Friday, January 22, 2010


Directed by The Spierig Brothers.  Starring Ethan Hawke, Willem Defoe and Sam Neill.

The film opens with a striking image. A little girl kneels in a field, alone, as the sun slowly rises in front of her. Inside her home we see a suicide note sitting on a desk. She is a vampire, and cannot take the idea that she’ll be trapped in the visage of a child forever. The sun rises. The girl burns.

But that’s neither here nor there. These vampires explode when they’re staked!

“Daybreakers” imagines a world ravaged by a plague that’s converted most of mankind into vampires. A world perpetually shrouded in cobalt blue and containing blood cafes and underground walkways for easy daytime travel. Things look swell from the outside, but teeming beneath this bustling vampopolis are a horde of mutant vamps, resulting from blood deprivation. That’s right. Despite gaining hightened senses and super strength, we are still unable to appropriately manage our resources! Can’t teach an old dog yadda yadda. Ethan Hawke plays Edward Dalton, a sort of vampire tree-hugger desperately seeking a cure for vampirism itself while the company he works for, headed by a greedy Sam Neill attempts to parlay the invention of a blood substitute into a means of upping the price for the real thing. Dalton’s frustration eventually forces him to meet with a small band of human resistance fighters lead by the eccentric Elvis, played by the equally eccentric Willem Defoe.

“Breakers” is the kind of film that poses a lot of interesting questions then, asks that you don’t think about them too much as tranquilizer darts begin to fly, vampires explode and mutants roar. Could it have better acknowledged the obvious parallels between our countries dwindling resources and the vampire’s blood crisis?  Sure.  Could it have delved a little deeper into some of the inner turmoil the films intro hints at, but never fully develops?  Absolutely. But I don’t get the impression the Spierig brothers had any sociopolitical agenda in mind from the start. What they wanted to do is make a slick looking vampire flick. In that respect, mission accomplished.

It’s not long before the film begins to show its true colors and the aforementioned action kicks it into high gear. That’s by no means an insult,  it's just what keeps “Daybreakers” from being great.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

THE ROAD - Review

Directed by John Hillcoat
Starring Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smith-McPhee

There is a flash of light then, a series of concussions.  The earth is left blanketed in ash.  The few survivors are left with little recourse but to scavenge like wild animals for food and shelter.  No one can be trusted.  Cannibalism has become a very real threat.  The earth quakes and the trees fall. 

The real beauty of Cormac McCarthy's novel "The Road" lies in its simplicity.  He is intentionally vague about what exactly has occurred, choosing instead to focus on the lives of his two main characters in this harsh, new terrain.  They are The Man and The Boy.  Father and son.  Even their relationship is established with elegant, minimalist dialogue:

Can I ask you something?

Yes. Of course you can.

What would you do if I died?

If you died I would want to die too.

So you could be with me?

Yes. So I could be with you.


The two of them are traveling south, towards the ocean.  The Boy hopes for warmth and human contact there.  The Man, singularly devoted to the Boy, simply hopes for enough time to teach him how to survive without him.  A bleak novel to be sure and the film, directed by John Hillcoat, is as faithful as any of it's fans could want. 

So why did I leave the theatre wanting?

I think I just believe "The Road" to be one of those rare, un-filmable books. It relies so heavily on a reader's emotional participation with its characters and environment that any re-telling, no matter how well told, will lose personal impact.  This, of course, is no fault of the films.  The visuals are striking and both Viggo Mortensen and Kodi Smith are spot on as the leads.  What we're talking about here is the difference between going through something and hearing about going through something. 

I intend to see "The Road" again, as I have a feeling I will appreciate it a bit more the second go-round.  But for the time being, I'll recommend you skip the film and go right for its source material.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

"Nobodies ever made a good movie"

It's only fitting that I begin with Robert Altman, given that "Four Inches of Dirty Water" is a reference to his great film, "The Player".  Maybe not the most clever reference, but a reference none the less.  And it just felt right, which is pretty true to how Altman functioned.

He once said "Nobodies ever made a good movie".  His explanation for this comment is vague, but then many things about him were.  He couldn't tell you why he chose the shot he chose.  He couldn't tell you why he'd cast who he cast.  Or maybe he just wouldn't.  What he could tell you is that it just felt right.  I've always thought watching an Altman film is very similar to listening to jazz.  It's not about where it's going, it's about how it gets there.  His films are alive.  The camera almost constantly glides around, trying to take it all in.  The soundtrack is busy.  He insists you pay attention.  Watch, listen for the little things.  But more importantly, feel them.  Jazz is all about vibe.

Altman's "jazz" mentality is further displayed in the manner with which he dealt with actors and writers. He had no time for egos (save for maybe his own).  He only hired actors that brought something to the table, and had little interest in directing them.  If they couldn't create a character on their own, what good were they?  And when it came to writers Altman made few friends, having once said, "the only reason I have a script is so I can remember all the characters names".  Miles Davis would set up a groove, maybe work in a solo, but what's the point of having Jimmy Cobb and John Coltrane if you're not going to use them?

Some viewed him as the ultimate collaborator.  Some as a lazy curmudgeon.  I happen to greatly admire him.  I also happen to think he's made a few good movies.