Monday, April 30, 2012

Review: Audition

Version I Watched: Standard definition DVD.

History: This film is an adaptation of a novel by the same name written by Ryu Murakami (Daijobu mai furendoTokyo Decadance, Nikkei supesharu kanburia kyuden), adapted to the screen by Daisuke Tengan (The Eel, September 11, 13 Assassins) and directed by Takashi Miike (Dead or Alive, Ichi the Killer, Three... Extremes). The film has made a strong cult following over the years. It's been considered quite controversial since day one for it's sadistic violence. So harsh that when it was presented at the 2000 Rotterdam Film Festival a furious woman walked up to the film's director telling him he's evil. On Bravo's 100 Scariest Movie Moments famed directors such as Eli Roth and Rob Zombie admitted to cringing during it's more intense moments. Coming from those guys you know it's made an affect.
My Personal History: I first found out about this after diving deep into the Japanese horror film genre back in high school. I've only seen it a couple of times. I do plan on watching it tons times more because it's so great and creepy I couldn't imagine giving it up.
Review: If you've read this far you already know this is a harsh and intense film. This one is not for the faint of heart. Also before I continue I must point out my love for horror. It's one of one if not my favorite genres, despite having a reputation for being pretty terrible most of the times. When it gets it right, oh boy does it get it right! I personally believe one of the reasons many people don't like horror is because it makes them uncomfortable or they don't like getting scared. This is a shame that these people don't appreciate the exact purpose horror has. If you leave one feeling disgusted, terrified, afraid to go asleep, then it was a job well done. It is a niche audience, I agree. It's the same reason why I'm not all about wholesome, feelgood tales all the time. Just not interested. I do love the thrill of getting scared! Sometimes that scare comes from the simple graphic nature of the film. It could be the violence happening on screen. It could be the environment or tone of the films. All I know is if it's creeping me out, I am enjoying it.
Audition starts out on quite the downer note as is. Aoyama (Ryo Ishibashi) is at his wife's death bed. She dies only moments before their 10 year old son walks in with a get well soon gift. Fast forward seven years and Aoyama is still without a companion and his son has grown to be the teenager he is now. It has become apparent that he needs to remarry. He pulls together an audition for a movie that will never be made in order to meet women. Just like my last review, Last Chance Harvey, this is when the creep factor comes into play into this film. Here we're presented with the films antagonists that we're supposed to love and cheer for but we're given guys who do, realistically, totally creepy things to get their way to the plot. The major difference here is in Last Chance Harvey he was being really forward whereas here Aoyama is being deceptive. He knows the film will never  be made, so he lives a lie if he marries the woman he meets? Depending on your conscience that could be heavy in time. The auditions seem to go on forever. This is where he meets Asami, a woman he chose was the one before the auditions even began, based on what she wrote in her interview.
The creep factor of Aoyama is soon forgotten because this is when the creep of Asami begins. Asami is a really cute, shy, appearing to be introverted girl who has a love of ballet. She feels like such a sweet and quiet girl. Now, when Aoyama finally decides to call her after the audition here we see her sitting directly in front of her phone waiting for him to call. When she hears the ring she sadistically smiles. Not out of a girlish glee or feelings of a crush, she shows evil in her eyes. And wait a second... what's in that sack behind her? Is that thing moving?!
The films continues to move on a nice, steady pace keeping the creepy alive. "But Dane? When's the REALLY scare stuff gonna happen?" be patient now.
They continue to meet on dates. One thing that is made subtly clear is how everything about her life is conveniently unable to be researched. She works at a bar but Aoyama isn't allowed to stop by, she loves ballet but can no longer do it due to an injury, etc, etc. All seems awfully convenient that the only thing that can be known about her for sure is what she presents. Even that is skeptical. Her facade she shows in her beauty hides dark desires. Despite all these things Aoyama is very head over heels for Asami. He expresses his desires to propose to her during a weekend getaway he has planned. Propose! I am not 100% familiar with how Japanese culture differs from American culture but if I'm not mistaken they've only been dating what, a few days? Maybe a week or two? The film has not given the impression a lot of time has passed.
Things take a quick turn when Asami vanishes without a trace on the same trip he planned on proposing at. He can't find her, doesn't have many methods of getting in touch with her, and he doesn't know her address so he can't look for her at home. After doing some research on his crush Aoyama makes some disturbing discoveries. Such as the dance studio she claims she used to dance at is run down only occupied by a crippled man who seems to like to sit in the dark alone playing the piano. Things come to an even creepier tone with every scene that passes at this point. This is also when the exposition breaks off into a very different direction that I question a bit. Aoyama comes back home to have a drink. Suddenly he feels strange and what appears to be faints. One would assume he broke off into a dream sequence and this what it feels like. A lot is learned about Asami. For example we find out the burns on the inside of her leg revealed a little earlier in the film were a form of sexual abuse by what we're led to believe is her dance instructor, or something... honestly I'm not sure. It's never made fully clear. It's also revealed what's in the sack. Allow me to detail the scene we find out. Aoyama has been jumping from place to place through location and time. Eventually he winds up in Asami's home. The sack opens up and what comes out is a man with three missing fingers, a missing ear, and a missing tongue. Asami is behind Aoyama vomiting into a dog bowl. She takes it up to this disfigured man and he dives in like he hasn't eaten in weeks. Asami simply pets him like he's a pet. it's vulgar, graphic, and disgusting... and very effective.
The "dream" sequence goes through plenty more but I won't spoil it all for you. It lasts a good fifteen minutes with him waking up to the horror of the most iconic scene in the film. First a commentary. One of my thoughts that really causes a different perspective on the film is what's real and what isn't. Yes the ballet studio really did exist. I can believe she used to be a ballerina. We actually do see her burn marks on her leg outside of the dream sequence so it's easy to believe she got burned (DAAAAAYAM! YOU GOT BUUUURNED!) but by who? Was it really her teacher (Father, uncle, the janitor)? Also we know that Asami had something living within that sack. There were clues given that say it can be connected to a previous event with the missing pieces of their body. But my biggest beef with the exposition in the dream sequence is a lot of it involves things Aoyama was never present for. Not are these things taking place locations he's been. I get the scene when he introduces Asami to his deceased wife. That makes sense. And the sense of imagination can create a few of the other things. But when it comes down to it all a lot of these things weren't confirmed or denied in the real world forcing the audience to choose between whether it's all real, whether it's really bad exposition, or it's just an excuse to do something really messed up. None the less the scenes were great! I love obscure and out of this world elements coming into play. When I was trying to put the puzzle pieces together there were a few things that didn't fit.
Now for the part that's makes this one well known. It's on the box art of every edition you'll find or at least something from this scene. It's the scene when Asami tortures Aoyama. What was slipped in Aoyama's drink before he fainted paralyzed his body. It's a special kind of paralysis because he can't move but can still feel throughout his body. That way he can suffer through it all as Asami states. Her methods are slow. She starts with a hand full of needles. She places them delicately deeper and deeper into his body causing him pain. She smiles like a school girl playing hopscotch (or like, 4 square, that game is fun) audibly saying "deeper deeper deeper." What's weird is the way she says it is almost cute, causing a strange feeling in the audience's minds. She moves up to his eyes doing the same she did on his torso. Shoving the needles under a persons eyes looks immensely painful. Then comes the big one. She presents Aoyama with a long, sharp wire that can cut through meat and bone. Asami wraps it around his ankle, sits on his foot, and carves away enjoying it as much as a young girl loves playing with dolls. This is a scene that's believed to have taken inspiration from famous scenes in Misery and In the Realm of the Senses. I can see the resemblance. There is a bit of a difference between sawing off someone's foot as opposed to *SPOILERS* hobbling someone in the ankles or slowly sawing a man's penis off *SPOILERS END.* This scene is actually very brief in the film if you take a time to it. It takes it so slow it feels longer than it really is. This is a great example that divides what type of horror you're watching. If you're screaming and jumping around because you're "scared" it's not very scary. If you're sitting still, silent, unable to look away even though what you're watching you know will give you nightmares for months, that's scary.
This film gives out quite the creep, and when the time comes it's not afraid to bring the gross stuff, too. The film's director, Takashi Miike is far from afraid of doing lots of gore. He's made a ton of films which I haven't seen a lot of. I will be touching on his very violent, very insane Dead or Alive one of these days. My favorite of his so far. You feel the punches as they hit. Once Asami cuts off Aoyama's foot you feel yourself looking for your own foot because it feels like you just had your foot cut off. This one will stay with you whether you like it or not.
The only other real complaint I have with this is I was trying to figure out what her motive is. She had no personal connection to Aoyama before the audition. She had a tortured childhood so I can see how she would wind up pretty messed up. The only motive I was able to find was either connected to that or the "men are pigs" motive that a lot of women use as an excuse to kill or hurt men in films whether it's justified or not. Maybe she really is just so messed up she enjoys the thrill of torture. It would answer a lot of questions. Not as interesting as some solutions but way scarier. One of the scariest thoughts is someone doing something so horrible for fun. Someone give this girl a yoyo to play with. Then she could use it for good and become a cop!

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Review: Last Chance Harvey


Starring: Dustin Hoffman, Emma Thompson, and Kathy Baker

History: This film was both written and directed by Joel Hopkins (Jorge, Jump Tomorrow, Love Punch). The film was released on Christmas Day in 2008 to a very limited release, expanding shortly thereafter. Overall it made 32.5 million in the box office and I am unsure if this is considered a box office success or not because of my difficulty finding the official budget for the film. But the film felt like it could be made pretty cheap so I am going to assume it didn't need a huge budget. The casting choice of Dustin Hoffman and Emma Thompson was chosen because of their great work together in Stranger Than Fiction. Their desire to work together again brought them to this film.

My Personal History: This is my first viewing. I actually just picked this up the other day for $2 at a Blockbuster Video that is closing down. Other than that I was simply aware of it's existence but never knew what it was about.

Review: Well, this is my first blind dive review. As I stated a local Blockbuster Video is closing down (The one I used to work at in high school. Kinda sad) so the wife and I went on down there to pick up some cheap movies. The other three I'll list at the end of my review like I have in the past but this was one of the really cheap ones. For $2 we figured it seemed like it would be decent enough to justify a purchase. The way I see it, buying a movie for $2 isn't a lot different than renting a redbox movie for only $1 (or $1.20 I think it is now). The big difference is if you like it you get to keep it forever. If you don't like it then you didn't lose much.

The film centers around the lives of two people who clearly feel out of touch and alone in their life. Harvey (Dustin Hoffman) is a divorced man living far from any of his family. It's never made explicitly clear where exactly his family is living at the time this film took place. He does travel all the way over to England to attend his daughter's wedding, although it is repeated over and over "A long way to come for two Americans to be getting married" implying they live nowhere near there. His presence there is strange. Every scene he was in with anyone in his family it felt like he didn't belong there. It also felt like nobody wanted him there either. This made the scenes pre and during the wedding to be incredibly awkward, causing even myself to cringe in my seat from uncomfortableness.
Then there's Kate (Emma Thompson). Some chunks of her story are left to assumption as little details are given throughout the film. It is to my understanding that she is the type of woman whose life didn't quite go the way she hoped it would. This is hinted at the type of job she does. She is an attendant at an airport who asks people to take surveys regarding their travels. Can you image doing that 40 hours a week? I wouldn't be able to stand one hour of something like that. What a hellish job. She also keeps her anxious mother company with her father not around. Eventually in the story we find out her father ran off to France years ago. She is constantly being bothered by her mother who thinks her neighbor may be a serial killer because of "suspicious activity" and "an awful lot of grilling."

The two meet up entirely on happenstance at the airport bar. Kate is sitting down to a glass a wine over a book while Harvey drinks his troubles away from his horrible day. They make their first bonding moment by comparing their day. "Oh no, my day was far shittier." Then again if I lost my job due to missing my plane from horrible traffic on the way from having to skip out early on my daughter's wedding where she decided to have her step father giver her away over her actual father I would go to the bar, too. This is the tipping point of Harvey and Kate's relationship that truly is a movie romance to the T because romances like this aren't entirely realistic. I don't want to generalize especially since the woman I am now married to I met entirely on happenstance but let me explain.

Harvey and Kate enjoy lunch "next to each other" as they called it. They chat for a while and make their goodbyes. Harvey then runs into her on the train leaving the airport, and by running into her I mean he bolts it from four cars away just to get to see her again. This would be red flag number one of a serial killer tendency. Again at the train station you'd think they are saying their goodbyes again until she mentions she's heading to a writing class in which Harvey offers to walk her to the class, carry her books. Once again this comes off as bizarre since they just met and he is acting like a school boy being obsessive over the cute girl in the class. Lastly when they get to the class Harvey offers to wait for the class to finish. It's just all really bizarre how he is acting around this woman he met hours earlier. This is why this is a movie relationship. In a realistic sense Kate would be horrified by his behavior and is wondering if she should keep any and every drink covered by her hand in case he tries to date rape her and she wakes up naked in a ditch somewhere she's never been with a kidney missing. On top of that the ages of the actors themselves is roughly 22 years difference! It was elements like this that made it difficult to initially get into the story. There were so many things happening in this short chunk of time in the second act of the film that gave off a weird feeling.

Once I was able to get past that last paragraph their relationship does start to shine. Yes the actors ages are quite different (Hoffman was born in 1937, Thompson in '59), but they're do a great job! Let me say how much I like Dustin Hoffman. Like many other people I think he is a fantastic actor. I have been treated mostly to his more recent work like Stranger Than Fiction and I do remember seeing Rain Man years ago but it's his early, classic work I haven't seen a lot of. One of these days I'd love to see Tootsie because I hear nothing but great things. I did see Straw Dogs and he was EXCELLENT in that one! This film is no exception. Where some of the writing falls short Hoffman brings it back up to make it a better film that it may have been with someone else. As Harvey who has had a lot of trouble and pain in his life you can really see it. There is a scene part way through the film at his daughter's wedding reception where he gives a heartfelt speech about how despite having a split family his daughter was able to become an amazing and independent woman. It was killing him to give that speech knowing that many of the people in the room hated or were embarrassed by him. The pain was in his expression and it was truly convincing.
Emma Thompson on the other hand was someone who never stood out for me. I know I've seen her in a bunch of movies before such as the Harry Potter films or once again along with Dustin Hoffman in Stranger Than Fiction, but this may be the first time I really noticed her. It's easy to tell she is incredibly unhappy with her life being alone without love of a companion and constantly having her bored mother bothering her all the time. Once Kate and Harvey's relationship start to kick off it's easy to see why Harvey is so attracted to her. She is a delightfully cute woman whose personality gives her plenty of depth. She also comes off as a very modest woman. I cannot imagine her taking advantage of a man being attracted to her by using him to her advantage. When she convinces Harvey to go to his daughter's wedding and agrees to go with him he insists on buying her a dress. They go out to get one and she comes out with a simple yet superb black dress. Nothing too fancy but it makes her shine.

One thing that is noticeable as the film goes on is how predictable it gets. This is truly a romance film in the most traditional sense. You tend to see where it's going three steps ahead of the story telling you where it's going. I watched this with my wife and she accurately predicted a curve-ball before it even happened. So for a story like this, like any slasher film, it's not what happens but how it all plays out. At first I felt like this film had nothing that stood out in it aside from the really well done performances. I thought about it more and came to a realization, how mature the film handled itself. Content wise it wasn't strong even by PG-13 standards. What gave it the rating were some "shit"s and an excerpt from an old man's sex fantasy novel. What I wound up really liking is that they fell in love with each other based on how they truly found out how they felt for each other. There is not a single sex scene in this film and it really was enriched because of it. I felt like the film was really trying to communicate that two people can fall in love with each other from the far simpler things than the complicated tangle sex can cause.

With all that said it's hard to really recommend this film highly. It wasn't a bad film, certainly not. It just wasn't superb. I would suggest this to people who are interested in a good love story who isn't a fan of vulgarity in film. This film does not have a lot of vulgarity so it's helpful there. Otherwise I am sure fans of Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman would enjoy this film as well. It is sure worth a $2 purchase at a closing Blockbuster Video!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Review: Frequency

Version I Watched: Standard definition DVD.

Starring: Dennis Quaid, Jim Caviezel, and Shawn Doyle

History: An original screenplay written by Toby Emmerich (The Last Mimzy) and directed by Gregory Hoblit (Primal Fear, Hart's War, Fracture). This film was released on April 28th 2000 and was met with plenty of positive reviews with a few mixed. It was a box office success earning approximately 68 million, earning over triple it's original 22 million budget. It was originally going to be made in 1997 directed by Renny Harlin (Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, 12 Rounds). The starring role was going to be played by Sylvester Stallone (Rocky, First Blood, The Expendables) but his salary requirement was too high. Neither would be involved in the final product.

My Personal History: My family went to see this when it was first released. There are very few films throughout anyone's life I think they can recall seeing more times than they can remember. This is one of those films. We all loved it so much we had to get it on tape (good old VHS) as soon as it hit store shelves. Since then we've had viewing after viewing and continue to enjoy the hell out of it to this day.

Review: It needs to be understood that I am going to have a huge bias toward this because of my history with it. Many of it's flaws I wouldn't have noticed over ten years ago during my first viewings I do see now. It doesn't quite demote its quality because I still consider this to be one of the most underrated and overlooked films of the turn of the century.

The film's brief opening exposition gets things going quick and at a consistent rate. First we meet the star of the show, Frank (Dennis Quaid). He is a firefighter on a rescue mission down in the sewers. Some workers are stuck down there in a flooded area with exposure wiring threatening to electrocute them. In typical tension building done the way movies do it they get everyone out JUST in time followed up by Frank getting out by the skin of his teeth. Following him was an explosion of fire out of the manhole. I may be a bit harsh saying it was a pretty cheap looking effect considering this was made over a decade ago. But that's when I reference movies like Jurassic Park and Terminator 2. Not that it has to be at that level, but the effects in those movies were far better and they were made 7 and 9 years earlier. After the heroic rescue we meet Frank's family. It's a typical American family. Nice home, beautiful wife, a fun kid, and a love of baseball. It's a sweet and heartwarming image seeing the life they live. Fast forward thirty years to 1999. Frank's son John (Jim Caviezel) who we saw only moments earlier as a young boy is being walked out on by his current girlfriend. The American Dream image he lived with his family and his good friend Gordo playing baseball and learning to ride a bike are gone. He is now a down on his luck cop living a lonely life filled with failed relationships. He tends to spend a lot of time with his childhood friend Gordo (Noah Emmerich) and his mother Jules (Elizabeth Mitchell).

It doesn't take long for the plot to kick in which is reason number one why I like this move so much. It doesn't dilly dally around with punching us in the face with exposition for an eternity before things start up. One night Gordo and his son Gordy Jr (Played by a very young Michael Cera) are hanging out at John's house. George Michael... sorry... Gordy Jr stumbles across an old ham radio Frank used to use in the 60s. They reminisce about memories of the radio and Frank reciting lines like, "This is not a toy!" Eventually they decide to give it a try but doesn't work too well. After Gordo and Scott Pilgrim... sorry, sorry, Gordo Jr leave for the night John gives it another try. He gets a strange connection with an unknown man. They go back and forth about the ham radio itself and the world series. John talked about the games this unknown man is talking about was thirty years ago. They both are in different worlds but neither of them realize it. Before a real connection is made the line cuts. It turns out the person John was talking to was his father Frank thirty years earlier in 1969.

The time travel radio waves are being caused by an unusual series of northern lights showing up as south as where our new friends are, the Bronx. There isn't much of any science behind it. Which is fine. It's the same reason why I didn't want to see the typical, "Mr. President! There's a giant monster attacking New York City!" in Cloverfield. It didn't need that exposition especially since the concept of time travel is complex enough. Not to mention everything that is in the movie needs to be in the movie. Having a lengthy or even breaking away from the story to "explain" how this time travel frequency is happening would be silly. And to briefly tease the sentence before that, there are really no throwaway scenes. More on that in a bit.

John gets in touch with Frank again not much later. Things seem odd when a lot of familiar elements of John's childhood come up in conversation. John then recites to Frank (who he still doesn't know is Frank) his home address (John lives in his childhood house as an adult), who his family was and what they did, and then when Frank accidentally burns the desk and it shows up in the future John relays it over the radio to which Frank believes someone is creeping from outside the house. Just before the radio cuts out again John tells Frank how he dies. He tells him he is going to die the next day in a fire. "He went with his instincts. But only if he went the other way he would have made it!"

I am not going to give away everything in this review. I do want to talk about a lot of the changes to the past that happen because of this communication through time, though. So please read at your own discretion. Part of the fun of the movie is seeing how well it all unfolds and how the past will change with each alternate path taken.

John got Frank's attention because the next day the fire he said would happen did happen. While attempting to make a rescue in the fire Frank is about to go with his instincts but chooses to go the other way and find a different path. Safe to say he gets away. While this is happening, 30 years later John is at a bar having a drink with Gordo and Satch (Andre Braugher) celebrating Frank on the anniversary of his death. The moment, 30 years earlier, Frank decides to take a different path John is hit with a face full of new memories. He freaks out begging his friends to tell him how his dad died. "My dad didn't die in a fire?!" "No, John, cancer." In the matter of a few moments the last 30 years changed instantly. Nobody knows the difference besides John.... and kinda Frank.

After a heartfelt bonding sequence where it's finally understood that they really are communicating through time an investigation begins. A serial killer from Frank's time was never caught and John is investigating. They come up with a plan to try and stop the murders before they happen. This is also when we see the first sign of bad results coming from all the good that happens.

In time I have thought about the time travel concept they went with. To anyone with the most basic knowledge of time travel knows if anything is changed in the past it will change the future no matter how small the act may be. Frequency follows a "real time" time travel system. By this I mean everything that happens in the past that affects the future will affect the future the same date and time thirty years later. The films mostly follows this with some inconsistencies in how certain things are handled. An example of this is when Frank's death is replaced with Jules. As soon as John realizes he saved his father's life he calls his mom leaving a voicemail. You can clearly tell it is her voicemail. That night John falls asleep to a nightmare at a funeral. He calls his mom late in the night/early in the morning but a deli answers. This is the first clue that something is wrong. It's soon revealed she fell victim to the serial killer John is trying to catch. My immediate question is how does that compare to a few other things that happened? When Frank is initially "saved" John experiences 30 years of new memories of his dad being around but he doesn't remember his mom dying? And if all these changes already happened why did she have a voicemail around 10pm but by 4am it's a deli? Also if these changes don't have an affect on the future until they happen thirty years in the past then how come all these other memories came kicking in first? I also wonder about the details of where a person is on said day or what they wear or what they do, etc, etc, etc. When John and his buds met up at the bar they were there to celebrate Frank's life. Why would they be there if he didn't die in the fire? Did Frank die on the same day only years later of cancer? Why are they all sitting in the same seat? Same clothes? Same drinks? Why does the bar look the same? Why are all the same people (potentially) still there? If this were a consistent nit-pick on time travel consistency this review would be filled with them. It does feel like the changes that happen when they do are convenient for the time and situation.

The only other major "issue" I have with this film is the acting. Let's face it, it's not very well acted in a fair chunk of parts. Dennis Quaid is passable in most of his roles. Jim Caviezel really is a good actor but in this role his accent felt forced and unnatural. Then other parts felt like a cop drama like Law & Order.

The great thing about the acting is that they are convincing in their chemistry. Frank and John truly feel like a father and son. It's a very tender relationship. One of the reasons why I like this movie so much is because of their relationship. It's a great father son film for a father son pair to watch. It does make me think of my own daddy. After every viewing I feel I should give him a hug and remind him how much I love him and appreciate him for all he is and does for me.

This film is also really well written. As I stated earlier it doesn't have anything in it that doesn't need to be there. There are a couple things they could expand on but I digress. The best example I can use is a brief moment in character development. Early in the film Gordo talks about Yahoo and how he should have gotten on board when he did. During one of Frank and John's talks Gordo as a kid gets on the line. John calls himself Santa Claus and gives him a magic word. Yahoo. By the end of the film we see Gordo is filthy stinking rich! The only part I feel could have been expanded on is...
at the end when Frank comes into John's home saving him from the killer with a shotgun to the killer's chest. He conveniently shows up when Frank 30 years earlier shoots off the hand of the same killer who is also attacking in said same house the same night and same time. My question is that did Frank beat cancer when John told him that's how he would die? If so then where has Frank been since he gave up smoking so long ago and was alive all this time? It would have been nice to add a little bit to the giving up smoking element and maybe finding a slightly more creative way for Frank to show up in the present time.
*****SPOILERS END*****

I really do love this film. I love it so much. It is vastly entertaining with characters that you really do care about. Also it keeps you on the edge of your seat wondering what's coming up next. And while the time travel changes do raise a lot of questions if combed through with a fine tooth comb it really is still fun and interesting to see what changes do happen in the future. I do highly recommend this title. It was overlooked back when it came out and I can guarantee it is pretty underrated. Not to mention it has some really cool tricks when they take advantage of the changing of history as it happens.

Recent Addition to Collection: Burn After Reading

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Review: The Cell

Version I Watched: Standard definition DVD.

Starring: Jennifer Lopez, Vince Vaughn, and Vincent D'Onofrio

History: An original story written by Mark Protosevich (Poseiden, I Am Legend, Thor) and directed by Tarsem Singh (The Fall, Immortals, Mirror Mirror). The film was released on August 18th 2000 and was met with mixed reviews by critics. The film was a box office success by earning 104 million at the box office, over triple the original budget of 33 million.

My Personal History: I saw this back in the summer of 2007 when it was recommended to me by a high school friend. I remember loving it so much at the time which brought me into it on this viewing with some raised expectations as I didn't remember a lot about it other than some key elements. All I remember was its style, how violent it was, that Jennifer Lopez actually did a really good job, and that I felt it was really underrated in response to the mixed reviews it received when first released.

Review: There are many different types of directors. Some have material the jump up and down in quality. Some are very consistent whether it's good or bad. Then there are some who peak early or take a while to gain their style and their films get progressively better. The Cell director, Tarsem Singh is one of those directors who falls into the more unique of these categories where they breakout in a great high note but then their follow ups don't quite live up to their early work. It reminds me a bit of Rob Zombie or M. Night Shamalamadingdong. Those two had a pretty good or great first film. Then their follow up was excellent! But each film they followed up with after that just didn't live up to par. In fact they kept getting worse. Tarsem Singh hasn't made enough to properly judge this way but as a lead in I have a mixed bag of feelings for all his films. Immortals was fun at parts but had a lot of room for improvement, The Fall was amazing despite the plot leaving something more to be desired, and I haven't seen Mirror Mirror but that's not quite my cup of tea of film. And The Cell... Well you'll find out...

The film opens not in the real world. Catherine (Jennifer Lopez) is riding through a desert on a horse in an elaborate dress reminiscent of bird feathers. She meets up with a young boy whom she has a close and personal relationship with, almost motherly. She asks him if they are going boating together. Suddenly an old, worn out ship appears next to them, which will not work. Then a small toy boat appears and Catherine tells him it'll work perfectly. Suddenly as she approaches the toy boat the young boy vanishes. An overwhelming sense of something is not right comes over the scene. Catherine presses the space between her thumb and forefinger and that's when she "wakes up." This is when the films reveals that the last scene took place, as I said, not in the real world. It took place in the young boy's mind. Catherine is this young boy's therapist. She uses a very advanced technology to reach him. Not through regular talk on a long couch but by actually going into his mind.

Starting the film in that world is a great setup giving its audience a preview of what's to come. Not only do the most important parts of the film take place outside the real world, but the best parts take place there, too.

The technology is really unique as is, or at least the design concept behind it. The participants are suspended in the air, on their backs, by thin wires. They are also dressed in a red suit that look as if they're made out of muscles. They enter the "mind world" by draping a cloth filled with circuitry over their face. Lastly, to exit the "mind world" the user uses an implant embedded into their hand, the spot between the forefinger and thumb as mentioned previously. This is a concept that I believe was created out of the visual feel of it rather than the tech reasoning. I say that mostly because it never goes very in depth how the tech works, nor is it absolutely necessary. There are still a few things that bugged me about it. I can see how the suit could be filled with pulses pushes onto the user giving a very real sense of where they are in the other person's mind. I must ask how the cloth works. Does it put the individual to sleep? Does it cause a hallucination of some kind to their vision? Also why is it the live body hardly moves at all except when they press the escape button? Suddenly their arm is way up in the air.

By the way, only one mind is entered at a time as expected. There is one host and visitor(s). Only the visitor(s) have the ability to exit upon command if they feel it is necessary.

After this particular session the boy's parents step in because they felt there's been little progress with their son's therapy using this unorthodox method to help with his schizophrenia. The clinic battles to continue the therapy and they are allowed 6 more months with him before they put him into a traditional hospital. Thank the Lord this isn't what the film is about primarily. Otherwise we'd be looking at another feel good movie about the battle for a young child's health filled with boring and predictable cliches. Instead what we get is a lot more sadistic.

Parallel to Catherine's story is one of a serial killer. Initially very little is known about the killer. He captures young women, drowns them, bleaches them so their bodies are nearly pure white, and then disposes of the body but not before getting off sexually in his own unique way. He suspends himself, face down from hooks he has embedded into his back. To put the wonderful finishing touches on things he has a haircut Anton Chigurh of No Country for Old Men would be proud of. Before the plot kicks in we see our wonderful antagonist, named Carl (Vincent D'Onofrio) claim two lives. One upon his introduction where we see his introduction and the second shortly thereafter. He claims his victim in a hidden underground basement underneath a deserted barn inside a giant tank.

The first on screen victim is found by FBI agent Peter (Vince Vaughn) down by a shallow river. The second victim is only briefly shown but never brought up again the rest of the film... not sure why... could have caused unnecessary repetition. After the body was found they get cracking on the case. It didn't take long before they find his home to bust him. An entire swat team is outside his home locked and loaded which felt a bit excessive since they're getting just one guy. It could have easily been half as many men to bring him in. It was pretty convenient that at the same time he is taking a bath so he is very defenseless. This is when it's presented to us that Carl has these very intense headaches which has given him an addiction to aspirin. Again, conveniently for the fuzz, Carl has run out of aspirin so his intense headaches hits harder than usual presented in a very demonic sense as if he is possessed. He stumbles about right before S.W.A.T. breaks in to apprehend him somehow missing him passed out on the floor when they first break in.

Carl's brain has been deeply penetrated with an extreme case of schizophrenia and has now essentially become a vegetable. Great! Got the bad guy! But wait... he has a victim that will die in less than two days unless they find out where she is...

This is when the film REALLY kicks into gear. The only way to find out where the latest victim is hidden is to go into Carl's mind. Catherine is the only person who can get in there to find out the answer.

The "mind world" as I have been calling it is where, as I've stated multiple times before, the film comes alive, it's the best parts, and they look great. The film's director Tarsem Singh is great at making his films look great if nothing else. Really this man should be a concept artists or a cinematographer. This is where he thrives.

Carl's mind is a twisted kingdom filled with his victims where as expected anything is possible. His victims are present in a bizarre S&M binding dolled up to feed his sexual desires. Carl is also represented in his mind as a King to his Kingdom. This makes perfect sense because who else but the owner of the mind would be the King? After a lot of difficulty Catherine is eventually succumb to Carl's power within his own mind where she enters a state believing what she is experiencing is real. Peter has to go in after her (Which gives even more proof how Inception is NOT as original as internet trolls lead you to believe) which eventually leads to the films thrilling conclusion.

Beneath the films main story is the theme of water and drowning. In many scenes are elements of both. At the most basic level we see Carl kill his victims from drowning. Most obvious. Carl is taking a bath immediately before passing out right before he is taken in. During Carl's full body baptism he went into a seizure and nearly drowned when he was a young boy (Not a baby). And he also drowned a small animal to save it from his abusive father. They do all come together in a consistent way but don't really add a lot to the film overall. If a different element was implemented it would have worked almost the same way minus how specific scenes are executed. Say fire. Carl could have burned his victims alive, could have been burned throughout parts of his body whether by his abusive father or a house fire of some kind, could have killed the small animal by burning it in a bon-fire, etc, etc, etc, and it could have turned out similar.

While on topic with his abusive father... Carl had a very abusive father physically and mentally. A common trope in serial killer stores. His father was the type to blow up at the smallest things, like accidentally breaking a dinner plate. That deserves a mouth full topped with a smack to the head. He constantly reminded Carl his mother walked out on them leaving him the belief she doesn't love him. She probably didn't and his father clearly doesn't so it's easy to see why he turned out the way he did. There is also a brief moment where we see Carl playing with dolls to which his butch father would OBVIOUSLY hate. Carl's father reacts by beating Carl with his belt screaming, "I didn't raise no faggot!" What's conflicting about elements of this presented for serial killer stores is it gives sympathy to the killer. How is that supposed to make the audience feel? The screenwriter may as well be saying, "He's just misunderstood. Don't blame him for the murders. Blame his father." While I do prefer mystery to the evils in film this was nice to add some depth to Carl. If it weren't for the revelations present in his mind he would just be a run of the mill serial killer who looks and acts creepy.

One thing I did like on a personality level was Catherine. She is a very sweet and soft spoken person who has a huge heart. I know some people who are very motherly even if they aren't actually mothers. She comes off as so reserved that in a moment when she smokes pot and swears it felt very out of character. She didn't come off as the type of person who would do either of those things. She does contribute to the conflicting feelings about the serial killer. In Carl's mind we're treated to three versions of Carl. The real world Carl, as I like to call it the "Demon" Carl (And in one scene he is presented as nearly the devil himself with horns made out of his hair), and childhood Carl. Catherine seems to feel the need to protect childhood Carl even though he is only a memory. I question exactly what it is she is trying to accomplish by protecting him the way she does.

The performances weren't anything terrible. It was mostly what would be expected either by these characters or actors. The only one that did stand out for me was Jennifer Lopez. It's partially because of the perception going into it knowing what I know about her. I know the first time I saw this back in 2007 I was hesitant because of who it starred. I had seen a couple of her movies so it didn't appeal to me in that element. It was recommended by the opinion of someone I trust so I went for it. So in the end it really is a case of getting more out of it than you'd expect. It isn't just that. I did get more than I expected. So it isn't just lowered expectations, then? No. J-Lo played the role really well. Very sweet, enduring, and very brave in character. The rest of the performances were fine. Vincent D'Onofrio played the creepy killer the way you'd expect. It was very textbook and didn't bring anything too special to the table. Then there's Vince Vaughn in one of his pre-comedic roles who still makes sure to sport his signature look where you'd think he just crapped his pants and is hoping nobody will notice the smell.

I didn't love this as much as I did on my first viewing. Being away from it for 5 years gave it a real first time feel. As cookie cut as some of the elements are it's still crazy entertaining. The mind diving sequences makes the audience wonder what could possibly happen next. So really this is a film I would still highly suggest. It's still very well put together and most of all very creative in its visuals. I can imagine there are many who could get turned off to some of the harsh violence and dark, dark imagery and elements... whateves. This is a great film.