|Posted by Adam Krause on June 8, 2010 at 1:02 PM||comments (0)|
“Who the hell are the Whites of West Virginia and what’s so special about them where they get a feature-length documentary to tell their story?”
If you’re like me then you’re asking yourself this very question, which is the same query I had running through my head before screening the film for review. It doesn’t take long, however, to reach an answer to that question after the movie begins. So what is the answer? Who are the Whites?
The filmmakers wanted that answer to sound something like this: A group of misunderstood southern outlaws that nobly do whatever they want by ignoring society’s norms and living by their own rules. The real answer: A family of poor, white trash drug addicts with no jobs, no morals and no intelligence whatsoever. Sounds harsh but allow me to elaborate.
The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia is the controversial documentary from director Julien Nitzberg that focuses on the “notorious” White family from rural BooneCounty, WV, a poverty-stricken area of the south that has been unfortunately victimized by the mining industry.
In the film, we are given a rundown of the White family tree that starts with their patriarch, D. Ray White, a coal minor with a knack for mountain dancing. In fact, there was a time when D. Ray was considered the greatest mountain dancer in the country before being murdered in 1985, leaving behind a wife and thirteen children.
Of those thirteen children, only eight are still alive today. The film introduces us to all of them, while choosing to only focus on a few here and there. The most notable is Jesco White, the family celebrity who inherited his father’s skills and carried on the family’s mountain dancing legacy.
He and his wicked dance moves were chronicled in the 1991 PBS short film The Dancing Outlaw (in which Nitzberg was a producer). The short was so successful that it spawned a sequel, a guest-starring role on Roseanne and apparently a life of fame and never-ending attention that has ultimately led Jesco down a road of alcoholism and depression.
Despite the fact that he is part of this family, Jesco does have a subtle charisma that is displayed occasionally throughout, which appoints him as one of the brighter spots of the film.
Then there is his sister Kirk White, a middle-aged single mother with such a thick southern drawl, subtitles are sometimes needed just to figure out what she's saying. The cameras first interview Kirk when she's talking about her desire to slit her ex-husband's throat and then cut to six months later where she's snorting crushed prescription pills in a hospital room minutes after giving birth to a child.
If that isn't enough, Kirk and the rest of the White family are then shocked and appalled to learn that the state has taken the baby away from her. The film tries to both redeem itself and Kirk White by documenting her attempt to retain custody with a pathetic stint at rehab but for the sake of that young child, I truly hope it never happens.
Produced by everybody’s favorite jackass, Johnny Knoxville and his Dickhouse Productions are the creative team responsible for the film. It'sdifficult to determine whether their intentions were to actually produce a credible anthropological case study or to merely exploit the White family and their unconventional behaviors purely for the audience's shock and awe. Regardless, Knoxville once again proves that if there is a job that calls for videotaping a group of jackasses sitting around an apartment acting stupid, he's the man to call.
When making The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia, the filmmakers documented the lives of the Whites for an entire year to get the final result that is this film. In hindsight, they probably could have just filmed them for a night and saved themselves the trouble. The footage mainly consists of the family smoking weed, snorting prescription drugs, drinking booze and talking about how they don’t care what anyone thinks of them and how the do what they want.
Of course this is all set to a soundtrack of nothing but country music, the same genre of music that reveres this type of culture. The White family has been the subject of many songs from country artists including the likes of Big and Rich and Hanks Williams III, who is even considered a family friend to the Whites and appears in the movie numerous times playing guitar alongside of Jesco as he dances away. Never have I been so glad to dislike country.
About fifteen minutes into the running time of the film, an interview takes place with West Virginia Defense Attorney Peter Hendricks. In an effort to demonstrate how Boone County isn’t all a bunch of degenerate families like the Whites, he tells of how a young male teenager, not too far from where the Whites reside, has just been granted a full-paid scholarship to attend the prestigious school of MIT. He then asks bluntly, “Why isn’t anyone making a documentary about him?”
It’s a thought-provoking question, one that I don’t think I want answered. Because really, if subjects like the White family are what entertains us and grabs our attention so much so that they can be made the subject of a feature-length documentary, then who is more to blame, them or us?
|Posted by Adam Krause on May 10, 2010 at 1:44 PM||comments (1)|
The terms "student film" and "science fiction" rarely go together.
Being a film school alumnus, I'm well aware of the subject matter and genres normally chosen for student-produced films and trust me, action-infused sci-fi isn't your typical route. But then again, Surface isn't your typical student film.
To be completely honest with you, my desire to see Surface was fueled by something other than my love for viewing the work of up-and-coming filmmakers from Wisconsin. It was to witness with my own eyes how the hell these two kids planned on pulling off such an ambitious premise with such few resources.
This is not a knock against The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh by any means, but don't films like this require billion dollar budgets and mind-blowing special effects to successfully execute? Well, as the creators of Surface proved with convincing authority, those two things can be left out of the equation as long as you have plenty of something else... creativity.
With Surface, the creators decided against the normal, melodramatic plots that are typically present in student films and instead opted for a gritty, post-apocalyptic tale with edge of your seat suspense. The synopsis for Surface is a product of the times and something I could easily see being the backdrop for a mainstream Hollywood production.
The story takes place in a not-so-distant future where the earth's ozone layer has completely broken down and disintegrated, causing the sun's rays to become deadly and the surface of the planet unlivable. Due to the circumstances, the human race is forced to live below ground in self-contained shelters, completely cut off from the rest of the world.
When Radial Shelter 1364's power supply begins failing, it's up to Isaiah and Jacob, two brilliant young men who are appointed the monumental task of saving the lives of the remaining inhabitants, which include Isaiah's wife and unborn child, by venturing up to the surface to fix the power generators on what everyone knows to be a clear-cut kamikaze mission.
I've always thought it was rather unfair to critique a student film because of it being just that, the work of students who are still learning the proper craft of filmmaking. But I can safely say that any doubts that you may encounter after the somewhat shaky start to the film completely dissolve once you reach the film's brilliantly executed climax.
With seamless editing, the last 10 minutes of Surface keeps your emotions fully engaged with what's happening on screen and leads you to a Shyamalan-like ending that sideswipes you off the road you thought the movie was previously traveling down and takes you in a completely different direction.
Matthew Scales, the actor who plays Isaiah (the films main protagonist), initially appears too introverted to play the hero of the film but eventually becomes more comfortable with the role as the story progresses and his performance locks into place. The expression on his face in the closing frames of the film tell you more than any written dialogue could.
But the real star of Surface is without a doubt the film's look and art decoration. The locations chosen for the film, which include the basement of an academic building and an abandoned prison, are perfect for providing a realistic depiction of the dark, cavernous tunnels that make up the ficticious radial shelters.
The film is actually the brainchild of both Mark Mazur and Trent Hilborn, two current students from The University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh who both collaborated on the writing, producing, directing and editing of Surface.
Both of their passions for movies and filmmaking is evident throughout the entire running time of Surface. I mean, let's face it, you're not going to be too successful making a short, no-budget sci-fi film unless you know a little something of how the process works and what the audience wants.
Like I said earlier, I initially attended the premier of Surface to see if such an ambitious student film could actually be executed. And not just executed, but executed successfully. The smile that was permanently spread across my face when I left the theater answered that question for me with a resounding "yes" (The fingernail marks my girlfriend left in my left arm were a pretty good indicator as well).
Surface is currently making the festival rounds in Wisconsin. For information on screenings, visit http://surfacethefilm.com/
|Posted by Adam Krause on May 4, 2010 at 1:06 PM||comments (2)|
With pop culture’s insatiable love for seeing the flesh eating undead on the big screen, it was really only a matter of time before zombies invaded classic literature as well. When I first came across Seth Grahame-Smith’s “rendition” of Jane Austen’s beloved romance novel Pride and Prejudice, I immediately purchased the book onsite. And I’m not a big reader of books and certainly not a big collector.
The title was simple and yet to the point. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Freaking genius! It was the first time I experienced the whole “couldn’t put it down” syndrome while reading a book and I literally finished it in one day.
Released in the spring of last year, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies didn’t take long to find itself on the New York Times Best Sellers List. Published by Quirk Books, the novel has gone on to inspire a new niche in the world of literature. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter (Seth Grahame-Smith’s follow up) are just two of the countless titles that have used the same formula.
With a Hollywood film on the way starring Natalie Portman as well as the recently released prequel novel Dawn of the Dreadfuls picking up steam, it’s safe to say that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a certified hit among American literature.
And now, to expand the audience base of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies even more, Quirk Books has teamed up with Del Rey Publishing to refashion Seth Grahame-Smith’s story into a graphic novel, a format I feel is much more suited to the novel’s violent and campy attributes.
The graphic novel is adapted by writer Tony Lee and stays very faithful to Grahame-Smith’s novel, using much of the dialogue verbatim. Like Jane Austen’s story, we follow Elizabeth Bennet and her family as she deals with issues of love and social standings in her aristocratic surroundings.
The only difference is that England has been ravaged by a plague of zombies, or “unmentionables” as they are referred to in the story. Oh yeah, and Elizabeth’s father has trained her by the way of the ninja to be a deadly, ass-kicking zombie killer. Pretty cool, hey?
Just like the book, the graphic novel of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a thoroughly enjoyable read and is sure to entertain anyone who is enthralled by the title and subject matter.
My only gripe with it is that the illustrations are at times scribbled and come off as uninspired. Drawn by Cliff Richards, they are presented in black and white in a style that at times gives the impression of unfinished storyboards. I’m sure the decision to present the graphic novel this way was an attempt to relate the material more to its time period and setting.
But I feel the creators missed a great opportunity to breath stunning, visualized life into this story by not illustrating it with color and more detail. I thought the handful of illustrations that appeared randomly throughout the original Pride and Prejudice and Zombies book from artist Philip Smiley had more bite than those of the graphic novel.
Believe it or not, I have now actually read both the book and the graphic novel of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies as well as Jane Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice (Women’s Literature class in college; thought it would get me some action... it didn't) and I can safely say that incorporating "dreadful" flesh eaters is the best thing that could have ever happened to this story and these characters. I’m sure if Ms. Austen were alive today, she’d be ninja-kicking herself for not thinking of it first.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel hits book shelves and comic book stores on May 4.
|Posted by Adam Krause on March 31, 2010 at 11:52 AM||comments (0)|
On the same week they debuted the premier of their fourteenth season by tackling the ridiculous Tiger Woods saga in a hilarious episode aptly titled “Sexual Healing,” the creative minds at South Park gave the world a refresher course on how they do things by releasing the previous season on a three-disc DVD and Blu-ray collection.
As we all have witnessed, animated shows that remain on the air for this duration of time tend to decline in quality, leaving many fans longing for the creativity and freshness of the show’s original peak of success. Fortunately for fans of South Park, the show and it’s creators defy the odds and continue to produce solid, well-scripted shows that are just as good, if not better than the show’s heyday.
South Park: The Complete Thirteenth Season offers nothing new as far as how the show works, keeping true to the social satirical formula originally created by the two patriarchs of South Park, Trey Parker and Matt Stone. In essence, the two men take headlines from both pop culture and world news and parody them to express their personal opinions on the matter through four small children from a small Colorado town and the herd of oddballs that surround them. The result is usually crude, offensive and incredibly hilarious.
Some of the events that Parker and Stone tackled in Season Thirteen are The Jonas Brothers and their “purity” rings, piracy in Somalia, the death of both Billy Mays and Michael Jackson, The Dark Knight and the Japanese and their obsession with butchering dolphins and whales.
Of course in some cases, Parker and Stone will craft a show not out of a headline but instead out of the pure hatred that the two have garnered for a certain celebrity, thus being the case for the infamous “Fishsticks” episode in which the show takes on rapper Kanye West and his rumored massive ego buy ultimately portraying him as a “gay fish.” The show even comes equipped with a parody of the rapper’s hit song “Heartless” with slightly modified lyrics.
And then of course you have the episodes that have no hidden messages or celebrity target at all and instead just focus on placing one of the shows central characters in an absurd situation and crafting the comedy around the chaos that ensues. Much like "Butters' Bottom Bitch," an episode where Leopold "Butters" Stotch pays a girl $5 to give him his first kiss and ultimately ends up becoming a pimp.
The great thing about Season Thirteen, and many other seasons of South Park for that matter, is that even the shows that don’t receive all the attention and take on the controversial topics still make you laugh hysterically thanks to both Parker and Stone’s immature yet wonderful senses of humor. As is the case with “Pinewood Derby,” an episode where Stan’s father Randy Marsh (possibly my favorite character on the show) works together with all the leaders of the world to get earth banned from the universe’s intergalactic community with their dishonesty. There is no real point to the episode at all, but try to sit through it all and not laugh your ass off. I dare you.
And even when an episode’s main plot isn’t doing it for you, there always seems to be a sub-plot that will keep you consistently chuckling throughout, like Kyle not being able to wrap his head around the fact that Cartman continues to eat at Chipotle despite the fact that it makes his rectum bleed. Of course Cartman doesn’t see a problem with this because his mother washes his underwear with the Billy Mays promoted “Chipotlaway” cleaning solution, thus solving the problem.
Purchasing South Park: The Complete Thirteenth Season should be a no-brainer for fans of the show as it’s a season among many that contains episodes than can be watched numerous times without getting boring. I mean, seriously, who could get sick of hearing Cartman’s toe-tapping rendition of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face? Not me.
But if that’s not enough for you and you think you’re content with just watching the show on Comedy Central, buy the DVDs for the mere fact that you get to watch the episodes with all of the profanity that Matt Stone and Trey Parker intended. It’s worth the price of admission alone.
|Posted by Adam Krause on March 8, 2010 at 1:06 PM||comments (0)|
Quite a few years back, a good friend of mine stopped by my house and dropped off an unknown DVD that he had recently purchased at Best Buy for a mere $7. He handed it to me and demanded that I watch it, stating that it was “one of the coolest movies” that he had ever seen. The movie was titled The Boondock Saints and I had never heard of it before.
I found the film to be completely over the top with some mildly interesting scenes and a few chuckles here and there. It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t as good as I was promised. You see, my friend was among the herds of people who stumbled across The Boondock Saints on video store shelves and cheap DVD racks and fell in love with the stylized action flick, catapulting it to a cult status. It was this “cult’s” 50 million plus dollars in DVD sales that lead to numerous Boondock Saints Special Edition DVDs, walls of t-shirts in Hot
Topic stores and of course, the inevitable sequel.
The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day came to us exactly ten years after the original went straight to DVD in 1999. Only this time, the budget was twice as big and it would be treated to a “theatrical” release. Unfortunately for all parties involved, its time spent in theaters was very short lived and no one really seemed to notice… or care.
And now, hoping to have the same home video success as its predecessor, All Saints Day will be released on DVD March 9th. Now it’s a safe bet to say that the ones who are most looking forward to this DVD release are the die-hard fans of the original, the ones who have the “veritas aequitas” t-shirts and tattoos. But oddly enough, they are the ones who ultimately should skip The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day and not see it. In fact, they should forget it ever happened.
Everything about the sequel comes off as an unintentional parody or spoof of the first one. Sort of like a two-hour-long SNL sketch of The Boondock Saints, but not a funny sketch, one of those sketches that bombs and you can’t wait for it to be over. Writer and director Troy Duffy does everything in his power to mimic that tone and flare that captivated so many people in the original movie, and fails in all categories.
Right from the beginning of the film you get the sense of just how bad it’s going to get when we see the MacManus brothers hiding out in Ireland, riding horses and working on a sheep farm (cause that’s what Irish people do, you know) with two of the worst fake beards I have ever seen in a film. Seriously, they looked like stage props. Once the plot kicks in, we see the Saints begin their voyage back to Boston because someone is knocking off priests and framing them for the crimes and they are not cool with this.
From here on out, the film just plays as a cheap imitation of the first film. Along the journey, the Saints pick up another third wheel for comedic relief, played by Clifton Collins Jr., who ends up not being funny at all. Then another special agent comes on to the case and toys around with the three incompetent Boston detectives who aided the Saints at the end of the first film to publically execute Papa Yakavetta, which is incredibly cheesy and plays out like a bad sitcom. Oh, and then there’s some backstory on “Il Duce,” or Poppa MacManus, in this film, which didn’t happen in the first film but doesn’t make it any more exciting.
All the usual suspects from the first film return to their roles for All Saints Day. Sean Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus reprise their roles as the peacoat wearing , gun toting Saints and Billy Connelly returns as their wise yet deadly father. Julie Benz stars in the film as the special agent and delivers an absolute awful Southern accent and equally unimpressive acting. And Judd Nelson shows up with a ridiculous performance as Concezio Yakavetta, the son of the Russian mobster killed in the first film.
Duffy even brings back deceased fan-favorite Rocco from the first film for a dream sequence because he probably realizes that he killed off the only interesting character that he created. Willem Dafoe originally appeared to be the only educated one to opt out of All Saints Day, only to show up at the end of the film to make a pitiful cameo. Oh, and Peter Fonda, let's just say that is career will not be rejuvenated any time soon.
It’s ironic that in writing and directing a sequel to the film that supposedly proved what an untapped, raw talent that he was as a filmmaker, Troy Duffy only proved what a lack of skill and originality he actually possesses. We get it, gun fights and rosaries falling in slow motion look really cool. I’m fairly certain that if he could have, Duffy would have shot this entire film in slow motion.
I am sure that there are many fans of the The Boondock Saints who are highly anticipating renting All Saints Day and catching up with their favorite Irish vigilantes in this lackluster sequel. Unfortunately, the movie ruins everything good about the first film and I strongly advise them to avoid it for their own benefit. I instead recommend them renting Overnight, the documentary that depicts writer/director Troy Duffy’s quick rise and even quicker fall from the ranks of Hollywood all at the hands of his unintelligence and massive ego. The film is a pretty good indicator at why The Boondock Saints II: All Saints Day is as weak as it is.
- Filmmaker and Cast Commentaries from Troy Duffy, Billy Connelly, Patrick Flanery and Norman Reedus
- Deleted Scenes
- Unprecedented Access: Behind the Scenes Featurette
- Billy Connolly and Troy Duffy: Unedited
|Posted by Adam Krause on February 18, 2010 at 1:34 PM||comments (0)|
How do I feel about the work of legendary filmmaker Martin Scorsese, you ask? Let's put it this way, if the man made a 6-hour documentary on the history of sand, I would go to the theater and see it. The 67-year-old director, whose name is synonymous with cinema among film geeks and casual moviegoers alike, has had such an illustrious career in Hollywood that he really doesn't need any introduction. With a resume that spans over fifty years and well over thirty films, there aren't too many people out there who haven't seen a Martin Scorsese picture at this stage in the game.
Known more for his gritty character studies and violent gangster dramas, most people will typically cite Goodfellas, Taxi Driver and The Departed (the film that finally won the man his long-awaited Oscar) when discussions arise about the films of Martin Scorsese, despite the fact that the man has dipped his chip plenty of other material. Sadly though, one area where the director as been rather vacant from is the thriller/mystery/horror genre, a field where audiences haven't seen him since his wonderfully gripping remake of Cape Fear, starring longtime collaborator Robert De Niro and Nick Nolte. Sure, there was Bringing Out The Dead after that, but that was more of a black comedy if anything and one of his weaker films.
Luckily though, that is about to change as the director makes his long-awaited return to the thriller/mystery genre with the upcoming release of Shutter Island, the new film from Paramount Pictures. The movie marks the fourth collaboration between Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio, with the previous three being Gangs of New York, The Aviator and The Departed. So with this track record, there's a pretty good chance Shutter Island is going to be a decent movie. And even though that is quite the impressive list the two have created together, Leo has along way to go to take over De Niro's top spot as the director's favorite leading man. The two of them have done a total of nine films together.
The film was supposed to be released in theaters this past October, which would have allowed it's spooky material to fit in a little more with the Halloween-crazed times and more surprisingly, the fall release would have primed Shutter Island for the 2009-2010 award season, something that everyone took for a given with the success Scorsese had during The Departed's run at the Oscars. The real reason why the film's release was postponed is one of those major movie studio secrets that only the Hollywood Big Wigs truly know, but reports had stated that Paramount Pictures' primary motivation for the delay was to not allow the film to get in the way of The Lovely Bones, Peter Jackson's rather disappointing flop from earlier this year, which was one of the studio's releases that they had hoped would be a frontrunner in the Oscar race. Man, I bet they wish they had that one back.
As I stated earlier, Shutter Island is an eerie thriller that is set in the year 1954 with the majority of the film taking place in an insanely creepy (pun intended) psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane that ironically is located on a desolate island that shares its name with the movie. Two "dually appointed federal marshals," played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, The Brothers Bloom) are summoned to Shutter Island to investigate the bizarre disappearance of one of the hospital's patients.
Unable to leave the island thanks to an approaching hurricane, the two men shack up at the hospital and focus all of their attention and efforts on solving the case by "investigating" the dark chambers and creepy corridors that make up the haunting sanitarium. It doesn't take long before certain truths are uncovered and the two marshals discover that there is something far worse happening on Shutter Island than what appears on the surface.
Along with DiCaprio and Ruffalo, the film also stars the always-great Ben Kingsley. Oh, I'm sorry, Sir Ben Kingsley (The House of Sand and Fog, Elegy). Acting alongside these three talented gentlemen is also Patricia Clarkson, Max von Sydow and Jackie Earle Haley, an actor who is slowly solidifying himself as one of my favorite character actors. The film's adapted screenplay is courtesy of Laeta Kalogridis, whose previous screen writing credits include Oliver Stone's Alexander.
The movie is based on the critically acclaimed book of the same name from distinguished author Dennis Lehane, a man who is very familiar with seeing his work unfold on the big screen. Some of his other novels besides Shutter Island are Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone. So yeah, the man knows a thing or two about writing a story. Gothic-style storytelling in the vein of Edgar Allen Poe and horror-infused pulp fiction is what the author cites as his inspirations for writing the book. A book that the films producer, Bradley J. Fischer, describes as "a thriller and a Gothic mystery, but there is also much more to it because it has so much depth and deals with serious moral issues. The dense, atmospheric plot features a series of twists and turns that leaves you reeling and is quite mind-blowing."
It seems that the story's engaging, nightmarish plot is what brought all creative minds behind the film to the project, including Scorsese. "This is the type of picture I like to watch, the kind of story I like to read," Scorsese explains. "Over the years, I think I've stayed away from certain kinds of pictures that emulate the style that I find nurturing in a way, but these are the kinds of films I go back to and view repeatedly. I've always been drawn to this sort of story. What's interesting to me is how the story keeps changing, and the reality of what's happening keeps changing, and how up until the very final scene, it's all about how the truth is perceived."
Similar is how DiCaprio felt, crediting the story as well for his interest in Shutter Island. "A lot of things about this character appealed to me," Leo explains. "Teddy comes to Shutter Island devoted to solving a mystery and to uncover what is really going on, but he has his own innermost agenda and secrets. He's in a situation where there's a lot more to his journey than there at first appears to be. One of the great things about the story is that it's constantly jarring you. It works on so many different levels; it's like a giant layer cake."
But naturally, it was also the draw of once again collaborating with his old friend that pushed Leo over the edge in agreeing to do the film. "The one thing I don't think people understand about Scorsese is how much he believes in the actors he hires and how much he depends on them doing their homework before they show up on the set." DiCaprio went on to say, "With Teddy [his character], there were certain fine lines we couldn't cross and that was very challenging. I really needed Scorsese's guidance on how far things could be pushed."
And really, I don't know of too many directors that actors would rather receive guidance from than Martin Scorsese. Will Shutter Island be as successful as the duo's previous films? You can see for yourself, the film opens in theaters everywhere on February 19, 2010.
|Posted by Adam Krause on January 18, 2010 at 10:19 PM||comments (0)|
Many times I rent horror movies solely based on how original the plot is. Regardless of how terrible it might be, I'll always give it a chance if it is something I've never seen before, hoping it turns out great. Grace was won of those films, a case where I read the back of the box and thought, "now that's sounds cool," and it actually was. The movie revolves around a pregnant woman who loses her unborn baby in utero during a tragic car accident. Opting to go ahead and deliver the lifeless fetus anyway, the mother goes into labor only to be shocked to give birth to a live, breathing baby. Chalking it up as a medical miracle, the doctors let the mother take the child home to begin her new family. But after weeks of the baby refusing milk, the mother soon realized that all the hungry baby wants to eat is human blood. She becomes a hermit with her baby, going to extreme measures to satisfy her child's hunger. This Sundance gem from writer/director Paul Solet was definitely worth the rental and ended up being one of the best surprises of 2009.
4.) Dead Snow
The chief reason why this film cracks my list of top five horror films is thanks to that million dollar premise; the same premise that supposedly got the movie financed with just two powerfully convincing words: Nazi Zombies! And even though Dead Snow could have and should have been a lot better than it was, it doesn't take away from the fact that Tommy Wirkola's blood soaked tale of medical students stranded in the snow capped hills of Germany while being slowly picked off one by one by flesh eating, swastika wearing monsters from the Third Reich is an absolute blast to watch. With obvious inspiration from American horror classics like the brilliant Evil Dead, Dead Snow is one of those contemporary horror films that was created with blood-and-guts comedy as its number one objective. Just goes to show that Tarantino wasn't the only filmmaker this year to put a humorous spin the "horrors" of WWII.
3.) Paranormal Activity
Unlike much of the nation's population, I didn't fall madly in love with Paranormal Activity when I first saw it, personally having some issues with the film's lackluster ending (what the hell, Spielberg?). Please don't get me wrong, it was definitely creepy as hell with some real stomach-upsetting moments, but the film's fright factor isn't what gets this film in my top five. What won me over was what a convincing and entertaining movie writer/director Oren Peli was able to deliver with just a minuscule budget of around $11,000 that was able to be enjoyed by a global audience. An impressive feat that thousands of struggling filmmakers try to achieve every year. Now, thanks to Peli, there is new found hope for them as every major movie studio in America is on the lookout for the next Paranormal Activity.
2.) Trick R' Treat
Thanks to two years worth of extensive Internet buzz that no film could live up to, this anthology of spooky tales was unfortunately considered a disappointment to many people, unable to live up to world wide web's hype. But for me, it became an instant holiday classic, one that immediately made my annual Halloween playlist of horror films, accompanying the likes of such notable titles as John Carpenter's Halloween and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Written and directed by Superman Returns scribe Michael Dougherty, Trick R' Treat has intriguing characters in fun, campy stories that comprise a movie that never takes itself to seriously while at the same time staying true to the spirit of All Hallows Eve. The film ended up being one of the best selling DVDs of 2009, which kind of makes you wonder exactly what Warner Bros. was thinking shelving a movie with such high bankability among the masses of horror junkies for two whole years. Hopefully they won't be that stupid for the already planned sequel.
I'm almost certain that if you watched this history/horror hybrid from director Anti-Jussi Annila on mute for its entire running time, it would still effectively creep the hell out of you. The Finnish film, which was technically a 2008 release but didn't make its way over to the States until 2009, has without a doubt some of the most gorgeous cinematography you will ever see in a horror movie, utilized to create a dark, eerie atmosphere from start to finish. Brilliantly interweaving elements of arthouse cinema with the shock value of modern Hollywood horror, Sauna delivers a supernatural tale set in year 1595 that’s just as believable and terrifying as anything seen in Paranormal Activity. Completely oblivious to horror films from Finland beforehand, thanks to Sauna, I will now be keeping an eye out for them.
|Posted by Adam Krause on December 30, 2009 at 8:21 AM||comments (1)|
Honorable Mention: Star Trek
I bought my ticket to this film a wary skeptic with little hopes of being amused. I left the theater a full-blown Trekkie. J.J. Abrams' reboot of the iconic franchise was a monumental success that solidified a new generation of Star Trek fans while pleasing the existing ones, who have been patiently waiting for a film like this for ten years. In what was without a doubt the best casting of the year, Abrams gave new life to such memorable characters as Captain James Kirk and Spock by bringing in young, talented blood like Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and Simon Pegg. Hands down, Star Trek was the most fun I had watching a movie this past summer; a perfect popcorn flick. And with the success that this film had, I'm just going to take logical guess and say that the Star Trek franchise will live long and prosper in years to come.
5.) Up In The Air
In my opinion, George Clooney has gotten by mostly on good looks and a great smile without much real depth as an actor. But never has the man's charming demeanor worked as well as it did in this film with his portrayal of an unattached loner who spends the majority of his life in airplanes as he travels from city to city firing people for a living. Helmed by the extremely talented Jason Reitman, the movie beautifully depicts the heartbreak of the recession, the stark differences in the generation gap and the power and importance of finding love in your life, all while keeping a smile on your face. With Up in the Air, Reitman once again proves that Juno and Thank You For Smoking were not merely flukes, but the beginning of what is sure to be an illustrious directing career for the young filmmaker.
4.) Inglourious Basterds
Despite the lack of screen time that the titular Bastards actually received in the movie, Quentin Tarantino's take on WWII was easily one of the funniest and entertaining films of 2009. It was his best film since Pulp Fiction, Brad Pitt's best film since Fight Club and the best Christoph Waltz film I've ever seen, mostly because this was the only film I've ever seen of his. And with a well deserved Academy Award nomination most likely on the way for the German actor, I'm looking forward to seeing a lot more of him in American cinema. And even though I would love to see the sequel to Inglourious Basterds that Tarantino is already spreading rumors about in Hollywood, I'm not getting my hopes up. I'm still annoyed that The Vega Bros. prequel never happened.
Did the trailer give too much of the plot away? Yes. Did the marketing campaign get ridiculously out of hand? Absolutely. Will it be one of the best experiences you ever have in a movie theater? Without a doubt. James Cameron's film not only breaks new ground in filmmaking with it's stunning 3D technology and breathtaking visual effects, but it also delivers an engaging storyline that will move you, appall you and thrill you for the duration of its 160 minute running time. Regardless of how silly the "blue people" look to you, do yourself a favor and put all doubts aside, pay the extra few bucks for the 3D showing and prepare to be truly amazed. Mr. Cameron once again proves that he is one of the most prominent and influential filmmakers around. Lets just hope it doesn't take another twelve years for him to make his next feature.
2.) (500) Days of Summer
If all Hollywood rom-comes (romantic comedies) were as authentic and heartfelt as (500) Days of Summer, men would no longer put up a bitch fit when their lady friends force them to go. Rarely a movie captures the realism of falling in love with such validity as Scott Neustadter and Michael Weber did with their script for this wonderful movie. Perfectly directed by newcomer Marc Webb and with outstanding acting from Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt (one of the best young actors working today) who both hilariously depict the trials and tribulations of young love without being sappy and cliché. After all, it was a story of a boy who met a girl, but it was not a love story.
1.) District 9
I knew this movie was going to be my personal pick for the best film of 2009 the minute I walked out of the movie theater in awe of the masterpiece I had just witnessed. I just couldn't foresee another movie being released that was going to blow me away as much as Neill Blomkamp's directorial debut did. With its sheer creativity and unbelievable originality, the gripping storytelling and those remarkable special effects, there truly was no other film from this past year that I enjoyed watching as much as District 9. It's my must-see movie of 2009. I can only hope that Christopher Johnson makes good on his promise to Wikus Van De Merwe and returns to planet earth with the cure to his anomalous condition so we can all be treated to a sequel. Hell, as long as this Blomkamp is in the director's chair, I'm down for a trilogy.
|Posted by Adam Krause on December 7, 2009 at 7:45 PM||comments (0)|
Do you have any idea what are parents had to go through back in the day just to rent a movie? They had to trudge five miles through eight feet of snow to the local video store in frigid, below-zero weather. And when they finally arrived there, they only had a selection of twenty or so movies to choose from, none of which were new releases. After they rented a video, they had to hurry home and quickly watch it because if it wasn't back by 5:00 the next day, they had to pay a late fee that was twice as much as the original rental. And you know what, they liked it and they appreciated the opportunity to be entertained.
Fortunately, times have changed and it has become a lot easier for people to enjoy the cinematic arts in the comfort of their own living rooms. In particular, the video-rental giant Netflix, now a household name across America, has revolutionized the nature in which a person is able to rent a movie; providing an online service offering unlimited rentals for one flat monthly rate and no late fees. With delivery and returns provided by the US Postal Service via pre-stamped envelopes, Netflix has become an economical, no-brainer for voracious movie watchers across the nation.
Now, as a huge film buff myself, Netflix is just about the greatest thing to happen to me since cheese in a can. But when I converse with certain friends and family who are also big movie lovers and I tell them why they should join Netflix, they seem hesitant and ask a lot of questions. Many seem like the offer seems to good to be true, while others don't see a problem with the traditional method of visiting a video store to rent a movie. Whatever the reason, I have personally found myself having the conversation of why or why not join Netflix enough times to recite from memory and write an article.
So here we are, and as much as I love Netflix, I am also fair in my debate and admit that there are some downsides to the online service that people teetering on the edge of signing up should be aware about. So, without further ado, here are my three big pros and cons of using Netflix.
Pro: Price - The cost of Netflix is without a doubt the cheapest way of going about renting movies, especially if you watch more then three movies a week. My first month as a member, I did the math just to reassure myself that giving Netflix my credit card number was a smart decision. I divided the number of movies I watched that first month by the flat rate of $16.99 (three movies at a time) and it came out to 87 cents per movie, which if you'll note, is also cheaper then the $1 price of the popular and competing Redbox. Now if I watched that same amount of movies by renting them from a video store at the average price of $4 a rental, it would have cost me around $80. I'm sorry but that my friends is a steal and by far the biggest pro of Netflix.
Pro: Selection - It has happened to me a lot in the past and I'm sure it has happened to you at one point or another. You catch wind of a low-budget independent festival winner or a critically acclaimed foreign thriller that you absolutely must see. So you go to your local video store to rent it only to have the 16-year-old clerk behind the counter tell you they have never heard of it. Now in the past, your only solution to this problem would be buying a DVD copy online. But, if you were a member of Netflix, you're almost guaranteed to be able to rent that movie. With a movie library that offers over 100,000 different titles, Netflix has by far the biggest variety of films to choose from regardless of of what genre you're into. I have been a member for almost two years now and there have been three occasions where they did not offer the movie I was looking for. And in all three of those cases, the movie was issued as "out of print" by the film company that owned the rights, which by law means Netflix cannot offer it for rent.
Pro: Convenience - "No Late Fees," Netflix knows that this statement is by far their biggest selling point and that is obviously why it is splattered all over their advertisements and commercials. But that is not meant to take away from how nice this perk really is to the customer. I probably could afford graduate school with the money I have spent in late fees in my lifetime. And as everyone knows, a video store never forgets a late fee. It will stay in their computer for years, haunting you until you pay up. But the convenience of Netflix does not stop with the absence of late fees. Commuting to and from the video store is also eliminated. And their website, where all of your rental selections are made, is so incredibly user-friendly that I seriously know a 5-year-old who navigates it with ease.
Con: New Releases - I started off with the biggest pro of Netflix and here is by far the biggest con. To receive a new release when it first comes out is incredibly difficult. So that means, those movies that you meant to go see in the theaters but kept putting off until you finally missed your opportunity and now you can't wait to see on DVD, Netflix will most likely make you wait even longer to watch them. It's a popular complaint from users that Netflix has found rather difficult to address. A movie's most popular rental period is in the first 30 days of it being released on DVD, and even though Netflix has increased supply of the most popular titles being released every week, it is not financially smart for the company to match the demand due to the fact that interest in the title will slowly fade. So as a member of Netflix, there is a good chance that the new release that you have been dying to see might get issued the dreaded "Very Long Wait" as it's availability status. And trust me, the status lives up to its name.
Con: Stuck Without Movies - Depending on what package you sign up for with Netflix (anywhere from 1-8 movies at a time), there will most likely be instances where you will not have a movie at home on a night when staying in, making some butter-coated popcorn and watching a flick is all you feel like doing. The speed at which movies are received and returned are as quick and convenient as they can possibly be (one business day) but occasionally, due to bad planning on your part or a movie not arriving when it is suppose to, you'll be stuck without a movie and pondering just driving to the video store and renting one anyway.
Con: Video Store Blues - Any avid moviegoer or film buff will tell you that there is an unexplainable, almost majestic like quality to visiting a video store. You enjoy walking through the aisles of new releases, comedies or horror movies and reading the back of the covers and making your selection. Before joining Netflix, I frequented video stores on a very regular basis and I must say that there is a very nostalgic, if not organic experience to visiting a video store that is lacking with Netflix.
I personally have remedied many of these cons myself by designating Netflix as my primary source of renting movies but when I find myself in a situation as explained above in the second con or when there is a new release I really want to see and Netflix stamped it with a "Very Long Wait," I look forward to going to the video store and renting one or two movies every month. Therefore, I still get all the perks of using Netflix but at the same time, don't give up the video store completely. Kind of like the best of both worlds.
So there you have it, the top three pros and cons of using Netflix. Now, I don't know how many times my argument has actually persuaded someone to give up on video stores and jump on the Netflix bandwagon but I will tell you this, if you are anything like me and watching movies takes up a significant part of your past time, Netflix is by far your best option and what you should be using to rent movies. The selection and convenience is unmatched an the money you'll save by using Netflix will hopefully allow you to break even on all of those late fees the video store forced you to pay over the years.
|Posted by Adam Krause on November 25, 2009 at 6:27 PM||comments (2)|
A Look at A&E's New Reality Series Steven Seagal: Lawman
For years, the world has associated a one Mr. Steven Seagal as the smooth-talking, ass-kicking force behind such guilty-pleasure classics as Hard to Kill, Under Siege and Above the Law. Considered a bonafide movie star back in the early 90s, Seagal was right up there with the likes of Schwarzenegger, Van Damme and Stallone as one of Hollywood’s go-to heroes for ball-busting action flicks. But somewhere along the line, the spotlight faded and quicker than you can say “Straight to DVD,” Steven Seagal had become a middle-aged punch line.
So what has he been up to, you ask? Well, unbeknownst to pretty much everyone, Steven Seagal has been secretly catching the bad guys in real life, serving as a Reserve Deputy Chief for Jefferson Parrish County’s police department in Louisiana. The news, which Seagal purposely kept hidden from the limelight, has been brought to our attention thanks to A&E’s upcoming reality series Steven Seagal: Lawman, a new half-hour show that documents Mr. Seagal and the rest of the boys of the Parrish County police force as they protect the streets of Louisiana.
As Mr. Seagal says himself in the show’s opening credits, “My name is Steven Seagal. That’s right, Steven Seagal,” as if the actor knows how strange it is for America to find out that the 57-year-old martial artist has been secretly fighting crime for a department that serves and protects the poverty-stricken suburbs of New Orleans, a task that I assume isn’t all that easy and care free (I hope the man really is Hard to Kill). How did this come about? How did the star of Today You Die become a distinguished man in blue?
Back in Seagal’s celebrity heyday, Jefferson Parrish County’s former Chief of Police Harry Lee asked him if he could teach his officers some shooting techniques after witnessing the action star’s amazing marksmanship. The training sessions went so well that Lee offered Seagal a position as a fully sworn-in Reserve Deputy, a position that Seagal graciously accepted. And so for the last twenty years, Steven Seagal has literally been Out For Justice while giving the suburbs of New Orleans a healthy dose of Urban Justice (Seriously, these are all actual titles from the man’s films). But don’t worry; even though Seagal is a movie star as well, he doesn’t think he’s Above the Law (OK, I forced that one a little).
As far as I’m concerned, Lawman could have just been call “Cops… But With Steven Seagal As One of Them.” In the few episodes I was able to review, the majority of the show was Seagal and his partner cruising in their squad car talking about how tough their jobs are while occasionally settling domestic disturbances in lower-class neighborhoods and breaking up fights projects overrun by gangs. A&E models much of the show after an actual Steven Seagal action flick, implementing many of the same qualities that appear in his films in order to make the audience see Seagal as the movie’s hero, or in this case, the real-life hero.
The editing is done to make Seagal seem like he has super human abilities in fighting crime, an ability to catch every wrong doing that he passes by while on patrol. The show is even stuffed with classic one-liners that for all you know could have been pulled right from the poster of one of the man’s movies. Lines like “If you can’t anticipate an attack, you can’t defend against it.” Classic Seagal.
The show does prove that somehow Steven Seagal still has a suave coolness to him that he was able to maintain, despite the wrinkled face and bigger belly. The low-toned, raspy voice that made him such a super bad ass in his movies is still there, but now it sounds even sweeter covered up in a thick Cajun accent. And his shooting skills, the ones that got him the job as a police officer, are pretty damn impressive and on display in one of the episodes where Seagal shoots the tops off of Q-Tips from 15 yards away. As one of the police officers that Seagal works with says, “He could shoot a gnat off a fly’s ass.”
Steven Seagal: Lawman will find an audience because, like many of the locals caught on film in the show, it’s incredibly interesting and hard to believe that this washed-up action star is actually a police officer in real life putting himself in harms way day after day, and with no stunt man none the less. Unfortunately, after the novelty of Seagal as a real cop fades, it’s no different then an episode of Cops. It’s really hard for me to imagine the show having any real longevity. But one thing is for sure; the age-old debate can finally be settled. Sorry Jean-Claude Van Damme, but Seagal is officially cooler. I mean, come on, the man is a cop in real life. It doesn’t get any tougher then that. Steven Seagal: Lawman premieres on Tuesday, December 1 on A&E.