Friday, September 30, 2011

The Fly (1986) Review

The Fly can be held in high regards for two very important reasons. One: it is a remake that is actually an appreciable enhancement of the original. The Fly first debuted in 1958, directed by Kurt Neumann as an adaptation of the short story of the same name. If you’re not confused about any of this yet, you will be after I say that the original 1958 movie spawned two sequels and this 1986 film which has a sequel of its own. Not only that, but there was also talks of a third remake, but to my knowledge, those plans have since been discarded. Granted I’ve only seen the original and this remake, I can’t make any definite conclusions, but I think it’s safe to say that this is the definitive version (we all know how horror sequels tend to work out). The second reason this movie hits its mark well is that it doesn’t try to sell itself with excessive gore. It’s the concept here that’s truly frightening.

The Fly deals with a concept that has often been speculated upon in the field of science: transportation – teleportation, specifically. The protagonist, scientist Seth Brundle (Jeff Goldblum), has spent the last six years of his career developing a means of teleporting objects. Goldblum does an excellent job of portraying the “eccentric/mad scientist” stereotype. Well, I say stereotype, but that’s not quite what it is. The film makes it evident that that’s the character model he is based from, but he always fits the bill for being a human character, not simply a cut-and-paste contrivance (think Jeffrey Comb’s interpretation of Herbert West in Reanimator). For that reason, you can become both engrossed in his madness and piteous when presented with his flaws. Did I mention he does an incredibly accurate imitation of a fly? His is the performance to look out for.

The other actors also hold their ground fairly well. Essentially, the movie only has three characters. Everyone else is pretty much just an extra, and it works surprisingly well. Veronica, played by Geena Davis, is the love interest who does an excellent job of being a…love interest. Regardless how deformed Seth becomes, she consistently supports him. She does, of course, feel that what he’s done to himself is a bastardization of the human form, but the love she develops never dissipates. To the very end, everything she does is in his best interest. Borans, played by John Getz, is Veronica’s former lover, and when things go awry with Brundle, he serves as her crutch throughout the ordeal. It’s interesting how the movie can manage itself while focusing on so few characters. I can barely recall anyone else who was significant to the plot, yet everything worked out much better than bloated movies (ie. The Expendables, not to pick on an ensemble film).

What’s horrific about the film is the sparing use of gore. There are a few bloody scenes, but it mostly relies on shock value from the unexpected fusion between man and fly to serve as its pedestal for the horror tag. Oh, spoiler. The fear of science becoming too powerful and inhumane for people to handle. The fear of never knowing what to expect next, never knowing how grotesque you may become; and the corresponding embrace of that transformation. These ideas become more and more prominent as the third act of the movie hits you. The most appalling aspects of this transformation and its ramifications are kept off-screen, but the biggest of the consequences (which I’ll do you the favor of not spoiling to help motivate you to go out and see this movie) raises a good many questions. Honestly, the movie is more thought-provoking that it is scary, but what sane man wouldn’t feel wary of a man-fly? Or here’s a better question: what man could be so insane that a complete transformation into something indistinguishable macabre would have no bearing at all on his motivation to continue with the project that modified him?

By the end of the movie, you’ll doubtlessly contemplate the idea of fusion between man and beast, its benefits, and its disadvantages. The movie doesn’t take itself too seriously (given the concept, that’s more than a good thing) so it may not leave the strongest impression on you, but if you’re a thinker, you’ll have much about the world of science to consider. The Fly paints a good picture of forcible evolution. Regardless of the outcome, it neither condemns nor condones it, leaving the viewer alone with their thoughts to consider the possibilities.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

I Saw The Devil Review

I don’t really know what to make out of liking this movie. I held on to a few negative impressions throughout the film, but it didn’t detract from my overall enjoyment of it, so a lot must have been done right.

Firstly, I’d like to say that I feel like the main character was poorly developed. You don’t learn too much about him except that he loves his wife who happens to be the daughter of the police chief under whom he works. In a crazy twist of fate, a sadomasochistic serial killer and rapist finds and murders his her, leaving the head to drift in the river. Her father, as the chief of police, handles the situation quite passively, dedicating his time to smoking and brooding, but never completely overwhelmed by the loss of his daughter. The main character, however, takes it upon himself to exact revenge against the man who took his wife away from him. He must love her more than her own father, I guess.  By then, you know you’re in for a revenge story, but not as formulaic as other movies in this genre.

The protagonist isn’t satisfied with finding and killing his “prey.” Instead, he wants the man to suffer. So he plays a game of hide and seek. He finds the killer, brutally beats him, and lets him survive and escape. Obviously, the killer can’t go to the police to report being harassed by a member of the police force, as he is now a convicted man. As soon as this killing game begins, you learn nothing more about the protagonist. He transforms into a merciless hunter who seldom speaks. This transformation is evident by his change of clothes from business attire to a bulky hooded jacket and from the contrast between an early, cheerful conversation with his wife and his later social interactions. But you can’t say with certainty that his personality, which wasn’t entirely established, was affected; and he doesn’t seem to be conflicted about what he’s doing, which is strange for law enforcement, especially in a world that I’d like to take seriously.

So what are my main problems? Outside of an outstanding performance, the protagonist’s personality is quite flat. Besides a desire to avenge his wife, he comes across as quite emotionless.

On to what worked. For starters, the lighting. You’ll notice immediately that this is quite the dark tale. The lighting does a good job of complimenting this idea without becoming too focused on itself. There are scenes of light and dark working in contrast in several shots, which does call to attention that this quest for vengeance isn’t a mindless act of evil. It helps to show the goodness of the protagonist. Maybe that wasn’t the intent of the director, but that’s what I got out of it. The contrast also puts more attention on scenes that aren't meant to be taken as seriously (ie. the cannibal scene) which makes a joke out of the antagonist. However, lighting also seems to become a flaw later on, as the premise of darkly lit rooms disappears halfway through the movie, and everything becomes bright. At that point, the tone of the movie falls off a cliff; those last moments are the most tense, but we can't see that through the lighting anymore.

The performances are all-around astounding. I’m sure if I understood Korean, they would be even better. These characters seem completely human on screen. This humanity is captured by a quirky, comical style of direction. It’s subtle, and not the type of comic structure that will make you laugh because it’s funny, but because it’s such a natural thing for a human to do that we don’t often see portrayed in movies. For example, there’s a scene where the protagonist is confronted by a gunman. Before ducking, he cocks his head slightly to the side, completely surprised. Real people don’t have a “I’m a badass, shit doesn’t scare me” mentality, no matter how hardened they are. When the unexpected occurs, we are surprised, even if reflexes do save our lives seconds later, and that surprise will be visible through our countenances.

I’ve explained the plot already: a revenge story with a slightly different plot structure. The goal isn’t to kill, it’s to torment.  As a member of the police force himself, the protagonist also has to avoid detection from the police, which goes smoothly for him, likely to make more space for the main narrative. By the close of the second act, the morality of the protagonists actions is brought into question, which is rarely done in these kinds of movies. They tend to justify grotesque vengeance with the stimulus that provoked it, but that viewpoint doesn’t hold true in modern society. Every wrongdoing, regardless of motivation, is still a wrongdoing, and consequences will inevitably occur, whether they be physical or psychological.

I Saw The Devil is a two-and-a-half hour movie that plays out in one-and-a-half. It’s a bloody romp that doesn’t find pleasure in overextended scenes of mindless violence and gore. It’s a smart thriller that brings into question the ideas of good and evil. By the time the credits roll, you’ll have been adequately rewarded with a conclusion that does the length of the movie justice. True justice.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Why Batman Shouldn’t Be Rebooted in 2015

If it’s not already painfully obvious, everyone loves Nolan’s version of Batman (alright, to be unbiased, it does have its fair share of “non-believers”). The last installation of Nolan’s reboot is planned for a theatrical release next year, and the box office will feel the sting of millions of fans preordering their tickets, and theaters will shake with the clamor of excitement as everyone waits in anticipation to discover how the trilogy will conclude.

Three years afterwards, fans of The Bat will have another live-action movie to look forward to. We would all be excited to see Nolan directing Bale, Caine, and the usual bunch in a fourth movie, but if plans for a new Batman don’t fall through, that won’t be the case. This new Batman project is intended as a completely new reboot, scrapping the previous canon established by Nolan. We’ve already seen The Green Lantern hit theaters, Man of Steel (the new Superman reboot, funny because the last reboot only lasted for one film) is currently filming, and there is speculation about a Wonder Woman flick. While this isn’t a comprehensive list of the heroes one would expect to see in a Justice League movie, the push towards producing so many superhero movies based on characters from the DC universe strikes me as odd considering only Marvel has really been pushing for big-screen adaptations of their material.

Doubtlessly, it was Nolan’s Batman Begins that set the stage for DC to begin moving forward with more movies based on their heroes. And it’s that exact stage-setting that makes this such an inopportune moment for yet another Batman reboot to arise. Even if Nolan is included on the team responsible for its creation, the expectation for it to live up to its predecessor will be a thorn in its side throughout both the production and marketing processes. Concurrently, with the intent of making the reboot of a different nature than the Begins series, people will expect to see something entirely different. Traces of Nolan’s influence will only serve to compound confusion in differentiating between the two reboots and to bring the canon of the Batman film franchise into question. Most importantly, many hearts have been captivated by Christian Bale’s Batman, and four years from now when the reboot is currently scheduled to be released, those captive hearts won’t have come close to forgetting what’s probably the best live iteration of Batman to date.

But as I begin to probe deeper into this situation, I stumble upon quite an interesting thought: Bale is adverse to the notion of sharing the spotlight with another actor. After all, he threatened to drop the role of the Caped Crusader if Robin was added to the cast. Yeah, that’s probably only because he had a bad experience with the original Batman and Robin, as so many have, but it still makes an interesting point. If Bale won’t share the screen with a single sidekick, why would he share it with multiple? To my knowledge, there has yet to be a big ensemble superhero film to hit Hollywood, so most recurring superhero actors are probably more than used to walking the path of righteous justice alone.

As of now, I’m not sure if Bale has been approached about taking the role of Batman in the Justice League movie, but I do know that the chances of someone else being able to replace what he left us with is slim. A Batman reboot should wait a good ten years after The Dark Knight Rises, when the hype has died down, and we become thirsty to revisit the cinematic presence of everyone’s favorite powerless superhero.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Who Deserves Credit for Movies (Directors vs. Everyone Else)

It’s a trend that runs through the veins of most casual moviegoers – the attribution of the completion of a film solely to the director. It’s undeniable that the lucky individual who takes hold of the esteemed reins of director has the greatest influence over the development of a film. But to say that a movie like Shutter Island is “one of Scorsese’s best works” is a downright lie, not because there’s not a possibility for it to contend for one of his best works but because Scorsese wasn’t the only force driving the creation of the movie.

Shutter Island is the product of the adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane, multiple studios, Paramount, writer Laeta Kalogridis, a dozen producers, Leonardo DiCaprio, and the hundreds of members of the crew. Why, then, do most people attribute an entire movie’s creation to the director? My thoughts? They probably don’t know any better. I’m sure everyone has sat through the credits of at least one movie. The list of people involved are far too great for you to ever develop a familiarity with any of them, but that unfamiliarity doesn’t constitute the lack of recognition they receive. I’m willing to state that most directors don’t know how to handle all of the equipment, properly apply makeup, or perform most of the technical tasks required to make a movie successful.

Yes, it’s the director who makes decisions as to how scenes are shot, how to use the lighting, how actors should approach the scenes, and nearly every other aspect of how the film looks. But he couldn’t do any of that without a good many uncredited (by the general public) individuals.

For example, it doesn’t matter how Scorsese decides to direct DiCaprio, Leo is Leo. His screen presence is something in itself, something the viewer sees and automatically associates with DiCaprio, not Scorsese’s direction. In fact, many might also refer to Shutter Island as a Leonardo DiCaprio film, not a Scorsese film. Many likely considered Inception in the same manner. Despite Nolan’s direction being a large “must-see” stamp on the film, DiCaprio cast in the leading role was a magnet for his many Titanic fangirls and others who simply appreciate the work he does. The cast of a film is doubtlessly integral to its success, and leading actors may have just as much a right to call a film their own as the director.

The script, in this particular example, is unoriginal. No, I don’t mean stolen. I mean not the creative work of Scorsese. The film was adapted from a novel, but wasn’t advertised as such, and the collection of people who know about Shutter Island, the novel, are probably amongst the few who may sympathize with my ideas on this subject. Cinematography and film editing were each handled by a single members of the production team. Neither have names that I’m familiar with, though this contemplation of mine may lead me to take increased notice to these individuals. What’s more surprising to me is that the editor, Thelma Shoonmaker, is a three-time Oscar recipient who worked with Scorsese on multiple occasions, including Goodfellas and The Departed. However, I don’t recall ever hearing much about her, not even as a mere appendage to the name of Scorsese. Wouldn’t one be inclined to believe Shoonmaker’s editing has something to do with the visual presentation of what are considered some of Scorsese’s best? I’m sure many would say no because Scorsese oversaw her direction. For me, that’s not an excuse. Shoonmaker attended film school and studied the art of editing. She has her own style, and whether Scorsese had any input as to how she worked or not, it’s ultimately her style of editing that shows up, not Scorsese’s visual vision.

I believe I’ve made enough of my point clear in that brief analysis of Shutter Island, but readers would be wrong to interpret this as saying directors shouldn’t have their names pasted onto movie posters. That’s not true at all; in certain situations, they do deserve to be widely recognized as a driving force behind the creation of a film. In this area, directors such as Christopher Nolan and the Coen brothers begin to shine through. Not only to these directors oversee production, but they tend to fiddle with the screenplays, producing, cinematography, and editing. These are the directors who I have no problem attributing the majority of a film to. They put themselves in as many positions as possible, and while there are still a great many important aspects of creating a film that  they can’t take part in, the multiple roles they assume do enough to speak for their desire to create a film that’s most reflective of their creative vision.

So at the end of the day, who deserves credit for movies? Honestly, it’s hard to say. Cast and crew far outnumber directors, producers, and the like. There are roles that are more important than others. Maybe a movie would have turned out just fine with only a single grip. Maybe it would have turned out better without either; but that’s not to say they didn’t put forth their fair share of effort. It’s just an insignificant measure of worth that I’m using to determine who should be credited. There’s often only a single editor for a film. Without them, production would never conclude. Does that mean they deserve more credit than the casting director? Again, no.

At this point, I feel as though I’m just going around in circles, so I’ll finish up with but a few more statements. At the end of the day, deciding who should be given the most credit is quite ambiguous and largely varies from project to project. While I don’t agree with the fact that many people attribute movies only to the directors, there’s really no way to get everyone’s name out there – except in the credits. And for people who love making movies, that’s enough.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Sequels to Look Forward to in 2012

Clash of the Titans 2
Most of those who’ve seen the original Clash of the Titans can agree that the first remake was highly unfaithful. That aside, it also created a huge buzz with converting a movie shot in 2D to 3D in post-production. I can predict where the cries of “blasphemy” shall erupt with this sequel. For starters, mostly everyone can agree that this should either be shot in 2D or 3D; it should stick with one or the other. The most important point is that the original Clash of the Titans spanned only one film. It’s completely unknown how this new project will expand upon the lore of Perseus…or if it will follow a new hero entirely.

G.I. Joe 2
The first G.I. Joe movie was…unremarkable. Very forgettable. For that reason, I don’t remember much about it, which doesn’t go over well for a sequel. When I hear of sequel plans, I want the events of the first movie to rush back to me. For G.I. Joe 2, they don’t at all. For me, this might as well be the first movie in the series.

Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance
Nicolas Cage. Ghost Rider sequel. Expect what you will. The end.

Underworld: Awakening
The first three movies in the Underworld series have typically met with mixed reviews from the professionals. From my perspective, they aren’t half bad – with the exception of the sequel. I’d really like to see where the story goes after the end of Evolution. Well, based on the trailer, I do have somewhat of an idea what the plot will entail, but what I’m really looking forward to is how well this fourth movie will be able to provide closure to the series (which the series does need). If there are any plans for a fifth Underworld that I’m not aware about, I hope that they are scrapped in the near future. The series is solid, but it doesn’t need to make the mistake of overstaying its welcome.

Men in Black 3
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones intend to reprise their roles in the third film in the Men in Black series, to be released an incredible ten years after the last, and will be joined onscreen by Josh Brolin, who, given his most recent roles in the Coen Brothers’ movies, seems like a great fit. The big question is how well this belated sequel will hold up to the first two movies, both whose quality is questionable.

Ice Age: Continental Drift
Why they still market these movie as “Ice Age” is far beyond my comprehension. The first movie was enjoyable, and the second looked like a good end to the series, with “the meltdown” spelling out doom for the ice age. But, in the interest of monetizing a popular franchise, it couldn’t stop there. I don’t know how to differentiate between the many ice ages of earth’s history, but I do know that the one we most commonly refer to occurred after dinosaurs became extinct, rendering Ice Age 3 a very questionable premise. And now, continental drift. Creatures that shouldn’t be able to survive in this warmer climate are to trudge on through another film…in 3D.

The Bourne Legacy
Like you, I was excited to know that another Bourne movie was in production. I was also highly upset upon the realization that, although this movie is the “Borne” legacy, it doesn’t feature Bourne. At all. Nope, Matt Damon won’t be the leading man in this fourth installment. He’ll be replaced by Jeremy Renner who I’m sure can handle the action-intensive world of Jason Bourne, but whether he’ll be able to get away with replacing the icon of the series is another matter entirely.

Resident Evil: Retribution
These movies aren’t getting any better. It’s amazing that they’ve made it this far because, to my knowledge, they aren’t the best performers at the box-office. Nonetheless, enough funding was secured to make another mundane movie with boring characters, boring actors, boring effects, and boring…everything else. Maybe I’m being a little too harsh on the series; maybe 2012 is the year where everything that was bad about the previous movies will finally be improved upon. But the chances of that are unlikely. Out of the many reasons I have for declaring such, I’ll entreat you with one: it’s a prequel. A prequel that still supposedly stars Milla Jovovich. While I wouldn’t like to see the movie, I would like to see how it compares to Underworld: Awakening.

Prometheus (Alien Prequel)
It’s been a long time since a real Alien sequel has seen the light of day. Naturally, the horrid crossover series between the Alien and Predator can’t be counted, and whether or not this can be counted is still under debate. While meant as a prequel to the Alien trilogy, it’s unknown how many connections this will have to the original three. After all, it is called Prometheus, and I’m unsure how the fire thief can be made to bear any relevance to an intergalactic species of murderous aliens.

Of course, between now and the start of next year (and during its course), there will likely be several more sequel announcements, kept obscure by the marketing giants. But for now, this is what we have to look forward to, and it is indeed a bleak future.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Disney/Pixar Live-Action Movie

I didn't believe it either, but it is true. Disney and Pixar are working on a live-action movie. It looks...archaic. Magical. Modern. And cheesy. All at the same time, but something's telling me that this might turn out better than many would expect. The first thing that came to my mind watching the trailer was Avatar, but this is clearly something entirely different that, even if it's not any good, promises to be an interesting ride.

John Carter Trailer