61 Days of Halloween: Daybreakers

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, I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Daybreakers

Daybreakers is yet another vampire movie who may have fallen victim to an overexposed genre in terms of box office. While it does have a good premise, and creates a seemingly true to life realistic future world that never seems hyper-real, it is by no means perfect. The positive is that there were at least three legitimate very good scares and shocks in this film.

What is interesting to note in the film is that directors Michael and Peter Spierig not only wrote the movie but were also lead effects artists, which allows their vision to be total in the film, and the effects work is most definitely up to snuff. It is in story that the film lacks at times. There is definitely a visual signature to this film, which possesses the rare quality of being desaturated much of the time yet still being interesting to look at. Their future work will be something to be on the lookout for.

Willem Dafoe steals the show in this film, which is a double-edged sword. On the one hand he’s a great performer and it’s great to see him work, but on the other hand as soon as he enters the picture everyone else becomes less interesting even the protagonist, which of course is never good. He and his character are such large personalities that they dominate scenes he is in. Thankfully the good doctor of this tale, Ethan Hawke, does get some alone time so we can still follow him distraction free.

The second act is without question the hardest act to execute in a film. First and third acts it is often said are a piece of cake. There are struggles with pace, motivation and logic through the second act as the film nears its conclusion.

One of the central conflicts of characters is between Dr. Edward Dalton (Ethan Hawke) and Frankie Dalton (Michael Dorman). The former being an altruistic doctor seeking a blood substitute for the vampire world and the latter being a soldier. Towards the end Frankie informs Edward why he infected him. It is difficult to tell whether or not Frankie is lying and if he is truthful as it’s a pretty flimsy excuse that is not compelling at all.

While there is the rare effective use of slow motion the ending conflict does get a little bogged down, however, the cure that is thought of in this film is clever.

The movie avoided ending on time and decided to close with a cheesy scare attempt failing to notice that the last impression we get of the film is as important, if not more so, than the first. Conversely the first impression we get is a little odd. We get an inciting incident, a well-done dramatic little scene, featuring a character who has no bearing on the rest of the film whatsoever.

It is worth watching but is does not quite live up to the expectation that is set up during a very clever and effective first act.

7/10

Review- Winter in Wartime

Martijn Lakemeier in Winter in Wartime (Sony Pictures Classics)

If one simply looks at the synopsis for Winter in Wartime then one might not be tremendously struck by the concept but upon seeing the film the one thought that kept occurring to me was “How did this film get passed up when it was submitted for the Oscars?” It just goes to show you that one, there are issues in the selection process and two the films submitted every year are worthy of finding as this film is absolutely outstanding in every facet of its production.

It is a film that tells of a young man Michiel (Martijn Lakemeier) who is by chance brought into the resistance in World War II Holland. This does not even begin to convey how fascinating and compelling this tale is and how well it is told. The film starts right away with us seeing a plane crash and very creative confrontation between a British, Jack (Jamie Campbell Bower), and German soldier. This does not immediately fold itself into the thrust of the tale but does eventually.

What works is that Michiel’s character is established as well is his family life before he starts being drawn in further and further. What’s even better is that events conspire to involve him not just natural childish curiosity. A curiosity that never seems unnatural and leaves you shaking your head. It plays naturally and doesn’t ever seem contrived, which is of paramount importance in this film such that disbelief remains suspended. The matter-of-fact nature by which some others are caught and punished also adds to this.

The story is constantly delivering twists and turns at a naturalistic pace and methodically raises the stakes. It eventually ratchets things up to a become a fantastic tragic tale that never goes over the top and keeps you involved and makes it something you can relate to. As the the plot thickens and becomes more involved so does Lakemeier’s character become further developed and more and more demands are made on him as an actor, which he meets and exceeds. Principally in his cool nervousness at the end and also his frantic fear during a climactic slow-motion sequence. The rare variety of such sequence that actually augments the actor’s performance rather than rendering it comical.

It’s a portrait of the war at home without being in your face and full of histrionics but you still can’t help but feel the impact of watching a child’s world start to crumble about him and for the first time in his life he is compelled to act by a sense of responsibility rather than desire.

The gravitas that the tale carries through a bulk of the tale is beautifully scored by Pino Donaggio. The score combined with the sure-handed direction of Martin Koolhoven help this film leap right off the screen and take you into the tale more effectively than any 3D film could ever hope to.

The film isn’t a one-actor showcase nor is it a one-trick pony. Yorick van Wageningen has a tremendous two-pronged performance as the enigmatic Uncle Ben. Then there’s Melody Klaver whose relationship with Michiel changes as she too gets brought into the plot. Jamie Campbell Bower also is rather impressive as the wounded Brit, typically an English-speaking actor in a foreign language film doesn’t get too much to sink his teeth into but he does and takes advantage of it.

A testament to the wonders of this film is that one of the twists within this tale is rather large, the kind that a lesser film would hang its hat on. Not only does the whole film not hinge on this revelation and how it is handled but it is improved and propelled by it. It leads to a breathtaking climax that is even more artistically rendered than was the previous twist.

Upon walking out of the theatre the only things I was able to say that expressed the impression this film made on me was an internet acronym (OMG) and the very repetitive statement that (“I love, love, love this movie”). The reasons stated above are just some of them. Koolhoven establishes himself as a director to be followed and this film, is the best I’ve seen this year to date.

10/10