July 22, 2013 § 2 Comments
The Conjuring: Hollywood Horror Perfected
I have a deep and abiding love for horror films. Much of my early exposure to films stemmed from the horror genre, so believe me when I say, The Conjuring is nearly flawless. I say nearly due only to the veracity with which it sticks to the tropes of the genre. However those tropes have been executed flawlessly by James Wan and the writers Chad & Carey Hayes. I think it is safe to say that Mr. Wan has conquered the horror genre with Saw, Insidious, and now The Conjuring. I have not seen a Fast & Furius film since Tokyo Drift however I am quite tempted to see what Wan will do with FF7.
This film is beautiful to look at, the coloring is sumptuous, and the cinematography not only has depth, but is meaningfully designed. A lot of love and care went into the making of this film, as evident in the hiring of cinematographer John R. Leonetti, whom served as DP on many of my favorite childhood films including, Hot Shots! Part Deux, The Mask, and Mortal Kombat, just to name a few. His IMDB page has the rest of his more recent films in case you’re curious. There is so much to love about his work here, I don’t quite know where to begin. This continues his work with James Wan, whom he colaborated with on two films prior, and their working relationship fully blossoms here in spectacular fashion.
As I said before, the film is a standard horror flick from start to finish, including a family moving into a haunted house, and a ghostbusting couple played by Patrick Wilson who gives a campy performance stradling the line between cheap carsalesman and superhero. He shines in his scenes with his on screen wife Vera Farminga who inhabits the role of real life and still living medium Lorraine Warren with grace and power. Mrs. Farminga is in dire need of a meaty role so she can have her Oscar already. She presents her character with love and seriousness that raises the stakes on the story, and helps to elevate the film to its lofty status, atleast to this reviewer.
I was shocked to find a bad review on Salon, where the critic points to the female characters as a point of derision. I found the actresses portraying all of the female characters to be not only the highlight of the film, but the rock on which the films foundation is built upon. Without their solid performances this would be just another standard horror film, although gorgeously shot and directed. There are shots in this film that I wonder a) how they were concieved, and b) how they were executed to perfection. Each set piece is perfectly paced and excellently designed, there is not a single wasted frame in this film. I for one was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and being a horror veteran I knew exactly where the story was headed, and where each plot point was taking us, yet because of the excellence with which the film was written, photographed, acted, and directed none of that mattered. I was completely focused on the film at all times, and I will admit to jumping out of my seat twice, and letting out a yelp once.
I don’t feel the need to deconstruct the story or offer my own opinion on some of the allusions, metaphors, or symbology present in the film. However I would like to defend the film against that Salon piece, whose criticsm is based purely on the critics personal hang ups, and never meets the film on its merits as a beautiful piece of art. The critic attakcs the film because of its connection to the Salem Witch Trials, which the film is never really about, it is only mentioned once in a scene as being connected to the infamous Trials. To this critic I say, horror films are based on the fears of their audience. In America, there is a fear of witchcraft, dating back to, oh I don’t know, the 17th century and the Salem Witch Trials, and even before that. So it makes sense to me, that the writers, the filmmakers, and the studio would exploit that fear.
And to suggest that this film has a religious or female depowerment agenda is asinine and a really misguided attempt at politicizing a film that is apolitical. Excorsism films tend to have a religious component to them, it kind of goes with the territory, so to critisize this film for using religion to defeat evil, is missing the point entirely. To say that this film paints women in a bad light, is completely ridiculous, when the film has a female antagonist, and two female protaganists. While yes it takes a male character to perform the excorcism, to disregard the work of his wife is again a complete misreading of the film. Lorraine Warren is constantly pushing her husband to take the case, when he was relunctant. When he tries to leave her at home, she forces herself into the position of protaganists time and time again, and he would never have even been in position to perform the excorsism in the first place if it was not for her work as the medium. And on top of all that, it can be argued that his excorsism does not even work, and really it was the connection between the two female protaganists that allows for them to purge the demon from the house.
4 out of 5 Stars, only because of the cliché horror tropes.
- The Conjuring (captainklerk.wordpress.com)
- A Glamberous Movie Review: The Conjuring (glambergirlblog.com)
- The Conjuring (weeklyfilmreviewer.com)
- Bagogames Movie Review | The Conjuring (bagogames.com)
- ‘The Conjuring’: Haunting, in all the best ways (wenatcheeworld.com)
- The Conjuring (horrorboom.com)
- The Conjuring – I Believe (bonjupatten.net)
- ‘The Conjuring’ Reviews: Should You See The Haunted House Thriller? (hollywoodlife.com)
- James Wan says The Conjuring is “the opposite” of found footage horror (io9.com)
- “Conjuring” review: Movie scares up old-school horror (denverpost.com)
July 14, 2013 § Leave a comment
Lunopolis: Conspiracy Dreams Created With Care
(– ***Spoilers For The Above*** –)
Lunopolis is on the of the best films I have seen in quite some time. Let me calm your excitement now, this is not a movie I would call a crowd pleaser, in fact, it at times seems to prefer to scare off any popular audience it may have won with its first thirty minutes of run time. Its narrative jumps from shaky cam thriller, to conspiracy documentary, to science fiction action film. I, finding great enjoyment in a good old fashion conspiracy theory, found this film to be at the apex of films based on the subject. It not only excels at creating, or recreating, a believable world of conspiracies for its theorists to inhabit, it pays homage and touches on all the “real” conspiracies that have preceded the film. Director Matthew Avant has clearly spent a lot of time delving into the world of conspiracies and folding them into his own story, in a gorgeous documentary style film that lags a bit in the middle,but bring everything together in a satisfying, and dramatic conclusion.
There is an imaginative quality to the film, a sense of wonder and excitement that is greatly missing from Hollywood film making. The film unfolds from beat to beat, with genuine surprises and holds your attention to the mystery as we travel with the protagonists, and learn only what they themselves learn. It sounds simple enough, but it seems Hollywood has forgotten how valuable mystery is to any medium of storytelling. This is not a problem here, as we learn more about the story and the world in which Lunopolis takes place,that world unfolds unto us and builds a huge story that could be a 200 million dollar blockbuster itself, though we will have to settle for this low budget version for now.
The effects are sparse, I’d say probably averaging one per act, but when they occur they are filled with meaning and beautifully rendered. The designers get it right, partially because of a small budget, but partially, i’d like to think, because effects are more effective when serving the story rather than themselves. That is to say, when a story is engaging in and of itself, the use of cgi or what have you, are not the sole reason for the films existence. Therefore if the storytelling is sub-par, I don’t care how amazing your visuals are, your movie will still be sub-par. Whereas if the story is good, but the cgi is lacking or few, the film will still triumph, as I will have been entertained,and vindicated and rewarded for watching your film. Hollywood seems content with tricking audiences to go see movies based on marketing that focuses on cgi, rather than on great characters and competent storytelling. This has been met with varying degrees of success, some huge highs, but also some lowest of lows.
All that to say that this film, exceeds where most Hollywood films fail. It’s thoughtful, well crafted, well written, created with care, and does not rely on cgi. Instead it relies on the curiousness of people, which unfortunately will not yield much in terms of profit, however I for one hope Mr. Avant to make another film asap. Until then, I’ll have to settle with watching Lunopolis again. Which is available on Netflix streaming right now.
4 out of 5 stars
- Hollywood Films – The Land Of Remakes, Book Adaptations, And Sequels/Prequels (geekforcenetwork.com)
- Dear Film Makers #3: Shaky Cam Addiction (reelfix.wordpress.com)
- Losing my wood for Hollywood (saysemily.wordpress.com)
- Violence in films: is it time for Hollywood to say ‘cut’? (theweek.co.uk)
- Stuck with bill, Munsey Park changes village filming policy (newsday.com)
- Crowdfunding Expert Kendall Almerico Discusses Crowdfunding Of Actor Max Martini’s Movie (prweb.com)
- Hollywood Films – The Land Of Remakes, Book Adaptations, And Sequels/Prequels (dogearsandbookmarks.wordpress.com)
- Cardiff set to star in ‘Wales’ first action film’ Kamikaze (walesonline.co.uk)
- Putting Hollywood’s biggest bombs back together (velocitypictures.wordpress.com)
- Sorry, girls: ‘It will take about 700 years for women to be equal to men in Hollywood films’ (independent.co.uk)
July 11, 2013 § Leave a comment
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Art of Invisibility
(– ***Spoilers For The Above*** –)
The irony of the Ninja Turtle phenomena of the late eighties/early nineties is the discrepancy between the huge marketing potential for the green foursome on multiple platforms (graphic novels, video games, movies, cartoons, action figures, live action television shows, on ice, etc), the attempt to cash in on that potential, and the unique failure to do so. It was bubble like, that perhaps better invested in would have yielded greater results than the retro, 80′s, nostalgia, cash grab, quasi-renaissance that the franchise is experiencing now. No the crime fighting brothers have never truly ceased to exist in the overall consciousness of pop culture, but they have waned in their popularity and influence over said popular cultural sphere. An oddity at that, the series was arguably more popular with my generation than Transformers or G.I. Joe, not really arguably, the turtles could be experienced on far more platforms than either of those series combined, yet there is a tendency to misremember the past.
There has been a reconstructed past, where the turtles were a passing fad, and the giant robots and muscular soldiers dominated the pop culture landscape. No doubt this ruse has been perpetrated on an unsuspecting public by the generation of men who grew up in the decade before mine,who saw the turtles benefit from the foundation laid by the Transformers, G.I. Joe’s, Go-Bots, Voltron, Thunder Cats, Robotech, etc, the turtles came about at the right time and was able to cash in. Yet it was all very tongue in cheek, as the creators of the turtles have intimated in recent years, their creations were a joke to begin with. A joke that grew larger and encompassed more people than they could have ever imagined, but if they were not serious when they constructed it, how could it have become as popular as it did?
The mythology of Ninja Turtles, the archetypal characters, the relatability, and the foundation of psychology, the cross sections of spirituality combined with the philosophy of ninjutsu, and they joked their way right into a four quadrant story, aimed at kids, which turned into a marketing bonanza and spawned a million copycats. It was as if the investors saw it as a passing fad and treated it as a cash grab, in the era of Oliver Stone‘s Wall Street, they were buying low and selling high, except the stock never really crashed, the bubble never popped. The turtles had staying power, and even when their popularity faded somewhat in the late nineties early 00′s they still had an audience all over the world and still do. It seems the current investors have adopted the former’s philosophy of cash grab mentality, rather than learning from the mistakes of the past and building a franchise on the already firm and well established foundation of the original property, especially the good will created by this film.
A great film by the way, never quite equaled in any form afterward,only bested by the original comic book, which was ‘dark and gritty’ before those words became synonymous with the industry pitch, the whole enterprise was mishandled from the start and seemingly continues to be, although the Bay film remains to be seen, pre-production has been rocky at best.
The original film was modeled after the success of Burton’s Batman, some cheese, a little wink wink with the audience, but a film marketed for children and filmed for adults. There is never a flat frame, we are constantly invited into the world of the Turtles with deep focus, and interesting framing. Obviously this is pre-Cgi era, however that makes the achievement even more impressive. The rhythmic editing coupled with the well timed sound design creates an almost poetic flow to the scenes, woven together with gorgeous sets and costume design captured with beautiful cinematography, which in some scenes is quite stunning. There is a scene in this film, which stood out to me as a child but at the time I knew not why, now I know it is an artistic expression by the filmmakers to add soul to what was supposed to be a soulless corporate scheme.
Watching this film we get the sense that the filmmakers actually studied the philosophy and religion being espoused by a giant Ninja mouse. There is care and love put into every scene, and no I am not decrying the work of crews on films that don’t turn out so well, I am merely applauding the outstanding work done on this film, by all involved. The film is a treasure and a lingering artifact from the era of 80′s film making marked by practical effects, a child’s story told for adults. It’s full of mystical and sagely advice, and underpinned with a spirituality and a soul that is seriously lacking in most product made for kids today. It’s full of emotion and mournfulness, it’s meandering and thoughtful, unafraid to take risks. The action pales in comparison to anything from the past twenty years, and there are a myriad of cheesy one liners, but none of that detracts from this gem of a movie that will no doubt leave you contemplating and smiling.
The characters are round and whole, multidimensional, mostly played by fully formed adults, with one supporting turn from a teen. There is a youthful presence however, and my girlfriend rather astutely made the observation that it was smart to make the young thieves, with souls hanging in the balance, the same age as the target audience. They run rampant over a pleasure island type warehouse where the foot clan make their residence. Overall a superb screenplay that feels lived in and organic. The characters bounce off of each other and change with the scenes. At one point they are forced to retreat to a farm and the characters are scattered all over a large house. Casey Jones makes breakfast and chops veggies with Leonardo’s sword. I’m not sure if this was written in the original script, but it reveals character and makes connections with the new environment in a way that cgi and a million fight scenes never will.
4 out of 5 stars
- New TMNT Movie Probably Won’t Feature Iconic Theme (teenagemutantninjaturtles.com)
- Air Clears Around Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Movie Controversy (teenagemutantninjaturtles.com)
- William Fichtner Confirms He’ll Play Shredder in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (collider.com)
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 22 (retcon-punch.com)
- Film: Newswire: Ninja Turtles casts William Fichtner as Shredder after all Japanese actors refuse, apparently (avclub.com)
- Film: Newswire: Whoopi Goldberg cast in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and it’s the weekend so whatever, bye (avclub.com)
- William Fichtner Talks Shredder Change in NINJA TURTLES Reboot (geektyrant.com)
- Cowabunga! Megan Fox Films With Her Shell-Less Ninja Turtle (eyeoncelebs.com)
July 7, 2013 § 1 Comment
Europa Report: Actionless Videogame Cut Scene
(– ***Spoilers For The Above*** –)
Europa Report is a film bursting with ideas and narrative techniques that are utilized effectively and proficiently yet do not always serve the story being told. The editing is impeccable, highly accomplished and professionally cut, with the sound design not far behind that. Kudos all around to those teams, unfortunately they could not overcome the limitations of the third act. The screenplay is competent, especially in regards to the dialogue and character design, the science is believable, at least it sounds believable, until the second half of the film. Which is to be expecting because the second half is where our knowledge of how an actual manned flight ends. As the film points out no human has ever gone past the moon, and this is where the film starts to lose credibility. However not only does the science become faulty the character motivations and the plot points become mechanical and forced, and the film loses our trust. Upon completion we find a film whose entire construction was predicated upon the final image. Every action every story beat was meant to lead us to this final moment and unfortunately the payoff is not worth the trip.
Prior to the half way point there is plenty of fun character interaction that all rings true with lines delivered by actors whom seem to embody their characters well. No one is out of place or a bad fit for the crew. They have a collective charisma that I found interesting and fun, and would not have minded just watching the relationships between the crew play out rather than the silliness that follows this initial setup. However the intro is broken up with footage of the scientists on earth responsible for the mission, and their explanation and celebration of the mission at a press conference. The unfortunate problem with this, and the rest of the film, is none of it seems cinematic. They have chosen to present the images as a found footage film in the vein of Paranormal Activity, or VHS, yet they have removed the hand held quality of those successful franchises and opted for more static framing. Every shot is either a news camera or a camera attached to the walls of the ship. Occasionally we see the cameras on the space suits but this is not really utilized until the third act, and in varying degrees of success therein.
The final problem with the film is the time manipulation aspect of the editing. We jump from the middle back to the beginning, then the whole film is inter cut with interviews from people after the mission is over kind of documentary style, but not as entertaining as a documentary would be. All of this editing and jumping around and switching narrators and it is unclear what the purpose of all this technical gymnastics actually is. Again they have executed these techniques in a proficient manner, yet I am left wondering why didn’t you just tell a good story? Then if it required and could be enhanced by the shifts in time, so be it. The story just isn’t good enough to merit all the technical wizardry. The flat framing, the lack of any depth of field, bores the eyes, and unlike Paranormal we are never searching the flat frame for a sign of a monster or ghost or clue to anything. The few moments when we are prompted to investigate the flat frame, we are never rewarded for our participation. We are shown a dark image or a fuzzy screen, indicating that we have wasted our time, and should no longer trust this story. Our mistrust is substantiated when we are finally shown the creature at the end of the film. A creature beautifully designed and rendered, but ultimately unexploited in the visual storytelling of the film.
2 out of 5 stars
- VHS 2 – Horror CLinic (frontrowgeek.com)
- “Animated documentary …. there’s no such thing!” by Scotti Rothschild (animateddocs.wordpress.com)
- Man of Steel: Evolution Wins (frontrowgeek.com)
- World War Z: Zombies Ate My People (frontrowgeek.com)
- Grey Garden (ayakaakimedia.wordpress.com)
- Europa Report (supernovacondensate.net)
- Shooting Bigfoot (EIFF 2013) (observealot.wordpress.com)
- Films I’m Looking Forward To (weekdaysatthemovies.wordpress.com)
July 6, 2013 § Leave a comment
Nights of Cabiria: Love for Sale
(– ***Spoilers For The Above*** –)
Giulietta Masina stars in Fellini‘s Cabiria as the title character, as she does eight years later in Fellini’s Juliet. The two characters could not be more different, however in someways I can not help but see Juliet as the continuation of Cabiria. She is a continuation of the character in terms of the character’s journey, and the theme of that journey, and this is due more to the writing than to the acting. Both characters are lonely, though for differing reasons. Cabiria is lonely because of her place of birth, at fourteen her mother taught her to become a prostitute in order to contribute to their financial situation. There was no mention of a father or any other siblings to Cabiria,so I assume it was just the two of them. By the time we meet her she has been at the profession for twenty years or more, and is a scrappy veteran. Although we never see her succeed in acquiring any real customers in the duration of this film, she owns her own home, and has money saved, so it is safe to assume she is at least semi-proficient at her work.
Ownership of her small shack in a field outside of Rome is her main source of pride, and something she flaunts at anyone suggesting she is of a lower caste. She often gets into shouting matches with the other woman in her line of work, as she attempts to prove her worth and status above those around her. She is fiercely independent, and refuses to accept the help of anyone, for fear that they may have ulterior motives, or may hurt her in someway. This fear is objectified in a scene at the beginning of the film where she is frolicking in the fields with a man, who proceeds to push her into a river and steal her purse. She returns to her shack looking for the man, convinced that it was an accident, but has her fears confirmed when he does not return. This proves that she can trust no one, especially a man, and reinforces her journey on the lonely path. Her friend’s pimp offers her his services, and she refuses, citing the amount of money he would take from her for services rendered. There is something sympathetic about a character willing to face danger rather than receive help from nefarious people.
The film follows her on her journey from scene to scene. The episodic nature of this film suggests further its comparisons to Juliet. It’s interesting to point out that this film was released in 1957, the year of the final season of I Love Lucy and the first season of Leave it to Beaver. Two wholesome American black and white television classics in which the depiction of a married couple in bed was considered risqué. In Cabiria we find racy sexual innuendos, the hilarious use of slang and subject matter that even today would garner an R rating. It is an interesting juxtaposition of the squeaky clean tone and image of old fashioned American Hollywood film making and the more mature and adult characteristics and themes of foreign films. Much of Masina’s performance is steeped in the old vaudevillian, over the top, slapstick stage acting,yet we also see the more realistic, subtle and emotional performance when the film requires it. There are moments where she is channeling the likes of The Three Stooges, or The Marx Brothers, that then give way to heartbreaking moments of emotional release. It’s as if we are watching the last gasps of the old timey vaudevillian performance give way to the new Stanislavski method acting right before our eyes. Though the shift in tone can be somewhat off putting narratively, historically it makes perfect sense.
We follow her as she is betrayed by another man, this time a famous actor of some sort, whom lures her to his home after a fight with what surely is his model or actor girlfriend, only to leave poor Cabiria to sleep in the bathroom as he sleeps with the model. She then hitches a ride with a man whom drives around the poor parts of Rome feeding the hungry who live in caves and holes. She and her prostitute friends wind up out in the country and get swept up in a religious ceremony, that reduces Cabiria to tears,as she begs for the mercy of God and for the forgiveness of her sins. After the ceremony she realizes that she and her friends were not miraculously changed by the hand of God, and is distraught over this. She wishes to end her current mode of living yet lacks the faculty to do so. She winds up at a show where a magician is hypnotizing members of the audience. She is called up on stage, he waves his hand above her head and gets her to reveal her innermost innocence, in front of the laughing audience. After the show, a man approaches her and tells her of what she did up on the stage, he tells her that he wishes to court her. She, having been spurned by many men before, as we have seen, refuses his advances, though she tells him where he can find her again.
They date for a while, though they never have sex, and he asks her to marry him. She tells all of her friends about it, she sells all of her things, including her house, and she meets him to move to their new home. Of course her worst fears are confirmed yet again, as he lures her to a cliff with the intention of pushing her off and stealing her money. Her breakdown in this scene is truly mesmerizing as she begs him to end her suffering, just as when she begged for God to do something similar. He takes the money and runs, and she is left sobbing on the the edge of the cliff. She awakens and begins walking on a path alone, just as when she began, betrayed and lost. However a troupe of musicians and young people appear all around her, singing and dancing , and she smiles and is happy as the film ends, though in worst shape, financially then when the film started, perhaps she is in better shape spiritually and emotionally. This is the final comparison to Juliet, in which in the end she walks down the path alone, here she is walking with what seems like jovial spirits summoned to brighten her horizon and remind her of the true joys of living. Maybe she was killed on that mountain, and these are the angels guiding her to her paradise, or she is dreaming, having fallen asleep after her assailant scurried off, and this dream will help her cope with the loss upon her awakening. The ambiguity is both off putting and somehow comforting.
3.5 out of 5 stars
This is the New Wave film making that is somewhat parodied in Frances Ha. In Cabiria we have a character that is supposed to be traditionally unlikeable due to her profession. Though even in the way she is drawn up, she has unlikeable characteristics, we are still given the opportunity to sympathize with her and relate to her struggle and she is made likeable, even lovable by the end.
- Juliet of the Spirits: Dangerous Nightmare Poetry (frontrowgeek.com)
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- Here he is: Zampanò! (spfilmjournal.wordpress.com)
- Elliott Broidy and Online Funding Platform IndieGogo Mobilize Support… (prweb.com)
- Sophia Loren returns to movies in ‘La voce umana (The Human Voice)’ (examiner.com)
- Dino De Laurentiis, 1919-2010 (somecamerunning.typepad.com)
- My weekend movie – Double Bill: Waterloo Bridge (1931 and 1940) (knittednotes.wordpress.com)
- Review: The Wall (Die Wand) (cihannarin.com)
- FILM REVIEW: ‘Shame’ (Steve McQueen, 2011) (sexinthecinema.wordpress.com)
July 2, 2013 § Leave a comment
World War Z: Zombies Ate My People
(– ***Spoilers For The Above*** –)
The myriad gossip behind the very troubled and very public making of World War Z fascinated me. I find it difficult to recall a production whose tribulations were so intriguing to the trades and even to general audiences. What was it about this film and its production that caused such fascination amongst not only film journalists and budget hounds, but film goers as well? Perhaps Brad Pitt‘s involvement is the source of all the extra attention this film received, he’s been a tabloid fixture for decades now. Possibly the loose adaptation of a well known novel, of which many writers took many liberties with in their translation of the book to the screen can be blamed for all the added scrutiny. Quite possibly the balloon like nature of the budget itself brought the ravenous hunger of rubbernecking gawkers hoping for a crash. In the end, all the attention helped to bolster the films relative popularity and weekend gross, all but assuring Pitt’s, or some other star’s, continuing bout with a world over run with zombies. However if the film had been less entertaining, all the naysayers would have been vindicated in their hope of failure.
This is an entertaining film. A solid genre exercise in the vein of 2012 or Contagion, Z is almost a mash-up of the two, with a little bit of Shaun of the Dead thrown in for good measure. Pitt continues his Robert Redford screen persona, but here performs almost a caricature of that persona, while simultaneously expanding upon it by adding his own personal experience to the mix. He is the uber father, adopting the world, however reluctantly, and bearing the cross for what is surely the sins of others, the creators of these zombies/ the men who have abandoned their children, or the man/God abandoning humanity, leaving only Pitt/Gerry to collect and rescue the abandoned. This is as subtle as subtext can get, but I felt a sense of guilt in Gerry, possibly for living such a privileged life, while working in mostly unprivileged parts of the world for the U.N. When he speaks of the work he did in various parts of the world, he seems almost ashamed at what they were unable to accomplish there. Is it this guilt, or some other unacknowledged past sin which causes him to bear the burden of saving humanity from this epidemic. His family’s safety obviously is his main catalyst, but there is something behind his actions that suggests more in his psyche than just the protection of his clan.The extension of his familial clan to include the human clan in general.
Immediately we see Pitt’s influence with the first part of the film focusing on the family, and Gerry’s struggle to protect them and keep them from harms way. We get a believable performance from Mireille Enos, who stars as Detective Linden on The Killing, a television show I have followed since the pilot and have much to say yet will refrain from saying it at the moment, although I never quite believe in their love for one another enough to truly become invested in their story. Both give dutiful performances and create some semblance of a dutiful marriage devoted to the children. As they run from the outbreak we get the standard apocalyptic movie and video game tropes, they steal a car and stop for groceries, and have to fend off not only zombies but humans turned monsters by fear. Most of Gerry’s encounters with the zombies are marked by his detective work in figuring out the tendencies of the zombies. He watches the way they move, he figures out how long it takes to turn once bitten, he studies who they eat and whom they spare, and uses this information to varying degrees of success in the fight against them. This along with the CGI extravagance separates the film from most zombie movies.
In the store we see an interesting encounter between Gerry and a gun toting young man in a pharmacy. Gerry needs albuterol for his daughter and the young man seems to have taken the drug center as his refuge. He is a thief with a heart however, and gives Gerry more than what he needs. A moment of humanity amongst the madness that ensues in this store. Another trope of zombie or apocalyptic films. I was actually reminded of the film Blindness which too has a frightening grocery store visit. After this they flee to an apartment building and find sanctuary with a Hispanic family. Gerry has his U.N. connections arrange for a helicopter to extract him from the roof of the apartment building but the patriarch of the Hispanic family refuse to accompany Gerry. Gerry tells him that people who stay in one spot usually don’t survive in situations such as these. After Gerry’s family leaves the apartment to head for the roof, the Hispanic family is immediately attacked. They are all killed presumably except for the eldest son whom speaks English and makes his way to the roof and is carried off in Gerry’s helicopter. This is the first of Gerry’s adoptions, as this boy stays with his family through the end of the movie.
They are transported to a ship in the Atlantic ocean, where important people and their families are being held. In order for Gerry to keep his family there he must go out and track the virus back to its originator. There is much irrelevant and time filling exposition and ridiculous introductions to characters whom are quickly and in some cases quite hilariously killed off. The rest of the film devolves into a video game of sorts, where Gerry lands in one part of the world and is immediately given the clues to send him to another part of the world to find more clues. However what is interesting about the Jerusalem scene is that the city is protected from the outbreak by a man who received an email containing the word zombie in it. More accurately he sits on a council who received this email and it was his job to disagree with this council in their assessment of the email and prepare the city for a zombie apocalypse. They are all safe and sound until the people begin singing a religious song, and the zombies act as an ant hill in single minded fury creating a hill of zombies which allows them to scale the walls of Jerusalem and devour the people.
This is where Gerry adopts another child, who is more a young woman than child, she is a soldier whom is infected while protecting Gerry, and he is forced to slice off her hand. They go on to survive an airplane ride which is oddly, funny and tense, a Zombies on a Plane situation,and a plane crash reminiscent of The Grey. The third act redeems the silliness of the second with an intimate and personal climax and denouement that I, having not cared much about the production of this film,was completely unaware of and unprepared for. The majority of this film is filled with big summer blockbuster, over the top, zombie action,and it all winds down to a quiet and tense standoff in a World Health Organization laboratory. We endure more video game antics here, Metal Gear Solid, or Resident Evil sneaking around zombies and hoping they don’t hear you, however it is all capped off with quite a moving and emotional ending. This is what was chosen to end the film with,and cost the studio a hefty price to include, rather than the typical blow everything up cause it’s summer blockbuster ending that we usually get, and have repeatedly received this summer. This is Gerry’s final adoption, in which he adopts all the sins of the world, and sacrifices himself, by injecting a deadly disease, into his body. I thought it was a clever and jarring displacement of energy and a welcomed subversion of expectations, that left me happy to see the hokey ending where Gerry is reunited with his family including the new adopted children.
Is it silly? Absolutely. Is there bad dialogue? Yes. Are there plot holes and leaps of logic, and sometimes jarring shifts in tone? This is Hollywood we’re talking about here. But I was generally entertained and pleasantly surprised by most of the choices made here by committee. Considering the production and what we could have seen up on that screen, it’s a miracle this thing turned out as good as it did.
3 out of 5 Stars
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June 23, 2013 § Leave a comment
(– ***Spoilers For All The Above*** –)
The mayhem this series is able to unleash on such a small budget and with limited funds is astounding. The second film is more accomplished technically accomplished in comparison to the original, which was a little rougher around the edges. VHS 2 is cleanlier edited, a more polished project; it flows from one story to the next seamlessly. They have found multiple imaginative ways to inject the camera into the found footage genre and have found innovative ways to get the camera in position both naturally and aesthetically pleasing in order to capture just the right image. For all of this it is an achievement and a improvement over the original.
Yet the stories themselves felt lacking this time around, while full of gore, retaining the series creep factor, and providing plenty of jump scares, I felt the absence of my own confusion I experienced while watching most of VHS. Specifically Amateur Night and The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger, both are chalk full of craziness that made me fall in love with the film. The sequel is skimp on the weird factor, and high on the random. Random in terms of some of the images and villain motive and operation. The stories themselves are also generic, not in content but in form. There are no real surprises in the order of events, and segments seem hell bent on getting to the end, getting to the money shot, rather than setting up the audience anticipation, or giving the viewer an opportunity to care for the characters. Most successful in this capacity is A Ride in the Park and Slumber Party Alien Abduction, both of which are my favorite segments from this sequel. Unfortunately there are no curve balls thrown, so no real suspense is built. The dialogue is spotty and the performances are passable, both of which were problems that afflicted the original but were forgivable due to the oddity of the material. The sequels problem is not being interesting enough to forgive the poor delivery of poor dialogue. None of this is in detriment for this film in having all the elements for an entertaining and joyful movie, and achieving that goal. I look forward to the next one.
The first segment is Tape 49 and is about some kind of private eye, I was instantly reminded of Bored to death, searching for a missing college student. He and his friend or girlfriend, it is never really addressed, break into a house and find a similar setup of screens and computers and tapes from the original film. It is a different house however, and this initial scene is quite creepy. Of course the guy leaves his companion in the room in order for him to search the house for its owners presumably, and her to watch the tapes to perhaps find clues to his whereabouts. They find a video of the kid in question and decide not to watch it, while he continues searching the home and she watch other vhs tapes. The first she pops in is Phase 1 Clinical Trials, which has all the makings of an insane ghost story, but settles for set pieces and jump scares rather than fully delve into the quite interesting story. There is zero character development and we are left with a decent opener but a story lacking any depth or true fear or audience investment.
The second tape is the aforementioned A Ride in the Park. The most innovated segment, it is a fresh way of telling a zombie story, from the perspective of a person, whom we witness turn into a zombie and then precede to accompany him on a zombie attack. The ingenious camera placement provides this segment and film with an ingenious device and opportunity to reveal something quite interesting in the zombie lore. At one point the Zombie becomes aware of itself and we almost feel sorry for it. At the very least we understand his plight, his thought process. Unfortunately it’s a straightforward conventional story and we have no surprises to take this segment to the next level.
The third tape is Safe Haven a story involving a cult and a compound, this is the strangest and most insane segment of them all, but that also lends it to the randomness and the unconnectedness of the events and motivations. What the cult leader says he is doing at the beginning does not actually match up with what he actually does. The segment is eerie and disturbing and even realistic and believable but I never felt a sense of cohesion to the whole affair. It does however provide a hint of sorts as to an interesting cause to the events taking place in the entire world of VHS, in that the cult leader may have spawned some of the events. Again excellent staging and editing and effects and set design and cinematography, but the story was lacking and again, not a lot of surprises to be found.
The last segment is Slumber Party Alien Abduction, which is a gorgeous portrayal of exactly what the title suggests. The images are brilliantly blocked and framed and the creeping terror builds in a way unlike I have seen portrayed on film. We see the aliens and also hear them before the actors can. It’s a jarring and surprising effect but not really used to enhance the story or the plot. Beautiful colors and sound design make the invasion quite effective and believable. Some of the actions of the characters are unbelievable and is a problem throughout this film, but everything looks so great, all of the segments are frightening to a degree, and deliver the promises made by watching a film like this, however they lack the quirkiness of the first of which I was quite fond.
3 out of 5 stars
- V/H/S/2 Review (horroraffair.org)
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