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.