almost impossible to describe. Its like the original Pee-wee's Playhouse, Pink Flamingos, David Lynch and Andy Warhol all got together and bred. The back story is that director Richard Elfman and his brother (famous movie composer) Danny Elfman were in an 80s rock-pop band called Oingo Boingo (Weird Science was a single). But before that they were a music theatre troupe called The Mystic Knights Of The Oingo Boingo. They played in dingy underground playhouses with a bizarre set designs, costumes and concepts. Almost like a psychedelic voodoo ceremony on acid. And so Forbidden Zone is their attempt to capture that mayhem on film. Its a film I can't help but love. The absurdity and stupidity of it is mesmerising. The imagery is creepy and infantile and the music is a combination of original songs and sampled ones. Richard Elfman filmed it in black and white with the intention of sending it overseas to be colour graded. He wanted the post production colorisation to add a deeper level of surrealism. Unfortunately the colour never happened and the movie was released in B&W. Cut to 20 years later and with renewed interest from fans the dvd release is presented as originally envisioned. In glorious surreal colour. I won't bother explaining the story because it doesn't make any sense but if you love obscure cult cinema then Forbidden Zone needs to be on your list of 'must see' movies. Apparently a sequel is being written by the Elfmans.
— with Richard Elfman.
Last night I watched Neil Jordan's The Butcher Boy and so tonight I decided to watch his follow up film; In Dreams. It's a different type of film but also deals with mental illness. I've seen this movie several times and it still makes little sense... but it makes little sense in a David Lynch sort of way. To compare the film would be to suggest that it's a cross between Jacobs Ladder and Twin Peaks. Annette Bening plays a woman who has had visions her entire life. She has always assumed they were of past events but when she sees her own daughter led astray and murdered, she comes to realise that they have been premonitions the whole time. As the story progresses she slips deeper into psychosis where reality and dilution are blurred. Many people have faulted this movie for being too convoluted and incoherent (which is true) but those factors work in it's favour in my opinion. The film is visually brilliant. The colour schemes are amazing and the set design is almost fairytale. Robert Downey Jr plays the child killer with whom Bening's character becomes psychically connected with. Is he is figment of her imagination? Is she schizophrenic or is there a real connection with a real killer? I am sure there are clues hidden throughout the film and the richly textured design would suggest this, but I am still trying to piece it together after several viewings. I love that it confuses me and challenges me... In Dreams is either a brilliant psychological horror film or a piece of shit. Few films blur that line. LOL
The Butcher Boy is perhaps Neil Jordan's masterpiece. That's saying a lot given his body of work. It tells the story of a trouble boy who, through a series of traumatic events, spirals into a violent state of schizophrenia. His father is a drunk, his mother is a suicidal wreck and the town's people liken him to pigs. When things go from bad to worse and he is bounced between institutes he rapidly disintegrates into an uncontrollable time-bomb and finds solace inside his own mind, creating illusions and fantasies for himself. Its a really powerful film and the kid who plays the main character is fantastic. Apparently he was a regular kid scouted out of a local school... talk about a find. Its not Jordan's most accessible movie but I think it's easily his best.