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Mr. Robot (2015– )
If Kubrick Filmed Dexter...
19 July 2016
Warning: Spoilers
I don't think this review contains spoilers, but I put a flag up just in case I missed something.

This show is ingenious. Of course, that's the kind of hyperbole you will often see coming from fans of a show on the internet, but I really do mean it. Our lead will immediately bring Dexter to mind, only if Dexter had been a person with crushing loneliness and the inability to connect (rather than having a recurring urge to kill... something). But in both cases, our protagonist narrates us through the landscape of a world he feels he doesn't belong to.

Dexter, however, kills killers. Our hero (sort of) in Mr. Robot has his sights set on MUCH bigger fish... erasing all debt from humanity's ledger, and therefore, freeing us from the biggest yoke of corporate corruption.

Not surprisingly, there's an evil corporation he's set up against. In fact, E-Corp is literally called Evil Corp by everyone (including their own senior employees). Needless to say, they're creepy as all hell.

Fans of old-time cinematography will have a lot to love in this series. This feels like if Stanley Kubrick had a better sense of plot-pacing, and had been hired to direct Dexter for showtime. Much of the framing of certain shots owes a lot to Kubrick, but not in a bad way. Even the title, appearing in big, stylized letters, superimposed over the action at dramatically relevant times (with the series creator's name in tiny font just below it) hearkens back to the non- flashy title cards some films shot in the 60s and 70s have had.

The show, however, is anything but old-timey. It is distinctly a product of its time: a world saturated with smartphones, laptops, and circuitry. A place where we're always on camera, being recorded, and tracked. A place where our crushing debt is taken for granted as "just the way things are" and where people feel they need to bottle their real feelings up for fear of being blasted across the internet, or worse.

If you've ever felt claustrophobic at our technological state, this show will speak to you.

If you think that corporations are truly controlling everything, this show will speak to you.

If you feel like CEOs of giant companies see us as annoying eaters who have little use other than to be cheap biological robots, this show will speak to you.

And if you've ever wanted to stick your finger in the giant's eye, and say, "What now, bitch?!" this show will DEFINITELY speak to you.
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Repo Men (2010)
Repo! the Genetic Opera and Repo Men: both the same, both different, both worth your time!
28 March 2010
There is a great deal of controversy surrounding this film's blatant similarity to Repo! The Genetic Opera. Some call this malicious larceny, and others offer coincidence as a possible explanation.

The first difference between these films is obvious. One is a rock opera. The other is a drama. But these are not the only differences.

While both films are character studies of a man who repossesses human organs for a living, the approaches taken are quite different. Nathan Wallace in the Opera is a loving father, and caring person who has been coerced into doing a job he finds horrific. It drives him mad, and effectively splits him into two people. One of the Opera's main themes is emancipation and redemption; both his own and that of his sheltered daughter, Shilo. Remy, in Repo Men, is a thug, pure and simple. He jokes about the people he kills. He makes a game out of the slaughter. His change of heart only comes when just this happens: he needs his heart changed.

The Opera seems to focus more on moral decadence. It's a society obsessed with plastic surgery, drugs, money and power. It is a world where not only is human life cheap, but death is profit. Imperialism is the main villain. Repo Men makes a statement, but it's more of an afterthought than anything. The Union in Repo Men really seems to think that it's doing good. GeneCo in the Opera makes no such pretence. It doesn't have to. Organ failure in that world is epidemic. Anyone who doesn't go to GeneCo simply dies. They've got the world by the balls.

Both these films are very well done. Both have some serious flaws. Other reviewers have commented much more effectively than I on these, so I won't get redundant and repeat them here. I will say that while the imagery, and the rock opera approach to Opera is far superior, Repo Men has better dialogue. Each movie should be seen, as they both compliment one another very nicely.

Now, back to that controversy:

For me, there are several nails in the coincidence coffin. The marketing strategies are virtually identical. The Genetic Opera used comic-book animation to fill in some of the scenes which they lacked the funds to shoot. On the Apple trailer website, a seven minute motion comic teaser for Repo Men appeared just a week or so ago. The stories could be coincidence, but the same language and the same imagery?

Unless someone switched on Arthur Dent's Infinite Improbability Drive, the likelihood of this is incredibly low. No whales have materialized miles above the earth. The moon did not suddenly turn into a giant floating blancmange. No team of monkeys has written their own version of Hamlet. The Improbability Drive is off the table.

The huge nail for me, though, is the fact that whatever powers that be in the movie industry seemed determined to kill the Genetic Opera before it had even begun. It was denied widespread distribution. Its trailer appeared on Apple once, and to my knowledge, nowhere else. Production on the film was delayed, hampered, an stonewalled. All this supposedly because the execs thought the Genetic Opera wouldn't sell.

Now we have Repo Men (admittedly, coming from a different studio, so different execs likely at work), being granted massive publicity, funding and widespread distribution. Perhaps someone at Universal saw that the concept actually would sell, and decided to go for it. I think it much more likely, though, that someone at Universal had already sunk a substantial amount of capital into Repo Men before finding out about the Genetic Opera, and demanded of a friend at Lions Gate that it be killed.

This is, of course, pure speculation. However it is not an uneducated guess since money can be everything in an industry as expensive as film. If enough of it were sunk into a project that fans of another highly original film might brand a rip off, then this could be devastating, and it has caused trouble at the very least. Unless you believe Eric Garcia's unverifiable claim to a short story written in 1997, the Opera is the first incarnation this story. The two films were made at roughly the same time.

Re-telling a story is no sin. One of the greatest writers of all time, William Shakespeare, often would draw his ideas from plays and stories that already existed. The problem here is not the similarity since, as I said, both films seem to compliment one another rather than copy each other. The problem is the fact that Repo Men's writer, Eric Garcia, is determined to play that tired old "You stole my story!" game, though there is no doubt that Genetic Opera fans have been unfairly vicious, as well (I'm sorry to say that I am not innocent of this, either).

Had Garcia given a friendly nod to Darren Smith and Terrence Zdunich (or hell, simply claim that his was a different take on the same idea) there should have been no problem for anyone other than a greedy lawyer. These are both excellent films. But if this is going to come down to a copyright war, then it is a war that Garcia will lose.
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Collapse (II) (2009)
Prophetic and Utterly Chilling
21 November 2009
One review (official review) that I read while watching the trailer to this film described it at "an intellectual horror movie." Having listened to Mike Ruppert speak in the past, this comes as no surprise. From his scathing indictment of Dick Cheney in his talk "The Truth and Lies of 9/11" to the speech he gave in Seattle in January of 2005 (available in two parts on YouTube under the title "Talk by Michael C. Ruppert") the picture he paints for the future of the world has been a stark one for some time now.

However, gloomy is one thing. Being deadly accurate in nearly all predictions is another thing altogether. Ruppert, and his team at From the Wilderness (his newsletter) have been bang on the money when it came to oil prices, housing prices, and of course the collapse of the US housing market, and in other areas as well including drugs, the CIA and 9/11 itself. Ruppert being an ex LAPD narcotics officer who was born into an intelligence family, has had experience in seeing truth where others bury their heads in the sand. When he tried to bring to light evidence that the CIA was dealing drugs within the USA, he was shot at and forced off of LAPD. This was only the beginning of his investigative career, and of the vicious repercussions he suffered because of it. In November of 2004, his book "Crossing the Rubicon: The Decline of the American Empire and the End of the Age of Oil" went largely unnoticed, even though it could serve as a final nail in Dick Cheney's political coffin concerning his culpability for 9/11. Ruppert has said, "This is a book that I, as a detective, would... drop in the lap of a DA and say, 'I want a filing for murder, premeditated, first degree, multiple counts with special circumstances." The best part: he makes no mention of bombs in buildings, or holes in the pentagon, or molten metal, but merely treats the case as another crime to be pieced together and solved. His conclusions are staggering.

And in light of this, to hear what he predicts is yet to come is guaranteed send a chill down your spine, even if you don't believe him. And what does he predict? Nothing short of the collapse of industrialized civilization itself. How could this ever happen? Quite simply, the world runs out of oil. Since everything we do is dependent upon oil... well it's probably best if I let Ruppert speak for himself.

The film plays like one of Ruppert's more impassioned talks, albeit with some cinematography added in to keep the eye amused. We are in an undefined space that looks like a bunker, or an interrogation room. Ruppert sits in a chair, smoking cigarettes (presumably to calm his nerves, or as he's been known to say "I smoke as many cigarettes as I want to, but not nearly as many as the movie would have you believe") and tells us what's on his mind. And by the time you're done seeing "Collapse" it'll be on your mind too... no matter how hard you try not to believe it.

What makes "Collapse" so much more powerful than the angry rants and shenanigans of Michael Moore is that while Moore may be passionate about what he's talking about, it's clear that Ruppert is more than passionate... he's scared to death. What's worse, and also unlike Moore who has received greater publicity than many fiction filmmakers, Ruppert has suffered from a kind of Cassandra syndrome for sometime. His writings and speeches are prophetic and yet, until recently, he has gone mostly unnoticed by the majority of people. Despite this, he's cracked open some of the biggest cases of all time: the CIA dealing drugs, empirical evidence that Dick Cheney was directly responsible for thousands of deaths on 9/11, and most recently, the collapse of the global housing market. It's not difficult to picture a similar but more ancient voice shouting "Don't let the horse through the gates of Troy! It will bring ruin!" only to be met with violence and humiliation.

As is true with so many visionaries, Mike Ruppert is just now beginning to be heard... and like so many useful visions, the realization is coming too late.
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Has some problems. Has some scares. Worth a look.
4 November 2009
Warning: Spoilers
This is certainly one of those movies that will either scare you out of your pants, bore you to tears, or have you discussing it until the wee hours of the morning with whoever didn't agree with you.

The premise is familiar. One person described it as a rip-off of "The Entity" which can be a fairly accurate criticism, although "The Entity" didn't do half as good a job at building suspense as did "Paranormal Activity." Katie has been tormented by a malevolent spirit that until recently has confined its actions to hovering over her and making her very nervous. Lately it has been plaguing her with vivid, violent dreams, and making things move. Then her not-so-bright boyfriend Micah decides he knows what to do. He gets a high definition video camera and places it in their room and records the goings on. Although one expert in paranormal activity warns them that documenting this thing may actually aggravate the situation since the demon clearly wants Katie, and is starting to make a move for her, Micah insists Creepy stuff ensues.


What the film did right:

(1) The acting was spot on, and I dare say is the only way that this film had any impact whatsoever. You really feel just horrible for Katie who is clearly in a truly helpless position, and knows it, since this thing is fixated on her and has been tormenting her with horrific dreams when asleep, and subtle (and eventually not-so-subtle) scares when awake. As for the boyfriend Micah, one reviewer commented that he couldn't believe the performance because Micah was just so stupid, controlling and overall frustrating. He was stupid. He had an egotistical attitude that made him think he had control. He never really takes the haunting seriously, in spite of the mental anguish this is clearly causing Katie. He was so frustrating that I found myself wanting to sock him in the face. The actor performed this brilliantly. I had a friend in high school that was the exact copy of Micah; right down to how he handled situations over which he had no control. He's an infuriating character, but real nonetheless.

(2) The special effects, simple and cheap though they were, were incredibly effective (*spoiler* I defy anyone not to get a little chill when the thing drags Katie out of bed *end spoiler*).

(3) The director knew the power of suspense. Something as simple as a light being turned on can be utterly terrifying in the right context. (4) Things happen off camera. Those things are far more scary than slamming doors, or footprints, or Ouija boards, for the same reason that "Pontypool" was terrifying in its first hour: what we hear is far more horrific than what we see.

What it did wrong:

(1) The entirety of the terror of this film depends upon a sense of utter helplessness. To create an environment like that, the characters must first do everything they can to remedy the situation only to end up at square one. This didn't happen in "Paranormal Activity" largely due to the character of Micah. He just didn't seem to notice, or care, or... I don't know, but he was disconnected from reality in the film, making him a barricade to trying some actual solutions to the problem. He'd just try the same old "Let's prove there's a monster before we do anything. I'm in charge. This is my house. You're my girlfriend. I solve the problem... by not doing anything." There's no sense of helplessness here, only a sense of anger with a character who is clearly causing more harm than good. People aren't scared when they're angry (sometimes they're angry when scared, but the two emotions don't always go hand in hand - a mistake that many horror writers are guilty of). I think this is where a lot of people had a problem with this film. Had Micah clued in earlier, brought in the demonologist, discovered that not only was there nothing to be done, but that the monster would keep upping the ante until a very brutal finale, this film would have been ten times scarier.

As it is, there are a lot of good moments, some very scary scenes and sounds, and an overall chill left in the back of your spine. I however, left the theatre feeling pleased and cheated all at the same time.
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The Shield (2002–2008)
A True Propaganda Achievement
9 October 2009
That's right: I said it. My beef with this show has nothing to do with its pace, filming, or acting (contrary to many people responding to this show, I thought all of these were very well done). I am primarily concerned with the tag line, of all things: "The road to justice is twisted!" The word that really bothers me is "justice" because from what I've seen of this show (Season 1 and some of Season 2) there is none to be found.

This is a show that essentially glorifies police corruption. The techniques it employs are the same as that other great propaganda achievement from FOX, "24". We have a sympathetic, but thoroughly immoral cop Vic Mackey (extremely well played by Michael Chiklis) who we see employ a whole toolbox-full of dirty tricks to rid the streets of their filth. Just like "24's" Jack Bauer, Mackey murders, tortures, traffics in drugs, etc., and we are led to believe that these tactics are what are keeping the child molesters, gangland violence and whatnot at bay.

The moral of the show seems to be a familiar one at FOX: the root cause of the decay of urban neighbourhoods stems from the fact that cops don't have the right to lie, cheat, steal, rape and murder and summarily imprison anyone who rubs them the wrong way. The dangerous thing about this show isn't that it's bad... it's that it's GOOD! I with each passing episode I find myself more and more endeared to Mackey, and at times, I even feel like cheering, "Yeah, Vic! Hit him some more! Teach that druggie a lesson!!" The show is filmed mainly with a hand-held crew (the same crew that did the camera work for "The Mist") that gives the show a grainy, documentary-like atmosphere, almost as if this were "Cops", but pretend. Also like "24", which uses the gimmick of real-time and a one-day season, this gives us the impression that what's happening in "The Shield" could be real... could happen to anyone. It is this that blurs the line between real-world ethics and fiction ethics in the public's mind, and let me just say that I don't think the public is dumb. Quite the opposite in fact. What makes propaganda work isn't people's lack of intelligence, but the fact that they CARE. It is good people who want a good life for their families that are susceptible to this kind of manipulation: intelligence has less to do with it than we might think.

All this said, the streets are mean, and sometimes the line between right and wrong can get very blurry indeed. Life isn't a clear-cut case of good and evil (certainly not in the police world).

The sin of "The Shield" isn't that it tries to accurately portray the mindset behind police corruption. Its sin is that it depicts this corruption as morally right. It is here that the difference between realism and propaganda lies.
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As Far as Cheese is Concerned: Maximum Overdose!
29 September 2009
When Stephen King first set out to make this movie, he was up front about wanting to make a schlock film. Boy did he succeed. I was on the fence about whether or not to give this a great rating or a terrible one because this has got to be right up there with "Plan 9 From Outer Space" as one of the worst films ever made. But my god is it a good time, as long as you don't take it too seriously. I mean, in the world of "Overdrive" people's bodies seem to pop like grapes when trucks hit them, so how seriously can you take that? And there are some other great moments of cheesy stupidity that will have viewers barking with appalled laughter.

Unfortunately the elements of the film that are simply, and unpleasantly bad overpower the film and weigh down what laughs there are, which is why I settled on a poorer-than-poor rating. The bride character played by Yeardley Smith is one of the shrillest, most grating of characters that I have ever had the misfortune to see. The acting is so campy they may as well be singing "Kumbaya." This is funny most of the time, but as in the case of Smith, and a truly disgusting Bible salesman, watching this film feels like a waste of heartbeats.

However, upon seeing this film a second time, this seems like a good movie for drinking games, so there can be some use made of this. As for whether or not King should be put to death for this film's existence, I think I'll let him speak for himself: "*on writing a stinker* happens; as the author of "Maximum Overdrive", I'm qualified to say so." ("On Writing", p.216).
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Dollhouse: Epitaph One (2009)
Season 1, Episode 13
"Did I think of that?"
28 September 2009
Warning: Spoilers
How to get viewers to renew their interest in a show? It is a challenge that can be the bane of a TV producer's existence. Solving this particular problem has come in many different forms over the years. There are shows that do this by having a solid beginning, a strong middle, a strong middle, a not-so-strong middle, a jump the shark middle, and then people get fed up and tune out. Others craft an interesting story arc that gets resolved at the end of the first season, with just enough left unexplained so as to rope people in for the next season premiere. This latter case has been Joss Whedon's tactic on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and more recently on Dollhouse.

But Dollhouse tried something that I've never seen before. They committed the sin of the spoiler. Not by leaking anything online, but by filming an episode that shows you how the series concludes. The tactic is, as far as I know, unprecedented in television. Shows like How I Met Your Mother, and the L Word have done things similar, but never to the extent that writers Jed Whedon and Melissa Tancheroen did in "Epitaph One". This was done partly to satisfy the network's mandate of thirteen episodes, and to serve as effectively a series finale, should Dollhouse meet the same fate as Firefly. The effect is brilliant.

I won't spoil a thing, because the conclusion and the performances are best seen to be believed (Topher's heart-wrenching scene with DeWitt is only one of many moments that fit this bill). I will only say that the episode takes place ten years after season one, in a world where imprinting technology has toppled civilization.

The writers of this episode walked a fine line. They risked revealing too much and spoiling any chance of interest in later shows. But here, they only tell you enough to show you where all the characters we know are in the future, but not how they got there, nor how things will end for them. After seeing the season two premiere, and seeing how they are, even now, suggesting how things may end up like the hell-world depicted in Epitaph One, for me the series transformed. At first, it was interesting-but- flawed. Now, it's become as addictive as Firefly. If only they could have achieved this from the start.

On a final note, a comic book series called "Epitaphs" was launched to tell the story of what happened when Topher's "ThoughtPocalypse" wrecked the world. In my humble opinion, it would probably make a better series than Dollhouse itself.
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Dollhouse (2009–2010)
"Say we have this'll be abused. And that will be it. As a species we will cease to matter."
11 August 2009
I've read a number of reviews from this site and others. Most of them towards this series were unflattering at best. I've also noticed that most (not all) of these were written by people who had only seen the first few episodes. Not surprising. When I read a review written by someone who's made it to Season 2 (or started with Season 2) the responses I see are quite the opposite.

I will not even try to justify how this series introduced itself. From the moment I finished the pilot episode, I was far from impressed. By any standard, the first half of season 1 was terminally bad. By Joss Whedon's standards, this is doubly embarrassing, and whoever was instrumental in shaping episodes 1 through 5 seriously needs a smack. Anyone new to the series be warned: skip these five episodes if you do not want to waste heartbeats. I persevered, because it's Joss, and it's rare that he turns out a dud, but it hurt. However, I figured he had some magic up his sleeve, even if he'd misplaced the shirt for a bit. I was not disappointed.

By episode 6, they begin to move out of their weekly formula (who is Echo this week?) and into the heart of what this series is about: the Dollhouse technology. Not so much how it is used, but how it's abused. If we had the ability to "...take people out of people and put them into other people," as the little girl in Epitaph One described it, there's no way we'd use it for good forever. It's human nature. What makes the Dollhouse technology so dangerous isn't just that it can take people out of their bodies, but that it can program them to do anything. Someone gets a good program, they're sweet, funny and likable. They get a bad one and the next thing you know, they're keen on eating your insides. Season 1 tells us what the tech can do. Season 2 shows us what people will use it for. Hint: it isn't good.

I'll finish by saying that newcomers, who are not Whedonites, would be best served to start with the unaired thirteenth episode Epitaph One and go from there. It's rare that I suggest people skip the beginning of anything, but in the case of Dollhouse, Epitaph One reveals enough to get you hooked, but not enough to spoil the show. And while newcomers may not know all the characters presented in Epitaph One, the blanks aren't hard to fill in.
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A Geek's Response
10 May 2009
I have read many responses to this film (a good deal of them being not so flattering). I have my own ideas, and by the rating, you can probably guess that I hold it in high regard. I am well aware that it has been criticized as "pandering to the YouTube generation," a shameful rip-off of the "Blair Witch Project", and that the characters are shallow. Some of these comments I agree with, some of them I feel are misguided.

It is true that Romero has decided to make use of the rise of YouTube but any film set in present times really can't avoid that reality; especially if the apocalypse is going on outside your front door. Nearly every yahoo with a camera will have something to add, and in the film's final scene, we get a very disturbing example of precisely this. However, what supposedly makes this "documentary" superior is that it was cut together with a purpose greater than showing zombies eating things. This purpose is to make people realize what's going on not just with zombies, but with people as well. Now, whether a world ravaged by zombies would need waking up is up for debate, simply because people who refused to believe what was happening wouldn't last long, but that's another story.

The characters are definitely shallow. They are a motley crew of film students many of whom are pretentious snobs, and an obscenely drunken professor (who in true cliché form happens to be wiser than just about anyone else in the film). The part of this criticism that I don't really agree with, is that it hurts the film. I know that we've seen this kind of reaction from characters a million or so times in films past, but it isn't altogether unrealistic to show people behaving this way. We live in a shallow time, with extremely trite and superficial people (especially in North America). If those people were suddenly faced with an absurd kind of apocalypse (and zombies are about as absurd as you can get, with the exception, perhaps, of killer sheep from New Zealand) they would likely handle themselves like children. As it happens, these people aren't quite that bad, but they're still pretty pathetic. It's easy to say "Oh, I would never do that!" but then again, we don't really know until we're in a similar situation (and I think it's fair to say that this will likely never happen).

Now, on to the "Blair Witch" thing. First-person horror films seem to be a rising fad. Aside from the initial premise, though, the three big "camcorder" films ("Blair Witch," "Cloverfield" and "Diary of the Dead") are all very different in their execution. Blair Witch relied on hype and utter disorientation to the point where it was difficult to tell what was happening. Cloverfield capitalized on this, and then some, taking the Blair Witch concept and adding in some truly jarring visual effects that become even more jarring when they look like they were filmed by an amateur with a camera. "Diary" does something different. It's not filmed by an amateur, but it isn't by a professional either. It ranges from very carefully controlled shots, to frantic panning back and forth during attack sequences. It also has narration, which tells us from moment one that someone has survived (although whether or not they remained alive once the final cut was finished, is up for question). It really touches on issues of voyeurism and the desire to be the one to tell the story, at the expense of others, and I think this is the part that many critics either missed, or simply didn't agree with. In most films, the camera is God. It isn't a character. In Diary, every time something appears on screen, it was because a character decided to film it. When you see a main character die, his friend decided to film him, instead of helping him. You draw your own conclusions.

So, to sum up. Not perfect. Definitely flawed. Who gives a flying f**k?
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Warriors (1994)
Gives Canadian Cinema a Bad Name
26 November 2008
This is in response to one review that claimed "Warriors" was bad "even for a Canadian film". First of all, yes, the film stunk to high heavens. The acting was terrible, the action was sub- par at best (you can't have a train chase like you can a car chase!), and the characters were awful. However, to suggest that this sort of fare can be expected from Canadian filmmakers isn't fair. I don't know if this was the intention of the reviewer, or not, but that's what happened.

Canadian films (and I know I'm generalizing here) are by-and-large strange, often unpleasant, and (like it or not) unique. It's also true that they are definitely not for everyone, because of their odd nature. Yet, we see cinema up in Canada that simply does not get made anywhere else. A good Canadian film typically has a very unique concept that can be done for very little money, or a unique take on a familiar subject (also done with very little money).

This dreck called "Warriors" fails utterly, in my mind, because it attempts to imitate and American form of action film. Because of this, it suffers from its low budget that Canadian films just about always have. Every attempt to imitate the Americans (that I've seen, anyway) by a Canadian filmmaker, has failed. I can only hope that the Canadian film industry can be judged by better examples than this. For some titles that have been well-received, check out "Last Night," "Hard-Core Logo," "Fubar," "Passchendaele," "Pontypool," "Eastern Promises," and "The Sweet Hereafter", just to name a few.
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Halloween (2007)
This is the way re-makes SHOULD be done
6 May 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I have seen both of director Rob Zombie's earlier flicks, and I was, frankly, unimpressed. It was clear that everyone involved with these films was having a good time, but it was at the audience's expense. So naturally, when I saw this film in the theatres, I expected more of the same: unpleasant, badly acted (on purpose, I imagine, but still), and thoroughly sadistic. I was surprised, and delighted. I have to say, this is probably (dare I say it) even better than the original Halloween - which was a masterpiece in its own right. Here's why:

Zombie has developed every character in this show. He dwells on the early part of Michael Myers's life, taking ample time to show us the abusive environment he was raised in, and his early psychopathic tendencies (torturing animals to begin with, moving up to bullies at school, and finally, his alcoholic, abusive father and his neglectful sister). We also see, from the people he doesn't kill (his mother and his infant sister), that he didn't start off as a complete psycho. He was lashing out at the things that made him feel powerless. Then, in steps the law, locks him up and, once again, the power is gone. So Michael simply shuts down.

From this, we understand exactly why he becomes the empty psychopath that he is described as being in the original film. To me, this is what makes this all the more scary. You can't reason with him, because the only experiences he's ever had with people have been terrible ones, which explains his absolute contempt for human life. This is the key to a good horror movie: the feeling of utter helplessness. If you ran into Myers in this film, there would be no question that he could, and would, kill you.

Rob Zombie knew that there was more to this character than we'd been previously allowed to see, and he knew that it was scary as hell. He hasn't done what so many other people before him have done with re-makes, and simply used an old title to sell a schlock film. He has literally re-MADE the masterpiece, and remained true to every part of it: the scary and the cheesy. All faith in him, that I had once lost, has been restored, and then some.
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The Mist (2007)
Reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead... Especially in Black and White
29 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I don't think I've spoiled anything, but be cautious, depending on how sensitive you are!!

It's official: Frank Darabont should be the only person permitted to adapt a Stephen King story to the screen. He understands the genre, the characters (especially the secondary ones, which are something that King values in his books), and how to scare the bejeesus out of his audience.

I recently saw the special edition DVD, which features a cut of the film in black and white (Darabont's preferred version), and the lack of colour seriously helps the film. Black and white has an amazing ability to make CGI (which looks computer-animated, even when it's done right) look absolutely real - even when everything else does not. It also gives the film an eerie atmosphere that reminds me of classic shockers like Night of the Living Dead.

The only place this film lacks is the creatures themselves. This is more a criticism of King, than of Darabont, since they were fairly faithful to the original novella. They were a little too elaborate to seem like they came out of a natural eco-system (tentacles that eat people?... well, I guess anything's possible, but still...). That said, the dynamic between the poisonous bugs and their bird-like predators was interesting, and realistic enough.

The camera work in this film is something that is new to many films - especially one by Darabont (who has been compared to Kubrick due to his demand for control over his camera). Here, he threw control to the wind, and with the exception of the night-attack sequence, he didn't even storyboard. Since the cameras basically improvised, there were no restrictions on the actors, and many of them commented that it was the closest thing they'd experienced to stage-work on film. The result is a documentary-style film that puts us right in the middle of the action.

Probably one of the most effective things in this film is the realism, and I'm not talking about monsters, here (which were very elaborate; too much, some have commented). Instead, I'm talking about people's response to fear. In the space of two days, the inhabitants of the small town turn from a decent, civilized community, into a pack of religious zealots bent on blood sacrifice. For anyone who says this is too over the top, they probably have forgotten just how long it took for murders and looting to erupt during Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

And to cap it off, Darabont has written some of the most chilling scenes (added to the story) ever put on film, not the least of which is the ending, which I will not spoil for those who haven't seen it. King, who rarely likes it when people alter his work, has said that it is the ending he wishes he'd written. It just goes to show how much faith the two have in humanity... not much at all.
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Black Water (2007)
tense ultra-realism
23 March 2008
I've read many unflattering comments regarding this film, and the only things I have seen that they all have in common are: "boring" and "unrealistic".

First of all, they used real bloody crocodiles! How much more real can you get? No CGI, no animatronics, no miniatures. Just a croc and a piece of meat.

There is, however, no question that this film gets off to a slow start. Character development, what little they had, plodded at best, and I think this is primarily where this film is lacking.

However, when the film gets going, the action picks up dramatically. I don't mean to say that this is action packed. If you're looking for a Michael Bay gorefest, you'll be sadly disappointed. If anything, there are more moments where the croc can't be seen at all, and the people are just waiting. We know, though, that there won't be any relief. The croc is just biding its time. This had a similar eerie feel to other films that set to achieve terror through inaction. Open Water, another film that has been criticized by some viewers as being "boring," certainly comes to mind. Personally, I think that viewers who find themselves incapable of feeling the suspense have had their attention spans surgically removed at birth, but that's just me.

Finally the characters, though rather undeveloped, feel real and the situation is such that it really could happen to anyone in the right circumstances. Furthermore, the deaths are completely real, and at times, it's a little tough to watch.

All in all, this one's a winner.
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Dated, but hey! What do you expect?
12 March 2008
I get it... it's an old movie, and it shows in a lot of the acting and the characters. It was 1953! For its time, it was about as intelligent as any malevolent-alien-flick could be. If you're looking for cinema that's on par with anything they could have made, even a decade later, you will be sadly disappointed. If you watch the film keeping in mind that back in that day, it was difficult to do a flying saucer without seeing the wires, then it's incredible.

Remember, this is before wire-removal, green-screen and animatronics (obviously). Every visual effect that was done, needed to be created, and masked, in-camera. Flashes of ray-gun fire needed to be put onto each frame by hand, and done in such a way so that it looked half- plausible, and not jerky. This film absolutely deserved the Oscar it got for visual effects. It also used what scientific information they had at the time (now, much of it proved to be false, but not then) effectively, and to the story's advantage.

We've got a winner, here, folks!
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Good effects, good ending, bad characters
11 March 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Spielberg is a FILM-maker. First and foremost. When it comes to the technical side of things, and how that will affect the audience, he is better than just about everyone. With his "hiding camera", he forces the viewer into the shoes of his lead characters so that we know only as much as they do. That is extremely effective and jarring. Also effective is the fact that the alien's intentions are never explained... only shown. I can see why this would bug a lot of people, but I thought it worked.

What is not effective are the characters themselves. They are the classic "stock" characters that a writer pulls out when he has something else he wants to write and has just remembered that he needs some character moments to fill the hole. Dakota Fanning's claim to fame seems to be screaming her head off (even when this is very obviously going to get her killed; even a terrified child would have more sense than that). Really, though, who can blame her: Tom Cruise doesn't try to help her fend for herself even a little. He just shields her. In fact, in one scene, he literally blindfolds her to hide the horror. Responsible. And my GOD! His son is the most annoying piece of emo garbage I have ever seen in a character. Even when things are blowing up all around them, he's still trying to pick a fight with Daddy.

Now, the ending, while a lot of people didn't like it... sorry, guys. It's the original H. G. Wells ending. The whole point of this story is that people are not as in control as we like to think we are, and to have the aliens be taken down by military might would have meant that this would not be The War of the Worlds... it would be Independence Day. THE Americans DON'T ALWAYS GET TO WIN!! The sickness solution is natural, plausible, and would probably be the only way something as unstoppable as the aliens they're trying to portray, could be stopped.

Good movie, but not great.
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Masters of Horror: Imprint (2006)
Season 1, Episode 13
Not Miike's best, but engaging nonetheless
5 January 2008
Warning: Spoilers
(Might be some spoilers here, so watch out)

I'm sure we've all heard about the "Banned from cable" lore circling this film, and it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why. Miike has (perhaps deliberately) hit all the hot buttons of middle America. If you think my first example is going to be "torture", then you'd be dead wrong. In truth, middle America seems to be alright with gruesome torture (real or imaginary). It's abortion that they can't handle. This is probably the first film I have ever scene to show a medieval abortion, and it's just about as disturbing as the torture scene itself (this is coming from a pro-choicer too). This film also contains child abuse, rape (of family members), and patricide.

I've heard it said that Miike relies too heavily on shock to achieve his power. For counter- examples of this, see his film One Missed Call, or Graveyard of Honor (while violent, it isn't graphic in nature). Imprint is shocking. Not a question about it. It also isn't Miike's best work for a couple of reasons. His being forced by Showtime to shoot the film in English hurt nearly all the performances (Michie Ito, and Youki Kudoh's performances are formidable exceptions). Billy Drago hams his role up to an abominable extreme, though I suspect that this isn't Miike's doing.

The film does not, however achieve all of its power through violence. Rather, it is a story about humanity in all its decrepit contradictions. Some themes are sisterhood, love, and innocence, and the story seeks to illustrate these themes by showing them juxtaposed against a truly horrifying example of human cruelty.

This is an engaging film, whether you enjoy it or not. You certainly can't ignore it. Drago's character observes at the beginning of the film: "It's been my experience that the living cause far more suffering than the dead." After seeing this film, I know exactly what he meant.
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