Archive for March, 2009

“Based on a true story” tends to give fiction a different weight; horror filmmakers are especially fond of using it to label their movies even though it may not be in the movie’s best interest.

Despite what his mother (Virginia Madsen) chooses to believe, Matt (Kyle Gallner) is dying of cancer. His medicine is costly, his father (Martin Donovan) is resentful and the long drives to the hospital for treatment are exhausting. In an attempt to eliminate one of their problems, Matt’s family moves into a big house closer to the hospital. Only, instead of making their lives easier, the house adds to their difficulties – and its main focus is the already weakened Matt. Their only support is the similarly dying Reverend Popescu (Elias Koteas), who tries to help the family save themselves.

A great opportunity for doubt is missed with the true story label appearing at the very beginning. While Matt wonders if his visions are real or induced by his experimental treatment, the audience knows they are real because we’ve already been told the film is based on a real-life ghost story. Of course, we all know movie real and world real are very different – everything is dramatized. That said, the real-life mom, Carmen Reed, felt the screen-version of her story was equally terrifying and similar.

The first act follows the classically successful “there one minute, gone the next” style. A shadow passes a doorway; a reflection vanishes from a mirror; and shadowy bodies move behind frosted glass; in addition there are the strange noises that go bump in the night. Even the illusions incorporated are not too over-the-top. Then the strange occurrences become a mystery that need solving. It’s not until later that the haunting takes a turn towards Hollywood, with intensified parlour tricks, CGI and well-designed walking dead.

The film’s humour is dark, as Matt jokes about cancer even as it visibly ravages his body. But most of the time, outside of the audience, Matt is the only one able to see the humour in the situation. They should have lightened up because soon enough there’s nothing to smile about anyway. Other fun moments come with the warnings that scream through your head because someone decides to go into a dark basement or hide in dumbwaiter.

Haunting in Connecticut is made in the same vain as The Exorcist and The Haunting of Emily Rose, so fans of the genre are sure to be pleased. And it’s got a good scare or two thrown in for good measure.

If you’ve read the graphic novel and seen the film adaptation, you may be wondering what happened to a couple of key elements from the book. Don’t fret; the filmmakers are taking care of you.

Tales of the Black Freighter is Alan Moore’s richly layered story-within-a-story. The disconcerting pirate saga’s events parallel those in the Watchmen’s world. The animated account of a shipwrecked pirate (voiced by Gerard Butler) desperate to get home and save his family from a perceived and imminent danger is striking. The narrative is the comic story in action and Butler’s gruff speech is perfect to breathe life into this turbulent tale.

Hollis Mason’s Tell-All: Under the Hood is also included in the release. Actors from the Watchmen movie appear in the live-action/CGI revelation. The 1975 exposé is based on Nite Owl’s firsthand account of how the superpower-less heroes came into being. Larry Culpepper (Ted Friend), of “The Culpepper Minute,” interviews Mason (Stephen McHattie) and Sally Jupiter a.k.a. Silk Spectre (Carla Gugino) about their time with the hooded adventurers’ circuit. Of course, Sally’s agent Lawrence Shexnayder (Frank Cassini) is sure to have his say too.

This Blu-ray release is a must-have for any Watchmen fan. These short films complete the Watchmen story, as well as the motion picture experience. Both are look exceptional, as the animation strikes a balance between horrific and stunning; while the throwback tell-all captures the atmosphere and character reactions to the experience.

The special features include a 25-minute featurette exploring how these stories expand the world of the Watchmen via interviews with the actors and filmmakers. There’s also a sneak peak at the upcoming animated Green Lantern, as well as the first episode of the Watchmen Motion Comic and a digital copy of the feature. BD Live exclusives include “The Why of Watchmen with Executive Producer and Director Zack Snyder” and additional footage from the Watchmen film not seen in theatres.

In a society where the American Dream (or your country’s equivalent) is still the most coveted lifestyle, The Riches emerged as a family willing to do anything to attain fantasy.

Season one saw the tightly-knit, grifter, gypsy family drift further apart as their patriarch Wayne Malloy a.k.a. Doug Rich (Eddie Izzard) lost himself in his new role as corporate lawyer and six-digit earner. What began as a quick get rich scheme became a muddled affair that only got worse with each passing day. Season two began with blackmail, murder and a dash back to the RV that brought them to Eden Falls. But having been out of the traveler’s game and living in the lap of luxury, going back proved too hard. Wayne suggests they go back to Eden Falls, clean up the mess and commit to one last great con that could earn them enough money to stop conning and running forever. They decide to risk it but the effects it has on the family are possibly irreversible. Additionally, other than keeping their stories straight, the Malloys must also handle the on-going threat of cousin Dale and the return of a frightening adversary called Quinn.

This season, the characters struggle with the idea of freedom and its connection to money. “The minute you get what you think you want, you always want more.” This sentiment runs throughout the series, but becomes especially significant this season as various members of the family decide if this is the lifestyle they really want and what they are willing to do to keep it or escape it.

Unfortunately, The Riches is one of the many shows that fell victim to the writer’s strike. First the season was cut from 13 to a mere seven episodes, and then the show’s cancellation was quietly announced a few months later. And I say “unfortunately” because it was a good series that ended too soon. The content was edgier than the average dramatic series, which would explain its spot on Canada’s Showcase – “television without borders.” But the show’s abandonment by networks means the characters will never finish their tale, which is like reading a great book and discovering the final chapter is incomplete. Nonetheless, if you enjoy smart television and can handle the everlasting cliff-hanger, it’s definitely worth checking out.

When compared to the season one DVD release, season two’s special features are dismal – possibly reflecting the disappointment of the series’ termination. The sole extra is “Eddie Izzard: Revealed,” a featurette of interview clips with Izzard and series creator Dmitry Lipkin. Izzard explores his transition from comedian to dramatic lead and his thoughts on doing the show, which he ironically hopes runs for six or seven seasons.

Quantum of Solace marked the 22nd film that featured the infamous Agent 007 on the big screen but it’s not up to typical standards.

In his second Bond picture, Daniel Craig (Bond) travels to Austria, Italy and South America. Despite his nonchalance in the last instalment, Bond is still set to avenge the death of his beloved betrayer, Vesper. In addition, he and M (Judi Dench) uncover a complex and dangerous organization with their fingers in many pies. His mission leads him to Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a ruthless businessman conspiring to gain control of one of the world’s most important natural resources. Bond’s path is also crossed by Camille (Olga Kurylenko), a woman with a vendetta of her own.

The newest chapter in this decades old epic shifts the focus from Bond’s suave, clever demeanour to fast-paced action sequences. It’s a highly noticeable and unwelcome change. The first 20 minutes of the film speeds through three different breakneck scenes: a car chase, foot chase, and hand-to-hand fight. Furthermore, filmmakers are very fond of using parallel editing when cutting the action sequences, creating analogies with a horse race and an operatic performance. It’s somewhat grating. Finally, even the CGI in some of the scenes is perceptible.

The dynamic between Bond and M is as energetic as ever. M is too attached and forever protective. Bond reciprocates entirely despite his recklessness. They exchange quips and provide the very minimal comedic relief throughout the movie. On the other hand, Bond’s consistent and isolated solemnity is understandable but much less entertaining.

The Bond girls are uniformly beautiful but less forceful than their predecessors. Strawberry Fields’ (Gemma Arterton) role is minimal and Bond’s seduction is even less conspicuous, denying audiences a thorough display of his charm. Conversely, Camille is much more his equal, which is a gratifying trait in a Bond girl.

The two-disc DVD locates most of the special features on the second disc but the “Another Way to Die” music video pairing Jack White and Alicia Keys is on the first. Featurettes running about 3 minutes each explore the start of shooting, the location, the boat chase, director Marc Forster and the music of the film. There’s also a 25-minute featurette showing the various locations at which the film was shot. Finally, 60-second profiles of 34 of the crew members round out the bonus features.

Madonna’s recent ventures onto the big screen have not been successful – in fact, they’ve been repeatedly booed. It would seem her journey behind the camera will not fair much better.

Three roommates delve into the lascivious underworld of sex and desire. A.K. (Eugene Hutz) is an Ukrainian immigrant who finances his dreams of being a rock star with his band Gogol Bordello by turning tricks as a role-playing cross dresser. Holly (Holly Weston) is not giving up her dream of becoming a ballerina, but to pay the bills she moonlights as a stripper. And Juliette (Vicky McClure) steals medicine from her pharmaceutical job to aid her dream of helping children in Africa.

The main problem is the plot. It is three distinct stories just cut together without the impression that they’re really intertwined; nothing warrants them being cut together – an ominous narrative is not enough to accomplish this. It could probably have been better as three separate shorts in which characters cross over with a combined conclusion.

The acting is mediocre, which doesn’t help the weak script. The trio tries to personify their oddball characters but they don’t quite make the grade – that’s not to say they’re not odd; they’re just not that convincing. McClure’s look is particularly interesting, since she looks nearly identical to Madonna circa 1986.

There were no special features to evaluate.

There’s usually some concern about the seriousness of a May-December romance but should that be the concern of May and December?

David Kepesh (Ben Kingsley) is a seasoned art critic. After emancipating himself from an unhappy marriage, he began a life of meaningless sexual conquest, most of whom are students from the college at which he teaches. For years he is content with this lifestyle, but all that changes when he meets Consuela Castillo (Penélope Cruz). She is beautiful, smart and in need of wooing before she’ll end up between his sheets. But with unbridled passion and eventual love comes fear and it can be difficult to overcome – especially for a man who’s so unconsciously guarded.

David’s anxieties are illustrated in life-like vignettes that are not shown to be false until after they’ve inflicted their impact. He’s a man trapped in adolescence but as his situations become more adult, he struggles with the need to grow up. David endures many loses but it is through this pain that a better man emerges.

Kingsley is perfection in this role; it is easy to see why these women flock to his bedroom as he exudes charm and sophistication. Cruz is naturally beautiful, despite a couple of unflattering haircuts, and her relationship with Kingsley is sweet and plausible. Dennis Hopper has a supporting role as David’s adulterous friend but his appeal is a little less comprehensible.

The DVD bonus feature, “The Poetry of Elegy,” is a series of interviews with the cast and director Isabel Coixet cut with scenes from the movie.

It is nearly impossible for a movie based on a book with such a loyal (and sometimes obsessed) following to live up to expectations, unless they’re kept low. If you wisely did this, then the film fairs as an adequate adaptation of Stephanie Meyer’s book.

Bella Swan’s (Kristen Stewart) mom recently remarried; so to give the newlyweds some alone time, she grudgingly decides to trade the warm, sunny climate of Phoenix for the cloudy, rainy surroundings of Forks, Washington to live with her father (Billy Burke). With such a small population, everyone quickly takes notice of the new girl and Bella instantly has a group of new friends – everyone except the Cullens. The Cullens mostly keep to themselves but Bella finds herself drawn to Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) despite the strange way he acts around her. He soon reveals a similar attraction, only his desires are more dangerous than she expected. Bella is eventually welcomed into their vampire family but there are other vampires not as willing to tolerate the unprecedented relationship.

Even at two hours, Bella and Edward’s courtship is incredibly short. Several of the scenes are combined and they fast track to an intensely reciprocal relationship so the danger presented by the nomad vampires is substantiated. Of course, these adjustments (however unwelcome) were expected and the feelings between the characters are still expressed well enough. On the other hand, the change in tone of two very meaningful moments in the novel is more than irritating.

The casting of the already loved and imagined characters is acceptable. Stewart conveys the vulnerability of Bella, as well as her powerful and unforeseen attraction to Edward. Pattinson is both good-looking and comes across slightly dangerous; although the pain caused by his uncontrollable draw to Bella is not always convincingly portrayed. Conversely, his smile is fittingly breathtaking. Luckily, their on-screen chemistry is tangible. The rest of the Cullens are also represented well, especially Alice (Ashley Greene). And Jacob (Taylor Lautner) has a sweet, adorable face as expected. On the other side of the vampire divide, Cam Gigandet provides a very menacing take on James and Rachelle Lefevre is a more subtly deadly Victoria.

Unfortunately, few of the effects really work. Filmmakers used a lot of wirework to communicate the vampires’ special abilities but the Crouching Tiger-look does not really work for this story.

The two-disc special edition has quite a few bonus features. The first disc includes music videos from Muse, Paramore and Linkin Park with introductions by director Catherine Hardwicke. The five extended scenes also include introductions from Hardwicke; for some of them, that bit of extra in the scene would have been great additions to the film. The audio commentary by Hardwicke, Stewart and Pattinson reveals a lot of personal anecdotes but is not as noteworthy as one would have hoped.

The second disc contains five deleted scenes, each with an introduction by Hardwicke; these omissions are more interesting and some are even scenes straight out of the book. A nearly hour-long documentary details the shooting of most of the significant scenes in the film, interviewing various members of the cast and crew throughout; it also shows how the special effects were achieved in the baseball and final fight sequences. The cast’s appearance at Comic-Con is also included, and the teaser they showed there is in the trailers section – does Stewart always look so uncomfortable during public appearances?