Tuesday, 18 June 2013

World War Z Review: Will you survive the zombie apocalypse?

Zombies are, quite ironically actually, everywhere these days. Whether it’s on TV with The Walking Dead, the British series In the Flesh or the cast of any reality TV show, they have taken over the airwaves in a lot of people’s lives. They have also made decent work of the movie theaters as well. With films like 28 Days Later and its sequel 28 Weeks Later, the Resident Evil series that just doesn’t seem to want to die, or spoofs like Shawn of the Dead and Zombie Strippers (yes, that movie actually exists, look it up). It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is slow zombies or fast zombies or zombies who dance on a stripper pole, people seem to like them despite ongoing talk of the coming zombie apocalypse.

Just as with vampires and werewolves and other supernatural creators of myth, zombies have their own mythology attached to them. Generally with zombies it’s that things in society have gotten out of hand and we need to rebuild what we are currently living in. So in that way, World War Z is just like any other zombie apocalypse story, things fall apart rather suddenly on a monumental scale and we get to watch it happen. What is different about World War Z is that it takes a really interesting approach to how things fall apart.

In following Brad Pitt’s character of Gerry Lane, a retired U.N. investigator, we get to see how a security conscious world deals with the tragic circumstances they find themselves in. The presumption of most zombie apocalypse movies is that everything goes under, every country in the world loses their governments and the entire system we have set up is destroyed. World War Z asks if that would actually happen. If a government is on constant alert for terrorist attacks and threats from foreign governments, would they actually be left unprepared for the zombie apocalypse?

As a result, World War Z is very different from traditional zombie movies. Just as I said in my review of Man of Steel however, that may not be something that people enjoy. It means that a lot of the things that long time zombie fans like about watching the zombie apocalypse don’t necessarily happen. If you are such a person, you may be left wanting by World War Z. You get some of what you want but not everything. Still, for a movie that so many people were nervous about given how much bad press it got for reshooting half of the movie and other problems, it works really well.

I enjoyed the movie and I am not traditionally a fan of zombie movies. It worked well and while some elements weren’t explored as much as I would have wanted them to like the relationship of Gerry Lane to his family, I still think it’s a movie worth seeing. They also made good use of 3D which many recent movies haven’t because they have been conversions. This is a movie that you might actually want to see in 3D.

Will you survive the zombie apocalypse? Maybe, but you will definitely survive a screening of World War Z and come away thinking it is a great experience.

Friday, 14 June 2013

Man of Steel Review: Is Superman still relevant?

Superman is a difficult character to crack, story wise. There isn't a person on the planet over a certain age who hasn't heard or seen some version of it at some point in their lives. Even if they aren't superhero fans, you can say the word Superman and most people know exactly who he is. Making him new and interesting then is nearly impossible. People have done it with vary degrees of success over the years, but the character always manages to gain new fans of some kind with each new incarnation.

More recently, his relevance has been called into question as many of his main stay stories and motives become less and less embraced by the general public. Finding a way to deal with them has become a benchmark of his writers in recent years. He is an indestructible, God-like figure that stands above us. Why is Lois Lane such an idiot, I mean, a pair of glasses, really? There is no real sense of danger because he never has a villain powerful enough to hurt him.

Thankfully, all of these issues are addressed in Man of Steel. He doesn't stand above humanity, he stands with it. People don't stand around waiting for him to save them. Lois Lane is intelligent and compassionate. Superman gets to let loose against an enemy that can give him a run for his money. All this and more is in a movie that portrays a truly modern take on the Man of Steel.

This is not to say that it is a perfect film. A lot of what gets "fixed" in Man of Steel are things that long time fans of the character will miss and complain about. Some of the elements that are great about the telling of his origin story get glossed over rather than explored in depth. There is very little exposition in the movie and what there is often gets woven into the main story, which can either hurt or help depending on how you approach it.

Ultimately though, I think that the character has truly been brought into the 21st century and it is about damn time. Man of Steel is an honest portrayal of the Superman mythose that proves his relevance to a new generation. Those that are concerned about Christopher Nolan's influence making Man of Steel a dark and gritty version have nothing to fear. As he said in some interviews early on, Superman is not Batman, dark and gritty doesn't work for a character who is supposed to be a symbol of hope.

It absolutely shows that Nolan took a hands off approach to Superman and let Zack Snyder, a man known for his visual effects mastery, take the lead the way a good director should. It is a bright, colorul film which is exactly what it needed to be. That being said, maybe it was seeing it in 3D but the color tones seemed a little to gray for my tastes. Contrast is a good thing people.

Also, be on the look out for what might be an easter egg for the sequel that is already rumored to be in the works. I won't spoil it for you, but if anything were a sign that might be it. It's extremely subtle and it is not in the end credits so you don't have to sit through them like you do during a Marvel film.

Henry Cavill is fantastic as Superman/Clark Kent. Amy Adams gives Lois Lane a sense of depth and honesty to her that makes her more than just Superman's love interest. Laurence Fishburne plays the role of a real editor of a newspaper today which in the story, much like modern day, is not an overpowering force in driving the plot forward. Michael Shannon has finally put Terence Stamp's portrayal of Zod to rest, much like Russell Crowe has with Marlon Brando's Jor-El. I think the cast has finally given us a reason to stop looking back to the 1970s to find a Superman story worth admiring, and a very good reason to start looking forward to the sequel or anything else DC Comics might have up their sleeve.

Is the Man of Steel still relevant? Absolutely, and he has finally joined the rest of the superhero genre in the sun.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness Review: How far into the Darkness can they go?

The thing about the first Star Trek movie, as made by J.J. Abrams, was that it had some big shoes to fill. Star Trek's legacy has lasted nearly 50 years. From it's very beginnings in the 1960s and the constant threat of near cancellation, through 4 consecutive spinoffs, 3 of which lasted 7 years in length. It already had 6 movies with the original cast and 4 with the Next Generation cast. Not to mention all the various video games, books and other content that's out there for people to absorb. Big shoes to fill might be a massive understatement given the circumstances.

Yet J.J. Abrams managed to succeed in giving old and new fans exactly what they want. A film that both respects the legacy of the previous shows, not to mention the one it's based on, and still manages to bring something to it that doesn't require new fans to understand everything about the previous version to enjoy it. J.J. Abrams has often said about the new Star Trek movies that he wanted to bring a sense of Star Wars to the Star Trek universe (a statement that some consider controversial, particularly now that he has been hired to helm the new Star Wars movies) and I think he succeeded on a certain level while maintaining what was great about Star Trek.

Personally, I've always been more of a Star Trek fan then a Star Wars fan. I enjoyed both but what attracted me to Star Trek was the sense of morality that was inherent to the way the shows worked. In the 60s, Star Trek was most often about the morality of race relations and the sense of threat that nuclear weapons posed in the face of the Cold War. With Star Trek: TNG, it focused a lot on the post-Cold War mentality, with DS9 there was talk of religious conflict and uncertainty, Voyager was most often about maintaining ideals without the structure to keep them in place, and Enterprise was about where that type of morality begins.

The first J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie never really had that moral compass behind it that I recall. I watched it again recently and I wasn't able to figure that part of it out. Thankfully, Star Trek Into Darkness didn't have that problem. It had a clear message of morality to it that was the beating heart of the story. Much like the first one however, it kept that sense of adventure and simplicity to it that made the first one a joy to watch regardless of the level of knowledge you have about the characters and the history that it comes from. It also manages to maintain a sense of humor about itself and that history which long time fans will absolutely love.

Particularly when it comes to one aspect of the story which I will not ruin for you and maintain your reason for going to see it if you're a long time Star Trek fan. Suffice to say there are expectations that people have about this film no matter what your level of interest in Star Trek is which are both met and in my opinion exceeded. For the second time J.J. Abrams has created a film that is funny, smart, action packed and emotionally honest. He understands the audience he's catering to and he's not afraid to give them what they want, but he's also not afraid to do the unexpected. He flips some expectations on their head and within the context of the story he's telling it's the best thing he could do.

I was concerned that given the title that they were going to take the story into a dark place and shift things to a place where the things I liked about Star Trek don't really apply. With the exception of a noticeable reduction in lens flairs, they haven't done it and thank god for that. There's a reason why J.J. Abrams is one of the hottest directors in Hollywood right now and Star Trek Into Darkness is proof of exactly why.

How far into Darkness can they go? Just the right amount to give us a great film that's a worthy addition to the Star Trek legacy.

Check out the trailer below:

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Iron Man 3 Review: Is the 3rd time the charm?

Any decent film franchise will try to recover from a failure if the potential upside outweighs the downfall. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. Like most people, I wasn't a big fan of Iron Man 2. It had its moments and some great characters, most notably Scarlett Johansson in a skin tight suit kicking butt and taking names. Not to mention any movie that involves Samuel L. Jackson always gets a bump in credibility with me. That man can read the phone book and make it fascinating. Oh, and did I mention Scarlett Johansson in a skin tight suit? Even that can't save a badly told story from a weak script. As a friend recently told me, a good story can make people forgive bad production value but the reverse isn't necessarily true.

Thankfully, Iron Man 3 has a good story and good production value. Whereas Iron Man 2 was more wrapped up in setting the scene for The Avengers and the preceeding Captain America and Thor movies, this movie is about the aftermath. How does Tony Stark live with what he's seen and done? What does a scientist do when his perception of the world has been shattered and he realizes that the world is much bigger and more deadly then he could have imagined? Can a hero even operate under that kind of environment? That's the reality that Tony Stark is living with at the beginning of the film and the theme of the whole movie.

It's a powerful theme and something that's pretty common in the superhero film genre, particularly in today's world. Doing it well and in a fresh way takes a lot of planning and a good foundation. The best part about adapting a comic book character with as many years behind it as Iron Man, you have a lot to draw from. Particularly when your audience may not be as familiar with the character's history as most hardcore fans. The first film raised the profile of the character but I'm guessing that the fans of the first two films didn't go out and read all the best comics of the character. I can count myself among such fans.

Still, I know enough to know what makes a good superhero film for the bigger fans. This film has a lot of those elements but doesn't require you to go out and read through every comic book to understand the context. It also refocuses the story on the main character, something sorely lacking in a film that has such a self-centered hero. In the end though, I think most people will be very happy with the latest installment of the Iron Man franchise. It's smart, funny and has a lot to say about the world we live in. The way a great movie of this type of film genre should do things. Even better is the fact that we know that this franchise is far from over. They have Thor and Captain America 2 coming out and while the film doesn't appear to set up anything for them, it does leave you with room to do another chapter if the folks at Marvel want to.

And with the sucess they have been having lately they most certainly will. Unlike other film trilogies, the character's story isn't entirely wrapped up but many elements which have been carried over through the three films do get a resolution of sorts.

Is the 3rd time the charm for Iron Man? I was definitely charmed by it and I look forward to seeing more from the character and the Marvel Universe.

Check out the trailer below:

Friday, 12 April 2013

Playground Review

There is an art to misdirection in film. It has been done on numerous occasions and with varying amounts of success in this film genre. M Night Shyamalan is one of the best examples of both the way to do it and the way not to depending on which of his movies you look into. Films like Unbreakable and The Sixth Sense do it very well, whereas films like Signs don’t necessary do it very well, or the misdirection doesn’t lead to a satisfying conclusion for many of the audience members. I know I had issues with it and many other people I know were not happy with it.

When it is done properly, it is really great, but when it is not done properly, it can sometimes ruin what up until the end can be a great film. Thankfully, Playground is on the side of misdirection done properly. The main character plays upon a lot of the ideas we have about people. As we go along in this film, we make certain assumptions about who he is and the way he live his life. His back story makes you think he is not the best person in the world. That he may be involved in some kind of criminal activity and is getting away with it. Enter the co-star, a young woman who again plays upon how we think about the realities of a young woman that is out at night. With these types of genre, most people have come to expect a twist of some kind. Film entertainment consumers have seen enough movies to know on some level that something is coming. But the mark of a good filmmaker today is in the ability of the filmmaker to keep the audience engaged in the story being told in the moment instead of waiting for the twist.

For Playground, I believe that the filmmaker Mark Kuczewski managed to do that. It is a very well written and shot film with an understanding of the material that it is trying to portray, I look forward to seeing more from them.

Check it out below or more from a lot of filmmakers at Film Annex.

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Garden of Fetish Review

Art is a strange subject these days. People have this idea of the art world and what it should be. However no one seems to have the same idea of what that is. The concept of art, as most people will tell you can be a very subjective thing. What is good for some people is bad art to another. Many people take that to mean that whatever you create with the intention of making art is by extension, itself art. There is a lot of validity in making such an argument. Some of the best art out there today was at one time seen to be strange and disturbing is praised in today’s art scene as classic.

But filmmaking is a different animal, art for the sake of making art, which is an idea held by many filmmakers today, is not necessarily the best approach because not everyone gets art for the sake of art. Many people are put off by it at first and that can be a troubling thing. You can’t wait for an audience to take the time to grow with you and appreciate your art over time in the way that a painting can be seen multiple times and appreciated more over time.

Film is an instant gratification medium in a lot of ways. You have to grab your audience emotionally in the first few minutes or you will lose them for the rest. In short films this is an even shorter period and on the web where most film is going you have seconds because of the volume of content that is out there. So art for the sake of art has trouble attracting an audience if not giving something for the audience to latch onto immediately. The Garden of Fetish attempts to be a commentary on this type of art.

Much like a lot of film entertainment today, it attempts to buck the trend of online film and storytelling by being art for the sake of art. There are definitely a lot of symbolic elements to the story that is attempting to be woven into the film that plays to that but I worry that this type of film does not give an audience what they are looking for emotionally to keep them entertained long term in today’s online entertainment driven culture. It’s a nice little film about the state of the art world today, but I am not entirely sure the filmmaker understands the art world today to speak about it that way.

Still, it is an interesting film and you should check it out if you have a chance. You can also check out more on Film Annex.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Attack of the Giant Vegetable Monsters Review

The thing about the horror films of today is that it preys upon certain basic ideas we have about humanity. When you watch a horror film, particularly a scary horror film (because there are some that are not), you have to remember that what you are seeing is a reflection of us, the kinds of fears that we live with today on a daily basis. However, classic horror films tend to be about something else. They tend to be a reflection of a fear that we used to have once upon a time. A time long since passed even though there are many who lived in that time. Making movies today of those types of genre requires an understanding of that concept and the ability to carry it out. A parody can sometimes go either way. The idea can be to reflect a current fear and do it in classic horror film style to evoke the nostalgia for that era, or it can be an attempt to do the opposite and use current horror film style with a classic fear to make fun of it. Either can be pretty effective if done well.

In the case of Attack of the Giant Vegetable Monsters, I am not entirely sure which they were going for. I am not even entirely sure what it is that the fear is trying to evoke. But in classic parody format they clearly understand the film genre they are making fun of. They understand the monster movie and they understand the kind of film genre that exists out there, and often times in a parody that can be more important than anything else. Because of that, I really liked the film in question. I thought it was one of the more entertaining movies that I have seen on the site and it had some great elements.

The animation was very simple but that goes with the setting and the era they are trying to invoke. Plus the little twist at the end, which I can say I was not really expecting definitely had me liking it even more. I say check it out below or find more on Film Annex.

Monday, 25 March 2013

The Arctic Circle Review

Desire is a fundamental part of any filmmakers’ journey. Many would say that if you do not have a burning desire to be creative and make interesting film entertainment content then you probably do not have what it takes to compete with filmmakers today and should probably do something else. As with most business, the cream rises to the top and it is usually the ones who fight for it that end up getting what they want and achieving their goals. As a writer and a filmmaker myself, I understand that desire. Most people who know me would call me ambitious. But there is a downside to the desire to be a filmmaker and it may not be what you assume. Newer filmmakers today have a tendency to spell things out for the audience or hold things back. It really does not matter what types of genre you look at, they generally do one or the other. Spelling things out is bad because it makes the audience think that the film makers did not think they were smart enough to understand what was going on without every detail told to them.

Holding too much back can also be bad because it will make the audience think there should have been more to the story and the filmmaker just is not very good at telling a story. Neither could be entirely accurate, however in the world of film entertainment perception is reality. What people think you are doing is what people will assume you are doing and that can be bad if what you are doing makes the audience feel one of those two things. The Arctic Circle in a lot of ways suffers from both of these things at various points in the film, partly because it does one and then the other.

At the beginning of this film there is a clear attempt to explain the story as it goes along despite it being a film without dialogue. As a result when the film stops doing that later in the short it becomes somewhat disconcerting and you are left wondering why it did not continue. Still, one of the benefits of doing a film that is entirely silent, animated or not, is that most of the action and story happens visually. Even though it switches gears halfway through it still manages to tell a very simple and honest story about the reality of the world.

It is still worth watching. Check it out below or at Film Annex.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Earth Review

Aliens are a popular topic to use for filmmakers today. This can sometimes happen in tough economic times, much like the attempt at a lot of post-apocalyptic films in those same times. When you bring the two together you get a lot of interesting content. But there is another type of alien film that happens from time to time among the various types of film genre out there. And it is most often done through films aimed at children. When done right, this type of film can bring in lots of money from not only the kids but from their parents as well.

Short film makers of today much like those making a feature film, try to replicate that sense of amazement in a much shorter time and it does not always work. It is extremely difficult to pull off a film like this, I am well aware of that. Any type of animation is extremely difficult, particularly with so much film entertainment out there these days, but I think it is because of how much is out there that filmmakers do not have much of an excuse to do it badly.

If you are going to make an attempt at filmmaking, you have to do it right or do not do it at all. Earth is a film that tries to do it right but I do not think hits the mark. Claymation animation is very difficult but with so much out there why would you not put a little more work into it to stand out from the pack, or at least show that you are up to the standards of animation that exist? According to the filmmakers description they were trying to put forward a sense of adventure in the simplest of things in the world. I don’t know that they necessarily achieved that.

The fact that there was an alien there who could do so much and had so many powers kind of took me away from the simplicity of the objects and made me think of the animation that went into it. The best type of films which attempt to push the greatness of every day things often have the aliens be a reflection of us. Alien yes, but generally not powerful beyond belief. There are exceptions to this obviously but by and large this is the reality. Which I do not think was properly achieved.

Feel free to disagree with me by checking it out below or find more on Film Annex.

For a Gold Nugget More Review

Sometimes simplicity is the best thing for making movies today. There is so much going on in so many films across all types of film genre, whether it is CGI or cool camera angles or any number of different story twists and turns. So much so that people forget the power of simplicity in storytelling. It is something of a lost art when it comes to film entertainment today. The power of a simple look between characters or anticipation of what is coming can do more for people’s enjoyment then anything out there.

Which is not to say that the CGI and cool camera angles don’t do a lot for people after all they would not have been created and they wouldn’t still be used if people weren’t interested in watching movies like that. They can be some of the most entertaining films out there. But with all the flash and bang, filmmakers today have to rediscover the art of subtlety and ambiance. Otherwise we lose the substance of the story and turns people off.

For a Gold Nugget More is a film made by a filmmaker that understands this simplicity principle. Remi Parisse & Antoine Kinget have taken to heart these ideas and produced a simple short animated film that plays off people’s basic ideas and needs. A gold farmer digging for a piece of gold and a brutish simpleton conspires to take it from him. Most people above a certain age understand the concept of money and the desire for it, and there is no shortage of people looking for the opportunity to take it in the easiest way possible.

In the way of both of them is a simple sheep that acts more like the dog Gromit then an actual sheep. But again, we have the filmmakers playing off a basic element of human nature. The need for companionship and the cute nature of animals, you don’t get more simple then that. And yet the film has an element of sophistication with it in the way it presents the animated film. These are the kind of people that should do well in the industry over the long term.

Check it out below and you can see more at Film Annex.

Friday, 8 March 2013

Biotech 8 Review

Comedy is all about trying to figure out how far you can go in my opinion. When people go to see a stand-up comic, what the audience is often looking for is someone with a great sense of timing and a feel for the crowd. They may not say it specifically, but when a comic knows how to handle the people they are talking to then modifying what they are doing to fit. A few extra words or a change in the type of words being said can mean the difference between a laugh from the crowd and dead silence.

In a lot of ways, making movies today is the same way. How you say or do something in a film is a key component of film entertainment. The wrong word or phrase from an actor, whether it is scripted or not, can completely change the way a scene is thought of from the audience perspective. This is something that you have to be aware of when making something artistic, no matter what type of film genre you are working in. An upbeat moment in a horror movie only works if you do it in the right way.

Biotech 8 has in a lot of ways failed in this respect. There is a political undertone which over powers the comedy aspect a little too much. It begins as a traditional send up of a commercial. It makes fun of the corporate structure and the way people perceive some workers, but the genetically modified aspect goes a little too far. There could be other ways to deal with that subject without going the genetically modified way.

But more than that it turns into something akin to a horror movie at around the halfway mark and then tries to dig itself out of that at the end but never manages to get there. The tone is somewhat inconsistent. The politics of the film do not mesh with the attempt at comedy, which is not to say that it is not funny. It does have some moments that someone like me who is big on politics would find funny but they don`t really translate beyond that in my opinion.

It falls flat. It is trying too hard to be a comedy to really deal with the politics of the situation of either genetically modified foods or corporate views. And it is too political and takes too much of a dark turn to be really funny.

I think the filmmaker should focus on one or the other and there is a good chance that they will succeed at one or the other, or both.

Check out more at Film Annex.

Friday, 1 March 2013

TiM Review

Tim Burton has a particular type of style. When he first came onto the film scene and people noticed him, it was definitely something we hadn’t really seen before. He brought us dark tales of stories we had previously thought we understood so well. Some might say it even changed the way we are making movies today. He might have even created his own film genre. Most would agree that he was a power house in the film and entertainment industry once upon a time, a title that might not really apply to him today.

The fact that he was so prolific made him saturated and sought after. As a result, people aren’t as interested in what he does anymore. But needless to say his saturation inspired a whole group of young people to go into filmmaking. His work in animation in particular managed to get people to take the art form seriously in a way that hadn’t been.

One such person appears to be the writer of TiM. A cute little film very clearly inspired by the great Tim Burton. A black and white stop motion animation piece with an obvious understanding of what made the Burbank native great. The voice over poetry being used is both smart and simple enough to get to both an adult audience and a younger or child focused audience.

The short is simple in its story about a young boy who just doesn’t fit in with other people. Any child watching this would either understand exactly what Tim is going through or learn to treat their classmates better. But they do a great job making it great for older filmmakers as well. The rhyming of the poetry as a voice over is fun and not repetitive the way some poetry can be.

Overall it is a great little film that anyone who is looking for a good animator should get involved with. I say see it.

You can also find more at Film Annex.

Monday, 11 February 2013

DiD Review

Mental illness is a very real problem in society today. Diagnosis of the problems people have is on the rise, although many question the validity of some of the more recent claims psychologists make about the human condition. One of the biggest controversies is over DiD (Dissociative Identity Disorder) or Multiple Personality Disorder. While there are some documented cases, the vast majority have been found to be false claims. Something that criminals sometimes use to try and get out of responsibility for the crimes they commit. If they were not in control, they can not be held responsible.

Which is why it is so controversial. It is extremely hard to prove as existing and only happens in rare cases. And that makes it an interesting case for filmmakers to use. Interesting but like the disorder itself, hard to truly pull off. More often then not filmmakers use a green screen to make it work. The ability to use green screen and use a single person for multiple personalities is an effective technique when the story calls for a split in a character's moral code. You just have to give the audience something to distinguish between the two sides of the character's conflict.

More recently there have been a number of shows which try to use that technique to talk about DiD and it can be very effective when used properly. Unfortunately, I don't think that DiD really uses it properly. The motivations of the differing personalities is somewhat unclear. One is angry at their mother, one does not speak and the other is trying to honor their mother's memory. But the question is why?

That is never full explored in this film. Something happened to them, that much is obvious and they are conflicted about how to deal with it. But why? The fact that they are able to use green screen towards the end of this film suggests that they had the ability to do something more difficult and knew enough to make it work but they did not.

More dialogue between the differing personalities would have make it work much better in my opinion. The description explains more about what is happening in the film then the film itself. If you came to it completely blind without the description you would be very much confused as to what is going on.

Even still, it is a very ambitious film, both from a film and script perspective. I just think with a little more work it would have been even better.

Agree? Disagree? Find out below:

You can also find more like this at Film Annex.

Grosse Pläne Review

Animation is a hard thing to get right. It requires a lot of work and effort on the part of anyone who undertakes it. Stop motion animation is particularly difficult but one of the newest ways to get people talking about you if you manage to pull it off. But you can not simply make it about anything you want. Stop motion has a particular style that lends itself to a particular type of content.

Which is not to say that you can not use it for anything, only that it is a bad idea. People see stop motion animation they tend to think of Wallace and Gromit. A family show aimed at a young audience. They think Chicken Run, again aimed at a young audience but made for families. These are the kind of things that are in people's minds. Going against that takes a great risk.

So when you do a stop motion animated short like Grosse Pläne, you have to know what you are doing. Thankfully, Irmgard Walthert appears to know this. The film is based on a childhood memory of theirs and a very cute one at that. It is a simple idea with simple intentions and that's the way it should be. Reaching an audience of younger viewers needs simplicity.

But simplicity does not mean that it is not smart, animated films like Monsters Inc and Shrek prove that. And I think this is where Grosse Pläne fails. It has many good elements and has insight into something smarter and more complicated but does not fully develop them.

Of course, 4 minutes is not a lot of time to develop an idea but that is where script becomes so important. Knowing the point you are trying to make from the get go informs the way the script develops. Even in a film with no dialogue, script is key. I am not certain that enough script development is what they have done.

It comes off more like a scene from a memory. Which it is, but that is not really a film. At least in my opinion.

Agree? Disagree? Find out below:

You can also find more at Film Annex.

Kyle Review

Relationships are never easy to figure out. There is almost no one you can talk to who can give you perfect advice on the subject. They are confusing. Partly because you have trouble really understanding the other person. Mainly because they are not you. Nowhere is this more difficult to figure out than in school.

Not only do you have the task of learning all sorts of information and figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life, but you have the added stress of trying to figure out people. School is a proving ground for more than just test scores and knowledge. It is a proving ground for life.

Which is why it is so difficult. It is why there are so many films about the school, and particularly the high school experience. Juggling the two can be hell. Doing it on film can be even harder to figure out. You have to find a way to compress a story of what is most often a romance into an incredibly short period of time. Anyone who has attempted it knows it is a lot harder than it seems.

So I applaud Amy Hill for making the attempt. Although I am not entirely sure that she pulled it off. She appears to have fallen into a trap that many have in their attempts. I have fallen pray to it myself. The idea of having a particular scene in mind and writing to that. In this case it is a scene of two young school chums walking home together.

What the film lacks is a progression of character and dialogue. From the get go it is unclear as to what each character is doing and why they are there. The implication at one point is that they had made plans to walk home together or that the young girl has agreed to be walked home. This has not really been set up properly and thus we run into problems.

There are certain elements to the characters which are interesting. Their family lives and what they plan on doing when they grow up, but it feels like this has not entirely been thought out and the characters are designed to find reasons to talk rather than to actually attract the audience and keep them engaged for the full 12 minutes.

Still, the concept is pretty cute and worth looking at. I look forward to seeing what else the filmmaking has out there. To see what I am talking about, check it out below:

You can also check out more content at Film Annex.

Pinhead Review

Corporate culture is a strange thing to deal with. Anyone who has had any kind of job in an office environment stressful or not. People are prone to doing strange things in retaliation. Like steal office supplies, slack off or take longer lunches to avoid working in what can sometimes be a mundane activity. At the very least it can be a repetitive activity which over a long enough period of time can push a person past their limits. Never is there more tension then between an employee and their boss.

Reaching the limits of tension is part of the premise of Pinhead. An assistant working late at night for his boss tries to let off some steam, much to the chagrin of his boss who wants him to stay focused. To keep him that way, the boss has gone to extremes. The type of extremes that involve black magic and voodoo. Unorthodox, yes, but clearly effective.

I am not one to generally watch silent films, I generally prefer the kinds of films which attack as many senses as possible and that usually requires dialogue. On occasion though, you get one that manages to grab my attention. Pinhead is one such film. The animated film has enough energy and cool visuals to keep me interested and the characters evolve in such a cool way that it is worth seeing what will end up happening to them.

Who will win? Who will lose? Check out the film below and find out.

You can also check out more content like this at Film Annex.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Chemerical Review

A lot of debate goes into what we do these days as a society. What we want to do and what's good for us. One of the biggest debates that goes on is the question of natural products versus chemical based products. Whether it's the food we eat or the cleaning and beauty products we use, there's a big question out there with regards to what the right way to do it is. Testing on animals has been a common practice over the years but a serious move has been made towards trying to reduce or eliminate this type of testing wherever possible. But that doesn't make the products themselves any safer for us. There's always the chance that what we put on our bodies or what we use to clean our homes can be harmful to us and the people around us. Which has triggered the rise of all natural products in the market place and a desire to eliminate products with harmful chemicals from our lives. Some contend that the all natural route is just another market for people push and make money off of, while others have fully embraced this type of product and swear by it to everyone they meet.

So what is it? Is it a cash grab or does it actually have beneficial effects on individuals who use them? Andrew Nisker attempts to answer that question in his documentary film Chemerical, and the results may surprise you. In a documentary tradition similar to Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me and 30 Days, Nisker challenges a family to try and live chemical free for 90 days. Can they live without the products they use to keep their house clean and use more healthy products instead on an average family's budget? Or will the family implode from internal drama caused by the change? One of the most interesting aspects of the film is its ability to switch between the real life situation the family is living through and the quirky, cute and sometimes funny animated commercials that are intercut between them to inform people about the potential benefits of making the type of change the Goode family goes through. Whether or not that's a truly positive change is something that individuals will have to decide for themselves if they want to take up the challenge.

But I think that the film does a good job of both entertaining and informing any audience who might see it about what is increasingly becoming a serious problem in society. It's definitely a film that the average movie goer might enjoy and be amazed by, but I would say that on some level it is definitely aimed at the people who are environmentally conscious and concerned about the footprint they are leaving but aren't quite sure how to go about changing it. Good choices are often hard to make, but one good choice would be to see this film.

You can check it out on Amazon, Vudu, and Youtube which you can also see below:

Friday, 18 January 2013

Monster Camp Review

I consider myself a fan of most things in pop culture these days. I own comic books, I've written fan fiction, I am an avid attendee of local fan conventions in the city. By the standards of most people, I would be at least a little outside of normal. In being viewed that way though, I tend to get lumped in with the crowd who go to these things and wear strange costumes. Those big elaborate things that people wear and get looked at strangely for. Even in today's society where the content these costumes are based on get made into huge blockbuster films that make millions, sometimes billions of dollars, they still make people uncomfortable and are seen as outside of what normal people do. It bothers me on occasion to be lumped in with them because I don't do that kind of thing but I realize that feeling that way is just another form of societal pressures to conform. People don't like the idea of conformity. It's been a growing trend in society since at least the 50s if not before. However even I can't imagine myself going out and LARPing. It just seems kind of weird to me.

Being part of what is referred to as fan culture, I am generally more up on the trends and ideas that the culture produces. I heard about LARPing several years back whereas I am sure there are some who still haven't heard of it today. It's the act of getting together with a group of people in costumes and fake non-lethal weapons and acting out fantasy scenarios in real time. Now when I say fantasy scenarios, I am not referring to the traditional view which suggests most people would go out and do something sexual or violent to another person, although that does sometimes come into it depending on the rules of the game being played. I'm talking about fantasies involving goblins and ghosts and other powerful beings that you read about in books like Lord of the Rings. Where most people just imagine the scenarios in their heads to enjoy the fantasy, these people actually go out and do it. Part of me can understand doing that. As part of the culture I've seen it, looked into it and had a general fascination with it, but I have never felt the need to try it.

Perhaps it's because I prefer to put my imagination into creating my own worlds through my writing rather than living out my fantasies through someone else's. Whether you understand it or not though, I think that Monster Camp is a movie worth watching. This type of thing is becoming more common, and with so much of the population growing into a culture like this, it's better to be in the know then weirded out. If you've never heard of it, see it and find out what makes these people tick. If you know about it or are part of it, see it as it's in a lot of ways a validation of the culture and the hobby as part of life. The filmmakers really take a step back and try to show you the world and at times explain it, rather than tell you how you should or shouldn't feel about it. It's definitely a film worth watching.

You can find it on I Love, Amazon, Youtube and Google Play.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Zero Dark Thirty Review: Where were you at Zero Dark Thirty?

Funny thing, I actually don't remember where I was when the announcement was made. I remember hearing the news, and the emotions that came along with it. It was after all one of the biggest events of the 21st century, overshadowed only the World Trade Center attack of September 11th, 2001. You might even say that this was a defining moment of my generation. A watershed moment that was 10 years in the making that could end up defining how we govern and/or deal with the world when our time comes. And it is coming soon. Yet as I was watching the movie detailing how it happened, I was struck by the thought that I couldn't recall the moment I had heard.

There has been a lot of talk about the film and controversy surrounding it, most notably regarding the torture and detainment of prisoners as a way of finding him and the representation of it in the film. I have to say, that the scenes in the film were hard to watch. Anyone who can watch this type of thing and not cringe should be examined by a psychiatrist. Which is not to say necessarily that the scenes were overly gory or violent. By the standards of some films out there in the torture porn genre, these scenes are pretty tame. They don't really push the envelope in any serious way of cinema.

I would say that the reason why there is so much controversy around this film is because we know that where in most films the characters being tortured or killed are entirely fictional. Given that this is based on a true story, it is harder to imagine that these people aren't real. It is more than possible that the characters in these films really existed. Their names and physical attributes might be different but there really could be someone out there in the world who was on the receiving end of this type of treatment, and that rubs people the wrong way. Very much rightfully so in fact.

Despite that though, I think that the scenes are necessary exactly for that reason. As much as Seal Team 6 should be commended for what they did, the people who were hurt along the way deserve to be allowed their place in history. As disturbing as it might be and uncomfortable as it is to watch they played a part in what happened and the ultimate result. If we are going to be outraged at the prospect of torture let's make sure we actually understand what it is that means. A lot of people in the Western world talk about having standards and only doing things which are morally right but they don't really understand the true extent to which people go through.

More to the point, if it was used in the process of finding and killing Bin Laden then let's not sugar coat things and gloss over it. Put it out there where people can see it and decide for themselves. Let's present ourselves as who we are rather than who we want to be. I may not like torture being used and I certainly wouldn't want it used on myself, but I don't presume to be morally righeous about whether we should use it or not. I'll leave that up to the people in a position to decide whether to use it. Voicing my opinion is one thing, but I will neither condemn or support those who I voice it to. Nor will I do that to Kathryn Bigelow for putting it in her movie.

Where were you at Zero Dark Thirty? I may not remember where I was, but this movie should be remembered and for more than just the torture being used.

Friday, 11 January 2013

House of Lies Review: Can you find truth in the House of Lies?

Big business is a boogeyman in today's world. When the subject of corporations and wealth come up, things often turn to talking about lies, greed an grabbing power. So it's no surprise that these ideas are front and center in House of Lies. But where a lot of shows would explore the consequences of a life built on lies and deception, this show attempts to see the benefits. In a world of full of liars, the best liar is the one who succeeds. Enter Marty Kahn, played by the great Don Cheadle, a management consultant who is second to none at the game they play. He can sell anything to anyone on a bad day. On a good day he can talk them out of house and home and make them think it was their idea.

It's often said that with any new business or industry that there are bound to be spinoff industries looking to take advantage of the relatively uncertainty that comes along with establishing it. With the multi-million or billion dollar conglomerate it seems, management consultancy is that spinoff. A business built upon coming in and telling a massive organization how to be more efficient at high costs. And there in lies the fun of the show. Marty Kahn and his team of consultants are masters of manipulating businesses.

You might say that it is one of the best examples of shows which fight back for the anger and resentment towards corporate greed and power. In the same way that Arrow and other shows in recent years have been like rallying calls reflecting society's perspective, House of Lies shows that even within the system itself there are people who look for ways to screw the big boys out of their money.

Adding to this modern story is the phenominal talent of the previously mentioned Don Cheadle, the fantastic Kristen Bell as Jeannie Van Der Hooven, the incredible Dawn Olivieri as Marty's psychotic ex wife Monica Talbot ultimately rounded out by what can only be described as the comedy duo of Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson as Clyde Oberholt and Doug Guggenheim. They are today's unsung heroes, the wish-fulfillment of the audience in a world where things just don't tend to go their way. And it's a joy to watch them work. Set from the personal perspective of Marty Kahn as he struggles to balance work, home and his relationships we still never lose sight of the lives of the people around him and their own struggles.

Can you find truth in the House of Lies? Absolutely, especially when a lot of those lies also happen to be the truth. If you haven't seen this show, then you're lying to yourself if you say you don't need to.

Echoes of Innocence Review

High school films are the kind of thing that I tend to be in to. I'm not entirely sure where that comes from, I didn't have the best high school experience and that probably has something to do with it. I must like watching people navigate through the experience with what is often more complicated a time then I had. All the drama on screen makes my own seem less terrible. But at a certain point you have to realize that these on screen experiences are just actors playing a role and what ends up being watchable is not necessarily reality. Still, there's an element of comfort in it and that can't be discounted. More than likely because good drama is usually based on some element of truth. In that way the emotional elements take on a universal feel that everyone can relate to for anyone who has gone through the experience of the last 50 years of education where the modern high school experience originated in Western cultures.

Circumstances and technology will change over time, but high school is always just… well… high school. No one likes it, and if you ask some people no one ever really leaves it as you can look at the world and see elements of it in every day life. While watching Echoes of Innocence, I get the impression that the circumstances of today's high school student seems to be ideology. What is belief's place in the high school experience of today? Is there a place for religion and faith in the modern public system? Most people would be turned off by such an idea, but those questions in a lot of ways are more like themes to the film that are creeping around the sides of the film's main plot, much like the background scenery of the visuals or the setting of high school itself. The real story is driven by the character of Sara, a young girl who feels out of place and somewhat ostracized from her classmates. Reasons why are pretty clearly defined through a series of flashbacks which lay out who she is and why she acts the way she does. That coupled with a number of voice overs from Sara herself make her the most interesting character of the bunch, which include her best friend who is both supportive and critical, various classmates who are both put off and intrigued by her, and the new kid in school who joined the local paper and wants to do a story about Sara.

They all play a part in Sara's story but the characters themselves don't necessarily get clearly defined. More often then not they are inserted into Sara's story when necessary to give her someone to interact with. Her own journey is very much a solitary one, defined by her own actions and her own ideas about the world and what she wants from it rather then how she relates to others. This drags down the story somewhat but Sara's progression is defined clearly enough that she manages power through the weak bits. It gives her story the necessary elements not to be bored by it. Obvious parallels to Biblical elements are present but the filmmakers clearly pulled back enough so as not to come off like a preachy film. I'm honestly not sure whether that causes a problem for the film or whether it helps. I suppose it's 50/50 in that department. Still, I think the film is worth watching for anyone who wants to look back and remember the way they saw the world when they were that age. Perhaps give you a new perspective on the vision you have of the world today. I say check it out.

You can find it on Amazon, Google Play and Youtube.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Arrow Review: How good is Arrow's aim now?

When I gave my review of Arrow's pilot back in August after seeing a special preview, I was very much encouraged by the show's potential. Now the show has had time to breath and flesh itself out with nine full episodes having aired. The show has also been picked up through to the end of this season at the least and that generally boads well for a series as a lot of them don't manage to get that far before being taken out, much like the Aquaman pilot or the much publized Wonder Woman show which appears to be getting a revival after a whole new team gets a crack at it.

So with the show's return coming on January 16th, I thought I would check in and see if my opinion has changed much since my initial assement. There were a lot of good things about that pilot, snappy dialogue, a well thought out premise, a willingness not to bank on the previous success of the Green Arrow character on Smallville. All of which is far from forgotten as you get into the proceeding episodes. What concerns me however is that the episodes don't seem to gel as easily as they did in the beginning.

Now I am well aware, that the pilot is not the show. Much in the same way that you can't judge a book by its cover, you can't guarantee the success of a show based on the strength of its pilot. However as any good TV executive will tell you the pilot is supposed to give you a sense of what the show is about. A well formed pilot then should be reflected in future episodes then. Unfortunately, it seems that the writers have stumbled on following up with a lot of those elements.

Most shows live or die on their ability to go one of two ways when it comes to storytelling. Either they have good strong episodic stories in which only the characters journies carries over from episode to episode as a subplot, or they have a strong character drama driven story as the main plot which makes the individual episodes' only purpose to drive the characters' journies forward as the subplot. Arrow seemed at first to have found something of a middle ground when it came to those two ways of telling stories. There was the strong episodic elements which was the list of names Oliver had to bring justice to, and the family drama which could inform the hero's journey.

It seems however that those in charge of the show were too concerned with being pigeon holed that they've tried to branch out way too early and haven't properly established the main story. They want the ability to go anywhere but they haven't quite figured out what their first desination is yet. In a world where corporate greed and the power of the 1% is of great concern to the public, a show about a vigilante fighting back for the little guy is perfect for the times. This article about the changing face of television springs to mind as the perfect reason why they should have stuck with that as the focus of the show, however instead they have taken to expanding the universe through guest star after guest star after guest star.

But The CW is known for its teenage drama driven stories and that really hasn't been properly explored in Arrow. What came off initially as a genuine divide in the Queen family's ability to connect with each other is now getting somewhat repetative subplot. Characters keep referring to the island Oliver was trapped on but that started to become somewhat tired after episode 2. If you want to go with your strengths and push the drama angle, why is Oliver not going after the drug dealer who supplied Thea with cocaine in episode 1? That serves both to clean up the city, allows for drama, and moves the hero's journey forward.

How good is Arrow's aim now? It's a little shaky but they're still focused enough to hit somewhere near the target. Despite what I see as issues with the show's basic structure I think that it still has some pretty solid elements that are worth sticking around for. They may not be as cohesive as they need to be in order to go long term, but they're a lot closer then many other shows have been at this stage in their series.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Shaking Dreamland Review

Filmmakers are a dime a dozen these days. It seems like everyone and their mother wants to be a filmmaker and have that one film that launches their career into superstardom. This drive to succeed makes people watch all sorts of films, mostly the really good ones to understand how it all works. And there is tremendous benefit in that, along with film school for those interested, but sometimes watching bad movies can be just as beneficial as good movies. It happens all the time that people set out to make films and end up being very embarrassed by the first two or three films they make. What you learn from that experience can help you make a better film the next time. Sometimes you have to fail a few times before you can succeed. The same is true for watching movies as well, sometimes you have to watch a few bad films in order to recognize what a good movie is. You can't have one without the other and you probably shouldn't. With this in mind, I went into watching Shaking Dreamland.

It's a hard movie to watch, and not just because a problem with story and camera work. The subject matter is also really difficult. A film about a recently married man who discovers some dark things about his past and his family as he starts his own. What he discovers, which I won't spoil for anyone, would be hard for anyone to spend time watching. It's clear the filmmakers who made Shaking Dreamland aren't afraid to tackle tough issues, and that can be a good thing. Too often movies that come out these days tend to tread on old familiar territory, things like love, career, and crime.

None of these stories are present in Shaking Dreamland. They are touched on briefly here and there but the bulk of the story focuses on the more sensitive issues that are brought up. Whether they are dealt with well or not I will leave up to people who have actually experienced such things in their lives. That's not for me to say. But what I can say is that I learned something from watching this film, and that's never a bad thing. I hope that you can learn something from it too, whether you're a filmmaker or not.

You can find it at Amazon, Google Play and Youtube.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

The Expendables Review: What do you need to turn a group of 80s action stars into Expendables?

I've never been a big fan of 80s actions movies. Rambo never interested me, Demolition Man and Cliffhanger weren't even on my radar. I'd seen a few of Schwarzenegger's movies but most of them in his appeal to kids phase until I went back in the 90s and saw a few of his more popular films. Die Hard with a Vengeance was probably the only of the series that reelly spoke to me for a long time. So it's not as if I haven't seen my fair share of movies from that era but they never really did much for me as films. I never had that "Wow that was so cool I want to do that moment." that a lot of filmmakers have with them. Maybe it's because as a child of the 90s I spent a lot of my 80s years watching John Hughes films and the huge swath of comedies from that era.

Yet when I heard about The Expendables, I was somewhat intrigued. Despite my lack of affinity for their heyday they had never really been in the same place all at once before and so I was very interested in seeing what would happen. Not as it turns out enough interest to actually go see the film in theatres. I had enough misgivings about the film to wait until it came out on DVD to see it, and in doing so I realize that I was right. The film, like many of the era these films harken back to, just doesn't have enough juice in it to sustain a whole hour much less the under 2 hours the film actually has. The characters are underdeveloped and some are basically useless plot devices, the villain is basically half assed and under used, and the only decent story worth telling was given to a secondary character and not followed through on.

Charisma Carpenter and Giselle Itie had the best stories to tell and yet the majority of screen time went to Stallone and his rag tag band of mercenaries who basically spent all their time standing around looking old and shooting people. You gotta do more with your characters then complain and destroy things to keep modern audiences interested and the only two ladies of the bunch provided the depth and emotional honesty necessary to make the extended action scenes work. Unfortunately depth and emotional honesty are not the point of a film like this and so they get relegated to C plot devices when the A and B plots haven't been any more secured then the plan to liberate an island by blowing up a single part of it with barely any of the army which is holding it hostage inside.

What made most of the 80s action movies work was the buddy cop scenario or the damsel in distress scenario, both of which are present in The Expendables but neither of which are particularly well used. You would think with this many 80s action stars in one room who have played out the stories numerous times would know a thing or two about what works and what doesn't work about a film like this and insist on making it better. Stallone in particular given that he is one of the only of the group to win a Best Picture Oscar. But no, the film is a hap hazard attempt to give many of its stars who have been relegated to direct to DVD content a chance to shine on the big screen. Unfortunately they don't really shine all that brightly, if at all.

What do you need to turn a group of 80s action stars into Expendables? You put them in a movie together with a barely there plot and tell them to act like it's 20 years ago.