Monthly Archives: January 2010

The Boys Are Back

About this time of year you have two types of films at the cinema: Oscar Bait and Left Overs.  The first is self-explanatory, the latter is a reference to film distributors releasing their “What the hell do we do with this?” selection between the drama filled fall/winter season and the heavyweight blockbusters of summer.

The Boys Are Back is the Oscar Bait.  Joe Warr (Clive Owen) has recently lost his wife, Katy (Laura Fraser), to cancer.  In the wake of her death, Joe must navigate his relationship with his six-year old son, Artie, and Harry, his son from a previous marriage.

Adapted from Simon Carr’s memoir The Boys Are Back In Town, this tale of a single father juggling home life and his career avoids gender clichés reminiscent of Mr. Mom.  Intriguing is Joe’s “just say yes” parenting style.  In Joe’s house, basic rules such as no swearing, no real fighting, etc. are in place, but Joe drives his 4×4 on the beach with Artie on the hood, sonorous with glee.  He even has water balloon fights – brace yourself – in the house!  If anything, the film’s representation of child rearing that encourages dangerous fun and large doses of freedom  makes it worth a viewing.

Further, as there have been few dramas, but plenty comedies, that focus on male single parents, the film is important for showing male homosocial relationships.*

The unfortunate part of the film is how many relationships are juggled.  Joe is dealing with grief, Artie, and then Harry.  One or even two of these alone could fill a film, but throw in that third ingredient and the film produces so-so results.  Knowing that the film is an adaptation of a book puts this in perspective, as it is definitely structured in a free-flowing way.  By the end you’re not really sure if Joe has really learned anything about his sons or even about himself.

The big pull for this film (if you didn’t figure it out by the film’s poster) is Clive Owen’s star power.  Even I’ll admit, as a fan of Sin City and Children of Men, Owen’s involvement is what pulled me to The Boys Are Back.  Many have stated that Owen’s performance is Oscar worthy and if I were the type of person who didn’t loath the Oscars, I’d like to say the same.  However, Owen does a good job, but is stymied by the film’s lack of focus.

Like so many films flaunting their accolades from the critics and festivals, this isn’t the best movie out now (I’d recommend The Road or Up In the Air), but it isn’t bad either.

*The only other films about male single parents that I can think of include Jersey Girl (2004), Evelyn (2002), and even The Road counts, but isn’t light like the others.

Other Recommendations:

Finding Neverland

Twitter and Filming in Dangerous Territory

Just as a FYI to those reading my blog regularly, I’ve finally succumbed to peer pressure and have a Twitter account.  This is purely for the blog, not for me personally.  So look up “RemingtonReview” or my full name, “Remington Smith,” and I’ll give you little blurbs on all film related items that don’t require lengthy treatises.

Also, I’ve just wrapped shooting on my latest short film, Dawn of the Living, and am starting on pre-production for another documentary short.  I’ll post photos and some tips on what to do and what not to do when trying to get a film made.  Due to the recent flurry of film activity, I will finally post on youtube (and this blog) my previous short, Hank vs Ninjas, Nazis, and a Chupacabra.

Finally, tomorrow I start a two-day conference on documentary filmmaking in dangerous areas.  I’ll be sure to keep you posted.  There’s even the chance to actually go out and do field work, but we’ll see what happens.

Peace,

Remington

Precious: Audience Responses?

No full, detailed review for this one, folks.  Instead, I’ll direct you to an in depth review herePrecious is fraught with even more political issues than Avatar.

My small review?  If you do not have experience with blacks, poverty, or urban living, you’ll talk about the  “realness” of the film and applaud its drama.  If you do have any experience with any of these aforementioned items, you might be offended.

Continue reading

The Book of Eli

Most New Year films are like the $5 DVD bins you find at Walmart: Old and crappy, but would cost more to store in a warehouse than it would to sell for the cost of a footlong sub. However, the release of films like The Book of Eli and Daybreakers, before the blockbuster juggernauts awake from their 8 month hibernation, is changing  regularly scheduled programming.  After reading my review of Daybreakers, you know it’s not the best vampire film ever, but it’s a lot of fun. The Book of Eli is playing at the same kid’s table.

Like so many post-apocalyptic flicks these days, The Book of Eli takes place on the road, as Eli (Denzel Washington) walks the blacktop of the southwestern U.S., foiling traps by Mad Max extras (sans vehicles) and revealing his zen and the art of kicking ass. Eli stops at a town to charge a battery, more goons hassle him, and they promptly receiving more kicking of the rear end.  When the Mayor, Carnegie (Gary Oldman), looks down at the bar and sees Eli in a pile of former thugs, Carnegie pulls out the charm to persuade Eli into staying as security detail.  Eli declines, saying he has business out West.  When Carnegie finds out Eli can not only read, but is carrying the book he’s been killing to locate, further kicking of the ass ensues.

Directed by Albert and Allen Hughes (whose last flick was From Hell 2001), this is an okay film that just misses average expectations.  Though Denzel Washington and Gary Oldman aren’t at their peak in this film, they’re good guys for the job:  Denzel has proven his ability to don “Strong Silent Type” roles since Man on Fire and Oldman has been rocking the bad guy roles since the 90′s with Dracula, The Fifth Element, and Leon: The Professional (highly recommend that one).  Hell, even Mila Kunis as Eli’s companion, Solara, doesn’t do a bad job.

The film’s weaknesses really rest in the directing and the writing.  Ever since Alfonso Cuaron blew us away with Children of Men in 2006, long takes have come into vogue, with McG copying the style in Terminator Salvation (2009) and The Hughes Bros. doing the same in The Book of Eli: A shootout occurs and the camera starts inside the house, goes out to Carnegie and his men firing, then moves back toward the house, through the bullet holes, and beside Solara and Eli.

There were a few scenes like this, which failed as they called attention to themselves.  In Children of Men you forgot that scenes played out in long takes because you were too involved with the story.  In The Book of Eli, however, these scenes (and other slow-motion moments) remind me of a George Carlin comment on playing jazz music: It’s not enough to know what notes need to be played, but why the notes need to be played.  They’re obviously pulling stylistic elements from Cuaron, but they don’t know why Cuaron did it that way, only that it looked cool.  Given the film’s push for dramatic realism, these hyper aesthetic moments undermine the directors’ goal.

And the writing.  What is it with endings these days?  Both The Road and Daybreakers had bad endings that could have been much cleaner given very simple changes.  The Book of Eli gets tossed in the same boat here, but the problems are a more complex: There isn’t merely a little trimming to be performed (The Road) or an extra quick scene or two to leave a realistic vibe (Daybreakers).  What The Book of Eli’s conclusion really needs is to amputate the didactic heavy-handedness that shows up like a drunk uncle at Christmas dinner and spoils the fun.

Finally, the makeup and special effects performed admirably.  My theory of CGI working better in the dark is demonstrated here, as backgrounds of devastated wasteland did not stand out nearly as much as a boat ride in the sunshine.

The little touches in the film were cool, like a hijacker wearing goggles with a bullet hole through one lens (implying the original owner is dead, possibly at the hands of the new owner, and that scavenging is a part of life) and a beat up poster for A Boy and His Dog in the background of Eli’s room while staying in town (Dog was a major influence for Mad Max, and hence, all post-apocalyptic films since).  Finally, the random appearance of Albus Dumbledore (Michael Gambon) as the POSSIBLE, MINOR SPOILER second half of a friendly, elderly cannibal couple was worth a few laughs for sheer randomness.  A whole film should be dedicated to those folks. POSSIBLE SPOILER OVER Keep your eyes peeled for a few other cameos.

In the end, the film is okay, starting strong, but wimping out as the final bell rings.  Daybreakers did a better job maintaining that world’s credibility while having some fun, and The Road is the closest we’ll get to gritty-realism in post-apocalyptic films for a while.  The Book of Eli plays in both courts, the fun and the serious, but doesn’t completely deliver the goods as well as its better cousins.

2 1/2 out of 5

PS

The Book of Eli actually plays out like a Western than the gritty survival  structures of post-apocalypse films: random stranger with badassness floats into town, attracts trouble, kills trouble, leaves town for vague mission.

Recommendations:

Mad Max, A Boy and His Dog, Carriers, The Road, Children of Men, High Noon, any Sergio Leone flick

The Road

One of the original The Road posters.

Ever since seeing the Coen Bros.’ film adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s novel No Country for Old Men, I’ve been dying to see his post-apocalyptic novel The Road receive the same treatment.  Because what’s more silver screen than a film about the end of the world and the ensuing hunger, cold, and cannibals? Continue reading

Daybreakers: I Am Legend II, Even Lengendarier (I mean that in a good way)

Daybreakers teaser poster.

When my friend Jesse and I saw the initial ads for Daybreakers, he commented, “This looks like a sequel to I Am Legend [the book, not the movie].”  There are plenty of reasons for this:  I Am Legend left us with a world of vampire-like beings and a minority of humans–and that’s where Daybreakers picks up.  Society has adapted to serve the needs of the new vampire majority, as cars warn drivers of UV light, coffee/blood stands are in the subways, humans are “farmed” for their blood, and there is even a vampire army. Continue reading

Carriers: One of the Best Apocalypse Films You Didn’t See

Thanks to a random trailer hanging out on the right hand side of a Yahoo News article, I found out about a little film called Carriers.  This is another post-apocalypse scenario, whereby a tuberculosis type virus has destroyed a majority of the population.  Fortunately for me, it received a small release here in Edinburgh and I had a chance to see it (I was geeking out with enthusiasm that the theater was using an old slide projector and that the film was actually projected on 35mm).

If you only watched the trailer, you’d mark it for another dumb zombie film.  However, this little gem is a solid film, with great acting, story, and of course, the fine details that make the apocalypse setting feel real (I will not spoil it).  This isn’t a zombie movie and it isn’t just a Horror film.  Like all greats, it’s really a drama with a horror backdrop.  The film’s pathos is remarkably palpable as characters make tough choices in order to survive.

(POSSIBLE SPOILER, SKIP OVER PARAGRAPH)

This, plus the people we meet on this roadtrip to “safety” make the film immensely believable; we’re just as haunted by what happens to those left behind as those in the film.  Plus, who knew Chris Pine, the new Captain Kirk, could swing from asshole leader, to crying mess, to menacing monster so well?

(SPOILER ALERT OVER, RESUME READING)

Sure, it’s a bunch of attractive young white kids running around, but my wife Bethany and I spent the hour walk home discussing the film’s characters.  These weren’t the teenagers from Friday the 13th you wished death upon via machetes.  This isn’t the best post-apocalyptic film, but I firmly give it a good, which is why it deserves a lot more attention.

This officially came out before Zombieland, so try not to be too harsh when it mentions “the rules” for survival.

Now that I’ve prepped you, go out and see this thing!  Carriers is out on DVD in the U.S.*

*evidently the distributor for Carriers, Paramount Vantage, closed shop which is why this only received a limited release in the U.S. in September and then sent to the DVD house.


Other recommendations:

Blindness, Children of Men, The Mist, The Descent, 28 Days Later, Mad Max, The Thing, Pontypool (see my review)