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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Orphan (2009) - Horror

Orphan (2009) - The film starts with a startling birthing scene where we learn that Kate (Vera Famiga) has recently lost a baby and that she is struggling emotional, soothing her nightmares with pills while trying to avoid booze.We get a bit of slow back story that fills in the characters, Kate and John have two children, Danny (Jimmy Bennett) and the deaf Max (Aryana Engineer). John(Peter Sarsgaard) and Kate are saddened with the loss of their child and plan on adopting an older child to fill out the family. Although the screenwriter (David Johnson) took time to map this out with the appropriate scenes it still was not very compelling to what the great need was. The couple had two really beautiful children, a dream house and nice cars. They seemed to still have interest in each other and lives that were a bit disfunctional but not unsuccessful. In fact I have to say there was nothing really wasted in this script, each little noticeable detail served a purpose later in the film. The problem was that every detail was written to be noticed.
The couple visits Sister Abigail's (CCH Pounder, a favorite of mine from Warehouse 13) children shopping center... I mean orphanage, and meet the main antagonist Ester (Isabelle Fuhrman). She is doing art and sing in a room off by herself and seems very skilled at painting. "I've had lots of time to practice." she says when complimented. This piece of foreshadowing brought to you by obvious. Sister Abby also mentions to them about the ribbons on her wrists and neck, so at that point one could assume she has some kind of scars. Quickly we get to the day when Ester is part of the family, then the false scares and scary stares begin from the new little girl with the strange accent.

Ester works fast from sweet and interested in Kate and John to creating the perfect triangle and seriously messing with the adults relationship. There is the usual sibling jealousy from the son which Ester takes care of by bullying him. She also befriends little Max and then things start to go horribly wrong. Information about the girl starts coming to light about her behavior. Sister Abigail improbably did not know story of her cruelty prior to the adoption but now that dad loves Ester while Mom does not the good sister tries to warn them. Ester deals with her in the way any good psycho would.

More and more things lead Kate to want to get rid of the girl, but she is just so darn good at splitting her and John that nothing really happens even though the audience see more and more cruel and dangerous behavior from Ester. When she attempts to kill Danny by burning him in the tree house we start to see the movie build to the climax. Kate seems to go nuts enough to be medicated for attacking Ester. John takes her and Max home and then drinks until intoxicated. Ester is succeeding in her plan to have John for herself. She tries to seduce him while in the cut scenes we get the whole Ester story spoon fed to us by a guy talking to Kate on her cell phone. How convenient and just at the right time.

So the climax comes when Kate is rushing home, John has rejected Ester as a nine year old lover and she flips out and wants to Kill Kill Kill. The all to perfect ending has a fun double climax but we really have known all along how this on was going to end. Everything , the shot and the dialog is used in the movie so it is easy to see the twist coming if you are paying attention. This is the biggest flaw in what is a pretty entertaining film though. The feeding of the important plot knowledge is just too obvious even if the twist is cool. It would have been a lot more interesting and disturbing if the father did not out of hand reject Ester. That would have made for some really uncomfortable audience feelings. Politically though it probably would have kept the movie from release so I guess it could not have been. That fact that the actress playing Isabelle was 12 at shooting time would have meant some tricky shooting also to keep her innocence intact. Still in the end it was a pretty standard and entertaining film certainly worth seeing.

Rating (6.5) All ratings above a 5 are recommended viewing

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Killer Inside Me (2010) - Thriller, Noir

The Killer Inside Me (2010) - I am not a writer, and really only do this log to remind myself of the films I see. This is a problem when a movie is good enough that it deserves a proper review that I fear I do not have the skill to give. "The Killer Inside Me" is one such film. A thriller noir that takes you inside the head of Deputy Lou Ford (Casey Affleck), a sociopath murderer who spirals out of control. Ford works and lives in a small Texas town in what appears to be the 1940s. We learn through his behavior that he is a control freak who gets off on hitting and fucking, mostly at the same time. His need is to dominate women, slapping and spanking them. Through flashbacks we learn his mother introduced him to this behavior and the Oedipus like relationship screwed young Lou up. When he is sent out to check on a prostitute Joyce Lakeland (Jessica Alba) who moved into town. A mutually satisfying violent begins. Alba as Joyce seethes sexuality and they continue to have a relationship through montage of sexual encounters and after these she seems to truly love Lou. The only issue I have with this casting decision and this may not be valid for me to say but isn't Jessica Alba way too beautiful to be a small town prostitute. I don't really visualize really pretty women as needing to prostitute themselves. They would more likely be married before needing to do that. The small town plot she is caught up in, allows Lou to make a vicious plan to avenge is step brothers death. We learn his step brother died at a construction site but it had been set up by Real Estate big shot Chester Conway(Ned Beatty) and the town folk after step brother Mike served time for abusing a small girl. Through flashback we learn it was actually Lou who abused the girl. The plot can be a bit complicated and the writing in the screenplay is stark and tight. Director Michael Winterbottom and writer Jon Curren work with novelist Jim Thompson's work to give the audience just enough information without allowing for predictability. It is more than a murder mystery it is a character study of the sociopath Lou Ford, and we learn everything through his actions. It is designed this way and it works. Lou's plan starts with a way too realistic beating of Joyce. When he hits her the first time it is shocking, then even though very few blows are seen hitting her, four minutes later she is out on the floor a bloody pulp. It is a very disturbing scene with Lou saying he loves her the entire time, calmly smashing her face in. He then kills Chester Conway's son making it look like he beat the girl and then she shot him to death. Revenge accomplished. This is not the case though and because we are seeing the story through Lou's eyes we soon learn he did not think of everything either. Small details he missed come up leading Lou on a repeated cycle of killing to clean up loose ends. Unfortunately for him Lou is a one trick pony and soon it becomes apparent he will not get away with the crimes. When he kills his girlfriend Amy Stanton (Kate Hudson) to try to pin it on a vagrant (Brent Briscoe) who saw his first crime he has gone too far for the investigators to not suspect him of all the crimes.
He soon finds himself held in jail but it seems that the authorities even though they know he is the killer don't have enough evidence to convict. So they release him and drop him at his house and again the town folk will take care of their business their way. Lou knows this and for a climax creates a reception for when they arrive. There is a twist that I predicted early in the film but had forgotten about by the end. It shows the film pulled me in. When the climax comes it is a bit large for the character. Lou does more than his character had done to this point, it was a big finish. It could be that you see all the violent acts as growing in severity making the ending appropriate to where the character was at the end of the film.
The violence towards women as opposed to the men he killed took much more time on screen and was so fucking disturbing. I would complain that this was a bit misogynistic but it really does fit in with the Lou Ford character. It was well established through flashback to his Mother, Amy and Joyce that Lou relished dominating and hurting women, the sociopathic behavior to women fit his character. Still it is hard for the audience to tolerate. The men who are killed are done quick and efficiently but Lou takes his time with the women and it is hard to watch. Rating this film is difficult, it is so well done and accomplished freaking me out quite a bit, but it is a slow burn with many sexual oriented scenes that may have been a bit of overkill. Still a very solid plot and excellent acting even if the supporting cast was underdeveloped.
Rating (8.1)

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

[ Rec] 2 (2009) Horror

[ Rec] 2 (2009) - Starting the story moments after the end of the story in [Rec] we join the film with a group of SWAT team members getting their cameras and gear ready as they travel to enter the apartment of the first movie. The group is introduced to a "doctor"Dr. Owen (Jonathan Mellor) who will be the leader when they enter the building. Not thrilled that they will have to wait for Owen's voice recognition in order to be let out of the building makes the SWAT Captain, Jefe (Oscar Zafra) pissed. Still he is a man who know how to take orders and the team with Owen enter the buiding recording POV all the while. Very quickly we learn that the zombies are actually possessed beings and Dr. Owens is actually a priest sent in by the vatican to get a sample of blood of the original possessed girl. The SWAT team is his protection as they search for the sample. Like in the first movie things get crazy fast as the possessed find them in their searching. On top of this is a group including a resident, firefighter, and three teens with a camcorder who get in through the cellar before it is sealed up. This creates enough bodies for mayhem and chaos and we do not have to wait long for it. We learn the very interesting back story of how the possession epidemic started and it is a original and interesting idea. Then it is again a survival story including the beautiful reported from the first movie, Angela (Manuela Velasco) who comes into the film about 3/4 of the way through. No spoilers here so you will have to watch to find out the outcome.
I liked this movie with one real reservation. Since it was developed as a POV shot film in real time, I was a bit put off by a couple times where we go rewind time to see first the teens group and how they got into the building, and then the reporter and her story. It took it out of time to show us some needed story development but it just did not fit in well with the rest. Not a big thing for me but I noticed it.
Rating (7.4)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Dark City (1998) - Science Fiction

Dark City (1998) - Watched the Blu-ray directors cut after so long that I did not remember much about the movie. Dark City is a journey of one man, John Murdock (Rufus Sewell) as he tries to regain his memory and discover the secret of the city and himself. This is a complicated flick in which the protagonist has to discover who he is and what he can do. Early in the movie Dr. Daniel P. Schreber (Kiefer Sutherland) seems to assist Murdock in breaking out of the control the men who control the city, the Strangers. As Murdock tries to figure out why people all go to sleep at the same time, why there never seems to be a daytime and why he can not get to Shell Beach, he discovers the secret of the city. Here it is: The city is a spaceship controlled by the Strangers, an alien race who are using humans and created memories to try to discover how humans are able to survive almost anything. They think by understanding humans they can find a way to save their dying race. Using Dr. Schreber they implant memories on there human subject during the Tuning, the time they force everyone to sleep and then study the results. What they don't understand is that what makes humans so successful in the universe is evolution, and Murdock has evolved the ability to tune also. When he discovers it as he is pursued by the strangers it sets up a final battle between Murdock and the head Stranger and finally the less than satisfying ending.
What I liked was the dark and creative world created by writer, director Alex Proyas. Creative and cool a world sort of out of time and very film noir. Also looking at Emma Murdock (Jennifer Connelly) is always a pleasure even though her part was insignificant to the story. The idea of the tuning and was cool with great special effects as they change the city to fit the new human lives they have created was good also. Unfortunately the overall premise ends up being a dead end and the final conclusion of the conflict is really very incomplete. So the head stranger is defeated, not all of them are. They are still trapped on a spaceship and have no real lives, the humans' memories and relationships are false and not their own but they will probably have to play them out. Murdock has the power to make the world whatever he wanted and who knows what he would do in the future but the picture leaves us with a sunrise on the beach. eh. Also Kiefer Sutherland was just strange in his choices for the doctor. I think I had a higher opinion of him the first time I saw it but this time I found it a bit cartoonish.
Overall I would recommend this film the story is solid enough even if the ending is not the greatest.
Rating (6.0)

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Dracula 2000 (2000) - Horror

Dracula 2000 (2000) - This film was poorly received when it come out and continues to suffer on Part of the problem is that it really attempts to recreate the Dracula myth which is often ill received by horror fans. In this version Dracula (Gerald Butler) has been closed in a coffin for generations while Van Helsing (Christopher Plummer) uses his blood to extend his own life to make sure it stays that way. He has a cover as an antique dealer with Simon Sheppard (John Lee Miller) who specialize in weapons for killing vampires. When a group of thieves including Solina (Jennifer Esposito) and Marcus (Omar Epps) steal the coffin, Dracula is loosed on the world. The myth in this version that we learn through the film is that Dracula is actually Judas and the punishment he received for betraying Jesus, is to become a vampire. Through the story we find out that Dracula is connected to Van Helsing's daughter through the blood the elder had consumed and Dracula sees this as a good revenge. Mary Heller-Van Helsing (Justine Waddell) is living in New Orleans away from her father and having hallucinations of Drac that are increasingly frightening. He is drawn to her and as he closes in her father tries intervene and kill the other vampires Dracula has created, and save his daughter from the monster. The trio of female vampires he creates are wonderfully beautiful, Jennifer Esposito, Jeri Ryan, and Colleen Fitzpatrick and have there sexy scenes. In the end though the movie does not totally satisfy mostly I think because the connection between Dracula and Mary is not solid enough. Also the vampires seem to keep putting themselves in locations where they can be killed, it come together all too easily to make the climax.
Rating (6.2)

The Devil's Chair (2006) - Horror

The Devil's Chair (2006) - Nick West (Andrew Howard) and his girlfriend find a strange chair in an abandon asylum while tripping on acid. This intro ends badly of course when the girlfriend, Sammy (Pollyanna Rose) sits in the chair and with gore and pain Sammy is dead and Nick has to answer. Nick ends up in a mental institution that is not abandon. Psychiatrist Dr. Willard head at the institute decides the best way to cure Nick from what he sees as delusions he with a team return to the abandon asylum. They do and then it is not long before the team members one by one start dying in the devil chair. It appears to be a door between this world and another where there is a dark murderous monster looking to kill those who made it into the world. The movie has a twist that leaves the viewer wondering how the logistics of the film can exist in the real world. There is a real world and in that real world some people can not have things happen the way they do. So at the end this viewer was left wondering if maybe the writers Simon Boyes and Adam Mason had the twist and then built the movie around it. Well I am not sure I can recommend this movie but there are some people out there who may like it.
(Rating 4.5)