Archive for May, 2011


A while back, when Blockbuster was closing some of its brick-and-mortar stores, I bought a bunch of marked-down DVDs at one of these disappearing outlets. A few replaced VHS films I had at home, some were movies I’d seen but didn’t own yet, and about half a dozen were titles I’d never seen—or never even heard of.  I haven’t had much time to watch these, but I finally popped one in the player last night.

That film is Ink (2009), a kaleidoscopic, dark, yet poignant modern fairy tale from Indie filmmaker Jamin Winans (11:59, 2006). It’s been compared to The Matrix, Brazil, and Dark City, and that’s probably why I bought it.  In my mind, the closest comparison that the film description mentions might be to Pan’s Labyrinth, the 2006 Guillermo del Toro film about a little girl growing up in fascist Spain in 1944 and escaping to a creepy fantasy world.  But in Ink, Emma (played by adorable and talented Quinn Hunchar) does not create her alter-setting:  her consciousness is kidnapped and dragged through it as a sacrifice while her living body lies in a hospital in a coma.

Well, I can see bits and pieces of the aforementioned films, but what Ink presents is a unique landscape in which two opposing forces emerge each night—the storytellers, who provide lovely dreams to humans, and the succubi, who give them horrific and humiliating nightmares. In the midst of this, another kind of creature appears: Ink, who looks like the baba yaga of lore and steals little Emma out of her bed. The storytellers try to stop him, but he escapes when he plays a few notes on a tiny drum, a kind of key that these entities use to move between worlds. At this point, we barely know what the heck is going on. But in snippets that move back and forth in time, we see the piecemeal story of Emma’s father, John (Christopher Soren Kelly), his deterioration from loving husband and father to slave of the corporate ladder, and his eventual loss of his daughter—a loss that might be able to be reversed. And that’s the quest.

Ink, our eponymous hero ... er, villain ... ?

To me, Ink is The Wizard of Oz meets MirrorMask … wait, that’s a bit redundant, since MirrorMask itself is a version of The Wizard of Oz!  Anyway, if you have seen these compared films, you can guess a bit about Ink’s story and the way it is woven.  What you cannot see from these comparisons is the amazing camera work, lighting, color manipulation, special effects, and editing that makes Ink as much a work of cinematic art as a worthwhile adaptation of a well-known cautionary tale.

Though most people who have seen Ink are quite impressed, I’ve read several viewer comments that it moves slowly and its ending is predictable. I too thought the movie moved slowly at first. But I was soon caught up in the beauty of the cinematography and photo-effects that help to set the scenario of the interlocking realities in this film. None of the scenes are superfluous—they all play a role in the atmosphere and in the story to come. Second, these folks are absolutely correct in saying that the tale is a well-known one, like a filmed version of “Cat’s Cradle” (only with a daughter instead of a son).  I saw the big revelation coming a mile away too.  I think we are supposed to.  I think we’re meant to ponder long and hard, as Ink does, about the decision to be made.  And I believe the plot had to be familiar and predictable to allow for the tale to be told in such an imaginative way.

Blind and snarky Jacob (Jeremy Make), the Pathfinder, uses the rhythm of the world to alter the course of events. Behind him, Allel (Jennifer Batter), Emma's protector, watches and waits.

I saw it coming too, but that didn’t stop me from tearing up as Ink has his moment of realization and Emma forgives him.  Most of the machinations around the central characters are never explained; there’s no neat wrap-up of what happened or why these dream-state creatures exist.  So, at least we have the grounding of a familiar plot and conflict—it’s the eternal struggle between light and dark, between reason and chaos, between redemption and the fall from grace, or—most apropos for Ink—between embracing shame and assuming false pride.

And, no, darn it all, I don’t know why he’s called Ink.  With my penchant for all things inky, I’d love to know!

A

Quick post here.  Just adding to the last report card, after which I went to the theater to see Thor (2011).

Those who know me have probably caught on to the fact that I’m a sucker for adaptations of heroic comics, and when I read comic books as a kid, Thor was my favorite. An arrogant hothead with daddy issues who pretty much did as he pleased, until he screwed things up, then brooded about it and got all sensitive.  And all while sporting his flowing blond locks and viking war garb, complete with horns and cape.  Come on, who could resist?

As you can imagine, I would have been heartily disappointed had my impressions been shattered by this late-model interpretation. But they weren’t.  Chris Hemsworth is well suited to the role.  Anthony Hopkins is terrific as Odin. Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson is reliable as ever. And I loved Tom Hiddleston as the marvelously conflicted and malevolent Loki.  The scenery of Asgard is opulent, the effects suited to the Avenger-verse, and the storyline of the heroes coming together advanced.

I typically don’t read reviews of films I’m seeing (often I’ll check out what others say after I’ve reviewed a movie myself). But a friend sent me Roger Ebert’s review, and it made my blood boil a bit.  First, how inappropriate is it to snottily say “I was watching something much more highbrow, so I missed seeing this for a while”?  (Yes, that’s a paraphrase and not a direct quotation, so don’t sue me, Rog.)  Bad manners aside, what I disagree with the most are Ebert’s pokes at the location of Asgard (it was all explained in the film, had one been paying attention) and disdain for Loki as a villain.  I was quite impressed with Loki and the development of his character’s motivation, and I certainly was thinking about him much longer than six minutes after the movie ended.  I’m still thinking about him.

So, that’s the contented part (and the contentious part). Now, the dissatisfaction. Thor is a good summer flick, but it did not blow me away.  It’s no Iron Man. Most disappointing was the abysmal underdevelopment of the human characters. Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård, and Kat Dennings are completely wasted. With Kenneth Branagh at the helm, this was astonishing and perplexing.  He knows better.

Bottom line:  Thor is a worthy addition to the growing Avenger pantheon, and a solid B of a movie-going experience.

Report Card: April – May 2011

*Gasp!”  Is it the middle of May already?!  I feel like I’ve been exiled on the Island of Enslaved Word Slingers, chained by iron shackles to a computer for all but a few unconscious wee-hours, and fed ever-less appealing slop, the steady diet of which has made my stomach roil for the past couple of days.

I need a break.

Since I won’t have a real break for a couple more weeks, when Mom comes into town and we embark on our Nashville adventure, I’m going to take advantage of this dreary, overcast Saturday — how appropriate when I am feeling under the weather — to finally post a new movie report card.

As always, chime in about these entries, and also let me know about the flicks you’ve been watching lately!

Film Grade Comment
Due Date (2010)

F

It’s very rare that I call a film a failure, especially when it stars one of my favorite actor (in this case, Robert Downey Jr. — did he lose a bet with someone to end up in this movie?), but this film is just a mess. It’s worse than The Hangover, which I disliked as a wanna-be loony comedy. This, my fellow movie-watchers, is MUCH worse.  Due Date lacks a lucid script, any on-screen chemistry between its stars, and gags that are funny (rather than simply being disgusting or appalling).
The Wolf Man (2010)

B

I saw this in the theater when it came out (to mixed reviews) and have watched it on DVD several times since, and it’s just a terrific monster movie filled with suspense, first-rate special effects, and chilling atmosphere. This movie received tepid praise; I’m not sure what people expected, but I think it does an awesome job of harking back to Chaney-era horror films.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 1 (2010)

A

Excellent, dark addition to the H.P. pantheon and a suspenseful penultimate episode in the phenomenal series. I absolutely adored the animated segment that accompanies explanation of the Deathly Hallows tale. Kudos to Ben Hibon (Stateless Films – A.D., Codehunters, Heavenly Sword).
TRON (1982)

A

Yes, the world remains divided about this film, and I’m definitely on the TRON-geek side – its brilliance survives the test of time.  It imagines a world in cyberspace in way that has never been done before or since. Until, of course … see next entry.
TRON: Legacy (2010)

A

There were mixed emotions, naturally, in the TRON geekdom about how to follow up the groundbreaking masterpiece. Chalk up this reviewer’s vote for “It works.” Legacy recreates the cyberspace world of the original film, but with the advantages of current film-making effects, while advancing the story in an interesting way and throwing in cameos and DVD extras that fans can truly appreciate.
Love and Other Drugs (2010)

C+

A friend had panned this film so strongly I determined not to watch it, but then my roomy wanted to see it because Anne Hathaway is naked in it (rolls eyes), so I joined in. Prepared to be appalled, I wasn’t. Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal aren’t always believable as lovers falling for each other, and it gets sappy (chick flick alert), but with a supporting cast that includes Gabriel Macht, Hank Azaria, and Oliver Platt, it’s not a waste of time at all. The script also has some intelligent commentary about the state of healthcare and a few choice gags about Viagra. Oh, and of course, a naked Anne Hathaway.
GasLand (2010)

B

This eye-opening and heartbreaking documentary shows what unregulated extraction of natural gas has done to people, animals, and the environment in several states.
Slither (2006)

A

Too funny!  Nathan Fillion as a small-town sheriff fights off an alien attack that turns one of the townsfolk (Michael Rooker) into its leader, who then sends these fat, slimy slugs to infect all available brains, making everyone into zombies. Strong language and too many ‘80s-horror-film gags to mention!
The Fighter (2010)

B

The dramatized story of boxer “Irish” Micky Ward (Mark Wahlberg, not a favorite of mine but well suited to this half-confused, half-determined role) and his crack-addicted brother (Christian Bale, certainly not his fighting weight – is he getting ready for a reprise of The Machinist?). The film is a poignant portrait of an overbearing family and the unlikely success story that emerges from its miserable descent.
Megamind (2010)

A

Hilarious and stunningly animated story of a misunderstood villain (voice of Will Ferrell), his heroic alter ego (voice of Brad Pitt), his outrageous creation (voice of Jonah Hill), and the girl who inspires him (voice of Tina Fey).  Right up there with favorite animated films like How to Train Your Dragon and Despicable Me.
Conviction (2010)

A-

Splendidly acted film about the real-life drama of Betty Anne Waters (Hilary Swank), who always believed in the innocence of her brother (Sam Rockwell) in the murder case for which he was convicted and imprisoned for 12 years before being exonerated by the evidence she uncovered. To accomplish this, she earned her GED, then a bachelor’s degree, then a master’s in education, and finally a law degree, then passed the bar and reopened the case, all while raising two boys by herself and working part-time as a waitress.
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