Posts Tagged ‘2009’

9 (2009)

It is inevitable that humanity will eventually die out. Depending on your level of optimism, some theories of human extinction may be more inevitable than others. Relatively recently, scientists have started wondering about what legacy humans will leave behind on planet Earth when we, as a species, go to our final reward. What, if anything, will be left behind to carry on our work?

9 is a computer animated science fantasy film directed by Shane Acker, based on Acker’s short film of the same title. It stars the voices of Elijah Wood, John C. Reilly, Jennifer Connelly, Crispin Glover, Martin Landau, and Christopher Plummer.

It is wartime. An unnamed Scientist is charged with building an artificially intelligent device called the Fabrication Machine, which will build other machines to wage war against a dictator’s enemies. Sometime later, we see that this was apparently a spectacularly bad idea, as humanity has subsequently been wiped out, their mighty civilization in ruins. However, life remains… sort of. Nine small homunculus-like ragdolls called Stitchpunks remain in this barren landscape, created for a purpose that they do not yet know. One of these, 9, was the last to be created before the Scientist died, and he finds himself in a terrifying world where remaining war machines hunt the Stitchpunks as the Stitchpunks try to find safety and a purpose. They are inquisitive and industrious, able to improvise any number of weapons and devices from the odds and ends they find around them, but this soon gets 9 in trouble when he accidentally reactivates the Fabrication Machine, which commences hunting the ‘punks in earnest. 9 believes their only hope is to fight back, but the spiritual leader 1 believes that survival will only come by running away and hiding… and 1 is willing to make sacrifices to ensue his ideal society. Before long, they ‘punks start running out of places to hide, and soon they must face this new horror, or risk their own annihilation.

This is a beautifully rendered movie. Due to the relative scale (the Stitchpunks are only about six inches tall), the debris left over by the apocalypse forms a new landscape for them to explore – a sandbox for the little MacGyvers to build what they need out of what is left behind. The nine main characters are surprisingly unique for burlap ragdolls, and I was amazed at how expressive and distinguishable their faces were, considering they were basically a couple of lenses (or, in the case of 5, a single lens) with a slit for a mouth. In addition to distinct appearances, each Stitchpunk also has a unique personality, easily avoiding the pitfall of making them little carbon copies of one another by making them embody aspects of the Scientist who made them. The war machines are also innovative and terrifying, from the Fabrication Machine (which reminded me vaguely of GlaDOS from Portal) to the Seamstress (who looked like Sid from Toy Story had allied with the Other Mother from Coraline to make a Stitchpunk hunting monster). The world inhabited by the stitchpunks is huge and beautiful and frightening, and a delight to watch.

Unfortunately, in actual substance the world of 9 falls short. It is light on explanations and thin on plot, and while an unexplained world like this can make the exploration of its mysteries a delight, here it was a bit frustrating. I didn’t get the feeling that the Stitchpunks learned anything about what happened to the world, and while they made progress against the War Machines and maybe helped nudge the world back to life (if inadvertantly), I had no real feeling of progress. Like little robots, the Stitchpunks are only following their programming, which appears to be compiling information and rebuilding the world any way they can. What plot there is doesn’t seem to quite stretch to cover the 79-minute running time, making the bulk of the film feel like mostly padding.

While 9 is beautifully detailed and demonstrates a Stitchpunk’s-eye view of a post-apocalyptic world, ultimately it falls short in terms of plot and feels like it could have been so much more. Worth a rent for the visuals alone, but other than that don’t look too hard for a complex story.

Transformers (2007)

04/01/2011 2 comments

This is a story about a boy and his car.

Of course, that isn’t all. It also has giant transforming robots, a massive interplanetary civil war, car chases, fight scenes, explosions, tangles with shadowy government organizations, and the human race held in the balance as two powerful factions fight for dominance.

In other words, this is a story about a boy and his car, directed by Michael Bay.

Transformers is a sci fi action film directed by Michael Bay, based on the Transformers toy line. It stars Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, plus the voices of Peter Cullen and Hugo Weaving, and a buttload of CGI effects detailed enough to melt several processors.

A civil war between the Autobots and the Decepticons has destroyed their homeworld of Cybertron. The key to restoring life to the dead planet is the Allspark, which has the power to infuse machines with life. However, the Autobots wish to use it for peaceful purposes, while the Decepticons wish to use it for conquest. Complicating matters on both ends is the fact that the Allspark has been lost, last seen on a little blue planet called Earth. One of the denizens of said little blue planet is impending high school graduate Sam Witwicky, a simple guy with simple goals: get a car, and get a girlfriend. One of his plans to acquire capital for said car is selling some artifacts from his great-great grandfather’s fateful expedition to Antarctica in 1897, a trip that left him blind, insane, and raving about ice monsters. Little does Sam know that his simple quest for a sweet ride is going to throw him into the middle of the abovementioned civil war…

This was another one of those movie announcements that had nerds all over the world perking up their ears, particularly we children of the 80s, who grew up surrounded by the Transformers. Steven Spielberg has done great sci fi and fantasy work in the past, making him the ideal producer, but Michael Bay had initially balked when asked to direct, dismissing it as a “stupid toy movie”. He learned how wrong he was when he visited Habsro and learned about the MASSIVE mythology behind the toy line, but in true Michael Bay fashion he averted the possible kiddie-ness of the movie by adding more to the military subplot (read: more shit blowing up). The CG-created Transformer characters were intricately detailed, with special attention being paid to making the transformation sequences look like they obeyed the laws of physics and conservation of mass: a robot that is this big as a vehicle must be this big as a biped. As a result, the titular Transformers looked great, and I could actually believe that the human cast was being threatened by twenty-foot-tall robots.

As for the human cast, LeBeouf fared decently well as Unlucky Everydude Sam, and Kevin Dunn and Julie White were suitably embarrassing as his parents, from whom he’s trying to hide facts like his ’74 Camaro being alive and wanting to recruit him for an interstellar war. Megan Fox’s Mikaela tries so hard to be a well-rounded character, but in the end is just the Hot Gearhead. John Turturro is more or less every character he’s ever played, and deserved to get a swift kick in his self-importance, contrasting with Jon Voight as Secretary of Defense John Keller, a surprisingly reasonable authority figure once he gets a handle on what’s going on. However, while the story focuses mainly on the human perspective of OMG GIANT TRANSFORMING ROBOTS, when the Transformers themselves show up and a Michael Bay movie ensues, the human subplot is very nearly lost amid the car chases, downtown battle sequences, robot fu, and massive property damage.

In the end, the robots looked great, the battle sequences looked great, and the paranoia fuel of transforming robots was applied just enough to offer a human perspective on the franchise. In the end, though, Transformers mainly runs on special effects and awesome, with a fair amount of plot to contain it all. If you’re a fan of the Tranformers franchise and/or you’re looking for an exciting sci fi action movie, check this one out.

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever (2009)

In 2002, Eli Roth directed a red-splattered gorefest called Cabin Fever as a throwback to the “tits and blood” style of slasher horror. It was messy, grotesque, and subversive; horror fans praised it for its daring, and it has grown to be a cult hit. In 2009, Ti West directed a sequel, picking up at the obvious hook set up by the previous film, hoping (as always) to achieve the same level of black comedy as the first. Did it work? Let’s find out.

Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever is a horror film directed by Ti West, following the path of a strain of necrotizing fasciitis to a high school senior prom. It stars Noah Segan, Rusty Kelley, Alexi Wasser, and Guiseppe Andrews.

Cabin Fever 2 picks up in the woods from the first Cabin Fever, where we see that Paul, well into the advanced stages of a flesh-eating virus, as survived long enough to try like hell to escape from the woods – leaving bits of flesh behind on various obstacles – only to become a large red splash on the front of a school bus almost as soon as he reaches a road. Deputy Winston (a minor character from the first film) is called to the scene of the very gory collision (final score: Bus – 1, Paul – 0), and while he initially decides that the bus had hit one of the rare species of moose that are filled with red Kool-Aid, he soon finds evidence that the large splatter had once been human. Seeing a truck filled with Down Home brand bottled water (filled in the nearby lake, because sterilization and filtration processes are for pussies) headed for a larger down, he gives chase, hoping to stop disaster from spreading further. Turns out the bottled water is headed to a small high school, which is getting ready for its senior prom. After we meet a few principal characters at the high school (the Hero, the Hero’s Loser Best Friend, the two Token Geeks, the Douchebag, the Douchebag’s Girlfriend, the Conceited Blonde Prom Queen, and the Asshat School Principal), things soon ramp up as the contaminated water is distributed to just about every named character and several unnamed characters, and the prom spirals downward into an episode of Happy Tree Friends. Meanwhile, a random group of faceless containment guys from the CDC show up to contain the infection, even if it means killing everyone who isn’t already projectile vomiting their own liquefied organs all over everyone else. So… yeah.

Whereas the previous film was gory but also tense and laced with black humor, Cabin Fever 2 was just messy and gross. There were a few blackly humorous moments, like when the truck driver starts choking at the diner and squirting blood out of his tracheostomy (made more absurd by the fact that one waitress was attempting to perform an exorcism on him when the red stuff started spraying), and the last several scenes in the movie where Douchebag’s Girlfriend (by the name of Cassie) is running around in a prom gown soaked with blood, in a clear nod to Carrie. Unfortunately, though, most of the movie is just a mess, and not even in a way that made the original a good mess. All the characters are one-dimensional stereotypes from every high school slasher movie ever, with absolutely none of the usual instinctive aversion to things like sores and errant bodily fluids that might at least have delayed a few of the deaths. Even in the core cluster of protagonists, I didn’t really see anyone to root for, just people I was waiting to die horrible, gory deaths. At least the first one offered a bit of tension as the disease slowly developed (rather than blossoming all at once into bloody vomit) and had a couple of people I was interested in; of the two characters that survived the first movie, one died right away, and the other was an annoying twit.

While I occasionally enjoy a gory film, I cannot in good conscience recommend Cabin Fever 2, even to people who enjoyed the first one It rides too heavily on gore rather than on a well-paced, intelligent escalation of the plot, and in the end you’re just left wading ankle-deep in red mess. Avoid this one at all costs.

Moon (2009)

Having an existential crisis can suck. Having an existential crisis when you’re 240,000 miles from home can be even worse. Being virtually alone on the far side of the moon for three years with a computer as your only conversational partner can do that. Just ask Sam Bell.

Moon is a British science fiction film focusing on a man who experiences a personal crisis as he nears the end of his three-year contract mining Helium-3 on the far side of the moon. It was directed by Duncan Jones stars primarily Sam Rockwell and the voice of Kevin Spacey. The film was nominated for two BAFTAs in 2010, and Jones won the award for “Outstanding Debut by a British writer, director or producer”.

Lunar Industries employee Sam Bell (Rockwell) is nearing the end of his three-year contract to work on a largely automated lunar mining base, overseeing the automated harvesters that extract Helium-3 and periodically sending the filled canisters back to Earth to be used for clean-fusion energy. Chronic communications issues prevent him from establishing live communications with Earth, but his wife, Tess, sends him periodic recorded messages updating him on her life, especially the birth and early years of his daughter Eve. Two weeks before his contract is up, Sam begins to hallucinate, his solitude having caused him to start going mentally sideways. During a routine trip out to collect one of the filled Helium-3 canisters, Sam sees a figure on the lunar surface. Startled, he crashes his rover, managing to get his helmet on before losing consciousness.

He wakes in the infirmary, and the base’s computer, GERTY (Kevin Spacey, channelling Douglas Raines) asks him if he remembers the crash that landed him there. He doesn’t, but Gerty reassures him that this is normal. However, Sam suspects that something is not right when he overhears a live communication between GERTY and Lunar Industries executives, and learns that a rescue team has been dispatched, and GERTY has been instructed not to let him outside. Sam is forced to find his own answers about what is happening at the Lunar Industries base, and what he learns will shake his world to its core…

I was genuinely surprised by this movie. I’d previously seen Sam Rockwell playing psychos or obnoxious twerps, but Moon demonstrates that he is a genuinely skilled dramatic actor in his own right. Like many movies where a single character carries the bulk of the action, Rockwell had his work cut out for him, as the only other characters were GERTY and… himself. Onscreen, he is funny and heartrending in turns, as he tries to come to terms with the truth behind his situation. Spacey’s choice of the HAL 9000 “calm and reasonable” voice was well-done, as it immediately had vintage sci fi fans on their guard, expecting calm sociopathy later even as GERTY seemed to want to help Sam solve his problem. The set design was beautifully sterile, offering beautifully empty lunar vistas and a possible glimpse into near-future mining operations. The story itself unfolded slowly, with a well-paced patience that allowed the audience to get to know and care about Sam Bell, and want to stay right there with him as he came to terms with his own existence on this sterile ball of rock.

If you want a quiet, contemplative hard sci fi film without a lot of action and with a lot of introspection, try Moon. It’s an unexpected treasure that will probably become a long-lasting classic.

The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)

Before you move into your new home, there are few warning signs that you should check for. Is it:

  • Built on top of an improperly relocated cemetary?
  • The site of a multiple murder?
  • The site of dark Satanic rituals?
  • Talking to your youngest daughter through TV static?
  • Bleeding from the walls?

If so, the proper answer to your realtor is “thanks, but no”. Of course, these things are not likely to be disclosed to house hunters, making ample fodder for plenty of haunted house movies. Of these, a fair handful are “based on a true story” (the actual veracity of which is likely to be hotly debated). Here’s one of them.

The Haunting in Connecticut is an American psychological horror film produced by Gold Circle Films and directed by Peter Cornwell. Is stars Virginia “Candyman” Madsen, Kyle “A Remake on Elm Street” Gallner, Martin “Agent Cody Banks” Donovan, Amanda “She’s the Man” Crew, and Elias “The Prophecy” Koteas.

Presented as a true story, Connecticut focuses on the Campbells, whose oldest son Matthew (Gallner) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer, for which he is receiving treatment in a hospital in Connecticut. Seeing the effects the long commute has on him, his mother Sarah (Madsen) rents a nearby home to reduce the amount of time spent on the road. Matt moves into the room in the basement, which they soon discover is also home to a mortuary (strike 1). The family starts experiencing supernatural events that the family initially blame on stress and hallucinations from Matthew’s treatment (which appeared to be radiation of some sort), particularly when Matt starts having visions of a young boy from the 1920s named Jonah. As the events intensify, Matt contacts a minister he met at the hospital for assistance, and learns that his supernatural experiences are likely the result of the previous occupant’s occult activities (strike 2), including seances (strike 3) and necromantic rituals (strike 4). Jonah is discovered to be the spirit of a child medium who would call up spirits that another would then bind to the house to amplify Jonah’s powers (strike 5). It isn’t until the bound spirits start messing with the rest of the family – proving that it isn’t all in Matt’s head – that they become starkly aware that something has to give – but how do you get rid of a presence that you can’t see or touch?

Having grown up on fare like Ghostbusters and Poltergeist, I was starting to think I’d seen it all as far as haunted-house movies go. However, this movie combines traditional ghost story elements with metaphysical concepts and occurrences accepted as fact by those who believe in the paranormal, such as calling up spirits via seances, and the manifestation of ectoplasm, presenting photos from documented seances. It also adds another elements to explain why only one family member has paranormal visions and occurences: Matt has terminal cancer (it is not specified what sort) and therefore walks in a “border state” between the living and the dead, a condition that apparently attracts the angry dead. The minister he consults for help is likewise implied to be dying, allowing him greater insight into Matt’s problem. Overall the level of research and detail put into the paranormal aspects combined decently well into a spooky, atmospheric story, if a slightly derivative one. My only real complaint is that compared to the in-camera ghostly effects, the flashback where Jonah produces a column of CGI ectoplasm from his mouth seemed disappointingly fake.

Of the main cast, I’d seen two of them before in horror movies: Madsen in Candyman and Gallner in the remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street, and they both seem well-suited to the genre. Gallner had his work cut out for him, having to act like a kid undergoing what must have been exhausting and draining treatments for cancer, with his character having days to live by the end. Madsen, trying to wrangle her sick son and two younger healthy children, managed to convey the level of exhaustion and frustration one would expect in her situation, just holding on my her fingernails trying to keep her family together even without the suspicion that her son might be going crazy or hallucinating from the drugs on top of it – and she needs all he strength once things really start to blow up.

If you like your horror movies to have lots of gore, you will want to give this one a miss. However, if you want a well-designed haunting with roots in real-world parapsychology, I suggest renting this one.

Survival of the Dead (2009)

02/14/2011 2 comments

How far would you go to keep some semblance of civilization in a world of the walking dead? How far would you go to save those who have become shambling, flesh-eating ghouls? How far would you go to prove to that other stubborn old bastard that your plan is right?

Survival of the Dead (full title: George Romero’s Survival of the Dead) is the sixth entry in George “God of the Zombies” Romero’s Dead series of zombie movies, following a group of American soldiers turned mercenaries briefly encountered by the heroes of Diary of the Dead and therefore considered a gaiden story to the latter. It stars Alan “Land of the Dead” van Sprang, Kenneth “Timecop” Walsh, Kathleen “CSI: NY” Munroe, Devon “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” Bostick, and Athena “Saw IV” Karkanis.

The movie starts by setting up the circumstances that led to Sergeant Crockett (van Sprang) and his squad robbing the heroes of Diary of the Dead, namely a failed raid and the reanimation of several members of the National Guard, which led to Our Intrepid Antiheroes going AWOL. Meanwhile, off the coast of Delaware, two Irish families residing on Plum Island are feuding over what is to be done with the shambling undead that roam the island. The O’Flynns, led by their patriarch Patrick (Kenneth Walsh), have gathered a posse to round up and destroy the zombies after learning that Muldoons, led by their patriarch Seamus (Richard Fitzpatrick), have been keeping their undead relatives “alive” and in some semblance of normality until a cure is found. A brief standoff ensues, ending only when Patrick agrees, on the urging of his daughter Janet, to be exiled from the island.

Three weeks later, the National Guard deserters are joined by a teen identified only as Boy (Bostick), who informs them of a video recorded by Patrick O’Flynn telling survivors of Plum Island, offering it up as a safe haven from the zombie menace. They soon learn that Patrick wants all their supplies as payment, and a shootout ensues between the soldiers and the O’Flynns. In the confusion, Crockett has one of his men commandeer a ferry to get them to Plum Island. The barge secured, Crockett’s men board, and Patrick, the last surviving O’Flynn, jumps aboard as well, remaining only by virtue of a shaky truce as the remaining zombies aboard are dispatched. Patrick tells them that he sent hopeful refugees over to Plum Island mainly to piss off Muldoon and to trigger his distrust of strangers, but upon reaching the island in a small dinghy, the soldiers learn that Muldoon has been putting them to a more grotesque use. Believing that the zombies can be taught to accept a nonhuman food source, Muldoon shot any living refugees and kept the ones who arrived as zombies, chaining them up in a dark parody of normal life. O’Flynn is disgusted by this, and determined to prove that the zombies cannot be redeemed. In the end, the military refugees find themselves caught between the two sides of an Irish feud that threatens all their lives.

Okay, first off, let’s get one thing out of the way: This is a zombie movie. As such, a few things are to be expected: dead dudes shambling around trying to eat the living, infighting between factions, infighting within factions, and lots of blood and gore in at least the last third. If none of these appeal to you, just walk away. Another strike against this movie is the fact that it is the sixth in the Dead series. It’s really hard to keep a franchise fresh this far in, especially one that started in 1967. It tries to be a meaningful commentary about letting go of one’s loved ones or setting aside petty feuds in the face of mor important problems like an outbreak of flesh-eating undead, and in this it mostly fails. I’m sorry, but DEAD DUDES EATING THE LIVING ARE VERY HARD TO MAKE SOCIALLY RELEVANT THESE DAYS. HOWEVER, dead dudes are still dead dudes, and dead dudes that eat the living are still a very patient menace. It can wait all day. It can wait all week. It can wait until you run out of supplies and have to go out and get more. It can wait until you kill each other out of frustration.

The zombie makeup was decently well-done (and really, it’s hard as hell to mess up zombie makeup anymore), but the conspicuous CGI on some of the zombie kills turned gore into laughably bad video game graphics. The money shot* during the climax was nice and gory, with seven zombies dogpiling on a single victim and turning him into dogfood. However, the acting talents of the human leads seemed phoned in at times, with only the final shot giving the audience any real sense of bleakness after the denouement.

In conclusion, if you like zombie movies, see this one only for the sake of completeness, but I would not consider it anything like a must-see. Rent it if your usual zombie fare isn’t available, or see it if it happens to be on cable, but don’t make any special effort to find it.

*money shot: in the context of zombie movies, the scene where a victim is graphically torn apart and devoured by a mob of zombies onscreen. Usually saved for the climactic battle of living vs. dead.

Law Abiding Citizen (2009)

Clyde Alexander Shelton has every reason to be committing these murders. The justice system let him down, striking a plea bargain with one of the men responsible for the rape and murder of his wife and daughter in exchange for testimony against his accomplice. He has every right to be angry with the perpetrators, as well as the lawyers and judiciaries who keep dying. He has to be behind them somehow, but this is impossible. Why? Shelton has been locked in solitary confinement the whole time.

Law Abiding Citizen is an American thriller written by Kurt Wimmer and directed by F. Gary Gray. It stars Jamie “Collateral” Foxx, Gerard “Tomorrow Never Dies” Butler, Christian “Prison Break” Stolte, Josh “The Collector” Stewart, Bruce “MacGyver” McGill, Colm “DS9” Meaney, and Viola “Antwone Fisher” Davis.

When Clyde Shelton (Butler) witnesses the brutal rape and murder of his wife and daughter, all he wants is for the perpetrators Clarence (Stolte) and Rupert (Stewart) to be brought to justice. However, prosecutor Nick Rice (Foxx) informs Clyde that the DNA evidence at the scene was ruled inadmissible due to botched forensics, and Clyde’s testimony is not considered strong enough to guarantee a conviction. Wanting to keep him 100% conviction rate, Nick strikes a deal with Clarence, allowing him to plead to third degree murder in exchange for testimony that will send his accomplice to death row. Since Clyde saw for himself that Clarence was the ringleader and directly responsible for the death of his family, the distraught widower is left feeling betrayed by the legal system he trusted to help him.

Ten years later, Rupert’s death by lethal injection turns into a horrifying affair; someone switched the drugs, leaving Rupert to die in agony. Suspicion falls on Clarence, only for Clyde to spirit him away, paralyze him with a neurotoxin, and dismember him with a circular saw. As the prime suspect, he is arrested, confesses to the two deaths in exchange for a mattress in his cell, and is sent to prison. It is not long after that he informs Nick of the impending deaths of a number of key players in the New York judicial system. He murders his cellmate and is thrown into solitary confinement… and outside the bodies keep piling up, as Nick races to stop these apparently impossible crimes…

I was intrigued by the premise of the “impossible crime”, a string of murders being committed by a man locked in a cell – a reverse locked-room mystery, in a way. The deaths are ingeniously planned and executed, and the level of planning that must have been involved would make Jigsaw himself tip his hat in respect. Clyde uses every resource he has available to enact his plan, just to make a statement about a broken legal system, and while it may seem extreme at times (seriously – sending the DVD of Clarence’s torture to Nick’s young daughter?! Seriously?!), Clyde has good reason to believe that this is the only way he would be heard.

Gerard Butler is excellent as the traumatized father and husband whose grief turns to ice-cold, calculating rage, and as more of his background is uncovered turns out to be the most badass family man ever. Jaime Foxx was also excellent as the prosecutor who is forced – in the most brutal lessons possible – to re-examine his own tendency to let “maybe” cases slide in favor of slam dunks. The interplay between Foxx and Butler are excellent – mind games within mind games, traps within puzzles with a chewy core of a single man pushed too far. You get the sense that Clyde was genuinely a good man trying to do the right thing, only to have the rug yanked out from under him at exactly the wrong moment. There are few innocents in the cast, though, and plenty of blame to go around for the failure that sets things off.

Law Abiding Citizen is an engaging, cerebral thriller with enough layers and twists to keep the viewer guessing. If you like engaging mysteries and thrilling revenge tales, by all means watch this movie, and get ready to be challenged.