Archive for December, 2008

The low-budget horror flick is often a subject of humour itself; therefore a parody of the construction of such a picture is bound to be a little funny.

After attending an independent film festival and witnessing the artful, inexpensive creation of an acquaintance, four out-of-work actors (Ross Partridge, Steve Zissis, Greta Gerwig and Elise Muller) decide the best way to star in a movie is to make it themselves. To limit distractions during their brainstorming, the group escape to an isolated cabin in the woods. While debating the merits of a screenplay about a bag-headed serial killer, a missing car battery and the possible disappearance of two of the campers lead them to believe a paper bag-wearing maniac may be lurking right outside their wooden getaway.

With the earlier release of The Strangers, which featured its own sack-wearing killers, this spoof seems all the more relevant. While the horror does not enter the picture until later in the film, the mystery surrounding the “baghead” is strong throughout. Furthermore, the resolution is somewhat foreseeable but not conventional.

The narrative is poking fun at the industry and the people in it. But it’s not being mean-spirited as it expects its audience to be in the know and recognize the characters being depicted. It’s obvious the actors understand the film’s intentions. Muller is particularly good.

As the Duplass brothers seem to be a little different, so too are the DVD special features. “Mark and Jay Duplass answer questions they’ve already answered” has the duo at home with their children interviewing each other for the camera. Claiming time restraints, they ask questions previously given to them during interviews. “Baghead scares” is a montage of gags captured Candid Camera-style, where a baghead surprises unsuspecting victims. The feature commentary by the Duplass brothers is revealing of their process as they deconstruct the scenes and describe the shooting experience.

Pulse showed us technology is unpredictably evil while Pulse 2 took a sidebar to tell the story of a family torn apart. Pulse 3 brings us back to the dark side to show us our lack of real physical relationships is taking away our sense of humanity.

Picking up seven years after the first sequel, Janice (Brittany Finamore) is living with a foster family in a tech-free refugee camp. While exploring, she finds a laptop that still works. This leads to a conversation with Adam (Rider Strong), who claims to still be living in the city. Convinced he understands her better than anyone, Janice sets out alone to meet Adam. As Adam proves harder to find than expected, Janice’s trek crosses paths with some threatening and familiar characters.

The final chapter of the trilogy plays like a road movie without wheels and brings the tale of the phantoms to a close. Unfortunately, it concludes with a monologue that sounds like a replica of Sarah Connor’s at the end of Terminator 2. The story itself is interesting enough, with several scenes of suspense but a major lack of scary moments.

One of the eerie but often failing aspects of the second film was the near exclusive use of green screen locations. This time, the filmmakers employ a little more balance between composite and real sets, which is a major improvement in the look of the picture.

Finamore is the frustrated, rebellious teenage girl. She is so desperate to change her reality, she grabs on to the first chance of escape. However, other than a few outbursts of emotion, Finamore’s character is very subdued. Strong is believable as the voice of hope; his hardened will to survive is also quite convincing. As the majority of Strong’s performance is vocal, his distinct voice and control of intonations are an obvious advantage.

There are only two DVD special features. The audio commentary is provided by writer/director Joel Soisson, producer Mike Leahy, editor Kirk Morri and Finamore (although she contributes very little). However, this commentary is not nearly as entertaining as the track on Pulse 2, which included a couple of the more outspoken crew members. The behind-the-scenes featurette is not as interesting as the commentary but explains how they came up with the idea and how they found the one-string guitar player. Nonetheless, how they considered reversing the order of release of the two sequels remains unclear.

If you are of the opinion that Wooderson is one of Matthew McConaughey’s truer to life roles, than Surfer, Dude will seem like an aligning of the stars.

Steve Addington (McConaughey) has surfed the greatest waves the world over and now the soul surfer has come back home to Malibu. One phone call reunites him with his three best friends (Nathan Phillips, Todd Stashwick and Zachary Knighton) and a party soon follows. However, Add’s manager (Woody Harrelson) quickly informs him he is too generous with his cash and his assets are close to zero. Unfortunately, relief comes in the form of an unscrupulous reality TV producer (Jeffrey Nordling) who wants to buy Add’s image. Add’s worries are only compounded by an extended period of flat water – the worst fate for a man like who practically lives on a surfboard.

Addington is a true soul surfer – his loves are waves, weed and women. But he’s willing to give up the other two for the first if necessary. It’s hard to tell if his laidback Zen attitude is natural or the result of the copious amounts of marijuana he smokes. Amusingly, his supplier is hippie-to-the-bone Willie Nelson.

The plot is pretty thin as it aspires to little more than a stoner flick. However, Nelson seems right at home and Harrelson invokes his personal desires for the greater good. Lupe La Rosa (Ramon Rodriguez) is a breath of life in the film. It would have been interesting if they’d given his character a little more depth rather than just hinting at it.

McConaughey spends most of the picture shirtless, showcasing his model abs. Conversely, the once chosen Sexiest Man Alive’s face is made to look sun worn and aged. There is also an ick-factor in that Add only wears one pair of shorts for the entire movie, which spans about six weeks.

The DVD bonus features include deleted scenes, a featurette and webisodes. The deleted scenes are not instantly placeable but are somewhat entertaining. “Surfer, Dude: The Real Story” reveals the longtime friendships of McConaughey and the crew, which resulted in a very relaxed and fun set. It also follows the strange tale of Chad Mountain, executive assistant and rejected cast member. The 12 two-minute webisodes contains all the information of a “making of” doc in brief snippets.

The narratives that accompany the new generation of video games are often on par with those that propel feature films. It was therefore no surprise when filmmakers began to turn to popular games for movie ideas. But until now, there had not been a feature story that resembled the game narrative without the interplay.

Resident Evil: Degeneration revives and reunites two former game characters: Leon S. Kennedy and Claire Redfield. They had fought together against the Umbrella Corporation during the Raccoon City tragedy seven years ago. Today, the T-virus is unleashed in a bio-terrorist attack, overrunning an airport with infected creatures. Joining forces with a rescue unit, the duo must contain the biohazard and defeat a hideous mutated monster created by the new deadly G-virus.

This tale is as unrelated to the Milla Jovovich films as the films are to the video games. Where filmgoers have been following a story that revolves around Project Alice, the game world has expanded and the threats have become more widespread. That said, big screen adaptations tend to succeed by reaching out to a wider audience, not just those familiar with the source material. Degeneration was made by video game manufacturers for video game consumers – everyone else is left somewhat out of the loop.

The feature resembles an expanded game narrative and the characters do not have a lot of depth; even those in conflict are left unexplored. The infected horde look cool and the action sequences are satisfying. However, the holes in the story make it harder to enjoy for the uninitiated.

The DVD bonus features are various. A 30-minute featurette explores the pre-production, goals and use of motion-capture technology; most of this is subtitled, as the filmmakers are Japanese. The character profiles are short blurbs accompanied by one-minute action sequences or a photo gallery. A series of voice bloopers is actually amusing alternate dialogue over re-cut footage from the flick. The “faux Leon Interview” seems somewhat out of place and not exactly what was expected, as the subject is Leon’s loud real-life stand-in. In addition to several Degeneration trailers, two sneak peeks to the video game saga’s new chapter, Resident Evil 5, are included.

There are movies based on comics and then there are comic book movies – The Spirit is definitely the latter, bringing each frame from the page to the big screen.

Denny Colt (Gabriel Macht) is a murdered cop mysteriously reborn as the masked crime fighter called the Spirit. Central City is his mistress and to keep his beloved city safe, the Spirit hunts villains from the shadows. His nemesis, the psychotic megalomaniac Octopus (Samuel L. Jackson), is the worst and most difficult to capture as he and the Spirit are unusually evenly matched. But despite his ongoing mission, the dashing crusader always manages to make time for beautiful women regardless of their intentions. However, the only one that can make the Spirit’s heart skip a beat is the alluring international jewel thief Sand Saref (Eva Mendes).

Respected comic book innovator Frank Miller makes his solo directorial debut with comic originator Will Eisner’s The Spirit, which was first introduced in 1940. Having befriended Eisner early in his career, Miller could not allow anyone else to handle the adaptation after his death in 2005. In creating the film version, Miller maintained the tone of the comics, presenting an adventure and romance with an undercurrent of humour. But Miller also brought to the script his own specific point of view.

The Spirit has always implicitly been a cad; his only true loyalty lies with his soul mate, Central City. But to that effect, he is surrounded by exquisite women. His seductresses and sweethearts include the aforementioned Saref, the police commissioner’s daughter Ellen Dolan (Sarah Paulson), exotic chanteuse Plaster of Paris (Paz Vega), the underwater angel of death Lorelei (Jaime King) and the icy genius Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson). Johansson, by far, plays the most intriguing female character as she indulges in the Octopus’ whims to ward off boredom. And the gorgeous and varied costumes only further the comic fantasy.

The grittiness and violence is updated to match today’s standards versus the source era’s. On the other hand, the clash between Octopus and the Spirit is entertainingly cartoonish, accompanied by overstated sounds and non-fatal impact. Additionally, the dialogue mirrors that of the gumshoe detective and gets its wit from various decades. The previously unknown Macht has just the right look and his deep rumbling voice provides for a perfect delivery in the film noir tradition. At the other end of the spectrum, Jackson takes the theatricality of the larger-than-life villain to a whole new level.

Using the same techniques employed to create Sin City, the similarities are undeniable. However, The Spirit’s look is also unique. Rather than simply black and white with vibrant splashes of colour, several of the scenes are washed in colour, allowing skin tones to be visible. Alternatively, others are presented in the bare minimum, displayed as silhouettes as the Spirit moves through the city. The landscape also puts a twist on contemporary, with the men dressed in suits and cars from the ‘50s mixed with cell phones, flak jackets and cloning.

In The Spirit, Miller’s approach to the comic book movie achieves new excellence.

Depicting terrorism in film is sensitive territory, especially when mostly presenting the view of the terrorists and not simply classifying them as evil.

Samir (Don Cheadle) is an arms dealer who is inadvertently arrested during a raid on suspected terrorists. While in prison, he befriends Omar (Saïd Taghmaoui), the leader of a cell, and is invited along when the group escapes. Samir is welcomed into the fold as they utilize his bomb expertise, although his opposition to martyrdom and the general loss of human life is in contrast to the terrorists’ methods. Meanwhile, FBI Agent Clayton (Guy Pearce) is tracking Samir in hopes of using him to capture a high-level terrorist leader.

This is not your typical terrorism story of good versus evil. The organizational leaders have varying personalities while those selected to carry out orders appear to be average Americans – not the expected overzealous fanatics. Cheadle’s character is even more complex as he struggles to reconcile his Muslim beliefs with his own actions and the interpretations of his brothers. This also complicates Samir’s friendship with Omar. On the other hand, Pearce is the anti-Jack Bower; his approach is understanding and knowledge, not physicality like his partner.

The film is a suspenseful combination of action and espionage. There are numerous explosions, the last being the most narratively satisfying. Samir’s loyalties are constantly in question and the government’s efficiency is a debatable when paralleled with that of the terrorists’.

The DVD includes two five-minute featurettes: one focuses on the action, dissecting explosions; the other briefly explores the various locations of shooting, which includes Toronto.

This is top-notch Coen Brothers and will have you laughing from beginning to end. A must-see and see again flick.

Osborne (John Malkovich) was a C.I.A. analyst until he quit after what he felt was an unfair demotion. Larry (George Clooney) is a U.S. Marshall and married philanderer who is sleeping with Osborne’s wife (Tilda Swinton). He is also dating Linda (Frances McDormand), who along with her can-do best friend Chad (Brad Pitt) is blackmailing Osborne over some “sensitive” information found in the locker room at Hardbodies Fitness Center, where they work.

On the surface this sounds like it could be a political drama but when all the characters are blunderers it tends to go in a different direction. Designers faced a difficult task in making two of People’s sexiest men alive into less attractive fools. For Clooney, it’s thoroughly achieved via a gold chain and high-wasted pants; Pitt has terribly bleached hair and is always bouncing to the beat of an iPod.

While many of the characters’ actions seem ridiculous, they actually have typical worries that plague the middle-aged – they’re just slightly more exaggerated than most people’s experiences.

The Coen Brothers have had their fair share of hits and misses over the years but this one is sure to be a winner. They wrote each part specifically for each actor and the players really step up to the challenge. Fortunately, they are all very strong and competent actors so no one overshadows anyone else. Nonetheless, JK Simmons has some of the best lines in the film as a C.I.A. superior.

As is habit with the Coens’ DVD releases, the bonus features feel insufficient. “Finding the Burn” is a five-minute “making of” featurette that reveals very little regarding the shooting process. “DC Insiders Run Amuck” is 12-minutes and is divided into sections dedicated to the actor and his/her character, with each relating how the costume was significant to their persona. Lastly, “Welcome Back, George” is an amusing, short featurette about the Clooney’s tendency to be cast as a fool by the Coen Brothers. With such an extraordinary and entertaining cast, the lack of special features will only leave you wanting more.