Rewind Review: Orphan

Orphan promises, at least conceptually and in the trailer, to be a potential classic of the genre but unfortunately this film was marketed much too well for its own good. However, one would not expect it to be one of the dumbest, lousiest and most asinine films of any kind to be foisted upon the American public this year.

The film starts awkwardly both in acting and dialogue and to top it off in a clumsily handled dream sequence, and at this point it’s hard and uncompelling to start with a dream just for one truly unsettling image of a blood-soaked crying baby. Just because Fellini did and could start a film in a dream sequence doesn’t mean we all should. After all we’re not all Fellini are we?

Okay, perhaps even invoking Fellini’s name in this instance is blasphemous, however, it was to illustrate the apex of what they were trying to accomplish as compared to this lame-brained, stilted mess they presented. Bad is one thing but dumb is another and that comes next. So the dream reveals that the baby is stillborn, a lot of set up for one bit of back-story. Hence, let’s adopt. Their trip to the orphanage starts with Sarsgård delivering two awkwardly written “Snow Orphan” jokes about a snowman. It was just the beginning of a terribly odd, unconvincing, portrayal of this character in writing and performance.

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

The sound mix on scare attempts and screams was just too loud and ineffectual and created near humor. The film also decides to incorporate clichés starting with Esther singing “That’s The Story of Love,” in a droll attempt at irony that only makes the film more annoying not just because the singing is flat but because it is delivered in Esther’s subtle yet annoying Russian accent – it’s also only vaguely Slavic until identified, which is also somewhat inaccurate as Eastern European accents are by no means interchangeable; this is more about writing and directing than acting. Fuhrman was consistent with it at least but the accent was worse than stereotypes because it’s milquetoast.

In bad movies even simple lines go wrong like when the Nun informs the couple Esther’s parents died in a fire, their response “A fire?” Yes, a fire. It happens – you watch the news.

It would be wondrous if horror films didn’t feel the need to include gratuitous sexual content. I emphasize gratuitous. This is not about prudery, but common sense. A couple with three kids all in Elementary school, by my best guess, would not canoodle about their kitchen pornographically so that they could get caught. Yet in the world of this movie they do and were caught. Didn’t see that coming. The conversation about “Mommy-Daddy Time” in the kitchen leads us to our first hint at the twist, unfortunately hindsight doesn’t make that conversation or the coital scene any better or any more logical so these little hints are better referred to as “clues,” in quotes, because they don’t really standout as brilliant touches after the twist.

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

Now we come to the cliché of horror film characters just being too plain dumb to deserve to live and for your edification not enough of the people in this film that should die do. The body count I believe is just three. The parents are a little too slow to catch on. The mother (Vera Farmiga) goes from not suspecting a thing to suddenly having theories as to exactly what Esther’s problem is before taking her to a shrink, the shrink whose character is so dumb and is portrayed so annoyingly we won’t even discuss her except to point out the fact that movie psychologists should not be portrayed as dumb and useless because they’re not necessarily perceived that way and an incredibly brilliant psychologist is a tremendous weapon in a film and has been wielded well by many. The mother’s arc, however, is better than the father’s who is the worst horror cliché there is to the very end: The Doubter.

The Doubter is always the worst character, especially when very involved in the story for this reason: we as an audience are cognizant of the fact we are seeing a horror film so we immediately believe “Something’s wrong with Esther,” or whatever the given doubted fact is, so the slower the characters are to believe it the more annoyed we are apt to become. A great example of an unobtrusive doubter is in Halloween. The Doubter in that film, the Carpenter version, the original, is the Sheriff, Lori never doubts longer than is logical and at one point is lying to Tommy for his own good in her mind as she is doubting her safety. The Sheriff is such a minor character that him trying to thwart Loomis’s efforts at hunting down Myers never gets irritating because Michael and Lori are front and center for a bulk of the film. In Orphan The Doubter was in the family and all too present.

There are also these past incidents that creep up that would make a suspicious mind jump quicker such as some kid she used to go to school with “accidentally stabbed themselves” with a pair of scissors and the house fire that killed her parents was arson. Accidentally stabbing yourself with a pair of scissors, the way that’s phrased, makes it as transparent as saying someone “accidentally” hit themselves in the back of the head with a claw hammer. It’s ludicrous.

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

One of the few nice touches was that a picture of the orphanage Esther drew glows in the dark to reveal a fire and deaths. This is quickly negated by having her plaster the walls with drawings and making a glow-in-the-dark pornographic mural, which makes it twice as bad as if the execution of the first drawing was off. The only other highlights are also counteracted by the terrible story but are worth mentioning. In horror film standards Vera Farmiga is very good in this for what’s worth. It would’ve been easier to appreciate her if her character wasn’t a dunce, that shackled her and Skarsgard in quite a few ways. On the other hand Jimmy Bennett’s character always hates Esther and about midway through you want him to take a hatchet to the whole family but unfortunately he doesn’t. He survives and the boy better known as the Young James T. Kirk does get more screen time here and thankfully, for his own sake, is hospitalized but alive in the third act.
Another case of dumbness: Esther gets mom really annoyed, mom twists her arm. Later Esther sticks her arm in a vise in order to break it. Dad believes mom did it. Really? Did you watch mom? Is it possible? I guess. Improbable? Yes. Yet the vise would leave some sort of marks, correct?

Another one: It is discovered Esther stayed at some clinic in Estonia. How? Her picture was online. On an asylum’s webpage? “Look at our crazies”? Why would an inmate’s photo be online? These are just some examples of the excessive demands on our suspension of disbelief that we as an audience are asked to accept. When one is not entertained or scared one can’t forgive such obviously flawed logic.
There actually is more, however, let us cut to the chase. The twist. I’ll give it to them for gambling but here are the problems there: first, the movie was already horrible or not in everyone’s mind so the twist either elevates it or makes it much worse. Even looking back at the scenes that did somewhat set the table like Esther trying to seduce her adopted father it didn’t work on any level. That scene was portrayed callously because the director mishandled it and had it played too innocent by Fuhrman and too passively drunk by Skarsgård, who only really told her off on her second or third attempt. The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things had a very similar style of scene but a much different situation and it was handled so much better. It was disturbing, repugnant, powerful and heartbreaking all at the same time and yet you couldn’t not watch it.

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

Also, the twist is sort of an anti-climax. Is that the kind of modus operandi that makes you say “Brilliant, it practically writes itself?” No, it’s too convoluted. What purpose does that serve really? Is it shocking? Could be. It could also be humorous. As much as it was mocked later for being such a catch phrase no one laughed when they heard “I see dead people.”

A lot of people saw this movie coming out and thought of The Good Son. Well, surprise! It’s not. It’s worse, so much so. If you want The Good Son go rent it, I already have it. Skip this, I wish I did.

1/10

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2009 BAM Award Winners

In the last of the remaining re-posts here is a list of my 2009 BAM Award Winners complete with my rationale for each. Again, the text (save for minor grammar and syntax corrections) is mostly unchanged, in order to preserve my thoughts from the time accurately.

These awards and their winners are based on my opinion alone.

Best Picture

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where the Wild Things Are

One of the most emotionally engaging experiences from beginning to end in a long time and also a purely visual film. When comparing all other Best Picture nominees, all of whom where great, nothing quite lives up to this.

Best Director

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)


Spike Jonze Where the Wild Things Are

It always takes something very special to split Best Picture and Best Director and that didn’t happen this year. However, here you have a case of a film thriving due to the vision of its director. A man amongst the few who can truly be called a visionary and who had such a clear concept of this adaptation that Maurice Sendak endorsed it in featurettes leading up to the release. Spike Jonze made this film happen beginning to end struggles with the studio and all.

Best Actor

A Single Man (2009, The Weinstein Company)

Colin Firth A Single Man

A performance which is reserved when the character is trying to be as such is great, however, it is when that reserve cracks that the true greatness bubbles over: when he’s questioned by Charley, when he’s trying not to let his voice crack on the phone and tears are rolling down his face, when he’s allowing himself to be happy and many other moments.

Best Actress

Jimmy Bennett and Michell Monaghan in Trucker

Michelle Monaghan Trucker

During this performance Monaghan reminded me of several different leading ladies such that her persona was unique and all her own. She plays a frustrated, somewhat immature, lonely woman and while she never fundamentally changes who she is. We do see her change in her attitude and behavior. She’s a gritty, tough character who does not hesitate to run out into the street and protect her estranged son at the first sign of trouble. It is a moving and complete performance and it is great.

Best Supporting Actor

landainglourious

Christoph Waltz Inglourious Basterds

Absolutely the easiest decision to make. This performance is the work of a virtuoso in action. How Waltz remained unknown to the American public this long is a mystery and it’s a credit to Tarantino that he cast him.

Best Supporting Actress

inglourious_basterds47

Diane Kruger Inglourious Basterds

A strong an impactive part very deftly played by Miss Kruger. She is believably a movie star, a lady of society and a spy. She is quite convincing in pain and like Waltz perfromed in more than one language astutely which is very admirable indeed.

Best Cinematography

Before Tomorrow (2008, Isuma)

Norman Cohn and Félix Lajeunesse Before Tomorrow

This is a film which spends a lot of its time in the cramped confines of a tent or cave but also shoots majestic arctic vistas. However, landscape and wilderness cinematography is not enough to win there is framing and exposure to consider and how these shots tell the simple story of the film which is just enchanting. The fire-lit scenes inside allow for added intensity in the simplest scenes and day scenes in tents allow for diffused backlight.

Best Makeup

Film Title: The Unborn

The Unborn

Creepy and effectively done job on several fronts where makeup and not effects were used.

Most Overrated Film

Paranormal Activity (2007, Paramount)

Paranormal Activity

Hyperbolic critical acclaim not withstanding this film never escalated whatever tension it did build far enough to be a satisfactory experience. How it can be cited by some as one of the scariest movies they’ve ever seen is a mystery.

Most Underrated Film

Aliens in the Attic (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Aliens in the Attic

A grossly underrated family film that is reminiscent of 1980s family films and sci-fi. It’s funny and a pretty good action film at the same time.

Worst Picture

Orphan (2009, Warner Bros.)

Orphan

The tagline says it all: “There’s something wrong with Esther.” This is a movie that starts going downhill and never stops.

Best Editing

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)


Mark Day Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

This film feels so much shorter than its running time. Everything is always visually clear the story is told well and none of the cuts leave you scratching your head.

Best Song


“Quiero Que Me Quieras” Gael Garcia Bernal Rudo y Cursi

As catchy as the original, if not catchier, “I Want You to Want Me,” however, this version has a Northern Mexican flair and also a very comedic side as can be witnessed here.

Best Score

Where the Wild Things Are (2009, Warner Bros.)

Carter Burwell and Karen O. Where the Wild Things Are

The score to Where the Wild Things Are not only made itself instantly felt and known but also played on a loop in this critic’s head for at least a solid week.

Best Sound Editing

Avatar (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Avatar

This version of the award truly combines the edit and the design and both, from what can told in a single screening, are great in this film.

Best Visual Effects

Avatar (2009, 20th Century Fox)

Avatar

Probably the most impressive display of effects that has graced the silver screen in a long time. This is truly a technical milestone and it appears WETA has surpassed ILM at least for the time being.

Best Cast

A Single Man

The intimacy of scene in A Single Man is as cinematic as you can get. There are flashbacks, two-person parties, conversations in hushed tones and all demanding that scene partners match Firth. While it’s true he’s frequently alone it is through his character’s interactions with the world that we learn about him and for that the whole cast needs to be up to snuff, whether it be leads or smaller characters like Carlos and Jennifer Strunk.

Best Performance by a Child Actor

Is Anybody There? (2008, BBC Films)

Bill Milner Is Anybody There?

As stated in the review of the film Bill Milner is the greatest actor of his generation, meaning professional child actors around his age, there is seemingly nothing he can’t do just based on this performance and Son of Rambow. Should he continue taking smaller independent work he’ll be allowed to grow and could transition quite seamlessly into an adult career as currently his talents seem boundless.

Best Original Screenplay
Inglourious Basterds (2009, The Weinstein Company)

Quentin Tarantino Inglourious Basterds

It’s an original. The title takes its inspiration from an Italian film of the late 70s about American GIs behind enemy lines but similarities end there. Tarantino doesn’t second guess himself once and he created one of the most unique and enjoyable films of the year.

Best Adapted Screenplay

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Spike Jonze, David Eggers and Maurice Sendak Where the Wild Things Are

Jonze spoke about how he worked with Sendak to get something he felt was true. Sandak was quoted as saying he felt this film elevated his work. It was a brilliant adaptation which lead to a brilliant film. It was the rare adaptation which allows for expansion of tale as opposed to its contraction and it succeeded due in part to that fact.

Best Art Direction

Is Anybody There?

anybody_9small_1241523992_crop_550x362

This is a film that not only dresses a house but its roof, the yard, a train station, Clarence’s magic lorry and a cemetery amongst others. There is a muted tonality to everything in the film and there are great conscious decisions made all over the sets and appearing in frames all over.

Best Costumes

Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

Where the Wild Things Are

Thankfully CG was only needed for the faces of the Wild Things, and a great job was done there, however, if the Wild Things has been all CG it would’ve greatly diminished the overall effect and charm of the film.

Review- Unknown

Liam Neeson in Unknown (Warner Bros.)

OK, so here comes another one. Unknown is a film that to review properly, in my estimation, requires a few disclaimers:

1) SPOILER ALERT. I feel it’s important to get this one out of the way as soon as possible. I try to avoid it as much as I can but on occasion there will be a film that will leave you with little to no choice in the matter. I haven’t compelled to spill as much of the beans to make my point since I saw Orphan.

2) This is a hazardous film for me to review as a filmmaker. We are all guilty of armchair direction. Meaning we sit there and debate how we might’ve handled shots or the story. Part of my delay in writing this was to get past all the “I would’ve changed that” moments. I think it’s true in any form of criticism. Most notably food, I hate when a critic on a food shows alters the dish so greatly as to change it. Then it’s totally different and you’re not judging what’s on the plate. There are plenty of issues with “what is on the plate” in this story so I’ll leave it at that.

Without much further ado, Unknown.

This is another in a long line of films to have a pretty big twist due to either the fallibility of its protagonists memory or perception of reality. Unlike, say Shutter Island, the film doesn’t hinge entirely on the twist but the twist illuminates other issues.

The twist that Liam Neeson’s character is an assassin who after an accident has started to believe his cover story is his reality. In and of itself that’s a pretty darn good premise, however, in bringing that to fore there are many issues. Now one case of I wish that I will employ in this review is that while the coil is wound tightly you’re not necessarily expecting the criminal underworld to play into it and it’s a more effective story there.

The problem with the execution of the concept is that once the cat is out of the bag there is ample time for you to think back and realize how inconceivably unbelievable some of this film is.

Example: Neeson’s would-be wife, and actual assassin, is dumb enough to let his bag get lost which sets up the inciting incident. If there are crucial documents and information in their luggage why not handle it whenever possible? Secondly, the doctor immediately assumes that he is confused and misremembering things rather than coming to that conclusion in a reasonable amount of time. Memory and the functions of the brain are still so mysterious such that it’s difficult to believe that someone’s adverse reaction to trauma can be that easily guessed.

Then there’s this lovely little cliché: everyone Neeson runs into, practically, is in some way involved in this plot and trying to stifle his paranoid rantings. He happens across more people by chance who are involved than those who are not and it’s annoying and hard to swallow.

As a viewer I am one who tends to suspend disbelief rather easily so bear this in mind before I describe the next “I just didn’t buy it” moment. When Neeson is knocked out of the equation he is quickly replaced by his back-up. The problem here is that he is supposedly a noted scientist and no one notices his photo changing on a website, no one has ever seen this man just talked to him and over the course of a single year he’s developed a big reputation as a botanist.

It’s all a bit much. Neeson for the most part does a fine job in this film. He does manage to stick with his American persona without too many chinks in the armor but he’s also not given a great deal to work with. He said “I am Doctor Martin Harris” so many times it was a punchline amongst viewers both during and after the screening.

The bottom line is this: too many films are overly concerned with “fooling the audience” because they fear being too predictable, however, more often than not this has lead to films which are so ridiculously far-fetched they border on being laughable. For an example see the film Shutter. Yes, it’s horror and it’s difficult to be “believable” and original there but there’s a motif revealed at the end which fooled me, yes but also made me laugh when I saw it.

People have no problem with predictability believe it or not. We just want good. If you find me a person who walked in to The King’s Speech who having read the synopsis didn’t know what to expect I have a bridge I need to sell. It’s somewhat predictable nature doesn’t stop it from being a damn fine film. It’s just good we want, not tricks, which are after all for kids.

4/10