Mini-Review: Elway to Marino

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!

Elway to Marino

I almost waited to write this one. As a football fan, especially one who grew up with John Elway being my favorite player, it’s hard to keep a documentary like this in perspective. However, aside from the mind-blowing revelations about the intricacies and the process that was the most pivotal draft in the history of the league, I keep going back to cinematic elements, to the storytelling and ask myself: is this picture being painted as well for all as it is for me?

Naturally, the seismic impact of the would-be moves have more effect when you have hindsight, but the film really does a wonderful job. Any documentary owes its success to perseverance and a little bit of good fortune. The good fortune in this case is that Elway’s agent, Marvin Demoff, not only also represented Dan Marino, but kept a diary of the meetings and calls regarding John Elway’s pursuers as the process for him was always likely to be complex and he wanted to relate information accurately, but he still had it.

In narrative terms it has subplots, dovetails, ironies, revelations and everything you could want. In technical terms, in terms of building a documentary, I think it has a lot of that going too. The scoring highlights and builds the tension, the b-roll shots and editing decisions build the drama, the narration is well-written and excellently delivered by Tom Selleck. It contains interviews with most of the key players you’d want to hear from. Not only that, but in terms of structuring it doesn’t do anything tremendously unique like some have done, but the little touches really do act as the coup de grâce, the withholding of title cards with player resumes for dramatic impact fore example.

Lest I go on too long to keep this “mini,” this truly is a great installment in the series that may not have the “human interest” emotional wallop some do, but for fans it’s a must. There’s drama for all concerned, for non-fans this series should be able to bring you along for the ride also. It’s incredible.

10/10

Mini-Review: Jacob

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!

Jacob

There are a few things that are bit odd that are going on in Jacob. They are all easily explicable, however, that doesn’t stop them from being odd. The main thing I noticed is that the film, while never on easy footing, is far more comfortable and closer to offering escapism in its hyper-reality flashback sequence, which dominates the film. In the few present sections the film is far more stilted an awkward in its cinematography, performances and make-up.

The structure of the film is curious because it’s not as involved as the armature of the film would have you believe. It’s your standard flashback to the birth of a legend. However, what’s incumbent on a film when it flashes back not once but twice is some upping of the stakes. The conclusion of the film is fairly predictable and anticlimactic because we get a glimpse of the future beforehand.

The pace is never right and much of what holds the piece back is that it feels like it gets its tongue stuck in its cheek rather than just planted firmly. The inspiration appears to be the works of Rob Zombie based on some of the aesthetic, tonal, character and story choices, but no one involved can even bring the film up to that level. On occasion there is a wrinkle, a look, shot or set piece that stands out but overall the center is never found, so one can’t expect it to hold.

3/10

Mini-Review: Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

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!

Tucker & Dale vs. Evil

This is one of the few true horror/comedy films because of the very simple and ingenious use of perception and knowledge. We know everything that’s going on therefore we can laugh despite how horrific it is that Tucker and Dale and the college kids never understand one another. It also works like horror film with a classic and funny backstory. It’s truly a treat that ought to be seen by fans of both genres.

This was also one of my top horror movies of 2011. Among my comments on it there were:

What separates Tucker & Dale vs. Evil is that it is always both horror and comedy and a smart one at that. It hinges on perceptions, misunderstanding and xenophobic mistrust.

10/10

Mini-Review: The Condemned

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!

The Condemned

This can be a tough film to discuss without putting too fine a point on things and giving away several key elements, but like the film I will try to be subtle. There has been much talk in recent years, as it’s been more in vogue as of late than in years past, of the slow burn, particularly as it applies to the horror genre. A slow burning tale, as I’ve likely stated before, is not one that’s in and of itself problematic. Usually, the key to success for these films is either of two things: first, incremental and consistent, even if slight, escalation of stakes, and second, a sufficiently impressive and resonant pay-off to the wait.

The Condemned does not build quickly, even for a slow burn, but it excels tremendously in the pay-off department. What’s interesting is that it dabbles with many known tropes: haunting, children, secrets and the like, but with the way things play out it even toys with the very notion it even being a horror film, in a similar way to how last year’s The Hidden Face did, but ultimately remains one for all else it is.

There are subtleties throughout, things you are advised to recall though you may not think it crucial at the time. The Condemned is a wonderfully rendered tale that does sufficient visual exposition and elaboration on its turning points such that most, if not all, loose ends are tied up and the whole piece is elevated by, and not subjugated to, its trickery.

Its surely for horror fans, and I’d say art house fans too as it is an intelligent, well-acted and crafted film that does linger. It seems like the horror crop of 2013 may be a brainier bunch than ones in the past few years.

10/10

Mini-Review: In Their Skin

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!

In Their Skin

If there’s one thing that’s plainly easy to appreciate about In Their Skin is that its a very well regimented film, that through its structuring not only easily raises the stakes, but also slowly and surely disturbs and unnerves. It’s the kind of film that remembers that the most frightening concepts are those that hit closest to home and seem most plausible. It gives you some answers, the ones you need, but not all or more than necessary.

Through its traversing and escalating in tone it also allows each of the actors involved to give fairly layered performances. Much of the first act the family at the core of the drama is disconnected and distant. Then upon meeting their offbeat neighbors there is an extended period of awkwardness before things escalate.

There is a fearless approach to some of the sound design and scoring choices later on in the film, which is great. In fact, the only major quibble I really have with it, aside from some stock horror film brain-farting by the protagonists, is that the denouement feels more like a flopping thud than the breath of fresh air it should feel like. There’s a bit of a disconnect between that and what passed before that robs the film of a bit of the potency it had built up.

7/10

Mini-Review: Crush

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!

Crush

Whereas prior I discussed a film that is fairly unique, here we deal with a film that’s on well-trod ground: the obsessive-psychotic female crush. It’s not a subgenre I’ve seen too much of, but I have seen it and it is one I am open too. In the horror and thriller genres it is far too often a female character who is victimized, pursued and the subject of gaze. The reversal of that gender role is refreshing.

Sadly, it is in these fairly academic trappings that are givens of the synopsis of Crush where its greatest successes lie. The execution of the narrative constructs and precepts leaves a lot to be desired.

The performance of the main target, the default lead played by Lucas Till, is quite good. However, the story may not hinge on, but works towards and spins off from, a major reversal and neither the build-up or the follow-through is sufficiently paced or engaging enough. Not to mention that the film insists on buttoning up several narrative threads in its denouement unnecessarily.

4/10

Mini-Review: John Dies at the End

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!

John Dies at the End

Conventional wisdom is that the horror film, one could even extrapolate this to any kind of genre cinema, cannot be too smart. This is a notion that Don Coscarelli seemingly disdains in his cinema, and usually in the best way possible. Coscarelli’s constructs usually have a surface that are engaging enough to get you beyond the murk of the not-as-clear moment, but if you dig beneath the seeming clarity into the ambiguity, the areas open to interpretation, you are further rewarded.

Coscarelli’s films usually play in this milieu through nightmare logic, in this case in the guise of a mind-expanding, dimension-crossing drug. So it usually leads you to a place where you’re ready to slough off the normal restraints of time and space, which helps you to dive in.

There’s been much unoriginal talk about the lack of originality in cinema. What John Dies at the End exemplifies from the start is that it’s looking to take the road less traveled, in a way it’s not usually trod.

It’s an enjoyable ride, which I may be better able to quantify should I happen to watch it again, but it’s well worth taking. It’s especially worth taking if you’re looking for something a little bit out of the ordinary. Something that’s funny, weird and unexpected and all Coscarelli.

8/10

Mini-Review: Time of My Life

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!

Time of My Life

This is the kind of film that faces and overcomes the danger of falling into an issue-film trap of being overly-involved in stump-speeching, soap-boxing and campaigning. When your film purports to highlight seminal case in the instituting of euthanasia laws in a country both that, and an eventual death, become inevitable.

However, what Time of My Life does so well is tell the personal narrative first and foremost and then fold in the issue film as the tale progresses. Yes, there are many issue films that will have circumstances dictate their cause, but what you also get here is a film whose emotional impact is withheld until later.

That is not to say this film doesn’t pack an emotional wallop, it most certainly does, and quite a big one. What it does do is postpone the big hit. The story travels through time and each of the early, fairly short sequences have their own tenor and know when they should end. What it builds is a more rounded, bittersweet emotion not overly-concerned in melancholy, not consciously pulling at heartstrings until the very end. When it does attempt to play them it does so very successfully.

Time of My Life features brilliant performances throughout, and some really smart, great writing; especially as it draws towards its conclusion and a crushingly beautiful emotional climax. If you know what you’re signing up for, it’s a tremendously moving and rewarding experience.

Time of My Life also featured prominently at the BAM Awards last year. Its nominations can be found here.It won Best Foreign Film and Best Cast, if you wish you can read the reasoning why here.

10/10

Mini-Review: Survive and Advance

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!

Survive and Advance

So the ESPN 30 for 30 films are back at it in full force. Even those who turn a critical eye to ESPN look upon this series of documentaries as an example of what the self-proclaimed worldwide leader is still capable of when it sets its mind to it, and perhaps this film is now at the forefront of that conversation.

The set-up and structure is as simple as it is powerful, but in ways unexpected. Many, who have even a passing knowledge of sports, know of the improbable championship run of NC State in 1983 and later on the passionate, legendary speech by Jim Valvano at the ESPYs (Perhaps the last time they had true relevance) what the film does is take a step or two beyond those known moments. It starts with the funeral of Lorenzo Charles, the man who scored the now iconic dunk off a just-short Hail Mary three-point attempt. This is the impetus for the players to have reunions “If we don’t see each other once a year, we’ll only be coming to each other’s funerals.” says Whittenburg, and thus, they meet and form the frame of the tale. However, the film navigates through the pre-championship years and championship year runs with flash-forwards containing prophetic, funny and entertaining Valvano sound bites. It gives the title further poignance that is never too finely underlined.

After the championship things come closer to a point of convergence and carry more impact and the two meanings intertwine, again without being over-stressed. It’s a film ostensibly about a miraculous run, but it’s very clear from early on that the run will occur and the miracle truly becomes the off-the-court impact and what comes from it all, as sad a tale as it is.

10/10