Thursday, July 28, 2011

"Blade II" a sequel better than the predecessor

TITLE: "Blade II"
DIRECTOR: Guillermo Del Toro
STARS: Wesley Snipes, Kris Kristofferson, Ron Perlman
EDITOR: Peter Amundson
AWARDS: Best Horror Film (nominated, Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Films)
BOX OFFICE: $150,145,152 (Worldwide)
RUN TIME: 117 min.

After the events of the first film, Blade must hunt down his friend, Whistler, in order to save him from his vampiric fate. Little does he know that the vampires he desperately is trying to kill, need him to help them find and kill a new threat; the reaper vampires.

"Blade II" is considered a cult classic, due mostly to the presence of director Guillermo Del Toro. This could be considered his first big budget American film (the director himself has disowned any affiliation with "Mimic" (1997)). Del toro's style, both visually and artistically, shows fans what they have come to expect from this director. This film is also arguably better than the original, a rare feat in the history of cinema.

Del Toro has become a renowned filmmaker over the last decade. Helming comic book fare that has escaped genre stereotypes and focused on character driven stories ("Hellboy" (2004), "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (2008)), an art-house picture that has become both critical and audience favorite ("Pan's Labyrinth" (2006)), and has produced many films that have crossed their respective genre boundaries to become classics in their own rights ("El Orfanato" (2007), "Splice" (2009), "Biutiful" (2010)). "Blade II" is considered his first mass market exposure, which lead to his later success in the American, and arguably, world box office.

Del Toro's visually striking imagery abounds. Bloody, sculpture ridden set pieces, designed with high profile action sequences in mind, stand in between scenes rooted deeply in character development. The viewer never questions the motivations of the characters, because they understand them.

Much like James Cameron's "Aliens" (1986), this film takes a turn from the loner attitude of the first, and groups the hero with an unlikely band of battle trained hotheads. The difference here? These militants are not only the vampires that Blade has been hunting his whole life, but they are an elite team, specifically trained to kill Blade himself. The outcome of who exactly is who's enemy is never made completely clear, and keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat for the whole film. A complex, but not overly complex, story helped this action/horror hybrid to become the highest grossing entry in the entire series.

"Blade II" is not a perfect film. Many of the effects have unfortunately become outdated. Some of the actors deliver slightly wooden performances. But for every actor that wasn't up to snuff, there is a Ron Perlman (an actor this writer never tires of seeing), Wesley Snipes (who's husky voice, and physicality made him the perfect choice to play Blade), and Luke Goss (who hasn't found much success outside of Del Toro's work, but who always makes a great antagonist).

The action is where this movie lives. There are sequences fought in the dark, in the daylight, at night, inside, outside, in front of entire walls of UV rays, and every sequence feels fresh and unique. A high mixture of martial arts, gun play, sword play, and good old street fighting keeps the action unpredictable. The best part though, is that every action piece fits into the web of the story. They aren't just fighting to fight, there is some purpose.

All in all, this film is one of the better of the early 2000's comic book adaptations. Stay a far away from the 3rd entry as humanly possible (when will studios realize that putting Ryan Reynolds into a comic book movie will assuredly ruin it?).

If you like old school vampires, or new school vampires, this is most likely not your cup of tea. If you're a fan of the ultra gory interpretations that lived in the 1970's and '80's, this will suit you just fine. Not a film for everyone, but action and horror fans will get a kick out of it. It is not necessary to watch the original first, but this writer would recommend it anyway.

MY IMDb RATING:  7 out of 10

Thursday, July 21, 2011

"The General" a gem from a long ago era

TITLE: "The General"
DIRECTOR: Clyde Bruckman, Buster Keaton
STARS: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack
EDITOR: Buster Keaton, Sherman Kell
AWARDS: National Film Registry
RUN TIME: 75 min. - 107 min. (depending on release)
VIEWING FORMAT: 35 mm. print

A gentle young train engineer tries to enlist in the Confederate army, only to find out that they won't allow him to. His lady friend is very upset at his lack of "dedication" to his country. One year later he gets the chance to impress her and his countrymen when the Union army steals his train, and he is the only one smart (and lucky) enough to catch them, and foil their attempts to impede the Confederacy.

While this film was originally a box office flop, it has gone on to garner incredible critical praise, and is considered by many to be one of the best films of all times. Keaton also considered it his favorite of his own body of work.

The film was expensive (the "bridge" shot being the most expensive single shot of the silent era), and the comedy was not obvious slapstick. Keaton was an established filmmaker at this point in his career though, and was able to make the film on his terms.

The story is inspired by real events from the Civil War, and Keaton was adamant about historical accuracy. Costumes, sets, and the trains used, were all painstakingly created to be as close to the real things as possible.

Keaton's trademark physicality, and his stuntman ethic, were hard at work on this film. Consistently filming on and around a moving locomotive, and not always telling the other actors what sorts of obstacles they were about to face, led Keaton to not only get honest performances from the other cast members, but once again gave the audience a wonderfully honest portrayal himself.

The beauty in this film lies in its heartfelt drama, and it's hilarious comedy. "Dramedies" are commonplace now, and very rarely reach the heights they should. This film took a real and serious look at a dark time in the nations not-too-distant past, and infused the comedy element to make it more realistic.

Slapstick abounds, of course. This is a Buster Keaton film. The funniest parts though, are the subtle humor. The funny one liners read on cards between shots. The hilarious looks that Keaton portrays when he is baffled by what is going on around him. These short breaks from a serious story (snipers, explosions, and war filled conflict abound throughout), give the film a realistic flavor, and help its sense of humor to hold strong decades later.

If you have never seen a silent film, this is a great one to start with. It's upbeat, funny, and not very long. If you're a silent film buff and have somehow missed this gem, watch it soon. This film is funny, heartfelt, and action packed. It shows that a good story, and dedicated talent can make a single piece of art last for generations. This is a phenomenal film, and should not be missed!

MY IMDb RATING:  8 out of 10

instead of my usual trailer, here's the whole movie!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

"Clerks" the start of a generation

TITLE: "Clerks"
DIRECTOR: Kevin Smith
STARS: Brian O'Halloran, Jeff Anderson, Jason Mewes
EDITOR: Scott Mosier, Kevin Smith
AWARDS: Award of the Youth (Cannes), Mercedes-Benz Award (Cannes), Filmmakers Trophy (Sundance)
BOX OFFICE: $3,151,130
RUN TIME: 92 min.
VIEWING FORMAT: Netflix Streaming

"Clerks" is a simple movie that covers one day in the life of two store clerks. Their interactions with each other, and their customers, give the audience a hysterical and unusual take on American culture of the 1990's.

Kevin Smith's "Clerks" is a film that came out of the early 1990's independent film movement. Filmed for an ultra low budget, with friends and family, this film launched the career of the filmmaker, who's impact on popular culture has become iconic.

Smith shot the film over 21 days, for a budget of roughly $27,000. He was a working clerk at the store in which the film is set, and was only able to shoot during the store's closed hours (hence the gag where the store front shutters stay closed all day, to hide the fact that it was night). Smith sacrificed his own health and only got an hour of sleep each day between filming and working the store.

To save money, and time, Smith cast family and friends in small roles, and even had some actors play duplicate roles (he himself plays Silent Bob). This is also why the film was shot in black and white.

Smith brought his film to both Sundance and Cannes, where it had positive and award winning receptions. Miramax bought the film, and released it theatrically. Even though it never played in more than 100 theaters at a time, the film grossed over $3 million.

Smith went on to become a successful director, writer, actor, and producer. He makes public appearances, has more than one popular podcast, launched the careers of Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and Jason Lee, and even has his own panel at the annual San Diego Comic Con. His impact on pop culture, especially geek culture, has remained strong over the past two decades, all thanks to this "little" film.

It is worth noting that not only did "Clerks" get it's own direct sequel, it also had one successful spin off television show, a series of spin-off films, and talks of another sequel are still circling.

"Clerks" is hilarious. That's just it. The film has flaws, but they are easily forgivable because the characters are so loved by the end of the film, any shortcomings don't seem to matter.

It is obvious that Smith is a first time filmmaker, but his attention to performance, and his writing stand out. Brian O'Halloran and Jeff Anderson give one-of-a-kind performances, while they simply talk about things of no importance. It doesn't matter though. What is important isn't the content of what they say, it is belief they have that what they're saying is interesting. And guess what? It is interesting.

"Clerks" may not be the best film of 1994, but there is a reason it launched an incredibly successful filmmaker. It is funny, honest, and enjoyable. "Clerks" is the reason movies are made. I would highly suggest this film to anyone interested in a laugh.

MY IMDb RATING: 7 out of 10

Thursday, July 7, 2011

"Precious" a film not soon forgotten

TITLE: "Precious"
DIRECTOR: Lee Daniels
STARS: Gabourey Sidibe, Mo'Nique, Paula Patton, Lenny Kravitz
EDITOR: Joe Klotz
AWARDS: Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role (Oscar), Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Published or Produced (Oscar)
BOX OFFICE: $47,395,661
RUN TIME: 109 min.
VIEWING FORMAT: Netflix Streaming

"Precious" is the story of a girl who's life has had more than its fair share of hard times. The morbidly obese teen from the inner city is a victim of incest, rape, lack of education (though not of intelligence), an abusive mother, and she is a mother herself at the age of fifteen. With everything going against her, Precious has every reason to look down on life. Will she, or will she rise above her struggles to become the mother she never had?

This film is the first "contemporary classic" to be reviewed on this site. It was released in 2009, and since that time has had a wide cultural impact. Positive reviews, a winning run at Sundance, and record breaking box office earnings (only having a $10 million budget to begin with) helped to catapult this film into a cultural phenomenon.

This film's strong point comes from the performances and story. Mo'Nique won an Oscar (as well as many other major awards) for her performance as the abusive mother of Precious. She has said in interviews that the film was a sort of catharsis for her to deal with her own sexually abusive childhood.

Sidibe's first performance could shape up to be her best, only time will tell. The Oscar nominee carried the film strongly, and made her character believable, even when the circumstances seemed almost too horrific to be true. She lead a supporting cast of wonderful actors, and continually grounded the film, and kept the audience entranced in her story.

That is where the magic lies; the story. This film is hard. It deals with real issues that are very hard to acknowledge, and even harder to watch. The depiction this film gives of the inner city, and primarily African-American, is despicable at the best of times. The things this teenager has to deal with are universal though. So many people struggle, or have struggled, with something that Precious herself is going through. It was this honest take on a hard truth that attracted the attention of both Oprah and Tyler Perry, who both helped to promote the film, and can be credited with helping its overall box office take.

This film has inspired a generation to take action, and it inspires its viewers to stand up for themselves. It is moving. So much so, that it has already taken its place in film history as one of the all time great American dramas.

"Precious" may lack a certain filmmaking finesse (did Lee Daniels really earn his Oscar nomination?), but it makes up for any faults with the strong story, characters, and performances.

This is not a movie to watch with friends on a Friday night. Take the time and sit down and pay attention to this film. It can move the viewer in intricate ways. While it could have easily crossed over to melodrama, it never lets the audience feel cheap or cheated.

The hardest parts of the film can also be its best. Not every life is as great as "Leave it to Beaver" would have someone believe. The reactions that Precious gives towards her many situations are where the beauty lies. A wonderful human being, plagued with atrocious circumstances, and she still carries on, with her head held high.

Give "Precious" a chance. It is not for children, but this writer feels that adults of this generation should take the time to appreciate a hard and tragic film that presents truth, no matter how hard. Rent this this coming weekend, instead of some sequel. This is a film that will not soon be forgotten.

MY IMDb RATING: 8 out of 10