Saturday, January 7, 2012

Movie Reviews-Ink, Contagion and more

Have you ever had a particularly vivid dream, woke up and wondered where it came from?
Do you have sudden benevolent urges to give that indigent money, help an older person to cross the street or hold the door open for someone carrying packages? Or do you sometimes have feelings of paranoia or aggression. Do you humiliate the waitress for getting your order wrong or make a co-worker feel like crap for making a mistake? Do you lie awake thinking about what you SHOULD have said or done to someone who offended you, how angry you are that you may not see that person again and how you're not going to take it anymore?
There are some flicks which shamelessly steal from other movies and yet still manage to be inventive in their own right. Ink is such a movie. It is also a film which answers the questions posed above. Like its influences The Matrix, Dark City, Donnie Darko and a few others, Ink posits a reality that exists alongside our own and has impact on us, though we may never touch it. The movie makes a nod to the strange world of quantum physics. Ink is also at the same time a real fairy tale that may touch your internal sentimental child.

Athough Ink does not use explicit religious dogma (God is only mentioned in passing) in this film it's clear that evil and good are discrete things, not just ideas. When we sleep we are visited by two distinct type of entities. The Storytellers may be selfless servants of God (angels). They provide dreams and visions which inspire our higher feelings and capacities. They appear in flashes of light. The Incubi (devils) are working for the Other Side. They give us nightmares and visions of pain and fear, designed to cause us to behave in selfish and ultimately self-destructive ways. The Incubi are twisted and foul. The Storytellers all appear human.
Under normal conditions neither the Incubi nor the Storytellers can physically interact with humanity. But they fight each other ALL the time. John (Chris Kelly) is a harried businessman who dreams of playing with his young daughter Emma (Quinn Hunchar) though in real life he does not live with the girl. In the dreamworld a monstrous entity known only as Ink successfully kidnaps Emma's soul, fighting off her Storyteller defenders. In our world this causes Emma to slip into a coma. Ink intends to hand over Emma to the Incubi so that he may become one of them and thus become numb to pain, regret, fear, and anything else that is human and moral.
The Storytellers counterattack on two fronts-sending one of their most powerful number Liev, (Jessica Duffy) to follow Ink and Emma, while they also enlist the help of the blind Pathfinder Jacob (Jeremy Make) a rare Storyteller who is able to effect physical change in our world. They want to break John out of the path he's on and convince him to save his daughter.
This independent film was written, directed, scored and produced by the husband and wife team of Jamin and Kiowa Winans. It's an excellent example of how a good story and intelligent use of camera and effects can make up for a limited budget. Ink also has a lot to say about how we're all connected to each other thru the various choices we make or don't make each and every day. The music and lighting in this film were VERY well done. Ink makes incredibly stylized usage of light and darkness, shadow and color. Much of this is achieved via judicious use of oversaturation. The SFX were all done on a Mac. Go figure. They work though. Ink is both limited by its budget and a good example of how to make every dollar count.

The quantum physics (each choice creating a separate universe of existence) was a nice touch. Give this movie a look. It is something very different from bloated effects extravaganzas like Cowboys and Aliens. It is definitely something you will think about afterwards. Although it has some action it is nowhere near as action packed as the trailer would indicate. This is definitely the thinking (wo)man's film. It drags a little from time to time; it also would have been nice to get a little more insight into the motivations of the Storytellers and Incubi. But nothing's perfect.   TRAILER

This film was written and directed by Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Syriana) and will be immediately familiar to fans of his style. Although it is about the spreading of an unknown and seemingly unstoppable disease, that's really just the hook to get the people watching. The film's real story is detailing how people react to each other in times of stress and how intimately we're all connected to each other, whether we realize it or not.

This is an ensemble cast. All of the actors get a chance to shine. Contagion opens up with a business executive returning home from an overseas trip to Hong Kong. As is often the case, being away from home has made this person a bit randy and they decide to enjoy a little adulterous sex before going back to their spouse and child. This executive , Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) has a cold/flu of some sort though. This sickness worsens until she has a seizure and dies in front of her husband Mitch (Matt Damon) and child.

Paltrow was patient zero. In a very short period of time many of the people she came into contact with have also become sick. And since we live in the era of easy cross border travel, that's a lot of people. Once the authorities figure out that this is something serious, hundreds of thousands have already been infected. And before they can even start the detective work , overseen by CDC head Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne), millions are at risk.

As mentioned, the focus is not really on the physical effects of the disease (which are not shown all that much) but on the fear, depression, paranoia, greed and also the love and sacrifice which the pandemic causes. Would you kill someone to get their vaccine for yourself or a loved one? If you had inside information would you share it with your loved ones? Could you make very cold decisions about shooting people who escaped quarantine? Those are the "horror" elements of this movie. If you're looking for lots of blood and gore, this film doesn't have that. It does have a very good story along with good actors, great sets and an increasing sense of panicked paranoia. This movie could give you OCD about touching other people or even being around folks.

Along with the aforementioned actors the cast also includes Kate Winslet, Elliot Gould, Sanaa Lathan, Jude Law, Marion Cotillard, Jennifer Ehle and Bryan Cranston.

In any organized crime group when the time comes to select a new leader, things can get a little bit hectic. Aggressive violent men who are used to having their own way and don't mind hurting or killing to get it don't always make the best followers. The Hong Kong Triads are no different. Every two years(which seems a bit short) the Wo Sing Triad elects a new chairman. This chairman is both simultaneously a boss and a front man. Much of the real power in the Triad is held by various "Uncles" who oversee and control different aspects of the Triad's business. The Uncles are usually older semi-retired men. The chairman is always chosen from among the younger up and coming gangsters.

For this election the choice is between Big D (Tony Leung) -a brash gangster who is prone to temper tantrums and violence and Lok (Simon Yam)-a more stable hoodlum with a reputation for cleverness. Both gangsters have their subordinates plead their case to the various Uncles as well as make a few side deals or spread some cash when needed. Lok wins the election. The fact that Big D had mistakenly ordered an assault on an Uncle who he thought was moving in on his territory didn't help his chances.

However before the forward looking and seemingly genial Lok can formally be recognized as Triad Chairman, Big D, who is the very definition of a sore loser, refuses to accept Lok as chairman. Big D kidnaps some of the gangsters who voted against him and threatens to start his own Triad -thus ensuring a bloody war-if he is not made chairman. Throughout the film the police are constantly harassing the Triad members and threatening to do worse if the dispute is not resolved quickly and quietly.

The wiser leaders of any large organized crime group realize that the primary purpose of their group is to continue to exist and earn money. Feuds are bad for business though they are of course sometime unavoidable. The question in this movie is whether the calm and urbane Lok has the guts and viciousness to fight for what is rightfully his and whether the brash and violent Big D is really so proud and unyielding that he would destroy the Triad in a bloody war, rather than submit to another and make a lot of money. This film has subtitles. There is much less violence than one would expect but what violence does exist is not cartoonish. You actually feel for the people involved.

This was another low-budget movie about deathless Nazi soldiers. Outpost lacked the humor and spirit that was in Dead Snow but it was also quite a bit creepier. In the present day Balkans, while a war is raging, a mysterious businessman Hunt (Julian Waldman) hires a British mercenary DC (Ray Stevenson) and his ethnically diverse group of soldiers for hire to escort Hunt to a WW2 era deserted SS bunker where Hunt intends to obtain some minerals for an unnamed consortium. Now DC didn't survive as long as he did by believing everything he was told. But the money is too good to pass up and Hunt assures them they'll be in and out in 2 days, max.

When the men enter the bunker they find dozens of dead bodies and one survivor, who they assume has survived the current ethnic cleansing going on in the area. This man does not talk. Later that night the men seemingly come under attack from all sides. Despite an impressive display of firepower the mercenaries kill no one. Afterwards their only casualty is a man shot with a bullet that went out of production in the 1940's. Their unease rises to panic when two of their number disappear and are found dead in the morning. And they're seeing strange things. DC demands answers from Hunt who informs him that no he wasn't looking for gold. He was looking for and has found a Nazi machine that via zero-point-energy or quantum physics was able to change the plane on which human beings existed. The Nazis successfully carried out experiments on Waffen SS soldiers (shown in a particularly spooky B&W film sequence) which allowed them to exist simultaneously in different dimensions and more or less be immune to death. And the mercs' arrival at the bunker has attracted the Nazis' attention. This ruins DC's day of course and the remainder of the movie is a combination of mercs dying one by one or making a last stand against opponents that are indifferent to bullets and not constrained by time or space.

Modest fun but not great. But it does have some legitimate scares. The bunker is very dark and exactly the sort of place where a grinning Nazi ghost materializes out of nowhere to stab you from behind.
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