Friday, May 29, 2009

American Crime

American Crime tells a troubling tale of abuse ripped directly from the headlines. The disturbing thing about this film is that it is not an isolated incident. It seems like stories of this nature have become too commonplace. What makes American Crimeeven more shocking lies in the fact that these events transpired in the 1960s. A time that many people hearken back to as a simpler time. We forget that events like this are not limited to the present day.

American Crimepresents a stylized version of the events surrounding the abuse-induced death of Sylvia Likens (Ellen Page). Likens is left in the charge of Gertrude Baniszewski (Catherine Keener), a troubled mother who struggles raising her own children alongside Sylvia and her sisters Jennifer (Hayley McFarland) and Betty (Romy Rosemont) and their brother Lester (Nick Searcy). Gertrude seems to struggle with mental illness, using Sylvia as a "whipping boy" for any conceived fault of her own daughters Paula (Ari Graynor), Stephanie (Scout Taylor-Compton), Marie (Carlie Westerman) and Shirley (Hannah Leigh Dworkin). Gertrude also had a son Johnny (Tristan Jarred).

Sylvia's abuse begins gradually but quickly evolves into nothing short of torture. The most distressful aspect of the abuse was how open it became along with the number of people involved. Sylvia is locked in the basement for an undetermined amount of time. Gertrude indicates that the punishment is open-ended. While Sylvia remains locked in the basement, the other children and eventually neighborhood children are invited in and allowed to participate in ritual abuse. The level of degradation and torture reach stomach wrenching proportions and include extinguishing cigarettes on skin, branding and hosing down. The abuse is recounted in a trial where the children recount their observations and, astonishingly, their participation in the abuse.

Courtroom dramas have a tendency to be slow paced. Although the story is compelling yet sickening, the story trudges along at times at a snails pace. The film was boring at times. I'm not sure if there would have been an adequate fix to speed the pace up or make the story more interesting. By creating a framework to recreate the scenes by using the courtroom testimony, the film managed to create a degree of interest, but the sluggishness still made viewing tedious at times.

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Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Terminator Salvation

I believe my opinion regarding Terminator Salvation will find me in the minority. My overall impression with this film was that it was forgettable. It was average, tepid, mediocre, palatable, etc. A host of adjectives could be used to describe this film. I guess I was expecting an epic film considering several years have past since the last film, which I also found to be rather average. With most films, by the time you reach the fourth installment the idea has already played out. With Terminator I think there were elements of greatness in the film that were offset by weak dialogue and an average plot. This film had the opportunity to succeed…but merely gets a passing grade.

Terminator Salvation introduces us to Marcus Wright (Sam Worthington) at the beginning of the film. The year is 2003 and Wright is on death row. He has agreed to donate his body to science. We catch up with Wright in 2018, when he discovers his own re-birth in a post-apocalyptic Los Angeles. Wright is quickly befriended by a young Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin). The two battle the machines as the L.A. Resistance, while gathering hope from the voice of John Connor (Christian Bale) on short-wave radio.

The paths of our main characters are bound to cross at some point. Without giving away major plot details, the lives of the main characters are all integral to the future of the world, the survival of man and history. The major characters are thrust into a variety of situations where their allegiances are called into question. The big question, though, is whether history will reset with a new ending or whether the resistance can outsmart a machine that has become self-aware. Will Skynet win? Come on, really, what do you think?

I will admit, there were some excellent seat-gripping action sequences in Terminator Salvation that were big, graphically appealing and profoundly executed. The seamless integration of the CGI was a major plus for this movie. If the plot made an iota of sense to me, I would have easily ranked this film as a must see. The machines are complex with Transformer-like capabilities that were amazing to watch. The scale of the props and the interaction of the actors with the CGI were spectacular. If there was a redeeming quality to this film, it was in the phenomenal special effects.

With a big budget to waste on big special effects, you might think you would get dialogue better than “there is no estimating the power of the human heart” or some drivel along that line. We even get an “I’ll be back” sans Arnold. Dialogue may not be the primary focus of a film of this genre, but it should at least be believable. I found the dialogue to be complete crap at times. I was disgusted at some of the simplistic dialogue that seemed to be penned by amateurs. The plot did not fare much better than the dialogue. There was a major plot twist, but I had it figured out long before it was revealed. The story was transparent. I like to be surprised once in a while. There were avenues that could have been employed to create greater long-term suspense to equal the gripping action sequences, which were definitely suspenseful.

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Star Trek (2009)

Let me start by saying that I thoroughly enjoyed Star Trek. The updated version introduced us to new actors as well as linking the film to the past. The action segments provided seat-gripping fun with seamless CGI providing additional intensity. The performances were exceptional...keeping surprising continuity with the original actors. My only issue with this film was the storyline. It wasn't bad, but I found it lacking at times. Either way, this was still an epic film in the Star Trek tradition.

If you aren't familiar with Captain James T. Kirk, then you probably live in a cultural vacuum. Regardless of your feelings about the Star Trek genre, the groundbreaking television series has had a lasting effect on our culture. But what do we know of Kirk's early life. And is what we know the way things really are, or will be. Or can the course of history be altered by the appearance of a galaxy altering presence from the future? This concept becomes the premise upon which the latest Star Trek film draws inspiration.

In the first reality, Captain Kirk's father (George Kirk, played by Chris Hemsworth) lived to attend Kirk's graduation from the Star Fleet Academy. Reality altering events present a new reality in which Captain George Kirk holds the title of Captain for just twelve minutes. James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) grows up fatherless in Iowa, living his life with reckless abandon. A chance encounter with Captain Christopher Pike (Bruce Greenwood) lands Kirk in the Starfleet Academy where he becomes close friends with Dr. Leonard McCoy (Karl Urban), more familiarly known as "Bones."

Kirk is introduced to Spock (Zachary Quinto) under less than the best of circumstances. The two don't like each other and engage in an early conflict based on academic dishonesty. The two are thrust together under the command of Captain Pike and are forced to settle differences. However, the conflict creates an undercurrent of competitiveness and differing opinions that appears unable to be gapped. In the process, the galaxy appears under threat of attack and the two must find resolution in order to save Earth and ultimately the galaxy (or would that be universe?)

In the process of developing the story, we are introduced to many of the regulars in the Star Trekgenre, to include Scotty (Simon Pegg), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), Sulu (John Cho) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin). These are the young guns of the Starfleet Academy and they quickly rise to their respective positions. The casting was exceptional, with special emphasis placed on creating believability. The characters were certainly credible in the roles they were cast in. Even with the young Spock typecast in my mind as the vicious Sylar from Heroes, his performance as Spock was re-defining. He could not have been cast better.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Eye See You (D-Tox)

What was Sylvester Stallone thinking? A quick look at this script should have scared him off. Eye See You was also released as D-Tox internationally. Whatever they call this film, it seemed like a complete waste of Fifty-Five Million dollars. Looking at the cast and looking at the quality of the film, it is obvious to me that the majority of that money went to pay the actors. It certainly did not show up in the special effects. I’m still perplexed that Director Jim Gillespie and Producers Karen Kehela, Ric Kidney and Kevin King were able to talk any of these actors into participating in this film.

Eye See You was adapted to screenplay format by Ron L. Brinkerhoff. The screenplay is based on a book written by Howard Swindle. I have not read the original book, but wonder how many indecent liberties were taken with this one. What surprised me was that this screenplay was bad on so many levels. The dialogue was especially bad. The character development was non-existent and the entire film lacked credibility. When I look at Brinkerhoff’s later work The Guardian, I have to wonder what went wrong here. The Guardian was an excellent movie. Eye See You had very little to offer.

Eye See You tells the story of FBI Agent Jake Malloy (Sylvester Stallone). Malloy has been tracking a serial killer that targets police. When the killer strikes close to home, Malloy spirals out of control with binge drinking and a suicide attempt. I would think the FBI has the resources to assist an agent experiencing this type of trauma. Instead, he is referred to a treatment center by his cop friend, Detective Hendricks (Charles Dutton). The treatment plan involves sending Agent Malloy to a remote bunker converted to be a rehab clinic. Several other shell-shocked officers are attending group therapy sessions set up by a former cop known as “Doc” (Kris Kristofferson). But all is not as it seems to be as cop suicides set everyone on edge.

There were plenty of problems with this plot. But the biggest problem was that it simply lacked believability. A fundamental foundation was never established to help viewers buy into the premise. The lack of character development could not be countered through the casting, which included some well known names. The dialogue was horrendous, hackneyed and simply inconceivable at times. The interaction between the characters seemed to be forced, as did the attempts to create a twist. The treatment center becomes the house of old-time “whodunits,” where any number of eccentric guests keep the audience guessing who the killer is. That genre didn’t work with this script. It was obvious that certain characters were created to keep viewers guessing the identity of the killer. The problem is, I really didn’t care. I wasn’t buying into the plot to begin with.

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Sunday, May 3, 2009

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

There is something about mutton-chops on a mutant character that indicates something extra special. X-Men Origins: Woleverine gives us not one, but two mutton-chopped mutants to enjoy. Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is joined by his furry faced brother, Sabretooth (Liev Schreiber in the latest installment in the X-Men film series.

X-Men Origins: Woleverine takes us back to the 1800s, where Wolverine first discovers his mutant gift in a tragic misunderstanding. Immediately following his discovery that he is mutant, Wolverine and Sabretooth take off into the woods. At this point we are hurdled forward through time, as we witness the two brothers fighting in every major engagement of the modern era. As the two hone their skills on the battlefield, we notice a difference emerging between the two. Wolverine has a moral compass that seems to guide his actions, while Sabretooth enjoys killing a bit too much.

After working on a special government project, Wolverine eventually parts ways with his brother, opting for the quiet life of a lumberjack in the Canadian mountains. The rugged lifestyle seems to be paradise until Wolverine's world is turned upside down in a series of carefully orchestrated events. In the process of watching these events unfold, we gain insight into Wolverine's background. This insight explains a great deal about what makes our indestructible morally pure renegade mutant tick.

The plot in X-Men Origins: Woleverine contains carefully constructed plot turns that keep you guessing. Writers David Benioff and Skip Woods formulated an interesting back story for Wolverine that both explain his personality traits while remaining true to the character. That is not to say that the film mirrors the comic book...I'm not certain that it does...but the writing seems to remain true to the characteristics created by the comic book. There did not seem to be any inconsistencies in the writing. The dialogue was a bit less impressive. There were times when the script was too predictable. Everyone loves a good one-liner...but there were a couple in this film that were way too obvious. I don't like it when I say the next line before the actor more than once in a film. I did it three or four times in X-Men Origins: Woleverine. That's a bit much. An entertaining and interesting plot were dumbed down just a bit by the short-cuts taken with the dialogue.

The special effects in X-Men Origins: Woleverine were in keeping with the standard I've come to expect from the series. Anyone who has ever ridden a motorcycle will appreciate the impossibility of some of the action scenes involving Wolverine's bike. There is no way he could have kept that bike up in some of the scenes, one of which has Wolverine bouncing sideways down a hill without dropping the beast of a bike. Yet the special effects were convincing to me. I bought off on the effect in spite of the impossibility. The seamless special effects made it believable. That was a small effect. There were great big ones, too. Everything from monster explosions to gravity defying fight scenes contained the visual continuity to make them credible. The film provides opportunities to showcase several special abilities and even gives us a fun scene involving a fat-man suit. The special effects were exceptional.

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