Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire (2009)

After all the talk of this film from the Oscars this year, I was really curious to see "Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire".  The film already started off on a bad note by having one of the most annoying film titles I have ever heard of.  

"Precious" is a pretty good movie about a girl who has no luck.  Everything that is bad in the world, happens to her.  It is very sad and you really do feel for Precious.  At points in the film, it just sort of becomes annoying and actually kind of funny because so many bad things are happening to her.  She can't catch a break!  

The acting was really good in the film.  Mo'Nique does a great job as Precious' abusive mother and boy did she deserve the Oscar.  It is an incredibly realistic portrayal.  Gabourey Sidibe was nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars.  She was good, but her performance was a little overrated I thought.  She was good, but she was mumbling so much of the time.  I could barely understand one word she was saying.  

There was something weird I noticed about the film while watching it.  I felt like the filmmakers made a lot of mistakes during production and the editor tried his best to save their asses.  One example is a shot that should have been a rack focus, but they put a dissolve cut in the middle of the shot to transition from blurry to clear.  It could be an artistic way to show the audience this scene, but I feel that the rack focus was messed up during the take and the cut was needed.  There also seemed to be a lot of continuity problems and dubbing problems.  It was a little strange for such a highly acclaimed film.

"Precious" is a very good film that is very emotional at times, but I think it is overrated.  It had some great acting and writing, but there is no way I would have nominated it for Best Picture.  It is a movie that should be viewed, but I don't think it will be remembered for years to come.

B-  I recommend it.

The Magician (1926)

"The Magician" is a rare silent horror film that is famous for being a heavy influence on one of my favorite films: "Frankenstein".  

A young woman is paralyzed when her own sculpture collapses on her.  A doctor performs a risky surgery and gives all of her functions back.  Another Doctor (The Magician) discovers text in a book of black magic on how to create life.  He needs the blood of a young blond woman with blue eyes.  He finds our girl, who was once paralyzed, and he has plans to use every drop of her blood to create life.

There is one scene that is incredibly memorable for me.  The Magician puts the young woman under hypnosis while staring at her own sculpture of a fawn.  In her hypnotic state, she enters a hell dimension where fawns and devils run free.  It was incredibly surreal and eerie.  It was kind of like a very scary version of "Fantasia".

The ending of the film is where "The Magician" really shines and this is where the influences for "Frankenstein" are evident.  The Magician is performing his experiment in his laboratory tower on the top of a great mountain, he has a small hunchbacked assistant, and the Magician is a mad scientist himself.  All of this was remembered by Universal and/or James Whale for their work in "Frankenstein" and "Bride of Frankenstein".

Paul Wegener plays the Magician and he is very intimidating and convincing as a psychopathic mad scientist.  If this film was done a few years later, it would have been perfect for Bela Lugosi.  Wegener and Lugosi seem to have very similar acting styles.  The use of their eyes and hands are incredible.

Unfortunately, "The Magician" was a bit of a let down.  The horror of the film didn't come until the last 10 minutes, except for that hell dimension sequence.  I had expected a great tale of Gothic terror since it inspired the incredible version of Universal's "Frankenstein", but instead it is an average movie with a few really good scenes.

B-  I recommend it.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Nosferatu the Vampyre (1979)

I saw "Nosferatu the Vampyre" at the Egyptian theater this weekend.  Director Werner Herzog was there in person and he spoke after the film.  Herzog was an incredible character and seems like a real joy to work with.

I love the original version of "Nosferatu".  I was curious about this version as I have seen many pictures from it in the pages of "Famous Monsters of Filmland" and various other monster books I own.  This version is very similar to the silent one, but it is not nearly as good.

The photography was incredible in Herzog's "Nosferatu".  Everything looked beautiful.  Jonathan Harker's journey to Dracula's Castle is where the cinematography really shines.  The locations are beautiful and the Dracula ruins are unique in their own right.  There is one shot that I love where Herzog uses time lapse photography on Dracula's Castle showing day turning to night.

Klaus Kinski plays Dracula and he did a great job.  Through his actions, he displayed sympathy, terror, threat, and yearning.  It was a terrific job that only he could do.  The make-up was very good as it was very similar to Schreck's version, but unfortunately Kinski doesn't have the unique face of Schreck.  The profile of Schreck's Nosferatu is classic.  His nose is so distinctive that you could never miss it.  Kinski didn't have that unique quality in his actual bone structure.  

There are several good things about the movie that differ from the original.  I like how Dracula is not keen on being immortal, a real plague has followed Dracula what with all of the rats he has brought, and the ending has a little twist that is very good.

Even with all of these good things, the film does lack.  It was very talky and frankly boring in many sections.  Even though it was shot beautifully, it doesn't have the look or horror of the original "Nosferatu".  

"Nosferatu the Vampyre" has its high points mixed with some low points.  It should be viewed for it's beautiful cinematography, great acting by Kinski, a great musical score, and a great third act.  But if I had to pick between this version or the silent one, give me the silent one any day.

C+  I recommend it.

Altered States (1980)

"Altered States" is a modern version of "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".  I had heard a lot about it over the years, but I never saw it.  Finally the time has come.

So the film is mostly one big drug trip.  William Hurt plays a College Professor who is experimenting and testing drugs.  After Hurt travels to Mexico in search of an unusual drug made by Indians, he experiences the most amazing trip of his life.  We get to see the hallucinations Hurt is experiencing and they are extremely well made.  I was especially impressed with the unusual editing style.  Inside these drug trips, we see many crazy things.  The most memorable one for me was when his wife appears in the desert and they fall asleep looking at each other.  It is as if time passes over centuries.  Sand is blowing over them until their bodies are covered up for eternity.  It was strange and surreal.  

Eventually this drug starts to physically change William Hurt into a sort of caveman primate.  He is becoming his original self.  The make-up was very well done and there were some thrilling scenes of his primate self, especially inside a zoo.  

The most amazing use of make-up in the film is when Hurt's body starts to convulse and expand.  It is unclear whether this change is happening in his mind or in reality.  I figure it was really happening for the simple fact that he eventually becomes that big monkey.  This was the beginning of the change.

The ending of the film didn't really make sense to me...  I'm not quite sure what happened.  It has something to do with Hurt becoming his original organism self, but then he touches his wife and she starts glowing...  It's strange...

A lot of drug films have come out over the years and this is one of the better ones.  "Altered States" does have maybe one or two too many drug trips, but overall it is a solid story with great special effects and surreal experiences.

B  I recommend it.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cars (2006)

"Cars" is the only Pixar film I had not seen.  Since the new Cars Land is coming to Disney's California Adventure, I thought it was about time I watched the film.

A lot of people put "Cars" on their list as the worst of the Pixar films.  I disagree.  It is not the best, nor the worst.

The film is one of the best looking animated films to date.  The scenery was excellent and an amazing amount of detail was displayed.  Whether it was the crowded race car stadium, the small deserted town of Radiator Springs, or the beautiful desert surroundings, "Cars" is a marvel to look at.

The story in "Cars" has its problems.  The love story didn't really work for me.  I never made a connection between the two loving cars.  The story line that did work for me was between the main youthful race car (Lightning) and the one time race car champion Doc.  Doc was great and his character development was very well done.  

"Cars" did have its faults.  It seemed to run long and it got a little boring for some of the time.  But overall, "Cars" works.  It has a great supporting cast and some really nice scenes.

B  I recommend it. 

Mother (2009)

"Mother" is a Korean film that I saw this past weekend.  It was Korea's entry to the Oscars to be considered for Best Foreign Language film.

The film is about a mother that does whatever she has to do to prove that her mentally challenged son is innocent of murder.  The mother knows in her heart that her son is innocent and she goes to many extremes for proof.  

The acting was very good in the film.  The mentally challenged boy was excellent.  It was a very realistic portrayal.

"Mother" is expertly produced and is a very good story.  Unfortunately, the middle of the film needed some help.  Not enough happened in the second act, but the first and third made up for it.

B  I recommend it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

I really enjoyed the previous "X-Men" films and Wolverine was the best thing about them.  Wolverine was an interesting character who we wanted to know more about.  "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" sheds some light on what has happened in his past.

This film really misses the mark.  I didn't find Wolverine's origin story nearly as interesting.  Wolverine has an estranged relationship with his brother who becomes the villainous Sabertooth.  Sabertooth is played by Liev Schreiber who does an OK job.  The drama of brothers being mortal enemies doesn't have the impact it should because their "happy" times together are only briefly shown in the opening credits sequence.  

Hugh Jackman is good as Wolverine.  He is the perfect Wolverine.  Unfortunately, the film suffered from its script.  There was only one scene that I really enjoyed.  That was the scene where Logan's body is being injected with the indestructible metal thus creating Wolverine.  It was shot very nicely.  The opening credits sequence was interesting also.  Wolverine and Sabertooth are shown fighting side by side in every American war from the Civil War on.  It was a good looking opening.

The special effects were terrible in this film.  Some of the worst I have seen.  The effects in the other "X-Men" films were not nearly as bad.  Another thing that I wasn't crazy about were the other mutants.  We finally get a look at Gambit, the card throwing super hero.  He was OK, but we didn't really need him in the story.  The other mutants are basically just thrown into the mix to have a full cast of extras.

"X-Men Origins: Wolverine" didn't have the feel of the previous X-Men films.  It actually felt like a long boring episode of "Heroes".  The film seems to be heavily influenced by "Heroes".  Sabertooth is the Sylar character.  He is collecting the powers of other mutants to create a super mutant dubbed Weapon XI.  (Wolverine was Weapon X).  Stryker is the person who runs operations, much in the way the company and Noah Bennet ran things in "Heroes".  I know that "Heroes" is in fact influenced by Marvel and all of these X-Men characters, but this time I feel the tables have been reversed.  "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" unintentionally does one thing.  It makes the viewer crave a good episode of "Heroes".


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Alice in Wonderland (2010)

I saw "Alice in Wonderland" in the theater this past weekend in 2D.  I refused to see it in 3D as regular readers of my blog know that I hate 3D.

I was pleasantly surprised by "Alice in Wonderland".  I was expecting it to be boring and overdone, much in the way Tim Burton's "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" felt for me.  Instead, I was entertained from start to finish.

The only thing I don't get about the film is why it is called "Alice in Wonderland".  It is a sequel to "Alice", much in the way "Hook" was a sequel to "Peter Pan".  

I thought all of the characters were wonderful in the film.  Alice, played by Mia Wasikowska, was terrific.  She was very intriguing.  I was very concerned that I would not like Johnny Depp's Mad Hatter.  It seemed like he was going to be an archetype of himself.  To my surprise, I really liked The Hatter.  I liked how in the past he wasn't always this mad.  When the White Queen was in power, he had a wonderful life, but with the Red Queen now in power, the Hatter has gone mad.  Depp played his Hatter with sympathy and a bit of mystery to himself.  I really wanted to know the true Hatter.  Depp's acting really shined when the Hatter would get angry.  It was really frightening when the Hatter "lost his head".

All of the other actors were great in the film, but I did not like the look of Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen.  Her acting was fine, but I did not like the giant head look.  It looked like she was an offspring of a "Mars Attacks" alien.

Visually the film was great.  It was beautiful to look at.  The effects were not the best, but it works for this type of film where everything is dreamlike anyway.  There were some things in the film that made me wonder how it got a PG rating.  There are a few graphic scenes involving eyes being poked out by characters and there is one scene that was so original and disturbing that only Tim Burton could imagine it.  When Alice is tiny, she has to make her way across a moat to get to the Red Queen's castle.  How can she do it?  Well the Red Queen disposes of decapitated heads by simply throwing them in the moat.  So Alice simply jumps from head to head to make her way across.  It was visually stunning.  

"Alice in Wonderland" has not had the best reviews.  People feel that there is not enough character development within the film, but I didn't really mind it.  I thought it was fine.  It is far from being a great movie with the few faults it does have.  The worst thing about the film is Depp's dance sequence, but overall the film was extremely entertaining and enjoyable.

B+  I recommend it.