Archive for November, 2007

This ChristmasIf you ever wondered what it would be like to be a part of a big family during the holidays, This Christmas is giving you a peek – of course, this family is hiding as many secrets as they are presents from each other.

The Whitfield children have not been under one roof in four years but this year everyone has come home for Christmas. However, in addition to laughter and merriment, that many personalities under one roof is sure to create tension and reveal hidden truths. Naturally, it all works out in the end; otherwise, what kind of Christmas movie would this be?

Each character has his or her own story to tell, problem to solve and/or opportunity to grow – except Mel, who is usually on the fringes of other people’s anecdotes. This makes for an entertaining movie but a less than realistic portrayal of any family over three days. Nonetheless, the characters are sincere and likeable, which keeps the audience in the narrative. Furthermore, the script is funny as the siblings comment on and insult each other as only family can.

The soundtrack is filled with Christmas spirit from the likes of Toni Braxton, Luther Vandross and American Idol winner Jordin Sparks, as well as some old school hits from Aretha Franklin and Marvin Gaye. In addition, Chris Brown (who plays “Baby” Whitfield) provides an impressive rendition of “Try a Little Tenderness.”

An entertaining scene to look forward to is a wife’s revenge à la Waiting to Exhale. This Christmas is not a morality tale; on the contrary, it is a story of love and acceptance – you can’t change your family but you can make each other’s lives a little easier.

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Beowulf

Posted: November 18, 2007 in Film Reviews
Tags: , ,

BeowulfThe classic tale of epic proportions is finally given an on screen treatment of equal measure.

“Beowulf,” the epic poem by Anonymous, has been through numerous literary translations as different scholars interpret the Old English text. Cult icon Neil Gaiman and co-writer Roger Avary approach the film’s screenplay as a contemporary retelling of the hero’s adventures, taking some liberties to fill gaps in the poem’s narrative.

The brave Viking Beowulf (Ray Winstone) travels from Geatland to rid King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) of the monster – Grendel (Crispin Glover) – menacing his lands and to live out another adventure of which the people will sing songs. The death of Grendel brings the wrath of his mother (Angelina Jolie) upon the kingdom. However, instead of dispatching her as well, Beowulf is seduced by the siren and her pledges. As with Hrothgar, fifty years later, the sins of the father are revisited upon him. King Beowulf, although old and undeniably flawed, undertakes one final task to rid his kingdom of a fire-breathing dragon.

One’s initial reaction to the film’s appearance is it is like a video game; however, the character’s faces, particularly their eyes, are far too expressive in comparison to maintain this opinion.

Using the same technique he introduced in The Polar Express, veteran director Robert Zemeckis once again employs ‘performance capture’ technology. Essentially, the actors are filmed on a nearly empty sound stage by dozens of cameras while wearing digital sensors on their faces and bodies; then the images are converted using computer software, retaining the actors’ emotions and performances but altering their appearances. This method allowed the filmmakers to realize their visions for the film and its larger-than-life characters without compromising quality of performance.

As a result of this system, it was still necessary to expertly cast the appropriate person for each role – human and non-human. In addition to those already mentioned, the ensemble includes John Malkovich as Hrothgar’s trusted advisor Unferth, Robin Wright Penn as the king’s wife Wealthow and Brendan Gleeson as Beowulf’s first mate Wiglaf.

This collection of artists is impressive on paper and on film, as each player breaths life into his/her character without ever actually stepping on screen. No performer stands out from another as each of their CGI representations displays emotive expressions and delivers genuine dialogue. Still, Grendel’s appearance seemed unnecessarily grotesque; especially when compared to the other creatures.

The addition of sinister dealings and previously unestablished familial relations comes from the imaginations of the writers but is simultaneously compatible with the original text and believable as elements the monks would have left out of their transcription. Nonetheless, excluding these additions, the film is faithful to the original source while creating a version of the classic story that is more accessible to a contemporary and younger audience.

Beowulf is a captivating piece of adventure and fantasy that could not have been as significant if it had been presented in live-action. Furthermore, its transition to 3D is seamless since it was originally filmed as such.

DON’T WATCH THE TRAILER.

If you are going to enjoy Alone and get a jump out of the scary moments, you cannot watch the trailer prior to screening the film. Unfortunately for fans, the trailer reveals some of the best moments in the Thai horror flick.

It is said the bond between twins surpasses the connection of other siblings; therefore, it can only be stronger between conjoined twins. However, Pim (Masha Wattanapanich), the surviving twin of a surgical separation, worries the bond could prove fatal. Years after the tragedy, Pim is haunted by visions of her dead sister, Ploy (Masha Wattanapanich). But the source of her visions is in question: are they supernatural manifestations seeking revenge or the product of a guilty conscience?

The ambience is consistently dark and heavy with anticipation. Ploy appears unexpectedly and distorted in various ways, scaring both Pim and the audience. Unlike the gory horror littering big screens, Alone relies on classic methods to maintain audiences’ attention: build-up, suspense and surprise.

Although the scares fade near the end, compelling shifts in the plot ensure the film remains interesting. Furthermore, the film is not only about the sudden frights but also the creepiness that surrounds those moments.

Fans of Asian horror will appreciate the style and methods of the genre film.

“If some jackass is dumb enough to come here, then he deserves to die.” “Welcome to your murder.”

Chris (Chris Sharp) is just a lonely nerd that wants to party. On his way home for a friendless night of video watching, he comes across a discarded Halloween party invitation. The gathering is called Murder Party. So Chris pops some pumpkin bread into the oven and goes to work on creating his cardboard costume – the brown knight. The party’s hosts are a group of art students trying to create a masterpiece in order to get their hands on a large monetary grant. However, each of their methods somehow involves the murder of their only clueless guest.

Although written and directed by Jeremy Saulnier, the film is a collaborative project between friends that composed the cast and crew. Several of the filmmakers were even working double duties in front and behind the camera. Even though the film is low budget, it is not worse for lack of money. The cast is talented and they take full advantage of their select shooting locations.

The actors appear to embody their characters and the role they are playing in the twisted black comedy. Each has a different, forceful personality with some art student stereotypes incorporated. Their costumes range from staples like the werewolf and vampire to shout-outs to The Warriors and Blade Runner.

As the potential murderers’ plans continually go awry, the hilarity and bizarreness of the situation increases. Audiences are kept in stitches and wondering what could or will happen next, as the subsequent events are frequently unexpected.

“When the coroner’s report is in, it will read cause of death: art,” avows a pompous participant. However, as the performance piece progresses, the question becomes whose coroner’s report will it be?

And for those who are wondering, five knight costumes were constructed because they were quite fragile (blood and violence tend to do that). An instructional how to make your own brown knight disguise will be included on the DVD.

Bruce McDonald’s fragmented style is a unique approach to capturing the complicated internal workings of the teenage mind.

Fifteen-year-old Tracey Berkowitz (Ellen Page) is an outcast in her school and in her home; her peers taunt and bully her while her parents are usually too busy with their own problems to notice her. Her only ally is her younger brother Sonny, who believes he is a dog. In her attempts to escape the despair, she blurs the line between fantasy and reality. When a new boy starts at the school, Tracey feels her prayers have been answered. Billy Zero (Slim Twig) becomes her boyfriend and rock ‘n’ roll saviour. Of course, she is relaying the story wearing nothing but a flowered shower curtain on the back of a public bus.

McDonald fills the screen with numerous frames, employing an experimental style of editing. Although this may sound distracting or disorienting, it is not. Typically, the multiple frames display the same action from different angles or repeats actions the viewer has already witnessed. Therefore, it adds to the experience of the film rather than detract from it.

The story is told non-chronologically, intertwining Tracey’s adolescent fantasies while revealing hidden truths in her narrative. The decision to be non-linear also communicates the confusion Tracey is experiencing.

Even though the style is a dominant element of the film, it cannot over shadow Page’s performance. She portrays Tracey as strong but unsure, lapsing into girlish doting or dramatic concern effortlessly. Page’s range and ability to become the character is once again showcased here. She is also reunited with her co-star, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos, from Mouth to Mouth, another Canadian production. He has an eccentric look with large eyes and messy blonde hair; appearing simultaneously threatening and harmless, he leaves audiences to question his motivations. Finally, Slim Twig was an appropriate choice for Tracey’s love interest; he conveys a “bad boy” persona that draws lost girls seeking escape from the mundane or miserable.

Using music solely from the indie collective Broken Social Scene, McDonald produces a film that creatively utilizes editing and acting to tell an otherwise straightforward, tragic comedy. If Tracey is missing something, it is not quality.

The Tracey Fragments is based on the book of the same name by Maureen Medved.

Cult icon Crispin Glover as twin backwoods psycho killers sounded like a good time but the end result was more trying than fun.

A group of teenagers are heading to the woods for a weekend of drugs and debauchery. However, they stumble on a nearly abandoned town and anger Stanley, the storeowner, by making fun of his mentally challenged brother, Simon. The arrogant teenagers’ mistake turns out to be fatal as the brothers eliminate the campers one by one; their weapon of choice is the pickax.

While slasher films are innately surreal, this film was even too over-the-top for the genre. Even though fans tend to root for the killer in these films, it is unnecessary to make the victims so annoying you look forward to their murders. For example, who would continue searching for a fallen joint when someone is trying to execute them? Furthermore, Glover’s redneck drawl is initially fitting but as time passes, it grows increasingly irritating.

The pickax has potential as an instrument of death and generates some interesting kills to observe. On the other hand, even if dozens of flying axes look cool, there is no logic behind their appearance. The twins have booby-trapped most of the forest but no displayed rigging, however intricate, could be responsible for such an onslaught. A better alternative would have been face-to-face attacks, with a reasonable launch of pickaxes.

Simon Says is the first horror film from William Dear, best known as director of Harry and the Hendersons. He seems to be acquainted with the genre but not with how to best utilize its elements. He mostly emphasizes the justice in murdering the victims and the style of the kill rather than the kill itself.

With a group or theatre audience, the film’s faults can still be enjoyed but I would not recommend seeing it alone.

Fantasy films are now in the business of grand illusions, overflowing with CGI monsters and epic budgets to match their tales. At least Russia remembers how it used to be.

Wolfhound is a throwback to the captivating fantasy films of the 1980’s, such as Beastmaster and Conan the Barbarian. They share similar character types and simple plots of good versus evil.

Wolfhound is the only remaining survivor of the Grey Dog Clan. As a child he watched a masked villain with a wolf tattoo slaughter his parents and destroy his village. He was taken to be a slave in the treacherous mountain mines but eventually won his freedom, leaving with an injured fruit bat as his companion. Now grown and ready for battle, he hunts the murderers fulfilling his vow of revenge. Along his journey a slave girl, blind healer and young scholar join him on his travels. As his path crosses with a virtuous princess, he swears to protect her life with his own in an attempt to lure the object of his wrath.

The adventure takes the characters through haunted woods and dangerous terrain. The scenery is standard but no less charming, as they cross through valleys, by rivers and through mountains. In a world of sorcery, magicks are used for good and evil, to cure and to kill. The representations of these occurrences range from warm glows to mysterious fogs to laser-like swords.

The battles involve comprehensible numbers and distinct swordplay. It is expected Wolfhound will best anyone he fights but it is still engaging.
This type of film is like an extended, larger-than-life fairy tale – it requires a suspension of belief and a desire to enjoy.