Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Brief Film Reviews - November 2013

Some more 2013 films that have hit video:


LEVIATHAN is what happens when you mix Stan Brakhage with The Deadliest Catch. That should be a major compliment to give this film but I frankly nearly fell apart when watching it. So much of the film has the rain-soaked cameras capturing absolute pitch blackness, with no stimulation or interesting visuals beyond bobbling along with the boat. That is, of course, when directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor & Verena Paravel aren't showing us a tired guy taking a shower, a bored guy in extreme close-up, or a tired and bored guy literally watching The Deadliest Catch. It surely wants to challenge the viewer's expectations but its unconventional structure could prove mentally destructive to the average person, causing them to quickly tap out and move on. Despite the many aggravating moments, the film is genuinely a one of a kind feature. There are a few amazingly fluid long-takes, like when the camera follows a bird close-by as it goes through the ocean spoils or when the bloody leftovers are washed off the boat, only to be assaulted by a humongous flock. It even has some interesting metaphors, such as how the lack of the ship docking anywhere makes the vessel to appear as just another ocean dweller, hunting after other fish and "ingesting" them into the lower quarters. LEVIATHAN is worthy enough to throw a wrench in your viewing habits but it's also certifiably capable of pissing you off greatly.


Drug War

A drug manufacturer (Louis Koo) is arrested after his plant accidentally blows up, killing his family, and he drives into a crowded restaurant. Desperate to avoid the death penalty, he cooperates with a determined police captain (Sun Honglei) to violently take down many of the other drug kingpins. The latest from Hong Kong action guru Johnnie To, DRUG WAR is an impressively simple shoot-em-up that would make Michael Mann proud. The bullet-flying sequences are expertly constructed and given a blank soundtrack to match up with the somber morals of the picture. Without giving away too much, the movie has a hard conservative attitude towards dealing with those in the drug trade. It even likes to catch the viewer off-guard at many times: I thought that Honglei was sinking the film with his mumbling performance, only for him to become a chameleon, adopting differently vibrant personas once he goes undercover. It may not be a game-changer but it thankfully shows that the much-abused action genre as of late can still thrive in smaller corners.


Room 237

As evident by the fact that I write reviews, I love film criticism and film theory. I may have a few goofy hypotheses about certain flicks but they are not as bizarre as those assembled here in this magnificently enjoyable documentary. A small group of Stanley Kubrick fanatics lengthily discuss what they believe the auteur was secretly trying to address in his adaptation of THE SHINING. Is it about Manifest Destiny and our nation's history with the Native Americans? Is it about the Holocaust? Or, is he coming clean about his involvement with faking the moon landing? These and a couple of others are beautifully constructed by director Rodney Ascher, who edits the intense exploration of the horror classic with the rest of Kubrick's work and other important supplements. Do not mistake this as a gawky, finger-pointing comedic doc; despite their utter strangeness (why does everyone think the weasel character of Bill Watson is so important?), these theses are given a fair shake and are truly mind-blowing to come up with. Without question, the hugest highlight is when one voice (the interviewees aren't physically shown) helps explain what happens when the film is played backwards and forwards simultaneously. The film also shows what happens when fan appreciation of a film and its director is taken to the extreme, where probable continuity errors are treated as intentional decisions and maps of the hotel are printed and meticulously plotted out like a criminal investigation. Simply one of the absolute best films of the year.


Scary Movie 5

I wasn't expecting much from this fifth entry in the long-dormant SCARY MOVIE series but I at least expected it to be somewhat competently made. SCARY MOVIE 5 is shockingly abysmal in every category, continuing the nose-diving career of once comedy expert David Zucker. Director Malcolm D. Lee should be at fault for being at the helm of this disjointed slop but it's spellbindingly clear to see that his product was taken over by Zucker and The Weinstein Company. This was obviously intended to be a rated-R entry, only to be scrubbed clean in order to desperately attract any revenue. Don't believe me? Listen to the entire film's audio, which is largely compromised of ADR, all of which never, ever matches up with the actors' lips. This strict adherence to a PG-13 rating goes so far that there's a massive spit-take ruined because the setup was legitimately bleeped out(!). The parodies are both so old and way too new: The main plot follows MAMA exactly, yet the film spends too much unimportant time on jabs at INCEPTION, BLACK SWAN, and RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. Sometimes, the references are too obscure: It takes awhile to figure out that Katt Williams' cameo is a play on INSIDIOUS, simply because he puts on a gas mask. And sometimes, the lampoons go way off into the deep end: There's an astonishingly long, unfunny gag where a swarm of pool-cleaning robots have a raunchy backyard party. Can you honestly guess which movies are being invoked? It just badder and badder with every minute, whether it's the severe abundance of under-cranking, the terrible ape costumes, the horrible antics of Simon Rex, the stolen joke they took from ARMY OF DARKNESS, the fact that it's 71 minutes long with 19 minutes of ending credits, or the fact that Ashley Tisdale and Erich Ash are the "Coy and Vance" of Anna Faris and Regina Hall's characters respectively. Those two are too good for this pathetic, wretched contraption, which easily showcases that Zucker didn't need the intervention of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer to construct another bad movie spoof.


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