Aftershock (2013)

AftershockReleased: May 10, 2013. Directed by: Nicolás López. Starring: Eli Roth, Ariel Levy, Nicolás Martínez. Runtime: 89 min.

Aftershock is a Spanish-American film directed and co-written by Nicolás López, written with Guillermo Amoedo and Eli Roth. I’m curious to know which writers handled which aspect of the film. The movie is a disaster flick, a commentary on the ugliness of human nature, and it feels like an exploitation film at times. I’d imagine Roth handled that last aspect. Roth, also a star of the movie, gets a few laughs. Also featured are stars mostly known for foreign films. One, Nicolás Martínez, strikes me as a Chilean version of Zach Galifianakis. At least his last name is easier to say. Selena Gomez makes a short cameo as a random party girl. All the actors portray their characters well, at least well enough for a horror film.

The screenplay runs into problems early on that will bother some viewers; the problem is establishing character’s names. The character banter is actually funny (Martínez gives us the most laugh-out-loud moments), but for whatever reason not knowing the character’s names is a distraction to me. It’s sort-of like if I were to meet someone and I forgot their name mid-conversation, I wouldn’t be able to focus because I’d be so sidetracked trying to think of their name. Next time, the screenwriters should make it a habit of letting us know the characters’ names by their first or second scene, third at the latest. For those curious, not until 36 minutes in are all of the primary characters’ names established. Too often was I referring to characters as That Short-Haired Girl, Spanish Fat Alan, and Eli Roth. It turns out Roth’s character’s name is extremely generic, Gringo, a term used for English-speaking foreigners (mainly Americans) in Spanish-speaking countries.

Gringo is visiting his buddy Ariel (Ariel Levy) in Chile, taking in the sights. The two, and Ariel’s friend Pollo (Nicolás Martínez) go on the town to parties, where they meet a few pretty girls who are vacationing in Chile. It seems to me they’re all from Budapest or Hungary. One is named Monica (Andrea Osvárt) who is a controlling older half-sister of Kylie (Lorenza Izzo). Travelling with them is another pretty woman named Irina (Natasha Yarovenko). The characters are pretty okay, I like their chemistry and banter. On their second night of partying together, they’re in an underground night club when an earthquake strikes. When they reach the surface, it seems that the earthquake was only the beginning of their troubles. While trying to survive, they learn the horrors of human nature.

I like the flow of the plot. Technically speaking, it’s good – the cinematography is chaotic at times, but I think it’s used to highlight the chaos of the situation. The visual effects are cool and the sound editing is great. I think the score is well done, too. The cinematography captures some really nice Chilean landscapes. What I think is impressive about this film, is that even though the film’s not great at establishing character’s names, you care about a few of them and audience members feel some of the character’s pain. I think some parts are actually pretty sad. Other character developments aren’t the strongest; notably Roth’s Gringo, who never downplays the fact that he’s a Jew. Some of the things he says are funny at first, but it then it just becomes an irritating character trait. Enough about the characters, because there’s not much more to discuss here.

A layer of intensity is added when a group of convicts are able to escape from the local prison because of the earthquake. This keeps the story going and adds antagonists other than mother nature. The ugliness of human nature is analyzed by some character’s decisions, for example – when a random character doesn’t help a person, even though that said person helped her. That’s just a simple way to show how people can be crappy. The ways it shows how humans are ugly is only rarely so tame in Aftershock.

It seems to me, the reason why people might dislike this film is that there’s just a lot that it’s trying to juggle. It’s partly a disaster film, while expressing the ugliness of humans, as well showing each character’s will to survive. All with lots of gore. There are a lot of simplistic themes throughout, but I think they’re handled well. However, juggling all of these approaches to this kind-of filmmaking doesn’t allow it to boast full control and focus. This also takes the traditional horror route a bit too often. It seems that the viewer will have to decide whether this is a profound analysis of the ugliness of human nature or just another exploitation flick from Eli Roth’s extensive cannon. It feels like both to me, and both approaches are good.

Score63/100

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Red State (2011)

Red StateReleased: September 29, 2011. Directed by: Kevin Smith. Starring: Michael Parks, Melissa Leo, John Goodman. Runtime: 88 min.

I must give respect writer/director Kevin Smith for giving us something we haven’t seen from him before. There’s only one laugh in the entire movie. It’s a nice change of pace for him, but not a great film.

Set in Middle America, Jarod (Kyle Gallner) invites two of his best friends, Randy (Ronnie Connell) and Billy-Ray (Nicholas Braun) to have a foursome with an older woman he met through a dating site. Instead of having a good time, they fall onto the family church of Abin Cooper (Michael Parks), a religious zealot who has a much more sinister agenda.

I also respect that this is a movie I wasn’t really expecting – because it’s certainly not one’s run-of-the-mill action-horror flick. It also realistically portrays religious fantacism, in a particularly shocking way in one scene – but when Cooper simply preaches his beliefs down his family’s throats (and our throats, too, in turn) it’s the same familiar Bible quoting. I have my own religious beliefs – but I’m not one to stand on the lawn of a church during a funeral to protest homosexuality.

Things take a turn halfway through when intelligent cops actually show up (a rarity for horror flicks, no less) on a lead of the compound holding weapons that violate the National Firearms Act. These occurrences change the film’s tone from subtle horror to a bit of full-out action, and that isn’t the worst thing in the world because with that we get another intense performance from John Goodman. Viewers also get to see Michael Parks act nucking futs, and Nicholas Braun’s fear of the situation in one scene is particularly impressive.

There’s some analysis of repercussions of taking orders and not taking orders from higher powers (I’m talking about one’s boss in this case!), as well as some thoughts on terrorism. The religious fanatics are a little cuckoo and some of the occurrences are disappointing; leading me to not really care about the characters any more, but at least there’s some humanity within the religious family. It’s cool that some of the focus is taken away from the young teens who were the stars at the beginning, but surprising. But that’s what we look for in films – surprises. That’s what makes “Red State” only a decent watch. An unpleasant surprise is that this feels much more like an action film than a horror film, but it’s still not a waste of time; and one thing is certain: It makes me a bit more cautious of Craigslist, at least if there are any religious fanatics in my area.

Score63/100

Flight (2012) Review

Flight

Release Date: November 2, 2012

Director: Robert Zemeckis

Stars: Denzel Washington, Kelly Reilly, Don Cheadle

Runtime: 138 min

Finally, Robert Zemeckis has returned, after twelve years, to directing real people (at least he didn’t generally disappear from the directing game like James Cameron did for twelve freaking years). Zemeckis’ last live-action film was 2000’s Cast Away, and since 2004, he has been experimenting with his unique knack of animated features. In 2004, he brought us the decent enough The Polar Express; in 2007, he brought us the Action/Animation feature Beowulf; and in 2009, he brought us the pretty over-the-top-and-not-in-a-good-way, Disney’s A Christmas Carol. Now, he’s back with a big old ka-boom to direct this beauty.

Whip Whitaker is ready to fly a plane after a night of partying. Once he takes that puppy in the air, it soon gets attacked by turbulence, and soon enough, the hydraulics take a turn for the worse. He lands it safely on the ground, and saves a lot of lives because of this. For a short time, he is seen as an unarguable hero, but once an investigation gets put in order, it reveals that Whitaker is a struggling alcoholic. Whitaker makes friendships along the way, and must simultaneously face both ridicule, and must fight off his inner demon of alcoholism and come to terms with the beast that lives inside of him.

Flight doesn’t feel as long as it actually is. By the time the film is over, you may not have any idea that two hours and twenty minutes have gone by. And when you do realize it, you won’t mind. Flight is totally compelling and often gripping. There is not one bad scene in this feature. The world of addiction is well and profoundly investigated with Whitaker, especially because he cannot admit to himself, or others, that he has a pretty serious problem. He also feels that if he wasn’t drunk during the time of flying, everyone on the plane may have survived. That opening 20-minute sequence of the plane rushing through a sea of turbulence, and flying upside down, is both exciting and just a wicked does of an adrenaline rush. Imagine any other plane crash sequence in other films, and imagine it hyped up on cocaine and codeine (but without overdosing). Do you have that picture in your head? Yeah, it’s pretty crazy, exciting and tense all at the same time. Even after seeing it a second time, you’ll still feel as tense as you did the first time around. The suspense for that scene is beautifully created, and you can just feel it on each character’s faces.

Flight sometimes can feel like an AA meeting, but only in a few scenes, especially when they are at an AA meeting of sorts. Though, those scenes aren’t even bad. The fact that Whitaker wants to push everyone away who just wants to help him, can get a little frustrating for the viewer. Still, we all can feel the turmoil that Whitaker is facing in this state in his life, and over a vast majority of his life. Denzel Washington yet again brings a great character to life with ease, and portrays him beautifully, and makes us want to root for him wholeheartedly.

There is a sort of dramatic, emotional, darkly hilarious at times, and philosophical blended atmosphere that one can really get absorbed in. We, the viewers, may not know the true hardships of addiction and may not understand Whitaker’s drinking, but we must comprehend that it seems like a very difficult disease to defeat. One person who tries to help Whitaker overcome his addiction is Nicole, a heroin addict who is trying to get sober. The relationship between the two grows is nice but can get a little strained because they both are addicts, but she has come to terms with her addiction and wants to overcome it, while Whitaker is having a tougher time. Some other relationships formed in the film are nice too, but almost all don’t feel great (like with his union rep, Charlie Anderson or his lawyer, Hugh Lang) because Whitaker really feels like a person who doesn’t play well with others, even though he’s a very sympathetic man. One person he does play well with is Harling Mays (John Goodman), his cousin and sometimes drug dealer. Harling is not present in the film for an extremely long time, but when he is, he really steals the show with his comic relief, and no one else could play this role as well as John Goodman accomplishes. He is just the best, and only, man for the job.

The sound is great and the performances are great. Everything about this drama is just solid, because it is so profound and is very enjoyable. There is a load of emotional content here, and one heck of a suspenseful scene at the beginning of the feature. For those who find the concept of addiction fascinating, will enjoy this even more. Everyone does a superb job on this project, and if Denzel Washington doesn’t get nominated for the Oscar for Best Leading Actor, I’ll get drunk, fly a plane, and crash it.

88/100

Rear Window – A Film Review by Daniel Prinn – Pure entertainment!

 

Rear Window

Release Date: August 1, 1954

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Stars: James Stewart, Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey

Runtime: 112 min

Tagline: Through his rear window and the eye of his powerful camera he watched a great city tell on itself, expose its cheating ways…and Murder!

 

Alfred Hitchcock is a really great filmmaker, making greats such as this, Psycho, The 39 Steps (which I haven’t seen, admittedly, but I’ve heard great things about it) The Birds, and Rope, to name a few.

It’s a rather simple film with a simple, great and effective plot, which just keeps you on edge when it really gets into the story.

L.B. “Jeff” Jefferies is a photographer who hurt his leg and has to stay at his apartment and is wheelchair bound for a while. To pass some time, he starts spying on the neighbours. When he notices some peculiar behaviour, he wonders if a woman across the way has been murdered – which leads himself into a mystery that he must attempt to solve with the help of an investigator, his gal, and his nurse.

It’s really one heck of a suspenseful ride and I really enjoyed it. I haven’t had this much of a great time with a film of only few sets since 12 Angry Men. The beginning was moderately slow because it was only just starting to build up the suspense, but it is still interesting, and when it really got into the story it really is engaging and has pleasant twists and turns and is one heck of an entertaining and suspenseful experience.

James Stewart delivers a usual great performance as Jefferies (he is really one fine old-time actor that I have really grown to love) and the film also stars Grace Kelly, Wendell Corey, Thelma Ritter and Raymond Burr.

It isn’t my favourite Hitchcock film (that would be Psycho), but it is truly worthy of a close second, the suspense hardly stops.

 90/100

The Birds – A Film Review by Daniel Prinn – Ahhhh, scary birds!

The Birds

Release Date: May 30, 1963

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Stars: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette

Runtime: 119 min

Tagline: Suspense and shock beyond anything you have seen or imagined!

It’s a pretty good Hitchcock horror/suspense film.

A wealthy San Francisco woman follows a potential boyfriend to a small North Californian town where things soon start to turn nightmarish after birds of all kinds attack the small town with increasing numbers and drastic viciousness.

It really is suspenseful, but some of it can get a little ridiculous and is laughable at times, when it isn’t supposed to be. It’s somewhat flawed and was probably much scarier in its day and has some very intense sequences. It really is an original piece of work, and has such an effectively simple plot.

It’s generally memorable, and is a really great Hitchcock experience, but I don’t think I’ll return to it soon. Hedren delivers a good performance, as well of a performance she could give while being attacked by birds. The character development is actually very efficient, and they are generally likeable; and unlike the horror film characters of today (where for the annoying characters, you either wish they get killed off, cheer for their deaths and they eventually laugh your asses off when they get killed), you may actually be upset if a character here were butchered off by some hungry birds.

While some of the birds and sets feel so fake they took away from my enjoyment a little, the performances feel pretty genuine. I wouldn’t hate a remake of this one, as maybe they could throw in some better effects, and maybe even make it scarier with a modern touch.

Watch it if you like old suspense films, it isn’t a waste of time at all. It isn’t my favourite Hitchcock film, but really is quite an enjoyable experience.

 80/100

Rope – A Film Review by Daniel Prinn – A good Hitchcock flick

Rope Poster

Rope

Release Date: August 23, 1948

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Stars: James Stewart, John Dall, Farley Granger

Runtime: 80 min

Tagline: Nothing ever held you like Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope.

It’s a pretty sweet film.

Brandon (John Dall) and Phillip (Farley Granger) are two young men who have always wondered what it would be like to kill someone. After they strangle an inferior classmate, David (Dick Hogan), they invite over his family and friends as a means to test their perfect crime, and also an old brilliant schoolteacher played admirably and stunningly by James Stewart; all while the body is in a chest in the middle of the apartment.

It’s an interesting and entertaining fight of wits, between Brandon and Rupert, as Brandon drops subtle hints of the murder to see if Rupert would pick up on them. And then Phillip’s just a nervous mess with high anxiety over in the corner.

Most of it is extremely entertaining, and a lot of it is really suspenseful. It really kept me guessing, and a lot of it is pretty intense. It’s an 80 minute experience that feels longer than it is, and Hitchcock shot the film in a really interesting fashion. He only used about ten takes throughout the whole film (if the trivia proves accurate), ranging from four to ten minutes. This fashion makes you feel like you’re watching a play because of the one set, and the editing and how it looks like the film’s just all ongoing.

The performances are pretty good from the majority of the cast, their performances feel genuine and not like they’re in it for the money, John Dall and Farley Granger did a good job, and James Stewart stands out the most, though, with a really great performance.

The film could have been better paced, it isn’t perfect but it’s enjoyable. I caught it on TV, and it was an interesting experience, but if I saw it at a store I’m not sure if I’d buy the film, as I’m not sure if I’d be apt to experience this flick again anytime soon.

The film also stars Edith Evanson, Douglas Dick, Cedric Hardwicke, Joan Chandler, and Constance Collier (who I wish could have gotten strangled, she was so irritating, in the case that I am thinking of the correct annoying character).

Hitchcock really does deliver us an entertaining experience, with the way that he films the thing making it, and the performance given by Stewart, the most memorable aspects of the film.

75/100

Marnie – A Film review by Daniel Prinn — I think I used the words ‘interesting’ and ‘fascinating’ a bit too much here..

Marnie

Release Date: July 22, 1964

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Stars: Tippi Hedren, Sean Connery, Diane Baker

Runtime: 130 min

Tagline: From Alfred Hitchcock with sex and suspense.

I guess Hitchcock liked watching Hedren get attacked by birds so much, he just had to cast her in another flick. It’s a good decision though, as she’s a pretty good actress.

 Marnie is a habitual kleptomaniac with multiple psychological problems (like an extremely odd fear of the colour red, thunder, and being touched) who has just picked a new town to hit. After she steals some money from the safe in a suspenseful scene, she gets caught by Mark, a wealthy man high up in the corporation, who marries Marnie in order to try to delve into her life and help her confront and resolve her psychological problems.

For a Hitchcock flick, it isn’t as suspenseful as one would expect but nonetheless, it is extremely fascinating. It does have its fair share of suspenseful scenes, but they are quite far from each other, and it can be entertaining, but the best word to describe this flick is either interesting or fascinating.

I never got bored but it really was quite lengthy for not a completely entertaining ride. Mark’s obsession with Marnie and how he treated her like a caged animal was a little peculiar, I think he’s aspiring to be a psychologist, but he really is a little troubled himself seemingly.  It’s actually a really good character study, and is pretty thought-provoking. It’s a real treat for those movie-goers with an interest for the human mind. It’s not a film I’ll rush back to any time soon, or may even watch again, but it’s a very intriguing one-time-experience that mostly kept me glued to the screen, and there’s not anything I regret seeing. It could have been shorter in length and is probably one of Hitchcock’s weakest films, but it really is interesting and isn’t bad at all. Some of the sets are extremely artificial in a very obvious way that made me criticize it, and that is probably one of its biggest flaws.

The film stars Tippi Hedren who delivers a really good performance, Sean Connery who delivers a great one, Diane Baker and Martin Gabel.

It’s generally one of Hitchcock’s weaker attempts, but it’s a good experience that should be seen. Respecters of fascinating films, character studies, old time cinema and Hitchcock generally, should really check this one out. It really does blend aspects of romance, mystery, thrills and some suspense very well  together, with some very fine leading performances and an interesting finale.

75/100