Mini-Review: Storage 24

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!

Storage 24

One certainly cannot complain that Storage 24 doesn’t try to develop its characters. However, it does so to such an extent that it very nearly turns the plot detailed in the synopsis into a MacGuffin. The tale is essentially a couple that recently broke up and their friends meet by chance in a storage facility. They make it there despite a suspected plane crash that shut down most of central London. The cargo was an alien creature that’s not trapped in there with them during a power outage. It’s a good set-up.

The sound design, however, isn’t always great and makes the characters seem more oblivious than they are to what is going on. The effects work is pretty good, as is the design of the creature. The alien does end up being a dominant story force you expect it to, but in a film that runs under 90 minutes about half the time is spent mostly in repetitive discussions that are cited as such, and don’t move things along quickly enough. When things do happen it gets better.

Another failing is that the film tries to have character-based connections to the creature à la Super 8, and to be not about the creature, but is more blunt about it, and far less successful for as much time is spent in development, there aren’t many facets to the characters created. They’re fairly basic.

The scenario doesn’t end up being a MacGuffin, but the narrative pendulum swings very wildly and ineffectively in the film. Lastly, the pace, which isn’t bad overall, takes a hit from one too many tracking establishing shots down the corridor, which are void of significance save to try and build suspense, but it doesn’t. Storage 24 tries its hand at a few things, but is too uneven and unsuccessful with regards to most in order to work.

4/10

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Mini-Review: Two Shots Fired

In Two Shots Fired what you have is a film that will draw you in with a rather stunning inciting incident. It’s one that will instantly act as a litmus test. As a result of reading it you will either be repulsed or compelled to watch it.

Per the IMDb’s page on the film the synopsis is as follows:

17-year-old Mariano finds a gun in his house and, in a thoughtless impulse, shoots himself twice. But he survives.

Now you can clearly see that this is the kind of story that will instantly either steer people clear or arouse curiosity. For the curious I must instantly inform you that the melodrama or the deep, detailed exploration of a psyche that one may expect are not found here.

For better or worse, one of the most effective aspects of this film is its employment of “MacGuffinism.” What I mean by this is in the classic tradition, as termed by Hitchcock, “the two shots fired” are the pretense for telling the tale, but not the thrust of the tale itself. It’s the flashpoint around which the personal tension both intra-familial and among friends can be explored. What would have been further subsumed tensions and resentments are brought to the fore by the incident that almost immediately kicks off the proceedings here.

The aversion to bombast here is such that even the conflict is atypically conveyed. The film skirts about it as the characters do. They are scarcely discussed, at times they are enacted. When they are most present is in the film’s visuals as opposed to the films dialogue.

There is a palpable intangibility of the strain beneath the surface. It also does portray a dichotomy between the reactions the characters display. Whereas Mariano’s malaise is not broken, the same which caused him to act thoughtlessly, his parents struggle with how much added attention should be foisted upon him in light of recent incidents. How much supervision can atone for what happened and try to prevent its happening anew.

There have been many strong films coming out of Argentina lately, but sadly this isn’t really one of them. While the main objective of the film is understood and appreciated the film sometimes comes off as being as aimless as Mariano is throughout.

4/10

Journalism in Classic Film Blogathon: Doctor X (1932) and The Return of Doctor X (1939)

Introduction

Firstly, I’m glad to be contributing to Comet Over Hollywood and Lindsay’s Movie Musings blogathon. Secondly, I have to say that there are two very distinctive reasons why I chose these films for analysis: one, I am currently ensconced in my 61 Days of Halloween theme so anything that could combine that with a blogathon was preferred. Two, I firmly believe that while all films may not reach “greatness” or “importance” they are all worth being looked at seriously. Analyzing a particular aspect of these films made it easier. Yes, I said films twice now. That’s the last note I should mention: I thought Doctor X was on YouTube. I was mistaken, but it was on Netflix on a two-film disc with a later, similar but unconnected film so I watched both, and it’s a good thing I did.

Background

Doctor X (1932)

When looking at a specific profession as portrayed in film I think it important to discuss briefly my experience, limited as it may be, with it. I believe that at some point in junior high school I did take a very rudimentary elective in journalism. More to the point that is where you learn the very basics. Furthermore, being in an age with media at the tip of our fingers one can’t help but scrutinize media coverage. It is an interesting age for the profession of journalism because information, and misinformation, travels faster than ever before. Both great and not so great things are possible because of it. I think at current it’s also an interesting age for the journalist as represented in fiction again. Author Christopher Rice encapsulated it best in a tweet saying that thanks in large part to the rise of Swedish mystery novels in popular culture the literary figure of the journalist has been redeemed. There was a time when this personage seemed to be in a morass, however, that’s shifted. The cinematic tales I’ll examine, as outlandish as they might be, are closer to the halcyon days of representation.

Doctor X (1932)

Doctor X (1932)

The synopsis of Doctor X describes Lee Taylor as wisecracking, and they’re not kidding. This reporter, Lee Taylor (Lee Tracy), following a series of murders referred to as the “moon killings” in several cases seems more content to joke around (he even wears a joy buzzer – it does function as a plot device later, but still) than take anything seriously. However, that line he’s toeing never really gets crossed as he does do his job. He does so both in a diegetic and non-diegetic sense. In the diegetic, he is committed to breaking the story wide open. The police talk to Dr. Xavier (Lionel Atwill) he rounds up his staff (the suspects in the case) and retreats trying to sniff out who it is himself for a period of 48 hours. Lee sneaks in and is, in a non-diegetic sense, our eyes. He similarly overheard talking in the morgue by pretending to be a corpse. There may have been breaches in professional etiquette throughout this film, but at least most of them kept him removed from the action and an impartial observer. Breaking in where he was not wanted or allowed notwithstanding at least he was tries in the end.

However, there are worrisome acts, aside from the aforementioned ones of dubious legality, throughout. For example, he complains of all he has to go through just to get the minimal amount of information he has to report when checking in and then asked off the case, then when his ego and pride are played to he claims to have been joking. Due to the performance of the scene the intent (joke or sincerity) is obscured. Overall, though, the film seems to be more slanderous to cops than reporters. The police continuously barter with Doctor Xavier, who is not the antagonist, to allow him to conduct his own search and present his findings. The police threaten and bloviate but ultimately do not interrupt the drama before it’s time. They are within their rights to interrupt the game of charades passing for a film, but they do not.

While Tracy does make some blunders, like becoming smitten with Xavier’s daughter and becoming a part of the story he’s covering, at the end (to an extent) he is far more admirable in his efforts than the police are in their inaction. Yet none really come off that great, for the young Miss Xavier (Faye Wray) does get him to sit on the story, at least for a little while. And that’s why it’s fortunate I did the double feature because not only is The Return of Doctor X (1939) a much better film, but it also has a much better and more well-portrayed reporter.

The Return of Doctor X (1939)

The Return of Doctor X (1939, Warner Bros.)

One might think these films are related, despite having similar templates one really could at best call this film a sequel-in-name-only though you’d be hard-pressed to prove even that. Other differences are that this film was not shot on two-strip technicolor and not directed by Michael Curtiz, but this is better film, and a better portrayal of a journalist. Part of that has to do with the performance by Wayne Morris as Walter Garrett, and part of that has to do with the writing. Interestingly, in this film the reporter’s presence is felt more throughout. Taylor disappeared for large chunks of time, usually hiding out, but he was also peripheral to the action – a plot device, a living MacGuffin. Garrett, however, finds himself embroiled when a strange turn of events puts him in the middle of a controversy and makes him look a fool.

He eventually has to go at it on his own, with a little help from a friend, to clear his name and try and solve the mystery. The film seems to use the prior installment as a template rather than a bible. For example, Xavier was not the antagonist in the first, he had a murderer in his midst and struggled to discover whom he was. Suddenly, in less than seven years, he’s a mad scientist – hence the films are similar yet disconnected in that way. Likewise, Garrett isn’t a wisecracker so much as he’s a well-meaning goof. He does do his sneaking around here too but nothing that seems unorthodox, all quite par for the course.

He’s also resourceful. His friend, Michael Rhodes (Dennis Morgan) is a doctor. He asks him questions, then follow-ups, then joins him to talk to people and eventually they investigate as a team.

With regards to women and his work he’s a little more levelheaded than his predecessor at one point he says “This is no time for dames.” He only allows a “dame” to distract him, and influence a choice, in the denouement when everything is already decided.

Much as the reporter is much surer of himself, this film is also surer of itself itself. It runs a full 14 minutes shorter (62 as opposed to 76) than the prior installment and the difference feels bigger than that because of how well-placed all the story elements are. Not to mention the fact that you have Humphrey Bogart before he was big playing a deliciously creepy role.

Conclusion

The Return of Doctor X (1939, Warner Bros.)

My analyses of how well each of these two fictional characters do their job is not meant to be propagandizing. There are good and poor practitioners of all professions. However, A bit of recognition and understanding by the film about how well Tracy does his job seemed necessary. The phrase “loose cannon” is cliché but it’s something that usually comes up. People who are by the book versus people who are unorthodox is a classic trope, it comes up, it’s discussed. In Doctor X he seemed more a vessel with which to tell the story. Maybe I had to rack my brain more but it was hard to come up with a reporter in a horror film that qualified in terms of time period. However, that’s not to say it’s a dead concept in the genre now. There is a bit of a resurgence. The first two, and maybe the fourth, films in the [REC] series have a journalist lead, as well as the US remakes Quarantine and, though it’s a very minor point so does The Baby’s Room. In the wonderful adaptation of Stephen King‘s 1408 to the big screen John Cusack plays a journalist of sorts, a writer who debunks supposedly haunted locales. Regardless of how omnipresent it may or may not be in the genre it is a useful device for horror that could be further utilized.

Mini-Review Round-Up March 2013

Here’s my standard intro to this post:

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases, regardless of how they are seen whether in an auditorium or on VOD, will get full reviews [That is when deemed necessary. As I wrote here I do want to focus more on non-review writing wherever possible].

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Bestiaire

Bestiaire (2012, Kimstim Films)

This is a film that qualifies for this year because, though I heard of it last year, I had no legitimate chance to see it. I learned of it through a coming soon postcard while I was in New York, the soon it was referring to was not while I would be there.

What’s interesting is that I was anticipating seeing another documentary free of significant dialogue prior to this one, but when I saw this pop up on Netflix instant I had to jump at it.

Bestiare plays out like a non-fiction version of Le Quattro Volte inasmuch as the structuring of the very slight, and completely open to interpretation, narrative is nearly invisible. The description of this film on Netflix is appropriately stripped down there are extended sequences of static shot either of animals observing humans, vice versa or sometimes they seem to be staring right at us.

Some of the shots are framed beautifully to convey either claustrophobia or just how nestled some animal enclosures in the modern world are be they farms, ranches, zoos or what have you. As I mentioned, it doesn’t insist upon deciding for you what the interpretation of the film should be, believing instead that the audience is the ultimate arbiter of meaning.

I found the film very effective in places with some great cuts and angles that underscored a harsh indifference. The incessant rhythmic banging of a zebra against a wall, or the frantic pacing of an ostrich, and the, to me, disquietingly laid back work of a proficient taxidermist were scenes that really shocked me out of the lull that this hypnotic film can get you into.

It’s not a long film but it is deliberate. I would qualify it as experimental, and I think more times than not the scenes work, so I believe a 6/10 is fair for now.

The Awakening

The Awakening (Universal Home Video, 2011)

I will elaborate on this point in a separate piece, but this film is a testament to my theory that drama is the foundation of all other genres. To be brief, even if this film fails to affect you with its creepy atmosphere, it is an effective character piece that delves into psychology as well as the supernatural.

When telling with a ghost tale, especially one that deals with characters who have been so greatly impacted by the sightings, or even suppositions thereof, the acting needs to be up to snuff. This film brings much more than that to the table, there are four top notch performances, one of each “award type” both lead and supporting.

Rebecca Hall, in the lead, is someone I personally I have seen far too little of since Vicky Cristina Barcelona, and she carries this film brilliantly with a fine double-edged performance as a now skeptical ghost hunter. Dominic West plays a character who also has a facade, as seemingly everyone in this film does, his stoicalness is matched by his private pain in this work. Imelda Staunton, is nothing short of riveting. Then there’s Isaac Hempstead Wright (Bran on Game of Thrones, where he’s shown flashes of his capability) whom steals scenes and redoubles the impact this film has.

This is a film that eases into its narrative, it never gives its answers away too easily and stays nebulous about some things. Its timing of reveals is perfect and just when you think you’ve lost it, or it’ll flatline, there’s always one more turn than you expected.

10/10

Sleep Tight

Sleep Tight (2012, Dark Sky Films)

Upon conferring on his IMDb page I am missing one feature from Jaume Balaguero’s filmography after having seen Sleep Tight. His films that worked for me thus far have worked exceedingly well, namely The Nameless, [REC] and [REC] 2. I barely recall it, but judging by my score of Darkness that was more of complete miss than either of his apartment tales (To Let and Sleep Tight).

Balaguero is still a director I’d put at the vanguard of the current Spanish horror scene due to his voice, and it’s why I want to complete his current filmography and why his name being attached to something still garners my interest.

With regards to these apartment tales, a lot of To Let‘s struggles I attribute to a restricted timeframe for an intimate, nebulous portrait to be painted, which is why half the Films to Keep You Awake titles are amazing, and why the other three are forgettable to poor. Here it’s not that there is anything inherently wrong, it’s more a question of insufficient build, unmoving voyeurism and predictable plot points with minimal impact. The actions and motivations are always fairly clear, which in a way makes this film less engaging than his other ventures. There’s a stark blandness and removal of encumbrance that’s supposed to compound the impact but instead dulls it.

In the end, Sleep Tight presents a portrait of a psychopath with out an excess of depth, engagement or shock; it’s sadly flat.

4/10

Leviathan

Leviathan (2012, Cinema Guild)

If you scroll to the top of this post you’ll note that in my review of Bestiaire I stated that it was not the first doc of its kind I was anticipating seeing. The one I thought I’d see first was this film, Leviathan.

Why that came first boils down to chance, but I am glad I saw it first. Both these films have similar constructs in that they’re documentary features with no narration, and practically no dialogue of any significance. Both deal, in part, with the interaction of modern man with animal kingdom, but Leviathan offers a more focused, kinetic, at times dreamlike, other times haunting, look at the subject.

If one were to enter the film completely cold, and watched all the credits through to the end, virtually the only tidbit of information left out of the synopsis was that fisherman were given cameras and told to shoot with them.

The location comes though the end credits, and as nebulous and surreal as some of the early images of the film are, you soon start to see what’s happening.

The most impressive things about Leviathan are: first, the sound design, which more so than the images most of the time, drive home the uneasy balance between monotony and danger of the job. Second, how the Bible passage at the beginning sinks in after it’s done, as does information disseminated in the end credits.

Without knowing what to expect precisely, I found myself retracing certain visual passages and started coming to grips with what I had just seen through the lens.

Leviathan, much like the aforementioned film Bestiaire, is not for everyone, but it is certainly a unique experience and it’s a more immersive, less observational take of this particular documentary niche.

7/10

A Dark Truth

A Dark Truth (2012, Magnolia/Sony Home Entertainment)

More and more in modern cinema, in part because audiences sense it and in part because it’s been seen/done, stories with a moral, considered important, or that have some sort of social or political statement, are harder and harder to make. As enthusiasts of film or sociopolitically aware individuals, there are things you’d like to see on screen. The wants of the latter group can be said to be more altruistic and deserving of representation, regardless, a good film is required to support the aesthetic or activist statement it seeks to make.

To be clearer, here are some hypothetical examples: a film fan can say I’d love to see a serious take on rabies as a horror motif, it’s been too long. Now, outside the world of film that has no real weight. Whereas, if you were to say it’d be great if a film could show the negative aspects of privatizing water, there could be real life impact and eventual change.

Now for either rabies to become a popular horror motif or for privatization of resources and utilities to garner serious attention, the film espousing these things has to be good. Which brings me to A Dark Truth, which deals with the latter subject matter. The film has some very good touches, and the finest intentions in the world regarding the aforementioned issue. However, the anti-corporate, water-should-be-free-and-here-are-the-consequences-if-it’s-not messages, which are very valid viewpoints, are squandered in a film that’s poorly executed on some technical levels, is overlong, has some unfortunate and questionable dialogue and a few questionable casting choices and some good actors in uncomfortable surroundings. The extra-long lead-in to this piece is essentially due to the fact that I like the concept and the goals, but the end product failed to live up to the promise, which is sad.

4/10

Straight A’s

Straight A's (2013, Courtesy of Millennium Entertainment)

A review of this film can be found here.

Storage 24

Storage 24 (2012, Magnet Releasing)

One certainly cannot complain that Storage 24 doesn’t try to develop its characters. However, it does so to such an extent that it very nearly turns the plot detailed in the synopsis into a MacGuffin. The tale is essentially a couple that recently broke up and their friends meet by chance in a storage facility. They make it there despite a suspected plane crash that shut down most of central London. The cargo was an alien creature that’s not trapped in there with them during a power outage. It’s a good set-up.

The sound design, however, isn’t always great and makes the characters seem more oblivious than they are to what is going on. The effects work is pretty good, as is the design of the creature. The alien does end up being a dominant story force you expect it to, but in a film that runs under 90 minutes about half the time is spent mostly in repetitive discussions that are cited as such, and don’t move things along quickly enough. When things do happen it gets better.

Another failing is that the film tries to have character-based connections to the creature à la Super 8, and to be not about the creature, but is more blunt about it, and far less successful for as much time is spent in development, there aren’t many facets to the characters created. They’re fairly basic.

The scenario doesn’t end up being a MacGuffin, but the narrative pendulum swings very wildly and ineffectively in the film. Lastly, the pace, which isn’t bad overall, takes a hit from one too many tracking establishing shots down the corridor, which are void of significance save to try and build suspense, but it doesn’t. Storage 24 tries its hand at a few things, but is too uneven and unsuccessful with regards to most in order to work.

4/10

Tarzan Thursday: Tarzan The Ape Man (1932)

Last year 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.

If there’s one thing that’s beneficial about viewing, and in many cases revisiting, installments in the Tarzan film adaptations it’s that by viewing the Weissmuller-starring MGM-produced versions I now get a sense for that series. Before, having skipped certain installments and gone out of order, some patterns harder to pick up on, yet some traits were easy to pick up, like the sudden vanishing of Jane’s presence as a forward-thinking character when Maureen O’Sullivan was replaced.

Now, at long last, I viewed Tarzan The Ape Man and began the series properly. I must say that I am most impressed with how this series starts off. Everything that had been intimated about Jane in sequel shorthand is firmly entrenched here. Furthermore, the commitment to building character is so strong that Tarzan, the titular character, is absent from the entire first act. His signature call is heard a few times off-screen, disembodied and creates a chilling effect for an audience that does not know the story that will unfold after his introduction.

My feelings about O’Sullivan, the writing she seemingly demanded, and the performances she gives, was solidified by seeing this entry now. Tarzan’s progression towards “Noble Savage” is very slight in this film. Jane really is the conduit to the audience’s understanding about this character’s nature. We must see and feel through her eyes and that link is so well-forged and so strong in this film that it makes for a rather engaging and emotional experience.

Perhaps what’s the biggest pleasant surprise of the film is that Tarzan, and the nature of his character, becomes the focus of the story and the MacGuffin, the mission that the hunters and/or other white men embark upon truly takes a backseat. As seen through the spectrum of this film, it will be interesting to see how the rest of the films play out, if any differently.