Friday, December 23, 2011

Fuck the Holidays, let's go to the movies (Part 1)

The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn



When you've got Steven Spielberg, Peter Jackson, Steven Moffat, Edgar Wright, and Joe Cornish collaborating on a film, you should be excited. If you're not, I don't know what you're doing reading this. This is an impressive pedigree of artists. For those that don't know, Moffat has written episodes of Dr. Who and Sherlock and Cornish wrote and directed Attack the Block, one of the best films this year. Together they have delivered one of the most entertaining films released in 2011, evoking feelings of the best childhood memories that never cease to thrill us.

Like "Mission: Impossible---Ghost Protocol," there is not much in the way of complex storytelling. Visiting the town market, Tintin (Jamie Bell) eyes a magnificent model ship, which he immediately purchases, just in time to meet Ivanovich Sakharine (Daniel Craig), who was there to make the same purchase. Because Tintin is a kid and loves models, he refuses to sell the ship, and instead investigates this fellow and the importance of the ship, discovering that there are three Unicorn model ships, all containing clues to the Haddock family fortune. Like all defiant little shits in films, he's kidnapped by Sakharine's men and brought on board a ship belonging to none other than Archibald Haddock (Andy Serkis), a drunk Scottish captain who has been locked away by our friend Sakharine until Haddock releases some vital information his family's treasure.

"The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" hits the ground running and never stops to breath, which normally would be grating and a sign of a weak screenplay, but under everyone I mentioned before, it's presented with such grace and confidence that it never wears out its welcome and is exciting even in the bridge scenes for the next big action setpiece. Much credit must be given to the actors. Jamie Bell convincingly plays Tintin with such a sense of adolescent bravery and intellect that never once did I question the character. Daniel Craig is having a lot of fun with the menacing Sakharine, a complete 180 from many of his prior roles. But the film belongs to Andy Serkis, one of the greatest actors working today, who adds so many layers to what could have been a one-note bumbling character. If he hadn't been in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" earlier this year, I'd say that he deserves an Oscar nomination for Haddock. He makes it seem so easy. Also showing up in the film are Simon Pegg and Nick Frost, playing Thomson and Thompson, their voice talents often so identical I struggled to distinguish between the two.

Because Tintin is a serial, we're thrown into the story and characters without much of an introduction, so if you're not familiar with Herge's series, you might complain about the lack of character development, with the exception of Haddock. When the film ends, all you know about the boy is that he is a journalist who is adventurous. Oh, he also has a dog. Not much there. It's a testament to Spielberg that you never even think about this until after the film is over. This isn't the first time we've seen motion capture action-adventure films, but it's the first time we've been shown the format used to its full potential. A lot of hype has been built around the eight minute chase sequence through a town that's being flooded thanks to a flub by Haddock, and similar to "Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol," the sequence absolutely lives up to the hype. You can almost see Spielberg and Jackson giggling with glee, and as a result, so do we. I feel like Steven Spielberg and Brad Bird got together and decided to show not only the audience but other filmmakers how action should be done. The confluency of the actions sequences is masterfully impeccable.

There are other simple yet effective touches used throughout that really grabbed my attention, such as some of the transitions between scenes, like an rippling ocean that becomes a puddle of water on the side of a street, for example. And, in one of the most memorable moments, Haddock recounts the destruction of the Unicorn by pirates, where his great-grandfather defended the ship against pirates. The mise en scene fluidity of the scene alternates between flashback and Haddock drunkedly acting out the event and is a prime representation of a master of the craft.

"The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" is presented in 3-D, and since there wasn't a 2-D showing at my theatre, it's the one I had to go with. Thankfully, it's subtly employed as opposed to the nerve-grating gimmick we're normally exposed to (looking at YOU, Immortals and Conan). However, it's so subtly used that most of the time it's ineffective, so if you do plan to watch this in theaters (which you should), seek out the 2-D option. There is only one film this year that I can truly say is worth the premium upgrade, and that is "Hugo," a film I believe many people are going to regret now watching in theaters in 3-D. I've discussed "Mission: Impossible--Ghost Protocol" and "The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn" as a return to proper action adventure films, but this month has also seen some of the best children's films in a while. Between "Hugo," "The Muppets," and "The Adventures of Tintin," there is no reason why parents should be bringing their children to dreck like "Arthur Christmas" and "Alvin and the Chipmunks: RAPE." All three films are absolutely going to become classics, of this I have no doubt.

If there is one criticism I have of the film, it is the score by John Williams. We hear the theme song over the opening credits, but beyond that, it's ultimately forgettable, and oftentimes distracting, as it kept reminding me too much of a rehash of his "Harry Potter" scores. I was really hoping he would have used more of French motifs, which we are only treated to a couple of times. Not even a handful of times, just a couple.

"Tintin" may not be as rich as "Hugo," and I feel like a lot of people will (and already have) criticized the film because of that, which is horribly unfair. Tintin is fluff, but is supremely enjoyable, a film that harkens back to that certain place of sheer adventure in our hearts that was so prominent in childhood. The film ends on the setup for a sequel, which will be directed by Peter Jackson when it eventually happens. I, for one, cannot wait to write about the further adventures of a drunken captain and his innocent teenage companion.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

THE HORROR! THE HORROR! (Part 7)

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 THE FILM: Hostel Part II
I really hated this film when I first saw it. I remember my best friend at the time argued with me the whole drive home about how creative and original this sequel was. I couldn’t see it. I was wrong. I wish we were still friends so I could admit how ignorant I was being, because re-watching the film a couple nights ago, it’s apparent how brilliant Hostel Part II is, taking the formula that was established in the original and makes the story and setting seem just as fresh the second time around. Many scenes I had forgotten, such as the passport scanning and the subsequent bidding war. I especially love, love, love Roger Bart’s relationship with Beth and his wicked turn towards the end. When this was released, people called it sexist and exploitative. They’re wrong. Some people are going to bitch no matter what, so you just have to laugh and ignore their warped views. Roth challenges these views by making Bart’s character a complete sociopath, having picked Beth because she looked like his wife, and he can’t stop himself from trying to rape her. This is the character that the audience is hoping will have a change of heart; he’s the wimpy friend after all (he freaks out upon learning that he has to get a tattoo). So by becoming a misogynistic killer, Eli Roth condemns the male viewers. To emphasize that, Beth exacts her revenge by castrating him and feeding it to the hounds. So, the one character who was metaphorically castrated by life is literally castrated at the end. Eli Roth isn’t displaying anger towards women, he’s showing his appreciation for intelligent, strong women who challenge society’s hostility. The ending of Hostel Part II, where Beth must join the elite to survive, is thematically linked with the original ending of Hostel (Part I), where Jay Hernandez murdered the daughter of the businessman. One may not agree with the morals, but will inevitably evolve in order to survive.  

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Sunday, October 16, 2011

THE HORROR! THE HORROR! (Part 6)

THE FILM: Torso
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Like gratuitous nudity? Violence? 70‘s style editing and musical scoring? Then it’s Torso all the way!
One of the better Giallo films from director Sergio Martino, Torso tells the timeless tale of coeds getting strangled in Perugia, leaving only a red and black scarf as a clue. So, of course Jane and her friends go on vacation at an isolated villa in the countryside. Because, you know, why not? Martino isn’t as strong a director as Argento or even Fulci, but he does a great job of building tense set pieces and delivering a satisfying payoff. And when he needs to kill time, he’ll throw in a lesbian scene. Because, you know, why not?  The gore is a mixed bag. There are some moments where it is truly horrific and other instances where you can see the prop head folding in. The explanation given for the killer is a tad weak, but you know what, I just went along with it and enjoyed the ride. There are also numerous shots of the Italian countryside added for good measure. Any film with this many bizarre red herrings is A-okay with me. 
Oh, and the film begins in the middle of an orgy.  
Fun Fact: During production, none of the cast was told who the killer was. And because of the high amount of red herrings in the film, many of the actresses were convinced it was someone else doing all the murders.
Why isn’t this on the Blu-ray?: An alternate ending was shot with the killer surviving in the end.

LESBIANS!
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THE HORROR! THE HORROR! (Part 5)

THE FILM: Mimic (The Director’s Cut)

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Up until just a couple years ago, I wasn’t even aware of the troubled production of Sir Guillermo Del Toro’s first big-budget film. During production, Bob Weinstein FIRED Del Toro, telling him that he simply wasn’t cutting it and his ideas weren’t what they were looking for, despite the fact that it was those ideas that landed him the job in the beginning. Upon hearing this, Mira Sorvino stormed into Bob’s office and reportedly said, “You motherfucker, you’re not doing this to him, you’re not doing this to me, this is not the way you make movies, I’m not coming to the set tomorrow without Guillermo directing the movie. I won’t work for anyone else. I’ll split.”
And that’s why I love Mira Sorvino. And so should you. Some people believe that her career was damaged because of this. 
Once Del Toro was rehired, they monitored every move he made and forced him to re-write the ending to reflect a more uplifting tone. The changes in this cut may not be apparent at first, but rest assured, this is a different film altogether. Not in content necessarily, but in tone. The film now has a very strong gothic ambience to it that was never present in the theatrical version. Not only that, but the overall confluency is much smoother and much more organic. There are some horrifyingly heartbreaking moments and revelations towards the end that will be with you for days after. Another interesting alteration is the fact that many jump scares have been replaced with moments of supreme unease and high tension (haha). If you’ve never seen this film before, this is the version to see. 

Fun Fact: In the original ending Doctor Susan and the kid come up from the subway into Grand Central Terminal only to be confronted by hundreds of commuters dressed like Long John. This ominous ending didn't test well so the 'happy' street scene ending was shot and appears in the final cut.

Monday, October 10, 2011

THE HORROR! THE HORROR! (Part 4)


THE FILM: The Exorcist III

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Even with the studio interfering with this film, it still is far superior to Exorcist II: The Heretic. William Blattey wrote and directed this film based on his novel, “Legion,” which does not feature any demons or exorcisms, but the studio, after viewing the first cut, decided that they wanted to market this as an exorcist film and therefore forced Blattey to write and reshoot the third act, which is where the film falls apart. But you know what? The first two acts are pretty damn solid, featuring George C. Scott as Lt. Kinderman, who is on the case of a copycat killer. More surprising than how effectively creepy the film is, is the sense of humor. Yes, the film is genuinely funny at times. But seriously, wait for the hospital scene. You’ll know it when it happens. It ranks as one of the most frightening scenes in film history. And then there’s the crawling old woman that was blatantly ripped off in “Legion.” And even when it falls apart in the third act, it’s smart enough to have such great actors as Brad Dourif, Jason Miller (reprising his role), and Nicol Williamson to make it digestible. This is a classically made horror film in every sense of the word. 
Fun Fact: Some lobby cards show scenes that were cut from the film, such as a scene with a beheaded priest.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

THE HORROR! THE HORROR! (Part 3)




THE FILM: Maniac
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As far as horror films go, it doesn’t get as grotesque, unpleasant, perverse, and seedy as “Maniac.” Joe Spinell, from “The Godfather” and “Taxi Driver,” plays Frank Zito, who is traumatized by the memories of abuse by his mother, who he pretends to speak to despite her being dead. In his apartment he dresses up mannequins as the women he has murdered, using their scalps as the finishing touch. While not being psychologically deep, it is interesting to watch a film entirely from this perspective, learning as to what makes this guy tick. The film asks, “what makes a man a monster?” Well, it turns out it’s a lot of abuse, as weak an argument as that may be. The real star of the film, however, is Tom Savini, who has a cameo as a womanizer who gets his head blow off in the standout scene of enthusiastically unbridled ultraviolence. The second half of the film introduces a romantic interest for good ‘ol Frankie, which takes a turn for the worst and leads to a very memorable ending.    



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Friday, October 7, 2011

THE HORROR! THE HORROR! (PART 2)



THE FILM: Sheitan


Sheitan was recommended to me by Netflix in the “slasher” sub-genre, however, I will restrain from categorizing it as such in this review. Sheitan couldn’t be further from a slasher film. There’s only one or two kills in the film, but they make one hell of an impact. After a night of hard partying on Christmas Eve, a group of friends encounter Eve, who lures them back to her farmhouse to further continue their debauchery. Upon arrival, they immediately meet Eve’s bizarre housekeeper, Joseph, played to perfection by Vincent Cassel, one of the best actors working today. Their antagonizing urban attitude doesn’t mesh well with the abnormal rural locals, who seem to have something planned for their new guests. “Sheitan” is a French film (the title translates to Satan), and if you ask me, many of the finest films are imported from France. If you’re expecting a gorefest like Haute Tension, look elsewhere, for “Sheitan” is about as slow burn as it gets, yet there isn’t a dull moment in the film. From the first frame, it grips you close, making you feel uncomfortable with the disturbing sense of humor and almost otherworldly demeanor of the village. What’s interesting about the film is that we’re kind of against the protagonist, Bart,  from the very start. The opening scene has him calling a girl horrible names and picking a fight with the bouncer, where it concludes with a bottle being broken over Bart’s head. The other friend, Thai, picks up this girl with the obvious intention to sleep with her, despite the fact that he’s in a relationship (we never see his girlfriend). And the other friends are simply obnoxious. When the film introduces Eve and later Joseph, they’re so wickedly charming that you’ll find them completely irresistible. Cassel knows how to play this splendidly, as he never crosses into parody, even though he does teeter precariously. At the very moment you think it may be too much, he turns on the characters (and audience) with a razor sharp violent outburst. He’s magnetic, and mercilessly owns every frame he occupies.  I’ve read numerous complaints about the ending, that it’s cheap and too open-ended, I loved it. I agree, it is abrupt, but I feel that it’s intentional. It’s appropriate. And, as I’ve stated before, the audience doesn’t need to know every detail to enjoy a film. It’s not about knowledge, it’s about experience, and this film is painfully visceral. “Sheitan” is the antithesis to the Saw franchise. If you have Netflix streaming, bump this up to number one and watch it tonight. You won’t be sorry.

Fun fact: A few seconds after the credits start, a subliminal pornographic frame is inserted.