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Binge & Purge (2002)
Interesting premise, most botched execution since Lady Margaret Pole
Large swaths of this film are unwatchable. When I say that, I don't mean it's really bad and tough to sit through, I mean literally unwatchable. The lighting is non-existent so probably a quarter of this film is so dark that I have no idea who was talking and where they were. Add to that audio problems and hollow dialogue, and it was extremely difficult to have any idea what was going on at any point in the film as such little information was successfully conveyed. It was really a team effort to even figure out what was going on in it.
The acting was also, largely, very underwhelming and the editing was extremely poor, showing both strange delays in people talking (edits that had too much waiting between lines and was very unnatural) and that conversations appear to be going on with people in different places. There's a lot of quick flashes of shots that don't seem to make much sense, and the film jumps between things so much it's hard to track any continuity or arc. Finally, the kill shots are more like shooting mug shots with a white wall behind people such that it just feels ridiculous to keep seeing the exact same angle and effects for various deaths.
I will grant that the first 5 to 10 minutes of this film were fairly impressive, mostly as the film started off set in the Spanish Civil War, and it was a few minutes before we were even sure it was the right film, starting not in English and in black and white. It was a very good start to the film, and it went downhill from there. Characters come and go without much clarity, and the film never decides if this is a film about zombies or cannibals, or some weird spot in between, and so it also means that the feeling of continuity between what the status of characters are is totally non-existent.
The film has a surprisingly interesting start, and what could be an interesting premise, but then the film very quickly starts to fall apart into some sort of train wreck for most of the film, to then have a couple interesting scenes to end it on, beginning and ending on notes that suggest this film stood a chance of being decent at one point in the planning stages.
The Amazing Bulk (2012)
Surprisingly watchable for being one of the worst things I've ever seen
On a very fundamental level, this may be one of the worst things ever to be called a film. If the name and picture isn't a tip off, this is basically a fairly lazy ripoff of the incredible Hulk. It is also a fairly lazy ripoff of movies as entertainment.
I could go on about the plot being weak and nonsensical. I could talk about how most of the people in this have extremely poor acting skills (Shevaun Kastl apparently actually can do a decent job of it, though). There's a lot I could focus on, but really there's only one thing to discuss, and that's how utterly horrific the visual effects are.
For some reason, the entire film is filmed in front of green screens. That may seem common, but traditionally, those green screens are replaced with backgrounds that are not utterly horrific. There's only a few backgrounds, and so things repeat, locations are passed multiple times, and there's no feel of continuity during some scenes as scenery changes represent drastic changes. And then there's the fact that most things in the film are CG, but it's clearly using CG models that were pre-existing. This shows up early on when there's utterly ridiculous objects and animals that get screen time because the models were there and they didn't want them to go to waste, but it really reaches a climax towards the end when they decide to simply put every rendering they hadn't used yet in a chase scene that is like the idiot savant of chase scenes. It is so horrifically flawed to actually be sort of amazing. And finally, the Bulk may be one of the worst characters to show in a film, as it really feels like the movements are not in line with what the character is needed to be doing.
The attempts to merge it with live action fail embarrassingly. The running and walking in place ranges from hilariously overdone to barely existent, people routinely miss lining up with objects in the background or walk right through them, there's 4-foot cars, rooms that are far too small, and objects with strange perspectives, and every car scene is on a couch, sometimes a couch they didn't even bother to remove from the shot.
The only thing this has going for it is that it is simply so poorly done that it's almost astounding, and reaches comical levels. It's worth a watch once, but with a group of people that are good for a laugh because it's the only way to make it through it.
Sev beni (2013)
A love story without words
The simplest way to sum up this movie is that it reminds me, quite strongly, of the Jamie and Aurélia arc of Love, Actually, where the two develop a relationship of sorts even with a language barrier in play.
Ushan Çakir takes on the role of Cemal, who has an arranged marriage set up for him, but is taken by friends and his uncle to Kyev as a sort of bachelor party, with the intention of it providing him a chance with a prostitute before he heads back and gets married. While at a club, he spots Sasha (Viktoria Spesivtseva), and without communication, he goes with her out of the club and back to her place, all in a very quiet, uneasy position as they don't communicate at all.
When Sasha finds out her grandmother is missing, their activities are interrupted and instead the two end up searching around Kyev together, and the two slowly build up a chemistry between the two, and the whole thing always has a bittersweet undertone to all of it, knowing the communications difficulties, the miscommunications, and that both of them are already in their own relationships of sorts. The language barrier persists, though, in causing troubles and leading to the two being pulled apart towards the end.
With the language differences throughout, I do think one of the impressive things is just how communicative the two lead actors are, especially given that so much had to happen without talking, or only single words, and yet the way they play off of one another feels so natural and so genuine.
The boldest choice of the film, though, was how it ended. Romantic films are full of the cliché ending, where they realize that how they feel is worth pursuing, and they make that last minute gambit to stop the other person before its too late, from It Happened One Night to Frozen. And then there's this, where they both have those moments of realization.... and then bittersweet turns to almost bitter, as they both decide to return to their lives as it was before, as though none of what happened between them occurred. It's a poignant moment, realizing that they've both decided to go back to where they were before, even if they were less happy, but it's also a very sad moment that adds a somewhat bleak nature to film, all in all.
It may be a good story, but with an almost melancholy tone to it.
Closer to God (2014)
A moderate, modern Frankenstein
Closer to God is a modern revamp of Frankenstein, and it somewhat straddles the genres of science-fiction and horror, or at least tries to. While there's a large attempt of things that seem scientific, I really feel like that area was so underdeveloped that I just didn't find that at all convincing, even for suspending disbelief for the purposes of a film. It's what comes of a film trying to make some pretty broad claims about science without really exploring or addressing them. The horror film aspect of it has its moments, and while I think it did a very good job of building up tension, it really seemed to fall apart when it came time to cash in on that by being a bit blunt about it, after doing a fairly good job of building up the unease and mystery.
There certainly are some other interesting questions that are at least mentioned about what represents humanity and how cloning factors in, and it acknowledges a lot of issues with the ethics, philosophy, and spirituality of cloning, but it doesn't really explore or discuss those issues much. It opens the door to them, and I do give it some credit for not pushing a particular answer to those questions, but I feel like more could have been fleshed out with them.
An overall slow pacing, I think it could've been made up for with stronger points, both conceptually and thematically, instead it fizzles out a bit at the end.
Lucky Them (2013)
Thomas Haden Church steals the show
Toni Collette plays the lead role of Ellie, a music critic still living in the shadow of her ex-boyfriend, emblematic musician Matthew Smith, who disappeared ten years previous. Ellie still really is living as though she's ten years in the past, and that includes not adapting to the changing expectations of the magazine she works for, until she's given an ultimatum to do a story on Smith, and the music impact he had. She begins a search to see if he's out there, somewhere. Also featured are up-and-coming musician Lucas, played by Ryan Eggold (who wrote and sang his own songs), and one-time date Charlie (Thomas Haden Church).
I wasn't particularly impressed with Ellie as a character, her challenges she's facing certainly are the point of the film, but it was hard for me to really get by the number of chances it seems she gets, and some of what seems to be her more manipulative tendencies. That said, for that character, I do think Collette plays it well, just that there's parts of the character that were not so motivating. Lucas also feels like a bit too cliché of a character to feel particularly real.
Oddly, and certainly not something I'd expected when he first showed up, but for me Charlie quickly became the most interesting character. At first introduction, there's certainly a repellent vibe to him, but it gets developed more into an extreme social awkwardness and unawareness than maliciousness. He still doesn't quite strike me as pleasant, per se, but there's a personality to him from both the writing and Church's performance quickly makes him the most memorable character for me. His actions, his words, his personality all are very idiosyncratic but with an element of being genuine hinted at, but never fully convincingly there. It certainly does make him the character that held my interest best though.
The film feels like it makes some sudden stops and gos, with overly convenient plot turns, and a lot of side events that clutter the film, but don't quite seem to really add enough to the story to justify their inclusion, and there could've been a lot more included in there to flesh out Ellie's search for Matthew. I do like, though, that ultimately the film becomes more about if the search is worth it or not, or if ten years is long enough to let the past remain in the past or not. It's an interesting theme, and while I think the search isn't conducted consistently, thematically the film is always exploring if that search is worth it.
A heart wrenching story about being honest with oneself
Robin Williams takes on another serious role here as Nolan, and he does another good job in playing a serious role like this and handling a lot of raw emotions that really diverge from the image of Robin Williams in the role of comedy, although there's certainly some humour he brings to some scenes.
Really though, the film tackles a very somber and difficult topic as Nolan, long since married, takes a sudden leap into trying to acknowledge his homosexuality when he picks up a young guy off the street, paying him just to spend time with him. The idea of someone in a marriage having an affair usually is linked with boredom or disinterest, or some sort of deficiency present. What makes this powerful is that there is no deficiency in the marriage, it's simply something that Nolan can't choose to be. There is love between him and his wife, but they seem to be different loves.
To an extent, I found the film difficult to watch, particularly the scenes with Leo, the young man that Nolan develops an infatuation with, but part of the power of the film are those scenes, the awkwardness and uncertainty that Williams brings to Nolan, and the overpowering feeling that he's not sure how to accept what it is he wants. It's a very different sort of story than what I've seen of dealing with someone being gay, but it's strongly shown that it is a story that deserves telling.
Most poignant about the film, for me, wasn't the film itself so much as what was discussed during the Q&A, and an unusual coincidence that happened during the shooting of the film. One of the filming locations belonged to a couple that had been married for decades, but where the husband came out only a few years prior to being contacted by a location scout. That just adds something powerful to it for me, perhaps just as it really added to the sincerity of the film to have someone stand up and say that the heart-wrenching and painful scenes in the film can be very real, but that the underlying love, even if not quite romantic, is also very real.
I did find the film dragged, and there was a slow agony to it, somewhat like slowly removing a band-aid, so while I think the core of it is a very powerful set of emotions, as a film I was less impressed, and that as a film it was solid, but not stand out.
White Shadow (2013)
Strong in premise, but confusing in execution
The concept of the film is an interesting one, the story of an albino in Africa, facing dangers somewhere where albinos are killed because their body parts are considered to have magical properties. As a premise, I do find that quite interesting.
However, the style of the film-making really rubbed me the wrong way. Rather than one linear story, the film seems to jump around in time a little bit, and I simply don't understand what time points I'm looking at and where, and it just doesn't make sense to me. Without being able to follow it, I just ended up lost, and I didn't feel like the characters were particularly fleshed out, something not aided particularly much by character evolution being difficult for me to spot as scenes jumped around a bit.
I was a bit let down by this as I don't think it conveyed a strong story.
A global look at humanity at its best, and some of its worst
While this is all sourced as being based on a true story, I almost find that hard to accept, simply because of the sheer number of hurdles involved, on top of the appropriate naming of the titular character, Christina Noble.
The film straddles two different arcs; on one hand is the early life of Christina, and all the hardships she faced, and it's incredibly bleak. It makes it all the more impressive to me with how bright and energetic a character Christina is by both actresses that play her as a child and a young woman, and it does feel like the same character the entire way. Christina's Irish upbringing also is somewhat familiar cinematically now as the state of Ireland's treatment of children was showcased recently in another true story, Philomena.
While her early life is simply, well, tragic, the other arc is of much more mixed tone, as she travels to Vietnam after her kids have grown up, now played by Deirdre O'Kane, and she does a great job as Christina, from the humour and tenderness to the strength and determination. She takes the role very naturally, and her portrayal of Christina is very warm, and I think part of this may be O'Kane's involvement with Christina Noble's charity beforehand, so I think her performance was strengthened by her personal investment. As she finds a calling helping the homeless children of Vietnam, and tries to figure out how to help, she serves as this great and uplifting protagonist, all the more impressive given that this is, again, actually a true story and really did happen, to at least some extent.
In Vietnam, the story isn't simply carried by O'Kane, but has a great set of supporting roles. Right off the bat, the employee at the hotel front desk that calls himself "Mr. Front Desk" or some such thing has a great role as this begrudgingly helpful curmudgeon, and almost all his lines were great, both in writing, and in performance (and I'm somewhat annoyed that I don't remember a name ever being used for him for me to give the actor proper due). The children in the film are great, and a few of them even have more involved roles, and they actually have all been, or still are, helped by Christina Noble's charity and that makes me all the more impressed by their involvement as well.
It would be very easy of me to criticise the overly dramatic nature of this film and it's lack of believability, but what's so impressive is that I don't think it actually did take that many liberties to make it the story it is, and as raw as the film is, it's genuine. It does make the film much more powerful, and the points it makes about being poor being a constant experience anywhere is a very salient one, and the way Christina steps up the challenges in Vietnam is extremely compelling. There's so many social elements on both small and large scales that this film touches upon, and that's quite impressive.
There's something I find very moving about a film with such a vibrant person as Christina Noble (as depicted, but apparently fairly accurate) that faces so many challenges with that strength.
Kidnapped for Christ (2014)
Deeply unsettling, and makes Jesus Camp look positively cheery
Several years ago, Jesus Camp circulated around as that film that horrified people, especially the nonreligious, when it came to how religion was pushing views on children. With Kidnapped for Christ, Jesus Camp seems like a welcome change.
It's first noteworthy to mention the filmmaker. Kate Logan, a conservative Christian college student in the Dominican Republic for mission work, decided to do a documentary about a school there where American teenagers in crisis were sent. What she found there was teenagers that were woken up in the middle of the night by strangers and removed from the US, sometimes with no one outside their family knowing what happened to them, to be sent off to the Caribbean to have their behaviors corrected. Far from the extremes that one would expect to lead to this, some of them were fairly normal teenagers, all in all, before this happened.
The film goes through the processes of the school by following a few of the 'students' there over the course of the several weeks that Logan was at the school. The reason her background is relevant is because as she continues, she starts to find her own faith challenged, as well as her approach to the film challenged, as she is repelled more and more by what's going on in the name of Christianity. And that's what gives this film so much power.... it tries to take a relatively fair stance, but the sheer weight of evidence is heavy enough that it has a clear conclusion, and it even runs counter and challenges her preconceived notions when she was coming into this situation in the first place. (Indeed, this might have never come to light if not for her background.
So much of the power comes through what the three students she follows through go through, the way they talk about being treated, the fact that they've been sent to a foreign country without a say, and this is a film that I think very few people could watch and not find this upsetting, frustrating, angering, and disgusting.
Logan shines a light on something that I would think most people in America don't even realize goes on, and something that even some of these parents don't realize, to the full extent, what these children are being subjected to.
Closer to a light show than a film
The basic premise is a scientist that is trying to in some way save, or rather, preserve his wife after her death.
The film starts off being very reminiscent of a lot of sci-fi films that have similar concepts surrounding dead loved ones. Then... then it gets weird. A good portion of this film is simply long segments of color and lighting effects for the entire screen with brief clips back to the film, and at that point, this is less watching a short film and more watching a screen saver. It's an awesome screen saver, sure, but that's not really enough to cut it.
I like the bare concept (although it becomes very familiar to some stuff at the end) but that doesn't really carry over to how it was executed.