Saturday, October 17, 2009

Where The Wild Things Are

Finally one of the most beloved children's books of all time has been brought to life. Spike Jonze who's responsible for directing such odd and artistic classics as Adaptation and Being John Malkovich took on a bit of a different subject matter this time around with this kids classic, although it's not quite as "kiddy" as one might think.

Everyone out there should know the story of Where The Wild Things Are. A kid runs off to a special island and dreams up a bunch of monster friends to play with. That's the basic premise of Spikes version too although things get a little more adventurous, heartfelt, sad, and dark along the way. After Max gets into a fight with his sister, and a screaming match with his mother, he takes off alone down the street during the night wearing his dog suit. He hops in a little boat and sails off to a special island. The moment he gets in that boat is when his imagination runs wild. On the island he meets a bunch of big hairy monsters. Some with horns and one that even looks like a goat, or I think he is a goat. These are the wild things.

The main wild thing is a male named Carol. Right when Max arrives he sees that Carol is unhappy with whatever the current situation on the island may be and he's smashing everything in sight. Max immediately bonds with him. They have so much in common right off the bat. Maybe this is because Carol is portrayed after Max. Max sees things played out in front of him from his own life through the lives of these wild things. He learns lots of life lessons along the way but it's a very dark way. There's lots of crying and fighting, physically and verbally. The way Max and his sisters relationship was portrayed through the wild things was done really well and it was my favorite part of the film.

The set design and the wild things were absolutely stunning in every aspect. The settings and cinematography were both beautiful. The film has a very dark and sort of dirty feel to it. The wild things are these filthy hairy monsters with strange faces and creepy sharp yellow teeth that are sure to give a child under 12 nightmares. But I think that the overall message of the film and Max' power to dream will overcome those nightmares in the end, so take your kid. The wild things were so well done it was amazing. It seemed like it was a mixture of actors in suits with CGI for their faces. The voices were also right on target and casting James Gandolfini as the voice of Carol was freaking GENIUS. He nailed it. Max played by Max Records a newcomer to the scene was really good too, a natural talent already in his young age.

Believe it or not I think that this is one of those films that requires multiple viewings to fully get what's going on. I mean you may know what's going on but I would love to see it again to be able to catch every little detail that's being played out in front of Max with these wild things. This is a story of a boy who's fed up with the world. A boy who just wants to escape and run wild. He wants to play with friends that he wants to play with. He wants to be in charge and he wants to be loved. But Max learns many valuable lessons in the end. How to be a better kid, a better son, a better brother....and a better dreamer. Where The Wild Things Are is sure to get even better with each viewing, but for now it gets a 4 outa 5.

Paranormal Activity

After all the internet hype, the trailers, the clips, the calls, the "demand Paranormal Activity in your area" emails, I was FINALLY able to see it last night. The theater was pretty full and the crowd was into it. So I sat back and got ready to be scared shitless by the so called "scariest film EVER".
Paranormal Activity is filmed like a "fake" documentary which works best for this film considering it's small $11,000.00 budget. There's only four actors in the entire film and two of them are only on screen for about five minutes each, so it's mainly just two. The two main characters are Katie and her serious boyfriend Micah. They're young, in love, have a new house together, and are trying to start a life. Until some really weird stuff starts happening. That's when Micah right from the first scene decides to set up a camera in the corner of their bedroom while they sleep and see if he can catch anything that's happening on camera.

We've seen the whole fake documentary style of filmmaking before with The Blair Witch Project and Open Water (although Open Water isn't from a persons POV) and it's worked. I thought Blair Witch was great and even though you know it's all fake I can still manage to be convinced by it and I can see where a movie of that nature would have a real scary affect on people watching it who are from a small town who don't really know much about filmmaking. They may even think it's actually real which is a great accomplishment for the director in my opinion. What makes Paranormal Activity stand out from Blair Witch is that these things are happening to a specific person for a specific reason. MINOR SPOILERS- We're not quite sure exactly what that real reason is but this "thing" is there for a reason. There are some really cool effects in this film. Some of which, actually most of which I have no idea how they were able to pull off on their budget. There's a really cool scene with a ouija board and another really creepy scene with the powder and the footprints. But I wont give much else away. END SPOILERS.

With a running time of about 90 minutes the film felt a bit too long. It takes a while for things to get going and it's really all build up as more and more stuff starts happening over the course of the nights. The best parts by far are at night when the camera is filming in the bedroom. But another thing that makes this film stand out is that if you think your safe during the day time....think again. I did think it was a bit overrated after all the hype but I have to admit, the film grew on me from the time I left the theater to the time when I was trying to fall asleep in bed. I wasn't TOO scared in the theater but when I got home and tried to go to sleep with the lights off that's when it really hit me. Because of that the film is a success. That's just me. Others were screaming their heads off in fright in the theater, so it definitely worked for them. I will say that after you see this, at least for the first few days, every noise you hear while trying to sleep will freak you out. I must say just one more thing about this. Every film school in the nation should be showing this to their students because this is a perfect example how to make a whole lot out of very little when it comes to the process of filmmaking. Sometimes what you can't see is what scares you the most. Paranormal Activity gets 3 outa 5.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie - DVD

Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie tells the story of two friends, Dallas and Wayne, who are amateur bigfoot researchers in southern Ohio.

I had never heard of this film but I stumbled across it on Netflix and decided to give it a try. The film follows these two guys around as they track down Bigfoot in the Appalachian foot hills. I've always been interested in people that believe in these phenomenon's, whether they're real or not. These two guys live in poverty and they're just trying to make some money to fix up their houses, get the heater fixed in Wayne's van, and have some money to leave for their wives in case something ever happen to them. The main research headquarters is located at Dallas' house. He's got a small office that's packed with equipment and pictures of bigfoot sightings taking up most of the walls. Their days consist of meeting at the office and then heading out into the woods with a video camera/camera to do "research".

What I gathered from the film is that these two guys are really strange individuals. It's weird because I really couldn't tell if they were bullshitting or if they honestly believe in this Bigfoot phenomenon. If they are full of it then they're certainly putting on a good show. I mean why else would they be spending all of their free time out in the woods doing this?? They're clearly not making any money from it and after Wayne slips up on a local radio talk show, which was their big shot at being noticed, they lose all their credibility with the public. But are they out there trying to come up with the best possible fake evidence to try and scam money, or are they looking for that real shot to take?? Again, it's hard to tell. There's a good scene where Wayne is talking to Dallas on the phone after the radio incident asking him if he's mad at him and if he's still his friend. Wayne starts crying and we see right there how much he cares about Dallas and how these two, fake or not, make a good team. But I'll tell you one thing, it's fun watching these two walking around the woods making Bigfoot calls out into the wild.

In the end what I gathered from this film is that Dallas has a lot of mental problems, they both do actually, and that he actually does believe that Bigfoot exists. Wayne on the other hand is along for the friendship aspect of it and seems to be easily convinced at times. Either way they both seem to be good guys who mean well and this Bigfoot research is what keeps them happy and busy. The film itself is only 62 minutes long but after the credits roll stick around for the original 15 minute short documentary by the same director. Not Your Typical Bigfoot Movie gets 3 1/2 outa 5.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Bigger Stronger Faster - DVD

I've been on a documentary binge lately with Man on Wire, Monster Camp, Dear Zachary (review in progress), and now Bigger Stronger Faster. A really informative documentary is such a great thing for people in this world. It gives us, the viewers, information about a subject that we're either too afraid, too lazy, or just don't have the resources to get. I recently just got into lifting weights and my buddy who has been doing it for years kinda got me going. The synopsis of Bigger Stronger Faster made me want to watch it instantly. Chris Bell examines the lives of his two brothers as well as others who are on steroids and the effects that it has on them pursuing the "American Dream".

Chris Bell grew up as a smaller pudgy kid. His two brothers were kind of the same way. They were all a little overweight. They were active kids, but overweight. The three of them ended up forming a bond over one thing, weightlifting. They all wanted to be like their idols Arnold, Stallone, and Hulk Hogan. Once Chris' brothers became hooked on steroids Chris wanted to learn the real story behind this "illegal" drug and find out....are steroids REALLY bad for you?? He meets some really interesting people along the way. One of them is a bodybuilder in his 50's who's living out of his van in the Golds Gym parking lot in Venice Beach. He remembers the glory days of when Arnold used to work out there and hopes that one day he'll get discovered again as he was once cast in the Stallone film Over The Top years ago. The guy has a great quote that goes something like "This guy over here may be rich, live in a mansion, has everything in the world....but I'm stronger than him, can bench more than him, and can lift more than him....and that's what matters". Later in the film Chris talks with another guy named Greg Valentino. Greg has the worlds largest biceps. They're absolutely fucking HUGE. At one point during the interview he's chewing on a piece of extra rare steak at a restaurant and looks like an animal. But even he admits that when girls see him they think it's gross and he doesn't like looking like that anymore.

Chris interviews tons of officials about the matter and most of the experts are pro-steroids and most of the people who CLAIM to be experts are anti. We see the hardships as well as the good times that his brothers have to go through in their lives knowing that in order to be the absolute best and strongest person, you HAVE to take steroids. Chris proves in the film that it's pretty much a fact. There's a great scene where he talks to a photographer for a major muscle magazine who takes the "before" and "after" pictures of bodybuilders to show what will happen to your muscles if you take these great supplements and life weights. He discovers that many of them are taken on the SAME day. In the before picture they make the guy look all depressed and slouched over, in the after they simply shave his chest, butter him up, and make him flex. It was amazing and scary at the same time knowing that people are being so mislead. But even the photographer says "I can't believe anyone believes it's an actual "before" and "after" picture anyways, I mean look at this (pointing to the picture) this looks ridiculous".

In the end this was a highly entertaining and very informative documentary about the world of weightlifting, steroids, and even sports in America. I must say that this Chris Bell proved his point in that steroids, although having some side effects, really aren't nearly as bad as alcohol and drugs. Do I think it's considered cheating when used in professional sports?? Yes. Do I think it should be legal?? After watching this and with a warning label....yes. Would I personally ever take them?? No. Bigger Stronger Faster gets 5 outa 5.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monster Camp -DVD

I had heard about the documentary Monster Camp last year and wanted to check it out but was never able to due to it's such limited release. I happened to stumble upon it last night and was pretty excited to check it out, and man was it entertaining.

Monster Camp is about a unique group of individuals who get together and do what they refer to as "LARP" which stands for live action role playing. The game that they play is called NERO. It's in the vein of World of Warcraft and Dungeons and Dragons. These people young and old get together on the weekends for 30-60 bucks, dress up like wizards, demons, zombies, witches, dwarfs, etc, and go into all out battles on camp like grounds that are surrounded by woody areas. This is a true fantasy camp for people to escape their lives from reality and do what they love to do. Even though at times it looks a bit stressful.

I was really surprised at how serious these games get. These people prepare their own wardrobes, weapons, magic powders, and medicine to rebound from such attacks as a "triple sleeper hit". They remember what seems to be hundreds upon hundred of rules, sayings, and plot-lines and they somehow all seem to abide by those rules, sayings, and plot-lines. There's scenes in the film where one of them is getting attacked by several others and everyone is swinging their weapon over and over spitting out NERO jargon so quickly I found it to be unreal how these people even understand what the hell is going on, but they do. They stay up until 5am in the morning and have battles in zero degree weather.

This subject matter of role playing fascinates me because I've always been a bit envious of these people who can just say f u to the world and go get lost in a "LARP" game or a World of Warcraft (W.O.W) game, and have fun while doing it. I remember when I was in high school these are the types of kids that everyone made fun of. A kid in the film is at one point referred to as a "Coke head" due to the massive amounts of Coke he drinks. But these kids and these people don't deserve that. This is just what they love to do. Instead of watching football or heading to the beach on the weekends they play video games or LARP. It's their lives and who's to tell them it's wrong if it makes them happy. Are some of them "goofy" or "nerdy"?? Hell fucking yes. But I actually think that's cool, it's cool to be different. I praise these people.
Monster Camp is pretty much your basic documentary. It doesn't have too much cinematic style to it or anything groundbreaking like that, but for me, just observing these people was entertainment enough. Monster Camp gets 4 outa 5.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Man on Wire - DVD

"Man on Wire" is how they described Philippe Petit in a New York City Police report following his walk across a wire connecting between the Twin Towers in NYC. Why did they simply describe him as this?? Because after what they had seen that day, that magical, special day....those were the only words to describe it, as everyone who saw it was completely wooed.

Philippe Petit ran away from home at the age of 15. In Paris he became a street performer, juggler, mime, unicyclist, and soon tied a rope between two trees in the park to learn how to walk across it. From then on he became obsessed with it and after many great wire walks, an amazing one in Australia which is portrayed in the film, his dream became to wire walk across the Twin Towers of New York City in The United States America.

What was so fascinating to me about the film is the way they described how they actually got into the building, up onto the roof, and set everything up. Philippe and a very small handful of men disguised themselves as construction workers with fake badges and accents. They snuck their equipment up to the very top floor to prepare not just once, but many times while the towers were in their final stages of construction. In one scene Philippe and his friend are on the top floor literally sitting straight up underneath a tarp hiding from a security guard for hours until he leaves.

The entire film is building up the that final moment that we all want to see, but trust me, there isn't a hint of boredom along the way. The film does such a great job of showing us previous footage of Philippe's wire walking, interviews with his friends and girlfriend, and of course the suspenseful mission and planning of getting up into the towers. Throughout the entire film I kept saying to myself "WOW", and by the time the last sequence came....I was speechless. It's beauty and joy is purely overwhelming. The site of Philippe fulfilling his dream and acting it out right in front of you after everything he went through was a site on film that I'll NEVER forget. Philippe Petit is one of the most amazing, enthusiastic, loving, and interesting human beings in the world. DO NOT MISS THIS FILM. 5 out of 5.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Collateral - DVD

"I just shot him. The bullets and the fall killed him". This is a quote that hitman Vincent truly believes in the masterfully shot and acted film by Michael Mann, Collateral.

Vincent, played by Tom Cruise, is a hitman who's in town for just one night with five stops to make. Max played by Jamie Foxx is a man who's stuck in the gig as a cab driver never the wiser picks up Vincent thinking he's just another fare. Vincent needs a driver for the night and when he offers him five hundred plus another hundred if he gets him to the airport on time, it's an offer that Max can't refuse.

To me there are three essential characters in this film. There's Vincent, Max, and the city of Los Angeles. The entire film is shot in digital, at night, in LA, and as we all know, Michael Mann is the king of digital night shots. He uses some of the most gritty downtown alleyways I've ever seen in a film like this. On the dvd special features "behind the scenes" there's a part where Cruise is actually talking about how they were all a little scared to be filming in these areas, but Mann knew he needed them to make the film believable. He really gives the viewer the feel of a new type of LA. We're so used to seeing the Beverly Hills glamour shots or the Santa Monica Pier, but here we're blessed with the opportunity to see the real downtown LA on a night that Vincent, Max, nor the viewer will ever forget.

"Max! I do this for a living!" Tom Cruise went through months of physical hand to hand combat training as well as hands on gun training to prepare for the role of the villainous Vincent. There's another great "behind the scenes" section on the dvd that shows all the training that he went through. It shows Cruise at the gun range doing somersaults through the grass and popping up firing at targets looking like an absolute pro. He learned how to unload and reload as quickly as possible to be able to kill four guys at the same time if duty ever called....and it does. To me this kind of dedication to a role really pays off in the end as it turned out to be one of Cruises best roles in his career.

Collateral is the story of a killer. A killer who believes it's his job, because THAT'S what he was hired to do. Is he wrong to assume this?? Is he wrong to want to be the best at what he does and make no mistakes?? Is there some understanding to this man, to this killer?? Is there ANY good in him?? These are just some of the questions that are asked and answered in Collateral. This is a dvd that will never get old in my collection. I give it 4 outa 5.