Review : Silent Hill Revelation

Silent Hill is my all time favorite video game franchise.  Many in the series are works of art.  I resisted, but a friend finally convinced me to watch the first film.  Though imperfect, the film Silent Hill was captivating.  It very accurately captured the environment of the mythic ghost town.  More importantly, it stood on its own as a self-contained experience wherein the audience can seamlessly lose themselves.  It was a fun movie that I have watched several times.

Within 1 minute of starting Revelation, it was apparent what this film would be.  For 1.5 hours, I oscillated between squirming in revulsion or laughing in disbelief at an abomination that slightly surpassed Sy-Fy Channel standards.  The only thing worse is the fact that, as of writing, Wikipedia reports it has made double on its meager $20M budget.  An indictment of “the biz”, SH Revelation exhibits the mentality of the plentitude of Halloween sequels : “Make the Money”.   The fact that fans, including me, will buy a ticket make it all the easier to create a piece of trash and rake a 2:1 return.  However, even in that capacity, SH will ultimately fail.  Halloween was an established franchise with massive success in film (at one time, among the most successful indie films ever).  Revelation, on the other hand, kills the franchise before it gets on its feet.  It is an insult that deserves to be forgotten and a franchise that should die right here unless put in more capable hands.

The script is a fun-house walkthrough (“so… this happens then this happens, then there’s blood, and this guy is suddenly a baddie”).  It was obviously written by someone who read the Silent Hill 3 (game) wiki and was told to add in various devices to expand the market base (ie a shallow love interest for the sake of teenage girls so boyfriends would buy a ticket).  The characters are spineless: they have no depth or motivation.  The decisions they make  (stopping at a motel to suddenly rest) make no sense except to give an opportunity for some silly plot twist or possible romantic tension (where no relationship exists).  Various characters were completely unnecessary (what’s the point of any scene with the police?)  The private investigator was a major character in SH3 (the game), but in the film, he could have been axed entirely.  This would have shaved several minutes from runtime.

Visuals.  If you’re going in to make a film on the cheap to rake in the $, here’s an idea : FORGET 3D!  I seriously doubt 3D increased ticket sales, but rather cost a disproportionate amount that would have better been dedicated to other elements (hey: script).  Some of the sets were childish (the cult’s lair).  CGI was very poorly executed (blown out whites, the scene with Alessa walking before the wave of devastation was college-level).

Production.  Attention to detail was lacking.  Extras in the “lair” might have just stood in the background with their hands in their pockets.  It was distracting.  There were a few places where I noticed audio dubbing (ie towards the end of the motel scene, audio does not match Heather’s lips at all).  Stuff like this makes me think the script was being actively toyed-with post-production.  The general direction of the cast was melodramatic.  Most performances were telegraphed (with the exception of Adelaide Clemens and Sean Bean who both deserved a better script).  The exposition with Rose calling Christopher/Harry “my beloved” belonged in Twilight.

To talk about the music is rather inconsequential compared to the disaster of the film.

I would love to see an enterprising editor take the DVD and re-edit it into a good short.

Film Review : Prometheus

WARNING : Spoilers contained and marked.

Prometheus is an excellent film.  Is it perfect?  Heck no, but it is an excellent sci-fi ride and prelude to Alien.  From the opening sequence depicting death and rebirth of an alien humanoid through to the raging climaxthe film had my jaw on the floor.

Prometheus  managed to live within the Alien universe while keeping the look-n-feel updated to 21st century standards.  The environments were cold, high-contrast, and somber, drawing from the same cyberpunk DNA that H R Giger and Ridley Scott invested in the original film.  I have listened to the soundtrack several times over on Spotify.  Jerry Goldsmith, the late composer of the Alien soundtrack and one of my favorite American composers, is still there.  His usage of sparse arrangement with massive harmonic interval continues yielding an environment of dark suspense.

The story, in its broad strokes, is solid drawing on the universal question of “Where did we come from?”  Everyone can identify.  Unfortunately, the finer details of the script itself have moments that could have been refined.  For one, people have a tendency to take off their helmets in alien environments…  These characters should not be that stupid.  Most of the perpetrators of the helmet falasey are highly educated and should be aware that oxygen is not the only thing to worry about when traveling abroad.  I understand why this device was used, it made me say “Oh no!  Don’t do that!!”  However, the device  woke me from the “dream”, reminding me that I’m watching a film.   ****SPOILER****  There is a revelation in the 3rd act about someone being alive and someone else being a relative.  Frankly, this was obvious from Act I.  Both of these pieces could have been removed with little negative effect or should have been handled more delicately to make the revelations actually earth-shattering.

The acting was superb.  The entire cast was solid.  Fassbender deserves awards.

Ridley Scott’s orchestration was masterful and balanced.  No element of the film outdid the other.  The visuals were not gratutious, rather they supported the film in the same way as the score, the production design, the cast, the cinematography : as one cohestive whole.

If time were available, I would easily have walked out after the credits and done an about-face for another run through.  Easily, my favorite Sci-Fi of the past few years.

Hunt of Red October, Variations on Trotsky, Red Army Choir, Submarines

Today was another one of those weird days in the sub-conscious.

The Hunt for Red October (film)

The Hunt for Red October (film) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last night, while working on After Effects, I had The Hunt for Red October playing on Netflix.  I hadn’t watched the movie for years.  It’s excellent, if you haven’t seen it.  One of my favorite moments is in the first 10 minutes.  The crew on a Russian submarine is speaking in Russian (no surprise).  The camera pushes in on a character’s lips, and suddenly the actor switches to English.  The camera comes back out and resumes.  Just such a novel device and at a moment that takes us from this disconnect of reading words on a screen to hearing spoken passages from the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita interpreted through the mind of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the Father of the Atomic Bomb (and one  of the 3 people I would visit in a time-machine).  Such a beautiful moment telling the state of two nations locked in the Cold War.

But getting back on topic.: Today was another one of those weird days in the sub-conscious.

I woke this morning with the Red Army Choir playing in my head.  Something like this :

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This became the FM station in my head throughout the day : selections by the Red Army Choir.

Ironically, YouTube decided to play an ad which interrupted the flow:

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All I could think of was “The proletariat is right. The proletariat must always be right. And the revolution of the proletariat against oppression must go on . . . forever!”  That and Trotsky with a pickaxe in his head a la David Ives.

Alexandrov Choir and Yosif Kobzon sing in Wars...

Alexandrov Choir and Yosif Kobzon sing in Warsaw, October 2009 Polski: Chór Aleksandrowa i Josif Kobzon w czasie koncertu w Warszawie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I ended up waiting for Kathryn at her office building while she was wrapping up some research.  I decided to take the half hour and read up on submarines, beginning with the Kursk (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_submarine_K-141_Kursk) and ending by reading on all the generations of Russian and American submaries WWII forward.  (Ain’t Wikipedia amazing?)

The only unfortunate thing is: in order to push in some more knowledge on submarines, I probably had to forget something.  Hope it wasn’t important.

 

“Why Did You Create Me?”

The other day, I woke up with this moment from Star Trek : The Next Generation in my head.  (I know : geek.  But seriously, I haven’t watched this episode for years, and suddenly I had to track it down.)  Data, an android, meets the man who built him and asks “Why did you create me?”  The scene itself was acted out by Brent Spiner playing both the “son” and father.  I think it’s an excellent performance of an excellent piece of writing relating to one of the most universal human questions.

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Movie Review : The Guard

I wanted to love this film.  Anyone who knows me, knows I have a huge place in my heart for foreign cinema and I particularly love Brendan Gleeson‘s work (In Bruges, 28 Days Later, Harry Potter) However, I honestly feel somebody has to come out and say it: The Guard is a waste of talent!  I do not understand why reviewers, including the The Times, praise this work.  I am taking this opportunity to call out those reviewers to tell them they missed the mark and didn’t do their job.  The only reason I can discern for the wave of positive reviews is sympathy for the oft-under-appreciated talent of Gleeson and Don Cheedle.  Their love for their characters and craft is the only redeeming value in a film fraught with amateur shortcomings.  I hope their contributions are recognized and channeled into a script more worthy of their skills.

The blueprints made this film a disaster.  It could’ve been good.  It really had a great nucleus of an idea: a country officer with a darkside who wraps himself in unabashed whit motivated by a deep commitment to the ideals of the Old West and love for an ailing mother.  If the whole film were written from his perspective, this review would be entirely different.  We would have elements of character development, mystery, and suspense.  We would only see what the guard sees when he sees it.  Unfortunately, the script exposes all the cards faceup on the table, all the outcomes are known to the audience well in advance.  Rather than relying on the skills of the guard (Boyle) to save the day, the plot relies on convenient circumstances that mitigate any opportunity for drama.

One of the perfect examples is the scene where the sociopath intends on murdering Boyle.  We were already shown that he has been told to murder Boyle.  When Boyle is searching his home, the camera over the shoulder limits our view to Boyle’s view.  This would normally instill suspense, but we know the sociopath has an agenda to kill, therefore we know he is around the corner.  When Boyle is forced to sit at gunpoint, we have no reason to worry because, conveniently earlier in the day, Boyle was given a small Derringer to hide in the crotch of his pants during a sequence about the IRA that otherwise had no bearing on the plot.

The villains could have been something great, but instead, they’re idiots who are lucky.  In such a small area, why would villians show themselves publicly, especially with $500M on the line?  $500M could buy a lot of cheap labor to do your dirty work.  In the first half-hour of the film, the rookie cop (McBride) happens to pull over a car containing our three evil masterminds.  The reason for pulling over the car is never given.  He has the drop on the bad guys.  The film could have ended right there, but instead, the writer had to inexplicably cause McBride to lose control of his situation and turn his back on obvious danger costing three bullets in the back.  This was so implausible, it was insulting.  Later, the writer explains that McBride was homosexual, and maybe it was the fact the villains knew his secret that caused him to lose control.  Again, if villians are this lucky, where’s the tension?  Of all the cops in all of Ireland, they happen to know that the one about to end their agenda is afraid of coming out of the closet?  This scene completely negated the purpose of McBride altogether.  That character and all his distractions should have hit the floor with a rewrite.

The scene in the American diner where Boyle is blackmailed is another slap to the audience’s intelligence.  1) We saw this coming.  No public figure would let themselves be photographed by a prostitute (maybe the public figure would take the photo, but not vice-versa) 2) All the police/FBI had to do was put out headshots of these criminals and everyone on the streets would be pointing fingers.  There is no way these guys could have acted the way they did if an alert was put out on them.

Last example.  Early in the film, Boyle is investigating a murder.  The bad guys have left several red-herrings to throw him off the trail.  Boyle even begins to leave the path until, conveniently, the evil mastermind calls Boyle to give him a false tip, that ends up pointing Boyle to a security camera in a pub with a recording proving that the criminal mastermind was involved in the murder.  See what I’m talking about?

When you create characters with strong spines and throw them in a particular situation, they will act accordingly and propel the movie through the plot.  Their discovery is our discovery.  Their tension is our tension.  In this case, a weak script had to pull the characters through the plot by using dumb luck that was only intended to explain to the audience how such convenient events happened to move the characters from Point A to Point B.  I sincerely hope the next film to utilize Gleeson has a script worthy of his talent.

Movie Review : Antichrist by Lars von Trier

Antichrist (film)

Image via Wikipedia

I had the house to myself last Saturday evening.  I decided to break open the backlog of films in my NetFlix instantview queue.  That film ended up being Antichrist by Lars von Trier.  My expectations were solely based on the short blurb from Netflix and the recommendation based on my enjoyment of Blue Velvet among other films.  Out of five stars, I would give this a four.

The narrative is simple.  Husband tries to help wife cope with death.  Through a steady downward spiral into the psychological and the supernatural, we lose our ground in the reality we started and find ourselves caught in a Hell evoked by William Blake.  It is frightening, thrilling, sensual, and disgusting.

The film is somewhere between entertainment and avant-garde, with a predisposition toward the latter.  Unfortunately, arrogance, that sometime companion of “fine art” became apparent from the opening with the title card “Lars von Trier”.  Immediately, this sense of director ego washed over my appraisal of the film.  Truth in art is in the piece and not the creator.  Secondarily, the usage of acts, defined by title cards broke the narrative flow.  For what purpose?   Other than style, I don’t think there is one.  These two elements where the negatives, but now on to the positive…

The Prologue is gorgeous.  The lighting conjures the gritty noir feel of David Lynch‘s work for Giorgio Armoni from 1992 YouTube Preview Image with the music summoning such delicate moments as the excerpt from the Marriage of Figaro in Frank Durabont’s adaptation of The Shawshank Redemption.  Coming from an American-censored background, some of the imagery shocked in all the right ways.  It is a beautiful counterpoint to an inescapable impending loss, and catalyst for the film.

Pacing was spot on through the majority of the plot building tension and a desire to uncover the underlying motivations of our characters.  The flow eventually became  disjointed in the film’s final half hour as character actions pushed extremes for shock-value.  I can give this up for style.

I will not ruin the film for you, but one of my favorite moments is the epilogue.  I’ve read a few interpretations.  Mine is a pilgrimage.

If you enjoy Blue Velvet, Lost Highway, the Shining, Eyes Wide Shut or A Tale of Two Sisters, then consider Antichrist.

FLCL

FLCLI spent a good chunk of the day day glued to my laptop, working.  In the background, I pulled up a few clips of FLCL.  Then I ended up loading up all the episodes.  I forgot just how incredible this series is. 

This isn’t so much a review, just a : wow, FLCL is a piece of art.:)

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