Horror Film Review: Flatliners (dir by Niels Arden Oplev)


Jeff and I are currently on a little road trip but we’re not going to let something like that prevent us from seeing the latest bad movies.

For instance, last night, we saw the remake of Flatliners at the AMC 8 in Ardmore, Oklahoma.  Ardmore is a lovely little town.  When I was six years old, my family briefly lived in Ardmore and I can still remember this deserted barn that was sitting right at the edge of our property.  My older sisters all told me that it was haunted and I can still remember sneaking over to the window in the middle of the night and staring at that dilapidated barn, searching for ghosts.  Even though I was only six at the time, it’s still an incredibly vivid memory and I still have dreams about that barn.  That’s the power of a good scare and that is exactly what’s missing from Flatliners.  This is seriously one of the most forgettable films that I’ve ever seen.

I did get a little excited when I discovered that the film co-starred Nina Dobrev.  Most people know her as Elena from The Vampire Diaries but, for me, she’ll always be Mia Jones on Degrassi.  (Mia was not only a high school student and a star on the spirit squad.  She was also: a single mother, a model, a drug addict, and J.T.’s girlfriend during the show’s sixth season.)  She’s one of many Canadians in the cast of Flatliners.  There’s also Ellen Page and Kiefer Sutherland.

That’s right, Kiefer Sutherland returns in the new version of Flatliners.  But don’t get too excited.  He’s not playing the same character.  If he had been playing the same character, this film would have been a lot more interesting and he could have told the new cast, “Your sins have returned in physical form … and they’re pissed off!”  Instead, he’s just playing a clueless doctor with really weird hair.  I think we’re just supposed to be impressed by the fact that he agreed to appear in the remake and I guess I would be if the first one was some sort of award-winning classic or something.  It’s not like the original Flatliners is the defining role of Kiefer Sutherland’s career.  Now, if they had gotten Oliver Platt to come back…

ANYWAY, it’s pretty much the same story all over again, just told with a lot less visual flair.  (Say what you will about Joel Schumacher as a director, he understood that the first Flatliners needed a lot of neon.)  This time, it’s Ellen Page who convinces her friends to let her die and then revive her after two minutes.  The remake does add an interesting wrinkle in that, when Page returns from being dead, she is now suddenly super smart and has total recall.  At the very least, this explains why all the rest of her friends are then so eager to try it out for themselves.  Even though it feels like a Limitless knock off, it’s still an interesting idea and I think that if the entire film had been about the students obsessively killing themselves and coming back, all in an effort to achieve some sort of Godhood, it would have made for an intriguing movie.

But that whole angle kind of gets abandoned.  Soon, it’s time for everyone’s sins to start showing up.  That means that Ellen page has to deal with her dead sister.  Nina Dobrev has to deal with a dead patient.  Another doctor has to deal with a girl she bullied.  The movie tries to make you wonder whether or not they’re just having hallucinations but why would a hallucination feel the need to sneak around a room while its target isn’t looking?

Plus, I have to wonder: there are real people out there who have been clinically dead, just to have been brought back to life.  Some of them have reported seeing the bright light and all the rest.  If you follow this movie’s logic, are they all now secretly smart and being chased around by their past sins?  If that’s the case then I’m looking forward to the sequel to Heaven Is For Real.

It’s a forgettable movie.  The first Flatliners had its own stupid charm but the remake just falls flat.

No Ewoks, No Jar Jar: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, directed by Gareth Edwards)


rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterA long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

The evil Galactic Empire spent what had to be billions of Imperial credits to build the greatest weapon in the universe.  It was known as the Death Star and it housed a laser so powerful that it could blow up a planet with just one shot.  And yet, for all the effort and all the years that were spent building it, the Death Star had one glaring vulnerability, an exposed exhaust valve that the Rebel Alliance twice used to the destroy it.

For years, fanboys debated why the Empire would go to the trouble to build a super weapon with such an obvious design flaw.  I have to admit that I was often one of them.  No one else seemed to care but, to us, this was a huge deal.  If the Empire could figure out how to blow up a planet with one super laser, why couldn’t they figure out how to protect that one valve?

Now, thanks to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we have an answer.  We not only know why that valve was there but we also know what was meant in New Hope when the rebel general said that the plans to the Death Star had been stolen at great cost.

Rogue One is a fan’s dream, one that answers questions while expanding on the Star Wars mythology.  Unlike the previous prequels, it adds to the story without cheapening the original films.  In fact, of all the Star Wars films, Rogue One is the first to make the Death Star into a believable weapon of mass destruction.  When it appears over one planet, it blots out the sun.  When it blows up a rebel base, we see the destruction from inside the base instead of observing it from the safety of Death Star.  Director Gareth Evans does for the Death Star what he previously did for Godzilla.

death-star

Unfortunately, like Godzilla, the action and the special effects in Rogue One are usually more interesting than any of the film’s characters.  Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, and Riz Ahmed are all good actors but they’re all playing underwritten parts.  No one steps up like Harrison Ford did in the original trilogy.  Commander Kennec, played by Ben Mendelsohn, has a little more depth than the typical Imperial villain but, for better or worse, the film’s most memorable performances come from a CGI Peter Cushing and James Earl Jones providing the voice of Darth Vader.

rogue-one

Despite the underwritten characters, Rogue One is still the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back, a return to the grittiness, the thrilling action, and the awe of discovering new worlds that distinguished the first two movies.  For once, a Star Wars film seems to have more on its mind than just selling toys.  Though we already know what is ultimately going to happen to the Death Star at the end of New Hope, Rogue One is a frequently downbeat film.  There are no Ewoks and, to great relief and rejoicing, Jar Jar is never seen.  The closest that Rogue One gets to comic relief is Alan Tudyk providing the voice of a cynical robot.  The emphasis is on the horrors of war and even the rebels are troubled by some of the things that they have done.  For once, the Rebel Alliance actually feels like a rebellion and the evil of the Empire feels real instead of cartoonish.

Rogue One is projected to be the first of many “Star Wars stories,” stand-alone film that will expand the universe and hopefully clarify some of the points that were left unclear by the original trilogy.  I think it’s going to be very successful very Disney.  I’m just dreading the inevitable Jar Jar origin story.

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Makes Its Final Approach



We take a brief break from our current regular scheduled horror programming to bring in the final official trailer for the latest entry in that little space opera called Star Wars.

With just two months left before Rogue One: A Star Wars Story splashes down into theaters everywhere, the film doesn’t seem to be gathering the sort of massive hype and anticipation that last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens had leading up to its release.

Rogue One is still predicted to be the biggest film of the year. Yet, the feeling that permeates each trailer release have been one of guarded anticipation.

This latest and final full trailer oils to remedy that situation.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a December 16, 2016 release just in time for the holidays.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Official Trailer Finally Arrives


Rogue One

The Rogue One official trailer finally came out after weeks of fans waiting for it since last month’s Star Wars celebration over in London.

At first, people thought the trailer would be released during the celebration, but that didn’t come to pass. Then San Diego Comic-Con came and went and still no official trailer. We already seen the teaser, the sizzle reel from London celebration and even a tv spot that aired in the last week or so. Yet, there was still no full trailer. Fans were waiting with extreme patience.

Once news came down that the first official trailer will show during the Olympics the guessing game began on which day it will be. When it was confirmed that it was to be tonight people worldwide began to wait for the trailer to premiere. And waited during each Olympic event. And waited some more. I, myself, decided I needed a nap and left orders to be awoken when it finally did show.

Well, it did show just an hour into my nap and despite being groggy from being woken up that first image of the desert planet with Forest Whitaker and Felicity Jones conversing got my full attention. The wait was long, but it was well worth it and now the wait for the film’s premiere begins.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a December 16, 2016 release date.

Rogue One Wakes Up the Internet with Its First Trailer


Rogue One

The world has been dying to see the first teaser trailer for the next Star Wars. The most recent one came out at the end of last year and already people wondering why this next one hasn’t already come out.

Well, it will come out this December when the public is flush with money to spend on the holidays (though we all know it’s probably to buy Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tickets as holiday gifts for themselves).

This teaser trailer shows us stuff that happened between Episode 3 and Episode 4. It also focuses on a new hero character which has raised the ire of the most vocal minority (very tiny) of the Star Wars fandom. We’re introduced to Jyn Erso played by English-actress Felicity Jones who we learn is not just a criminal of sorts, but one ready with a smartass quip.

Star Wars has another woman in the lead role! First it was Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Then just the last couple weeks, one of the few redeeming things about Batman v. Superman was the appearance of Wonder Woman. We can’t forget how last year’s Mad Max: Fury Road was being called Mad Max Furiosa Road.

The MRA mouthbreaters and Mary Sue labelers have had it up to their neckbeards of having their beloved franchises being invaded by the opposite sex. They’re already calling for boycotts and petitions to get Rogue One from being released as is. They want their fictional heroes to return to the good ol’ days of privileged, white men who rescued and kissed damsels (even if they to be their sister) in distress.

Their shouts and cries of impotent rage has been drowned out by the massive majority of even more vocal supporters of another female heroine in a fictional universe which dares to posit that dangerous question: can women be heroes? It looks like after Rey and now, with this upcoming film’s Jyn Erso the answer may be a collective and very loud “Yes, Yes, Yes.”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is set for a December 16, 2016 release date or be on hold indefinitely if the MRA neckbeard mouthbreaters get their court injuction to delay its release.

Shattered Politics #83: Milk (dir by Gus Van Sant)


Milkposter08

For the past three weeks, I have been in the process of reviewing, in chronological order, 94 films about politics and politicians.  It’s a little something that we call Shattered Politics.

And while I’ve had a lot of fun doing it, it does worry me a bit that I may have made the Shattered Lens into a far more cynical site to visit.  That’s largely because I don’t trust politicians or the government in general and, despite the fact that we started off with Abraham Lincoln and Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, the majority of the films that I’ve reviewed have reflected that fact.

So, in order to combat that cynicism, I’m going to recommend a film from 2008 that, despite being a biopic about a politician, is actually rather inspiring.  I am, of course, talking about the 2008 best picture nominee, Milk.

Milk tells the story of Harvey Milk who, in 1977, became the first openly gay man to be elected to a major public office.  Now, just consider that.  Up until 38 years ago, nobody who was openly gay had been elected to public office.  Nowadays, the idea of an out gay man or a lesbian running for public office is only shocking to a dwindling minority of homophobes.  Even down here Texas, which everyone up north always smugly assumes to be so intolerant, nobody is surprised when a gay or a lesbian not only runs for office but wins as well.  Sheriff Lupe Valdez has served as sheriff of Dallas Country for over ten years and, though she’s been controversial, none of that controversy has concerned her sexuality.  Meanwhile, Annise Parker has served three-terms as mayor of Houston, making Houston the biggest city in America to have an openly gay mayor.

However, before Lupe Valdez could be sheriff or Annise Parker could be mayor, Harvey Milk had to serve on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.

Milk follows Harvey (Sean Penn, who won an Oscar for his performance) and his much younger boyfriend, Scott (James Franco) from the moment they first meet in New York to when they moved to San Francisco in 1970.  We see how Harvey first found fame as a neighborhood activist and how he challenged both the political and gay establishment of San Francisco in his campaigns for political office.  When he finally wins a seat on the Board of Supervisors, he does so at the cost of his relationship with Scott.  He enters into another relationship with the self-destructive Jack (Diego Luna), which ends tragically.

By winning office, Harvey becomes a spokesman for gays everywhere.  When a sinister state senator (Denis O’Hare) attempts to pass a bill that would forbid gays from teaching school, Harvey leads to opposition.  And, while Harvey’s career continues to rise, the career of another supervisor — Dan White (Josh Brolin) — plummets.

Elected at the same time as Harvey, Dan is an uptight former cop.  Though he and Harvey originally strike a somewhat awkward friendship (Harvey is the only supervisor to come to the christening of Dan’s child), Dan soon comes to resent Harvey.  (At one point, Harvey suggests that Dan might be closeted and Brolin’s tightly coiled performance certainly implies that Dan is repressing something.)  Eventually, Dan shoots and kills both the mayor (Victor Garber) and Harvey.

Though the film ends in violence and anger, it also ends with hope.  Though Harvey may be dead, the activists that he inspired are there to carry on.

Because the film was directed by a gay man, written by a gay man, and tells the story of a gay man, Milk is often dismissed, even by critics who liked it, as just being a gay film.  But, actually, it is a film that should inspire anyone who has ever felt like they’ve been pushed into the margins of our national culture.  By the film’s end, Harvey Milk has emerged as not just a gay hero but as a hero to anyone who has ever been told that their voice does not matter.  When Harvey says, repeatedly, “You’ve got to give them hope,” it’s hope for all of us.

Trailer: Elysium (2nd Official)


Elysium

I know it’s been done and written for what seems like hundreds of times that Neill Blomkamp was given the chance to direct a planned live-action film adaptation of the highly popular video game franchise Halo. Seeing how his directorial full-feature debut with District 9 proved that Peter Jackson was correct in trying to give the mega-budgeted project to the young South African, but also set Blomkamp as filmmaker who had given himself that rare commodity in Hollywood: the ability to pick and choose his next projects.

He could easily have taken the money and accolades from that first film and taken the first major action project sent his way, but Blomkamp took that rare commodity and decided to do another sci-fi film that combined not just his flair for action and gritty sci-fi visuals, but what looks to be his storytelling style of using current sociological problems (immigration, class divide, etc…for his latest film) as themes for his film.

Elysium arrives with a new trailer from TriStar Pictures and it’s parent company Sony Pictures. The first trailer gave a taste of the ideas that drive the film’s plot. This second (and much longer trailer) gives us a much more detailed look into the film’s three main characters played by Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and Sharlto Copley. It also gives us a longer look at the two contrasting art designs for society on Earth and that on Elysium.

Oh, did I also mention that the trailer almost makes it seem that it could be a trailer-run for any future Mass Effect live-action film. I saw more than one instance of what could be the use of “biotics” in the trailer by Sharlto Copley’s Kruger character.

Elysium is set to arrive in theaters on August 9, 2013 in both regular and IMAX screens.

Trailer: Elysium (Official)


Elysium

It’s not often that a filmmaker makes such a major splash in the industry with their initial full-length film becoming not just a commercial success but one which gained widespread critical-acclaim. South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp is one such filmmaker. Initially tapped by Peter Jackson to direct the planned HALO film adaptation Blomkamp ended up doing District 9 (based off of his own short film Alive in Joburg).

The film became the sensation of San Diego Comic-Con 2009 which raised the hype for it’s inevitable release a month later. It’s now been 4 years since District 9 and we finally get a chance to see the first official trailer (a 10-minute film reel was shown to invited industry and press which showed a bit more of what the film will be about) for Blomkamp’s much awaited follow-up to his hit first film.

Elysium looks to continue Blomkamp’s attempt to bring social awareness to the scifi genre and do so with a mixture of real-world gritty realism and scifi fantasy. just looking at the trailer the space station Elysium where all the rich and privilege live in a paradise-setting look like an amalgam of the HALO ringworlds and the Citadel Station from Mass Effect.

It’s still months away, but just this teaser of a trailer has just raised Elysium to the top of my list for most awaited films of 2013. If it’s as good or better than District 9 then Blomkamp will cement himself as one of his generation’s best instead of a flash in the pan like so many of his contemporaries.

Elysium is set for a wide release date of August 9, 2013.

Lisa Marie Bowman Does It At Casa de mi Padre (dir. by Matt Piedmont)


 

Having seen the new Spanish-language comedy Casa de mi Padre on Friday, I now know what I want for Christmas.  I want a big white tiger that can talk and sit in trees and laugh, just like the big white cat that shows up and serves as spirit guide to Will Ferrell.

Seriously, let’s make it happen!

As for Case de mi Padre, the film is a deliberately absurd homage to both telenovelas and the B-movies of the 70s.  Armando Alvarez (played by Will Ferrell) is a stupid but good-hearted Mexican rancher whose drug dealer brother (Diego Luna) is on the verge of marrying the niece (played by Genesis Rodriguez) of another drug dealer (Gael Garcia Bernal).  Ferrell, of course, falls in love with Rodriguez and this leads to a deliriously over-the-top wedding party massacre and … well, listen the plot isn’t important.  The plot makes no sense.  It’s not supposed to make sense.  It’s not only a Will Ferrell movie, it’s a Will Ferrell movie based on telenovelas.  In short, the film is deliberately designed not to make any sense and, on that count, it succeeds admirably.

Despite a lot of funny moments and Ferrell’s admirable commitment to the film, Casa de mi Padre ultimately works better as a concept than an actual film.  In the past, Ferrell’s comedies have worked because they’ve satirized pompous institutions and people who generally take themselves far too seriously, with the obvious example being Anchorman‘s cast of self-important television reporters.  However, the majority of telenovelas are already essentially satiric in their intent.  Casa de mi Padre finds itself in the odd position of satirizing satire and, as a result, it never feels as outrageous as an actual telenovela.  The end result is hardly perfect but it’s silly enough to be consistently amusing.

 

Casa de mi Padre is a pretty uneven film that’s never as funny as you want it to be but I would be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy watching it.  Will Ferrell’s strength as both a comedic and a dramatic actor is his willingness to totally commit to his performance.  No matter how ludicrous or silly things get, Ferrell gives 100% and that’s never been more obvious than in his performance here.  Not only does he deliver all of his dialogue in Spanish (apparently he learned his lines phonetically) but he also totally throws himself into the melodrama of it all. 

A similar commitment can be seen in just about every frame of the film.  For me, the film’s best moments come from the small details that the filmmakers take the time to get right.  It’s there in every scene from the film’s deliberately tacky sets to the way that the characters randomly break out into overdone laughter to the fact that every female character in the film down to even the maids who work for Ferrell’s father wander around showing off miles of cleavage.  Perhaps my favorite scene in the film is when Ferrell and Rodriguez go for a horse ride and it’s obvious from the way the scene is framed that neither one of them is actually sitting on a horse.  These are the type of details that will leave boring mainstream audiences scratching their heads but for those of us who speak B-movie, these are the details that make this film worth seeing.

Review: Open Range (dir. by Kevin Costner)


2003 marked a sort of a small comeback for Kevin Costner both as a director and as an actor. The work in question was the very well-done Western, Open Range. Open Range was a moderately budgeted film which has more in common with Costner’s first directorial work, Dances with Wolves than his last big-budget flop, The Postman.

The film was an adaptation of the Lauran Paine novel, The Open Range Men, and it captures much of the themes found in the novel. This was probably due to the fact that screenwriter Craig Storper didn’t deviate from the novel’s basic story. There were no superfluous action sequences and gunfights to ratchet up the action. Everything about Open Range was about the gradual and inevitable final confrontation between the “free-grazers” and the “barbed-wire” men. The free-grazers were played by Kevin Costner and Robert Duvall as Charles Waite and Boss Spearman, respectively. On the other side of the conflict was Michael Gambon playing Denton Baxter, the ruthless land-baron whose attempt to keep the free-grazers from grazing on his land also hides another agenda. Caught in-between these two strong-willed groups were the people in the town Baxter pretty much controls through his “town marshal” (played with fake bravado by James Russo) and the herd helpers under Boss Spearman’s employ.

The theme of freedom to roam the open country versus the rights of a landowner echoes throughout the film. Set in the latter end of the 19th-century, Open Range shows the clash of the more natural ways of the Old West slowly eroding to be replaced by the more industrial, monopolistic practices that became prevalent during the 1880’s, also known in US History as the Gilded Age. Even the personalities of the conflicting characters mirror this theme as the free-grazers only want to use the land as it has been used for years upon years and thats sharing between all men of the West. The land-baron has other ideas in mind and everything boils down to him owning everything around him, even if it means using ruthless tactics to gather even more property.

Open Range also has a bit of modernism in its subplot of Charley Waite’s growing attraction to the sister of the town doctor and the same sister’s well-rounded characterization. It’s not often that a traditional Western shows women in a very positive light instead of the usual submissive and stay-at-home characters of Western’s past. This could also be attributed to the wonderful, underrated performance by Annette Bening who plays Sue Barlow, the doctor’s sister and Charley Waite’s love interest. Bening doesn’t play Sue as the traditional Western female. She also doesn’t go overboard and turn Sue into a 20th-century feminist. She instead plays the character as someone who knows her place in the world, but also one who is strong-willed and willing to stand for what is right.

Open Range was a wonderful throwback to what made such modern Westerns like Unforgiven and Tombstone such a success both for traditionalists and new fans. Kevin Costner’s direction was very low-key. Allowing the story to tell itself at its own pace until the final confrontation. The final gunfight in the end gets a lot of well-earned attention from critics and fans. The entire sequence takes at least 10-15 minutes from start to finish. The fight itself was done in a realistic fashion. There was no sharpshooter dead-eyes in this film, but individuals who had skill but still missed. It was a fight where it wasn’t who was the fastest, but who was the calmest under fire. There’s also a suddenness to the brutality in the final gunfight that demystifies the old-style Western shootouts of past. Some complained that the film was very slow and took too long to get to the “good stuff”, but I actually thought the gradual pacing of most of the film’s length gave the final confrontation even more impact. Costner seem to have learned the lesson all good directors know: less means more.

Open Range won’t go down as a great piece of film making. It surely won’t go down as one of the best in history. What Open Range did accomplish was putting the Western back to its epic and majestic roots, but at the same time keeping the intimacy of a character-driven story. In time, Open Range would probably go down as one of the underrated gems of the last decade and find a place next to its closest comparison, Unforgiven, as one of the best Westerns of the new era.