Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Woman in the Fifth (2011)

When I list my favorite actors, I'm not sure Ethan Hawke would ever  come close to cracking top ten or even possibly top thirty, but I will say that he has made more interesting film choices throughout his career than just about anyone; George Clooney and Matt Damon might be the only two big name actors that do a much better job, but they also have a lot more clout backing their decisions. I'm assuming Hawke is not getting anywhere near the choices they are so kudos to him for continuing to take chances on these intriguing roles and projects. Even the studio driven roles he chooses from last year's creepfest, Sinister, to something like the remake of Assault on Precinct 13 (which only gets better over time) have a lot more interesting aspects to them than say the latest Ryan Reynolds or Bradley Cooper big budget adventure. In fact, one could argue that Hawke should be getting the Reynolds and Cooper roles, but let's all be thankful instead he's choosing to try out films like the one I am reviewing today.

The Woman in the Fifth is a captivating thriller from director Pawel Pawlikowski. I'm not even sure if thriller would be the correct genre to place it in because it is by no means your typical one. Hawke plays Tom Ricks, an American writer, who arrives in Paris to be closer to his daughter while also trying to get around the restraining order his ex-wife has placed on him. We know that he has had some issues in the past that probably revolve around a violent nature, but the film is not very quick to give us those answers.

Shortly after arriving in Paris, he falls asleep on a bus and is awoken to find that almost all of his belongings have been stolen. He is left with a few Euros, his passport, and a stuffed animal that he has purchased for his daughter. He finds shelter at a local cafe where he is given a room if he will provide a service for the owner. He is to sit in a small room every night in front of a screen that shows the outside of the building. Whenever someone comes up and asks to see Mr. Monde he is to buzz them in.

Tom starts up affairs with two very different women in the movie - a cafe waitress played by Joanna Kulig and a mysterious recluse played by Kristin Scott Thomas. Both women provide interesting predicaments for Tom that move the plot forward, especially Scott Thomas, who's final outcome I'm still not sure I completely understand, but color me intrigued.

You see, very little happens in The Woman in the Fifth, but at the same time so much is captured on screen. I haven't even touched on the strange book club party that Tom attends; this is where he meets Scott Thomas. Pawlikowski almost seems to be observing the events much like a documentarian would but for a fictional narrative film; he lets the film breathe in all the right places and knows just when to pull back to peak our interest and urging us to keep on moving forward to see what happens.

Hawke is a tad understated which gives the performance all the more rich texture that it needs to work; Scott Thomas is exceptionally good as the mysterious stranger that likes to give hand jobs without kissing (that scene really has to be seen to be believed but both Scott Thomas and Hawke are so good in it); I didn't realize I missed seeing Scott Thomas in movies before this. I can't even remember the last film I saw her in.

I know I've also made it sound even less like a thriller with my description, but I really don't know what else to call it. There is a mystery at the center of the film; one that I'm still not sure is really answered. The ending is where I have a bit of  a problem because I just wanted more answers in regards to the Scott Thomas character. There is also a murder subplot that gets wrapped up in a confusing matter, but in the end I was so moved and intrigued by everything that came before it's very easy to give these minor inconveniences a pass. Good stuff all the way around.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Brave (2012)

While overall well reviewed, Brave (Pixar's 13th feature) was given the critical shoulder shrug last year after its release that seemed to say it wasn't bad, but so much more was expected. This is probably a good reason that it has taken me so long to actually watch it since most Pixar films I see immediately on the big screen; I also have a daughter who wasn't even quite a year old when the film came out so I didn't really think she would appreciate it too much at the time. She seemed mesmerized (or as much as a 19 month old can) as we watched this the other night, and I have to say for the most part I was as well.

It's not at the top of the Pixar pile by any means. For the record, The Incredibles, Monster's Inc., and the first Toy Story are my big three. However it's not anywhere close to the bottom: Cars, Cars 2, Up (I wasn't a fan). I'd put it slightly above A Bug's Life or Toy Story 2 and slightly below Ratatouille and Toy Story 3. In the grand scheme of things, the ordering doesn't seem to matter much; year in and year out Pixar continues to amaze me at the quality of their work even Up and the Cars films despite all the problems I had with them.

Brave does something very unique in the field of animation, at least the films I've seen. The focus of the film is almost solely on the relationship between a mother and daughter. The idea that it was Pixar's first film with a female lead was a big marketing point last year during the pre-release buzz, but I heard nary a mention of the parental focus that the film would follow. In fact, I knew absolutely nothing about the film's storyline other than it involved a Scottish lass who liked to shoot a bow and arrow. All I ever saw was the film's first teaser.

And the storyline is a unique one; for those that haven't seen it there will be minor spoilers ahead so you've been warned. The witch's curse was by no means a new avenue, but turning the mom into a bear most definitely was. I will admit the film suffers from a bit of "sitcomy" garbage - why would she not go to her father immediately - but having the typical Pixar charm and creativity in abundance helps guide the film through these murky waters.

I read after watching the film many reviews that stated the film's swift change in direction really pulled them out of the film and made the experience less enjoyable. I disagree 100%. I was a little worried that after the bow and arrow incident the film seemed to be going in the direction of just having Merida (voice of Kelly McDonald) simply defy her mother (voiced by Emma Thompson) in a series of challenges and eventually they would reach some sort of compromise. Instead, that basic theme might be present throughout the rest of the picture but the route they take to get there is so much more engaging.

This is a pretty straightforward story and I guess it really doesn't have a particular hook like a lot of Pixar films do nor does it really convey any kind of great or deep message other than maybe you should listen to your mom and under no circumstance give her a cursed desert. That really didn't bother me though since there is absolutely nothing wrong with just telling an entertaining story for the sake of it if it's well done, and Brave most certainly is just that. I will say the lack of a main villain was an interesting choice; the witch actually doesn't seem half bad and disappears almost as soon as the curse is placed, and there is another bear that pops up for a final fight, but I wouldn't call either of these character's a Big Bad. Not all Pixar films have major villains, but this film seemed to call for one and didn't deliver, but to be honest I didn't even think about it till the film was over.

Well worth checking out if you haven't yet. This will show me for listening to reviewers or still having a bad taste from Cars 2 left in my mouth a year later. I won't be making the same mistake this summer with Monsters University.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

The American Scream (2012)

I love Halloween, but I have never been what you would call a lover of haunted houses. I don't have a problem with them per se; just not my thing for whatever reason. I like watching the scary movies, going to parties, corn mazes and pumpkin patches, etc. But after watching this highly entertaining documentary on three people in Fairhaven, Massachusetts who put on their own haunted house attractions every year on October 31st, I have to say I respect the hell out of anyone who goes out of their way to do anything like this.

These aren't professional haunted houses, these are what they call in the documentary, "local haunts." The three haunters the documentary focuses on each bring their own unique sensibilities to the production. Victor Bariteau is on the higher end of the spectrum; he appears to have a little more money to throw at his project (although he his seen along with the rest of them at garage sales looking for whatever he can use for his attraction) and is quite the perfectionist - the scenes with him trying to build some sort of Egyptian Deity are both sad and exciting (he keeps getting irritated and starting over from scratch). Out of all three of them, Bariteau seems to be the most dedicated and excited about his haunted house, but he also seems to be the one closest to going into a major depression if everything doesn't turn out just the way he envisions it.

Victor's friend, Manny Souza, has his own attraction as well. And while he seems to be as equally gifted at putting all of the scary stuff together, he seems much more random in his approach and not has concerned that every scratch and dent are covered up. Where Victor seems to be more selective in his props, Manny will throw whatever fits his fancy into the mix including a well placed "Bates Motel" sign. Mind you I'm going by the way the movie has been edited; it's quite possible Victor has a bunch of randomness in his set-up as well.

Rick Brodeur, along with his father Matt, is by far the least skilled, but his ambition makes up for it. All three of them are essentially putting up mazes (Victor even utilizes what appears to be his whole house), but Rick and Matt's has torn tarp and plastic for walls whereas Victor and Manny have actually gone to the trouble of erecting some walls from wood or whatever else they can find that go along with the theme in that area of the maze. Most of the scenes with Rick and Matt end up being the most endearing though just because there is such a harmless innocence to everything they try to do from building a paper mache alien with hilarious results to trying to get two dead baby sculptures on a seesaw.

Victor and Rick get most of the focus and considering they have a pretty perfect Yin and Yang kind of thing going on this works pretty well. I still would have liked to have seen more of Manny's set-up and more of his family. Family plays a big part into why Victor is able to get through the project; his oldest daughter seems to be an up-and-coming haunter herself. Like I said before, Victor seems about two steps away from going into a major depression; it's plainly obvious he can't stand his job as an IT guy (which he is about to lose) and this is the one thing every year that really brings him happiness. His wife makes a good point early on that she'd rather him be doing this than be off gambling or something; this is something that not only makes him happy but the close to a thousand people that show up every year to tour the attraction.

This being a made for cable production (it was produced for the Chiller channel) it is limited in its 90 minute time frame. This is a film where I think twenty or so more minutes really would have made it a much richer experience. The final 20 minutes or so (when we actually get to Halloween) seem a little rushed. Michael Stephenson has now made two of the more interesting documentaries in the past few years; he also directed 2009's Best Worst Movie. I am excited to see whatever he has coming up next.

With my only complaint being that I wish it was longer, obviously I can't recommend this movie enough. It's currently available on Netflix Instant. Check it out.

Event Horizon (1997)

I saw Event Horizon opening weekend at my local cineplex, and I'm pretty sure it was the last movie novelization I have read. All I remember is being fairly disappointed but at what I'm not sure because the only scene that I kind of remembered was a video being watched that involved some Hellraiser esque imagery. If I remember correctly at the time there were plenty of reviews and random comments in the media bout this being Hellraiser in Space which is weird because we had actually seen that already a year prior in Hellraiser: Bloodline.

Event Horizon was a pretty decent box office disappointment. It cost around $60 million to make (today that would be close to $150 million) and only grossed domestically a little over $20 million. However,  Event Horizon has developed a pretty decent cult following in the 15 plus years since it was released. Therefore, I thought I would give it another look.

Event Hoizon refers to the name of a spacecraft that disappeared into a black hole in the year 2040; seven years later it has resurfaced and a ship (The Lewis and Clark) is sent out to investigate and hopefully find some surviving crew members. The Lewis and Clark crew is led by a very stern and somewhat bored looking Laurence Fishburne who sits in this captain's chair that appears to hang from the ship's ceiling for no purpose other than either the director or set decorator had never seen that before and thought it would be cool. The rest of the motley crew are for the most part played by good actors (Kathleen Quinlan, Joley Richardson, and Jason Issaacs among others) but they have very little distinction as characters other than some are boys and some are girls. Sam Neil also joins the crew as the man who has been investigating the disappearance for the last seven years (he has a special tie to the EH crew).

While it appears that no one has survived whatever happened on the EH after the descent into the black hole, there appears to be some sort of ominous presence left behind on the ship. After they are able to clear up some recordings left behind, they are able to uncover the grisly truth of what really happened and realize that they might be dealing with something not only otherworldly but possibly an event that could lead them to the gates of hell.

Although, the film is never really clear on any of what is actually happening which is something that makes Event Horizon so frustrating. In Phillip Eisner's original screenplay, the ship was actually attacked by aliens and the Lewis and Clark crew end up having to face them as well. The director, Paul W.S. Anderson, decided this was too close of a resemblance to Ridley Scott's Alien so he asked Eisner to look at haunted house films like The Haunting and The Shining  to derive inspiration from them for his story. But even without the aliens, this still resembles Ridley Scott's film (which derives a lot of its inspiration from The Haunting as well and a lot more successfully). At least with the aliens it would seem like more of a rip off but we would have a clearly defined villain.

We never actually see anything attacking the crew and really only one of the crew members gets affected in any way that matters which essentially makes this character the villain in the last twenty minutes of the film. This story direction seems tacked on because someone realized that there needs to be someone for the audience to look at as the bad guy and not something that came from any place remotely organic. The rest of the crew, for the most part doesn't even seem affected. Jack Noseworthy's character, Justin, is sucked into some black goo that pops up out of nowhere and comes back a little weird but manages to snap out of it pretty quickly, and Quinlan's character at one point hallucinates (she sees her son who is back on Earth with his father), but that's about the extent of it. Fishburn comes into contact with all sorts of I assume supernatural phenomenon and remains unaffected by it.

Anderson is not liked by too many genre fans, and this movie has actually developed into the one that even the haters rally around. I like Anderson to the extent that I am genuinely entertained by the first Resident Evil movie and I don't hate Mortal Kombat and Death Race. Event Horizon would probably fall just below the latter films for me but well above his lesser films like Alien vs. Predator, Soldier, and the Resident Evil sequels he's directed. It's not high praise, but I guess I liked the movie a little better than I did fifteen years ago. I don't see why it has so many defenders, but it's very possible fifteen years from now I'll give it another go and maybe I will get it more then. We shall see.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Welcome to the Experiment

Cinema Daily is my experiment with watching and reviewing a movie a day for the forseeable future to further my personal canon of film viewing. How long this will last is anyone's guess - hence calling it initially an experiment.

While I'm not the first and I'm sure I will not be the last "movie-a-day" blogger, I will try to be as entertaining and interesting as possible. I also promise to not come off as pretentious as I did in the opening paragraph, but I couldn't think of a better way to get the idea out there.

The rules add up to a very few. For now, the movies will be either ones I have not seen before or have not seen in so long I can't remember anything about them. There are also many films over the years that I have watched once and dismissed and heard great things about since; I might have some 2nd chances along the way. I will eventually have some theme weeks and the like but for now we will call the first few weeks a beta test. And there might be many more weeks of randomness on top of that, but we shall see. And while I can't promise I will get a post up in time each day (I'm only human) you will just have to trust the fact that I am watching the movies within the 24 hour time frame I am giving myself. And finally, I can be a little long winded if the right mood hits me, but I will probably have some short movie reviews as well. Whether it's 1,200 words or one sentence, I will write something about the film I have seen.

As to the types of movies, we are covering all genres and all eras. It could be from the 20's or from 2013; anything is fair game. I will admit upfront I'm big on action, mystery/thriller, horror, sci-fi, so there might be more of those than most, but the point of this is to further my film viewing education, so I will be branching off as much as I can. There probably won't be too many talking dog or baby movies so if that's all you are looking for you probably need to go elsewhere. Although, I hope you stick around anyways.

For now, we are doing seven days a week; I will not be shocked at all if I turn this eventually into a Monday-Friday kind of deal. And at some point it might turn into an every other day situation but we will cross that bridge if we come to it. In the end, it's my movie blog and I will do what I want, but I still like to have input. In the comments feel free to leave ideas for movies I just have to see, or theme ideas or just tell me I suck at writing. You won't be the first or last person to make me aware of that fact.

But in the end, I just hope we enjoy each other's company and all that jazz. Be back soon with the first entry. I'll give you a clue...1997 Sci-Fi...