25 May 2010

Daybreakers, The Lovely Bones, The Road

Starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Dafoe, Sam Neil, Claudia Karvan, Michael Dorman, Isabel Lucas
Written by Michael & Peter Spierig
Directed by Michael & Peter Spierig

Release date: 8 January 2010

Lionsgate, 98 mins., Rated R

Plot: The vampires supply of human blood is running out, and a substitute needs to be found pronto or vampires are gonna evolve into something really frakked up.

Vampires have been done to death these days. Vampire there, vampire here - oh, the tortured soul thou art! So it's bloody spectacular (pun sorta intended) to have vampires go back to their roots: blood suckers and proud of it. Well, with the exception of our protagonist, the horribly named Edward Dalton (Hawke) who isn't a fan of the whole drinking-human-blood thing. But the majority of the world is damn happy to be a vampire. The entire world has been made to accommodate vampire life: security systems for houses and vehicles to warn 'em about approaching sunlight, coffee with some nicely rich blood thrown in for good measure, and a good supply of human blood to make everyone the world happy.

Except the bloods running out, and here startith the really cool concepts of Daybreakers. Turns out that vampires will evolve into something ugly, reminiscent to how Dracula looked in Van Helsing but even uglier and nuttier. So a substitute needs to be manufactured and really damn soon - and Edward, the blood producing companies biggest asset - decides to accompany Mr. Dafoe and Ms. Karvan to find a CURE to vampirism (that's a word, right?). That cure ends up being both a stupid and cool idea simultaneously, which is rather a neat accomplishment when you think about it. There's the opinion that's it's stupid 'cuz it doesn't make any sense whatsoever, but also sorta nifty because as far as I know this solution hasn't been used before.

Oh! And Sam Neil. Yep, Dr. Grant from Jurassic Park. Or Merlin. Whatever one you prefer. But his presence in this movie was basically my ticket. Dr. Grant made a 'cool!' impression on me as a wee lad, totally obsessed with dinosaurs and paleontology, I nearly idolized the bloke. So if there's any other Sam Neil lovers in the world, this is a guaranteed need-to-see. Neil plays the main badass vampire dude in charge of the human blood bank company, and he gets some awesome moments to shine as he makes one wicked decision after another.

In the end, Daybreakers isn't a bad film at all. It's quite entertaining, has a good amount of original material that's unprecedented in vampire films these years, and features some fine performances from Hawke and Dafoe [especially Hawke, who has seemingly been in and out of consciousness in film roles as of late], cool vampire effects, and a attractive leading lady (which is always a plus). My only real problem with the finished production is that is DOESN'T feel like a finished product. By all means, they probably wrote, produced and directed this flick with the intent of creating some sort of franchise, and I don't know if the film's gross was sizable enough to warrant as such, but the film concludes in a very anti-climatic fashion. It's as of the writer came up with this exciting concept but couldn't think up a proper resolution (or at least path to where the story is heading). Where it ends now, basically anything can happen. Sure, a cure has been found, but there's still so many unanswered questions concerning virtually everything introduced in the movie.

In that regard, there's disappointment, but not nearly as much as I was disappointed with Legion which came out the same month earlier this year. Bad comparison, I know, but it was the only thing I could think of. So all in all, I'd highly recommend Daybreakers. It gives us something fresh-ish, which is desperately needed in the height of Twilight-mania. Plus Willem Dafoe as a ex-vampire is just too sweet to pass up, no?

The Lovely Bones
Starring Saorise Ronan, Rachel Weisz, Mark Wahlberg, Stanley Tucci
Written by Fran Walsh, Peter Jackson, Philippa Boyens

Based on the book "The Lovely Bones" by Alice Sebold

Directed by Peter Jackson

Release date: 15 January 2010

DreamWorks, 136 mins., Rated PG-13

Plot: 16-year old Susie Salmon dies and watches her loved ones from the in-between world.

That was...interesting. Some really pretty visuals that totally and utterly do justice to the word pretty, but overall lack of any real emotion or relatability to character really affects the film in a negative way. Which is weird considering that we're dealing with the writing and directing team who made up care about three foot Hobbits and a freaky ring-obsessed skinny thing for three loooonngg movies. But weird as it may be, The Lovely Bones just doesn't click, and judging by other reviews, I'm not the only bloke who thinks this. So how does a A-class filmmaker team make a rather dodgy flick?

Well, I can't say 100% where the problem lies, but I wager the casting would be the biggest component. See, I think the script's just fine. A good, faithful adaptation of the book (as far as I can tell), with all the necessary details, decent enough characterization, etc. Sure, I think a bit more emphasis on Susie is necessary, since it is, y'know, her story, but since the direction of the movie is more of a murder-mystery than a Susie's life and afterlife, I can forgive that. So it comes down to casting. Rachel Weisz and Mark Wahlberg were not the right guys for the roles, and it almost feels like the actors even know this. They just seem uncomfortable with their performances, which makes me uncomfortable by extension. It's odd that the best actor in the picture is Susie's sister, Lindsey, played by Rose McIver (who is in Power Rangers RPM!!!), who doesn't become a major force of the film until the final 30 minutes. And don't think I'm dissing Stanley Tucci's performance by neglecting to comment on that - he was undoubtedly a strong second force in the picture, and was absolutely creepy as hell.

The most pivotal role in the film is also the biggest miscast, I think. Saorise, I got nothing against you. I liked you in City of Ember, but I just don't think you were ready for this type of role. Not yet. Perhaps it's because we don't get enough time with her, but I really didn't care about Susie Salmon, nor did I get a feel for her character. The biggest emotional impact I got concerning her was when Tucci's murderous George Harvey is getting away with tossing her body, and you're literally hoping beyond hope that someone will be able to intervene and catch this freakin' guy. But as far as Susie goes - yeah, she's your typical adorable young girl who is just discovering who she is, and then spends the rest of the movie not really doing much of anything other than walking around aimlessly in her 'in-between' world. It's not until the final reel where some sort of emotion comes from her, starting to display her disagreement with her being dead status. If I were to compare her performance to a well known character, I'd say she's not too dissimilar to the portrayal of Luna Lovegood.

Peter Jackson directs the hell out of this picture. The camera is constantly moving or doing something unique and directorially spiffy, and although I'm all for being creative with this wonderful tool known as the camera, Jackson could have restrained himself a bit, most definitely. I love Jackson as a director - Lord of the Rings and King Kong are phenomenal from a technical standpoint alone - but this far more intimate tail didn't need all this spizz spazz. Speaking of 'spizz spazz', whatever that may be, digital effects are all the rage in The Lovely Bones, and that's a mighty downfall. Yes, Susie creates her own ideal world with all these fancy things [there's particularly a AWESOME sequence in which her father's (Wahlberg) miniature ships in bottles are not so miniature anymore: they're giant monster size, and crashing into each other, causing broken glass and wood flying everywhere. It's a very chaotic but beautiful scene that nicely displays what Jackson envisioned with the 'in-between' world, but then he went a bit too far with it...], but that shouldn't be Susie's focus point, personally or story-wise.

The Lovely Bones is simply just a missed opportunity. Something went wrong along the way of production, and the film became a showcase of digital creations and a fantasy world, and seemed to have forgotten about its central character along the way. It was still a decent movie, but I can't necessarily recommend it to anyone. Maybe if there's a YouTube video called, er, "Lovely Bones in 60 Seconds"? Y'know, with the entire movie sped up x60, maybe with a dialogue pause every 15 seconds. If you're still curious about the title, than by no means will I dissuade you from doing that, just understand that it's not at the level of filmmaking you're expecting. Or at least I was. Oh, nevermind.

The Road
Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kodi Smit-McPhee, Charlize Theron
Written by Joe Penhall
Based on the book 'The Road' by Cormack McCarthy
Directed by John Hillcoat
Release date: 25 November 2009
The Weinstein Company, 111 mins., Rated R

Plot: A father and son do their best to survive in the aftermath of the apocalypse.

This is a good example of studios infuriatingly screwing decent movies over with limited releases where freakin' nobody can see the flick until it hits the DVD market. A powerful lead performer, bunch of Oscar buzz and critical accolades, I don't get why The Road didn't get a bigger distribution. Was it the 'depressing' subject matter? Couldn't have been. A more depressing subject is that junk like Letters to Juliet still gets made. Is it that it's not uber-marketable? Possibly, but like I said, it has plenty of power behind it. Aragorn and good buzz - two pretty good things that would help a movie garner to a wider audience. But whatev, the studio did what they did, and now the DVD is upon us, and I've finally seen The Road!

Immediate reaction: that was the movie I've been waiting months to see? By that, I mean that I was expecting something grandiose, sorta full of philosophizing, and a lot of good guy vs. bad guy. Turns out, it really, truly is a documentary like glimpse in the life of a father and son who survived the apocalypse and do whatever they need to do to stay amongst the living. Sure, there's threats to their existence, like cannibals and all that, but it's not the driving force of the movie. Father and son. And a lot of distrust in basically everything and everybody, but that goes along with the whole cannibal-thing.

The Road is unjustifiably compared to The Book of Eli, understandable considering the post-apocalyptic theme and similar landscape. But Eli has a story...a mission, and it gets resolved by the film's end. Plus that movie has Denzel Washington shooting and slicin' bad guys into bits, and Viggo Mortensen's biggest action is making a 50/50 shot at a cannibal in the first 20 minute stretch. The Road doesn't concern itself with a major plot. There's not a direction the film's going. Viggo wants to go west, because he was instructed to. What's waiting for them west, what west has to do with anything, I don't know. Maybe they said something, but everyone was whispering in the movie so bloody much I didn't catch portions of the dialogue. If one was to cut the film down to its bare essentials, the movie is about people walking. Y'know that scene in Clerks II with Randal giving his interpretation of the LOTR trilogy? Well, that could very well be applied here.

The movie concludes without really concluding. Nothing is resolved, everything is open ended, and nothing has been gained [although one could argue against this assertion]. But I wager that's the best finale for a film that delights in its bleakness.

As it stands, I wasn't particularly taken away with The Road, but I don't necessarily dislike it either. The movie is haunting, to be sure. The crew did a fantastic job at making the entire earth look like a shit storm, where every tree and house is a potential threat waiting to be sprung and cause a problem to our dynamic duo. It's bleak, and really, really depressing. And that just helps stir the emotional journey of Dad and Son, who even have their own system on when to commit suicide and the quickest way to do it if things turn bad.

Viggo Mortensen bares his soul as 'the Man', as you can literally see the wear and tear of this broken down father doing everything and anything to protect his son. Speaking about wear and tear, (hopefully) CG shots of a skeletal-like Viggo are utterly freaky to see, conjuring up images of Holocaust survivors. At the opposite spectrum, we've got Charlize Theron in three unnecessary flashbacks as the Mom who is the utter definition of depressed, regretting bringing a child into this world and too far gone in her own internal depression that she decides to vaca her husband and son and go out into the woods at night. Kodi Smit-McPhee, slated to be seen in Let Me In (the remake of Let the Right One In), is impressive as the unnamed son, displaying fear and (at one point) jubilation to great effect.

The Road's worth seeing, and the good performances and gorgeously depressing cinematography makes it definitely worth seeing. Just watch a uplifting fluff film afterwards.

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