Saturday, February 26, 2011

Winter's Bone (Debra Granik, 2010) {Netflix Blu-Ray}

This is another film that never made it into wide release. It was in a few hundred theaters in most of the major cities and a few second cities during 2010, after making a splash at Sundance. It's not multiplex fare, so I understand that, but it's the kind of film that makes me continue to feel I should be moving closer to a city large enough to see these films in the theater. Winter's Bone doesn't reinvent the wheel, but I'd highly recommend it all the same.

It's about a seventeen year old girl, living in the Ozarks, whose father seems to have jumped bail. That might not be much of a problem, except that he put the family home up for bail that she lives in with her nearly catatonic mother and two younger siblings, along with the piece of property that's been in their family for many years. She sets out to find out where her father is, so that they don't get thrown out of their home and off of their land. Her father had been arrested for cooking Meth, again, so the crowd of folks she's trying to get information from are not what we would tend to consider friendly.

Jennifer Lawrence plays Ree Dolly, the unfortunate protagonist, and she does so pretty astoundingly. There's a grounded element to her performance that is impressive in someone this young and is exactly what the material and the character call for. I have a real affection for her character in this film. She plays a very strong young woman, but not in the clichéd way we've come to expect that characterization. The strength of this character is in the degree to which she marches forward, doing what she has to do, and what she believes is right. There's nothing flashy about her. She might be a little bit more intelligent than many of the other characters populating this film, but what that really means is that she's smart enough to continue to make progress in her search for her father, and smart enough to stay alive in the process. On top of that, she's continuing to take care of both of her siblings and her mother, and none of that is ever really played for the weepy kind of drama that is so often a part of a narrative that includes those elements. For Ree, it's just her life, and she does what she has to do. There's nothing extraordinary about it. Jennifer Lawrence was a surprise nomination for the Best Actress Oscar this year, and now I understand exactly why she was nominated. The level of reality she brings to this role is something to behold. Considering the list of nominees, I'd be surprised if she won, but it couldn't be said that she was completely undeserving either. I don't pay much attention to various awards, but generally there's at least one interesting category each year because of the nominees. This year, I think the Best Female Lead category is going to be that category.

John Hawkes plays Teardrop, Ree's uncle who may or may not have any idea why her father has gone on the run, and may or may not have any information that will help her find him. Hawkes has been a great character actor for a long time now, and Winter's Bone may just be the film that helps break him out of that category, because he is phenomenal as well. His character comes across as being right on the bleeding edge of horrific violence at just about any moment, and at the same time, there's a sympathetic aspect to him which keeps him human and someone we very much hope Ree can rely on. It's a very different role for Hawkes, who has made it his bread and butter playing the slightly geeky, nerdy secondary characters in a number of films, but it's obviously not beyond his range because he nails it with the same kind of subtle perfection the rest of the film is built on. I hope to see him getting a wider variety of roles and maybe even one or two lead roles in the future because I have the feeling after seeing this that we've barely begun to scratch the surface of the kind of actor John Hawkes could actually be if given the opportunity.

In it's way, this is essentially film noir. Instead of being set in some shadowy urban hell, with the slang so long associated with the genre, this is a snowy rural hell, with a language still very much it's own. In almost every other way, it fits in with the traditions of the genre, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The reason we still have such an obsession with noir is because when it's done well, it makes for great film making. I don't necessarily think I would call this film "great," though. Extremely good, definitely, but a degree or two shy of great. It does a better job of making the world these characters live in very, very real than most films do, especially when there's some variety of mystery element to it. I think this is would be a nearly perfect companion piece to Gone Baby Gone, which is another extremely well made film with some really strong hints of film noir, and whose setting informs the real gravity and reality of the film. As a narrative this might be a better film, if for no other reason than that the majority of the actors are unrecognizable and there's nothing very slick about it. It's very much just this story, about this girl, experiencing these things, and that kind of bluntness is exactly what this particular story needs.

One of the things I find really refreshing about this film is the degree to which it doesn't really depend on big, dramatic sequences to make it work. All of this is played as just being the life of this particular group of people, and that nothing about it is very dramatic or unusual. Don't get me wrong, it doesn't make light of it, but for these characters, this is just the way life is. This girl is the lynch pin in a family that is dysfunctional, but that she loves very much, and that is surrounded by so much "dysfunction" that to her, and to all of the other characters, nothing here is either shocking or unusual. Is it unfortunate? Sure, but not shocking. It paints a picture of a bleak world, but that world is exceptionally real. In part because of that degree of reality, and because of the nature of the characters, it's also an extremely subtle film. I can't think of a better way to say it other than to say that it's very, very quiet. It's dialog intensive, but also silence intensive. There are a lot of long pauses which don't play for dramatic effect, but very much inform the reality of the story and the characters. This is a world where people don't show their hand, play everything close and don't really trust anyone around them, often with very good reason. It's a world with it own code of conduct and it's own social standards that are strictly enforced and because it's a rural world, stepping outside of those standards can leave a person being very much the outsider in a community in which people very much need each other to survive, especially Ree.

I'm shocked by the degree to which I was unaware of the director as I was watching this film. The tone is so successfully naturalistic that I didn't really consider the directors choices at all as I was watching it, and that's unusual for me. In considering that, I can honestly say I don't think any of the films very slight flaws can really be laid at her feet. The degree to which the reality of this film succeeds is very much in her hands, and that's quite an accomplishment. I'm relatively sure she never considered the fact that this quiet little mountain mystery would be nominate for Best Picture, but again, I can't say it's completely undeserving of the nomination either. There are three of this years nominees I still haven't seen, but that being said, of the seven I have seen, I can't say I'd be completely disappointed if this film won. In my heart of hearts, there are at least two other films I believe are more deserving of the title, but I don't think it would be a sham for this film to win either. It certainly wouldn't be the fiasco that Crash was. Needless to say, I'm eagerly awaiting news of Debra Granik's next project.

I can highly recommend Winter's Bone to anyone with a decent enough attention span to be able to appreciate films which aren't completely reliant on things blowing up, people being shot, stabbed or otherwise maimed, and can appreciate a good, character driven mystery. Not that I don't like films which are reliant on things blowing up and people being shot stabbed or otherwise, but film making that is far above average is something I can enjoy generally, and that's what this is, nearly great film making with a few exceptional performances and a reality which is unusually well developed and laid out. Give it a shot.

As usual, you can pick up a copy of Winter's Bone on Blu-Ray or DVD from my Amazon Store, and I've added copies of Gone Baby Gone, because it's also a damned good movie.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Enter The Void (Gaspar Noe, 2009)

I began my love affair with film when I was around thirteen or fourteen. I've spent a solid twenty years searching for films outside the main stream. This is one of the most odd, unusual, unsettling films I've come across in a very, very long time. The narrative structure alone makes it extremely different. When the visual style is mixed in with the thematic elements it goes completely over the top, without the slightest hint of apology. It starts off strange, and only gets weirder. Just when I thought it couldn't go any further, it waited five minutes, and jumped the line by a few more feet. I was completely unprepared for the experience this film had in store for me, and I honestly can't think of anyone I know who would have been prepared. The only word I have for the feeling I had when it was over is gobsmacked. Jaw on my chest, staring at the screen when the final frame was done, I could only shake my head and say, "Wow." If you have a soul, Enter the Void will punch you in it.

The first film my mind reached for to compare this one to is 2001: A Space Odyssey. It would be an apt comparison if Kubrick's Space Odyssey had been made by contemporary urban Buddhists. But it wasn't, and it's not an apt comparison at all, but it's the most apt comparison I can come up with, most probably because of the hallucinatory, kaleidoscopic use of color.  One of the other immediate associations I make with this film are Cronenberg's early films. The thing about associating or comparing this film to the early Cronenberg films is that the comparison only works in reverse. I'd be telling anyone reading this more than would be good for them to know if I told them more than the fact that it is not a film about body horror. 

The word for word synopsis over at IMDB says, "A drug-dealing teen is killed in Japan, after which he reappears as a ghost to watch over his sister." I've seen that movie before. Most of us probably have seen that film before. This is not that film. Does that synopsis fit this film to some degree? Yes, it does. Is it ludicrously misleading? Yes, it is. This is so much more complicated and has so much more depth than that simple synopsis suggests, that reading it after having seen the film makes it comical. It's almost like saying, "The Silence of the Lambs was a horror film about cannibalism. A description like that makes Silence of the Lambs sound like a distant cousin to Cannibal Holocaust, which again could not be further from the truth. That makes  If this were a film about a ghost following a woman around Japan, in anything slightly resembling the conventional sense of that narrative, I probably wouldn't be writing this review right now.

Gaspar Noé is definitely the kind of director who makes his audience feel they are in the hands of a man who is completely unreliable. Wes Craven has been quoted as saying on many occasions that the best way to frighten people is to convince them they are in the hands of a madman. Noé doesn't go so far as attempting to make the viewer feel like we're in the hands of a madman, but we certainly feel the person in charge here is going to take us to some places we certainly do not want to be. It's not even that we don't want to be where he's trying to take us, it's more that we don't want to be in the same state or country as the place he's going to take us. The thing is, there's no violence in it. All of the sources of that discomfort come from character work in the script, and an unusually intimate perspective on the lives of some of those characters. That's not to say this is a family film either. It is anything but. There's a good deal of graphic drug use, and there are some pretty graphic sex scenes as well. Most of them are not what I would necessarily consider the sexy variety of sex scene either. They're just uncomfortable to watch. To say it's profoundly voyeuristic is an understatement.

The visual style of this film is almost as shocking as the subject matter. It takes the first person perspective to an entirely new level, and the use of color is borderline insane in the best possible way. The colors are bright and vibrant, constantly changing and practically assaulting the audience through each of the films scenes. Considering the fact that the film takes place in Tokyo, the hallucinatory nature of the film makes a certain degree of sense. There's definitely a very strong connection between the visual style of the film and the subject matter as well, and it doesn't take place in Tokyo out of sheer coincidence. I've never been to Tokyo, but in the films and stills I've seen, it's like a neon playground, and much of that same variety of color is used in the film. It's beautiful and absolutely disconcerting.

This is a disturbingly unusual film that is extremely well made and thought out to a degree that in itself is shocking to consider. There's a lot to like about this film, but there are some slow spots. They don't ruin the film by any means, but the overall effectiveness is damaged by them. The nature of the narrative style doesn't necessarily lend itself to clarity either, so being able to pick up on the details when they are there is important, otherwise, it's completely plausible that someone could get through the film and have little to no idea of what they just watched. All in all though, this was something so unusual that I can't really knock it. I've probably never seen anything quite like this, and I expect it will be a very long time before I see anything like it again. Of course, you can pick it up on Blu-Ray and DVD at Amazon

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Red (Robert Schwenke, 2010) [Netflix Blu-Ray]

Red comes across to me as The Expendables was marketed, but with people who are considered "serious actors." The short story is that it's a somewhat fun, relatively harmless action movie. It's not a bad movie. It's not really a good movie either.

I definitely found some pleasure in seeing Dame Helen Mirren firing a .50 caliber machine gun in a state of unapologetic glee. And John Malkovich was characteristically hilarious in the role of an unhinged, paranoid. Mary-Louise Parker is also in her quirky usual form (I've become a big Weeds fan since Netflix gave me the chance to catch up on the first five seasons). Of course, Morgan Freeman gives the kind of performance that effuses warmth and a deeply good nature, even as a retired C.I.A operative, in cahoots with a bunch of murderous assassins. Bruce Willis... well he's Bruce Willis, and if you've seen a Bruce Willis film in the last ten years, you know exactly what to expect from him. Of all the cast members, he seems to fall flattest, "phoning it in," as they say. Brian Cox also shows up in one of the smaller roles, and he gives a fun performance as a former Russian operative who's siding with his old enemies. He's passable, but like everyone else in this cast, he's done much better work.

The film's story follows a group of retired C.I.A agents who have all been designated Retired Extremely Dangerous (RED) and targeted to . They're trying to stay alive and to find out why exactly there are people trying to kill them in the first place. Pretty simple, straightforward, that's about it.

All of the performances are characteristic of what we've come to expect from the actors giving them, and in a way, that sums up the entire film. It's exactly what you would expect, and not in the most fun way that could be possible. There are some very good scenes, and some very good lines in the film, but there's nothing happening here that is ever surprising, unusual, different, suspenseful... just pretty much exactly what anyone who's ever seen an action film in the last twenty years would expect. Actually, if I'm really honest, this film probably has more in common tonally with the kind of silly, comedic action films of the eighties like Gotcha, Running Scared, Cloak and Dagger, and Romancing the Stone than it does with The Expendables. The only problem is that it's neither as funny or as goofy as any of those films. It definitely isn't oozing testosterone the way The Expendables did, and it's equally aware of it's own ridiculousness, but doesn't really capitalize on it. John Malkovich is given a few very funny lines which hint at this, but the film never really embraces it. I'm not sure if that's due to a studio or the film makers being worried that general audiences wouldn't go along with it or that it wasn't in the original source material (Red was originally a graphic novel). I haven't read the graphic novel, so I can't speak to it's tone, but it just doesn't really work for the movie.

It's not that Red is just a really bad movie. It's not. It's competently made, the performances (with the exception of Bruce Willis) are good, and it's kind of fun. It's that it doesn't seem to even aspire to be anything more than competent, and kind of fun. In a world where the Bourne series exists, that doesn't really cut it anymore. This would have been perfectly at home in the mid-eighties, and would have been one of those V.H.S. rentals little boys all over the country would be trying to sneak past their parents and store owners. And really, this is a much less graphic film than almost any of those (with the possible exception of Cloak and Dagger). Those films tended to have some relatively blunt undertones of sexuality and sometimes relatively graphic violence. And maybe that's the thing about Red that really gets under my skin, it's incredibly safe for a film about assassination. It never feels like any of these characters are really in jeopardy, and it never even attempts to suggest any thematic or story elements that are even slightly risky either. Jason Bourne was a bad ass, and we all knew he was going to make it to the end of the series at the end of the day, but they established a level of drama that was extremely compelling and threw in some absolutely thrilling action sequences. At least in the Bourne films, some of the characters around him, that he cared about and therefore we cared about, were in jeopardy. The action sequences aren't that compelling, and there's really no dramatic tension here. No one here is in jeopardy, ever, and we all know it from the get go.

It's almost as if the film pushed itself into what is referred to as "The Superman Dilemma." How does a writer or film maker make it seem like they should possibly feel like there's something at risk when dealing with a character who can only be harmed by one thing in the universe, a piece of a planet that was blown up at least twenty years ago (if you follow the time line of the original version of the story). He is impervious to everything on earth. How does anyone convince the audience he's in any kind of jeopardy? It's the reason Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen are constantly being rescued in Superman comics. No writer who wants to be able to continue to have any credibility would dig up a piece of Kryptonite for every single story. Another way to inject a narrative with the same kind of tension is to put a secondary character our protagonist cares about in jeopardy. In Red, they back themselves into The Superman dilemma, and we never believe for one second their Lois Lane (Mary-Louise Parker) is in any real danger. To add fuel to the fire, there are four Supermen, and a Superwoman.

Red isn't an insult to the intelligence of the audience though, because it never promises to be more than it is, it never suggests it is something other than it is or aspires to be anything else. It's not even really that bad. It's just maddeningly mediocre from the beginning to the end.

The Blu-Ray I got from Netflix, had no special features either. BOOOO! But that is probably the "Movie Only Edition".

There is also a "Special Edition" with a few special features added, but the truth is, it's not an interesting enough film for me to have been that interested in the special features in the first place.

At the end of the day, my complaint about Red comes down to one word: Bland. Maybe I'd have been willing to give it more of the benefit of the doubt if not for the fact that the film makers went through the trouble of putting together a cast of the magnitude this film features. This cast could deliver an incredible film, and instead they're thrown together in something which doesn't equal even part of their talents.

Monday, February 07, 2011

After.Life (Agnieszka Wojtowicz-Vosloo, 2010) [Netflix Streaming]

The nicest thing I can say about this film is that I imagine the script was probably passable in it's original language. When translated to English, and committed to film by this team of people, it's an indistinguishable mess of a movie.

It's a sad thing, because I have enjoyed all three of the actors in this film. Christina Ricci plays Anna Taylor, who through the majority of the film, might be dead. Liam Neeson plays the funeral director who is preparing her body for burial, and Justin Long plays the less than perfect, and thoroughly misunderstood, would be fiancé to Ricci's Anna.

The film is trying to make a mystery out of the question of whether or not she's dead or whether or not Liam Neeson's character has done something to her, etc. It also makes quite a big deal out of the guilt of the living, and blah, blah, blah. It's honestly not worth going into because because by the time it's over, it doesn't make any sense any way. I disliked every single character in this film, which is quite a feat, because I do my best to give every film I see the benefit of the doubt going in. This one, took that benefit, and beat me over the head with it for ninety minutes.

I'm relatively sure this film is trying to make an existential statement of some kind, but it's narrative is so incoherent, it's never clear enough to make out. There's always the chance that the film maker's were trying to use that sam kind of vague storytelling that helps to establish a sense of unease and mystery. Some films have successfully used that kind of barely sensible, almost speaking to your unconscious more than your conscious mind. If I give the writer and director of this film the benefit of the doubt, then I'd be willing to believe they were trying to attempt to do exactly that. If I weren't giving them the benefit of the doubt, I'd guarantee that making this film in English with this cast was more important to this folks than making a film of actually good quality. It's understandable because had it been made in their native language in the Netherlands, the chances that it would have gotten any release here in the U.S would be extremely slim. The chances anyone would have seen it without these three actors in the lead roles, even slimmer.

I can honestly say that ever single aspect of this film had some serious problems. The screenplay can be blamed for the incoherent mess of a narrative, but everything else has some serious problems as well. Going right on down the line, the cinematography has a Lifetime Movie of the Week feel to it, the set design was either going for minimalist or lazy and unimaginative (which it did achieve if that's what it was trying for), the score is boring at best and annoying at worst.

This film is a waste of good talent and good funding. Seriously, this After.Life never seemed to have any life in it in the first place.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

The Last Exorcism (Daniel Stamm, 2010) [Blu-Ray review]

 The Film
The exorcism film has been making a come back recently. In my review for The Rite, the most recent of them, I named a number of others. Luckily for us, there's a rather good exorcism film that has just become available on DVD and Blu Ray

The Last Exorcism does a great job of avoiding more of the clichés common to the genre than any of the other films released in at least a decade. When it was released, most of the less than favorable opinions about the film were related to it being a story told with in the cinema verité style. Since The Blair Witch Project, American cinema has gotten more faux-documentaries than we'd had in the the entire history of cinema. Many movie goers are still considering it a gimmick or a cheap attempt to trick audiences. This film doesn't take the concept to the extreme of Paranormal Activity or Paranormal Activity 2 (you can find my reviews for the first of those films here, and for the sequel here).

It manages not to stretch the bounds of acceptability in it's style, specifically by putting a documentary at the middle of it's narrative. Cotton Marcus is a preacher of the fire and brim stone, devil's coming to take your soul, demons are at your door step, backwoods exorcism variety. The thing is, for Reverend Marcus, it's become a sham. It's a show, and Cotton Marcus has been making a decent living because he is an exceptional showman. But, for a few very understandable reasons which are perfectly plausible and sympathetic, his conscience makes it unable for him to continue this line of work. More than that, he's decided he wants to expose exorcism for the sham it is, so that no one else is taken in by the same kind of manipulation. That's where the documentary comes in. Reverend Marcus picks one of the many requests he receives to perform an exorcism, and takes two documentary film makers with him. The film is really about the good Reverend, and the original title of the script was actually Cotton.

This film is taken to a level just beyond fun B film by both it's screenplay and it's casting. The screenplay gives the film and the audience enough respect to spend a good deal of time with it's characters and to make them a bit more than archetypes. The screenplay can also be credited for the film straying away from many of the clichés of exorcism films, and even when it is presenting something that could be a cliché, it does it in an interesting and innovative enough way that it doesn't jump out saying, "you've seen this a million times before." And because the characters are well enough established and real enough, when the story starts to take it's big turn, the viewer is sympathetic enough that we're more interested in what they're going through and how they're reacting that we're no longer objective in our perspective of the events we're being presented with. Considering the nature of the material an exorcism film is concerned with, being able to pull that off is important, and this film deserves credit for the degree of success it achieves in doing so, much because of the screenplay. The commentaries and extra features suggest that a lot of the dialogue is improvised, but the narrative structure of the screenplay is exceptional.

The other part of making a film like this believable, is the cast. Of course, the ability of the actors in any film is one of the keys to it's success, but especially in a film dealing with subjects like exorcism, demons, gods, angels, etc., if the cast isn't up to the job, it's obvious, and it hurts the film more severely than one dealing with less fantastic material. Patrick Fabian plays Cotton Marcus, the film's central character. He seems to have done quite a bit of television work. He absolutely kills it. Fabian plays Cotton Marcus as someone who is a showman, and a con artist, but in part because of what he's doing, but even more due to Fabian's acting, we completely believe that he is also a good man who is trying to figure out the right thing to do. The beginning involves a few scenes of Cotton giving sermons that absolutely sell the character and sell the idea that he is willing to make this documentary and why. It also tells the audience exactly how this man has been able to continue to go around doing exorcisms, giving sermons and make a living doing it. There are just small things he does along the way that make the character, who could have been thoroughly disgusting, into a guy who is really likable and that you really feel for as the film progresses. He absolutely blows this film out of the water. I can't say enough about how good he is.

Ashley Bell plays Nell Sweetzer, and when the film begins, her character is an earnestly sweet, good hearted and absolutely lovable girl, and if anyone watching this film doesn't fall in love with her, they are empty, hard people. As the film progresses, the change that comes over her is completely believable, with no make-up and only one very small special effects piece. She pulls off a more effective and believable version of a girl who is either completely insane or possessed than so many other actors who had the benefit of special effects, and a more traditional narrative format which could use photographic composition and lighting to help create tension. Some of the stuff she does in this film is pretty spectacular. Ashley Bell is is an extremely talented young actor.

Daniel Stamm has managed to take a film that should have been much more provincial and much more silly and stupid and kept it focused on the characters and making the scares and the action anchored in what's going on with the characters. In doing so, he's taken the kind of silly B movie so many exorcism films become and made it a very solid thriller and character drama that happens to have some extremely creepy and scary at moments. And, he's managed to make a PG-13 horror film that is largely successful in it's aims. There's a raging debate in the horror community between one side that claims a decent horror film would never qualify for a PG-13 rating, and the other side that claims the rating doesn't matter as much as the quality of the actual film. Watering a film down in a way that hurts it's original intent isn't something I'd endorse. At the same time, this film is an example of the fact that a horror film can be well made, get some good creepy scares in and still qualify for PG-13.

The ending of the film caused quite a bit of controversy with the movie going public. There is very little middle ground among movie goers when it comes to their opinions about the ending of the film. Personally, I enjoyed the ending of the film, and unlike those who feel the ending isn't consistent with the rest of the film, to my mind, it's a great ending that is more consistent with the rest of the film than any other that has been suggested.

Transfer and Special Features:

The transfer quality on the Blu Ray is excellent. There's an argument to be made that having a picture with deep blacks and a richness of color isn't as important for a faux-documentary style film, but I'd suggest it's as least as important, if not more so since the narrative style is all about trying to convince the audience that what they are watching is real, and happening in front of the camera as they watch it. Either way, it's a good transfer that looks great in hi-def, and is often the case these days, it's probably closer to what the film makers actually had in mind than the way it's presented in theaters.

There are oodles of extra content on the disc as well. There's a producers commentary with Eli Roth, Eric Newmann and Thomas A. Bliss. I haven't listened to this one yet, but I'm expecting it to be at least entertaining, if not all that informative. No matter what your opinion about Eli Roth, it can't be said that the guy isn't enthusiastic about movies and doesn't love talking about them. I've enjoyed all of his previous commentary tracks.

There's also a commentary track with the director Daniel Stamm, and the three actors central to the films story. Patrick Fabian, Ashley Bell and Louis Herthem. Although it borders on a little too sticky sweet, it's clear the actors and director enjoyed working on the film and that Stamm had put a considerable amount of thought into things before the filming started. It was also interesting to hear how much of the film was derived from improvisation and the actors contributions.

The rest of the extras strike me as being directly out of the Eli Roth playbook for keeping the William Castle legacy alive. There's a commentary track with a haunting victim and "deliverance" minister and a clinical psychologist. I honestly don't know what to make of it. Is this a straightforward marketing ploy, with actors having been hired to record this commentary or are these actually people who believe this as fully as they seem to? And if they are hired or they are sincere, I'm not sure what I make of the questions that follow that either. It's an inspired piece of marketing though, no matter what else is or isn't true of it.

The other example of the William Castle-esque maneuvers on Eli Roth's part is a documentary about possession and demonology. The option directly preceding it is a "protection prayer" which the documentary suggests be said before watching the documentary, because the doc contains "real demonic voices," and the playing of these voices can invite demonic forces to attempt to make contact with the viewer. I think the participants in the documentary are the same as the participants in the "haunting" commentary. Interesting and fun stuff, from a variety of perspectives.

Then there's a very typical, straightforward "making of" documentary that isn't all that informative or entertaining because of just how typical it is for a somewhat atypical movie and on a disc with a few atypical extras. There are also trailers for this film and a few other Lionsgate releases. 

Final Verdict

I enjoyed the film a great deal. Seeing it a second time has given me a different perspective on it, and it didn't take anything away from the film at all. It may in fact have made it even more interesting and given me more respect for it because it becomes clear how much discipline went into creating it. Because of the subject matter and the way the film plays out generally, it's definitely not for everyone. If you're the unfortunate kind of person who can't watch a film based on it's own narrative and it's own reality, this might not be for you. In other words, the devout believer may not be comfortable with this film, and the devout atheist may not be comfortable with it either. But, if you can just enjoy a film for it's own merits and enjoy a good horror film, this is a very good one that is worth checking out.

The Blu Ray is put together very well. There are a couple of interesting and entertaining extras, the picture and audio are great, and there is a version available that comes with the Blu Ray, a DVD and a digital copy. I can't sneeze at a three commentary disc, especially when one of them is as unusual as the "formerly haunted" version. My only suggestion to Lionsgate and/or Eli Roth and company would be to put a few more extras that treat the subject matter as real on the disc. With the two it has now, it's just kind of unusual and there's no real sense of committal to trying to play with the audience this way. All in all, good stuff.

 The Last Exorcism at The Bleed For It store:


Other Possession Films Mentioned:

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Bits and Pieces

There's finally some decent news arriving about the upcoming year (in some cases, years) in movies. I thought some of this was definitely worth passing along.

We've got our first good look at Chris Evans as Captain America. The film, which is expected to be the final lead in to The Avengers, is due out this summer. It's being directed by Joe Johnston means it could go anywhere. I won't be shocked if it's horrible. I won't be shocked if it's a solid, fun, but not great film. If it's great, I will be shocked. This is the best look we've gotten at the suit, which is important. If the suit looks ridiculous, the whole thing is a non-starter. The suit looks pretty good. The utilitarian focus was a good way to go with it, and not making it absolutely skin tight was a good idea as well.

I'm including this because I find it interesting in the negative sense. In other words, I really wish these people would stop making films or at least move on to making original material only. A remake of The Monster Squad is one of the worst remake ideas I've come across. Shockingly, it's coming from the same people who gave us remakes of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street (why Jackie Earle Haley... why?), both of which were horrific only in the degree to which they were terrible films. If you're interested in what Brad Fuller, producer and one of the brain trusts behind Platinum Dunes, has to say about the Monster Squad remake and the possibility of Nightmare and Friday sequels, I submit it for your perusal.

In case you hadn't heard, let me be the first to tell you that Christopher Nolan and David Goyer (the majority of the creative team behind rebooting the Batman film franchise) wrote a script for a Superman reboot. They've hired Zack Snyder of 300, and Watchmen fame (and the upcoming Sucker Punch which looks mind bogglingly beautiful as a mash up of every possible piece of action geekery known to man) to direct, and the search for someone new to put on the blue and red jumpsuit began. Henry Cavill is that man, and you can get a look at Cavill to decide for yourself to decide if you think he could possibly fit the role.

Javier Bardem is in the midst of quite a streak. He's been nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for his work in Biutiful, he's officially been offered the role of Roland Deschain, the lead character of Stephen King's epic Dark Tower series. The project is one of the most ambitious ever undertaken. It's being proposed as three full length film with two television mini-series to be released between each film. It could be three to four years in filming, and could possibly become as successful The Lord of the Rings trilogy. And now, it seems he's been offered the role of the heavy in the upcoming James Bond film. Daniel Crai is still on board for the role of everyone's favorite Double O agent, and Sam Mendes whose previous work includes the awesome satire American Beauty, and the understated and under appreciated Road to Perdition is set to direct. Bardem had some very interesting things to say about the role, and the direction of the series. 

In somewhat related news, Stephen King's apocalyptic opus, The Stand is apparently getting a chance to come to theaters as well. Warner Brothers has secured the rights to a film based on the novel. I can say with confidence that the novel can't be adapted successfully into one feature length film. It would have to be at least three films, possibly two if the cuts to the material were most austere and unkind. It's going to be interesting to see how Warner Brothers goes about planning for this adaptation, and will be something to keep an eye on.

James Cameron has long been suggesting he would be making a big screen version of the manga Battle Angel. As technically inspiring and visually beautiful as Avatar was, it's narrative was uninspiring and kind of trite. I'd be on board to see a James Cameron version of Battle Angel because I think it would be much stronger from a narrative perspective, but with Cameron's flare for visual inspiration and technical achievement, it could become something really special. Here's what he's had to say about it recently. 

Andrew Bird directed WALL-E, one of my favorite animated films of all time. He's now directing a film version of the extremely influential John Carter of Mars, about an astronaut who finds himself on Mars, attempting to help a princess sustain her kingdom. In the sci-fi world, it's canon, like Lord of the Rings for fantasy. The combination of Andrew Bird and this seminal source material make it an extremely interesting prospect to me.

This is always a good time of year for movie news, if for no other reason than that Sundance has just wound down, and we'll probably be getting our first glimpses and reviews of what usually are some of the best films of each year.

Silent House has been getting mixed reviews in terms of the films over all quality, though every single review has praised it's technical prowess and even those who were less positive suggested it's got some good scares.

Lucky Mckee previously directed the superb indie horror thriller/character piece May (which you should see immediately if it has escaped you to this point). His new film premiered at Sundance to both fanfare and controversy. The Woman has been loved and hated in equal measure, with one awesomely self important audience member throwing an epic tantrum, and getting caught on tape while doing so.

Brendan Gleason is an actor I'd love to see more of. He's an excellent dramatic actor who also has near perfect comedic timing and the kind of dry delivery I tend to most appreciate. He's starring in a new film called The Guard, and reviews for it have been extremely positive.

A Tribe Called Quest is one of the groups that provided the soundtrack for my childhood, adolescence and young adulthood. They are one of the most influential bands in hip-hop history, and created some of the most engaging and inspiring music in the genre. To say I'm a fan is to put it mildly. Actor Michael Rappaport has directed a documentary called Beats, Rhymes & Life. It's getting mostly positive reviews. Even the least favorable reviews have at least said it's a really fun documentary. It's shot straight to the top of my list of must see films for 2011.

Morgan Spurlock makes entertaining documentaries, no matter what else you might be able to say about him, you can't deny that. He's taken a lot of heat from the documentary purists through the years, but his films are really fun, while still being somewhat informative and thought provoking. As long as you can tolerate his blatant self promotion and his obvious bias, you can enjoy his films. I'm really interested in his latest film, appropriately called The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, about product placement and the way advertising has effected our culture.