Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus (2009), or Need I Say Anything More?

24 12 2009

Lap this up while you can, guys; this will be my last shitty movie review of the year. And I don’t mean that the reviews themselves won’t be shitty from here on out, because I can’t promise you that (don’t review my reviews, you review-reviewing son of a bitch…). but, the last week in 2009, the year of our Lord, I will be reviewing some really good stuff to end on a good note! But we still have one little hump to get over this year, so let’s flash forward all the way back to 2009. Back when we were all so young, when cars observed the rules of the road, when old ladies were treated with respect, and when the Rhinosaur epidemic of 2009 was only a lingering legend thrown around by clerics and the forgotten members of Soundgarden. Back then, I was working in the back room of a Barnes & Noble, fucking shit up with a propensity that can only be described as a Work-Gasm, and I was listening to our old, antiquated FM radio receiver (how naive we were back then!!!), when some ass-face of a Morning Zoo Crew DJ started interviewing a spritely Deborah Gibson about a new movie she was in. It involved giant sharks, giant-er octopi, scientists trying to stop them from destroying the world, and an evil government agent trying to keep the scientists down with the power of his will. It was called Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus, and as soon as I heard the title, I was unbearably hooked to the idea. It sounded so cheesy, and Gibson said in her interview, if I can recall it from so long ago, that she was camping it up big time. So as fast as I could, I drove in my old-fashioned automobile to the ol’ videocassette store to rent it that day. Well, after having seen it for the first time in what must have been MONTHS, I am revisiting this camp classic, and I honestly love it as much as I did back in my youth.

I really don’t think I can do this story justice with words alone. Not with the time restraints I’m working on. Instead of failing miserably with the inadequacy of weak and weary words, take a look at this fresh and vibrant video to understand what we’re dealing with here:

That trailer reminds me of that shitty Tommy Lee Jones movie from the late 90s called Volcano, where the tagline boasted proudly with the haughtiness of youth and fire, “The Coast is Toast.” What steely reserve you must have to announce to the world that your movie is awesome just because it has giant animals in it! What dimension are you from where that still is considered a selling point? Apparently the right one, because as soon as I saw a clip of a giant shark eating a plane, I was THIS close to putting stains in my Adult Swim boxers.

The technical aspects aren’t even worth mentioning. The Asylum Productions, makers of fine DVD titles that expound on a blockbuster’s success (my favorites: Transformers came out in 2007, the same year we saw The Asylum’s Transmorphers, and when the third High School Musical came out, we saw the release of Sunday School Musical!!! Fucking brilliant!), Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus ekes along with the production value of any American Pie movie without Jason Biggs. It is a confusing mess of a movie that begs not only the question, “How much could this have cost?”, but also, “Why am I watching this sober?”. I don’t mind the lack of budget, the hokeyness of the shark and octopus’s overall look, the special effects that are surely inferior even to Steven Spielberg’s home movies, and the fact that this drivel claims to have Lorenzo Lamas “starring” in it, when everybody knows you have to be a star to star in something, but one thing that really bugs me is the director’s unseemly aversion to filler shots of the beach. There are lots and lots of beach shots; we’re on the beach WAY too much. And when we’re not on the beach, we’re watching tracking shots of seagulls who just CAME from the beach. Look, I know it’s an aquatic themed movie, but a beach is only half water! That’s like making a movie called Ham World, but instead of a 90 minute meat overload (which is also my nickname with the ladies…), all we get is fucking ham sandwich long takes. Seriously, count all the boring beach shots in this film, and by the time you do, you’ll be totally unconscious anyway to care.

Deborah Gibson is the sole saving grace of Mega Shark. She plays this up big time as a marine biologist who is interested in stopping the two aquatic giants from somehow killing millions of people. She is that typical goody-good, ultra-hot scientist who doesn’t take into account that she’s unnaturally attractive for a profession that probably doesn’t allow a lot of time for make-up and hair primping. She has a sense of humor about it, though, and you can tell from her performance that she knows exactly what she got herself into. Lorenzo Lamas, on the other hand, must either have an excellent, advanced sense of humor, or is dead serious about the realities of Mega Sharks and Giant Octopi. He is some jackass NSA type who needs the help of a sexy marine biologist to save his ass with some serious science. Maybe it’s his attitude, maybe it’s just his character, or maybe it’s just his face, but Lorenzo Lamas really bugs me in this movie. I couldn’t really like him after his smash hit television show Renegade was taken off the air, and this, as well as his fucking repulsive reality show, affirms the fact that until Renegade is picked up again, I want nothing more to so with that man.

But, in the end, the shark and the octopus are the stars, and they’re entertaining for those few WTF moments like the one I posted above. Most of the movie is actually spent away from them, tracking them and their movements, but when they’re on screen, although they don’t really look that good, the idea comes across well enough for a chuckle or two. Or a bunch of chuckles. Either way, Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus is an acquired taste. If you think this kind of cheesy stuff is funny, then you are going to have a blast picking it apart with your friends. But if you want more serious movies like Ghost or The Patriot, then I would take myself far away from this possibly intentional monstrosity. It’s good in that bad way, so I enjoyed it, but as a reviewer I must acknowledge that it is indeed BAD. I officially give Mega Shark Vs. Giant Octopus 2 1/2 ham sandwich long takes out of 10! But definitely watch it for laughs if you like to camp it up every now and then!

Tomorrow I start my last week with Christmas, and a seriously good movie called Rachel Getting Married! Until then!

(Note: I have been told to explain that I really don’t like either Ghost or The Patriot and that I was merely joking when I used them as examples of serious dramas: in my head I guess I just assumed that everyone, like myself, scoffed at those movies and used them as embarrassing conversational doormats when discussing lackluster Hollywood dramas. But I guess not. OOPS!)

Dark Country (2009), or Trouble In The Night Lands

22 12 2009

Note: This is my review for Dark Country that I wrote for 366 Weird Movies! Check them out at THIS LINK! for all the latest weirdness in cinema, as well as articles on some of the wildest imagery ever committed to celluloid! P.S.- Don’t give me any shit for doubling down on the same review! It’s still good, even though it’s previously used!)

DIRECTED BY: Thomas Jane

FEATURING: Thomas Jane, Ron Perlman, Laurie German

PLOT: Two blissful newlyweds, driving away from their splendid wedding in

Las Vegas, hit a man in the middle of the road. He lives, but the couple find he is not all that he seems, and are suddenly forced to take drastic measures against him.

WHY IT’S ON THE BORDERLINE: Dark Country is a bit obtuse at times, and it frustratingly delights fans of the obscure by not explaining its motives or workings very often, but I hesitate recommending mainly because it relies a little too heavily on genre standbys and noir reverence instead of blazing new fantastic territory. It is a 50s thriller/noir mixed with a modern horror, but it cannot create an identity of its own between its own stylings. There are moments of heavy cinematic distortion and interesting ideas that run through the story like a highway across the hungry desert, but it can’t quite escape some level of mediocrity as it bends prostrate for that which has already been done.

COMMENTS: Dark Country represents a promising debut effort from a director who is willing to try new things. What’s really impressive from the start is the writing. It is intense and full of good, genuine human touches that really helps the movie flow from scene to scene. From the first scene to the end, I felt rapt with attention to these immersive characters and their odd relationship, especially after the drive out of Las Vegas ensues.

It is a journey through dark and unforgiving territory, perhaps a metaphor for the new marriage between main characters Gina and Dick, who were just recently married and don’t really know what they’re in for. The young couple just made it official in Las Vegas, and are ready to make it home, but even before their fateful accident, things aren’t what they seem between the two. There is tension, there are incidents between the two that are hinted at, and the two have secrets from each other right off the bat. And after their encounter in the desert with the strange man they hit, things only get worse between the two. So, from an artistic standpoint, it can be commended as a smart thriller with some brains to back up its craziness.

Visually and tonally, it is an interesting feast for the eyes. Thomas Jane wants a very engrossing visual experience, but he is also on a budget here, so we are caught in a limbo of many special effects, but none of which really hit the mark in a spectacular way. The CG is a little on the cheap side (it looks like a violent episode of Reboot when they wreck the car near the end!), and the green screen is not very successful in melding the real and fake, but the color effects are interesting, not to mention plentiful, and we are treated to some good old fashioned camera trickery with some slick editing and some nifty shots.

But while it’s a solid debut for Jane, and an offbeat one at that, we’re still not treading any bold frontiers with Dark Country. This is a movie I have seen before, in bits and pieces. This is a story of intense psychological implications, a noir aesthetic, and the lush, frightening mysteries of the deep desert. It’s not anything breathtaking or unflinchingly bold. It’s a good and often disturbing take on some classic thriller ideas, and it has a twist in the story that will have you thinking on your toes for a while, but I wouldn’t consider this to be one of the weirdest movies I’d ever seen. With a good cast, a taut script, some interesting effects, and a more intelligent angle than your average thriller, Dark Country has a lot going for it. Just don’t expect it to be too weird, because you might be disappointed.

Cinematronica rating: 7 desert mysteries out of 10!

Stay tuned tomorrow for my take on Mark Wahlberg’s Invincible! Until then!

The Night Out: Avatar (2009), or Cameron’s Spectacle

20 12 2009

I currently have a wager set up with my boss. The wager is that within the time of one month, James Cameron’s Avatar will make $200 million domestically. I am not sure whether or not that is obtainable, as of this writing, but what I do know is that nobody has really talked about the movie much since the whisperings of James Cameron’s opus were started earlier this year. All I’ve heard is that the movie costs this much to make, the special effects are so amazing, the technical specs are blah-blah. But the bottom line is this; it’s not AMAZING unless it does its job and tells us a good story. The specs are just a way to tell the story, but if it isn’t very good, then the effects shouldn’t matter, but now we’ve gotten away from that into this area where effects trump any other aspect of a mainstream movie in the discussion. Avatar is a movie with truly amazing effects, and it really does have the potential to revolutionize the way people make CG effects. And luckily, the movie has enough archetypal strength to carry some genuine emotional power at times, because it’s honestly, on its own as a story, fairly derivative.

Avatar is essentially The Last Samurai with aliens. A wheelchair-bound Marine named Jake Sully, living in the extremely far off year of 2154, is given a chance to replace his twin brother, a scientist, on the far away world of Pandora where he was to research the alien life there, an alien race known as the Na’vi. He is given an Avatar, a creature made with Na’vi DNA that has mental uplinks so a human might control it via a VR interface, and is sent to help the human-Na’vi relations. The humans are on Pandora to mine a precious metal that is worth millions back on Earth, and while they don’t want to eradicate the Na’vi to get it, they’ll do what it takes to get what they want. But they’re trying the talking approach first, though it hasn’t produced results. So Jake is approached by one of the mercenaries contracted by the company mining the mineral with a simple proposition; infiltrate the Na’vi, learn their ways, gain their trust, and learn their defenses at the heart of the forest, and the mercenary will get him his legs back. Jake is torn between the Na’vi, a people he is learning to love and understand, and the ability to walk again, to be self-sufficient. As his Avatar gains more respect in the Na’vi tribe, and he falls more and more in love with the Chief’s daughter, the responsibility he has shouldered in the human world to bring war upon them becomes too much to bear. What will Jake decide to do about the home he has found light years away from his old world? Can he save his new-found people amongst the forest? Or are they doomed to make way for a strip mine?

Avatar’s stats are self-evident, and they have been propagated all over the internet. Let’s just say a LOT of work has gone into this film, and director James Cameron has spent a good chunk of his life making this come to life. I am very serious when I say that the special effects in this film represent a change in the course of how movies will look in the future. Nearly this entire movie is created from completely new CG concepts, and the realism for something so fantastic is really and truly remarkable. There are animals and plants and places that feel real, that breathe with a life of their own. It seems like the sky is the limit now, like anything could be possible all over again. The ceiling has been shattered again with living, kinetic CG characters that exist in an immersive world all their own, and many people will be spending many years trying to achieve what has been created here. There are flying creatures here called ikran (they look like pterodactyls but more alien) that had me rubbing my eyes in amazement from their sheer technical and aesthetic beauty. Hopefully, whoever is next, they will come up with something that is a little more robust and strikingly original from a story standpoint as well, rather than from just a visual standpoint.

Why do I say that? Well, because it’s not something you’ve never seen before. In fact, you’ve probably seen it quite a few times before. It’s 160 minutes of a man going native. That’s it. There’s a forest of cool shit walking around, but the main story is, verbatim, a mix of The Last Samurai and Dances with Wolves dashed with a sprinkle of astro dust and shot in digital 3-D. The script is derived from archetypes as broad and as universal as Joseph Campbell’s wet dreams, not to mention the situations are completely and utterly stock. I won’t say that it’s terrible. The situations presented give us an almost reactionary response that we cannot avoid, and I could feel myself becoming attached to the Na’vi and their world a number of times. But not once did I really feel the characters, their plight, or any of the dramatic scenarios they set up. The only thing that I enjoyed was the emotional attachment the audience gains for the forest, the poignant remembrance of a life of freedom we have traded away for modern convenience, because at times I cannot help but feel that this world would be much simpler if we were closer to the bosom of the earth, even if it meant the end of modern life and the easy prosperity of men and their long-winded lives.

The acting is good, but it’s really not fair. No matter how cut Sam Worthington is, he can’t really hold a candle to how cool his Avatar looks. For what it’s worth, though, he is a damn fine up-and-comer, and I think his turn here as Jake was enjoyable. I especially love his strength in the face of his disability; what a trooper! Stephen Lang is the villainous mercenary trying to kill the rain forest and the Na’vi. He is unflinchingly evil here, and more than that he is uncaring and battle-hardened, which seems to be an irreversible condition in the face of all the carnage he causes. Sigourney Weaver throws Cameron a bone and gets in here as a scientist helping Jake realize his potential as an Avatar controller. She is a hard-ass, but Weaver adds a sweetness that comes out as she controls her own Avatar, a nice touch that adds to the experience. And Zoe Saldana, while never really acting, lends her voice to the Na’vi chief’s daughter, Jake’s love interest, who shows him the ways of her people. She has a lot of character that comes out in her strong but intensely feminine voice that really makes the character come to life. She has to speak another language a lot, and she also does a different voice than her speaking voice, which I L-O-V-E.

Odds are, you’ve already seen Avatar, so I don’t know why I’m reviewing it, honestly. Apparently it is the 7th highest grossing opening of all time as of today, and the numbers are only growing. But if you haven’t seen it yet, I’ll just say that you might not get what you’re expecting. It’s a decent movie that is jacked-up by the aesthetic. If the budget were quartered, I don’t think Avatar would be seeing the attention it’s receiving. But the numbers are what people are talking about nowadays, for good or bad, and this movie is certainly up there as far as that game goes. It’s a huge movie with what seems to be the future of CG as a bolster, and while that’s certainly nothing to snub one’s nose at, let’s not put this on more of a pedestal than it needs to be just because the price tag is more than we could afford in out lifetimes. I give Avatar 7 sprinkles of astro dust out of 10.

Tomorrow I promise to watch The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonzai! Until then!!!

The Night Out: Invictus (2009), or Nobody Knows Who Nelson Mandela Is?

13 12 2009

I find it increasingly alarming that nobody around my neck of the woods knows exactly who Nelson Mandela is. I don’t have a lot of heroes in my life, and over the years I become more and more suspicious of anyone who claims to do something for the greater good. But Nelson Mandela has always been a personal icon for international peace, equality, and, most importantly, forgiveness. His story is harrowing and meaningful, and an important one for us to learn and never forget. But it’s a story that is already fading from people’s hearts and minds, and I hope that today’s film, a spry little sports movie named Invictus brings his inspiring tale to new ears, and reminds everyone that not very long ago, people were still separated in society based on the color of their skin.

It is the story of the 1995 Rugby World Cup, the year South Africa hosted it. But it is simultaneously about the life of Nelson Mandela, specifically from his inauguration in 1994 to the Rugby World Cup. When he first takes office, Mandela is swamped from the start with issues that require his immediate attention. Although apartheid is over, South Africa is not yet united, and that seems to be his first great hurdle, to unite the once-oppressive minority whites with the majority of black South Africans. While watching the national rugby team, the South African Springboks, Mandela decides that the way to unite the races is to ensure that the team goes to the World Cup Finals and wins. Considering that they’re a bunch of losers when the film starts, it seems like a daunting task, but Mandela has an idea of how to inspire them to victory. With a tough set of matches ahead of them, can the Springboks pull it together and come from dead last to make it to the Finals? Can Mandela unite a country torn apart by racial tensions? Can anybody tell me what a Springbok is?

Clint Eastwood takes a break from directing taut, heart-breaking dramas to make what might be the most inspiring movie of 2009. It just makes you feel GOOD. I just wanted to erase the racial tensions of my own country after I left the theater, but it’s always a little more difficult in America, you know. It’s a positively uplifting story about the power of one man to forgive and how that can affect a country, and how something as simple as rugby can bring people together from all walks of life. I detest sports, and even I was invested in this plucky underdog story. Eastwood touches on a lot of issues here, and through Mandela we travel across all walks of life to discover the sometimes startling fact that we’re really not all that different.

The production is middling but pleasant. All music in Invictus is surprisingly bland. The more I heard of it, the less I wanted there to be a soundtrack at all. There is hardly any good African music, which happens to be a soft spot for me, and a lot of the songs featured are message songs about peace that only serve to pile on to the peace-iness that is Nelson Mandela’s story. The direction is good, but often Eastwood sticks with a shot and goes with it for too long. I liked his more dynamic work in Flags of Our Fathers and Million Dollar Baby, where he was willing to take more risks with his camera. His straight-forward approach is not bad, by any means, but for an energetic rugby movie, I was not really all that jazzed, even during the sporting scenes.

I cannot stress enough how long I have wanted Nelson Mandela to be portrayed on the screen by Morgan Freeman. He looks and speaks just like the man, and while Freeman is slightly more daunting in stature, they seem perfect for each other in a cinematic sense. And while I was hoping Freeman would do a straight biopic of him, I will take this over nothing. This was Freeman’s role of a lifetime, and he nailed it! Every line was dripping with cultural and historical importance, and I doubt even Morgan Freeman knows how powerful his performance was. Matt Damon exceeds expectations as the captain of the rugby team, Francois Pienaar. He is a little bland, and rather off-putting at first with his prudish Afrikaner family, still does his best and succeeds in hitting some good emotional notes. He is not really that interesting, honestly, but you cannot really fault Damon for this; it seems to be a situation that the character, intrinsically, has not so many interesting things about him, so he just has to work with what he has, and for that I say kudos. A standout minor player is Tony Kgoroge, who plays Mandela’s head bodyguard. As the head of security, he is constantly plastered with a worrisome look on his face and a 24 hour grimace. He is on hgh alert as an actor, and I appreciated how natural he was at it. I look forward to seeing more from this young actor.

Invictus is something special to me because of its content, but on its own merits, it’s merely good. Greatness might have been achieved a great many other ways, by making it more about Mandela’s life and times, perhaps spending a bit more thought on the production, or having more exciting rugby scenes, but it’s far from mediocre. With excellent performances by everyone involved, a very inspiring and uplifting script, and a delightful appearance by the New Zealand All Blacks as the villains at the end, it does a good job for what it is. Anyone not very knowledgeable on Nelson Mandela, though, should watch this and learn a little something about one of the world’s finest living individuals. I give Invictus 8 Morgan Mandelas out of 10. Check it out!

Tomorrow I watch Dark City! Until then!

The Night Out: The Princess And The Frog (2009), or Louisiana Is The Weirdest State

11 12 2009

I have never lived in Louisiana, but, as a lifelong neighbor, I see my fair share of Cajun zaniness occur. The people of Louisiana, especially New Orleans, emit a special aura, a social behavior that is completely unique to them. And it’s not in the way that Idahoans are unique, or the way that Virginians are unique; people from Louisiana, if they’re not well adjusted, then it’s like they’re from another world. They’re supremely loud, they often need a translator, and, depending if they lived near New Orleans or not, will go on until you cannot take it any more how cool New Orleans is. It’s always a hoot when you get one of THOSE people in a party, becuase, if you had never seen NOLA you would probably imagine it was made of candy and floats on a cloud of French perfume high above the earth. The Princess and the Frog, Disney’s first hand-drawn animated film since the mightily mediocre Home on the Range, is a return to form for the animation studio that forgot how to animate, and it takes place exclusively in the hyper-romanticized hyperbole of New Orleans that exists in the minds of writers and NOLA fetishists. It marks a new shift in priorites for the company by going back to basics, and while nothing in this painstakingly exquisite animation is basic, it is a graceful step in the right direction that I enjoyed more than I thought I would or could.

It all takes place in the shining city of NEW ORLEANS, where ponies fly on butterscotch wings, smiles are as plentiful as Homies figurines in the late 90s, and segregation is only alluded to in passing. Tiana has always had a dream of opening up her own restaurant. It has always been instilled in her byher hard-working parents that to get what you want in life, you have to work hard and try your best to get it, and that is exactly what she’s done. She works two jobs and saves up every single penny in the hopes of opening up that restaurant, and after getting an advance to make some legendary beignets for a friend’s party, she earns enough to buy the space she’s been saving up for. The party is for the arrival of a suitable princely bachelor from the Caribbean named Naveen, who is looking for a suitable Sugar Mama in the States. He finds one in Tiana’s rich friend Charlotte, but before he arrives, he is bamboozled by a Cajun voodoo man named Doctor Facilier, who tricks him into some voodoo magic that places Naveen and his aggravated British servant in his clutches. He transforms the butler and makes him look like the Prince, and he transforms the Prince into a talking frog (!) with voodoo, and seeks to use the greedy Brit as a way to get at Charlotte’s money. They keep Naveen in a jar to do more voodoo stuff on him later, but he escapes, and runs into Tiana at the party, who happens to be dressed like a princess. He frightens her, what with him being a talking frog, but he strikes a deal with her to kiss him, because, as legend has it, if you kiss a frog, he can turn into a prince. Well, she kisses him, all right, but the voodoo gets all complicated because she’s not a real princess, and she turns into a frog too!!! She is mortified, and they must flee the party in green slimy shame and disgust with each other. Together, despite their enmity towards each other, they must find a way to reverse the magic and become human again with the power of a mysterious voodoo woman named Mama Odie, who lives in the deepest part of the Bayou. They’ll find all sorts of creatures to help them upon their way, as all animals can talk to each other (duh!), but they must be wary of the voodoo man’s shadowy influence, because he will stop at nothing to retrieve the Prince for his own devices. Can Tiana and the Prince learn to like each other on this harrowing journey? Can the two become human before it’s too late? Or will they be swallowed up by the evil Bayou magic of Docter Facilier?

Whew! This is Disney the way it used to be; wholesome, pleasant, and enjoyable in healthy doses. The Princess and the Frog is not so much a return to grandeur for the studio (though it DID cost over $100 million to make!), but rather a reprisal of their recent history. The story is essentially the same as all the other Disney stories to come out of the past 30 years.Talking animals, spooky curses, and unexpected friendships are all par for the course, but it’s told in that old familiar way that Disney has apprently plum forgotten how to tell. Hand-drawn animation is special because it is something that cannot be duplicated. Computers are trying to create real life, or something very close; Disney animation is not looking for reality, but that candy-coated childlike world of imagination that just doesn’t jive well with the real world. The Princess and the Frog‘s animation isn’t realistic, but it is well-done for Disney standards, it is colorful, and it immerses us into the brilliant world of bright, jazzy NOLA.

The cast is amazing. The first Disney picture to be centered around African American characters (and one Caribbean guy) is acted with voices that really sell the wondrous story. Anika Noni Rose puts a little Southern sass into her role as Tiana, the hard working girl/frog who is thrust into adventure. Her character is pretty straight-laced, nothing too complicated, but her enthusiasm and her beautiful singing voice won me over. Bruno Campos is the Caribbean prince Naveen, and while NOT African American or Caribbean, I still liked the flair he added in his voice. I especially like that he DID a voice, and not just his speaking tone. And Keith David is fucking amazing as Doctor Facilier, or, as the characters call him, the Shadow Man. His voice, with a touch of Cajun flair, is perfect for the part. David’s voice in general is just phenomenal, and any time he lends his exceptionally deep and robust voice to anything, it is a joy to experience.

It’s not all great. The standard musical numbers, written by Disney pack-mule Randy Newman, are a little weak and forgettable. And some of the humor falls a little flat, to the point where even the kids in the theater did not laugh. But, for the most part, it’s solid. It’s a good start to what will hopefully be a trend toward more hand-drawn projects in the future. The voice acting is strong, with helpful additions from voice-acting veterans Jim Cummings and John Goodman, the animation is excellent, and the characters are interesting for a change. I enjoyed The Princess and the Frog, and if this is what the future of Disney is, I have a lot more hope than I did after I saw Cars. I give it 8 1/2 Homies figurines out of 10!

Tomorrow I watch Blood Diamond! Until then!!!

Orphan (2009), or Never Trust A Cold War Relic

4 12 2009

Well, folks, Eric here with another god-damn preposterous film. I don’t know why so many famous people are attached to Orphan. The thing was financed by Warner Brothers, not known THAT well for their horror films, and somehow they bagged Joel Silver and Leonardo DiCaprio to produce! Not only that, but they snagged Vera Farmiga, soon to be alongside George Clooney in the upcoming Up in the Air, on her way to the top. Considering what we’re dealing with here, I cannot understand how this happened. This is a demonic child movie, one of the weaker thriller scenarios on the market when one considers how large and intelligent a child is and how frightening they can realistically be. DiCaprio won’t sign on to just ANYTHING though, so to up the believability factor they do have an explanation for why this child is so frightening. It happens to be, however, an impossibly lame explanation, a failure of a twist ending that could have come from a reject in an M. Night Shyamalan script pile.

We follow the exploits of the Colemans. They have two lovely children, but are stricken with grief after one of their pregnancies is a stillbirth. They have tried getting over it, but their relationship is complicated as it is, so things are tough when another problem is heaped upon them. Eventually, they decide to adopt, opting to give the love they were reserving for their lost child to someone who needs it just as badly. At the orphanage, they peruse the options like they would at an appliance store or a meat market, but nobody stands out. Until they meet Esther. A child from Russia, Esther is a 9 year old who seems to be perfect for them; she’s smart, charming, cute as a button, and undeniably talented. They pick her almost immediately, and Esther appears to be happy about the decision. Esther and her new family start trying to bond, but it appears that Esther, while outwardly friendly to the parents, begin to have some problems when she interacts with other people, especially children. People who piss her off have a tendency to get hurt, so a trend develops that Esther’s mother soon begins to pick up on. But she’s the only adult who can sense what sort of evil Esther might have in her, so she becomes increasingly detached from her husband who doesn’t think anything is wrong, and her children, who are too terrified to talk about what they’ve seen in Esther.Can she uncover the truth behind this little girl who is more than she seems? Or is it too late for the Colemans to break away from this evil orphan girl?

This is basically the same formula as The Good Son, if you think about it, r a really harsh sequel to Problem Child. It’s been done before, and so if you’re familiar with the formula, it all seems like slightly stale territory. We have the kids who know but are too afraid to tell, we have the overly oblivious parent who thinks that this talk of evil children is nonsense, and we have the other parent who is so sure of the child’s evil nature, she’s willing to make herself look like a crazy bitch and an abusive parent to let the world know. And of course there’s the child, who’s hyper-intelligent and able to carry out complicated, malicious attacks on those around her. It’s usually a pretty silly idea, what with the notion that they’re children, and they don’t have the cognitive capacity or the physical to do some of these things just yet.  BUT ORPHAN HAS A CATCH! Oh, boy, does it have a catch. I anticipate a few Golden Raspberries in this film’s future because of this film’s impossibly weak twist! It’s quite wretched, so much so that I personally felt like it besmirched any sort of good will the movie had with me beforehand. It really got to me, and if you still want to see this movie after my review, don’t let me say I told you so.

The actors are good. Let me rephrase that. These actors are good actors, but their performances here were not that good. Director Jaume Collet-Serra doesn’t seem to exert much control over these people’s style, so it’s sort of a free-for-all as far as the consistency of the performances as each actor goes into stock characters. Vera Farmiga, soon-to-be famous actress, is passable here as the mother, but I think she should have spoke up about the hysteria her character goes through. She goes through moments of intuitiveness, but other times she’s as dumb as a post, allowing the little demon Esther to play her with ease and simultaneously losing any respect from the audience. Peter Sarsgaard isn’t much help as the father, either. He’s playing his stock “you’re being paranoid, honey” character who doesn’t interact with anybody much besides Vera Farmiga, whom he’s constantly calling out as a paranoid loon who needs to calm down about their secretive and mysterious quirky Russian orphan daughter. The one actor I really enjoyed, despite my hatred of the character, was Isabelle Fuhrman, who plays Esther. She is really very good for her age. She knows exactly what to say and how to say it to get a sharp emotional response out of us. I hope she has a long career in films, because I think she has an extraordinary talent on display here that should not go to waste.

Orphan isn’t all bad. The focus on the mother instead of the father as the hero was a welcome breath of fresh air, the complicated relationship the parents have is pretty engrossing, although sometimes it can all get a little faux soap-opera, and the pacing is nice and methodical for a story like this. But with a lame score, a clunker of a script, and possibly the worst twist! of the year, Orphan falls pretty short of any of its goals. Oh, and did I mention… BOO?!?!? There are plenty of gratuitous BOO!s around here, so don’t get your hopes up for anything genuinely scary. I give Orphan 3 1/2 little Russian terrors out of 10.

I’ll be back tomorrow with my review of Photographing Fairies! Until then!