Tag: 2008

Movie Review: Birdemic: Shock and Terror (2008)

The Brattle had a late-night showing of the most recent bad-movie cult hit Birdemic, and I certainly couldn’t miss the opportunity after seeing the trailer (which you should watch too, trust me). A romantic thriller from writer/director James Nguyen, the film explores the impact of widespread eagle attacks on software salesman Rod (Alan Bagh) and up-and-coming model Nathalie (Whitney Moore), whose romance has just begun to blossom.

Supposedly this phenomenon is the result of environmental degradation caused by humans, and the birds are out for revenge. Rod and Nathalie do their best to fend off the tide of slow-moving, explosion-causing fowl with an array of weapons and a large van, picking up two useless children along the way. Before we get to all that though, we are treated to a large amount of Rod and Nathalie’s work-related endeavors and tepid early dates.

It’s necessary to really look at Birdemic in two ways: as a work of cinema, and as a piece of entertainment.

As a movie in itself, it’s just awful. The dialogue is laughably awkward and the acting is absolutely atrocious. The script is poorly structured, thematically very blunt, and often nonsensical. The effects are the lowest of the low, amounting to bird attackers that resemble animated .gif’s from 1997 and weirdly tiny explosions popping up out of nowhere. The score is repetitive, there’s a host of randomly-appearing characters who serve little purpose to the story, the visual quality and camera work are noticeably sub-par; there’s quite a long list of negative elements to the film.

Of course, it’s all those things and more that make Birdemic an AWESOME film-going experience. Even though it takes at least half of the movie for any birds to even appear, the stilted acting and poorly-written conversations are certainly enough to keep me laughing before then. The addition of horribly CG-ed birds flapping their way around real-life objects just heightened an already-entertaining movie. There’s something terribly endearing about the whole affair, from Rod’s delayed reactions, to extended shots of people driving, to uncoordinated camera movements, to completely un-erotic sex scenes, to the most unrealistic forest fire I’ve ever seen.

It may be one of the worst movies ever made, but doggonit if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of it. Plus it’s got an environmentalist message, so that’s good. And an anti-bird message. Screw those guys, you know? Anyway, I saw this with a very enthusiastic crowd, which definitely increases the fun, so I’d recommend you try to do the same!

As a movie: 1.5/5
As entertainment: 4.5/5

Further Reading:
Birdemic official site
Joel Crary review

IFF BOSTON: Joheunnom Nabbeunnom Isanghannom (The Good, The Bad, The Weird) (2008)

This review is part of my coverage of the Independent Film Festival of Boston 2010. (official site)

Oh yes, you’d better believe this was my one absolute must-see movie at IFF. I’ve been waiting to see it ever since first becoming obsessed with actor Song Kang-ho in last year’s Thirst, and it’s the main reason I finally got my act together and watched The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, on which it is loosely based. Set in 1930s Manchuria (during which time the Japanese had taken over China), The Good, The Bad, The Weird concerns the mad-cap, gunslinging antics of three men in search of a mythical treasure.

Yoon Tae-goo aka The Weird (Song Kang-ho) is a resilient petty thief who chances upon a treasure map while robbing a group of Japanese soldiers. Park Chang-yi aka The Bad (Lee Byung-hun) is a malicious assassin sent to reclaim the map, but must resign himself to hunting Tae-goo down. Park Do-won aka The Good (Jung Woo-sung) is a taciturn bounty hunter chasing after both men’s rewards who eventually teams up with Tae-goo in the search for the treasure. Sprinkle in some curious Manchurian bandits and a dedicated group of Japanese soldiers, and you’ve got an all-out chase replete with wackiness, gunfights, and thrills!

There’s a lot going on in this film, but the sheer enthusiasm that brings it together makes it all completely work. The story is fun and interesting, the action is loud and inventive, the characters are appealing, and the visuals are detailed and colorful. It’s both an homage to and appropriation of Leone’s original, but becomes infused with its own imaginative mythos and offbeat sense of humor, drawing it away from being an actual remake.

The three leads are superb, but Song Kang-ho really owns the film. As The Weird he’s hilarious, likable, and unexpectedly capable, plus he’s got a secret past! The writers did well to make him the central character, devoting the most time to him and giving him the best lines. Song is adept at wacky comedy but never slides into flat characterization, making him both engaging and intriguing to watch. Lee Byung-hun as The Bad is, well, really attractive and I didn’t focus so much on his actual performance. He spends most of his time being incredibly badass and looking sharp. Jung Woo-sung as The Good was a bit bland, but there wasn’t too much attention paid to his character, though I certainly liked him and his very large guns (the kind you shoot, not his arms). His mustache looked silly though.

There is very little about this movie for me to criticize (except perhaps the under-utilization of The Good’s character). It had the audience laughing out loud and gasping at “oh shit!” moments in equal measure, with its oft-frenetic pace, out-there stunts, and silly atmosphere. The final chase scene at the end is guaranteed to have everyone riveted, while the film itself leaves viewers instinctively smiling from ear-to-ear. I believe the technical term is “rip-roarin’ good time.” It’s opening in the US this month (FINALLY) so you should all go see it immediately! Run, don’t walk! Ride a horse if you have to!


Further Reading:
This Guy Over Here review
Rach on Film’s review

Movie Review: Ischeznuvshaya Imperiya (Vanished Empire) (2008)

This is yet another film for my Russian Contemporary Culture class, and while not great, it’s certainly better than the last few I’ve had to watch. The dramatically titled Vanished Empire reflects upon life among college students living in Soviet Russia in the mid-70’s. The action centers around Sergei (Aleksandr Lyapin), a charismatic ladies’ man whose small acts of rebellion usually only serve to impress women. He chases after new classmate Lyuda (Lidiya Milyuzina), a fairly strait-laced girl who eventually gives into his charms, only to find herself disappointed over and over again by his irresponsible antics. When he’s not screwing over his new girlfriend, Sergei hangs around with best friends Stepan (Yegor Baranovsky) and Kostya (Ivan Kupreyenko), getting drunk, listening to banned rock records, going to shows, and selling items from his prestigious historian grandfather’s book collection to finance it all.

I’m really interested in life in the Soviet Union, but have always known more about it from the East German perspective. One of my favorite German movies, Sonnenallee, is a sort of rock and roll depiction of teenage life in East Berlin, and Vanished Empire is reminiscent of that outlook. The focus here is not the bleak industrial landscapes and suppression of individuality so often associated with the period, but more on how these fun-loving students managed to experience the highlights of the decade despite extraordinary circumstances. It doesn’t sugarcoat the era, but rather draws attention to the day-to-day lifestyles of young people who must make do with what they have. Like Little Vera, the film suggests that the young generations of the 70’s and 80’s are largely responsible for later shifts in the Soviet government’s tactics.

While I really enjoyed taking in the detailed imagery and culture of Moscow in 1973, I think the actual story is a bit lacking. There isn’t much that actually happens, and the dialogue usually isn’t interesting enough to keep it afloat. The love story is unbelievable and therefore ineffective, and the narrative structure is all over the place, with certain interesting plot lines given little screen time and others dragged out for no apparent reason. The characters are fun though, and the performances are quite good, especially considering none of the leads had acted on film before. Lyapin is the standout: even though Sergei is a selfish idiot, the actor imbues him with a hard-to-ignore charm and appealing vulnerability.

Vanished Empire attempts to depict a vaguely nostalgic, highly telling view of life in the Soviet Union, and for the most part it succeeds. It is mainly hindered by a mediocre script and uneven storytelling, but is still enjoyable to watch for anyone interested in the time period. Plus it’s got a pretty decent soundtrack.


Movie Review: The Square (2008)

I believe it’s the mark of a great filmmaker when he or she can make me care deeply about what befalls a group of characters I don’t even like. Such is the case with Nash and Joel Edgerton’s Australian thriller The Square, which throws together an assortment of unlikable characters embroiled in a money-making scheme that accidentally turns murderous. Ray (David Roberts) is a quiet construction foreman approaching middle age and enjoying a prolonged affair with Carla (Claire van der Boom), his hairdresser neighbor.

She lives with mulleted asshole Billy (Joel Edgerton) and longs for Ray to leave his wife so they can get away from their small town. When she finds Billy’s huge stash of money, she and Ray come up with a plan to steal it without him realizing and finally ditch their respective significant others. When their daring but supposedly casualty-free scheme results in a surprise death, they find themselves trapped by fear and desperation as the situation escalates into blackmail, assault, and all-out murder.

Damn. This film is put together so well. The script is taut and interesting, developing the story gradually until the viewer is absolutely sucked into the drama and tension experienced by the characters. Most of the figures in The Square are both victims and perpetrators of violence, and their true natures are revealed during moments of extreme desperation. It’s a fascinating story not so much because I cared what happened to them, but because I really wanted to know what would befall them next.

I’ll admit one or two things confused me a little bit, mostly the dialogue concerning Ray’s construction project and his insider deals. It didn’t really matter though, since I could glean the basic information about the situation and I was so involved into the rest of the story. All in all The Square is a dark, engaging thriller that builds expertly from deceptively simple tale of adultery to grisly, bloody drama with a few twists. It’s just really quite good.


PS It was preceded by an exceptional short called “Spider”, also from Nash Edgerton, that I really enjoyed. It’s even referenced cleverly in The Square, so they make for perfect viewing together. Check it out below.

Movie Review: My Effortless Brilliance (2008)

Well, I finally broke down and saw a mumblecore film (although wikipedia says Napoleon Dynamite counts…). And while I don’t plan on making it a habit or anything, I have to say I was pleasantly surprised. Lynn Shelton’s My Effortless Brilliance drags verbose, narcissistic novelist Eric (Sean Nelson) away from his urban home and into an isolated cabin in the Washington forest. Its current resident is Dylan (Basil Harris), a journalist who was college friends with Eric but has since been pushed away by the writer’s increasing big-headed douchebaggery. With the two men suddenly forced into rekindling their tentative relationship, they turn to alcohol, nervous jokes, and haphazard lion hunting with intense local guy Jim (Calvin Reeder). Eventually maybe their friendship will be ok, if Eric can learn to be more humble and Dylan can give him a chance, but they might succumb to the elements first.

I’ll be honest, the sole reason I had any interest in this movie is Sean C Nelson, also known as the frontman of Harvey Danger, one of my favorite bands. I was curious to see how he’d do as an actor/improviser/dialogue writer, and figured in the process I might as well give this mumblecore thing a try. While the non-actor, limited-writing thing was a bit worrisome at the onset, I was pretty impressed by the quality of the dialogue. This film is completely driven by conversation, and it is simultaneously very funny and very realistic. Eric and Dylan made jokes I could easily imagine my friends making in real life, as opposed to the too-clever/too-scripted kind of humor that usually populates comedies (though I’m not dissing that style). Their way of speaking is easy and natural, with the repetitions, hesitations, and stutters that are part of any real conversation.

Of course, story-wise, it’s quite loose, and there’s little structure and little resolution. It also takes pretty damn long to get going, and I wasn’t truly enjoying it until Eric makes it to the cabin about 20-30 minutes in. There are a lot of lulls and overly-artful silences that drag out the already thin narrative, but it’s short enough to not be too debilitating. I only felt the amateur acting thing in Calvin Reeder’s performance, which was unbelievable and distracting, especially next to Nelson and Harris, who were both doing such good jobs. All in all My Effortless Brilliance is a so-so movie elevated by genuinely funny dialogue and very enjoyable performances, most notably Sean Nelson’s self-aware parody of the wannabe intellectual type.