Troye Sivan’s debut album Blue Neighborhood doesn’t qualify as a concept album, but it does explore a persistent theme of coming out and self-reflection on homosexuality. This one deals with a persistent unanswerable question and does feature what can be perceived as visual closure not evident in the lyrics. Enjoy!
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!
This is a South African film of some acclaim, which I sought a foreign region DVD of since its US distribution is more doubtful the further from its initial domestic release we get*. Spud was nominated for six South African Film and Television Awards (the foreign award is something I may touch upon in November+) and an adaptation of a famous novel series. The film stars Troye Sivan (most well known from YouTube or Wolverine) and John Cleese. The film sets as a backdrop the momentous events of 1990 and the release of Nelson Mandela, but what it focuses mainly on is a funny, occasionally touching, tale that’s a dawn of awareness, and coming out of one’s shell. It’s an appropriately episodic tale, that moves well for the most part and features great, surprising and fitting songs as well.
* All the Spud films are now available to rent or own on US iTunes.
+ I did. Here.
Spud 2: The Madness Continues is a follow-up to the film Spud. Like the cinematic predecessor before it this one is also based on a novel by John van de Ruit which tells a coming-of-age tale at a boys boarding school in South Africa. While the first film takes place against the end of apartheid and is very much Spud’s tale, the sequel begins to tell the story in the immediate aftermath thereof and is more an ensemble piece than the prior film.
It is the nuclear subplot in the film that is the most effective. In John (“Spud” Troye Sivan’s) home where his mother (Julie Summers) is insisting she wants to move to England for she feels she cannot adapt to the new South African reality, whereas Spud and his father (Aaron McIlroy) are perfectly content where they are.
While the romantic storyline is followed up from the first film and some good growth is shown there the film essentially ends up being too sporadic. Again there is a schoolyear-long structure to the story. The major difference here is that the flow is not nearly as good. That and the other members of the Crazy Eight (Spud’s group of friends) get more screentime in less substantive and interwoven manners than in the first installment. Add that to the emergence of the Normal Seven (A group of first years who are singled out and hazed for their normality by the Crazy Eight). Then when you add the late-game re-emergence and lessening of The Guv (John Cleese) the attentions are divided and the plot spread thin.
There are some laughs and good times to be had but eventually the trudging narrative does wear a bit. A misstep in the follow-up in a series is not unusual. With a third film released in South Africa in November and hitting iTunes globally this year hopefully the series concludes on a better note.
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.
Note: Apologies for this post being late. Also, I am weighing what a cut-off should be for films that have has no US release date past. As for now they are all eligible. Some films viewed last month are listed here instead.
[REC] 3: Genesis
This is a prime example of having to go where the movie takes you and not judging it based on what you wanted or expected it to be. I have already expressed how much I love what [REC] 2 did for that series. When you hear that this one is going to be a prequel you assume, “Great, it’ll be about the patient zero.” The connection is more tenuous than that. However, what you do get in this [REC] tale is humor, great horror, action, effects and gore and more theological blanks filled in than before. Whether or not part 4 can, and will, be the conclusion this series needs/deserves remains to be seen, but this film is what it wants to be: a very strong, fairly stand-alone piece that contributes to a larger narrative.
This is a South African film of some acclaim, which I sought a foreign region DVD of since its US distribution is more doubtful the further from its initial domestic release we get. Spud was nominated for six South African Film and Television Awards (the foreign award is something I may touch upon in November) and an adaptation of a famous novel series. The film stars Troye Sivan (most well known from YouTube or Wolverine) and John Cleese. The film sets as a backdrop the momentous events of 1990 and the release of Nelson Mandela, but what it focuses mainly on is a funny, occasionally touching, tale that’s a dawn of awareness, and coming out of one’s shell. It’s an appropriately episodic tale, that moves well for the most part and features great, surprising and fitting songs as well.
Yes, any anthology film by its very nature will have its ups and downs. You as a viewer will connect more with one piece or another, one section or another will be more well-executed or intriguing, especially if there are different writer(s) and/or director(s) handling each portion. This year I’ve taken to watching a lot more anthologies, which proliferate in horror more so than most genres. It has moments which are few and far between, set-ups are too long making it structurally askew in segments and in toto, acting is scarce; the frame of the story is fairly poor. This dereliction of pace and structure makes the two hour total running time seem nearly double that.
For a frame of reference here are brief comparisons to other anthologies so you know where I’m coming from: From a Whisper to a Scream has a stand-out segment, this does not; Creepshow has a brilliant frame, this does not. V/H/S seems to seek a unified tonality and aesthetic that it doesn’t quite achieve, Tales from the Hood does. Theatre Bizarre is wildly inconsistent, this is fairly consistent in its terribleness.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about Amors Baller, aside from the way that it handles the Swedish/Norwiegian dynamic, is that it puts football (soccer) out front as the key to a boy (Kåre Hedebrant, Let the Right One In) winning over his new crush. While the junior tournament plays a major part, it’s a setting that doesn’t take up as much screentime and the results doesn’t factor in as much towards the end as you might expect. It ends up being more about relationships and friendship. It’s a funny, heartfelt and quick-moving film.
The Hidden Face
What is most interesting about The Hidden Face is what it does structurally. There’s an inventiveness to a surprising revelation made that allows for it to play with perspective and narrative point-of-view in very creative ways. There is a bit of steam it loses in trying to amplify every single odd moment that needs clarifying after the break, but it remains a very haunting, odd and twisted horror tale. It’s one that is definitely worth seeking out.
One of my first thoughts upon seeing Nimmermeer was how is Toke Constantin Hebbeln, the director of this film, a name I only now have just heard. Now, granted since this 2006 hour-long film he’s made other shorts and just last month released a feature called Shores of Hope in Germany. Regardless, it’s not only the narrative but the cinematography, the staging and the penetrating emotion of this film, which oozes magical realism, that really makes it standout. It’s told like a fairy tale replete with narration but in a context that is very real and immediate. Odd things happen and are not explained away. The story is what it is and it’s at the service of its protagonist and its audience in dramatically, beautifully rendering its message. Leonard Proxauf, who later starred in The White Ribbon, is great in this film.
What Penumbra attempts to do is something I can definitely appreciate. How it goes about trying to do it is what I really have a problem with. It overplays its hand in some regards and is a bit too broad in the portrayal of its protagonist, her dialogue a bit too blunt; not to mention the scenes that set-up the gotcha ending that only play more annoyingly once everything is revealed. It’s an interesting examination of the Spanish-Argentine dynamic but many other recent co-productions layer horror, colonial antagonism and modern Latin America’s socioeconomic climate better than this does, combine that with its failings as a horror film and it becomes quite bothersome indeed.
Vorstadtkrokodile 2 and Vorstadtkrokodile 3: Freunde Fur Immer
Perhaps one of the most interesting things that one can start learning or realizing when you obtain films from other regions is that various film industries world-wide are not too different from Hollywood, for better and worse. What we in the US get in art houses are the more erudite, obviously artistic films from overseas. If you look at trades when they report on international bureaucratic/business-related controversies art versus commerce comes up. Essentially, we get the independents from overseas. Next time you watch a foreign film pay attention to the credits and see how many production companies, governmental agency logos and other corporate logos pop up in the opening credits. But the major studios have presences overseas, and even without that each country has its own brand of genre cinema, which is generally made for domestic consumption. Subtitles aren’t found on all foreign-made DVDs and many times only languages of neighboring nations apply.
However, globalization is here and many films are seeking to attain some popularity in the home video market abroad by including more and more subtitles.
Which brings me around to the Vorstadtkrokodile movies. Or as they’re called in English The Crocodiles.
This version is a recent German trilogy based on a popular children’s novel, which I believe was even translated to English at one point. Not unlike American trilogies this series raced to the multiplexes with releases in 2009, 2010 and 2011. Such that the second installment feels a little flimsy and all over the place. There’s some cool fantasy elements, some good jokes but the characters seem to be in stasis. Also similar to American movies, a musician-turned-actor is in the mix; Fabi Halbig drummer from the popular band Killerpilze was recruited to play one of the main roles. Also, not unlike American films Nick Romeo Reimann, one of the latter additions to Die Wilden Kerle (The Wild Soccer Bunch) goes immediately from that series and takes the lead in this film.
Now, all that commentary may sound cynical but they’re just facts. What occurs in the third film is a very pleasant surprise. The story is far more unified. It starts light and frivolous and gets serious. There’s great comic relief and it connects back to the first film. It closes a circle and consciously concludes the series. Just taking a few series by example at the very least these series come fast and furious and know when it’s time to close. It’s a warm and heartfelt conclusion that takes some outlandish plotlines to real and honest places emotionally and give the trilogy great closure.
Reimann, now moving on to other projects, seems destined to continue finding work and may even transition seamlessly into adult roles. It’s a bit early yet, but considering his steady participation in two series, totaling six films, with increased emotional demands in each successive film; drawing a parallel between him and Daniel Radcliffe is not far-fetched.
4/10 and 8/10
This was a film that featured previously on The Movie Rat during last year’s post about the Oscar Foreign Film Submission Process. It was a gutsy choice to submit this film over the likes of Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, but I applaud gutsy choices such as Dogtooth. That and the fact that Villaronga is a director I’ve seen and like previously made me intrigued by this film.
One thing that’s a double-edged sword about it being Spain’s submission last year is its indigenous nature. It’s a film set in the the Catalan region and deals greatly with the Spanish Civil War and the aftermath thereof. It layers in horror elements, legend, drama, politics and coming-of-age with deft and not much bluntness. One’s familiarity with the vaguest aspects of the conflict will be aided greatly in viewing it.
The story divides itself neatly and the section whose title alludes to a later scene is the strongest.
Asterix and the Vikings
This is a movie that I have a rather unusual relationship with. I actually didn’t know about this fairly recent animated rendition of Asterix until I was in Orlando earlier this year. In Epcot, there was a book of the film and I got it. The book renders the movie fairly well and considering that I as a fan of Asterix was fairly disappointed in the live-action version I was excited.
What it really goes to show is that putting production elements in place: music, dialogue, voice actors, the different animation techniques and effects employed made the movie so much more immersive than I imagined. From the book it seemed like standard fare: fun bordering on cute. The film that the book represents is a very fully realized version of the tale and is highly recommended to fans of this beloved character.
I believe, when grading or reviewing a film, that taking a film for what it is and not comparing it something its not or not trying to be is of paramount importance. Thus, I will look at films from not just a genre perspective but also within the confines of subgenre and in some cases franchise. This clearly applies to X-Men: First Class.
It’s an action film, it’s a superhero film but moreover it’s a film in the X-Men series. I will state in the interest of full disclosure that I am a fan of the X-Men and it’s mainly through other interpretations be they the TV series I was hooked on as a kid or the films that came later.
I will here echo sentiments uttered quite astutely by my friend Joey Esposito because they are true and have bearing on any interpretation of this film. Those thoughts being that the connection many can feel to the X-Men are usually for either of two reasons: first, the mutants all feel outcast and most people at one point feel like outsiders, some more poignantly or persistently than others- this instantly adds to the appeal of the characters. However, perhaps the most intriguing dynamic in this universe is the dichotomy between Xavier and Magneto who have two diametrically opposite views on how to deal with this struggle and better yet anyone can see the logic in both approaches.
While I liked the previous installments in varying degrees, save for Wolverine, these truths and this philosophy was always hinted at and alluded to but never became central to the narrative. The films were engaging, flashy and fun, in short good entertainment that lacked that little something extra that made it necessary or desirable to revisit the film two or three times or more.
I have already seen X-Men: First Class twice because it not only gets everything I was talking about but delivers on it in spades. Never are you left wondering as the geriatric lady of infamy in the 80s advertising campaign said: “Where’s the beef?” Instantly the characters of this tale are built we see the circumstances that set Magneto on his course, likewise with Charles Xavier.
The films opening scenes are absolutely hypnotic and quickly establish suspense. The drama of the situation aided by Kevin Bacon who gives a wonderful and memorable turn in his first villainous role in some time confronts a Young Karl, played with utmost brilliance by Bill Milner, a young actor I’ve long contended is the best of his age group and he keeps proving me right. He is pushed and traumatized beyond his breaking point and it crystallizes his view of humanity. Meanwhile, Charles (Laurence Belcher) also gets a perfect introduction, not without its own bit of suspense, and we see him exhibit his nurturing, befriending nature.
Very quickly, dramatically and effectively the film establishes its characters before it really sets the story in motion, It’s a gripping start and I responded emotionally immediately which is rare. Like a few of the X-Men films it has memorable scenes with its lead characters in younger incarnations such as Cayden Boyd as Young Angel in X-Men: The Last Stand or Troye Sivan as Young Logan in X-Men Origins: Wolverine. What this film does is deliver on the promise that those early scenes show, in fact, there is a string of absolutely outstanding scenes that kick-off this film in tremendous style and the scenes end perfectly, carry great tension and importance are numerous in this film.
The success of this film hinges greatly on the strength of its script and it is simply put outstanding. The dialogue most of the time is sharp and concise and even though it wanders into typical superhero banter on occasion it is always purposeful and almost never wasted. Furthermore it communicates the philosophies of its characters, which needs to hit home, very well.
The characters are also made more interesting by the fact that they too have things at stake aside from the stakes of the plot. Not to knock that either. It’s hard to up the ante more than this film does but we’re not just seeing a spectacle because the characters are personally invested in their mission with different motives and that just makes it work that much better.
A few cast members were already singled out but a few more deserve mention. What wasn’t discussed in Kevin Bacon’s bit prior is that he, like a few other actors, was asked to speak a few lines in languages which are not his own and it just makes the experience that much more real and immediate. Having English as a substitute for foreign languages in a film is a slippery slope and I’m loving that people are trending towards using the foreign idioms themselves.
Clearly a lot of the kudos acting-wise need to go to Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy, who play the two principal characters. They are the ones that intrigue us most and who bear most of the burden and knock it out of the park. While this role isn’t a showcase of her considerable talent as Winter’s Bone did Jennifer Lawrence does very well playing Mystique and each of the initial assemblage of mutants played by Nicholas Hoult, Edi Gathegi, Caleb Landry Jones, Zoë Kravitz and Lucas Till each have their moments to contribute.
The bottom line is that this is the best cinematic representation of who the X-Men to date are and why they are loved. The story is engaging and exciting but equal in intrigue are the characters. Add to that brilliant handling of how Xavier and Magneto whom are initially friends but just can’t see eye-to-eye philosophically and you have an absolutely dynamite film.
YouTube of course is one of the most used and most important websites on the Internet. As will be displayed below there are many ways in which YouTube has already effected the film industry and many more ways in which it can and should in the future.
Self-Shooting and First Person
The image of an arm disappearing off-frame where it is holding the camera is not uncommon in digital photography and not unheard of on YouTube. Some films have been shot first person meaning the film was self-conscious and aware and the person filming is a character, like The Blair Witch Project, Cloverfield and Diary of the Dead.
With so many vlogging and freely adjusting the camera while rolling it is an image that the people are now used to, and will accept this kind of image, and it wouldn’t be surprising if it started getting incorporated into narrative features more often than it is.
Several films have already taken to creating footage to be used only for their viral marketing purposes – most recently and notably a “leak” of footage for Cloverfield 2. The buzz surrounding Paranormal Activity was also aided in part due to its trailer being on YouTube.
When original content was first created a few years ago solely for the purposes of promoting a film you knew that it was going to be, and it continues to be, a crucial part of marketing a film. Even if not creative no major release leaves either YouTube or Apple’s trailer site out of their promotional plans.
OK, so jump cuts are nothing new and have been a somewhat tolerated part of the language of film since the French New Wave but it is truly only through the fictional narratives created on YouTube, both crude and refined, that people have en masse truly accepted the fact that continuity is a contrivance which can be forsaken for effect, if necessary.
Even the music video, which planted this seed, never fully communicated this because very few have a coherent narrative. So it was really only when the everyman got on their home video camera or webcam and started to edit that the jump cut became not just acceptable but almost preferred.
Granted the jump cut isn’t predominant in feature films, however, films don’t feel the need to justify or feel timid about using them when they need to.
This is a concept original to video sites in their way. It takes the audio and visual associate with a song and presents an alternative to the remix and ultimately creates a new song. Yet the phrase mash-up was quickly re-appropriated to merely mean combining ideas and not so specific to music so it’s not inconceivable that the idea can be used to conjoin disparate ideas in one motion picture.
In a Hollywood littered with prequels, sequels, remakes and reboots it’s certainly within the realm of possibility.
Another popular YouTube trend is to recut a trailer with carefully chosen dialogue and different music to make it seem like it was created for another genre altogether. One of the most famous examples is Mary Poppins as a horror film.
Now while this is usually just film enthusiasts having fun again we are in an age where executives are looking to repackage, re-brand and recycle wherever possible and considering the studios own the depictions of these films they created on screen it is not out of the realm of possibility that they go with an idea they find online, pay off the viral editor and go off and turn The Shining into a family film.
A recent trend in which modern era movies are spoofed as trailers from the golden age splicing footage from those old films to make it seem like the older star appeared in the newer film. A for example: Indiana Jones cut as if it was a 1950s serial or Ghostbusters in the 1950s.
An even more literal interpretation of this concept of using a bygone star in a modern idea could be accomplished through motion capture or 3D animation and a deal with the estate. If that sounds a little crass keep in mind Gene Kelly has posthumously danced with a vacuum cleaner so sometimes money does outweigh legacy unfortunately.
Handheld imagery is already well accepted by modern audiences. However, the YouTube influence is that people will become so used to seeing wildly unsteady imagery that there will be less and less concern about stable images and Steadicam.
This could be a very bad thing in the case of Quantum of Solace the combination of handheld camera work, editing and rapidity of the fight render the action nearly incomprehensible.
The positive could be an added element of realism where a film would not feel the need to cut to a more stable image or a different angle and want to exploit the sense of realism the lack of cuts would create. Images don’t always have to be pretty so long as they are effective too many modern films fail in their hand holding on both accounts.
It’s kind of obvious but needs saying regardless: save for the rare loon, such as yours truly, people are rarely uploading digitized film projects on to YouTube. They typically are all native to video in one form or another. So proponents of the digital revolution in the late 90s were indeed correct only premature.
Video is getting better looking all the time and people are used to it and will accept it unquestionably. Being consistently bombarded by video that’s in a resolution less than ideal on the Internet has aided the transition.
There are no history books likely to be written about what was the first video that was considered to have gone viral and even YouTube with its statistics keeping would be hard-pressed to quantify many statistics anymore considering how widespread usage of the site has become.
However, it was recently was announced that Fred, a YouTube persona created by teenager Lucas Cruikshank was optioned to a feature film. Should it come to fruition it would be the first concept to go from YouTube to a feature film. A few instances exist of YouTube inspiring commercials but nothing like this.
This would likely be a litmus test for other YouTube sensations in the film world (the music world has already been notably affected with Justin Bieber’s career owing its existence to YouTube popularity) but more than likely a few better, if not as popular people might get deals because of this and it would obviously be the most direct influence of YouTube on cinema: content.
Recently, a Uruguayan filmmaker signed a deal on the strength of his YouTube Short.
YouTube has already notably played a part in the casting of a major Hollywood motion picture. Troye Sivan gained notoriety on YouTube mainly just by singing a cappella and gaining attention including that of a casting agent. The agent got in contact with him and gauged his interest in acting and sent him out on a series of auditions. The first of which was for X-Men Origins: Wolverine.
He landed the role, played Young Logan and the rest is history. It is not likely the last story of that kind which will occur.
Another popular motif on YouTube is that of the still picture montage. It is rarely a tag but is a very frequently used technique that could be effectively used in film because in an art form predicated on the moving image to stop the motion whether through a freeze frame or a still is a very powerful maneuver.
Recently, a very effective still picture montage was used at the end of The Hangover, which showed the audience the digital photos from their wild forgotten night.
This could be the way in which YouTube has the most potential to revolutionize conventional narrative cinema as we know it. Unless a user is uber-popular and they become a “content provider” you are limited to 10 minutes or less. Flow varies and structure is unheard of, however, that does not keep many videos from being quite entertaining and creative while not traditionally structured.
However, at this day and age what has traditional structure really gotten us anyway? At this point, in many cases, all structure does is facilitate unoriginal plotlines that are made in cookie-cutter forms. When something new and original comes along it typically at least bends if not breaks the rules of narrative form so it is not far-fetched to consider that the YouTube videomakers of today could be the cinematic mavericks of tomorrow.
Therefore I call upon the YouTube generation to continue shooting, editing and telling tales the way you want to tell them and the world will listen. If not now, soon.
These are just some of the small ways in which YouTube can affect films. Considering how slow the learning curve is in Hollywood the effect can still permute in the years to come and let us hope that it does. It may create fascinating if not always brilliant work. At this rate it is the only current forum that can be considered a vox populi. It is a movement in and of itself even if not self-conscious of it. For that reason alone the impact is likely to be felt because as studios seek to emulate the viral style they will think it was their idea in the first place but really it was ours and that would be the greatest victory of all.