Archive for the ‘Film Reviews’ category

Insidious Film Review by Sam

May 22, 2011

I have always struggled to distinguish between the genres of horror and thriller. When someone asks me to tell him or her if a particular film is a thriller or horror, I am never quite sure what answer to give. Well, what does the dictionary say?

The Australian Pocket Oxford Dictionary defines the word horror as a “painful feeling of loathing and fear” and thriller as “exciting or sensational,” which therefore leads me to, well not much of a conclusion.

I guess, perhaps, a film can be both ‘thriller’ and ‘horror’. To me, when I think of thriller, I think of jumpy scenes and twists, whereas horror seems like it’s more of the gory stuff.

Why am I trying to define horror and thriller films, I hear you ask? Well, quite plainly it’s because I’m trying to decide what sort of film Insidious was. Which leads me to my first film review of the year (I know, that’s horrendous it has taken this long).

Insidious Film Poster

I’d like to say I’m a follower of both James Wan and Leigh Whannell’s career, mainly because I absolutely loved their first feature film (you may have heard of it, it’s a little film called SAW), and because, like me, they’re both Aussies. So needless to say, I was anticipating Insidious quite a bit.

Let me highlight what I did and didn’t like about it.

Firstly, similarly to SAW, it had a tight budget of around $1 million, but unlike SAW, I could tell. It may have been their intention, but it just felt a like it struggled on some of the technical aspects. For example, whilst for the most part the cinematography was quite good, I just felt there was a lack of quality to the image – it just didn’t have that cinematic feel like most films do. Secondly, it felt to me as if there were a lot of missing elements, the most obvious were some sound effects. Perhaps they ran too tightly to the budget and so they had to skip out on a few elements, or maybe it was an intentional choice made by the director, but I found this to be somewhat distracting.

I thought the director; James Wan handled the content of this film brilliantly. His work on this film was extremely unique and there were so many exceptional stylistic elements that I found fascinating. Wan did succeed in achieving the ‘old-style,’ classic thriller he was going for, and I think it takes huge talent to pull off what he did.

On another note, the story could have been a bit better. Now, in saying this, I realise I should have known full well that this was going to be a supernatural film, but I felt it just went a little too far. The entire build up during the first half of this film was good, although it did at times feel like a professionally filmed version of Paranormal Activity. Additionally, as the film progressed I felt that rather than leaving things to the imagination of the audience, the filmmaker’s became too blatant with what they showed.

The highlight of the film was the comic relief that came in the form of the screenwriter Leigh Whannell and fellow Aussie actor, Angus Sampson. Whilst displaying great performances, they also provided many laughs, and I was thrilled with their inclusion in the film.

The ending was quite good also. Whilst the film didn’t do the full 180-degree twist as SAW did (which was a little disappointing that it didn’t), it did have this extra element, which gave the film a thrilling finish; so props to the writers for that.

Whilst I am aware that the filmmakers are trying to escape from the identity that SAW has given them, I believe that they should remain on the path of ‘plausible’ films, rather than supernatural thrillers. I believe they succeeded extremely well at pulling of a classic supernatural thriller film (which seems to be a tough thing to do these days), but I just feel that there’s just more scope for them outside of this supernatural genre.

Nonetheless, it was a successful supernatural thriller, but due to the fact I am not a huge fan of this genre, I give it 3 film reels out of 5.

3FilmReels

Box Office Comparison: The King’s Speech vs The Social Network

March 6, 2011

There is not always a nexus between  the box office and the critical acclaim of a film, but in the following case the ticket sales were very telling, painting an interesting picture and giving a unique opportunity for analysis. Below is a graphical representation of box office results comparing the The King’s Speech and The Social Network. Why these two films? Simply, in his 2011 Oscar Predictions, Sam tabled the two front runners- the criteria of which I tend to agree with. You can revisit it here.

Box Office Comparison

* Box office results adapted from boxofficemojo.com

 

The first thing to notice is the major contrast in starting points. The Social Network opened with a standard wide release, whereas (clearly shown in the chart) The King’s Speech started with a limited release. The reasoning for the limited release was, as far as I can see, a film classification issue- originally, and controversially, it was rated ‘R’- as well as a what can only be described as a hazy transition period from film festival screenings to the big screen.

The second item to notice are the repeated spikes in the two lines. For the seasoned film analyst, it will be commonsense to stipulate that these spikes are the weekend. Increased leisure time for consumers directly translates to a massive ongoing increase in ticket sales on Friday, Saturday, and Sundays.

What else does the chart tell us?

There is no doubt that The Social Network took out the head-to-head crown for its opening weekend with a figure of $22,445,653 whereas by the time The King’s Speech opened ‘properly’ it only gained a meagre $4,484,352.

However, there was a noticeably steep decent for The Social Network. It seemed to maintain some serious strength on the weekends for just over the first month, but shortly afterwards it eroded away to next-to-nothing. On the other hand, The King’s Speech tended to maintain its graphical structural integrity for a lot longer. To borrow an economist’s measure, the area under the curve was substantially greater. In layman’s terms, when it came to The King’s Speech, there was just more beef!

Whilst this is only one set of eyes to analyse the film, it would seem to be a useful perspective. If I was to take two points away from this chart I would suggest: one, that with careful and extensive marketing (such as in The Social Network)- and this includes word of mouth- ticket sales can ‘be bought’. In other words, a solid advertising campaign, coupled with a hint of virality, can produce some results. However, the more important finding, is that quality acting and substance does win out in the end, as was evidenced in The King’s Speech.

Finally, for the sake of fairness and for those film economists out there, both films offered a substantial return on investment for those who financed them. What does this mean? It’s highly likely that this will not be the last time we hear from the producers and directors. So, the movie goer wins out in the end. Fingers crossed for more quality films by these players in the future.

Wall Street Money Never Sleeps Review by Dave

October 11, 2010

The Wall Street film phenomenon is twisted. Both the 1987 original and now the 2010 sequel ‘Money Never Sleeps‘ hold out two hands. In the first there is a world of high finance, corporate raiding and the aspirational materialism and glamour that is held out as a consequence. In the other, a very solemn and tangible sense of emptiness- the kind that naturally follows from the accumulation of the aforementioned excess. Understandably, to offer the film as a cautionary tale- which I believe is intended- both sides of the contentment-equation need to be held side by side. But does this aspirational lifestyle need to be ‘sold’ to such an extreme? I guess we’re dealing with Gordon Gekko- an iconic beacon of risk and punctuated extravagance- so there was not going to be anything half-hearted.

 

Gekko & Jake

Gekko & Jake discuss Winnie

 

Timing of the releases

Upon some brief research there was something rather peculiar about the release dates of the two films. The original was released in late 1987, only months after the stock market crash- which, at the time was the largest single daily fall since 1929. Seems like a good time to release a film about Wall Street, right? Yes and no. Sure, the economic climate was well in need of a cautionary tale about the perils of greed and blind ambition. Yet, when devastation occurs, it does not seem especially engrossing to want to revisit the ‘wreckage’ as such; let alone pay money to visit the cinema to watch it on the big screen. This explains why, critically Wall Street (the original) performed very well, but box-office-wise, it was not an overwhelming big hit. Having said this, it did not perform poorly.

‘Money Never Sleeps’ was very much in the same category: being post Global Financial Crisis. Again, and particularly in the US, who would want to re-observe the wreckage that occurred when countless individuals lost houses and investments as a result of the corporate greed that is captured in the film? It makes me wonder about the motives behind the production. Granted, the notion of ‘striking while the iron is hot’ may apply to some things- but maybe not so much when it comes to global financial crisis. It’s not exactly the most natural thing to celebrate and tell your friends about. The chances of a resulting viral-word-of-mouth situation occurring, in such cases like Avatar and Inception was very unlikely.

5 things I liked

1. Michael Douglas

There is absolutely no denying the brilliance of the man. The timing of his delivery, his piercing eyes, and his general poignant presence were perfect. He has an uncanny means of delivering lines that would otherwise come across as cliché, yet the words emerge with such depth and philosophical intensity. It’s a rare and amazing skill. There is a scene where Douglas as “Gordon Gekko” delivers a speech after leaving jail. After discussing the current climate of finance, he offers three words of warning and advice (SPOILER ALERT): “…. (as the audience wait is eager anticipation)…. Buy… My… Book….”. The audience busts out in laughter and applause. Only Douglas could pull this off.

2. A Few of Shia LaBoeuf’s scenes

I was naturally a little worried about LaBeouf and his ability to fit into this iconic genre. However, as it turns out, he has a great deal of intensity of his own. Whilst there were a few ‘relational’ scenes that i thought were a little ‘bleh’- a technical word meaning ‘lackluster’ for those uninformed. One scene I really liked was when Jake (LaBeouf) was attempting to gain a moral positioning of the tycoon Bretton James (Josh Brolin). SPOLIER ALERT. Jake asks: “So what’s your number?” Asking ‘how much money would you need to just walk away from the world of corporate finance?’. Bretton hesitates before answering: “…More.” The scene was performed well.

3. Boardroom scenes

There were a number of epic scenes where all the big finance players sat around a hug dark-stained wooden boardroom alongside US treasury to brainstorm solutions to the financial situations that they were facing. The lighting was dim. The colours were deep and rich. The characters were multiple and very interesting. These scenes displayed well the very intensity of these behind-the-scenes deals whilst picking up on the very human element of big business. These scenes were great in exhibiting the frailty of the human condition.

4. The Outside Cinematography

Being a film about Wall Street, there was a great deal of opportunity to capture the beauty of the urban architecture and high-rise landscape in New York. There was numerous scenes of sweeping (and extended) helicopter shots, beautifully displaying the glassy, tinted high-rise structures that are truly ‘Wall Street’. It’s rare for such an opportunity to exist to really focus in on this aesthetic. Of course, it’s so fitting as the attractive and glossy exterior is often no more than a front covering the true ‘moral hazard’ that exists underneath. Yet, with this below-the-surface discussion aside, the camera work on the urban landscape in New York city was superb!

5. The Circumstances surrounding the Production & Promotion

In August this year Michael Douglas appeared on David Letterman and announced that he had stage 4 throat cancer. The timing could not have been worse considering his final production and (later) promotion schedule. Yet amidst this terrible news, Douglas seemed buoyant and determined. It was incredible to have such as public figure openly discuss their potentially terminal condition, along with fears, and still continue as normal. It is unknown when he received this diagnosis exactly, but there are a few scenes in Money Never Sleeps when Gekko considers the value of time. He actually makes a reference to ‘cancer’.

Undoubtedly, the film will stand for much more than a sequel and a cautionary tale. In my mind, the film is all about character. Douglas takes the cake.

I give the film 4 out of 5 reels.

4 Film Reels

Buried Film Review by Sam

October 10, 2010

Here at FilmStank, we pride ourselves on keeping our blogs and reviews as spoiler free as we can. When writing a review for Rodrigo Corés’ film, Buried, the task becomes a little difficult without ruining the entire movie for you, the reader. So, be aware that in the following review I will appear to be skimming the edges, and not really delving into the thick of it, and that’s just simply because – I am, in fact doing that. It is for your own benefit.

 

Let’s see how we go.

Okay, so the film was made on a small budget (in Hollywood standard’s at least) of about 2-3 million dollars, and this becomes quite apparent. In fact, my guess is that they spent most of the budget getting a big name such as Ryan Reynolds, and then used the rest for whatever else they could get their hands on. It payed off, getting Ryan Reynolds, who delivers arguably the most standout performance of his career yet, and really thrusts himself into the character of Paul Conroy, a truck driver who has been buried alive.

The way that this film was made, using one on-screen actor, one location and one set really helped sell the story that the film centred around. All these elements gave that “realistic” tone that a film with a similar story using more elements would struggle to achieve.

 

At times I found myself breathing heavily, trying to preserve my breath as Reynolds’ character did the same. I felt somewhat enclosed and got a great sense of that claustrophobic atmosphere Cortés was obviously trying to achieve. The tone and the mood of the film were achieved through Cortés’ great use of cinematography and muffled sounds.

 

Finally, the soundtrack that so elegantly backed what was being displayed to the audience on screen was more than appropriate, employing the use of just simple strings that built the tension when necessary, and played nothing. The silence in this film was all-important. A well thought out score.

 

At this point, it is with great regret that I must stop. I have squeezed out as much writing as I possibly could without giving any crucial plot points away, and to write anything more could risk repetition.

 

A simplistic yet elegant film.

 

4 out of 5.

4 Film Reels

Inception Review by Sam

July 28, 2010

One word: Inception.

Once in a while there is a film that blows every person who watches the film away. The people of 2010 have been blessed enough to have that been already done previously by Toy Story 3. But animation is, I think, an easier-to-please type of film to make.

I would call myself a very big follower of Christopher Nolan. The first film of his that I watched was The Prestige. I was blown away. The second was The Dark Knight, and I was fanatical about the quality of that picture. And then I watched the films prior to The Dark Knight, and it became apparent that Nolan started at a high in his career, and just kept on going higher. So suffice to say, I was stoked to be sitting in the cinema, waiting for Inception to begin.

Christopher Nolan, you’ve done it again!

It is a difficult task to take such a complex subject, such as the dream, and turn it into a compelling, captivating two hours and forty minutes of screen time. Yet Nolan does it perfectly. It could’ve gone on for another hour, and with Nolan’s creativity, I would have been more than happy.

One of my first comments when walking out of the cinema was, “you have to be a genius to write a movie such as Inception.” And honestly, the level of thought that would’ve gone into that script, the creativity, and the process would have been arduous, but Nolan makes it look easy. The story was beyond mind blowing, and the script and the dialogue was so believable, I wouldn’t be surprised had people thought the content of this film was real.

Once again, Nolan’s direction of the images on the screen, along with his cinematography pal, Wally Pfister, creates something beautiful and visually amazing. It was truly a privilege to watch this masterpiece artwork on the screen.

Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception.

The acting was also brilliant. Leonardo DiCaprio is probably my favourite actor. His selection of movies of the past decade has been tremendous, to say the least. Every performance he gives is 100% believable, and I can only say the same about his performance in Inception. A brilliant supporting cast as well.

Without giving anything away, I will say that the ending of the film was outstanding. The way it ends is just in keeping with the intellectual integrity of the entire film, and it is the perfect ending to a perfect film. It is so hard to describe the beauty of it, without ruining what the actual ending is, so I will stop right there, and you will just have to trust me.

This movie is a moment in cinematical history. Christopher Nolan is a legend, and a genius for creating such a movie as Inception. 5 out of 5.

Predators Film Review by Sam

July 18, 2010

It’s been quite a long time since I’ve seen Arnie strut his stuff in the original Predator and whilst that film wasn’t the greatest work of art I’ve seen, I was still quite intrigued to see Predators. Before we jump into the review, I would like to answer some questions people may or may not be thinking about the film. Firstly, Predators isn’t a remake or prequel. It’s a sequel to the original two Predator films. Secondly, Predators disregards any information revealed in the Alien vs. Predator films, as the director himself states, “it was… the AVP films we’ve dismissed.” 1

Now that that’s clear, let’s move forward with the review.

Whilst I was intrigued to see Predators, I didn’t have a whole lot to go on. I think the best I had was a few T.V. spots here and there. I didn’t know what it was about, and I wasn’t sure where it was going with the franchise, it just looked like it could be a bit of fun.

And that’s what it was, a bit of fun. The story line was actually interesting; a group of people are thrown off a plane onto an unknown island and start getting hunted for some reason, (let me assure you, there is a reason). It reminded me a fair bit of The Condemned, where people are thrown onto an island to fight in a battle to the death, and I actually enjoyed that film, so naturally I was pleased with the set-up provided in Predators.

The direction of the film was fine, and it made the film easy to understand. The location was great for a film like this. Some of the effects were a little under par, which was a little distracting at times, but luckily the film didn’t rely heavily on special effects – so it wasn’t overly frustrating.

Adrien Brody portrays the hero in Predators.

Whilst a majority of the film’s dialogue was well written, and served what the creators of the films were going for, I felt that Adrien Brody in his role as the hero had a lot of cliché lines. His delivery didn’t help too much as well, so I guess it was a combination of him trying to be the tough guy and the writers wanting him to be the hero that made it somewhat corny. I will say that it was pretty cool to see Brody as the action-hero as oppose to a lot of the other roles he has done in his career, just thought I’d mention that.

It was interesting to note how many famous people were in this, Adrien Brody, Laurence Fishburne and Topher Grace (best known for his work on That 70’s Show). I actually thought it was pretty cool when each of these characters were introduced, and I though to myself, “hey, it’s that guy, I didn’t realise he was in this.” Respect for their contribution to this film.

Predators has done a good job of rebooting the franchise with a fresh and unique approach to the film, whilst also maintaining the elements we loved about the original. This film, like its predecessors will most likely steer clear of critic adoration and acclamation, and probably won’t win many, if any of the most esteemed awards, but for me, it was great fun, and good entertainment.

3.5 film reels.





1. http://www.collider.com/2010/05/06/director-nimrod-antal-predators-int erview-on-set-read-listen-here/

Karate Kid 2010 Film Review by Dave

July 15, 2010

Films are subject to significant criticism; this occurs if they are new and unique, a sequel, or a series. Yet there is nothing more susceptible to close examination and judgment than a ‘remake’- particularly when it’s presented by the Big Bad Wolf that is Hollywood. There is significantly more pressure when a remake attempts to borrow or appropriate from an iconic piece like that of Robert Mark Kamen’s 1984 film, The Karate Kid.

 

Karate Kid 2010

Karate Kid 2010

There will be oodles of reviews offering comprehensive comparisons between the old school and new school. If this is your heart’s desire, then jump onto Google and go crazy! Maybe even click on some sponsored links while you’re visiting- I’m sure they’d appreciate it.  But you ain’t going to get that here! This whole comparison business can be very exhausting and, often, somewhat futile. I say all this in light of a great deal of respect for Mr Miyagi and Danielson*. Wax on, Wax off! Now go and paint the fence! It’s a beautiful thing.

Jaden Smith & Jackie Chan

Jaden Smith & Jackie Chan

Jaden Smith and Jackie Chan displayed a unique dynamic from the outset. Jaden seemed extremely comfortable with his role as a semi-rebellious only-child trying to find his way in a new continent, China. It was fantastic to see Jaden’s own character bursting through. For a young man, his sense of comedic timing worked swimmingly well with his casual intensity.  His interpretation of Dre Parker seemed effortless. This kid is unquestionably talented. His energetic naïveté was brilliant, especially in contrast to Jackie Chan’s phlegmatic demeanor. The combination was like cheese on toast: unbeatable!

Jackie Chan was also very good. He seems to have this unique ability to stamp his presence on a film without taking the limelight. His acting proffered a humble vehemence perfect for his role as Mr Han, the handyman with a hidden past in Kung Fu. There is a particular scene where Mr Han sits in his car after smashing it with a sledge hammer, painfully reflecting on his tragic family history. Head down, he cries uncontrollably. It was moving. It was almost too real. In a turn of events, its was young Dre who Mr Han turned to for strength in a time of emotional need. This seemed a little odd at first, but in time the viewer understood it was necessary to demonstrate Dre’s strength.

The emotional car scene concluded with a strange shot. In this shot, as Mr Han cries, Dre passes him some training sticks with rope on the end as a symbolic motion suggesting ‘its time to focus and train’. Yet the way these training sticks enter the frame, they seem to appear as a hangman’s noose. In other words, they looked scarily like the device used for execution. This thought only lasted momentarily, but it was all too close for comfort as Jackie Chan cried uncontrollably in the center of the frame. Pain’s too much? Here, have a noose! It shocked me, that’s all I can say. Perhaps I’ve just been watching too much Elizabethan revenge tragedy and I’ve gone bonkers!

Wudang Mountain

Wudang Mountain

No matter who you ask, there is no avoiding the startling beauty of the Chinese setting for the film. The scenery was absolutely breathtaking. Cinematographer Roger Pratt brought the landscape alive with wide sweeping shots of the Great Wall and Wudang Mountain. We also get a sneak peak inside the forbidden city. Katey Rich of Cinemablend argues that you can almost hear the Chinese officials in the background shouting “include that, I will looks great on the postcards!”- suggesting that the showcasing of the Chinese wilderness is forced and unnecessary. I disagree. I think it created a useful- and I might add, picturesque- backdrop for the necessary journey that Dre Parker has to undertake to achieve his character’s emotional and physical development.

According to Boxofficemojo, the film only cost $40 million to produce. For this kind of budget, I think the results were amazing. If I had to guess the budget, I would have guessed closer to $80 million.

I give the film 4 out of 5 reels.

4 Film Reels

* ‘Danielson’ is a lay translation of ‘Daniel-san’. Why does Mr Miyagi call Daniel by this name?

In the Japanese language, -san is a polite title that is used after a person’s name, the equivalent of Mr., Mrs., or Miss. Daniel could just as easily refer to Mr Miyagi as “Miyagi-san”.