Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Review: The Lionshare (2009) [Reviewed By Clifford Kiyabu]

Directed by: Josh Bernhard
Written by: Josh Bernhard
Genre: Comedy / Drama
MPAA: Not Rated
Released: 2009
Starring: Mike Pantozzi, Jessi Kneeland, Jonathan Hansen, Bracey Smith, Nell Becker.

Plot: A young filmmaker who’s struggling with finding his center in life joins a secret torrent site called ‘thelionshare.com’ after being introduced to the website by a girl he has feelings for.

Review: 8/10

The Story is about: Nick (Mike Pantozzi) a young filmmaker who’s struggling with finding his center in life, after meeting Eva (Jessi Kneeland) a woman he befriended online, they decide to have what started out to be an innocent first date, but soon erupted into a night of steamy pleasure that Nick won’t soon forget. After their night of fun, Eva invites Nick to join a secret torrent site called ‘thelionshare.com’, where he can download movies and music from bands and artist that many don’t even know about (such as the band constantly talked about in the film called Applecurry), as nick eagerly await his second date with Eva, we see his feeling for her grow stronger as well as his addiction for the torrent site grows more sporadic, we also see the complex lives of nick’s friends, Matty (Jonathan Hansen) and Bracey (Bracey Smith) Matty is dealing with issues surrounding the relationship of him and his father, while Bracey is struggling to get his music out there to the public.

My Thoughts: Being a film critic has given me the opportunity to experience an adventure of films I highly anticipated and films I’ve never even heard of before, though I admit; some films are just simply not worth watching, however taking in both the good as well as the bad is all in a day’s work when setting off on a journey into the world of cinema, and sometimes when venturing into the unknown I come across what I like to call a ‘gem’ of movie, these don’t come by so often now days, and when one such as myself does in fact encounter such a rare treat, it should be treated as a diamond in the rough that one shouldn’t ever pass up on, and trust me when I say that it’s more than a fact, it’s a BEAR FACT! (You probably didn’t get the pun but don’t worry, it’s an inside joke from the film which is thrown around quite a few times)

So when I came across a little known Indie film called The Lionshare, which is the debut feature from writer/director Josh Bernhard. I was infatuated by its qualities almost from the get-go, the film expresses a lovely blend of drama meets comedy in an unorthodox manner that doesn’t try to be a carbine copy of past films with predictable storytelling, but rather gives an original plot told in a very realistic way that the chemistry between the individual characters carries a sense of honesty that is unprecedented in some of today’s films. Now what I mean by this is; most films try to go the predictable pre-scripted route with obstacles presented in the story that even a blind person could have foreseen it’s coming a mile away, where everything must have an answer that logically dictates that a villain of some sort must be present in the film (And it doesn’t always have to be an actual villain but just something the audience will see as a symbol of dislike), the fact of the matter is this; the film’s ultimate goal appear to be based on one of the most simplest of facts that many fail to see in life, and that’s being young and wanting that connection we all so very much crave for, may it be love or just a simple little crush. Though it’s not directly acknowledged the film expresses it in every aspect of it, through its music and through its characters, and adding the fact one is young and sometimes naive can make some of the brightest of people stupidly sick emotionally, and if you throw in the fact we live in a digital age what we get is the very foundation this film is built on.

Though I must also add that the music in this film really does play a hug part of the overall story, from Bracey’s fantastic musical performances to the minor chatter between the characters of bands spanning from unsigned underground bands to the major labels, there is no doubt that the music is more than just a part of the background but rather a part of everything that binds the very film together, one scene in particular that shows this, shows shots of random strangers walking on the street, and though I didn’t catch on as quickly as I had hoped, I soon realized that all of these random people have something in common, they were all listing to ether an IPod or some other type of MP3 player. On a humorous note to this, it really does show the type of age we now live in, where electronics has taken over society completely, from cell phones and Blackberrys to people on their computers spending unfounded amounts of time on their MySpace pages and their Twitter posts to their blogs and Facbooks, it’s actually kind of funny when you think about just how much time we spend with these little devices and how much they mean to us in this day and age. But what makes this film truly great is the fact that director Bernhard made this film without having a massive budget backing it financially, and having to work with a film that consists of a nameless cast and still manages to make it work wonderfully, and let’s not forget that for a film that has a runtime of only sixty-five minutes in length it felt like a full feature length film which obviously shows that he can make a movie many either in or out of their collage years can relate to on some level or another. In other words what Josh Bernhard has done here is turn silver into gold.

As for the acting: Mike Pantozzi did a nice job, I was impressed with his performance on one particular scene where he is smoking a cigarette on the front steps of his apartment talking to Jane (Played by Nell Becker), and for that shear moment there was this sense of honesty and truth in his performance that felt believable and real, and you couldn’t help but relate to his character in that brief moment, the fact he’s still wet behind the ears as an actor makes me come to the conclusion that with a little time and a little more hard work done on his part, his acting quality can take a nice turn from good to great. Jonathan Hansen did a fairly okay job with the humorous side of the film, but I just wasn’t quite feeling his performance all that much when it came to the more serious parts of the film; like the drama between his father and him over the phone conversations, I felt this was his Achilles’ heel. I had some problems with Jessie Kneeland’s performance as Eva, it’s not that she did a bad job, but rather an unsure one, though there was some enjoyment out of seeing her scenes on screen I felt that there were times where there was this feeling of uncertainty in her that was projected on screen that really killed it for me at times, but it is of course forgivable after seeing the end scene of her getting should I say owned! In conclusion, Jessie Kneeland did more or less a performance that I considered slightly sub-par, however that fact she’s a fairly attractive all-around actress lives me with the thought that I hate to see her go but love to watch her leave (you’ll know what I’m talking about). Nell Becker did decently okay in the role as Jane, but I’ll be honest with you, she did come off a tad bit too bashful for my taste and it would have ruined it for me if it wasn’t for Hansen there to balance her out with his obnoxious personality to keep the mood of the film in the right balance. Last but certainly not least is Bracey Smith, who gives in my opinion an outstanding performance; he was probably the most entertaining part of this film for me even though I liked the whole film in general, and not only does he do a good job, but he has a few music numbers in the film that played out magnificently! I’m not usually a fan of actors who are also singers and vice-versa, but I enjoyed Bracey acting as well as his talented voice.

Final Say: The Lionshare was a very enjoyable film for me, I must admit that originally I was going to give this film a 7/10, but like all films I review, the first rating I give after watching it is usually a premature rating, and only after I allow the film to settle in my mind for a few days does the real rating emerge, and after thinking the film over I realized that I actually liked the film a lot more than I originally thought, and decided that this film is much more deserving of an 8/10. I recommend it!

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Review: The Unborn (2009) [Reviewed By Fred (The Wolf)]

David S. Goyer

Odette Yustman - Casey Beldon
Gary Oldman - Rabbi Josef Sendak
Meagan Good - Romey
Cam Gigandet - Mark Hardigan
Idris Elba - Arthur Wyndham
James Remar - Gordon Beldon
Jane Alexander - Sofi Kozma
Ethan Cutkosky - Barto/Jumby
Carla Gugino - Janet Beldon

Genre - Horror/Supernatural

Running Time - 88 Minutes

Score - 2 Howls Outta 4

Twins have creeped out movie audiences for many years now. From those two girls standing in the hallway in THE SHINING, to Margot Kidder's incredible performance in SISTERS, to Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger in TWINS, and to Mary-Kate and Ashley in any horrible film they're in - seeing two identical beings with very different characteristics from each other yet being able to switch identities on you at any time give many of us the willies. But why? Is it because the thought of having a double takes away our self-identity? Does it awaken fears of our own mortality and how someone else could just take our place if something happens? Or is it because it'll lead to a mediocre horror film like THE UNBORN?

Nah, it's definitely Devito and Schwarzenegger as twins. Knowing that The Penguin and Mr. Freeze are related gives me nightmares...

Casey Beldon (Odette Yustman, who has a GREAT ASS) lives with her father (James Remar) and goes to college. Even though her life seems normal and content on the surface, Casey is dealing with years of knowing that her mentally institutionalized mother (Carla Gugino) killed herself over reasons Casey is unable to really understand. Not only that, but Casey starts having dreams and visions of a really creepy kid (Ethan Cutkosky) who apparently wants to be born. Through her visions, seeing this kid in every mirror she encounters, and noticing that her eyes are developing a discoloration of some sort, Casey learns that she was really born a twin but he died in the womb. Casey suspects this creepy kid to be the demonic spirit of her dead twin brother, who's haunting her as a way to enter the living realm. Getting help from a skeptical Rabbi named Josef Sendak (Gary Oldman) and her boyfriend, Mark (Cam Gigandet), Casey starts unraveling the secrets of this kid and plan an exorcism in order to get rid of him.

THE UNBORN is another in the line of films that holds really interesting concepts and ideas, yet doesn't seem to figure out how to really execute them in a manner that will hold up interest. There's just too much going on and not enough is explained fully for us to really care about. It's pretty sad since writer David S. Goyer is a very good screenwriter and could have really created a very good supernatural film that would be talked for years to come. Instead, THE UNBORN falls flat and ends up straddling that line of mediocrity.

The story by David S. Goyer is generic, even though it shouldn't have been. Instead of really going for something original and out of the box that could make it stand out from other horror films, Goyer instead tries to create an original story based on the flawed Americanized Asian horror remakes. For example, the Barto/Jumby [the creepy boy] could have been a really scary character. Instead, he pops in and out like any of those creepy kids in THE RING, THE GRUDGE, ONE MISSED CALL, etc. It's a missed opportunity. Also, his character really isn't explained enough for us to care about his motives. Yes, he was a victim of Nazi experimentation on genetics and that's a horrible situation. But other than that, what else is there to him? Suddenly after his death, some evil possessed him and he's been trying to be born through his family's descendants. Why? I understand the explanation of the whole Dybbuk thing, but this sub-plot needed more layering. Hell, I was never even sure if this kid was really Casey's dead twin or her grandma's murdered twin. Were they one and the same?

I also appreciated the use of Jewish mysticism, as it gave THE UNBORN a fresh perspective that wasn't totally Christian/Catholic. There were some interesting things about how their exorcisms are different from a Christian one. Plus the main text used to get rid of Barto/Jumby had some cool information as well. But they're not used in their full potential. What makes THE EXORCIST so damn scary is that we see the practice of exorcism and we see the consequences of this practice without it being dumbed down so we could understand it. It builds and builds and we're fascinated by what's going on. In THE UNBORN, it's just a tool to make us jump whenever something freaky would happen. It's never really explained and it seems tacked on just so there could be a really thrilling conclusion. I understand the film isn't about exorcisms, but since it ended up being an important tool to stop this demon, it should have been explored a bit more.

The characters should have been more developed as well. Casey, Rabbi Sendak, and even Sofi Kozma are fleshed out a bit through their various actions and flashbacks, but everyone else is pretty much cardboard. Hell, the Nazis had more character development than Romey, Casey's best friend who appeared to be interested in mysticism, and Mark, Casey's hunky boyfriend. Hell, Romey didn't even know if she was a skeptic or not most of the time. Did she believe or not? Make up your damn mind! And Mark was pretty much the token supportive boyfriend. These two characters could have added something to the narrative but Goyer didn't bother to. This isn't like a slasher flick. All the characters here should have been developed, even if they had to be victims. Would have made us care more.

I also gotta say - the PG-13 rating ruined THE UNBORN. Where were the kills? Where was the blood? Hell, for a "disturbing" concept, I wasn't at all disturbed by anything. Well maybe by the shoddy dialogue at times, but C'MON!! Give me something here. All these off-screen kills just made me frown. And I watched the UNRATED version of the film. Very disappointed.

I will say THE UNBORN was a beautiful film visually. David S. Goyer isn't much of a director at times but I think this was his best directorial work. While he didn't bring anything new to the table, at least there was a lot of style and atmosphere used for the film. From seeing dogs with upside-down heads, to an old dude crawling like a spider and spinning his head, to bugs in bathrooms, to the whole exorcism sequence, I thought Goyer did a nice job. Plus the cinematography was gorgeous and clear. And I liked the aerial shots and the use of really eerie exterior shots. Goyer brings us a film that's easy on the eyes. I just wish he had focused more on the written portion of the film and given it as much care as he did the visuals.

The acting was more than decent here. Odette Yustman with the GREAT ASS, who is probably best known for CLOVERFIELD and her younger days in KINDERGARTEN COP, did her thing and looked hot doing it. I bought her emotional scenes and her desperation to stop Barto/Jumby from possessing her in order to be born. The dialogue didn't help reach her full potential but she made the most of it. Gary Oldman cashed his check well, performing above what he should have in a film that is obviously beneath his talents. He's a great actor in whatever he's in and THE UNBORN is no exception. Meagan Good played the token best friend again and she did it well. I never want to hear her say the word "dude" anymore though. She tired me out with that shit. Idris Elba, James Remar, and Jane Alexander did what they could in their limited roles. Cam Gigandet, from NEVER BACK DOWN and TWILIGHT, didn't have much of a part but he did what he could with it. And Carla Gugino needs a new agent. What is up with this talented woman picking really meaningless roles?


- The creepy little boy on the road turned into a dog wearing an upside down mask. I don't know what this means but I suspect that this son of a bitch is hiding something...

- Dogs are messengers of the dead. So I guess if one humps my leg, like Crispin Glover, I'm a dead fuck. Great...

- Casey keeps seeing a creepy kid inside and behind her mirror. I don't get why she freaked. She should be asking him to change his ways....

- Don't go to a social event with Odette Yustman. She'll poop on your fun time with her visions of her dead twin and disgusting bugs. Or you'll end up dead trying to save her during a huge monster attack in New York City. Neither one is worth it, even if she does have a GREAT ASS.

- Casey had to destroy all mirrors in order to keep the evil spirit away. So even if she does eliminate this evil, she'll still have more years of bad luck that she wouldn't have had before. Great freakin' idea!!

- Another creepy little kid stabbed Romey in the gut. No only is this kid related to the Myers family, but Meagan sure wasn't Good enough to survive another horror flick. After that ONE MISSED CALL, she should've SAW that coming!

- Beware of performing exorcisms. You'll bend yourself backwards to participate. Literally.

- The possessed priest beat up Cam Gigandet. For a vampire who trained in MMA fighting while living in The O.C., I expected better from him.

THE UNBORN could have been a great film with its really cool premise and slick look and direction. But it held back on the violence it needed to be effective and the story was stale and confusing. Still, it's not a bad time waster and THE UNBORN is a decent rental. No more. No less. Stick with THE EXORCIST or even THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE for your demon possession fix.

As for Odette Yustman, Mr. Pacino will back me up on this: