Review – Voice from the Stone

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Okay, I’m cheating with this one.  So, Emilia Clarke and Tom Hanks both have movies opening, this weekend.  That’s awesome for me.  Believe it or not, seeing this one first wasn’t the plan.  Voice from the Stone is (for now, at least) a very limited release, only hitting major metropolitan markets, which my hometown is very much not.    Therefore, I wasn’t sure I’d even get to see it.  But, hey, it’s also released digitally!  Not ideal – not by a longshot.  But it’s Emilia, and it’s likely either digital or nothing, unless it breaks out theatrically and earns a wider release.  But I’m not counting on that, so digital download, it is.  Only for you, Emilia.  Only for you.

Meanwhile, my plan was to see The Circle, this afternoon.  Then, I was in a car wreck, yesterday.  I’m fine (my car is not.  And, no, I wasn’t at fault.) but that kept me from mowing my lawn, yesterday.  That means I had to do that, today, which in turn kept me from making it to The Circle.  So, I’ll see that one, tomorrow, and have a post up, tomorrow night, after a work-related gathering, to which I’m responsible for bringing the Klondike Bars (handy little reminder to myself, there).

Until then, here’s Emilia’s newest film, Voice from the Stone.  This was another film of which I had no preconceived notions or expectations.  Emilia is in it; that was all I needed to know.  I think that knowing virtually nothing about the film made for a much better experience (as it usually does, let’s be honest).  The story unfolded on its own, as it saw fit, and I wasn’t internally making demands upon it.

As a result, I found it quite enjoyable, and not only due to Emilia’s presence and performance (which I’ll get to, momentarily).  The first thing I noticed is that the film looks like a poem.  I don’t really know what that means, but that’s the best way I can think of to describe it.  Set in the 1950s in Tuscany, Italy, the entire film takes place on an ornate and ominous castle estate, reeking of a frigid beauty and becoming a character all unto itself.  You want to check this one out in high-definition, believe me.  It’s gorgeous.

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The tone is classically moody and atmospheric, but not without a latent warmth.  Said warmth almost entirely originates from Clarke’s Verena, but there’s a consistent feeling of hope throughout the picture, though it’s constantly at war with an omnipresent dread that builds almost unnoticed.  The viewer can tell that something is going on and the narrative is crescendoing to a point, but – unless one has researched the movie – it never really becomes evident exactly what that point is going to be until the film gets there.

Admittedly, some of the revelations are clichéd, but the revelations, themselves, aren’t the point of the film.  Clarke’s Verena is the entire heart, soul, backbone, and foundation of the film.  Her character arc (which I won’t elaborate upon, for it would be too spoilery) is powerful, emotional, believable, and even surprising.  And that arc is the point of the film.

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Clarke delivers on all of this perfectly, taking advantage of another opportunity to put her full range of talent on display.  Her “Game of Thrones” character, Daenerys Targaryen, is amazing, but spends most of the time maintaining a cold, sterile, emotionless demeanor.  Clarke has wisely been choosing roles that show what else she’s capable of.  Here, she took over the part for the departing Maggie Gyllenhaal, and she was wise to do so, even if the film never reaches a broad audience.  The entire weight of the movie rests on her shoulders and she proves herself – once again – far beyond capable.  Fans will notice much similarity between Verena and Clarke’s Lou from last year’s underrated Me Before You, though she is more motherly here, less goofy, and additional differences begin to compound as the film progresses.  Her facial expressions and delivery helps to sell the story and when her character reaches the end of the film, it’s tough to not be invested in her fate.  Clarke is a true actor and a classic Hollywood leading lady.

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There are only a handful of reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and I just glanced at them to see what the critics are saying.  I’m disappointed to see that the ones who disliked it are complaining about a lack of action and a slow pace.  They’ve also labeled this as a horror film, which I think is unfair and inaccurate.  It has that Gothic veneer (and, again, it’s lovely) and there is an overarching supernatural presence, but the film never professes to be a horror-thriller.  At best, it’s art house horror, along the lines of The Orphanage/El Orfanato, It Follows, or Under the Skin, but I wouldn’t even take it that far.  This is a character study that’s buoyed by a star at the top of her game, a cinematographer that knocks it out of the park, and a competent, fledgling director in Eric D. Howell.  I think if one takes the film for what it is instead of punishing it because of what it isn’t, then it’s easy to become engaged and entertained.  Clarke is irrefutably watchable, the dialogue is natural and informative, and the story maintains a steady build to a solid payoff – even if some of the events are a little predictable along the way.  Even with that being the case, not all is as it seems and there will be certain reveals that you in fact, do not see coming.

Voice from the Stone is a thought-provoking film about struggling to maintain one’s own identity in a world that demands conformity.  Shame on some of the typically-reliable critics for being oblivious to the underlying themes of the film.  Hopefully, you’ll give this one a shot (in theaters if you’re in a big city, on demand if you’re not) and be a little more open-minded than some of them have been.  If not, I still enjoyed it and expect to enjoy it many more times, in the future.

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Review – Voice from the Stone

#ThrowbackThursday – Sky High (2005)

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Original US release date: July 29, 2005
Production budget: $35,000,000
Worldwide gross: $86,369,815

It had been a long time since I’d watched 2005’s Disney superhero original Sky High.  I had a recollection of enjoying it, but memory is a funny thing and I couldn’t help but wonder if my opinion would change upon this revisit.  I had a chance to chat with star Danielle Panabaker (now of “The Flash” fame) about the film, last summer, and she really enjoyed making it, as well.  She also voiced being proud of the final product and I sensed some regret in her voice that the film didn’t break out and leave more of a pop-culture footprint.  I told her that I enjoyed it and, as I prepared for this column, I hoped that I could still say as much after I watched it again, nearly twelve years after its original release.  If nothing else, another of the film’s stars is Mary Elizabeth Winstead, of whom my regular readers may know that I am not too shy to say is one of my favorites and I am also not too humble to remind everyone over and over that I predicted her success when she was a preteen supporting character on a now-obscure and long-defunct soap opera.

Happily, I can state that I still enjoy Sky High.  For the unfamiliar, the premise is simple: a high school called Sky High exists for children of superheroes.  Will (Michael Angarano) is the son of The Commander and Jetstream (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston) and is beginning his freshman year, along with his friends, his best being Layla (Panabaker).  When Will becomes infatuated with senior Gwen Grayson (Winstead), tensions arise between him and his friends, while trouble begins brewing behind the scenes, as well.

This film was Disney’s attempt at a Marvel film years before they bought Marvel.  Truth be told, it feels very much like the classic Stan Lee/Jack Kirby material from the sixties.  This film is all about fun; there’s no brooding, there’s no deep introspection, and there’s no complex psychological breakdowns.  That’s not to say that it’s a narrative that only exists on the surface level.  Like the early work from Stan and Jack, the characters grow and learn about themselves and about existing in a world where they are physically superior to the majority of others around them.  And also like the Stan/Jack work, the characters are bright, bold, and over-the-top, while still managing to be relatable and humanly flawed.

The main theme of the film is that we as individuals decide who we are – not our physical makeup and certainly not society’s labels.  It’s a fairly common theme for superhero films, but this was early in the superhero boom and being a common theme doesn’t preclude it from also being an appropriate one.  Nor timely.  The idea that others decide who we are still holds sway over much of society.  Obviously, people project it onto others in the real world, but I actually hear it applied to fictional comic book characters, as well.  How many people like characters based on their power sets alone?  And we’ve likely all heard people say that powerless Black Widow doesn’t belong in the Avengers.  Or that Aquaman is stupid.  Or that Batman is the coolest because he doesn’t have powers (would that not mean that he doesn’t belong in the Justice League?  Pick a side, people.).  Real or fictional, there’s more to someone than their physicality and the film does a great job of getting that idea across in multiple different forms and through various scenarios.

The humor isn’t a total laugh riot, but I would say that a good 70-80% of it lands and I chuckled pretty consistently throughout the movie.  And there are loads of Easter eggs for comic book fans, with the most obvious being Lynda Carter’s role as the principal.  Recognizing all the different power sets (from Mr. Fantastic to Jamie Madrox and all sorts of others) is a lot of fun, too.  There’s hardly an original superpower to be seen, but, again, that fits within the theme.  All of the design work (character and set) is top-notch and the visual effects are charmingly rudimentary.  The film aims to harken back to the early days of comics and partially achieves said goal by using less-polished effects that aren’t meant to be taken so gosh-darned seriously.  It’s perfect and I wouldn’t change a thing.  Mix in the cast, who all completely get the film and deliver complimentary, thoroughly-entertaining performances, and Sky High is a winner.

Until a pocket of faux-fans out there convinces me that Sky High should have been rated R, I feel confident in saying that this film is exactly what it should have been and any true appreciator and lover of comics  – especially fans of the books that laid the groundwork for everything we have today – will find plenty to love.  It’s also a completely original property, so casual audiences have no reason to feel out of the loop as they prepare to check it out.  Maybe being an original property is what cut its box office performance off at the knees (I think a non-summer release would have helped it significantly, but that’s easy to say with the benefit of 12 years’ worth of hindsight) but there’s no doubt that the film deserved a better performance.  It’s a film that has something for every member of the family, so sit down on a Saturday night with the kids and enjoy – or enjoy it on your own.  It’s fun for anyone!

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#ThrowbackThursday – Sky High (2005)

Review – The Circle

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Going into The Circle, I had very little idea of what to expect.  The trailer did a very good job of not spoiling anything while offering up the suggestion of techno-thrills and mystery.  If you know anything about me, at all, however, then you know that I was in as soon as I was aware of the presence of Tom Hanks, my favorite actor in history.  Throw an ever-expanding Emma Watson into the mix and I’m downright anticipative of The Circle.

Unlike virtually every other post I’ve ever done here at the Movie March, there was a delay between watching the film and writing the corresponding post.  I had a work-related function to go to that began 90 minutes after the movie ended, so I had to wait to type this up.  I’m kind of glad, because I needed some time to sort out my thoughts.  I think I still might need more, but I’m forging ahead, regardless.

I’m going to approach this film a little differently.  I’m going to break it down into what I liked, what I didn’t, what was in the middle.  Otherwise, I’m going to be all over the place and this will be a frenetic, chaotic, Rorschach test of a review.  Before that, a quick overview: The Circle spotlights Mae (Emma Watson), a new employee of tech company the Circle, run by two men with a mysterious agenda (Tom Hanks and Patton Oswalt).  There you go.

What I liked – The cast:  Whatever problems the film has, the cast isn’t one of them and they even work together to go a long way towards counteracting said problems.  Emma Watson is the unquestionable lead.  The marketing has positioned Tom Hanks as co-lead, but based on screen-time, he takes a firm supporting role and Watson is the sole lead.  Both are tremendous.  I maintain that Watson was always the most talented actor of the entire Hogwarts student body and Hanks is the best of our generation.  Their roles are complex and they both strike the necessary balance with seemingly no effort.  Patton Oswalt and Karen Gillan are also strong and Gillan, especially, gets a moment to shine.  But Watson and Hanks stand out and the bulk of the weight of the film falls to Watson to carry, and she does so in admirable fashion.

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What I liked – The Ideas:  There are some interesting thoughts and concepts presented within the framework of the picture.  They’re often layered, thought-provoking, and innovative.  What happens to them following their introduction varies, but upon their genesis, they are frequently fascinating.  And they manifest in different ways.  Some are more overt – a literal idea presented by a character as a solution to some monumental dilemma that plagues modern society.  It’s easy to see the pros and cons for each of these ideas, but all of them are thought-provoking and clearly do have pros and cons and are not easily dismissed.  Other ideas are filmmaking related, maybe as a way to visually represent how connected a character is to social media or a story beat designed to drive home a specific point in a way to get a desired reaction from the viewer.  There are a lot of good ideas in the film and they shouldn’t be overlooked.

What I disliked – The disconnection from the real world.  Maybe this was by design, but many of the characters – mostly the background characters and extras – are not written in a way that makes them feels like genuine people from the world we actually live in.  They come off as unnatural, forced, and as actors instead of real people.  It’s possible that the leads were written this way, too, but simply refused to allow the screenplay to dictate their performances.

But, again, let’s play devil’s advocate and say that this was done in a deliberate effort to highlight how people are actively making the choice to be less human by immersing themselves in social media and disconnecting from the world.  Okay.  That’s a possibility.  I can’t say for sure if that was the intent; I wasn’t there for any of the creative process.  But, even so, this still creates a major problem in that it causes the audience to stop believing in what they’re seeing and therefore write the narrative off as something that couldn’t happen in the real world, since real people don’t think or behave this way, even though they would need to in order to get us to the point that they are at within the film.  In other words, it saps the film of its credibility, deliberate or not.  It doesn’t plague every second of the film, but it’s peppered throughout to enough of a degree that it’s a fairly big issue.  This is the biggest problem with the film and the issue that kept me from ever fully engaging.

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In the middle – The execution.  That’s very vague, I know, but it’s apt.  For example, I’m still not even sure what the message of the film is supposed to be.  Clearly, there are problems with some of the policies and programs that the Circle enacts, but they – as mentioned – are very layered, with both pros and cons.  At some point, we’re supposed to intrinsically understand that the Circle is composed of villains, but I’m not sure when we were expected to come to this realization or exactly why.  Nonetheless, the execution regularly stimulates an emotional response, even if, mentally, everything doesn’t add up.  Are we supposed to think all social media is bad?  All businessmen?  As muddled as that all is, I was completely entertained from beginning to end.  The film looked great, sounded great, and was easy to pay attention to.  I just don’t understand the point of it all.

Another example: one character becomes fully immersed in the Circle’s social media platform and, as they walk around in the real world, we see all of the comments their followers are making about them pop up in little bubbles on the screen.  This is also in the middle because it’s a unique idea, and the comments are perfect – with at least one even skewering the film in the very same way that someone on Facebook would do when they should be job hunting – and some are even laugh-out-loud funny.  But they’re also distracting, and I found myself reading them instead of listening to the dialogue.  That’s not a desired effect.

Also, I know it takes a while to make a movie, but some of the hypothetical programs they discuss in the film are practically reality, already.  It’s not necessarily the filmmakers’ fault, yet it’s still worth noting.

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The bottom line – Your feelings towards The Circle are all going to depend on what you, as an individual, prioritize in your film-watching.  If you’re a huge Hanks or Watson fan, see it.  They’re both great and you’ll love them as much coming out as you did going in.  You might even love Watson more, as she gets to show a different side of herself that we’ve not seen before.  If you dislike ambiguity, you won’t be a fan.  If you like fast, smart dialogue, you’ll be in.  If you’re a stickler for internal logic, you’ll have a rough time.

So, The Circle is good in ways and not so good in others.  I’ll leave it at that and let you take it from there.  Still, Watson continues her climb into the upper echelon of the business and her performance, here, will only land her more roles, so the film isn’t a wash, no matter what.

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Review – The Circle

Review – The Lost City of Z

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I have returned!  After a few extremely busy weeks, combined with a lackluster batch of new movies, I’m back in the theater, again!  Actually, I really wanted to catch Colossal, last weekend, but, after a mere one week in wide release, it was nowhere to be found.  Look, folks, I can’t do this alone, okay?  On those rare weekends when I can’t make it out to the movies, you have to go support them so that they don’t vanish before I get to there!  And it’s not like I was in my little hometown where there was virtually no chance of getting this film; I had traveled to Indianapolis/Bloomington for the weekend, and it was nowhere around there, either!  Yeesh!  I still hope to catch it, sometime, somewhere, somehow.

In the meantime, here I am with The Lost City of Z.  I really would think that, with the cast and the premise, this film would be getting more attention than it is.  Based on the true story of Percy Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) search for a fabled lost city (dubbed “Zed” by Fawcett) in the Amazon, The Lost City of Z harkens back to the grand adventure films that were prevalent during the infancy of cinema.  Of course, the biggest difference is that those were fictional, while this one is not.

And it shows.  The Lost City of Z isn’t structured like a typical Hollywood adventure.  It isn’t paced like a typical Hollywood adventure.  And it doesn’t play out like a typical Hollywood adventure.  But that doesn’t make the film any less fascinating, thrilling, or enthralling.  Much of the film plays very much like a grand river adventure – a real-life Indiana Jones.  But these episodes are broken up by interjected reality, when Fawcett travels back home to his family in London.  It’s never fully off to the races, but that’s what makes it different from other films of its ilk.  Because of this unconventional storytelling, both Fawcett and the audience get to see firsthand the effect that his obsession with the Lost City is having on his family, giving the film and the character an empathetic component.

The film also calls attention to society’s tendency to be close-minded – even those who proclaim to be the exact antithesis.  Open-mindedness continues to be mocked and ridiculed by many, today, whether we’re talking about basic human rights, the existence of the supernatural, or plenty that resides in the in-between.  Here, the notion of an ancient, undiscovered civilization is openly derided to Fawcett’s face, yet he stands firm.  History has shown that those who have empirical evidence and good, old-fashioned reason and logic behind their theories are typically the ones who laugh last (despite the fact that there are still, to this day, ludicrous flat-earthers creeping around out there as well as those who don’t believe global warming is a real thing).  Fawcett, himself, is guilty of a different form of close-mindedness in a scene with his wife Nina (Sienna Miller).  I’ll let you discover the particulars of that, but the irony should not be lost on the viewer.

The cast deserves a mention.  Charlie Hunnam does an excellent job as he takes the lead.  Sienna Miller gives a strong performance, as well, but she has made a career out of delivering unmemorable performances in unmemorable roles.  She shines a little bit towards the end but that is largely the case again for her, unfortunately.  The standout of the entire movie might very well be Robert Pattinson.  Anyone who was in the Twilight films tends to get a bad rap, but Kristen Stewart has shown that she’s not actually a bad actress, Anna Kendrick is consistently fantastic, and here Pattinson transforms himself and is nearly unrecognizable as Fawcett’s partner Henry Costin.  He is confident, natural, and believable, making it all look easy as he glides from scene to scene.  I’m truly beginning to think it was the material and the directing that was entirely at fault for the debacle that was the Twilight series, as the cast is proving that they have what it takes to deliver when they’re provided strong material and competent filmmakers to work under.

The Lost City of Z isn’t your stereotypical Hollywood adventure, but it’s still a good one.  There’s enough fun and excitement to hold over those who are there for that reason, but enough character and story to elevate the film above fluff and give it some depth.  It may not be enough of either to really stand out in the marketplace, but I’m having a hard time finding much to complain about.  There could be a minor nitpick here and there, but nitpicking is for noobs and those things really don’t matter in the big picture.

The bottom line is that The Lost City of Z is the kind of film that people say they want but then don’t go to see.  If the viewer keeps their expectations in check by reminding themselves that the story is true – and they therefore shouldn’t be expecting anything like wild Hollywood twists or magical beasts/creatures to appear – then it will be worth the time to catch this one and to support this sort of filmmaking in the way that really counts – money.  Otherwise, stop complaining that these sorts of movies aren’t at the top of the weekly box office.  You only have yourself to blame.

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Review – The Lost City of Z

#ThrowbackThursday – Horrible Bosses

horrible_bosses_ver4_xlgOriginal US opening: July 8, 2011
Production budget: $35,000,000
Worldwide gross: $209,638,559

I’ve talked about how hard comedies can be to review, yet here I am, reviewing another.  This time, it’s the 2011 hit, Horrible Bosses.  This was Seth Gordon’s sophomore outing as a director (after Four Christmases) and starred a rejuvenated Jason Bateman and a whole host of others that made up quite the stellar cast for any film, much less a comedy.  It all worked, clicking with worldwide audiences and earning approximately six times its budget in box office receipts.  This was also during the R-rated comedy renaissance.  R-rated comedies had practically lost any sense of marketplace presence until right around 2009, when The Hangover was released.  Horrible Bosses was one of the films that carried that momentum forward and helped the genre come roaring back into prominence.

The premise is simple.  Three friends (played by Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudeikis) all have . . . you guessed it . . . horrible bosses (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston, and Colin Farrell, respectively).  They’re so horrible, in fact, that the guys make a pact to kill said bosses.  Of course, these guys are ordinary joes, not career criminals, so they quickly decide to find some assistance.  Things spiral out of control from there.

Taken at face value, the themes of the film are extraordinarily serious in nature.  We’re talking murder, sexual harassment (Jennifer Aniston’s Julia won’t take no for an answer from Charlie Day’s Dale), breaking and entering, adultery, blackmail, and more.  In the real world, these things aren’t funny.  But this isn’t the real world.  This is a fictional comedy and the story is presented at such an exaggerated and ludicrously over-the-top level that it could only be taken seriously by the many people who now find their life’s goal to be offended by entertainment.  I can hear them, now: “Sexual harassment is not something to be laughed at!”  No, it isn’t.  But seeing Jennifer Aniston behave so contrary to her traditional archetype, all while spewing lines too absurd for anyone to seriously say to another human being in real life is very much funny.  These types of films aren’t condoning the events that take place within.  They’re exacerbating them and presenting them from an unexpected perspective in order to craft very specific situations for which comedy may be found within.  That’s why a movie like this is rated R – to potentially weed out the people who don’t understand this simple concept.  Unfortunately, awareness of outsiders’ perspectives don’t automatically download into one’s brain on their seventeenth birthday.  Or their twenty-seventh, fifty-seventh, or ever.  So, there are many who will never care about anything except their own profile and they love to use “offensive” movies like this to raise it.

That wasn’t quite as much of a problem in 2011 as it is, today, though.  To be straightforward about it, the entire cast delivers very funny performances and that’s all it took.  The film was a counterprogramming hit (Transformers: Dark of the Moon was released, nine days prior).  Not only did the cast deliver but, as seen in the list of names above, they were all popular, endearing stars that are capable of drawing audiences into the theater.  On their own, none of them are going to deliver a record-breaking opening.  But, together, along with the novelty of seeing those like Aniston and Farrell so far out of their wheelhouse, people were going to be curious.  It worked.

While some of the cast played outside of their typical roles, the three protagonists were firmly entrenched in theirs.  I’ve said before that Bateman is the undisputed champion of deadpan comedy and he does nothing to dispute that, here.  Charlie Day is his normal type-B everyman.  And Sudeikis is charming and smarmy as ever.  This is what they do and seeing them do it, together, is a blast.  Paired off against their respective bosses, each is outmatched.  But when put into a metaphorical six-person tag team match (Holla holla!), they figure they have a chance.  The comedy comes far more from the cast’s delivery than the script, itself.  Not everyone would have understood how to make this humor land, but everyone here gets it.

As with every comedy, any one person’s level of enjoyment will depend on a couple of factors: their specific sense of humor and their ability to understand this particular, more subtle style.  It’s not about jokes and one-liners.  The humor, here, is entirely situational.  Typically, that’s my favorite kind, so I really enjoy this film.  You may or may not, but either way, it absolutely succeeds at what it sets out to do and will be a fun night in for many who have never seen it and many others who would like to revisit it.

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#ThrowbackThursday – Horrible Bosses

#ThrowbackThursday – The Fourth Kind

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Original US release date: November 6, 2009
Production budget: $10,000,000
Worldwide gross: $47,709,193

I originally caught The Fourth Kind shortly after its home video release, missing it during its theatrical run.  One of my students at the time had caught it and said that I had to see it, so I followed his advice.  I didn’t regret it, but I was confused by what I had witnessed.  The film purported to be a retelling of actual events.  The lead actor, Milla Jovovich, even introduces herself by her real name and then explicitly states as such.  Director Olatunde Osunsanmi appears as himself, as well, functioning as an interviewer for an actual witness to the story, Dr. Abigail Tyler.   There is low-grade footage and there are audio files – all dated October, 2000 –  to supplement the work the actors are doing onscreen and it’s all very convincing.  But, this is an alien abduction film.  If this is real, why aren’t we hearing more about it?  Is it because the scientific communities are afraid to express validation for fear of appearing foolish?  Or is it simply a complete fabrication?

Well, it doesn’t appear to be a complete fabrication, but it does seem to mostly be a work of fiction, despite Ms. Jovovich’s opening disclaimer.  The most succinct analysis of the veracity of the film’s events that I could find is right here at a website entitled UFOInsight.  The alleged abductions in the film take place in 2000 in Nome, Alaska.  In reality, there were a series of disappearances in Nome at this time, but no one has ever actually hypothesized that aliens are to blame.  Instead, it appears that Osunsanmi and Universal Pictures crafted a story around those disappearances and marketed it as truth, complete with “footage” to back it up.  Some have compared it to The Blair Witch Project in that way.  I counter that the cast of The Blair Witch Project was making the rounds and doing publicity for that film (I recall seeing star Heather Donahue on “The Tonight Show”, looking quite healthy for someone who was otherwise missing and presumed dead), meaning that no one involved in that film was actually attempting to hoodwink anyone into thinking it true.

So, Osunsanmi and Universal’s approach to making and promoting The Fourth Kind is actually rather mind-boggling.  Why risk that kind of backlash?  Did the cast even believe it was true?  I would lean towards thinking that they did, but I really have no idea.  If I ever meet Ms. Jovovich, I’m going to ask her, though.  I know that in order to critique The Fourth Kind, the film must – at least in part – be viewed through two lenses: that of someone who believes it to be real and that of someone who has been enlightened to the truth.

There’s no question that the movie is far more gripping and terrifying if one believes that the archival footage and audio clips are authentic.  The presentation of the film is unmatched in its veneer of authenticity.  The video and audio from 2000 feels genuinely low-tech and damaged.  The actors come across as real people.  Only the actress portraying the “real” Abigail Tyler (the character that Jovovich also plays) in the interview setting with Osunsanmi strays into a bit of transparent acting towards the end of the film.  Even then, it’s possible to convince oneself that she was simply prepped ahead of the interview and therefore prepared what she wanted to say, thereby coming off as less natural.  All told, it’s easy to understand why anyone would believe that all of the footage and the story is real.

For anyone who goes into the film with the knowledge that it is pure entertainment, the stakes are lower, but there has to be a greater appreciation for the artistry involved, here.  The film geek in me is partially angered at the misdirection from Osunsanmi and Universal, but the other part is immensely impressed by their vision and style.  With so many found footage films and mockumentaries out there, it’s nearly impossible to venture into that territory with any sort of uniqueness, but there’s not been a film quite like this one, before or since.

There are several legitimate scares in the film and they are executed brilliantly.  The true terror of the film lies in the persistent underlying atmosphere.  There’s an unrelenting sense of unpredictability, galvanized by the constant intercutting of the archival footage with the Hollywood reenactment.  Osunsanmi refuses to let the audience go too long without a reminder that this is supposed to be true.  He truly understands how to craft effective suspense.  In the years following 2009, Osunsanmi has mostly stuck to a small amount of television work, which is a shame.  Despite his involvement in the deception, I cant help but appreciate his talents.

Jovovich deserves some credit, too, for a strong performance that serves as the heart and soul of the film.  She’s an oft underrated and overlooked talent that is more than just an action star.  She exudes true intelligence and emotion throughout the film, and it’s not limited only to fear.

The Fourth Kind received a lot of negative talk upon its release, and I truly think much of it had to do with the false representation of the film by the studio and filmmakers.  Many viewers felt lied to and some might have even felt embarrassed at falling for it (though they needn’t be).  In essence, the film should be seen if for no other reason than for its imaginative methods for proffering a convincing tale that’s out of this world.

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#ThrowbackThursday – The Fourth Kind

#Throwback Thursday – Philadelphia

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Original US release date: December 24, 1993
Production budget: $26,000,000
Worldwide gross: $206,678,440

Released at the end of 1993 (just in time for awards season), Philadelphia was director Jonathan Demme’s theatrical follow-up to his acclaimed – and now classic – Best Picture winner The Silence of the Lambs.  To this day, this film remains the only one in which legendary leading actors Tom Hanks and Denzel Washington co-star, that alone making it something of a must-see.  But this elegantly-constructed courtroom drama offers more than that single curiosity.  Functioning as a conversation starter regarding tolerance and basic human decency, Philadelphia was far ahead of its time and is possibly even more relevant now than it was upon its release.

Tom Hanks plays Andrew Beckett, an attorney at a high-profile corporate law firm who loses his job after an apparent display of incompetence.  His claim, however, is that the incident in question was staged and he was in actuality fired because his homophobic employers discovered that he has AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome).  Beckett hires low-rent injury lawyer Joe Miller (Washington) to sue his former employers for wrongful termination.  Miller, himself, is a homophobe but talks himself into the potentially big-money case, in spite of his own personal hang-ups.

Hanks’s role as Beckett landed him his first of two back-to-back Academy Awards for Lead Actor (at the 1994 Academy Awards.  The following year, he took home the same award for his role in Forrest Gump.) and it was very much earned.  Not only does Hanks deliver a performance the likes of which we simply take for granted from him, these days (he makes it look so easy that even his contemporaries now underrate his abilities.  At the very least, he should have scored nominations for Captain Phillips and Sully.), but he went to great lengths to look the part.  Hanks lost an extreme amount of weight in order to appear sickly and emaciated for the role (a feat he would repeat to an even greater extreme approximately seven years later for Cast Away), going above and beyond what most would be willing or able to do.  His dedication to and passion for his craft is evident in every role he assumes, and this one is at the pinnacle of his performances.

In late-1993, Denzel Washington was riding the momentum of his highly-publicized and -regarded titular role of Malcolm X, which earned him an Academy Award nomination earlier that same year.  He does a great job communicating the internal conflict that rages within Miller and the complexity of the character that results from it.  We see Miller give money to charity and politely hold doors for strangers, just as we witness him fly off the handle simply because a man assumes he’s homosexual (due to his choice to represent Beckett) and come on to him in a grocery store.  Miller would prefer to be considered a jerk than to be mistaken as gay.  The attempted reconciliation of his personal beliefs with his desire for professional success (on multiple levels) provides the arc for Miller.  Demme and Washington collaborate to handle it with a subtle, satisfying realism.

The threat of the AIDS virus was much more of a hot-button topic in the early-to-mid-nineties than it is, today, with all of the medical advances that have fortunately been discovered to assist those who have contracted it.  But the homophobia addressed in the film is as present now as it ever has been, and seems to constantly be popping up as the subject of news stories on televisions, websites, and Facebook feeds everywhere.  The film poignantly makes the case for equality and an intelligent person would have trouble seeing it any other way.  But, while I know that, statistically speaking, films such as Philadelphia must reach some people and cause them to rethink their outlook, here we sit, just over 23 years after the release of this film, and the treatment of people who are just trying to live their lives while harming no one seems worse than ever.  Many are even attempting to mandate their own religious beliefs in order to force homosexuals to conform to the aggressors’ narrow-minded worldview.  It’s easy to become frustrated by the lack of forward-thinking progress, but films like this (and their filmmakers) will continue to provide an alternative perspective in the hopes that it makes a difference.  Philadelphia was a pioneer in this particular fight and should deign to be remembered.

If I have a criticism, it’s that the musical cues and some of Demme’s framing attempts to artificially heighten the dramatic impact during the first act of the movie.  Once the narrative really picks up steam, this practice subsides and eventually vanishes, entirely.  But the early scenes would have been effective on their own merits without Demme and composer Howard Shore beating the audience over the head with the drama.

Despite that one misstep, Philadelphia is an important and noteworthy film that’s worth a look both for its filmmaking components and its sociological implications.  The novelty of seeing Hanks and Washington share the screen only adds to the appeal and the message behind the narrative – that human is human – is timeless and is well-represented by Demme, Hanks, Washington, and the rest (which includes a charmingly smarmy Mary Steenburgen).  It’s a must-see film for any self-professed film-lover and a worthy inclusion in the filmography of a pair of iconic actors.

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#Throwback Thursday – Philadelphia