Mini-Review: The Brotherhood

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Brotherhood

This is a film about a fraternity initiation ritual gone terribly wrong.

This is one that starts off very strangely but do stick with it. There are surprising and intriguing plot twists in store and in a situation that’s extremely tense throughout there’s some really great acting especially the performance by Trevor Morgan who has the talent to become a breakout star but just hasn’t had that one project yet.

I got this film from Netflix and actually watched it twice in two days. It’s the standout of the bunch.

Here was my reaction to it upon further reflection at year’s end:

Who saw this movie? In all likelihood practically no one, which is why it had to show up here. Perhaps the biggest mantra of my year-end write-ups will be advice for film enthusiasts: “Seek and ye shall find.” With almost as many distribution paths as there are films now, it is likely something you’d be inclined to enjoy will slip through the cracks. I had to confirm what this film’s release date was on IMDb and got the disc from Netflix. Aside from my mini-review round-up post I never saw it elsewhere but essentially this film is part suspense, part horror, part tragedy and part comedy. It takes a commonplace situation and exploits it to its fullest potential and thus has been very memorable to me and could easily have finished higher.

It is a film well worth seeking out.

10/10

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Updates: What’s Happening as of July 20th, 2014

OK, so here’s what’s happening on The Movie Rat as of the last update, and some things that will be happening from here on in.

Cyrano de Bergerac (1900)

The Short Film Saturday post on this site has been consistently delivered and will continue to be for quite some time to come. You can find previous selections here.

Edge of Tomorrow (2014, Warner Bros.)

BAM Considerations posts have been added to on a monthly basis for May and June.

If you navigate the menu bar you will see new drop downs added since the last update.

Tarzan and the Green Goddess (1938)

Tarzan Thursday may or may not be winding down, but I have added new entries there and you can find all of them here.

Reefer Madness (1936)

I have contributed to a few more blogathons The Billy Wilder Blogathon and the Accidentally Hilarious blogathon.

The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (2005, Disney)

Created a new feature I hope to follow-up on called Food on Film, and one I’ve already posted in twice called Duh about famous relations one featuring the Derns and another the Gleesons.

Bloodmaster (David Rosenthal)

I shamelessly plugged a trio of short stories I am releasing on Kindle.

The Human  Resources  Manger (2010, Film Movement)

Lastly, is that having ended the Mini-Review Round-Up I am further burying many films worthy of individual attention. Therefore, over time the films that were included in those posts will be featured in newly-published individual posts. In some cases there will be new additional quotes or materials added, but mostly it will just be an individual short post, a Mini-Review (such as this one). This will mean posts every day for sure, and it will allow me to focus on posts that need the time and not scrambling to create new content, or worse, missing days.

Thanks for stopping by, and y’all come back now y’hear!

Short Film Saturday: Cyrano de Bergerac (1900)

What is often overlooked when the discussion of the end of the silent era is had, or colorization for that matter, is that experiments with both color and sound occurred quite often before technology progressed such that it became a more practical feat.

Many know that quite a few silents were hand tinted, which is to same the color was applied frame-by-frame as desired. However, sound experiments often occurred also. Usually by implementing a technique called sound-on-cylinder. This film is believed to be the first to implement both as a scene from Cyrano de Bergerac plays out.

Film Activism: Narnia Sweepstakes

I am a huge fan of The Chronicles of Narnia both as books and on film (see proof here and here). On the official Narnia site they just announced a contest to name a character in the upcoming film adaptation of The Silver Chair. This is the film I had wanted to be next, there was a time when The Magician’s Nephew was slated to be next but that fell through.

The reason this contest is actually something that makes sense cinematically is well-explained on the site:

The Lady of the Green Kirtle, also called Queen of Underland and Queen of the Deep Realm, is the main antagonist in The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis. She is sometimes called briefly the Green Lady (an analogy with Jadis, the White Lady), and she is known also as the Emerald Witch; none of these names, however, appear in Lewis’s text. She enslaved Prince Rilian of Narnia and a horde of gnomes by her witchcraft, and plans to use them to take over Narnia. She is foiled by three friends of Aslan: Eustace Scrubb, Jill Pole, and Puddleglum.

We are inviting Narnia lovers everywhere to take on a simple challenge – write a name for Lewis’ character that will be used in the forthcoming The Silver Chair movie. Being known only as The Lady of the Green Kirtle doesn’t make for easy dialog. We want to add a name for this character by which other characters can address her in the script. And, we’ve opened the door for anyone to submit a suggested name for this character.

Here’s a little background:
Race: Unknown (Northern Witch)
Nation: Underland
Gender: Female
Title : Queen of Underland

Mark Gordon, Producer, David Magee, writer, and Douglas Gresham, C.S. Lewis’ stepson, will make the final choice on which name will appear in the final movie. Good luck fans and Narnia lovers everywhere—let the names begin!

So there is room for a proper name to be chosen and why not open it to fans worldwide who have kept the film series alive. I’m made my submission, if you so choose, you can too!

Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan (1999)

Introduction

In 2012 the character of Tarzan celebrated his 100th year in print. A serialized version of the story first appeared in 1912. A hardcover collection of Tarzan of the Apes first appeared in 1914. Being in the middle of the Tarzan centennial period it’s an opportune time to (re)visit many of the screen renditions of the character. Previous posts in this and other series can be found here.

As I have referenced several times in the past, there was a time when I wandered away from Disney fare but alas I have come home. In looking back it lasted maybe a decade or so. Now, having been back I am occasionally catching up. Thus, having tracked down many Tarzan titles over the past two years revisiting many and parsing them out and finding what in each typically does not work for me I figured it was time to give Disney’s rendition of Tarzan (the initial one) a shot.

As it turns out this film is a nearly unqualified success in both what it does in terms of telling a Tarzan story but also in its smooth manipulation of the standard Disney formulae. In terms of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ creation, as best as prior cinematic adaptations are concerned it distills merely one book, Tarzan of the Apes, and adapts that to tell its story. So far as Disney has been concerned there was no other blueprint to go off of because they were tackling the tale for the first time.

With an opening that is dialogue-free, save for Phil Collins’ source music; the film begins rather quietly and powerfully. The connection established between an orphaned babe and Kala, a female gorilla who rescues him and raises him as her own. The technique of animation allows for more exacting and concise editorial decisions about what needs to be shown. Since there are no live animals, but ones constantly under control of the animators, the temptation of cutting to something for cute factor is gone. Clearly, cultural mores changed over time, but the fact that this film deals strictly in an origin allows it to convey characters on a more human level, and avoid pitfalls some past films faced.

Tarzan (Disney, 1999)

Interesting from a Disney standpoint is that the characters do not sing, the music is played as part of the score. There’s one moment of instrumentation but they are not anthropomorphic chorus members this time. Tarzan’s sliding about as if strapped to an invisible surfboard through jungle trees gets a bit trite but it does add a controlled kinetic element and makes him seem superhuman. Also a stumbling block that is overcome is that of language. It takes some suspension of disbelief, but Tarzan and his family can talk to one another, but when he meets Jane, her father, and Clayton; he can only grunt at first and then he learns to parrot and eventually understand. This is well-covered with artful montages.

By getting away from certain conventions that other Tarzan movies set, and spinning the tale a Disney way, while also tweaking certain expectations of a Disney film the road to success is already paved. In a pleasurable surprise, however, the film also does manage to tug at the heartstrings like most Disney fare does – more strongly here. Also, Disney flips the script on a template established in The Jungle Book. A successful restructuring of a given pattern can be a joy to watch, conversely a failure of such an attempt is difficult to deal with.

Taking all that in mind, with so many other versions under my belt, and with the hallmark Disney delivery of the origin, this may be the Tarzan film I was looking for all along the one that combines adventure, emotion and the intrinsically fascinating things about this tale in one package.

Review: It’s Not Me, I Swear

It’s Not Me, I Swear is a film that takes a tonally difficult and topically potentially controversial tale and handles its narrative with a level of sophistication that allows its dark whimsy, humor and introversion to radiate outward. The tone, and the blueprint for the story, are set almost immediately with the use of voice over narration in which the protagonist, Léon , waxes philosophical on his interpretation of life at the tender age of eleven, how he finds it futile and has tried to end it on several occasions.

However, considering the fact that this is the film that Phillippe Falardeau would tackle just prior to Monsieur Lazhar, it’s not impossible to see how he would be able to balance the tenuous tone and also be able to handle children acting in rather complex and profound roles. In a quirk of the international distribution game this film has actually only found release in the United States this year (on home video) and is subsequently eligible for the 2014 BAM Awards slate.

From the internalized narration we get the externalization. Leon’s latest suicide attempt is thwarted and sets the story and further events into motion. With all the life-altering moments that will occur throughout the film, and the unusual characters to whom said events occur; it’d be tempting to externalize too much of the narrative and thus have the film wallow in melodrama. What the film wisely does is allows changes in attitudes and perceptions, even the complications of the players’ natures be demonstrated visually. The journey thus has appropriate tones and more accurate humanity.

Whether in the bigger scope of the tale in the travails of Leon (Antoine L’Écuyer), the temporary inseparable companion in Lea (Catherine Faucher) or his older brother Jérôme who feels equally tired of, and responsible for, his brother and struggles with and against writing him off (Gabriel Maillé); the motivations and subtexts remain just that more often than not. Certain things are unspoken entirely and left for the audience to ferret out. In an otherwise straightforward film these enigmas would be bothersome, but in a film that asks for active participation from its viewers from the first frame; it’s welcome.

This all is not to say that story is cryptic or uninviting. To the contrary the events that occur and what the plot is are very easy to figure out and follow, if not necessarily predict. It’s just that the story goes places where a typical American production wouldn’t and isn’t broad or blunt about telling you what to think, what the characters feel and why. It shows you, but in a removed fashion.

A further testament to how well this film works is that the flow remains consistent and pleasurable despite it not having a conventional plot. When a film is outside the norm, even if its good, the pace can feel hinky; here there is a smooth natural progression to proceedings.

Yet even beneath all that superficial idiosyncrasy, the plot does flow neatly into three distinct sections. The events do trigger one another even if in unexpected ways. Its the subtle handling of performance, story and structure that lands this film with an odd sensibility, yet ultimately uplifting end; comfortably and enjoyably for the viewer.

7/10

Accidentally Hilarious Blogathon: Reefer Madness (1936)

If you have not yet seen Reefer Madness, be mindful that it will only consume a little more than an hour of your life. Now you may want to read what I have to say about it before investing said time. One thing that I can tell you is that movies so bad that they make me crack up are rare. Probably even more rare than “Bad Movies I Love.” So the fact that I’ve subjected myself to Reefer Madness a few times, only once with the aid of Rifftrax (the MST3K guys’ new riffing outfit) should say something about it, or me, or both.

In brief, this is a propagandist cautionary tale about the extraordinarily exaggerated dangers of marijuana usage. I am not condoning or condemning recreational drug usage, but if you’ve seen enough movies or TV, or lived in reality, you’ve seen the effects of various narcotics on people. One of the strangest things about this film is that they often seem like they’re on something else entirely, sometimes something you may have never even heard of rarely does it strike one as even a caricature of marijuana usage.

If there is one think I can credit Reefer Madness with is that it changed its title from Tell Your Children to Reefer Madness. It’s a smart marketing move, but also it’s less vague and more closely reflects the rather asinine levels of hysteria that this movie engages in. It’s propaganda to the nth degree, and that in an of itself is not a bad thing. There are films that are very openly propaganda that work to this day. Some seem rather innocuous like The Childhood of Maxim Gorky, others are frightening in their effectiveness and their reflection of a time like Triumph of the Will.

Reefer Madness (1936)

The standard disclaimer prior to the film that had just recently become Hollywood standard operating procedure due to a lawsuit (the one about similarities to real people being coincidence) rings particularly hilarious, not just because of the browbeating foreword that makes allusions to gangsters and also employs the old spelling of marijuana (with an “H” instead of a “J”). However, the unintentional humor this film finds is not just through dated syntax and cinematic techniques. If your tolerance for that is nil almost anything might be funny if it wasn’t meant to be.

Reefer Madness (1936)

Now clearly some of it is attributable to the time in which this film was produced. Whether the statements that marijuana was the worst drug around (Worse than heroin or opium) was commonplace it’s clear that those beliefs are no longer commonplace. And it would seem they were never deemed factual:

What makes Reefer Madness so notorious is its utter disregard for truth, and over-the-top dramatization. It should be noted however that the movie was made with the complete cooperation of the DEA then known as the Bureau of Narcotics.

The narrator [theoretically a high school principal, Dr. Alfred Carroll] warns parents about the dangers . . . “Marihuana is… an unspeakable scourge –the Real Public Enemy Number One! Its first effect is sudden violent, uncontrollable laughter, then come dangerous hallucinations, the loss of all power to resist physical emotions, leading finally to acts of shocking violence…ending often in incurable insanity.” He tells us how “time slows down…almost stops,” that it is “worse than heroin.” Can it get any worse?

Reefer Madness (1936)

Most frequently the chuckles here come from the stiff acting (in straight scenes, even for the time) and the the awkward blocking of characters whether its the dancing, the interpretation of what being high is or other manic behaviors; or in the framing scenes with the didactic lens-spiking and finger-pointing.

The dialogue isn’t exempt from inducing laughter; things like “All you gotta do is keep him from having too many reefers” or “She’s dead. Mae, get me some water” or the audacity to have Shakespeare be poorly recited by these line-readers.

However, the more frequent offender is unquestionably the facial reactions of certain characters. They are almost always overboard and occasionally mystifying as to what is being reacted to, or precisely what it intended – a prolonged stare is only assumed to be murderous rage because we understand the narrative not because the actor staring is conveying the proper emotion. The fact that most of these instances occur when characters are high really undercuts the intent, such as it is. An intent mind you that the foreword of the film clearly states, which is simply something that should not be done.

Reefer Madness (1936)

Another issue is a seemingly all-too-frequent tactic by propaganda films which is framing an innocent for some crime and having them saved by intervention to see the error of their ways. If they really wanted these things to work they would go full on tragedy. Not that it’d make the movie good, but more effective.

When fundamentals like editing lack on top of everything else just enumerated the film will never “work” except to make you laugh when you ought not. Of course, with a running time of just over an hour that dictates that a lot of things happen immediately: upon first puff of smoke you want to dance to something “hot” and engage in spastic bliss, the act of smoking itself becomes euphoric like a dumb baby eating candy. The editorial issues in narrative and technical terms are great, the logic flaws and exaggeration, such as a secondhand story of someone being rendered permanently insane by marijuana, take it over the edge.

Even who the protagonist is and what’s the central event seems in doubt in Act III. The trial is the logical assumption but it crosscuts so quickly with all the other balls in the air that its hard for that to have any impact. Indicative of the nature of the film even things that almost work falter and go too far over the top (which is more attributable to direction than anything else).

Reefer Madness (1936)

As I’ve said, this one does make me chuckle, even as bad and as hard to watch as it is. It does have a narrative so to speak which put it above the several MST3K-ilk films where what the point is is doubtful. Aside from its being a few levels up the dung heap another positive thing is that among credited cast members only Kenneth Craig (Bill, a second banana good-boy-gone-bad) claims this as his only film credit so it didn’t instantly kill careers not even the token kid Junior (Harry Harvey, Jr.).

And having slammed it, and explained why I find it so fun to laugh at this film several times over, I will close on a more positive note: this is a film made in 1936 that was re-released three years later, then 13 years later rebranded with the title that would cling to it to this day. Sure it’s infamous, but its a cult film for better or worst. The Rifftrax I referred to was in 2011 on a Thursday night and it was the most packed theater at a multiplex in my hometown, which is not exactly a cinematic mecca. That says something. And I think when you boil it down, the bad movies that survive are the ones made with earnest intentions by some, if not all the cast and crew. That’s true of Troll 2 and certainly true of Reefer Madness. The people who fashioned this meant well in their own head, they probably didn’t achieve the immortality they wanted with this film but the audience always has the final verdict and to this day we find this one accidentally hilarious.

Short Film Saturday- Action Movie Kid: Going to School

Quite often you find a lot of shorts if you merely follow the right people on Twitter. Here’s the story behind this short, and the series it’s a part of, per Charles Webb:

Some days, you just want to see a toddler skydiving. Or, at least, fake-skydiving in a video created by his animation pro dad.

“Going to School” has you covered. It’s the latest installment of Action Movie Kid, a series of videos from DreamWorks animator Daniel Hashimoto, who’s decided to use his son as the subject of his rapidly growing VFX reel.

Enjoy!

Shameless Self-Promotion: The Bloodmaster Trilogy – Coming Soon!

As you may know, if you happen to have glanced at the about tab, I have in the past published a novella called The Isle of Helyr which is available for the outrageously “high” price of $0.99 USD (Free to borrow for Prime Members, equivalent prices in foreign markets). Not too many people do wander to the About and linger on the main page to see what’s new. Therefore, if you will permit me the occasional digression (hopefully the self-deprecating title of this post helps some) I will have occasion to make announcements regarding side projects here.

As a simple search will prove I am quite a fan of the Cthulhu Mythos. My first novella is in that vein.

However, this post is to announce a forthcoming release. On August 26th I will release on Kindle a three short stories referred to collectively as The Bloodmaster Trilogy.

In a child’s guise comes a demon so uncontrollable he rebelled against Satan himself… a demon for which there is yet to be a vanquisher. In this child’s form comes The Bloodmaster.

It seems we only come to learn of demons as they meet their demise. In the Bloodmaster Trilogy three seemingly disparate tales weave a tapestry of lore chronicling the rise of a demon. These tales make up but a part of this vile demon’s history, and hope to serve as a foundation of understanding of The Bloodmaster’s methods. Somewhere amidst these narratives lies the truth, which is what editor E. Puddota hopes to bring to a populous largely unaware of the terrors this demon has wrought, and might yet create.

This volume chronicles the cases of a mother and son’s vacation gone terribly awry; the Bloodmaster’s damnation of an entire Tennessee town; and the horrors a child had to endure when taken to serve as minion to The Bloodmaster.

The collection will be priced the same ($0.99 USD) and be made available at all Kindle stores worldwide. It may be available to pre-order (uncertain if that’s an option yet). I will update this post. In the meantime you can bookmark my author page.

As for the Mythos, I may return there. Many more readers and reviews may make that a reality (Nothing’s impossible).

I look forward to sharing this deliriously devilish triad of tales shortly and hope you enjoy them. Back to the movies tomorrow, I promise.

Silent Feature Sunday: The Gold Rush (1925)

When I first posted this series part of the idea was to get to watching more silent films. However, that has yet to pan out (yet?). And rather than skipping an opportunity to post one such that its easily accessible where it may not be expected simply because it’d be “Yet another Chaplin film” I posted, I decided to share it.

I keep the spiel simple here. Lost in the debating that film enthusiasts have about Chaplin’s place (read ranking) in film history is the fact that he wrote, directed and even scored many of his films. However, this is not meant to draw another comparison, but rather just something that needs to be noted. The appeal of The Gold Rush is fairly apparent. Enjoy!

The film can be seen at the following link The Gold Rush (1925).