26.9.10

The Cove

The Cove
Release Date: 2009
Directed by Louie Psihoyos

Written by Mark Monroe

Featuring: Richard O'Barry
Brook Aitken
Joe Chisholm
Kirk Krack
Isabel Lucas

***** (5 out of 5 stars)
Possibly the best documentary I have ever seen (winning the Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature at the 82nd Academy Awards).  This film enlightens the world to a plight we don't see on television much, if at all.  As thousands of dolphins die each year, we sit by and see nothing of it; worst of all, many places eat products from these dolphins which causes a great risk to human health as they are high in mercury.  We not only see the viciousness of these hunters towards such beautiful creatures as dolphins, we also see the Japanese government trying to deny the fact that the mercury from the products is causing serious birth defects and health problems.  This documentary is a mix between a piece of investigative journalist and an ecological adventure thriller which gives us some amazingly candid footage that Richard O'Barry and a crew of activists are able to capture through night vision technology and hidden cameras; these people filmed at great risk to their personal safety, and the final scene with Richard O'Barry literally made me cry.  It is amazing that so many devote themselves to these causes, and as one interviewee points out during the film there are not many people to pick up from where a lot of these people will leave off.  Hopefully my generation will start to pay more close attention to the world around them.  The worst is that not only are the dolphins being massacred, but then some of the "good" dolphins are sold into captivity and sideshows purely for human enjoyment.

One of the big things about this movie is Richard O'Barry, who was the man that captured and trained the 5 dolphins who played the title character of Flipper in the hit television show.  His passion for helping the dolphins after seeing what captivity does to these beautiful creatures is amazing; his eyes well up with tears time and time again during the film when they talk of the massacres or watch various footage.  The final scene, which I mentioned before, is as emotional rollercoaster for several minutes: Barry walks into a meeting of the International Whaling Commission with a TV set strapped to his body that's playing footage of the Taijii dolphin slaughter, walking around to show everybody in the room until he is escorted out.  The absolute passion of Barry is what makes this movie all the more special- he's not just some activity, he saw up close exactly what the forced captivity (let alone murder) of dolphins does to them and he decided to make a change.

This is all about the people who are willing to make the changes necessary for progress.  The activists that take part in the team for this movie all did so at great personal risk; the Japanese people of Taijii will do anything to keep people from finding out what's going on in their little village, and as Barry says early in the film it's not out of the realm of possibility that they will kill to protect their secret.  The intensity of the scenes where they go diving to place the sound device in the cove to monitor the dolphins cries, and when they place the hidden rock camera, is incredible; we feel every bead of sweat that must be rolling down their faces.  It's an intense, emotional experience throughout if you have a heart.

The Cove is hands down a 5 star movie, all the way through.  The investigative journalism combined with the wealth of ecological information makes this an amazing film that the world needs to take notice of.  As quoted from the film: "Never ever depend on government or institutions to solve any major problems-  all social change comes from the passion of individuals."

21.9.10

Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers

Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers
Directed by Joe Chappelle

Written by Daniel Farrands, Debra Hill (characters) & John Carpenter (characters)

Starring: Paul Rudd
      Donald Pleasence
      Marianne Hagan
      Mitch Ryan

*** (3 out of 5 stars)

This installment of Halloween has us back in Haddonfield as there is a sort of carnival to reignite the celebration of Halloween, an attempt to banish all the evil that Michael Myers created.  This film is a little bit muddled nearing the end as it tries to quickly resolve the story behind the Zodiac-esque plot; I really enjoy the fact that, over the course of the last three films and this one, they've tried to give Michael a supernatural presence but the conclusion of this movie just falls a little short on explanation.  All of that aside, I really enjoy this particular sequel.   There are definitely some shortcomings in this installment but overall it's still a decent slasher flick.

Paul Rudd is one of my favourite actors when it comes to comedy but he plays a really quirky role in this, an obsessive who encountered Myers as a young boy.  Pleasence is always great as Loomis, no matter how old and senile the doctor may get.  The acting has never been so much a problem for me when it comes to most of the Halloween series, it's always been at least decent especially when Loomis or Laurie Strode are in the movie (both Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis are classic in their roles).  It's nice to see Rudd in a earlier role doing something serious.  Although there is one part that always cracks me up- when Rudd and Loomis come back to his apartment, they get out of his vehicle and he leaps out like he's about to burst into action, and just the way he jumps out kills me!  
The character of Michael Myers is always played well, of course a huge reason is due to the fact that he's completely mute.  The thing is Michael serves also as a part of the mise-en-scene of the films; I'm sure that definition was never brought up too much on the set, although Carpenter definitely had it in mind during his time at the helm.  One particular scene comes to mind when the old lady who owns the apartments is telling Kara Strode about 'the boogeyman' and in the background, we can barely see the outline of Michael as the lightning flashes through the window.  It's a very subtle flash but if you can spot it, it lends an air of creepiness to the moment that would not be there without it.  So, literally, Michael Myers is a part of the environment in the Halloween films.  Every time he creeps in the background, the pale face of his mask barely visible, he lends an element to the visuals of the film that create that air of terror which is (pretty much) present in all the movies.

The writing for this installment was a little savage, and not in a good way.  The story of the cult and those behind the witchcraft that is introduced associated with Michael and his evil ways is never fully explained.  The script starts off with a lot of great promises but it never follows through on them.  Other than that, the script is okay; dialogue is decent, nothing spectacular but there's not many a point where you're going, "Wow, I can't believe somebody really wrote that!".  The main thing is the plot of this sequel, it just never fully unfolds.  It has a lot of promise, starting off with Rudd's creepy character and the cult trying to take Jamie Lloyd's baby, but by the end we wonder exactly what we wondered in the beginning: what is going on?  In the end, is it Loomis we hear wallowing in pain as a shot of Michael's mask laying on the ground with him nowhere to be found fades off screen?  Who knows.  I would have really liked more explanation, and sadly we never get any over the course of the last couple films either.  Which is fine because it probably would have gotten even more muddled.  I was hoping that Rob Zombie might do a little more with it all, but he even went a different route with Halloween II.

All in all, I give the movie a three star review.  There were a few good kills, some interesting stuff going on even if it didn't all pan out in the end, and some decent acting.  I'd love to see someone take on a movie explaining the supernatural elements behind this story of Michael Myers- maybe one of these days if I can get the rights, I'll have to do it.  Michael Myers is one of the best slashers, if not the best, in the history of the genre and I feel that this part of his story could be what makes him the ultimate killer in movie history.  

Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers
Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard

Written by John Carpenter & Debra Hill (characters) and Michael Jacobs

Starring: Donald Pleasance
      Danielle Harris
      Ellie Cornell
      Wendy Foxworth

**** (4 out of 5 stars)

This is one of my favourite films in the Halloween series, for several reasons.  I really enjoyed the previous installment, The Return of Michael Myers, because it started to give Michael a supernatural element.  He wasn't just the unstoppable psychopath that we saw in the first two films but now he had this force behind him, this incurable evil even deeper than we had already thought.  Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers gives us more to the story of the link between Myers and his niece, Jamie.  Even though I enjoyed Season of the Witch, it was off on it's own as far as Myers' story was concerned, and that's why I enjoy the previous film as well as this one because it picks up where it left off and gives us something else totally new to start looking at.  Before now, Michael Myers was just a relentless serial killer but now it appears that there is something darker, more sinister at work behind the dreary, white mask.

One of the best aspects of this movie to me were some of the great scenes in which Myers just creeps out of the background, as he so often does, and kills his victims.  For some reason, the scenes of this movie just stand out more for me than any other film in the series (although Halloween II is a stand out for me also).  In particular, the scene where one of the girls is just out of the shower and she's looking for her dog, then afterwards the dog is found and the police were called but nothing was out of the ordinary- once she goes back inside, we start to see Michael creep around behind her for awhile before he moves in and stabs her to death with a pair of scissors.  Just the quiet nature of these scenes is what keeps this film on par with the first two of the series.  The original Halloween was so effective because of its subtle qualities: Myers always lurking in the background, we never see his face but only through his eyes, the quiet spaces that occupy the film solely to keep us on edge in a state of curiosity.  These scenes make it a more whole part of the series, keeping the feeling and flow the same as before; as I said, I enjoyed Season of the Witch but it was more of a stand alone film, taking on its own life, and this film itself brings us back to the real story of Michael Myers.

The acting and the dialogue in this movie are pretty solid.  Most times sequels tend to fall by the wayside when it comes to dialogue and scripting especially, but The Revenge of Michael Myers was penned fairly well; of course there is always going to be a little cheese when it comes to some horror movies though it seems the Halloween franchise has a lot less of the cheese factor than some of the others (particulary A Nightmare on Elm Street although it is one of my favourite horror franchises).  The acting is also fairly spot on, most notably Donald Pleasance and (little girl's name).  Pleasance makes Dr. Loomis into a really creepy character but yet he is quite the hero when it comes to Myers and his terrorizing of Haddonfield; we watch as Loomis is all but torn apart by the will to find Michael and send him to Hell.  (little girl's name) is wonderful in this installment- she shows a lot of range for a young girl acting especially in the beginning when she is still traumatized by the events of the previous film and cannot speak.  We watch her struggle to figure out what is going on, as she seems to have an almost psychic link with her evil uncle Mike.  There are a couple intense scenes between her and Loomis when he is trying to convince her to help him, but she's still just a frightened little girl who has been through too much to really comprehend.  Also a honorable mention goes to (lead actress) for playing a fairly good role as being the main character, aside from Jamie, that Myers is after throughout most of the film.  All in all, I was pretty impressed by the acting from all the players involved- even the creepy, weird little kid who was in love with Jamie (he may have been handicapped and if so, I apologize for calling him creepy & weird!).

A solid installment in the Halloween series, ranking 3rd after Halloween and Halloween II respectively.  The atmosphere and tone of the film are what makes it so great for me, accompanied by some fairly good acting and scripting it makes this a great slasher film.  This is one of the films in the series, including the first and second, that I can watch frequently and not get tired of- that's something special for me, especially when it comes to horror films and the slasher sub genre.

Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers

Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers
Directed by Dwight H. Little

Written by Danny Lipsius, Larry Rattner, Benjamin Ruffner & Alan B McElroy.

Starring: Donald Pleasence
                Ellie Cornell
                Danielle Harris
                Beau Starr

** (2 out of 5 stars)

Let's say that I enjoyed the premise of the fourth installment in the Halloween  series, but the execution falls a little flat.  This film picks up with Michael Myers again, after Season of the Witch went in it's own direction with the tale of a supernatural force in Halloween masks.  I do love the fact that this one starts up the plot which has Myers becoming more than just a super killer- he seems to have supernatural powers of some sort.  He's linked to his niece somehow and he's back again to try and kill everyone in his family, and any poor soul that gets in his way.  Yet for some reason even though the plot intrigues me and I clearly love Michael Myers, this is the only film out of the whole series (including 20 Years Later and Resurrection) that I could watch in fast forward.  Nothing in particular about this movie, other than some plot elements, kept my focus for any amount of time.  
The script wasn't terrible.  The young actress plays Jamie Lloyd excellently, and recurs the role in the next installment Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers also doing an amazing job.  The supporting actors weren't terrible which is something I've found mostly true about a lot of the films in the series- not to say that it's outstanding work either, but for the most part the casting hasn't been too bad.  Nothing about the script and the dialogue stood out to me, just a typical slasher movie when it comes to the writing.  As I said before, there were some elements that interested me but nothing really came of it until the next film in the series where we discover more about the link between Michael and his niece Jamie.

Nothing grabbed me about the fourth Halloween movie, I give it two stars because it didn't necessarily strike me as a terrible film it's just that there was nothing to make it a standout of the series.  The beginnings of a supernatural quality in Myers are what make this at least an okay movie, and of course a few kills to make it your average slasher flick.

David Cronenberg Does Stephen King's Dead Zone

The Dead Zone
Directed by David Cronenberg

Produced by Debra Hill

Based on the novel by Stephen King

Screenplay by Jeffrey Boam

Starring: Christopher Walken
      Tom Skerritt
      Martin Sheen
      Brooke Adams
      Herbert Lom
     
***** (5 out of 5 stars)
Cronenberg is one of my favourite filmmakers because he tackles a lot of strange issues, but here he adapts a story by Stephen King that turns out rather well.  The beginning of the film plays a lot like a murder mystery: Johnny Smith (Christopher Walken) is a teacher who suffers a terrible car accident and wakes up after 5 years in a coma to discover he has a psychic detective ability- he can see the past and the future, people's darkest thoughts and memories.  We watch as the local police are searching for a serial killer and try to enlist Johnny to help them.  For the first half of the movie we watch the struggle of Johnny to cope with being gone for 5 years in a coma and him also coping with the new abilities he has woken up with.  After the business with the killer, Johnny moves out of town and starts privately teaching a young boy.  This is where the film shifts into gear and we discover what The Dead Zone is all about: if you were able to see something ahead of time and had the ability to stop it, at any cost, would you do it?  Johnny relates this to Dr. Weizak (Herbert Lom), who was in Germany at the time of World War II, by asking if he could go back in time before the war, knowing what he knows now and kill Hitler.  Of course the doctor replies that because he loves people and helping them, he would have no other choice.  Mixed in halfway through is Greg Stillson, played by Martin Sheen- a devilish candidate for senator who is clearly a strong arm type of fellow.  Here is where Johnny's choices come in.  The "dead zone" is basically when, if he can see what will happen, he change the outcome of one of his visions.

The writing, of course, is incredible.  We already have the story written by Stephen King, and in the hands of a master like Cronenberg.  This is a lot unlike most of the material he has worked with but he works so well with it that it's surprising you don't see Cronenberg working with a lot more material of this style.  The whole plot of the film is wonderful, we get a lot of very creepy interesting stuff happening in the first hour and then the last 40 minutes is the climax and then the slow discovery of Johnny's true abilities.  A very well written film.

Christopher Walken plays a really excellent part- the movie is obviously a far out concept, but the character himself is someone that you don't usually see him playing.  Johnny is a very reserved individual for the most part and especially after he is inflicted with his abilities we see him try to withdraw from the world.  Walken enunciates the inner turmoil of Johnny; 5 years in a coma and he has woken up to discover a rash of killings, his mother passes away shortly after, he has lost the love of his life to another man, and we watch the anguish he goes through after all this only to now be burdened with psychic powers.  A truly great performance.  Martin Sheen also plays an absolutely love-to-hate villain, and a few other supporting roles are played very well.

This movie is a five out of five star movie because it shows me what David Cronenberg has in his bag of tricks (I'm a huge fan of his anyways) and I also enjoyed Christopher Walken as much as I ever have in a film, someone who constantly surprises me.  The story itself is thanks to King, who is and has long been an inspiration of mine in my own writing.  I also like to throw out there that Debra Hill is a producer here, also on one of my favourite franchises, Halloween.

Trouble Every Day by Claire Denis

Trouble Every Day
Directed by Claire Denis
Written by Claire Denis

Starring: Vincent Gallo
                 Tricia Vessey
        Beatrice Dalle
        Alex Descas

**** (4 out of 5 stars)
Claire Denis' film Trouble Every Day has been panned by a lot of critics, but it has also received a lot of praise.  Me, I definitely think it's one of the more disturbing, innovative and thoughtful films to come out of the horror genre in a long time.  This film is about lust at the most base of all forms, an animalistic urge that drives some to the edge of sanity; two separate stories unfold and eventually become one as we watch Vincent Gallo's character Shane try hard not to have sexual intercourse with his new wife, for what reason we don't really know, but we get an idea that it's the same thing that Beatrice Dalle's character is experiencing.  Shane and his new wife seem happy enough but we slowly see that Shane knows more than what his wife does, and that he's desperate to find a way out.  The movie is gory in parts, subtle in others, creepy at points and very thought provoking the whole way through.  

The acting is fairly spot on in this movie.  Vincent Gallo, who I really enjoy due to the strange air he has, is a hit or miss- he hits the nail on the head of this performance.  We watch him struggle throughout the whole film.  One scene in particular comes to mind where he and his new wife are laying together in bed, back on to one another, and she is touching his arm- he slowly moves his arm away and curls into the fetal position, obviously in mental anguish.  It's a very relaxed performance which is great because it definitely could look strained if the actor were a lot less talented; Gallo seems to understand this role very well.  Beatrice Dalle plays a character who is the wife of a doctor, played by Alex Descas, and she also has the same 'disease' as what we assume Gallo suffers from.  However, we see the carnage she unleashes whereas we mostly watch Gallo suffer through the emotions (until near the end); she is a sexual, killing machine.  Her husband locks her in the house by day when he leaves so as to not create chaos; we get the impression he is struggling to figure out how to cure her and help her get rid of this ailment.  The supporting actors are all wonderful as well, but it is because of the lead actors/actress that this movie excels.
       The dynamic really plays on Gallo and Dalle, the both of them cursed with some sort of sexual sickness.  To have people in different relationships, one in each with this sickness, it really makes it very interesting to see two people that are so isolated and yet so the same.  Eventually when they finally come together, Gallo seems to want to overcome the disability so bad that he takes it all out on her.  Of course this solves nothing, but it's all a part of it- the rage.  Then afterwards we see Gallo completely give into the urge, and he's fine.. for now.

Claire Denis has written a very innovative script, in my mind.  The idea of how a certain type of plant or insect kills its mate in sexual cannibalism can be transposed to a story about two human beings who suffer from the same infliction is absolutely spectacular!  One of the more ingenious scripts in recent years for the horror genre.  This is what horror needs is new blood instead of remaking classic movies from 40 years ago.  The dialogue is also very believable and natural, which helps in making everything more human.  That's what this movie is all about- human nature, human instinct, human need in excess.  I'm very impressed with Claire Denis and I hope that she might continue in creating some new life for the horror genre.

I had to watch this film with spanish subtitles because it was the only version I could find, and I still loved it.  I give it a four star rating only because I really would have liked more explanations.  Now I was still very satisfied with the film but it would have been fun to see more about what was going on, and if there was any hope.  Maybe a few more kills.  All in all, a great film.

The Orphanage

The Orphanage 
Directed by Juan Antonio Bayona

Produced by Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Belen Rueda
                Fernando Cayo
                Geraldine Chaplin
                Roger Princep
                Mabel Rivera
                Montserrat Carulla
                Andres Gertrdix

***** 5 out of 5 stars

Usually I try not to gravitate towards a film solely because it's directed by someone I'm a fan of, or produced by a big name, but in certain cases I just can't help it.  Such is the case with Guillermo del Toro.  I first watched ten minutes of The Orphanage and I wasn't taken by anything, and I turned it off- something I do not usually do.  However, I watched it again and didn't take my eyes off the screen this time.  The atmosphere was quite akin to del Toro's works, but it had it's own creepy atmosphere created by Juan Antonio Bayona which was pleasing because as much as Guillermo's name drew me to watch the film I was hoping that Bayona would certainly make it visibly his own.  The subject matter of children in the horror genre is something that I, and a lot of others, find very creepy; both Juan Antonio Bayona and Guillermo del Toro (who frequently uses children in his works) seem to have a handle on the subject matter, and that's why this movie works so well as a team effort.  

The script and the dialogue itself are all great, something that is a real big deal for me because there's nothing worse than watching a horror/mystery movie that has a terrible script or if the dialogue is poor.  I was kept guessing until the very end which is something that rarely happens for me.  It wasn't that I did or didn't know what was going to happen that mattered, it was the fact that the story had a lot of weaves that kept me glued to the screen.  Along with the script, all the actors and actresses (including the children) did a fine job of portraying their characters.  Belen Rueda gave an incredibly moving performance as a grief stricken mother who wants nothing but to discover the truth behind her son's disappearance; a couple scenes in particular with her husband really stood out to me as excellent.  Several supporting roles were played nicely, mainly the medium who comes to the couple's house to investigate any ghostly occurrences, played by Geraldine Chaplin.  She was creepy but yet in one scene with Simon's mother she displays a gentle, motherlike quality that gives the character a lot of depth in a short time; the scene in which she goes through the house in her 'trance' and sees the ghosts (which we do not see, only hear) is one of the creepier scenes in recent years that I can remember.

There was no blood or anything like that, which is something I love as a horror film fan, but it was perfect that way because this was strictly a ghost story.  There are definite opportunities within the story of this movie to have shown some grisly, gruesome scenes, but Bayona chose to just stick with the story's main elements: grief, tragedy, and loss.  These three key elements in the story are what makes it a top notch ghost story, and a mystery thriller as well.  There are a lot of great things about this movie, and it's got a lot to do with the directing, the producing, and the story.  Even if the acting wasn't top notch this movie would have been a great watch, but the fact that the acting was solid as well propels this into the upper echelons of the ghost movie ranks.

Antichrist

Antichrist
Directed & Written by Lars Von Trier

Starring: Willem Dafoe
                Charlotte Gainsbourg

***** (5 out of 5 stars)

This movie is beautiful and creepy all at the same time.  The opening scene is haunting, as Lars Von Trier weaves sexual intercourse, the death of a child, and classic music into one lingering sequence to open the story.  A husband and wife, therapist and writer respectively, grieve over the accident that killed their little boy, both ravaged by the effects.  The husband convinces his wife to let him treat her, although not an approved clinical practice.  She agrees, and from there we watch a twisted psychotherapy clinic run by the husband.  He insists on not having intercourse after or during a session, but her grief leads her to sex and they end most of their sessions, or are interrupted, by making love.  This movie is all about the nature of humans, both male and female, although the plot steers very heavily towards the nature of woman, and how nature is just like us all.

There are a few points in this movie where you will find yourself wondering, "Has Lars Von Trier lost his mind?", or maybe just curious if he's gone too far.  The jury is still out as far as I'm concerned, but these scenes really do their job and stick with you long after the end credits.  All very effective, and that's probably why he used these scenes, to climax the fear and uneasiness we've felt throughout the film.  Coupled with the husband's weird dreams, these scenes really push the viewer over the top with how uncomfortable and painful it is to watch the film at some points.  In that regard, I feel Von Trier successfully did what he set out to do.  

Von Trier's script is a step away from his usual territory.  It's nice to see film use a lot of symbolism, such as the various dead and decaying animals we see throughout.  The story is about the nature of us all and how we are all inherently evil.  We see various things that point us towards this fact from both Man and Woman (as they are described in the cast list without names): the mutilation of both sexual organs (both by Woman), and the final fight between the two.  The graphic nature of the imagery compliments the script so as to literally and visually convey the evil nature of human beings.  Inside the story, the Woman is writing a thesis paper on how women are evil and this also drives the plot further along- this is roundabout where the Man begins to get somewhat frustrated with the Woman, and the tensions start to really build.  That's the best part about Lars' writing here is that the tension builds from word one and it doesn't let up until the end.  The very end scene where the Man stands in the forest and watches crowds of faceless women walk on past him through the trees is absolutely breathtaking, and it could mean a dozen things but what I took it as is the opposite of women are evil- (maybe) the faceless women are the countless unseen, unheard victims of men.  So maybe Von Trier is hinting at both sides of the argument, that it's not just man or woman that is evil... we're all evil.  We see the evil at the hands of the Woman and then the end is the evil of Man.

Between the directing, the atmosphere present throughout the whole film, and the solid acting on both the part of Willem Dafoe and (insert actress' name), this is a 5 out of 5 star movie for me.  Exactly what I didn't expect when I first heard about this movie, which I thought was going to be another typical film about a possession.  Superb.
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