Rewind Review: Legion

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!

Legion (2010)

If Legion had been released in 2009 it might have dominated the Most Asinine Shots of the Year list. It still might get to have its moment in the sun with doozies like: a flaming cross burned into the side of a building, the Incredible Stretching Ice Cream Man Demon, The Old Woman Crawling Up the Walls and an armored Gabriel walking through a glowing doorway. However, there are the occasional positives and conversely worse things than just those shots in the mix.
It’s a film which tries to walk the tightrope between blasphemy and gutsiness and falls off onto the wrong side. When there’s an overtly religious theme in a movie, and you challenge the conceptions that even the most lapsed Christian might hold, then you’re fighting an uphill battle and you’d better execute the story to perfection and make people forget that they have a hard time accepting the scenario you’re trying to portray. This is the ultimate suspension of disbelief because you’re taking one citation (Psalm 34:11) at the head of the film and asking the audience to accept that as the only gospel truth, for lack of a better term, when it’s about to change a lot.
Considering the story issues that exist, the execution both technically in terms of the edit, cinematography and on the part of the cast is rather good. It wasn’t great, especially in terms of the edit as the film could’ve been tightened up a bit but it certainly wasn’t as bad in that regard as it could’ve been.

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The theology of this tale is ultimately very flawed, and yes it’s a fictional tale, however, when considering the implications it makes it’s hard to deal with. There are some spoilers ahead.
The story is about the Archangel Michael disobeying God’s order, which is to assist in the annihilation of mankind, including the murder of the woman who is the bearer of The Second Coming. It is certainly not unprecedented within the pages of the Bible to have gruesome and bloody stories, however, this tale not only portrays God, who is not seen but he is heard, as cruel but as one who is indecisive. Think of it eight months before He decrees this young girl will bring His son to the world anew, and then he decides “You know what? Never mind, people don’t deserve Him. I’m going to end the world instead.” This is literally end it, no Noah, no ark, nothing. This is problematic for one seeking to engage and be lost in this story.
As a side note where is the Vatican’s review of this movie? It seems like this is the kind of film they would want to deter people from viewing more so than Avatar. I mean there is a compulsory happy ending but the plot does infer that God Himself is trying to kill an unborn child, which last I checked, is a sensitive subject.

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There are other shots and images that are blasphemous but considering that the whole plotline is dubious at best, in those regards, they are hardly worth mentioning in detail.
Smack dab in the middle of the movie there is an overly-long expository sequence where the characters that are trapped in this Diner at rest stop are talking in pairs and exchanging their life stories. Granted I will not knock the film for trying to build character, however, this was a clumsy and uninteresting way to go about it. When a film is supposed to be horror/action a very long lull is harder to deal with than under-developed character.
The casting of this film was rather interesting full of people who left you wondering “What are you doing in this movie?” There is Dennis Quaid who is still as good as he ever was but has not done a really good film in a while and did this on the heels of last year’s painful Pandorum. There’s also Lucas Black, who was last seen by many in The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, but is more well known from Sling Blade. He is still quite good and never got a breakout and this might not be helping. Then there is Paul Bettany as good as ever as Michael but again “What are you doing here?” was what came to mind. Tyrese Gibson and Charles S. Dutton are also rather good in this film. Of course, the casting can’t be perfect with the inclusion of the freakish androgynous kid and the more-over-the-top-than-she-should’ve-been Old Woman.
In conclusion, this was a better film than expected but still had too many issues with the plot and concept that execution could not overcome. Even with that execution being better than average it’s still well worth missing.
3/10

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Rewind Review: Pandorum

Many times when learning about film you hear the flow of action described as peaks and valleys, a rollercoaster or even an electrocardiograph. Pandorum however has but one peak which is built up to for about 20 to 30 minutes and is thereafter followed by a steady descent into the absurd and unbearable.

When the film is contained to just Payton (Dennis Quaid) and Bower (Ben Foster), both having recently awoken from hypersleep and trying to both figure out what has happened to their ship and how they can repair it, the tension is palpable. As each new character is introduced more details are unfurled that just make the film descend further into the ludicrous and becomes more and more uninteresting.

The problem that faces this film is that it’s trying way too hard to be smart. There are twists to be found here but too many and nealy too hard to follow at times. They are not easy to guess but they are ludicrous and two are discovered in one minute of action towards the end regarding Quaid’s character. Not only are these twists difficult to accept so is Bower’s new attitude towards Payton, which seems based on our knowledge of Payton, not his own.

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There is more fiction than science, which is not a problem in and of itself, however, the discovery of what Pandorum is, combined with the explanation of what the creatures are is so much hokum that it’s hard to deal with. The nature of the beasts attacking them on the ship is intended to make it more frightening than it was but it failed on that account … miserably.

It’s also very strange in as much as this movie seems dissatisfied with being a horror/sci-fi story alone instead it was decided that every one of the characters Payton runs into should hit first and ask questions later and be so adept at hand-to-hand combat that it seems as if a Kung Fu movie broke out. One of the least compelling things that can possibly happen is to have an extended fight sequence when we, like the protagonist, are in search of answers.
There is also a lack of logic by our supposed hero, who due to the fact that we meet him in a state of amnesia after having slept for years, is very vaguely drawn. While they barely escaped a siege by the monsters he walks about a pod area mumbling incoherently about finding his wife, which would be understandable to an extent if only it didn’t last so long that Nadia played by Antje Traue, Germany’s answer to Milla Jovovich in every way (both good and bad), tells him twice that they should be on the move.

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Leaving significant plot details aside, to avoid spoilers, this film also features the most ridiculous and improbable “cliffhanging” scene ever. Payton crosses a bridge to try and get to the reactor to reset it. It collapses Nadia holds his hands and holds him up while Manh (Cung Le) reaches down and grabs the iron bridge and holds it up during a very long scene. As if this wasn’t bad enough there is a sea of monsters inexplicably lying down below as if they had all dropped E or something.

The acting for the most part ranges from flat to bad with the exception of Dennis Quaid who was rather good. It’s just unfortunate that the story surrounding his character was one of the many fatal flaws in this film.

It’s possible to go further into the details of this story and why it falls very short. The fact of the matter is that each twist renders it more and more futile and makes it a more wasted experience. It takes great potential and a few decent ideas and twists them so much all hope of quality is wrung out of the fabric of the story. The intelligent becomes pedantic and the fascinating becomes futile and facile. It starts as a film made for adults and ends as a tale for children, both of whom have their intelligence insulted. The lead was buried in this story and instead of being cute with tricks and twists they would’ve been better off telling a slightly longer more straight forward tale in proper chronology, without the amnesia aspect and the potential for drama is already better.

Review- Beneath the Darkness

Tony Oller and Dennis Quaid in Beneath the Darkness (Image Entertainment)

It’s a bit frustrating that a film like Beneath the Darkness can scarcely find an actual screen to play on while the universally reviled The Devil Inside is out making January box office history. That’s really neither here nor there but is something that needed saying in my estimation. That being said I do like this film.

While not the most ground-breakingly original in conception this film does feature a rather good teaser. It’s the kind of opening that is vague enough such that you can’t quite connect the dots to how it will factor in later on in the film but you know it will. Not only is it well-done but it’s a quick effective table-setter that adds unease to the next section of the film despite the lightening of tone incumbent thereafter.

In the horror genre substandard to poor performances from the cast are nearly expected and for those most familiar with the genre rather easy to overlook. I’m not sure if it’s that horror generally scares away actors with chops or there is a commitment issue from those involved but that’s really not the case here at all, in fact, much of the success of this film hinges on the fact that it gets good to very good turns by most everyone involved.

Tony Oller has the unenviable task of being a male lead in a horror film which usually doesn’t amount to more than a hill of beans, however, he is the protagonist and carries the movie rather well. Ultimately, he does not fall into tiresome horror movie tropes and is affable and relatable, which lends a level of credence to the plot not easily found.

Were Oller alone in his impressive turn the film would not work nearly as well as it does. Devon Werkheiser also manages to add a layered performance to his character distinguishing him as the good-natured joker of the group, a role which suits his talents very well and then there’s Aimee Teegarden an actress of such abilities that she automatically elevates any genre film she’s in even if she were written into a scream queen type but thankfully she is given some dimension.

So there’s a likable core of leads who despite their missteps we end up rooting for as we should. Now we get to the antagonist. How good is he? This is a film that’s in the psycho mold rather than the slasher mold. It makes the identity of the killer apparent to all except to bumbling local cops, whose aloofness adds some good comedic value but with this higher visibility is the antagonist a good one? Absolutely. Dennis Quaid relishes the role it seems and adds some life to a film that while well-executed wouldn’t have been as memorable otherwise. He’s funny, creepy and believably nuts and really makes it work.

Two other things that really work in this film’s favor are through the voyeurism of our young leads we are left wondering what the precise nature of the antagonist’s oddity is, it could either be a ghost tale or a necrophilic tale. Another wonderful step is that it brilliantly sidesteps it’s biggest opportunity to be incredibly stupid by having their be a disagreement about whether to enter the house.

I saw this movie On Demand and not only was it a great value, which was a given but it was also quite a pleasant surprise. It’s a funny, well done and intriguing little horror tale that pulls off the rare feat of having a nearly flawless core of young leads and an engaging, magnetic antagonist. It’s well worth looking for.

8/10

Review- Soul Surfer

AnnaSophia Robb in Soul Surfer (Tristar Pictures)

Soul Surfer is an interesting film that may not yet have found its audience yet for a number of reasons but if I were a betting man, and there were bets on such things, I might be inclined to back this film as one that would find an audience through video over the years to come. It’s kind of a weird property looking at it from afar: a surfing film, which is also a biopic with a religious element to it being released in April. It’s essentially a summer film that didn’t want get buried amidst blockbusters and is trying to make some waves (yes, I can be punny, sue me) in a rather tranquil time.

None of the above is meant to sound like an indictment of the film. The fact of the matter is I truly enjoyed how multi-faceted I found the film to be. When you try and tackle too much in a film it can turn into a mess but when you can connect on disparate elements and tie them together then you’ve got something really good on your hands.

Looking at it from each perspective let’s see how the film works: firstly, there’s the surfing element under the larger umbrella of sports film. As has been said frequently, the best sports films aren’t really about the game, thus, they can hit home with the largest possible audience. However, it must be said that this movie is a sneaky good sports film. Due to the different things the film is trying to accomplish there isn’t a tremendous amount of time dedicated to the varying facets of a sports film but they get it spot on with the most important one: this film communicates in spades the love of the game and it’s mostly through cinematography, sound editing and a really well-written opening voice over, which stands head-and-shoulders above the voice over opening from the Best Picture nominee The Blind Side.

There’s also a sports rivalry, which as a subplot can either add depth or become an encumbrance on the narrative, it does the former and never gets in the way too much. As does the very chaste and timid love interest, just a little more humanity without over-complicating things. The ultimate example of its excelling in its sport movie mold is that it emphasizes, in the end, the joy of competing over that of victory better than most.

The personal journey works as well to fit the biopic mold. The stasis is well-established and then shattered and a new reality must be dealt with. There is also a very brief and practically perfect amount of time spent in the woe-is-me phase of her story. You also get a refreshingly good self-improvement montage and wonderful, if foreseeable, epiphany.

With regards to the religious aspect of the film it’s there, it’s a motivating factor in her recovery, it’s something Bethany questions and leans on. The film handles this very well not only in keeping it and making it a more true biography but adding some depth to the character and avoiding getting overly preachy and pedantic. Some films it seems can’t deal with any type of spirituality in it without it becoming a spiritual film. It’s an element that folds in very well.

If there’s anything that can be said against the narrative it’s just that there is a certain amount of evenness to it. The three facets while working well together allow you to stay on a rather even keel until the final competition. Yet it’s still a fun film to watch regardless of your investment level.

There is also some very impressive CG work done with the missing limb, it’s the best kind of CG work because it’s functional and doesn’t become the film. The sequence of the accident is also rather stunning and one of a few very well-handled and dramatically-rendered sequences in the film.

Much of the cast in this film does very well and the performances run rather deep down the line. You get three very strong performances just out of the family. AnnaSophia Robb has been mostly unseen since Race to Witch Mountain and before that Bridge to Terabithia but she shows here a rather seamless and graceful transformation to an adult role, and a leading one at that. It’s also wonderful to see Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid not just working but doing great and in a quality project. They each have their own moments to shine here. Ross Thomas and Chris Brochu play the usually jovial, supportive brothers but do have their dramatic moments. Kevin Sorbo also plays a refreshingly low-key and sympathetic character here and Jeremy Sumpter has a small part but plays one big scene wherein he shows flashes of greatness and how he is one of the most under-utilized young actors in films today.

Soul Surfer is a very enjoyable film that you should try to see on the big screen before it’s theatrical run ends.

8/10