Sunday, July 26, 2009

"Visioneers" / "Encounters at the End of the World" / "What Doesn't Kill You" / "Push" / "Watchmen: Director's Cut"

*Nothing in the theaters for me this week (Moon and The Hurt Locker are still nowhere near me) so I'm just going to cover some movies on DVD.

Visioneers - Directed by Jared Drake, starring Zach Galifianakis, Judy Greer, and James LeGros - Not Rated (though I would put it at R)

As darkly comical as a good Coen Brothers film.

Visioneers is the straight to DVD black comedy/satire about a near future (or alternate reality) in which the Jeffers Corporation has basically taken over the United States (the President makes commercial appearances for the company) and their goal to keep people as happy as possible, even if that means removing independent thought, because if they become too stressed, they literally explode. It sounds ridiculous, and it is, but it makes for some very funny moments. The film obviously has a message about life in general as well, though it doesn't take it self too seriously. In many ways, this film is like other "classic" film satires like Brazil (what with the bureaucracy, corporate power, and the love story) and, well...just take your pick of dystopian films to compare this to, it's just that Brazil stuck out to me.

The film stars Zach Galifianakis (whose popularity is soaring right now thanks to The Hangover, which is also probably why this film finally got distributed on DVD) who gives a great, understated performance. He's not going for the big laughs here. In fact, I would say that this is a more dramatic role overall. Galifianakis is great at looking miserable. I find that aspect hilarious about him, but don't expect to get the same character from The Hangover because you will be very disappointed. Of course, his character, George Washington Winsterhammerman (a descendant of the actual George Washington), is quite depressed.

George has reason to be depressed. He works as a visioneer for the Jeffers Corporation, a job in which a monotone voice reminds the workers how many minutes are left till the weekend every single minute. The job is vague and deals with ultra small print paperwork. It's just funny to see how the corporation tries to keep everyone from becoming too stressed, like giving the workers giant teddy bears (then giving them a questionnaire asking about their sexual relationship with the bear). The corporation also sets up another funny aspect of the film. Since the company's symbol (five buildings grouped together, the middle being the tallest) resembles a hand giving the finger, this is the replacement for waving hello or goodbye. I just find it funny when people flip each other off while smiling and being sincere.

Aside from George's miserably boring job, his family life isn't any better. He has no attraction to his wife, who sits at home watching an Oprah-like talk show, following every order (buy this book, buy this shotgun). He has a son who is pretty much nonexistent, and neither he nor his wife seem to care. George's brother (played to hippie perfection by James LeGros) has recently moved into the backyard and started a commune that pretty much represents what George needs: freedom from everything. It doesn't help his situation at all when he starts to get symptoms for the stress explosions in a world that is becoming increasingly paranoid to the point that citizens are being issued collar-type devices that make them giggling morons.

Paranoia, depression, absurd TV shows/personalities (though I would definitely watch Mack Luster if it was a real show), mind controlling corporations, absurd plot elements, etc; all the makings of a funny, dark, low budget, dystopian film. If anything above sounds interesting, then check this out (it's on Netflix Watch Instantly). If you're only into the more straightforward comedies, you might want to skip this. I love it, though, and I think this film is capable of reaching cult status in a few years.

Encounters at the End of the World - Directed and narrated by Werner Herzog - Rated G

Herzog is at his best when he's covering reality.

Encounters at the End of the World is the documentary by Werner Herzog about his trip to Antarctica. A friend of his, a deep sea diver, sent him footage from a dive and convinced Herzog to make a full blown documentary about life on the desolate continent. I say desolate kind of ironically because most people might think of the continent as an empty, dead place, but it is quite the opposite. Herzog does a great job of capturing the wildlife and beautiful nature of the lively continent, but he also showcases the type of person who ends up in Antarctica. That is what sets this film apart. There are plenty of documentaries out there about penguins and glaciers and crap like that. That crap might be beautiful, tragic, funny, whatever, but it's all been done before. (I do have to point out, though, that a shot of a penguin walking to it's inevitable death is powerful and is probably the most memorable scene in the film, but I did laugh when Herzog said "certain death," it's his accent, I guess.) You won't find someone labeled as a Philosopher/Forktruck Driver in March of the Penguins. These people are strange, to be sure, but they are also very interesting. Maybe it's just me, but I find it interesting when someone feels the need to live in the least inhabited continent on the planet. But some of these people are long winded and Herzog thankfully (and hilariously) edits their stories down and even states that some of their stories are boring and too long. Herzog is really perfect for the job. I have always enjoyed listening to him during behind the scenes segments. His matter of fact style coupled with his German accent make him quite an entertaining documentarian. Some people may be put off by the accent, but it adds something for me. There's really not much else to say. A visual movie like this simply needs to be seen. And it's not just a long lecture on global warming or anything (though it is mentioned), there is a kind of narrative structure to it about the human need to explore to the point of annihilation, which is much more interesting to me than a scientific debate about the melting ice caps.

I also watched Little Dieter Needs to Fly, the documentary (also from Herzog) about Dieter Dengler, the American pilot who escaped from a Laotian prison during the Vietnam War. If this sounds a bit familiar, it's because Herzog made a dramatic film about the same story, starring Christian Bale, called Rescue Dawn. If there was only one you could watch, I'd tell you to go with Rescue Dawn, but this documentary is interesting if you want to know more about the story from the actual man who lived through it. Dengler (a fellow German) works well with Herzog and makes for an entertaining subject. Definitely worth watching.

What Doesn't Kill You - Directed by Brian Goodman, starring Mark Ruffalo, Ethan Hawke, and Amanda Peet - Rated R

This has its moments, but in the end, I found it a bit forgettable, just like Commodus over there.

Boston area gang movies are all the rage lately with the success of The Departed, and I was worried this film would try to be a clone of that film. I was wrong. What Doesn't Kill You certainly covers familiar ground, it's really about what a life of crime and drug can do to a family. That may not sound too original, either, but the fact this film is based on director Brian Goodman's life adds a realism that sets this film apart.

The cast helps out quite a bit as well. Ruffalo turns in yet another solid performance as the family man who wants to go straight, but can't seem to work it out. His portrayal of a crack addict was effective as well. But it's Hawke who steals the show. I'm really not a big fan of his. When I like a movie with him in it, I usually think, "that was good...even though Ethan Hawke was in it." He impressed me here, though. Hawke plays a crazed Boston gangster in such an entertaining way that it saves this movie from becoming a melodrama. He made things interesting in what otherwise was a very depressing story.

This film isn't amazing or anything. It really isn't even all that memorable. But if you're into present day crime dramas, you could do much worse than this. And the true story aspect along with Hawke's performance does make it compelling and slightly entertaining.

Push - Directed by Paul McGuigan, starring Chris Evans, Dakota Fanning, and Djimon Hounsou - Rated PG-13

Stupid and dumb, just like you-know-who.

This sci-fi thriller, about people with brain powers (not sure what else to call them, if you watch the movie, they list about thirty different kinds, each dumber than the last), trying to save themselves from evil gangs and governments, was a bit of a letdown for me. It's not that I expect great things from a movie constantly compared to Jumper (for the record, I enjoyed Jumper more than this); I expected better from the director (I liked Gangster No. 1 and The Reckoning quite a bit). Sadly, this turned out to be a boring, annoying, stupid movie.

I don't want to waste too much time on the plot since it's slightly confusing, but more so because I could not care less about what happened to these characters. Evans is okay, I suppose, but there's nothing about his character that makes him that interesting. He doesn't even seem to be a very good pusher, or whatever you call them (he can't even rig a game of dice). It doesn't make sense for him to be the focus of the film. It doesn't make sense for Dakota Fanning to seem so superior to him even though he's had much more time to figure out his powers than she has. And I really wish Fanning would just stay out of the limelight for a few years so she can make a transition to being a mature actress. This "look at me cuss and drink" crap that she's doing is annoying. And speaking of annoying, those weird, screaming Asian guys were just plain goofy. Every time they took off their sunglasses and went wide-eyed I wanted to turn the movie off. Djimon Hounsou is a waste as well, playing the exact same character he played in The Island. Who are these characters I'm talking about? I honestly don't feel like going into it. If you really want to know, go ahead and check this movie out. I cannot recommend it, though. Not even for the action, which is low budget and simply not entertaining.

Watchmen: Director's Cut - Directed by Zack Snyder, starring Patrick Wilson, Jackie Earle Haley, and Billy Crudup - Rated R

What can I say? I'm a dork. This adaptation is as good as it gets for me.

This is not a new review or anything. I just want to mention what I thought of the additions in the director's cut. First off, the extended scene with Rorschach fighting a cop after searching the Comedian's apartment was pointless (it wasn't in the graphic novel, either) and it ruins the perfect transition that existed in the theatrical cut of the old picture of the Minutemen. I don't have a problem with any other additions. Hollis Mason gets an amazing death sequence followed by a great scene in which Nite Owl finds out about it. If you're into the book, you'll definitely dig all the new stuff, as it fixes a few differences between the book and movie (like Dr. Manhattan transporting the audience after his interview rather than transporting himself). It makes the movie a bit longer (it now clocks in at 3 hours and 6 minutes), which I have absolutely no problem with. If you want my full views on the film, check out the archives, but I want to point out that I loved the theatrical cut of this film and I like the director's cut even more. I was even willing to go ahead and buy this version of the DVD, even though I know a so-called Ultimate Edition is coming out in December. I just couldn't wait that long. So, if you haven't already, check this film out. It's my favorite of the year so far and I doubt that will change.


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