Review: Boy 7 (2015; Netherlands)

Boy 7 starts with title that introduces the world wherein the tale takes place, and it undoubtedly reduces the running time of this film somewhat. It’s a film that starts in medias res as the protagonist regains consciousness in a crowd and cannot remember a thing about himself, then before he has time to think on it at all he realizes he’s being pursued by authorities, and has no choice but to frantically run out of sheer instinct.

The film is set in a dystopian future in the Netherlands wherein the government takes absolute control of people’s lives owing to the great need they feel for safety they willingly sacrifice their freedoms.

Based on a novel by Mirjam Mous it features a number of familiar YA tropes, which can be good or bad depending upon your outlook on the genre. The book’s popularity is such that its spawned two adaptations produced in Europe and released last year.

boy-7_2

One of the better aspects of a film dealing with a society that devalues individualism and strips these criminals of name entirely replacing them with a number as they are retrained, is that there is a small population in this world. The focus remains on Sam (Matthijs van de Sande Bakhuyzen) who seeks to piece together his past through a journal he wrote; Lara (Ella-June Henrard) whose memory he tries to jog with certain passages and Louis (Yannick Jozefzoon) who helps Sam in his plotting.

The score by Jorrit Kliejnen and Alexander Reumers is effective at underscoring the action and bringing the appropriate amount of tension to the proceedings. The edit is tight and brisk in technical terms but in story terms it seems to be a bit too abrupt and taut for its own good at the end and deadens the climax a bit.

The invariable links and comments that this futuristic tale makes between totalitarianism and corruption are valid, however, the balance between the macrocosmic and microcosmic insight is perilous at best. Much like the society it seeks to critique it lessens the individuals making theme mere pawns, archetypes that are supposed to engender interest and devotion by default because our plight would be theirs.

boy-7_1

There are the bones for what is more than just a middling entrant into the YA pantheon here. Sadly, much like many of the films in this genre things get a bit too boiled down to reach maximum efficacy.

6/10

Review: Der Bunker

Der Bunker is a film that almost needs to be seen to be conveyed but here goes nothing; I will begin by quoting the great John Waters in saying “Get more out of life. See a fucked up movie.” This one definitely fits the bill, and not just because the Blu-ray features a pull quote that alludes to Waters.

Der Bunker tells the story of a German family who live in a bunker. It begins with a Student, who goes solely by that moniker (Pit Bukowski), who is seeking a rental that affords him solitude to do his scientific research, which is just barely more tangible than things volunteered by Bergman in Scenes from a Marriage or Tarkovsky in Stalker. Quite quickly Mother (Oona von Maydell) and Father (David Scheller) rope him in to taking over the homeschooling duties for their man-child Klaus (David Fripan) whom they have designs on making the future President of the United States. His haircut, comportment, and lack of geographical knowledge vaguely allude to slightly more ludicrous real life candidate.

The labeling of the characters rather than worrying about them having actual names is certainly a fairy tale trope that fits in to the absurdist tone that the film seeks to establish. Further plot details will be spared lest all the fucked-upness is spoiled for you, however, I can advise those who would venture to see this comedy that they should definitely expect the unexpected and soon enough you’ll find yourself understanding the odd rhythm of this world.

der_bunker_still

It’s one of the first films in a while that have really brought to mind the eternal conundrum which is: “What exactly is good taste and bad taste?” The film goes to there so to speak and is not overly concerned with explication but more so with revelation in stages of a curious world.

The comedy of the film works in simple examples. There are some book titles read where we see what the parents have tried to teach Klaus in the past. The Student observing a lesson noted that he can’t even memorize capitals so more profound things like “What is being?” will have to wait.

Nothing this off-the-wall has no chance of working if the cast is in anyway off, and most crucial in that function is the casting of Klaus. It is quite simply unimaginable that any one but David Fripan could have made this film in anyway believable. In many ways it’s a stroke of casting fortune akin to David Bennent in The Tin Drum. This does not detract from how well the other cast members perform but he clearly is the most pivotal.

derbunker2

Der Bunker is a comedy that’s great for a laugh but it is of the far-too-rare variety in this day and age that makes you think as well.

Mini-Review: The Young Messiah

Extracanonical tales might get the hackles of some more by-the-book faith-based film enthusiasts up, but as Stephen King has said of adaptations “free to take the original down from your bookshelf anytime you want. Nothing between the covers has changed a bit.” This is even more crucial when you also consider the fact that this film is based on a novel by Anne Rice, during her return to the Catholic Church, it should keep this duality of film and text further in focus.

As such, The Young Messiah succeeds tremendously on its own merits. It features a bombastic symphonic score by John Debney reminiscent of the earlier days of film. It also employs the convention of British accents representing people speaking in a foreign language, which is one of the oldest to film — and one that must continue to be accepted on occasion even in light of more intriguing alternatives that have been demonstrated.

What brings it home the most, however, is that it creates its drama through relatable challenges namely of how to speak to your child on difficult topics, the obvious difference being that there is a far more difficult topic Mary (Sara Lazzaro) and Joseph (Vincent Walsh) feel that they need to discuss with their young child in this film.

the-young-messiah-family_si

While the Young Lord’s (Adam Greaves-Neal) true nature has not been discussed with Him, what is also a source of conflict is that he is seeing visions, many of them of a Demon (Rory Keenan), that create conflict and foreshadow the revelation of His nature. In Gospel terms these visions would foreshadow the temptation of Christ, and some other allusions are there to make for those who know the tales.

However, for those who may not know Gospels or the life of Jesus the crafting of a familiarly classical plot, without relying on the same old tropes, make it an experience young viewers could easily enjoy and get involved in. Furthermore, a tale of the story of Christ and his family as refugees cannot possibly be more topical at this date in time. This is highly recommended title and is available on both physical media and digitally.

Note: This review was first published in Glad Tidings! Volume IX, Issue 8, September 2016, St. David’s Episcopal Church, Wilmington, DE. Reprinted with Permission.

Review: The Mirror (2014)

The Mirror ought not be confused with, Tarkovsky’s The Mirror; or in the horror genre: Oculus, which is great, nor with Mirrors, which is not. While the title and motif does not smack of originality there is a bit of worth to find in this British fright film.

The first thing that perspective viewers should be mindful of is that it is a found footage film. Found footage as an approach is one that offers opportunity but usually is used as a shortcut to lazy filmmaking – laziness squared. The rare instances of brilliance and the attractive aspect of low budgets keep this approach popular but frequently uninspired. This film is not one of those.

The Mirror concerns itself with three London university students who are entering a contest where entrants are asked to submit videos of the supernatural. The best one receiving a cash prize. Thus, the setup for the approach but this film finds some interesting things to do with it.

capture1-e1412517693871

Being in the found footage realm brings with it some cursory tropes in the opening act that must be borne. It is worth sticking out the slow burn, the mostly unsuccessful comedy and improvised dialogue, and machinations of setting up all the film equipment.

Thankfully, this is not a film that is reliant on slight visions in the corners of frames but rather the performances of its cast. Jemma Dallender, Joshua Dickinson, and Nate Fallows are all excellent. Particularly Dickinson who is the first to be affected, and thus takes the mantle of the lead. The drama of this story, the boyfriend-girlfriend-best friend triad is at the heart of this tale, it is what the story’s motivations and reactions hinge on, and having believable and likable characters in the positions antagonist, protagonist, doubter, and joker is a rare treat for those familiar with the genre.

One of the usual holes that comes with the found footage territory is filled in after the fact. It’s not entirely convincing, but ultimately things stay quite plausible. The third act concludes with quite a bit of oomph.

the-mirror

Most refreshingly of all this film succeeds by removing some footage leaving some implied supernatural elements but nothing explicit, all implicit. Another thing this film doesn’t fall prey to is that it goes for it. Too many times after so slow a build the audience is left with the feeling that “That just wasn’t enough.” This does not leave you shortchanged at all.

The Mirror doesn’t reinvent the wheel but explores familiar terrain with a slightly canted vantage point that makes it engaging and chilling in appropriate doses. It’s not as shocking a move as it once was, but it does succeed in part because of the lack of scoring on the film.

7/10

Review: Observance

Observance is an intriguing enough concept that is technically astute but big on making promises and also failing to deliver on them.

It is a tale of a private investigator, Parker (Lindsay Farris) who is mourning the death of his son, William (Gabriel Dunn), but also saddled with massive debt from hospital bills. Due to that fact he goes back to work seeking some easy quick cash, and gets a lot more than he bargained for.

A film so focused on visuals, with such wonderful compositions, so willing to play into the implicit pleasure of voyeurism; is always welcome. The flashes are well-conceived and -constructed. The framing, and camera moves are precise, some of the vistas offered as a break of the claustrophobic environs are breathtakingly beautiful. However, when the film finally does speak and offer morsels, it ends up being sorely lacking.

Observance-2

The audio mixing/editing, in a rare treat, is creatively involved in the storytelling. As his subject, Tenneal (Stephanie King), scarcely leaves her apartment he can set up video surveillance equipment but not audio. This allows us to look with him and not hear for a while. His opportunity to set up bugs offers some wonderful suspense as he has to get in an out unseen. After the equipment is in the mix remains creative as the audio is imperfect and he has to try to sweeten & filter it to hear them better.

All this makes the Observance engaging to an extent but a film cannot thrive on technique alone, the story has to do most of the heavy lifting and that’s where the issues come in.

Plot elements and details, as well as horror touches, are sparse. This is not to say that to succeed in the horror genre an excess of details are required. However, more than a few salient points about the protagonist’s trauma, and even fewer about the purported mystery he’s witnessing come forth. The tip of the hat to Rear Window is most certainly not coincidental. However, what most voyeuristic cinema deliver is what this film fails to do: increase clarity and suspense. While some scares are delivered and some details are revealed the curtain is never drawn back enough such that the opacity,  it fails to reach out from the narrative miasma it creates and draw you in.

observance

This is the kind of film that is designed to get vastly disparate reactions it would seem. While the effort is greatly appreciated the lack of specificity it offers is too much of an obstacle to overcome.

5/10

Review: The Perfect Husband

The Perfect Husband on the surface seems to seek to bring an old school Euro shocker to our shores, but unlike the films of the ‘70s and ‘80s which are its forebears there is little new or compelling.

Reeling from a stillbirth Viola (Gabriella Wright) and her husband Nicola (Bret Roberts) head off to a cabin in the woods (that old chestnut) for a little R&R to try and rekindle the romance in their relationship.

Even those facts take a while to roll out, and there is little that’s learned about the characters that makes them particularly worth investing your emotional currency in. The characters are without much dimension and the performances don’t do anything to round them out as they are grossly subpar.

The Perfect Husband Dinner

That would be bad enough but then the dialogue is more than once risible (and laughing at the bad is not something I’m prone to), but wait there’s more. Or should I say less?

A film having boring, played machismo can work if and only if you have something unique to say with it. Here there is not so you’re left feeling flat and not particularly interested.

The film does try a now-old trick that rarely works (specifics withheld to avoid spoilers); here it improves things but only some because the logic of things beforehand is atrocious. There are some gaffes that make one roll ones eyes are a silly horror movie trope exemplified occurred. In a physical confrontation between ax-wielding husband and defenseless wife she manages to loose the ax from his clutches, she grabs it, and promptly proceeds to toss it aside about six feet away, which for those keeping track, is still perilously close for an ax to be when a psychotic assailant is trying to kill you.

perfecthusband-1-600x338

Regardless of whether or not the massive twist works for you, it is a game changer and one that to me only upgraded it from abject failure minimally of value.

Furthermore, aside from the usual horror movie tropes there are even before the twist that is supposed to be seen as wonderfully clever but it isn’t because it really does cheat and badly, there is an excess of misogyny and cynicism without a bit of wit or critique that serves only to shock and awe and nothing more. Without having built characters well it cannot possibly rise to level of art but stays in the real of cheap, exploitative voyeurism of de minimis worth.

2/10

Rewind Review: This is It

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

This it It (2009)

This is It is a documentary about the rehearsal process for Michael Jackson’s never-to-be-realized series of concerts in London, which were to have occurred starting this summer. It is the kind of documentary that is set up for success on many fronts whether it be financially, aesthetically or in sating a public’s curiosity.
Financially the success was almost guaranteed. Immediately following Jackson’s death his body of work went on to dominate the Billboard charts for weeks on end and the film has been no different climbing to top spot in the box-office. It is already sure to threaten as the highest grossing documentary of all-time and likely to receive an extension on its two-week limited release which was never likely to stay limited.

 
In terms of aesthetics the accomplishment is more a feat of content than appearance, of vision rather than framing. Much of the footage being full-frame grainy video proves the axiom that people will accept poor image quality before poor sound. The success of this film really lies in the third aspect in which it was successful which is in documenting an event that was to be and satisfying curiosity thereof.
The fact that the film was, in fact, finished is no small feat in and of itself. Sony Pictures acquired the rights to the footage for $50 Million in July and immediately went into post-production on it prepping it for this release date. As a technical feat it’s impressive no doubt but it has much to offer within that is worth seeing.

MJ_ThisIsIt_1_L
The film starts with a rather personal approach showing us candid interviews with the dancers who were selected to partake in the show and they tell of their past somewhat, the audition process and what being in the show means to them. Soon after it goes into working on particular numbers and we are allowed to see the creative process at work both from Jackson’s perspective and in collaboration with director Kenny Ortega.
We see lighting get added, music being refined, film segments being shot against green screen and just a small taste of the epic scale that this series of concerts was to have and even on celluloid and without a live audience there to witness it, it’s rather impressive.
Perhaps the best part of the film is that it remains focused on the show on highlighting the numbers and the production, and what it couldn’t show through rehearsal footage it discussed in interviews, for example, costume pieces that were not yet complete like the “Billie Jean” costume. In zeroing in on the show it also didn’t lose focus on Jackson as an artist and even with a freeze frame and a title card at the end it didn’t get too bogged down in playing up a melodramatic and sensationalistic ending. If you want to draw parallels between the rehearsals and his tragic death you can but it is not a tabloid film, thankfully.
Resisting the temptation to give too much away allow this critic to say merely this: the best thing about this film when it was first announced seemed to be the fact that it seemed to be completing an unfinished work, or coming as close to doing so as humanly possible. The film does that and more so giving us a glimpse into what was likely to have been the biggest and best show the young century has seen.

Michael Jackson's "This Is It"
The concert series being designed to stay on one stage and not needing to travel made it a different creature entirely and this film showed how Jackson was taking his video ingenuity and bringing it to the stage and he was most definitely a driving force as the repeated conversations between him and Ortega throughout illustrate.
Unlike, some music docs that take you off stage, behind the scenes and into the personal lives of the artist, this was about the show. This film was about This is It and that’s it and that was more than enough. Despite the pace being a little slow in the middle it’s still a great ride.
8/10

Blu-Ray Review: City of the Dead (1960)

City of the Dead (1960)

It seems as if this film has always been plagued a bit by its title. Its original British title, which it now goes by everywhere, City of the Dead, sounds like many a zombie film through the ages rather than a tale about witches and witchcraft. Its original US title did not really serve a use, however, as Horror Hotel makes the film feel more schlocky and bloody than it is. What City of the Dead is is a story told in wholly Gothic, aggressively fog-laden style and quite effectively done.

On occasion this film is as transparent but highly enjoyable nonetheless. It features a narrative told with a truncated running time allows it an almost El Mariachi-like replicative structure. It kicks off with a great teaser that leads to an awesome introduction for the late great Christopher Lee.

Christopher Lee in this film is given quite the interesting role to work with. It starts with an impassioned, excellently delivered monologue and builds in intrigue from there. While it’s not the largest of his roles it does much to buoy this film throughout. His presence grows to make an impression that belies the amount of screen time he’s allotted.

the-city-of-the-dead-1960

With almost any work in the horror genre the score is a crucial piece of the puzzle, and this film, so dead set on creating atmosphere and so simple in its plotting clearly needs to succeed in this facet and does so to tremendous effect.

As much as this film relishes the artifices of more classical horror techniques its rooting itself in historical precedent and wanting to carve a fictional enclave amidst historical happenings is highly commendable indeed. One might watch this film and consider it to be dated. However, with older films that is a conversation that is mostly moot to me. All films are created for the times in which they exist, even ones borrowing older techniques. Timelessness is an alchemistic accident that cannot be manufactured.

18-the-city-of-the-dead-horror-hotel-1960

This film works for what it wants to accomplish: a chilling, moody, Gothic witch tale and is well worth seeking out for the program alone but it even more worth it for fans and neophytes alike for the myriad bonus features the Blu-ray release includes such as:

Horror Hotel, the American Version of City of the Dead

Alternate cuts, even when they are shown to be inferior are always useful for learning.

Not one, not two, but three feature-length commentaries:

  • Bruce Hallenbeck
  • Actor Christopher Lee
  • Director John Moxey

Three interviews, which are lengthy:

  • Christopher Lee
  • Actor Venetia Stevenson
  • John Moxey

Plus:

  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Photo Gallery
  • Liner Notes by Mike Kenny, Film Reviewer
  • English Subtitles

City of the Dead can be purchased directly from VCI or other online retailers such as Amazon.

Rewind Review: Bridesmaids

Introduction

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Bridesmaids (2011)

Timing is interesting and I think if I sat down to write this yesterday It might’ve been rather uninteresting, however, today is when I writing anything and it’s after having read a very interesting New York Times article about the “Jokeless Comedy.” Bridesmaids is mentioned there and it fits the more character-driven mold Sternbergh makes reference to.

As with any approach, it has its pros and cons and some cons can be avoided entirely if executed perfectly or very, very well. While it is very funny and enjoyable Bridesmaids doesn’t hit all the marks perfectly.

One of the best parts of the film is through these ladies, even in their silly exploits, we find quite a bit of commentary on youth, parenting, marriage, self-pity, jealousy, etc.

kristen-wiig-and-annie-mumolo-in-bridesmaids-(2011)-large-picture

The script which is co-written by star Kristen Wiig is rather strong in building its protagonist and breaking her down. It also very tenuously is able to laugh at her misfortune with out feeling sorry for her. This is made more difficult by the fact that it seeks sympathy and not pity but it succeeds.

It will never be a fault of a film if they attempt and take the time to build character and this film does. This films builds it and builds it well but the only sin that can be committed is building too much. The over-building and a montage too many have happen in Act II making it a bit too long. Not too much of the information is redundant but some of it is.

This makes the film a bit longer than it should be and not too many laughs are added to the mix because of it. Judd Apatow is attached as producer to this film and another mandate of his lately apparently is that no film shall less than two hours long. This is not to say comedies ought never be that long but the reason so many run 90 minutes is because it works. It’s still just as hard but it’s easier to get your momentum up and keep the laughs rolling.

bridesmaids-trailer

The cast of the film is brilliant, which helps greatly. Kristen Wiig does carry the film very well both in dramatic and comedic scenes. Maya Rudolph also does very well and makes a great partner for Wiig. Melissa McCarthy frequently steals scenes but Wendi McLendon-Covey was not to be outdone either.

So all in all the film is quite funny but I’d be hard-pressed to call it one of the funnier films in recent years, however, it is definitely recommended.

8/10

Review: Antboy 3

To say simply that DC/WB can take to watching this Danish mini-franchise to learn a thing or two, and leaving it at that, would make it a backhanded compliment to a film deserving of plaudits on its own merits and not just those at the expense of a financial and marketing juggernaut that should know and do better.

The successive build in the Antboy series has been absolutely outstanding. Not only have themes, reversals, and evolution of characters springboarded off the prior installment; but the coalescence of the trilogy here results in a film of breeze-like efficiency of pace, seamless incorporation of themes, and true emotional resonance that can be enjoyed by audiences of any age. By taking two cinematic tropes, kids and superheroes, that are quite often fodder for building characters that are thinly developed and under-served, these films have faced uphill battles but each time taking the climb haves succeeded more resoundingly each time out.

Rather than over-crowding the film with new-to-the-series characters it instead focuses on the change of circumstances and heart of personae who are already well known to the audience, or so we think. Moreover, similar to other “Watching These Kids Grow” series that have become more commonplace in the 21st Century, the growth as performers by Oscar Dietz, Samuel Ting Graf and Amalie Kruse Jensen has been spectacular over the course of these films.

Nicolas Bro og Paprika Steen - Antboy

The ensemble is bolstered by the returning Astrid Juncher-Benzon and among the older set Nicholas Bro and joining for this film Paprika Steen (2008 BAM Award Nominee – Best Ensemble The Substitute).

If you’re jumping in at this point, some impact will be lost of joining the series here, but it’s still enjoyable and communicates well as a standalone. It is also a film that succeeds in large part because its focus is narrow (these heroes are concerned with their hometown only not the entire world), and then it narrows it further focusing on these characters struggles both within their alter ego and without. It’s a tremendously refreshing breath of fresh air.

While the Antboy series of books total six numbered editions and a follow-up, similar to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid, three seems to be the logical end for this series in narrative terms and in logistical ones. Where as this series has wiggle room as a new phase of life is embarked upon, if that should not happen a chapter has closed and the films have been a rousing triumph.

10/10