Archive for September, 2009

Robert E. Howard is most widely-known as the man that created Conan the Barbarian, but he also gave us Solomon Kane whose film adaptation is far less kitsch.

Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) was a murderer driven by his greed, but when he enters a chamber protected by the supernatural he is told he has forfeited his soul to Satan and Death is here to claim it. Managing to escape with his soul intact, Solomon devotes his life to non-violence in hopes of redeeming himself. However, when his mission leads to a path on which he must rescue a young girl, his peaceable approach may not be the key to his redemption, forcing him to choose to pick up the sword again or leave the girl to die.

The film is treated with the darkness it deserves, both in atmosphere and approach to the subject of savage redemption. Kane’s transition between personalities is flawless; he goes from ruthless killer to humbled man to tortured soul very convincingly. Though the supporting characters play a significant part in his transformation, their roles are somewhat negligible next to him.

As with most action fantasy epics of this type, magic and witchcraft have important roles in advancing the story and aiding or hindering the hero; but it is in no way the whimsical magic of children’s fantasy. Also, the past is never really gone as previous errors come back to haunt the protagonist.

Though the film is sprinkled with computer-generated ghouls and images, they blend into the story world rather than draw attention from it – the opening sequence is a good example of this. Fans of practical fantasy pictures sans extravagant CGI will enjoy Solomon Kane as the dark action adventure it is.

The concept of a final girl was coined by Carol Clover and is used to describe the young woman that is inevitably left alive at the end of a slasher/horror movie to save herself from her tormentors because if anyone else has tried they’ve failed miserably. The Loved Ones turns this concept on its head.

Brent’s mom has been very protective since his father died, but that only means Brent (Xavier Samuel) spends less time at home, does drugs and has car sex with his hot and supportive girlfriend (Victoria Thaine). Lola (Robin McLeavy) is an outcast at school and when she asks Brent to be her date for the dance she doesn’t take his rejection lightly. Suddenly Brent is missing – Lola is having her own dance and Brent is her king while her father is their very strict chaperone.

The Misery-style relationship between male and female characters is rarely seen anymore, but The Loved Ones does it with such intensity and originality it is impossible not to applaud the film. On the other hand, the violence is often cringe-worthy and the filmmakers do not shy away from any of it; in this way, it is very similar to the popular Saw franchise – except that the perpetrators are very present to revel in their work. Often it would seem they can go no further, but then they find new bloody territory to venture into despite the audience’s instincts saying they couldn’t possibly.

Midnight Madness programmer Colin Geddes described the film as a cross between Misery, Pretty in Pink and Carrie – and that’s a fairly accurate description if you add The Texas Chainsaw Massacre to the mix. The anticipation and terror the movie builds throughout is effective and powerful, keeping audiences on the edge of their seats or buried deep in their chairs. The final third of the film is particularly strong as it’s action-packed and brutal. Many may be thankful for the awkward prom date story told in parallel, providing a break from the violence.

The film was really well casted. Samuel is excellent as Lola’s helpless victim. He’s rendered speechless for most of the film but manages to deliver a convincing performance through mostly just his eyes. McLeavy is fantastic by all definitions of the word – the level of insanity she displays is unbelievable, while the nightmare she creates is so far outside reality. The other actors are adequate though their characters are nearly lost against the torture party; an exception may be Jessica McNamee, who portrayed a delinquent goth girl trying everything to escape her life.

This film takes intimate torture to new heights.

Fans of the vampire genre are forced to sift through a lot of bad films to find the good ones – Daybreakers is one of those gold nuggets in the sand.

Dalton (Ethan Hawke) is the head hematologist at Bromley Marks, a multinational corporation seeking to develop a blood substitute. The majority of the world’s population has been turned into vampires, which greatly decreases their food supply causing hideous mutations and increasing mayhem. The few remaining reminders of humanity are attempting to ban together and save their nearly extinct species. Their cause is now driven by one thing – they hold the key to a cure.

The dynamics of the relationships between various characters is one of the more interesting elements of the film. Dalton abhors killing humans to survive, which he hopes the creation of a blood substitute will eliminate the need for. On the other hand, his brother is a member of the government army that hunts humans to replenish the food supply. The head of Bromley Marks’ daughter is a resistant human in hiding. And the entire vampire population is slowly turning into less recognizable monsters.

The social commentary of a population starving to death is obvious. Furthermore, the ability of the more affluent to sustain their food sources more readily is also present. However, all of this is simply the setting for the story rather than the focus. As the directors Michael and Peter Spierig said, it’s first about creating a fun movie watching experience.

The vampire mythology is a mixed bag in this film. They don’t have reflections, they heal quickly but not instantly, they require blood to survive (but it must be human to avoid mutation), they explode when staked and the sun is fatal. On the other hand, it is the narrative’s take on the last point that may be too far a stretch for some vampire fans. Also, the simplicity of the turning process is somewhat dull even though it serves to explain the world’s current predicament.

Hawke has always portrayed the tortured soul well and here there is no difference. The struggle between his new life and his old one is constantly lurking beneath the surface. Willem Dafoe plays a man that is the key to the cure for vampirism. He also has some of the best lines in the film, which he delivers with impeccable timing. Sam Neill is the head of Bromley Marks, having stayed at the top with ruthless tactics and his complete abandonment of humanity. However, he drew cheers from the Midnight Madness audience when he exclaimed, “I was playing a Canadian,” as the Australian directors chose to set the film in America to make it more marketable.

Many of the images in the film, such as the blood harvesting room, the elimination of the mutated vampires or the slow-motion attack by a group of vampires, are striking. There are also fun elements, such as adding blood to your coffee at the local coffee shop or the modifications to cars so vampires don’t have to give up driving in the day.

The brothers that debuted with Undead have come a long way, managing to add to a genre that has been long abused by substandard approaches.

Jennifer’s Body is a horror movie made for women by a couple of prominent women in film: Oscar winner and screenwriter Diablo Cody and director of Girlfight Karyn Kusama.

Jennifer (Megan Fox) and Anita “Needy” (Amanda Seyfried) have been best friends since the sandbox and still are, even though Jennifer is a hot cheerleader and Needy is just a plain Jane that cheers from the sidelines. They live in a small town called Devil’s Kettle, named after a waterfall that ends in a bottomless drain. One night Jennifer is pulled into a mysterious van with a Satan-worshipping band and she emerges bloody and possessed. Needy knows something is different but cannot figure out how to help or stop Jennifer who is feeding on her classmates and consistently showing up covered in blood.

There is nothing groundbreaking about the movie but it is a lot of fun to watch. It includes noticeable homages to Carrie, A Nightmare on Elm Street and Heathers, both visually and through the plot. Cody’s dialogue is predictably smart and filled with pop culture references and trendy teen lingo, such as “freak-tarded,” occasionally reminiscent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Unfortunately, although the references to Hannah Montana are entertaining they will date the film for future generations. Fox and Seyfried do an excellent job delivering Cody’s carefully chosen and amusing words; the boys on the other hand have much less to say but they still say it well.

Adam Brody portrays the lead singer of the evil band, looking striking as the rocker from the city that wears eyeliner and charms Jennifer. Johnny Simmons plays Chip, Needy’s sweet and attentive boyfriend. Kyle Gallner, who’s slowly becoming a horror veteran after The Haunting in Connecticut, has a small role as a goth kid that falls victim to Jennifer’s deadly seduction.

The soundtrack is current and a good compilation of some rising and established bands, including the Silversun Pickups and Cobra Starship. The film looks good with effective CGI and blood effects. In addition, the lighting (or often lack thereof) creates an atmosphere that lends itself to the dark comedy that permeates throughout the film. The other element contributing to the look of the film is Fox’s stunning physique, which is displayed in numerous angles with and without clothes. The actress has an innate ability to look at anyone and convey absolute desire.

At the midnight screening for the film at 2009’s Toronto International Film Festival, Cody declared, “If I’ve made any contribution to cinema at all, that was it,” referring to including the always excluded line in on-screen sexual experiences: “Put it in.”

There have been numerous serious movies made over the last few years about the Iraq war, many of which have not been very good (with at least one exception being The Hurt Locker released earlier this year). The Men Who Stare at Goats takes a satirical approach to the situation instead and does so quite successfully.

Bob Wilton (Ewan McGregor) is a down on his luck reporter looking for a story that will put him back in the good graces of the wife that just left him. His early lead is on a secret government project that sought to harness the power of psychics for peaceful resolutions to war. Although Bob’s contact sounded somewhat outside of reality, he did reveal the name of the “Jedi project’s” top operative: Lyn Cassady. Having hit a dead end, Bob goes to Iraq in the hopes of displaying the courage of a war correspondent. Stuck in Kuwait awaiting approval, Bob strikes up a conversation with a stranger who turns out to be Cassady (George Clooney). The two embark on a strange adventure while Cassady reveals how the “Jedi warriors” were trained and his real purpose for his trip to Iraq.

The movie opens with: “More of this is true than you would believe.” The fun is in deciding which elements are truths versus fiction. The title comes from an experiment in which a psychic was told to concentrate on a goat in an attempt to stop its heart. The army slogan “Be all you can be” was given a whole new meaning the moment these super soldiers were recruited for the top secret project.

The strong male cast consists of McGregor, Clooney, Kevin Spacey and Jeff Bridges. McGregor shows his usual enthusiasm at this new world he is uncovering; his disbelief is quickly replaced by an eager desire to learn the methods of the psychic army. Clooney takes on another peculiar character with Cassady, a man who steadfastly believes in his abilities, which makes him appear slightly crazy most of the time. Spacey is a play by the rules type of soldier that joins a unit that doesn’t have rules, creating tension in the once happy hippie ranks. Bridges is the commanding officer within Project Jedi. He was assigned to explore methods of meditation and the power of the mind, returning a hippie ready for non-combative engagement.

The Men Who Stare at Goats is an offbeat comedy about the side of the war we really didn’t know about. The “New Earth Army Manual” is a bizarre set of instructions that makes references to both Jesus and Disney; and the subliminal message advising soldiers not to use their weapons while intoxicated is hidden in the song “Wishin’ and Hopin’.” This is a movie about the war that is sure to get audiences thinking, but in a totally different way.

Clive Owen has mostly had his name pasted above the titles of action- and spy-type movies of late, but he’s recently taken a step out of shooting range to make a film about grief and fatherhood.

Joe’s (Owen) second wife just died of cancer leaving the workaholic, often absentee father to raise his six year old son Artie (Nicholas McAnulty) alone. His first order of business is a road trip to reconnect with the boy, followed by a return to a nearly lawless household in which the policy is “Just say yes.” Things are going relatively well so Joe agrees to allow his teenage son Harry (George MacKay) from his first marriage to come for an extended visit. In the meantime, Joe forms a friendship with a single mother (Emma Booth) though the lines of their relationship are often blurred.

The story subject is very emotionally charged but the film fails to harness its potential power. It’s of course sad to watch a child mourn his mother, but that’s a given. The story unfolds rather flatly with the expected hills and valleys playing more like minor bumps in the road. Joe spends much of his time being bewildered though it is a chaos of his own making, which makes the solution to most of his problems seem simple – change his free range parenting style. However, the film is based on the true story of widower that lived this approach to fatherhood and was successful.

Owen seems at home in the skin of a playful father as he roundhouses with the boys and his grief is equally tangible though not as poignant. McAnulty is impressive for his age and apparent comprehension of how his character is dealing with his pain and the changes occurring around him. MacKay gives a breakout performance as the boy torn between wanting to make his father proud while being simultaneously angry at him for abandoning him years earlier.

The Boys are Back is a melodrama that treads lightly on the drama but is not without its moments and the children are particularly noteworthy.

In a post-apocalyptic world, the only humanity remaining exists in small manmade dolls infused with the only real remnants of life.

The Great Machine, which was to bring mankind into the future, instead sparked social unrest and led to the annihilation of the entire human population. In an attempt to salvage the legacy of civilization, a scientist gave life to a group of small creations. #9 (Elijah Wood) awakens alone in the scientist’s room but it is immediately obvious he is endowed with human qualities, such as pity, fear and compassion. He soon finds those that came before him: #1 (Christopher Plummer) is the group’s long-time leader; #2 (Martin Landau) is a kindly but frail inventor; #3 and #4 are scholarly twins that mostly communicate non-verbally with each other; #5 (John C. Riley) is a bold but kind engineer; #6 (Crispin Glover) is an artist plagued by visions; #7 (Jennifer Connelly) is a brave and self-sufficient woman warrior; and #8 (Fred Tatasciore) is a bully and #1’s enforcer. The “stitchpunk” creations must combine their individual strengths to outwit and fight the still-functioning machines that continue to seek to destroy all traces of life on Earth.

9 is an intriguing tale of hope as the power of community and belief that one person can make a difference against impossible odds drives #9 in a quest to defeat the mechanical beast that threatens their existence. On the other hand, #1’s constant negativity is a powerful discourager; his favourite response to #9’s resolve is “It’s too late.”

The animated steampunk-style is fascinating. The darkened atmosphere and tones of green and black throughout the entire post-apocalyptic world is stunning. The feeling that life has been almost entirely drained from everything is evident in everything they see and touch. In addition, the detail in the barren landscape with its debris and textures, and the difficulties it poses for the eight-inch creations to traverse through shows a lot of consideration.

Alternatively, the story elements are not very original. The most apparent contributor is The Terminator mythology and the rise of the machines versus humans. Similarly, The Matrix trilogy appears to be an obvious inspiration for the Fabrication Machine, which is a multi-armed mechanical beast that creates new machines, and the attempted consumption of the stitchpunks.

Furthermore, the straight-forward plot is simple enough for children to understand but the situations the characters find themselves in often appear too frightening for a child to watch. Conversely, it is an interesting viewing for adults but the simplicity of the narrative occasionally makes the film somewhat dull.