09 November 2009

So many movies II (The Island, Hero, Able Edwards, & Seed)

And as for the rest of the films...

The Island was a pleasant surprise. This is probably Bay's best film, and that's saying something. Bay would make a great second unit director, and he has been so in the past. Unfortunately, for him to really have the freedom to shoot the kind of action scenes he wants, he has to be given the reins to the whole project. To make him a second unit director on a film would result in a very schizophrenic and uneven picture as very few directors' sensibilities would gel with Bay's trademark style. This is the ultimate tragedy of Bay's career, but he doesn't seem too disappointed by it. The Island, pigeonholed by certain, more elitist critics, as a modern re-imagining of the movie Clonus (better known as Parts: The Clonus Horror), does its supposed source material justice and beyond. Clonus, sadly, was not a particularly well-made film (as evidenced in part by its inclusion in the Mystery Science Theater film library) and it hasn't aged very well, either. Clonus could barely keep up with the science at the time, let alone the era's science fiction. In fact, I'd read a book about cloning published several years before Clonus' production that handled the subject matter better. Bay's usual lack of attention to anything not involving crashes and explosions is absent here, as the performances (even the most one-dimensional of them) are on par with any drama with less than half as many action sequences. If you're not a fan of Bay, and you haven't seen The Island, it may just be the one that changes your mind from a total write-off of his work.

Hero was brilliant, put simply. It, along with House of Flying Daggers, came with consistent praise and recommendation to me by friends, co-workers, and anyone else in my acquaintance who's seen the film. I had virtually no preconceived notions about the film, having only seen a few trailers leading up to the film's release. I knew nothing of its plot, but was very happy that it employed my favorite narrative device: Multiple Perspectives. Hero is about an assassination plot, told from at least two distinct viewpoints and even then in a variety of different variations. Each variation on the climax's preceding events is marked throughout by a dominant color (Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, White). It sounds like a rather elementary way to tell the flashbacks apart, but it's very effective, and utterly beautiful. The only thing that honestly keeps me from taking a screen capture from nearly any frame of this film to use as my desktop wallpaper is is that it would mean taking down my current wallpaper, a publicity photo of actress Bai Ling (a little more on her later).

Able Edwards was... weird, but novel and certainly interesting. It's a low-budget vanity project combining two well-known figures, one fictional and one real: Citizen Kane and Walt Disney. In short, Able Edwards is about the clone of a deceased cartoonist-turned-business tycoon created to become head of a corporation operating on an orbital space station. The style is patterned after Orson Welles' classic almost to the letter, right down to the very typeface used for the film's title. Released in 2004, Able Edwards is probably the least-widely-known of the films that comprise the “Digital Backlot” cycle, accompanied by Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (featuring the lovely aforementioned Bai Ling) from the USA, Immortal from France (with a Slavic writer and director), and Casshan from Japan, among others. These films were all made using extensive amounts of digital backdrops and composites, to such an extent that few or no practical sets were built, with those that were serving more as references for the actors' benefit than the audiences' viewing pleasure.

I didn't say anything about Seed earlier because I'd only thought to include it at the last minute. This was the first Uwe Boll film I'd seen, and I had a little trouble actually watching it, but not because it's a bad film. Let me put it this way: Horror comes in three flavors which are Terrify, Horrify, and Gross-Out. Gross-Out's markings are pretty obvious, even if you've only heard of Hostel, Saw, or anything by Herschell Gordon Lewis. Horrify elements best described as “jump scares” the ones that play off your reflexes or get your adrenaline pumping (Alien, Jaws, any zombie film). Terrify is the hardest variety of horror to produce, and often the best results come from films outside what most people generally think of as belonging to the horror genre, as you don't have to be a horror movie to be a creepy movie (Jacob's Ladder, Flatliners, American Psycho). Seed is very much in the Gross-Out category, and that's by design, as Uwe Boll described the film in the accompanying commentary as “A horror movie for horror fans”. Like I said, Seed is not a bad horror movie. Far from it, it's at least as competent at what it does as the Saw movies or anything from Rob Zombie. I just happen to prefer suspense to gore.

There are more Uwe Boll films on their way through the combined efforts of Netflix, and I'm actually looking forward to giving them a go. Sure, Boll gets a lot of flack for his work and certainly for some of his more harsh statements about certain filmmakers and most filmgoers, but I try not to listen to gossip. I'll judge for myself his abilities as a director, and so far, from what I've seen, his only real fault is some slightly iffy casting (Tara Reid and Ray Liotta chiefly), and that's hardly something to hold against a director.

Along with Boll's work, the other films on the way are the aforementioned entries in the Digital Backlot cycle, Immortal and Casshan. I plan on doing a sort of video retrospective of the cycle, this being essentially the 5th anniversary of each of those films.

Thanks for reading.
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