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Das Experiment (2001)
Great premise but ultimately uninteresting
Let me preface this review by saying that I don't classify "The Experiment" as a bad film, but rather a mediocre and forgettable one that managed to make me feel uncomfortable, but failed to engage me.
The initial premise is intriguing and very engaging; a failed reporter and taxi driver volunteers for an experiment about the relationships between prisoners and their guards. In said experiment, eight of the volunteers become guards, and the remaining twelve become prisoners. Our protagonist becomes one of the prisoners.
For roughly the first two thirds of the movie, I intermittently was fascinated and uninterested in the film due to several consistent problems it has. For example, the truly intense sequences in which the guards try to maintain control over the more rowdy prisoners without the use of violence (as the people in charge are always watching via cameras) are repeatedly broken up by completely useless cutaways to 77's girlfriend, and far too many scenes of the same variety. The film is a good fifteen minutes too long.
However, the feelings of claustrophobia, tension, and eventually hopelessness that the film tries so persistently to evoke are conveyed brilliantly at times, such as a panic attack suffered by a character midway through the film. The performances, while unoriginal, serve their purpose well and don't detract from the film.
In the end, "The Experiment" is a bit of a mixed bag. It has an intriguing concept with some truly disquieting moments, but it has a huge problem with predictability and editing itself. The film would have been far more effective with a minimalist style, never leaving the prisoners and their torments, rather than cutting away periodically for a character who, in the end, could have been erased entirely.
Clichéd, sure, but effective and intense nevertheless
Four people are trying to reach and take refuge at a beach where two of them, brothers, used to vacation with their family amidst an outbreak of a deadly infection in the new horror-drama "Carriers".
The key word there is drama and that is unquestionably this film's strongest aspect. There are several scenes, including one in which the film's protagonists abandon a young infected girl and her father in a deserted community, that personally affected me more than many films in recent memory. There isn't much of a central story, but more of a chronicle of a couple of people who, despite their near-pervasive bickering, are their only reason for each other to live.
There are several moments in the plot where some will be rolling their eyes due to the blatant predictability of the second act, and one character in the movie is next to worthless. It's also far too short, and at 84 minutes, the film moves well and is paced just right but doesn't have the detail of the post-apocalyptic world that is needed to immerse the viewer in the conflict. As good as it can be at times, the film is often unsatisfying and minimal, with little explanation or exposition. However, that makes the few moments that reference the disaster itself that much more powerful, so its minimalistic approach isn't all bad.
Despite these gripes, the performances are good, with well-developed if often unlikeable characters, and the movie doesn't seem to try to be an epic or large film of any kind; it is rather a small and surprisingly fascinating study of the extents that different people go to survive, and their motivations, if any, for doing so. It is easily my favorite infection picture besides 28 Days Later.
Observe and Report (2009)
Interesting and original, but still doesn't really work
A mall cop tries to make the big time and get into the Police Academy by catching a flasher that's going around, well, flashing women in 'Observe and Report', the new film from Jody Hill, the director of 'The Foot Fist Way'.
This mall cop's name is Ronnie Barnhardt, and he is played by the hilarious and inherently likable Seth Rogen, who tests this moniker here over and over again. But more on that later.
Meanwhile, Ronnie has a crush on a woman named Brandi, played by Anna Faris, who works behind the makeup counter. He hopes that his fame accrued from working on the flasher case will help garner her attention. However, the police get involved, and a detective, played by Ray Liotta, begins to steal some of Ronnie's thunder.
Ronnie isn't just a sweet, likable Blarty mall cop though. He's bipolar, huge, and very irrational in his thinking. He's a scary guy contained (barely) only by his endless pursuit of his own version of justice, and some prescription medication that he deliberately stops taking midway through the film. He's head of security at the mall, but no one but his fellow mall cops really seem to like him for obvious reasons. He's violent, unpredictable, foul-mouthed and is a constant victim of delusions of grandeur. He really believes that this one case will make him great, and he will do anything, against anyone, to make sure that he solves it before Ray Liotta does.
It is because of Ronnie that the movie is somewhat more memorable than other comedies with its level of nastiness. This one is called a dark comedy, but I rarely could laugh past the first twenty minutes or so. It has its moments, but the tone eventually dips to the point that the jokes just don't work. Even if the tone was light all the way through, the jokes are unoriginal and often stupid, with only one or two genuinely funny moments. However, dark it is. Ronnie does incredibly nasty things to people throughout the movie, including a scene of date rape.
'Observe and Report' is an interesting attempt to make a completely insane and bipolar character a driving force for a comedy, and it doesn't quite work. Rogen's character is interesting enough in his own way, and he does a good job in the role. However, he isn't very sympathetic, and eventually he detaches so far from reality that I wasn't sure if I was supposed to laugh at him or just feel bad. 'Observe and Report' deserves a viewing for its ideas, but they ultimately just come off depressing.
The Fly (1986)
Subtle and Fascinating, until the last fifteen minutes
Jeff Goldblum mixes his DNA with that of a fly. Classic.
This will be a brief review because there isn't much to talk about. The performances and writing are very good, and the makeup effects are absolutely outstanding, and they make the movie. However, I was somewhat let down by the ending of this movie.
I still really liked it, but the film had a subtle way about the first two-thirds of the movie that I really appreciated. It was paced perfectly, and it built the sense of unraveling humanity that Goldblum's character experienced very well. However, once the fly itself is up-close and personal on-screen, it lost much of the dramatic gravity it was building. The fly was convincing enough, and the makeup was brilliant, but the film went from very well-made quiet sci-fi thriller to all out monster movie. I know that's what it's supposed to be and all, and it's well done for what it is, but what it started went in a different direction than I am a fan of.
The Machinist (2004)
A man named Trevor has not slept for a year. He is deliriously tired. He inadvertently causes accidents at work, at a factory of unspecified sort. His only companion is a prostitute, and he is starting to see things.
Not just mild hallucinations, either. He finds strange notes all over his apartment, and sees a strange coworker that no one else does. He begins to envision a vast conspiracy, one that everyone in his life is contributing to.
So is the first act of 'The Machinist', a very interesting thriller to say the least. It is somewhat reminiscent of Christopher Nolan's 'Memento' in that much of what is obscured throughout is due to a severe mental condition. Trevor's symptoms are extreme to put it mildly.
First off, Christian Bale's performance is outstanding. He looks terrible, moves like someone that hasn't slept in a year, and talks like one too. When he starts to lose his grip on sanity, his sudden and frightening reactions to what only he sees illustrates the true alienation from reality that this character is experiencing.
The film's style is also very interesting. The color is very muted, as it is when one is sleep-deprived, and the editing is random and scattershot, using sometimes odd angles that serve to immerse the viewer inside Trevor's head. The film takes a few minutes to get used to, but when it's going, the viewer becomes entranced in not only the story, but the protagonist's mind as well.
The story itself could have used some more originality in its conclusion, but I tell myself that a film is more about the journey than the destination. I suppose that is true, and the ending works, without really serving to shock or surprise.
In the end, however, the film is very much worth watching for the experience of the film itself, much like Nolan's mind game.
The Signal (2007)
Deserves more attention than it has gotten
I went into the film expecting something like 'The Crazies' meets Stephen King's 'Cell', but this film was a pleasant surprise.
It is told in three parts from three respective people's perspectives. The twist? All of the characters' brains have been scrambled by an unexplainable demonic signal broadcast through every TV, phone, radio, or any electronic device (gee, that couldn't possibly be a metaphor for something). Essentially, they're all nuts.
The thing that makes the movie so interesting is the inconsistency between perspectives. Everyone is drifting in and out of their own paranoia and hallucinations, while others around them, in similar condition, kill each other off. It displays insanity with extreme efficiency and skill.
The film is often confusing as to what is real and what is just an entire scene taking place in one character's head, and thus will undoubtedly confound some. However, this movie deserves credit for its very unique approach to this kind of movie; what would it be like to be the zombie?
A lot can happen in the middle of nowhere
For the first time in weeks, I saw a movie I knew nearly nothing about going into. All I knew was the incredible praise for this picture, and literally nothing more. Except for the wood chipper scene.
The story starts off simply enough. A man requiring a somewhat humbling amount of money for a business investment hires two goons to kidnap his wife and split the ransom with him, due to the fact that his wife's father is overprotective and very wealthy.
Well, they do kidnap her, but due to not putting their plates on their car, supplied to him by the man that hired them, they get pulled over, and the venture turns murderous. This puts a pregnant cop, played by Frances Mcdormand, on the case of these murderers.
I refuse to reveal any more, as I am afraid I have already revealed too much. The movie is outstanding and consistently intelligent, setting up very complex conflicts that are not directly explained to the audience. We have to actively understand what is happening to appreciate why some of the characters are so distressed.
This is a thriller at its purest, maybe the best of the Coens' works. Some have labeled it a black comedy, but I don't find too much amusing about this very dark, but very brilliant tale.