Archive for Film Review

The American Review

The American is quite a striking film, partly thanks to the fact we don’t see releases of its nature often; and even fewer of them are even close to what one would call a “blockbuster.”  While many of the individual aspects to the film aren’t exactly unfamiliar (assassination agent, small cast carrying the burden-most of it on a single lead, etc.), the combination of them here is just the start of what makes it interesting to analyze.

George Clooney plays an agent who’s seen his life become embodied by a weapon and killing-type field with several unrevealed details.  Rather than introducing us up-front to the plot and characters, we literally follow Jack (Clooney) over a short stretch of time as if documenting part of his life without commentary or interjection.  This also leads to another peculiar trait of the film: it’s incredibly quiet.  Going in, one will likely expect an at least mildly strident action/thriller.  Instead, however, we get what could be described as a scarcely eventful thriller (with a couple other genres working their way in).

The benefit to this approach is that, during certain scenes, we truly get the feeling of being alongside Jack, with hardly more than silence and thoughts to ourselves.  It’s an admirable way to go about things, certainly, but the quiet nature is so prominent that it make some stretches of the runtime feel weary and sleep-inducing.  Granted, the film probably wouldn’t have fared any better with variations in the volume (which would likely make the tone inconsistent), but a “things could be worse” view doesn’t excuse shortcomings.

Speaking of under-toned, Clooney’s performance throughout the entire film is incredibly subdued.  We get a number of points where Jack rubs his face or mutely reveals tension to us.  Emotional delivery is not the name of the game here, which is well in-character, but the fact that we never get an even brief shift in Clooney’s tone makes Jack seem less realistic.  I understand the intent is to refrain from putting feelings on display, but, to quote Ellis Redding, “every man has his breaking point.”

Jack doesn’t go completely solo in the film, though his contacts are even sparser than his lines of dialogue.  His primary contacts come to be his boss, Larry, in a few phone calls, the friendly and honest Father Benedetto, Ingrid, an inspecting lady on his mission and Clara, a lovely seducer who Jack becomes quite involved with.  With the exception of Larry, we get to see a sufficient amount of these characters to at least feel some legitimate connection, with Clara being the brightest light.  All told, the cast do an adequate job with their roles, though only Clara and Father Benedetto feel truly honest in this developed but barren sea.

On a more positive note, we get some excellent camera work throughout the entire film.  While the shots aren’t on caliber with, say, Road to Perdition, what’s provided is very eye-catching.  Probably the best part about the cinematography is that it doesn’t try to give us perfect details.  Oftentimes the beauty of locations aren’t realized without imperfections, and it’s nice to see a film that understands and embraces this.  Some points aren’t incredibly detailed and we don’t get completely vivid colors or brightness, but this lends the locations a far more natural feel.  And even during the few “action” scenes there’s no worry about quick cuts or “shaky-cam;” everything is coherently captured.

It might seem that I found The American to be a very weak film, but this isn’t necessarily the case.  There’s definitely enough going for it that a viewing is warranted simply for the fact that it’s a different dish than what we’re normally served.  However, simply avoiding clichés doesn’t automatically mean it’s completely superior.  Faults have found their way into the movie and a couple of them are rather prominent.  Taken as a whole, The American provides a worthwhile experience with some bumps along the way but, in spite of them, is still bound to leave at least some impression on its viewers.

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MGM: The Saw Series

The last thought that likely comes to mind when thinking about the Saw films is subtlety.  Most have passed the series off as a mere collection of torture porn while certain fans enjoy it for the thrills and storyline.  Either way, the series has left a bit of a mark on film viewers one way or another; and it seems we’re going to keep getting new installments each year.  Subsequently, Saw 6 was just released in theaters this weekend and although we don’t have a review for it, what we will provide are our individual thoughts on the series.  Grit your teeth and read on, if you dare.

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Hello readers.  We want to play a game…

Matt’s Take

As one who could be called the “casual man,” it’s needless to say that the Saw films have never appealed to me.  I had a tough enough time watching the traps from the first film, let alone all five up until this point.  While Jigsaw was always an interesting character and the story-when actually presented-wasn’t half bad, it’s still tough for me to even tolerate these screaming gore fests.  All of that said, if I had to pick which installments I thought were the best I’d likely say the first two since the first film had more focus on the characters talking and the story as opposed to the traps.  As for Saw 2, I liked the setting that the characters were put in…until they faced their traps that is (I couldn’t bring myself to watching the needle pit).  Saw 3 was pretty forgettable by comparison, but the gore was still quite gut-wrenching.  Then there’s the last two which really made me lose what little care I had for the story (especially the fifth film).  To this day I still don’t understand why people watch the Saw films.  Maybe they like the torture scenes or dig the storyline somehow.  I’ll probably never truly know or understand but hey, if horrific traps are to your liking then good for you.

Greg’s Take

You could call me the odd man out when talking about the Saw films.  I’ve found them to be (mostly) engaging and interesting, even without the torture scenes.  The points each film try to make on the main characters with the scenarios they’re put in are either obvious or a bit more dimensional.  And since these parts are usually eye-popping you’re guaranteed to be paying full attention when the “game begins.”  But what kept me coming back were the storylines and finding out what would happen to the characters.  Unfortunately, after the third film, I’ve about lost my interest in the series.  Both the first and third entries had a good emphasis on a few characters who were developed well enough to care for and the challenges they faced felt fairly strong.  The problem, however, is that the fourth film tried to do a bunch of things and it essentially failed all of those (the biggest mistake being the introduction of so many new characters).  What’s worse is how the fifth film literally felt even more unnecessary (only one key character dies and nothing else really happens); came off as more of a precursor to something that wasn’t implied.  As of now I have a tough time anticipating the sixth film but the reception indicates it might be a step back in the right direction.  However, I think a revolution for the series will simply be too late at this point.

Michael’s Take

In complete honesty, I find the Saw films quite laughable and the fact it has a seemingly strong fanbase equally amusing.  Yes, there is a storyline and yes, there are characters we’re supposed to care for.  However, neither of these aspects are handled well in any way shape or form.  The story feels like it’s trying to confuse you intentionally and winds up being absurd and almost insulting at how redundant these attempts are.  And the characters, more times than not, are acted out in very weak ways, with only a couple doing a better than mediocre job.  Beyond that, the films are mostly just torture porn that, if you don’t mind all the blood spewing, skin stretching and bones snapping, can be sadistically enjoyable (it’s tough to say why).  I will agree with Matt and Greg in that the last two films are definitely the weakest, since they had even less of what kept the first three from being horrible.  The series as a whole, however, is just another gore-filled mess that does nothing for any of the genres it touches on (horror, thriller, mystery and suspense).

Zombieland Review

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Matt’s Thoughts

I can’t say that I’ve ever been much of a zombie film lover.  More times than not they wind up being completely silly and often grotesque, which really seems unnecessary if you ask me.  And when I saw the previews for Zombieland, I thought we were going to be given the lowest of the low in terms of zombie films.  As it turns out, this is about as ridiculous and bloody as a zombie movie can get except there’s one major difference: Zombieland is a great, fun time.  This film is very much like the recently reviewed Austrian Death Machine CD; it’s shamelessly entertaining.  I honestly can’t remember the last time I had this much fun watching a film in theaters and I’m actually afraid that I might not be as entertained when seeing Toy Story in 3D.  I’ll even go out on a limb and say that as long as you don’t have a weak stomach then there’s no reason you shouldn’t find something to like here.

Greg’s Thoughts

My thoughts on zombie films have been almost the exact opposite of Matt’s.  While I’ll agree that most of them are oftentimes silly I always find the zombie action scenes very entertaining.  And when I first saw the trailer for Zombieland, I was immediately sold.  Thankfully, it did not disappoint and given how stressful my schedule has been, the film was really a perfect counterbalance.  There’s a fairly small cast in the film, but all of them handle their roles very well, with Woody Harrelson being the obvious standout.  One part I absolutely loved is how it kept on showing examples of Jesse Eisenberg’s rules to stay alive throughout the runtime.  And of course there are the many humorous and memorable killings of the zombies which are every bit as bloody and disgusting as you’d expect; which makes this movie all the more fun.  If you’ve been having a hard time like me or just need a vigorously pleasurable movie, this fits the bill perfectly.

Michael’s Thoughts

If you love zombie movies you’ll love Zombieland.  If you hate zombie movies you’ll still love Zombieland.  Sounds like I’m being overly optimistic, doesn’t it?  But trust me, after seeing the obnoxious and irresistibly gratifying film that this is, I doubt many people will be disagreeing with me.  Although Up is still my personal favorite film of the year thus far, Zombieland may very well be the most entertaining release for a good while.  Not since first seeing Superbad two years ago have I had such a great time in theaters-and the audience was practically dead for this film.  Even those who don’t like gory zombie deaths and killings are bound to love this picture because of how it occasionally mocks all the other zombie films.  If only we could see more movies like these hitting theaters it’d be a little easier to look past the dwindling economy.  But much like the last emphasized rule in the film, we just have to appreciate the little things.

District 9 Review

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Peter Jackson isn’t exactly a director that one would associate with small-scale films.  After releasing The Lord of the Rings trilogy and a remake of King Kong, he’s essentially become a leader of epic film directing.  Yet with District 9, a film he’s produced with the uprising director Neill Blomkamp (originally slated to bring us the Halo movie), scale takes a backseat to the rather gritty and personal story told in this ambitious sci-fi project.  There are a number of hints of inspiration from other movies and events to find here, but it manages to utilize these aspects very well to make for what is an overall high quality release.

District 9’s plot is one of many ways it’ll grab your attention and keep you engrossed from start to finish.  The film opens with an exposition of how an alien race arrives here on Earth which, after three months of hovering, drop from their mothership to the ground (later to derogatorily be called “prawns”).  Over the course of twenty-eight years, the aliens grow to reach a count of nearly two million, yet are confined to a single large chunk of land which the film’s name is derived from.  At first the movie seems to be going for a fictional documentary approach with several individuals talking about the prawns’ history on our home planet.  However, the middle chunk of the film goes for a more cohesive story by telling the events of a government agent who gets closer to these creatures than anyone else.

Something that’s very striking about District 9 is how it almost feels like a modern, fictional satire of the Holocaust with the awful conditions the prawns live in and how disparagingly they’re treated and viewed by humans.  Even the inclusion of gangs reminded me of Blood Diamond with the truly low-end standards (if any at all) upheld due to no real authorities present (any that are simply contribute to the slum conditions).  There’s also a feeling of similarity to the Clive Owen picture Children of Men that viewers will likely find during the middle of film’s runtime.  Though unoriginality might be the first term to come to mind after hearing this, District 9 manages to utilize these seemingly inspired aspects to adequately tell its own tale, making it feel more like an original throwback than a flat-out rehash.  Also strongly present is a sense of depression and lack of hope, with filthy conditions and strong content (blood, gore, language-the usual suspects) all over the place.  This also helps contribute to the morbid nature the film encompasses, making it a very engaging watch (think Cloverfield’s intensity).

Even though District 9 has a lot that it does right, this isn’t quite the masterpiece that some might make it out to be.  The key reason behind this is how the film opens so much up to the viewer yet ultimately the plot and details are too vague.  Many questions kept coming to mind that remained unanswered and it was surprising to see that these weren’t even attempted to be explained with a brief montage.  Admittedly this was most prominent during the first act which serves mostly as a short exposition while the rest of the film goes for a more personally involved approach.  So in regards to this, the movie was handled very well.

Overall District 9 is a very solid effort and a great first step for director Neill Blomkamp.  Although we’re left with too many questions even after the film’s story arc has concluded, what we’re offered is some truly breathtaking and creepily nostalgic material.  Those looking for a film that will offer a truly unexpected and riveting experience won’t find a better deal than this in theaters.

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