SFC12: Dark City

Time for review number two of the Summer Film Challenge 2012: Apocalypse Edition.  This time we turn from the humorous halls of fraternity and binge drinking to the dankly Orwellian and aptly titled Dark City.  The vaguely Dystopian and clearly fantastical DVD cover got me really excited for it and I can say that it lived up to a lot of my hype.  Not all of it, but quite a lot.

The best way to describe Dark City is to say that it is the crossover of The Truman Show and Dragon Ball Z, as directed by Tim Burton.  Awesome, I know.  Centering around the life of John Murdoch, a man living in a Gotham-esque city, who finds himself awake during a corporate reconstruction of the city by a nefarious race of beings.  He becomes a fugitive of the system and fights to uncover the truth of the world around him that seems to be changing every night.

The greatest strength of the film is the incredible atmosphere it builds.  Dank and grimy, the dark city resembles a 1920’s noir world that perfectly blends in sci-fi elements which gives it a unique flavor.  A beautifully crafted story world, what completes the ambience is the brilliant performances by the star-studded cast.  Rufus Sewell gives a phenomenal performance as the man who sees to much.  Jennifer Connoly, Ian Richardson, and William Hurt all play fantastic roles as well.  But clearly the standout performance of the film is Kiefer Sutherland’s breakout portrayal of Dr. Daniel Schreber.  Somewhere between Ed Harris’s Christof of Truman Show and Dr. Stranglove, his manic scientist turned nigh-on father figure is both touching and entirely fresh.

Yet despite the wonderful tone of the film and the brilliant creation of an engaging story world, I found myself feeling let down by the movie’s conclusion, beginning at a lengthy section of rowboat exposition.  While necessary to provide me with key backstory, I couldn’t help silently singing the Nostalgia Critic’s “Exposition Song” in my head.

And worst still, the exposition led to a conclusion that I found shockingly underwhelming.  Bizarrely cathartic, the real problem I had with it was that the filmmakers failed to utilize the incredible tool they had given themselves.  **SPOILERS-ISH**  When giving the protagonist powers to control his surroundings, it is thoroughly disappointing to see it dissolve into a mental DBZ showdown where the battling hero and villian stare at each other and try to out-think the other.  I felt that they had given themselves so much potential for a fantastic final battle but had sold themselves short or not schedule the time to properly film the epic conclusion the film deserved.  And don’t even get me started on the cheesy “What are you going to do now John?” line.

One final thought about the ending:  it felt oddly out of place.  For a film as dark and disturbing as it is, the ending is bizarrely resolved.  And I don’t just mean emotionally.  Watch how the film transitions from the last shot to the credits and notice how the music seems to stutter before finding its rhythm again.

Other than the disappointing ending, I still have to say that the film does do a great job of crafting a visually and emotionally toned film.  Well performed and well sculpted ambiance makes this one of the most interesting films ever on my list.  I do recommend you give this film a try and suggest that after seeing the ending, you imagine how you would have done the final battle scene given the abilities of the two foes.  Dark City is a fascinating film and I proud to have it under my belt now.

Rating:  8//10

Again, thanks for bearing with me.  I have just started a new summer course at school as well as working almost full time on a film production (so excited!).  And, as I hope to become a recurring case, Ryan and I recorded another podcast in which we discuss my thoughts on Dark City as well as his review of the first film I gave him:  A Town Called Panic.  Check that out below and let us know what you think!

Fair warning this time:  it will be a while before my next post as I have a major bit of writing to do for my class, my schedule is almost entirely full right now, and I want to make this the review something special.  I am pleased to announce that my next review will be of BIOSHOCK.

As many of you know, this game piqued my interest long ago and I have only just recently been able to complete it.  Way back when this blog started, I went off on it for the absurdity I saw in certain actions taken in the first few minutes of the game.  Since then, several friends have practically demanded that I finish it so as to placate my quandaries.  So, check back every once in a while for my big review of the franchise that has baffled me since I started playing again.  Comment, share around, and be looking forward to the next review here on Soontobeangel.

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SFC12: Animal House

Finally!  A month and a half into summer, I finally get around to reviewing the first film of the

Summer Film Challenge 2012: Apocalypse Edition!

If you have no idea what I am talking about, click out to this link and get yourself caught up.

2012 is the end of certain…everythings, and so I would like to start this challenge with a film that I honestly should have seen two years ago.  It is the quintessential film for any graduating High Schooler about to embark on the incredible journey that is University.  One is never fully initiated into college until they have been subjected to this film and so it is with great pride that I officially start the SFC12 Review season with that National Lampoon’s classic:  ANIMAL HOUSE.

And with that graphic, you get just about everything you need from Animal House.  The End.

I wish I could say that I enjoyed this film more.  I found moments of it hilarious, particularly the shooting of the Horse scene, Blutarsky breaking the guitar, and Otter’s brilliant thoughts on golf.  However, I felt the film lacked that all-encompassing through-line which leads to the best comedic payoff possible.  Instead, we are treated to some humorous vinettes that ultimately go nowhere.

Now, I know that some of you think I missed the point of this film, but let me clarify what I mean.  Animal House is what is called a “lovable loser” or “slacker” film – in which the audience cheers for a hero or group of heroes who do nothing except fight the Man.  Despite their inattentiveness to making themselves into anything of worth, the little scamps stumble and bumble their way around and somehow come out on top, all the while creating hilarious moments and endearingly clumsy characters.

Perhaps the reason that I am not such a fan of Animal House is because I suffer from having first seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, which I hold to be the epitome of that genre of comedy.  The difference between the two is that Ferris does go out and have crazy adventures, BUT there is character growth for at least two characters (Cameron and Jeanie).  Beyond that, the film creates a situation to where there is constant conflict that they might be caught, which leads up to a spectacular climax as Ferris rushes home to stop his family discovering his escapades.  The final sequence is one of the best in the movie because it takes characters that have been endeared to us and puts them in a humorous but important situation so that we care what happens to them.

Contrasting this (and I am aware that others have issue with this as well), the ending of Animal House showcases the sort of train wreck I would imagine occurring if the characters themselves leapt from the movie to write its conclusion.  It has very little ambition and, while I enjoyed the characters enough to care what happens to them, I was sorely displeased by the cheesy Remember the Titans-esque “Where did they end up?” title cards.  The marching band joke is hilarious as it reminds me of home, but the rest of the scene dissolves into ridiculous chaos that has no cathartic value.  The “evil” principle is no worse the wear for his injustices (unlike the hilarious debasement of the principle in Ferris Bueller’s), nor is the corrupt Mayor in anyway reprimanded for his “sins”.  The film ends with raucous people being raucous and implying that this is perfectly fine in due Nat. Lampoon’s style.

Still, I do have to admit that it was a fun film that I did enjoy at least partially.  It feels like my College Career can finally begin now!  …Oh.  Anyway, I do recommend that you see the film sometime as it is a Classic bit of American Cinema (the bit that you pick out with your fork and set on the side of your plate) and I am very glad to cross it off my list.

OH!!!  And  I am proud to bestow the honor of Second Most Annoying Theme Song in a Film to Animal House‘s frat boy drinking song.  Proudly standing one pedestal below the Last of the Mohicans, it has found its place in glory at last.

One final thought before I go:  “Where were you when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!?!?”

Rating:  6//10

The actions of that day inspired him to leave his structured military life and take up dancing…

And now for a special treat!  Ryan and I were talking about how to make the 3rd (and Final) Summer Film Challenge a little more special than it has been in past years.  We thought about creating a Vblog to share our opinions with the world a little more directly!  But we didn’t have a proper camera, so that was out.  And then Ryan hit on a brilliant idea:  Why don’t we Podcast!?  So, with his wonderful sound equipment, we began the first ever SFC Podcast and, thanks to the magic of the internet, you can listen to it below:

Let us know what you thought about the Podcast in the comments here or on Facebook.  You can check out Ryan’s review of Animal House and see how we compared.  Thanks  for sticking around this long!  Be expecting a lot of great reviews out in the near future, as I still have so much to catch up on.  Up next is another Summer Film Challenge Review so be excited for that, and then immediately following that I will go silent for a while.  Two reasons:  1. I have several new engagements on my plate that will make blogging a bit difficult, and 2. The next review will be one of the biggest and most intense I have ever had to write.  I started this blog looking forward to reviewing this particular bit of culture and I cannot wait to share my thoughts with you.

But, until then, please let me know what you thought of this review, be looking for the next one, go drink a beer or something, and I leave you with this clue for next time:  “Keifer Sutherland = Dr. Strangelove”.

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Criterion Quickee #1

Being a lover of all things film and a devoted student of the Cinematic Arts, I join in the proud tradition of creating infinitely expanding lists of movies that my existence depends on seeing, and then hopelessly attempting to cross off all entries before my time here on Earth comes to a close.  Like all cinephiles, particularly my comrades in film school, I am dutifully trudging my way through the AFI’s Top 100 Movies of All Time list – 61 films seen thus far.  To this list of classics, I add films that I am interested in or which have been recommended to me.  And over the years, I have been able to see enumerable interesting and important movies because of these insatiable lists.

Recently I have decided to diverge to a degree from my fellows and attempt to complete another canon of films – the Criterion Collection.  I had heard of the mysterious foreign and avant garde films that the list comprised of and while they piqued my interest, I didn’t know much about them, so I avoided the Collection for the most part.  However, I recently rediscovered the list and upon closer inspection found it to be teeming with fascinating films that have more cultural significance (in my opinion) than half of the works on the AFI list.  Also, I received strong recommendation to try the list from my 18-year-old brother, Travis, who has seen roughly 250 of the 600+ titles.

Thus, as well as embarking on my third Summer Film Challenge, I have pledged to see as many Criterion films as possible this summer to better round my cinematic education.  This post is the first of what I hope to be many Quickee reviews for films of the Criterion Collection.  Over the summer, I plan to see more of the approved films and post the occasional Quickee compilation here to review them. So, without further ado, lets jump into this!

Trois Couleurs:  Bleu

The first films I sought out when I decided to take on the Criterion Collection were the stylistic and interconnected “Three Colors” trilogy from Polish filmmaker, Krzysztof Kieslowski.  His work was recommended to me by one of my professors who loves this trilogy and always refers to it in his lessons.  So, Ryan and I decided to see what all the fuss was about and rented the collection from our library one week.  I must say, my professor was right.

Bleu is the first film in the Couleurs trilogy and it is absolutely gorgeous, visually and in tonal atmosphere.  I created the picture above because after seeing the film, I came to realize that the best way to describe it is to label it as Amelie’s Doppelganger.  The film focuses on a French woman who has an emotionally stylized sense of the world and who searches for meaning and love.  Where Amelie is bright and cheerful in it’s vivid colors which reveal her inner childishness, Bleu creates a darker and more depressing world of blue and black tones which flawlessly mimic the character’s internal despair. Both women allow their view of the world to be shaped by their emotions and Kieslowski masterfully crafts this into his aesthetic vision.

Visually amazing, I found myself constantly impressed by the way the shot selection and music were implemented to craft a powerful emotional tone.  Bleu is a gorgeous and touching film that beautifully explores the harsh realities of sorrow, and I recommend it to anyone interested in cinematography, aesthetic motif in film, or people who are simply fans of a well told story.

 Rating:  10//10

Trois Couleurs:  Blanc

What I particularly enjoyed about the Colors Trilogy was that each film is its own stylistic narrative and yet they are all connected in the story world.  When I started the second film of the trilogy – Blanc/White – I was pleasantly shocked when the film started out with a scene of the new protagonist accidentally stumbling into the courtroom of the first film before going on to do his own thing.  The interconnectedness is only in that the stories occur in the same world but that level of detail in the creation of each story made it a joy to watch and see how each life intermingled with the two others.

Just as Bleu had a clear cinematic comparison, one can see that Blanc also juxtaposes another classic film.  Blanc centers around a Polish man who finds himself down on his luck because of a messy divorce and a vindictive ex.  He meets a man who smuggles him out of Paris and back to his homeland where, instead of continuing his career as a famous hairstylist, he decides to enter a life of crime in order to get back at his love.  We watch as this mild-mannered gentleman slowly dissolves into a darker place as he becomes the most awkward and love-driven Godfather figure of all time.

Largely different from Bleu in tone, Blanc had a great dark wit about it that was hilarious and somewhat sinister to watch.  It feels like a cross between the careful entrapment of “A Cask of Amontillado”, the dry wit of Life is Beautiful, and the plucky protagonist of Rocky.  An odd mix, I admit, but I thoroughly enjoyed watching this Polish Hairdressing Nobody turn into a hard-edge crime boss, all for the sake of love.  The middle film of the Couleurs Trilogy is magnificently crafted, just like the first.

Rating:  10//10

Trois Couleurs:  Rouge

And so we come to the third and final installment of the Three Colors trilogy.  I have spent every minute since I saw this film trying to figure out what film Rouge/Red compares to and honestly I can’t find the right connection.  In a lot of ways, it reverts back toward the AmelieBleu connection – a woman meets an older shut-in and both discover what it means to live life, all the while circling around a man who is in need of love.  In fact, that analogy might fit better with Rouge than the former, but the reason I left it this way is because the latter lacks that extreme emotional overtone of Bleu.  Of the three, the third installment is definitely the most slice-of-life realist.

While this was probably my least favorite of the three, please don’t believe that this reflects poorly on the film’s quality.  It is just as well written and crafted as its predecessors.  My only qualm with the film is the lack of visual or narrative surrealism which make the Bleu and Blanc so interesting and fun to watch.  Rouge holds its own by having a great story and, most importantly, a great payoff.  I’d rather not spoil the ending but sufficed to say the narrative conclusion is satisfying in almost every way.  It completes the trilogy and gives the series its meaning – the conjoining of human life in immeasurable and incalculably intricate ways.  Please find some time to work your way through all three of Kieslowski’s Trois Couleurs, because you will not find a better crafted story world with such powerful aesthetic cohesion.

Rating:  10//10

Yojimbo

For the fourth and final review of this first Criterion Quickee, I turn to one of the most beloved and most important Japanese filmmakers.  Akira Kurosawa all but invented the genre of the Samurai film and inspired a generation of filmmakers at home and across the sea in Hollywood.  Most of the Film Brats credit “the Emperor’s” work as inspiration for their own careers, and for inciting some of the greatest cinematic creations in US history – Star Wars, Magnificent Seven, and most importantly here, A Fistful of Dollars.

The last of this list is the 1964 American recreation of the 1961 Kurosawa film Yojimbo (meaning “Bodyguard”), about a rogue Samurai-for-hire who gets himself caught in between two warring parties.  Fun and funny, well shot with compelling characters, and despite being a bit too slow and long, Yojimbo is an excellent narrative story that is a joy to watch.  The modern viewer can clearly see the Western stylisms which merge flawlessly with this more ancient tale and the cinematography is wonderfully incorporated into that overarching genre motif.   Kurosawa crafted a fun and engaging tale that is great from start to finish and a perfect film to jump-start my journey into the Criterion Collection.

Rating:  9//10

And with that I come to the conclusion of my first Criterion Quickee.  I highly recommend each of these four films, both as excellent works of Cinema as Art and as great films to start into the Collection.  They aren’t overtly weird but they do give you a taste of what you are in for.  Check them out sometime and let me know what you think.

It should go without saying but I have a lot more reviews coming your way here really soon.  I am way behind on my Summer Film Challenge (as usual) but you can expect the first two reviews to be out very soon.  And, if I can figure out how to make it work, I will be sharing a special surprise that Ryan and I cooked up to make the Apocalypse Edition of the Summer Film Challenge even better.  So, be on the lookout for that in the near future.  Until then, have a marvelous week, enjoy something artistic, and I will leave you with this clue:  “It’s not an ooorrrrgy!  It’s a TOGA party!”

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