Sorry for this fill in Nightcap, the promised piece on found footage films will appear next weekend (I hope). It’s been a bit more complicated than I expected, not because I got a lot of responses, I didn’t, rather it’s just I wrote myself into a corner after doing circles for too long. Another reason that I’m delaying is that I’ve seen a few more found footage films so I may try to add them into my discussion.
On top of that I got side tracked working on my end of year pieces. I have four in the chutes, one on the festivals, one of the great film finds, one on the best films and one on the worst films. They are unwieldy things with in the case of finds and best lists contain too many films. They need paring to something manageable (Strangely the worst of the year list is small, yes I saw a hell of a lot of bad films but not many that were so bad they needed to be remembered.)
To vamp until I get the found footage piece I’m going to give you a few mini reviews of films I saw recently.
First up a a film that uses found footage to great effect- Sinister
One of the joys of living near Manhattan is that when I make one of my semi regular trips in there is always a chance to catch one of the films that I missed during its wide run. Such is the case with Sinister, the horror film.that stars Ethan Hawke. Apparently Hawke said that he would never do a horror film, but he read and fell in love with the script and decided to do it. I completely understand why.
The film follows Hawke and his family as they move into the home where a family was sadistically killed (the opening of the film is footage of the mass hanging and it will haunt your nightmares). Hawke is a true crime writer looking into the murders which have a mysterious component in that one of the murdered families members has gone missing. As Hawke investigates he goes farther and farther down the rabbit hole, helped in large part by a stack of home movies found in the attic. What happened to the previous family and why are the jumping off point that get ominous as weird things start happening.
I’ve been prattling on about found footage and this film hinges on found footage. As one person at IMDB said, this is a film that takes the found footage genre and spins it off into a new direction. No the film is not all found footage, but it is a key component to the story. Its used here to send chills up and down your spine in ways most films never do.
As horror film go, this is one of the better ones I’ve seen this year. This is a creepy little thriller that made me feel very uncomfortable and made me squirm in my seat. Its one of those films where you talk to the screen because something is happening that just isn’t right.
What I really liked is that its film that worked all the way to the end. The ending feels right and not added on. It was an ending that I didn’t see coming and yet felt completely natural- or super-natural.
This is a super little film that I want to give it’s own review to down the road. The reason I’m not is that I need to see it again on DVD where I can back things up and see things in total. However it appears to still be playing in some markets so I want you to go see it if you can.
Bridging from a film that has found footage as a component I’m going to move on to other films I’ve seen semi recently beginning with my few words on a film that Mondo Curry saw back at Comicon Tai Chi Zero.
Tai Chi Zero was sneak previewed at New York Comiccon where Mondocurry saw it and reviewed it. It was a film that I had an extended conversation about with writer, martial arts expert and raconteur Ric Meyers at the convention. Meyers said the film had two problems, the first being that the film is actually only the first half of the story. The tale only goes so far before it stops, at a place where it’s possible, but there is clearly more to come (which you can see since scenes to the next part are run during the end credits). The other part problem Meyers had, at least as far as the English version was concerned, was that the film was incompletely subtitled. Meyers said that the Well Go subs didn’t translate much of the on screen writing which he said was vital to understanding the film, and he said that even the dialog wasn’t fully translated.
Not thrilled with what I was hearing I decided to pass on it’s theatrical run and see it when it hit DVD. Last weekend I picked up an import Chinese DVD of the film and I sat down to watch it. I do have to say that the copy I had only translated the dialog. None of the on screen writing was translated and I had to guess what was being revealed.
The film tells the story of a young man with a “wart” on his head. When its pressed he becomes possessed and becomes literally a martial arts demon. Surviving a bloody battle he heads off to a hidden valley to learn a certain style of martial arts. Once there he is told that no one will teach him, however he is persistent and hangs around hoping to wear everyone down. At the same time a man arrives in a weird steam punk train. He is trying to get the town to get with the coming scientific revolution, however when his demonstration of electricity goes wrong he leaves the town in shame, only to return promising great destruction if he they don’t go along with his plans. Much martial arts mayhem ensues.
Allowing that the translation I had was just okay and missing the signs and pop ups completely, I found that I liked the film but it’s hard to say more than that since when it ended it was clear to me that this wasn’t the end there was more. I felt like I was being asked to judge the film after only seeing part of it.
The action in the film is quite good. The frequent battles, most of them of the one on one variety, are spectacular. Sure they are computer and wire assisted, but at the same time this is a fantastical tale from the outset so it’s perfectly in keeping with the story.
For me the real problem with the film is that even allowing that I don’t know what is in the un-translated on screen text, there are more than a couple of moments where I had the sense that either something was cut out or that there are connections that exist in the heads of Stephen Fung and Kuo-fu Chen the director and writer. I occasionally had a sense that I missed something so I’d replay the scene only to realize, nope I didn’t.
I’m not saying it’s a bad one, all I’m saying is that I’m waiting until the second film comes out before I make a final determination.
The best bet would be to rent this or get it on Netflix when it comes out next month and see it that way…or wait until the second film is released and watch them back to back.
Lay The Favorite Stephen Frears latest film opened in New York and elsewhere on Friday. It's an amusing fact based trifle about a young woman who goes to Las Vegas and goes to work for a gambler played by Bruce Willis. Various good natured complications ensue, nothing to taxing mind you, just mildly amusing. High art? No. Entertaining? If you're not demanding. I'd wait for the theatrical run to end and catch it on home video.
Flight played the New York Film Festival. I misssed the screening because I didn't want to get up at 530 in the morning to see it. Now that I've seen it I'm glad didn't get up to see it. Its not that it's bad film, it's not, It's just not a particularly great one. The strength of the film are the performances of Denzel Washington and Don Cheadle. and the crash sequences. Outside of that the story of a man strung out trying to find redemption has been done before enough times this feels a tad too much like a by the number film.
End of Watch has couple of cops running afoul of a drug cartel. The film has some great action sequences.and some good performances but the found footage style made me feel beaten up and more than once I was wonderfing who was shooting what. This was not something I needed to see on a big screen.
Sugar Mommas is a drama about sisters who come together to run a bake shop. Dull doesn’t begin to describe it. The performances are fine, but the script is unremarkable and the whole thing was shot with a two camera set up making it look like a soap opera or TV sitcom. This is one to skip
Christmas in Compton surprised me greatly. The story of the owner of a Christmas tree lot whose son wants to be a record producer is a low budget lowbrow comedy. It’s never going to be a classic, but it is funny. Perhaps going in with no expectations helped, but I enjoyed the 90 minutes I spen watching it
Silent Hill Revelations has some great images but the film makes no sense and has no suspense. It’s like people walk around through a spooky walk. I have no idea what I was supposed to feel since I couldn’t connect to anything.
Trouble With the Curve is another crotchety Clint Eastwood film that he walks through. It has some wonderful sequences in it, but the story of a baseball scout potentially on the outs is a bit too cliché to truly be more than very good. It’s also hurt by what is now the patented Eastwood old codger performance. It’s at the point now where you could swap the characters from several of his recent films without it making a difference.
The Apparition is a haunted house film about couple that moves into a house haunted by the spirit brought over by a college experiment gone horribly wrong. Possessing some creepy moments the film never pulls it all together. It reminds me of Poltergeist and Insidious and a few others. The pace seems off as if they were struggling to fill out the running time- without the end credits the film is barely 73 minutes long
Though I saw it a while back, Smiley isn't really worth mentioning, but I've been posting a good number of horror reviews lately so I'll include it, if only to say it's not really worth the time. Its about supposed serial killer discovered by a girl on an Internet chat room. Neither really bad nor really good I just felt as though I wasted my time especially with the WTF ending.
There are other films I’ve been watching but either they aren’t worth noting one way or another or they have or will have full reviews here at Unseen.
And now a few links
Its a Bad Brains Christmas Charlie Brown
A bond movie made from 5 minutes from each and every bond film
Footage from Orson Wells Other Side of the Wind
And finally this weeks films are going to be some classic era mysteries and crime films. Next weekend will be a couple of horror films before yet another week of documentaries. And as always there will be surprises so keep reading.