Mini-Review: The Short Game (2012)

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 Short Game (2012)

Netflix has been making waves this year [2013] in good ways, after a string of PR nightmares with its core services. Its role as distributor of original content to streaming platforms, first in television-formats, has been groundbreaking. However, it’s also dipping its toes in the film world picking up a few documentaries. This one debuted in theaters first and is now available to stream.

Perhaps what’s most important in a sports documentary centered on prodigious young athletes is having an interesting cross-section of personalities. Even if one is not familiar with, or a big fan of, a sport (golf, in this case) narrative and cinematic conventions and approaches should keep you engaged. The editing and scoring of this film, as well as the structural approach to the tournament that serves as the climax, is great. What keeps you interested and involved in the build-up is that while they all have golf in common they’re still kids at the core of it and quite different: Jed (A Filipino boy with autism), Alexa (a wunderkind who lives with her dad), Amari (A girl emulating Tiger Woods), Kuang (a Chinese boy who happened on the game by chance as an infant), Allan (A whiz kid who’s Anna Kournikova’s younger brother), Augustin (An intellectual French player of literary pedigree) Zama (A South African boy growing up in a different world than his father seeking a breakthrough) Sky (A Texan girl with a large stuffed bunny collection).

Combining all that, the unexpected twists and turns golf can take, and the volatility of a child’s emotions makes it an engaging, funny, suspenseful and at time even moving film.

10/10

It was awarded a BAM for Best Documentary.

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Film Thought: Walking Out of a Movie

Previously I had written about the conundrum of when to turn off a film. However, if there is one mark of delineation I drew there it’s that Netflix has somewhat changed my approach to that whole question. With Netflix, or any other service that gives you movies at the touch of a button, the tendency is to just push play with less consideration than in the past, unless you’re paying just for that film. With films that are included with a subscription we tend to treat them like they’re free, or at the very least we’re more inclined to click just to try and get the most out of our subscription.

However, the way I approach movies at the auditorium is a bit different. Whereas home viewing can be far more impulsive there is still a shrine-like, quasi-religious reverence granted to a movie being screened as it was intended. This is why I have no tolerance for disruptive, completely unnecessary, loud talking; cell phone use and other breaches of etiquette. While I’m at it it’d also be great if the glow stick brigade at my local theater, which is part of a large chain of multiplexes, would stop traipsing through the theater at the beginning and end of a film, when focus is more critical.

Due to the elevated status that I give seeing a movie in an auditorium (Though I see a much larger number at home than ever before), I am far more hesitant to abandon a screening that I’ve gone to see in person. There are a few reasons this is so: firstly, there is the time invested. Whether or not I’m close to the theater I still like to show up early, there are a significant number of trailers playing before the film so the time invested is more than the running time. Secondly, the financial investment is invariably greater. I’ve mentioned it on a few occasions, and the numbers are easy to figure out, if you’re viewing a film on demand you are renting it so it’ll play on your TV. They don’t verify how many people you have sitting in front of that TV so the savings are obvious especially if you snack at your home theater and at the multiplex. Lastly, it just seems like a much bigger move to get up and walk out. Yes, there is the complication of if you’re with a group of people, but hitting a stop button and walking out of an auditorium are two massively different things.

The last time I felt the twinge to want to leave a film was when I saw Creature. However, it was ultimately too much train wreck to ignore so that leaves Jumanji as the only film I voluntarily walked out of because I just couldn’t take it anymore. I could count Big Fish also, but the decision was aided by a fire alarm that allowed me to realize “Hey, I don’t care if I finish watching this movie now. Thanks!”

So there’s my take. How about you? What have you walked out on and do you find it’s easier to shut off a film at home than to walk out?

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

March to Disney: What Bolt and Dumbo Share

This is a series of posts this month wherein I will focus on Disney films. For more on my background with Disney films and about the timing of this focus please read the introductory post here.

What’s been great is that I have through sheer luck managed to come across titles I had previously not seen as soon as this theme started. Just recently while browsing Netflix these two titles came up, then randomly on a Sunday morning on Disney Channel Bolt came on.

Now, again, this film came out when I wasn’t as ardently following Disney films. Since it happened to be starting I stuck with it, even with the commercial interruptions. What I hadn’t realized before it came out was that the tale, in which a dog who has been raised to believe the TV show he’s the star of is reality, is not just the set-up to The Truman Show, but in a way Disney refashioning Dumbo with a modern twist.

I saw that because the goals and the protagonists are similar inasmuch as they are unwitting stars. Dumbo is young and knows only the circus, his large ears are hidden, when they come out he’s mocked by the public he’d tried to win. When he learns to fly his unique trait is not a stigma but a mark of pride. The naïveté in the story is more about how he perceives the world.

Bolt’s reality, more modern, stylized, with action sequences, is no different. He’s presented everything as if it’s happening and has to defend his master. Granted the means of production, the stuntmen, the pyro rigs, any essentials needed to produce a TV show, are hidden so it’s easier for him to accept the reality. By chance he gets marooned out in the real world and he wants to and feels he needs to return home to the studio. He faces a lot of hard truths he has to come to terms with, the reversals of fortune are strong and quickly dealt with and the film is very funny.

While there are twists to it, like Dumbo being a more knowing participant in the circus, not that he ever “agrees,” it breaks down to the same path. You substitute a mother for an owner and both seek reunion with that figure. Both struggle against the odds and ultimately win out, gain that reunion and freedom from the life of performance that kept them trapped.

A recent New York Times article had one of the most telling quotes I ever saw, it was a discussion of both films and criticism where the statement “They don’t make them like they used to and they never did” was made. It may seem obvious that film is an ever-evolving artform, but sometimes it’s hard to accept that. There are technical and narrative trends that are the norm and en vogue in one decade and seem passé and almost wrong in another.

Dumbo is a masterpiece because of how perfectly all the elements of the story are rendered from the animation, to the emotional engagement, to the story, music and songs. Everything fits and works perfectly. I wouldn’t say Bolt is a masterpiece but it is very good, in part, because it borrows and adapts so well from a great source. Everyone borrows, self-plagiarism is style and any other quote you can think of can apply to this notion. Disney has done it before, but while it has fallen flat on other occasions like in Hercules, here it’s an infusion of technique, action film editing, humor and an updated sensibility that doesn’t seem forced that really makes it work.

Film Activism

The term arcmchair activism has recently come into being and while it may sound like it has a negative connotation, it can get things done. Online petitions and chatter have brought about small changes in reaction to public relations disasters. The only downside I’ve seen of this activism is that for the most part it seems to be extremely reactionary. What I’ll propose in this post, or these posts as the case may be, is more of a proactive approach.

There are good causes in the film world where your support is easy to show and it could make a difference. So here are the three that came to mind for this first post.

Greed on DVD

Greed (1924, Metro-Goldwyn Pictures)

I’ll readily admit that what prompts me to think of this right now is my heinous mismanagement of my DVR, wherein I lost my unwatched copy of Greed from when it aired on TCM last year.

Any film, not on DVD, has a vote prompt on TCM. The votes tally up and a rank is presented. It’s concrete data, though a small sampling, that shows an interest in the film exists. Film, like most everything, is a demand economy. Go here and vote for a Greed DVD release. Or better yet, search your favorite currently undistributed or under-distributed older film and vote for it in its stead.

“Save” films on Netflix

In the Family (2011, In the Family)

Even before Netflix was facing stiff competition from other streaming sources, its policies about acquiring and distributing indie films shifted. They have been more inclined to stream them but in general terms it does take into account how often you save to your queue before deciding whether it’ll pick a film up. I save many films to my queue just to get it out there at times.

One of my favorite films from last year, In the Family, which has been traveling North America for the better part of two years will finally hit home video in May, so it needs this support. If the story appeals to you please do save it and help this great story be seen by a wider audience. As with above, if this title doesn’t work for you consider this method with another film.

Bakshi Kickstarter

Last Days of Coney Island (2013, Ralph Bakshi)

Ralph Bakshi is a renowned and respected animator. I’ll admit not knowing him by name until recently. I haven’t seen many of his films, but I think many saw his animated Lord of the Rings. The character design of the Hobbits irrationally freaked me out when I was very young. I know some of his other titles and have had them on my nearly-infinite watchlist for some time. I’ve always known, even if not knowing him by name, that he was on the forefront with regards to rounding out animation proving it to be a medium rather than a genre; meaning it’s not just for kids.

He is also one of the more renowned artists I know of who is using Kickstarter to fund a project. It becoming a more popular avenue. It’s not a free option, but if you know a deserving artist this is a good way to go.

So there are the first three concrete and easy ways I found to be a film activist. There will likely be others, seek them out, find something you’re passionate about and support it. The interwebs is great for that too!

Mini-Review Round-Up: October 2012

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 will get full reviews, or another kind of write-up as per my recent shift in focus.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

9.79*

ESPN’s 30 for 30 is back, and I’m glad. More than ever it seems like the landscape of sports fandom and coverage is more reactionary and instantaneous. We’ve almost devolved to the point where we’re immune to revisionism because there is less and less focus on the past, history and progression of certain sports. Not to sound overly dire or pessimistic, but sometimes perception is reality. However, what the ESPN Films documentary series is goes back and finds milestones, overlooked stories and traces the trajectory of the events, themes and trends involved.

Therefore, 9.79* about Ben Johnson’s disqualification after winning gold with a record-shattering time in 1988 Seoul Olympics starts by tracking each of the finalists (some more than others) following the events that lead to that fateful day and the fall out since. It’s not a story told in precise chronology, there are jumps and clearly new interview footage will reflect the past, but it tracks the phenomenon of doping rather well, exposes the testing issues of the time and leaves a lot of great tidbits dangling for your interpretation. One of the more astounding one is ones that gets hinted at early then dropped like a hot potato until very late in the film. In a way, it makes the capping of the story even more potent. There are quite a few players in the game here. My interpretation is that it’s all a moral quagmire when in this era doping was rampant, harder to prove and everyone is seemingly guilty of something. It makes the situation fascinating almost like a “sports noir” tale. No one’s angel, but you fall on one side of the issue or another, and maybe even side with one camp or another on certain claims.

Not only is it an event that I wanted to be more informed about (and now I am) but Daniel Gordon does great work reconstructing the narrative from an impartial place and bringing forth all the opinions and information known and presenting it in a compelling and dramatic way.

9/10

Girl vs. Monster

For a review of Girl vs. Monster please go here.

Excision

What is most successful about Excision is that it is a study in character from the inside out. Which is to say that the fantasy/daydream segments in this film may be too numerous, but the purpose they do serve is to show how the inner-monologue of a disturbed, delusional character come to the fore and affect her everyday life. There are a few dichotomous splits in character: a struggle between adoration and mutilation (both their own versions of body worship), a fight against authority, a struggle between a libertine attitude and a theistic construct. Perhaps, what’s most intriguing about Excision is watching the journey, granted I did figure where the journey would end at some point, but it seems like a basic virginity plot with a very socially awkward lead, but as it progresses you see so much more is going on here. Through all the serious and horrific observations you make there are also some laughs to be had, and many great performances notably AnnaLynne McCord, Traci Lords, Roger Bart, Ariel Winter and Jeremy Sumpter.

8/10

Magic Silver and Magic Silver 2

Without going into a full rehash of recent guest post that I did, what I will say on a wider scale with relation to the Magic Silver films is that it’s prime example of what’s great about Netflix. Here you have two recent and rather popular Norwegian films that I had heretofore not heard of. Physical home video distribution of these titles in North America is a riskier, more expensive proposition so the streaming solution is perfect and brings these films to a wider audience.

As for the films, what drew me to the films at first was the 1980s-like illustrated approach to the artwork. Sure enough, the first film does have that feel, with some 21st Century technique thrown in. The film excels in virtually every level of production and maximizes the values it can get for whatever the budget is.

It’s a fantastical tale about how gnomes can control the weather and their life in a mountain. The sets of the inside of the mountain in the first film are simply but beautifully done and gives everyone just enough room. In the sequel the expanded space is not maximized. Similar to the costuming which in the first film is simple but effective, but in the second gets a bit more intricate and somehow doesn’t work as well. However, the art direction in both is quite good.

The story, however, again more so in the first film than the second, introduces the rules of this world wisely, as we hear it being told to the children of the village. It’s a thin but effective veil on the exposition, and some of the rules are really fascinating dramatically as they have intriguing consequences.

Both films are quite good, but the difference being that the first film has much higher stakes. Not only is the protagonist, Bluerose, coming to grips with overcoming her own fears, she must also learn the consequences of her actions, learn to assume responsibility, deal with mortality and try to do what is best for all concerned; a test of true leadership. Making this an even more intriguing dynamic is the fact that her struggles as princess are mirrored by a child king in the other clan of gnomes. There’s an innocent, subtly played romantic interest, but they both in working together learn how they can face up to their newfound responsibilties.

In these films I expected good escapist fun, what caught me most off guard about the first film was the gravitas of it, how involved and moved I would be by the narrative, and how compelling the performances of the entire cast especially Ane Viola Semb and Johan Tinus Lindgren. The best fantasy tales go to a very real place emotionally, when they are character-driven. When plot-drives a bit too much it’s harder to reach that heightened level. So a film like the former can be fun (read the sequel) but is ultimately disposable. Whereas, the film that finds universal truths in its fantastic settings, and also connects across cultural boundaries is truly special.

One more note about the follow-up film, it is fun and intriguing for randomly deciding to have four musical numbers. The first caught me totally by surprise but the next three are better, and the last one is a great Christmas-themed song that also highlights the climate change subtext of the story.

Very fun and different movies both that lend themselves to consecutive viewings like I had.

10/10 and 6/10

There’s No Place Like Home

ESPN’s 30 for 30 continued last week with There’s No Place Like Home. Here’s another case whereupon seeing the synopsis of the film I was not so interested, but after having viewed the film it’s more effective than anticipated.

The film tells the tale of Josh Swade, a lifelong Kansas Jayhawk fanatic, who organized a grassroots effort to try and win the original rules of basketball as written by James Naismith. When reading the narrative the piece I was missing, either from ignorance or faulty memory, was that Naismith shortly posting these rules in a Massachusetts YCMA took the game to Kansas and started the Basketball program at Kansas. He was at the University for four plus decades after that. So, yes, Kansas has, and had, a very rightful claim to ownership that I was unaware of.

Another moment of enlightenment was the underscoring of the fact was that basketball, as opposed to other sports which became formalized after years of play, was very much created fairly spontaneously. I was always a rules nerd as a kid, and gaining access to rule books was a big deal, and writing down rules to created games was something I’d partake in. Therefore, the provenance of the document also interested me.

However, that’s all information gleaned, which is valuable but not the be all and end all. What’s truly most interesting in this film is that it takes perhaps the most interesting avenue in telling the film. It takes the perspective of a superfan who has the unmatched, undying passion for his team and has him be the mouthpiece, the spokesman for what he knows is something right but hasn’t the means to accomplish: acquisition of the rules. Through sheer will and determination he does get in contact with those who have the connections and the financial means, and it is impressive to see the seemingly spontaneous outpouring of similar emotions from members of the KU family.

There are some occurrences that would’ve been great to see on camera (like the apparent defeat faced), but other portions that seem rather extraneous do come back into play. The film does feel like it could’ve been tightened a bit, however, it builds the personal connection well and gets a lot of tension and drama out of the auction day even though the outcome is somewhat foreseeable.

All in all, it’s a very good dramatic rendering of the situation, and I always like to see the bump where the filmmakers discuss the process, their inspiration, etc. and this one is perhaps the best I’ve seen.

8/10

Sexual Chronicles of a French Family

I discovered that this film existed through Instant Watcher, more specifically their Twitter. It is a website that it perhaps the best source for what’s new to stream on Netflix. I was not surprised to see that this film is a popular streaming choice. The title is designed to intrigue and get people watching. Based on the fact that it’s a French film, and the totality of the synopsis, I expected more scenes like the one between the matriarch of the household and the grandfather. So, my expectation of more of a chamber drama was mislaid, OK. I won’t, and can’t, penalize it for that. What I can penalize it for is that for as short as it is, the insightful, charming, touching, intelligent scenes are few and far between. Instead, you get many love scenes which are protracted and only add minimally, sometimes not at all, to the story. The intention of the film is one I understand and respect, and it is successful in a few of its attempts, but ultimately it left me wanting and a bit bored.

5/10

The Monitor

I will freely admit that Noomi Rapace along with the fact that this film is a subdued Swedish horror film were both selling points. I saw The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series in rapid succession and became quite an admirer of hers rather quickly. Sadly, elevating her global star status was just one of the many failings of Prometheus.

What is perhaps most surprising about The Monitor is not that it reveals twists, and character in wonderfully indirect, yet clear, ways; but that what would be the biggest twist in most films is one you become fairly certain of early on, and I was actively thinking and hoping that “There’s gotta be another one,” and sure enough there are plenty both big and small.

The Monitor is a very interestedly handled narrative that is a great character study not only of the protagonist but of her newfound friend Helge, played wonderfully by Kristoffer Joner.

I watched this on Amazon Prime, but any way you can watch this film would be good.

9/10

61 Days of Halloween- Satan’s Little Helper

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Satan’s Little Helper

Alexander Brickel in Satan's Little Helper (American World Pictures)

This is the kind of film that best illustrates the dangers of Netflix instant streaming (Not currently available on Netflix instant). You scroll over to it and click on it thinking “Oh, maybe this will be so bad it’s funny.” Then you start watching it and realize you’re in trouble. It’s just bad and it’s like a car wreck you may want to stop looking but you can’t and sadly I sat through this whole thing if only to warn others so that they may avoid the same fate.

Perhaps the first thing that needs to be stated is that it just may be that Douglas “Dougie” Whooly is the dumbest character in the history of cinema. In this film this supposedly nine-year-old kid walks about obliviously as the Devil himself kills people and he thinks it’s all pretend, a set-up. As if that isn’t bad enough when he finally does get wise to what’s really happening he still makes stupid mistakes, which leads us to our terrible and predictable ending which include two whole lines spoken over a black screen.

The dialogue is absolutely atrocious in this film from the incessant repetition of “That looks so real!” as Dougie is witness and accessory to another murder to the overly frank conversations about how Dougie still wants to marry his sister and the jokes about big sister’s “boomies.”

The score is completely unoriginal and the opening piece in this film sounds like the rendition of “Dies Irae,” which was in The Shining.

There is also bad animation in this film. I mean really bad. I mean like animation that makes Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist looks like MC Escher. As if that wasn’t bad enough we’re supposed to think this animation is a video game. A video game called “Satan’s Little Helper,” oh that’s the title, I get it!

However, this film is also educational. There is so much you can learn like how many times can you get your head slammed into a brick wall and not die and how many points is bowling over and elderly woman with a shopping cart worth.

Also, if your passion lies in prosthetic work you should watch this film to learn how not to make fake guts because this film has perhaps the worst example ever filmed.

As if it wasn’t made clear already that the concept is downright terrible but there is also a few logic flaws. The biggest of which being that everyone on this island both knows how many cops there are in the local PD and that they’re all dead.

About the only positive thing I can say in this film’s favor is that it is good for the occasional laugh, some of which are actually by design that and the mask the Devil wears. All that, however, does not excuse the terrible quality of this film.

I’ve seen some bad movies that looked pretty good. Films where the cinematography at least kept me interested. No risk of that happening here because it video and poorly shot video. The kind of video that shows you why it’s still film’s weak sister.

The cherry on top is that there’s a nice little touch of blasphemy too. I will spare you the details as all that precedes this should be enough to steer you clear. If curiosity gets the best of you, godspeed and get well soon.

1/10

61 Days of Halloween- Aftermath

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Aftermath

Aftermath (Waken productions)

Both this film and the next one, Genesis, are a prime example of why streaming video is an absolute boon and why Netflix and the studios should reach as many agreements as necessary to free up material for streaming. If more is available more hidden gems are available to stream.

Such is the case with the short films of Nacho Cerda. Now I will rarely do this but it bares saying that due to the subject matter and the disturbingly realistic way in which it is depicted viewer discretion is advised and there is no circumstance in which anyone under 18 should be watching Aftermath. The weak of heart and stomach need not apply.

There is no dialogue in Aftermath, with the quick cuts and pans at the beginning of the film combined with the classical music score there is a lyrical terror that mounts in this film. What is most affecting in this film is that there is no escape, redemption or refuge offered.

So you know what we’re dealing with here the film tells the tale of a woman who has died in a car accident and the events that transpire in a morgue when one deranged mortician is left alone with her and proceeds to both mutilate and defile her.

Both the practical effects and sound effects in this film are great and get under your skin before you even realize where this film is taking you. This is the kind of film that works on you psychologically because the terror is real and relatable and all you can hope for the victim is some sort of divine intervention and it doesn’t come. It’s the kind of film that will burn itself in your mind and it is masterfully crafted.

There is a sort of perverse refraction of visual themes between the first scene and the last and a cruel little twist that punctuates and compounds the terror that has just unfolded.

10/10

Mini-Review Round-Up #1

This is something I’m going to do periodically. Basically, I will employ many means to qualify films for the BAM Awards be it either seeing the film theatrically acquiring a DVD either through purchase or on Netflix. This could lead to an influx of several new titles being seen in a short span of time which would be difficult to write full reviews for. At least this way the film gets some of its deserved attention and you get some notion of my thoughts on them.

If you have questions or comments feel free to respond. I always get back.

As always please refer to My Rating Scale for an indication of what the scores indicate and if you’re curious where these films might make a dent in my personal awards please check my BAM Considerations.

The Films

The Human Resources Manager

Papil Panduru, Mark Ivanir, Noah Silver and Irina Petrescu in The Human Resources Manager (Film Movement)

This was a film I was fortunate enough to win from Film Movement in a Facebook contest. Film Movement is akin to a book-of-the-month club for films. They send you award-winning foreign/indies usually before they’re released and that you can’t find near you. If you want to get a sampling of their films they stream many of their titles. The discs include a short as well.

This is an Israeli film about an HR man who faces a bit of a firestorm after one of his employees has been killed in a car bombing and he through a bureaucratic mix-up was unaware of her employment status at the time. Much of the film deals with how he tries to make amends for it and then becomes a journey as he returns her to her native Romania and struggles to get her buried.

The story is rather well told and moves along at a good clip. There are some surprises in store. A lot of the acting is quite good, however, the character and performance of the journalist very annoying.

8/10

Brotherhood

Jon Foster and Trevor Morgan in Brotherhood (Phase 4 Films)

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.

10/10

Even the Rain

Juan Carlos Adiviri and Gael Garcia Bernal in Even the Rain (Vitagraph Films)

This is an interesting tale about a Spanish film about Columbus in the New World being shot in Bolivia during civil unrest regarding price gouging for public water.

The film-within-the-film does fade into the background but there is a fantastic moment of symbiosis. There are some fantastic performances in this film and when the most notable one isn’t by Gael Garcia Bernal you’ve got a pretty good film on your hands.

Political sentiment pervades this film in a way that are not detrimental to enjoying it but rather necessary.

9/10

I Saw the Devil

Byung-hun Lee in I Saw the Devil (Magnet Releasing)

This is a tale of a man who seeks to avenge his girlfriend’s death at the hands of a ruthless serial killer.

There is a lot to this film that is done well in terms of cinematic technique and in terms of structure as well, however, there is a moment when my suspension of disbelief explodes and it turned my opinion on its ear. That happens about one hour in and there’s 90 minutes of film to follow and my sympathies don’t change they dissipate entirely and I’m left just watching the carnage and at the end I’m supposed to feel gutted but I don’t. Sorry.

5/10

Black Death

Eddie Redmayne and Sean Bean in Black Death (Magnet Releasing)

This is a tale of knights in England during the outbreak of the Bubonic plague seeking a village in which the plague has not come yet and there are rumors of necromancy.

The time of the Black Death always has been and I believe always will be an era which is rife with story possibilities and has to this date been under utilized. This film not only features stellar performances but takes even-handed swipes at all religions and uses their precepts very astutely in building this tale. It’s very intelligently done.

9/10

Hobo with a Shotgun

Rutger Hauer in Hobo with a Shotgun (Magnet Releasing)

I can’t say it better than a newspaper headline in the film does: Hobo stops asking, demands change.

There’s a lot to love in this film and the first thing you have to realize going in is that it’s outlandish grindhouse to the nth degree. If that redundancy didn’t make it sink in nothing will. The dialogue is frequently absurd and well-delivered. The cinematography is fantastic and the images are brilliant and saturated. There’s just one major story element which just didn’t work for me at all but I’ll leave it at that. Standout performances by Rutger Hauer, Molly Dunsworth, Gregory Smith and Jeremy Akerman, who will always be Mr. Frawley from Pit Pony to me.

9/10

Trollhunter

Trollhunter (Magnet Releasing)

It’s a found-footage mockumentary about a group of college students who meet a real-life troll hunter and follow him on his exploits.

There are some very smart things and concepts in this film that are never fully realized. There’s a silly, short tag to the entire mess. At some point the pace just never picks and it galumphs along at an agonizingly slow rate and then no real payoff to boot. It’s hard to quantify this but it may have been the most boring cinematic experience I’ve had this year.

4/10

The Other Woman

Natalie Portman and Charlie Tahan in The Other Woman (IFC Films)

A young woman deals with the difficulty of the loss of a child, a relationship with her stepson and being newly married.

This is a film which is interesting structurally and gives Portman a chance to really shine. When I saw the trailer it smacked of Stepmom but what I was hoping for was a lack schmaltzy melodrama. I got that but it was replaced by a lot of armchair psychology. There are some surprises and also good performances by Scott Cohen, Charlie Tahan and Lisa Kudrow, who for the first time made me forget about Friends entirely until it was over. It just left me wanting a little but it was enjoyable.

7/10

So that’s the first round-up. I’ll try and get it up sooner next time maybe after five films if possible.