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Archive for November, 2010

Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman- One out of Five ‘Staches

Comedy and being funny is a gift.  Taking the most foul humor and making it tolerable is an even bigger gift.  The makers of “Circus Maximus” are severely lacking these gifts and the other skills needed to pull any type of comedy off.

This entire film is just a poor excuse to have people curse and make the most ridiculous innuendos possible, for no  reason.  The story is worthless, the acting is horrendous and in the end it is not even funny.  The filmmakers were able to score a few indie darlings like Kevin Corrigan and Mario Cantone, but they did nothing to help bring any type of legitimacy to the film.

The only redeeming part of this movie comes in the form of the character Marc (Pictured Above).  The  only reason I am giving this movie One ‘Stache instead of a bald upper lip is due to Joe D’onofrio, the actor who plays Marc.  While his dialogue and insinuated actions are pure insanity, it was the only performance in the film that bought some sort of odd charm and actual humility to any of the outlandish characters portrayed within this farce.

There is no way I can find myself expanding on this film any further.  If you see “Circus Maximus” on the watch instantly section of your Netflix account, I would not stop you from checking it out.  However, I would avoid it in any other capacity possible.

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Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman- Two and a Half out of Five ‘Staches

It has always been hard for me to understand people’s fascination with the world of Harry Potter. I used to chalk it up to the fact that it was at first intended for children.  It is just hard for me to look past things such as a new character being introduced that is named Professor Lupin.  As soon as you throw out the name Lupin there is no surprise for me, I know he is a werewolf before the story tries to not so subtly introduce a running theme of werewolves into the mix.  Now the first half of the epic finale is hitting theaters and for those who have read the books know, the continuous darker tone of the tale is hitting its height, but it still doesn’t help when the same old story arcs and plot holes exist.

There is no surprise that a lot of background information had to be cut from all the movies that are better explained in the books, but as always we are talking about the movie here, not the book.  This all lends to what is not only a thoroughly confusing fare, but one that feels stretched out for no good reason.  When part 2 arrives and more answers are revealed, things may change, but based on the previous films it really seems that the writers are just throwing things in for fans or not cutting certain unnecessary plot points for fear of a fandom backlash.

A well-known criticism of all the Harry Potter stories up to this point is that each volume of the whole story just deals with Harry and his friend’s stumbling onto the solution to that year’s problem.  They realize far too late that the lesson they were taught in school that year holds the answers to everything.  The story is no different here, but since they are not in school the answers all come from people they happen to conveniently meet for the first time after all these years.  It is amazing how many times Harry has said, “Who’s that?” in the entire series before whomever he is standing next to fills in the blanks.  With the massive amount of new characters that are introduced in this film it leaves the less knowledgable Harry Potter viewers lost and also leads to the egregious under use of some great actors.

Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, Peter Mullan, David Ryall and Guy Henry all play very small but pivotal  roles in the film and all but Ifans are pretty much underused or pointless to have mentioned at all.  Bill Nighy is the massive exception to being pointless, but for the amount of time he is in the movie, I almost feel it would have been better to hire a lesser known actor.  Not that Nighy does a bad job, he is fantastic for the small time he is on-screen.  I just don’t know if it is really worth it in the end.  And for the amount of time spent dealing with these new characters, there is even less time spent with the film series’ greatest attributes; Alan Rickman and Michael Gambon.

Of course, it is obvious why Michael Gambon as Dumbledore is not really in the movie, he is dead after all.  But after one scene at the beginning of the movie, Rickman is never to be seen again.  The great pull of these movies for non-Potter fans is the massive cast of truly amazing actors that round out the movie.  I know the story lines are really meant to focus on the three heroes more than anything now but it is still a fact worth mentioning.

After accepting that I won’t be seeing a lot of the ancillary characters as much as Harry, Ron and Hermione, it becomes obvious that the three leads have actually grown a bit as actors.  There performances become  one of the few shining points of the movie.  Rupert Grint as Ron was the only one from the start of the films I thought had his job down right and he just continues to play the part.  Daniel Radcliffe up to this point was a growing actor, but beyond his amazing talent of delivering sarcasm, never really had the chops to carry the film the way he should.  He has improved his skills a great deal this time around and while it is not an award-winning performance, it certainly is very solid.  Finally, Emma Watson has for once dropped this odd habit of delivering lines in her own made up cadence that made one sentence sound like three different thoughts.  Overall, it made up a bit for the long dragged out bore of a film that is presented.

I give a lot of credit to the writers for not shying away from the very dark tones the books took, but at some points the situations led to some very awkward and disturbing scenes.  It was a bold choice  to show a half-naked Harry and Hermione making out (a vision from a dark force that is meant to twist Ron’s mind) but the imagery is ultimately not necessary at all and feels very clumsy and downright silly.  There are some very funny jokes this time around though, mostly provided by Ron and the surprisingly welcome return of Dobby.

Besides the fact that the production companies could make a lot more money out of the franchise by splitting the finale into two parts, there really is a lot of information that has to be jam-packed into a certain time frame to get the story told.   However, what we are left with is a jumbled mess with too much information being thrown at the audience at a rapid pace within a dragging film.  While the answers given in part 2 will help clear things up, part 1 as a stand alone film is a big miss.

I know fans with the knowledge the back story will disagree with my thoughts and that is fine.  So if you are a fan of the books, add a ‘stache or  ‘stache and a half and you will have your final rating.  At the end of the day, it is still tough for me to overlook all the holes in the film.  From very small things, such as; why is Dobby still wearing rags when he told Harry that once he was freed from his master he could change his clothing?  Or much larger ones, such as; why in some situations do the characters easily apparate (a mode of transportation that was heavily used in the previous film) to escape trouble and then other times they just decide not to use the skill and end up hurt or in deeper trouble?  These types of small to large plot holes have run through all the films so far.  I like to pick things apart and when I have picked apart all the Harry Potter films so far, I am left underwhelmed.

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Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman- Three Out of Five ‘Staches

It took ten years, but someone finally did “The Blair Witch” the right way.  The people behind “Yellow Brick Road” made a psychologically tense film about a group of people being affected by the isolation  of the woods and the despair of not knowing what will happen in the situation.  Among the atmospherical creepy settings, sounds and situations there is also a fair amount of gore for those who are looking for something more than, what goes bump in the night.  The film also creates one of the best twists on the “Wizard of Oz” ideals out there, even though it may be a morbid take on it all.

In 1940, the entire population of Friar, New Hampshire all dressed up in their finest clothes, left behind all their other belongings and headed out along an unmarked path.  The film also implies at one point that they all did this in the middle of viewing, “The Wizard of Oz”.  A lot of the towns people were found frozen to death, others slaughtered, but most were not found at all.  There was one survivor who appeared, but no sense could be made of anything he said.  It is now 2010 and after years of fighting with politicians and townspeople, a man, his wife and their close friend have been granted access to the coordinates of the unmarked path that led to the town’s demise.  With the addition of a some extra hands they go off into the woods to discover what happened and document it for a book.

By now you can guess things do not go as planned, even when they first get to town; the coordinates they were given just lead them to a movie theater.  But once they are on the right path, things get weird very quickly.  First they hear some odd faint noises which turn into a very audible and distinct playback of classic 1930’s songs.  At first, even as creepy as it is, they all seem to embrace what soon becomes a torturing soundtrack as they descend into madness.  Their instruments do not work properly, as if they were in the Bermuda triangle and the only course of action is to move forward.  The plot does not veer too far from what you expect, but it does exceed all expectation in terms of style and mood.  And here is the best part about it all, especially for a low-budget horror film; GOOD ACTING!!!  There are no academy award-winning performances of course, but each and every part was played with grace and sensibility.

Another strong point of the film is that it does not run too deep into its,  “The Wizard of Oz” references.  Yes, there are a few, maybe even plenty.  The film makers were smart though to stop short of it becoming ridiculous and a lot of the specific references that do appear I think paid off very well.  Of course, overall the film as a whole is a reference to the classic film/story.  Dorothy in “The Wizard of Oz” gets swept away when she feels the need to escape her troubled life only to discover all she wants is to go home; and she gets the happy ending.  The main characters of “Yellow Brick Road” want a break from what the future has in store for them.  They were just set to give up their big hunt to find out what happened to Friar, New Hampshire and settle down and get tenure as teachers (this is not true for all of them, but I use it as illustration).  But when the opportunity to continue the journey presents itself, so does an escape from a monotonous life; where they feel more at home.  Unfortunately for them, their home turns out to be a place where mans true animal nature lives.

The film does have one major problem that does bug me a little bit, but it is slightly easy to look over.   I like to call it the “Memento” hole.  In “Memento” Leonard can not hold on to new thoughts after he hits his head, yet he still knows to tell people he has a problem he should not be able to remember.  In “Yellow Brick Road” as I stated in the run down, a lot of the towns people were found frozen or slaughtered.  Based on what the characters we follow experience, shouldn’t the teams of people who found all of those frozen or dead bodies have experienced the same thing?  But like I said, I am willing to overlook it based on the rest of the film being so good.

I was given the opportunity to view “Yellow Brick Road” at this years NYC Horror Film Festival.  I would like to thank the festival organizers for putting together this years run of films and bringing “Yellow Brick Road” to my attention.

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Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman- Two out of Five ‘Staches

They take place at different times, in different countries and deal with slightly different issues, yet it was very hard not to think of  “Norma Rae” for the majority of the time I spent watching, “Made In Dangenham” and it just made it tough to enjoy the film on its own.

Based on the true story of the 187 women machinists working in Ford’s Dangenham plant in the late ’60s, the film chronicles how the women of this plant helped bring about equal pay for women, worldwide; though they really only had their own interests in mind when it all began.  It is an important story that may not be known to everyone, especially here in America, but that feeling that I have seen this all before just takes the wind out of everything.  From Sally Hawkins standing on a work table to let everyone know they were on strike to the supportive husband who starts to sour to the whole thing when his life changes more than he would like; it is nothing you wouldn’t expect.

What really seems to hurt the film even more are the clips of the real characters that roll during the credits.  It only goes to prove that the real women who fought this fight were a lot tougher and less lady like then the dramatized characters in the film.  This also is expected.  We all know what we see on-screen is not 100% accurate and situations or characters are overly dramatized to make the film more appealing. Sally Hawkins comes of as extremely strong-willed and outspoken,  but her delivery and demeanor  are reserved and she comes off as very frail.  The real Rita O’Grady, who Hawkins portrays, was much more assertive and outgoing.

The performances given as the characters are illustrated though, were all done in fine fashion.  Bob Hoskins is as adorable and loveable as ever and Sally Hawkins does have an amazing ability to come off as one of the strongest personalities in the room, even while shaking and fumbling over her words as if she were unsure of anything that would come out of her mouth.  The best performances though belong to Richard Schiff who plays one of the most subtly evil characters put on-screen in a long time and Miranda Richardson as Britain’s Secretary of State Barbara Castle.  Richardson turns in a pretty straight forward performance until her professional boundaries start to get pushed a little, then the still stately, yet hard-cased animal comes out and everyone will love it.

“Made In Dangenham” is not a terrible movie, but it seems to stretch its wings, only to stay in the status-quo.  History it may be, but its stamp on film history will be minor if even noticeable at all.

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Movie Review by Matthew Schuchman- Four out of Five ‘Staches

For a brief time, I could not stand Danny Boyle.  It was for no reason other than the fact that he became popular.  It is like a band that you are really into, who have a good following but have not caught the eye of the mainstream.   Then, they release a single that becomes a big hit and all the people you abhor now love it; I’m looking in your direction Incubus.  Eventually I came to my senses, especially when “28 Days Later” hit the theaters.  Now, there is no question in my mind that Danny Boyle is a very special film maker and I cannot think of anyone else who could have brought the story of “127  Hours” to the screen with such power and grace.

It is a tough sell, a film based on a true story, that has James Franco by himself with his arm wedged between two rocks for 90 minutes.  If you do not know or recall, “127 Hours”  is the true survival story of Aron Ralston, who ultimately amputated his arm to free himself from this predicament.  It is  hard to imagine how a film would deal with this situation and make it engrossing enough to keep the viewer interested where the protagonist doesn’t move from one spot for most of the film.  The end result is thrilling, thought-provoking, disturbing, tense, entertaining and flat-out fantastic.   Like “The Social Network”, the film uses the true events of one subject and builds a story that can speak to anyone, even if their life is nothing like that of the main character.

I feel if this film was made by someone else, there is no way it could share the same heart and tact that Danny Boyle brings to the table.  This is especially evident when it comes to the point where Ralston has to frantically cut his arm off.  It would be wrong to not show anything and just take it easy on the audience, since this man really did this to himself.  If he can suffer through that, we can suffer through some gory makeup effects.  However, make it too long and focus too much on keeping the camera right there for the whole thing is sadistic.  While the end result is disturbing and a little tough to take for a  few seconds, it could not have been handled any better.  The entire film was frantic enough to make  you uncomfortable,  yet it was an extremely thoughtful fair that exceeded my expectations.

Now, when you commit to making this film, you must have the right person to carry the movie and I will admit; James Franco has never really wowed me as an actor.  The performance he turns in here though really hit the nail on the head in every sense.  You have to give the guy credit where credit is due, he came off as genuine and really was able to take the audience through some tough experiences, both physical and mental, with ease.   With “Buried”, another recent film that deals with one character in one space for the whole movie, the need to succumb to improperly placed jokes or light-heartedness hurts the film on an intellectual and emotional level.  Both Boyle and Franco however,  bring those elements of comedy and wit , but deal with them much more maturely or better yet, with dignity.

I am not going to say this is another award winner for Boyle or maybe one for Franco, I need to think about that a bit more.  I can say, however, that “127 Hours” is worth everyone’s times.  The only real bad thing about “127 Hours” is like a movie such as, “Requiem For A Dream”, a lot of viewers will be hard pressed to spend another 90 minutes with “127 Hours” when it comes to the Netflix queue.

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Hey everyone, our “127 Hours” review will be up by this afternoon.  In the meantime I wanted to drop a reminder to everyone that next week starts the 9th Annual NYC Horror Film Festival.  We will be attending this year and bring you as much coverage as possible.

This year they are presenting a lifetime achievement award to Robert Englund (The original Freddy Kruger if you weren’t sure).  They also will be showcasing the directorial debut film of one Vincent D’Onofrio (Private Pile from “Full Metal Jacket” and Detective Robert Goren from “Law and Order: Criminal Intent).  The film, “Don’t Go Into The Woods” is a twist on the typical slasher story with a musical twist, there the characters sing as they are being murdered; can’t wait.

For further information about the festival go to their website or see the download the press release below.

NYC Horror Film Festival Press Release

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