Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Quarantine (2008)

Every now and then Holly wood manages to do something right. Quarantine is the latest example of tinsel town taking a trend (the "found video" movie) and adapting it. You could argue that it's taken them 8 years to get the formula down, but at least they accomplished something.
Quarantine, based off a similar film from Spain, follows a news crew assigned to do a human feature on a firehouse. Shortly into the segment, the firehouse is issued a call to respond to an apartment building and the news crew follows along. But what they find at the apartment building is not what was expected.
The movie is told from the point of view a camera man who is constantly trying to get a decent angle. The newscaster (Jennifer Carpenter) begins as a flighty model, but quickly finds herself in the middle of a nightmare. You see, there is a disease running amok in the apartment building. A disease which turns ordinary people into killers. And it's contagious.
The "reality" aspect of Quarantine is what plays it up. At the beginning of the movie, the firemen and news crew find themselves trapped in the building as a squad from the Center for Disease Control seals the building off from the outside. Soldiers are positioned around it who have orders to shoot anyone trying to leave. Then the lights go off.
My only complaint with Quarantine is that it looks like a feature film trying to resemble a cheaply made newscast. The camera may be bouncing all over the place, but the footage looks far superior to anything I've ever seen meant for the local news. And everyone just happens to have perfect make-up.
Worth a rent from the local video store.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Inhaling the Spore: A Journey Through the Museum of Jurassic Technology (2006)

This is a thoughtful and fascinating short film about the Museum of Jurassic Technology in the state of Washington. What at first glance looks to be a victorian era museum, is in fact is a gallery of curiosity. It challenges the very nature of how you view the world. One commentator refers to it as a place of reference and satire.
For reverence, we are shown a display of collections from people who live in mobile homes. Satire is best represented by a display on a bat which can fly through solid objects. When a small model of the lead walls used to finally entrap one of the bats is shown, you realize it's a PT Barnum moment.
Not quite a mockumentary, Spore is a charming film about a museum where everything is real. In a fashion.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Uber Goober (2004)

Fun little movie about gamers. The producers of this documentary didn't go for the easy laughs and make their subject look like idiots. Instead, the gamers come across as dedicated people who pursue something they love. The film spends equal time on various aspects of role playing games, even talking to Christian anti-gamer zealots. By far, the best part of this movie is listening to writer Michael Stackpole talk about the growth of RPG's and what attracts people to them. He even delves into the famous Egbert case from 1979 which caused so much notoriety to Dungeons and Dragons.

The film also peppers it's discussion of RPG's with popular culture depictions of gamers. In the early 80's a godawful MTV movie stared Tom Hanks (a role I'm sure he's removed from his resume) as a gamer gone crazy in Mazes and Monsters. Gameers have appeared in other media formats as well, usually as messed-up individuals. Uber Goober features clips from a number of these movies and shows.

The trips to the gamer conventions are quite good and mirror my own experiences. You get to hear people talk about their love for the games they play. One sculptor shows off the miniature village he built just for his RPG.

A little too much time is spent on the Live Action RPG's (LARPS). The filmmakers spent most of their time on one particular LARP and should have delved into other ones. The best comment from this section is a young man who refers to LARPS as "interactive theater". Not the definitive look at the world of RPG's, but as good as there will be for years to come.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Eldritch Influence: The Life, Vision, and Phenomenon of H.P. Lovecraft (2003)

Absolutely the best documentary I have ever seen on the horror and fantasy writer Howard Philips Lovecraft (1890-1937). Lovecraft is known for his "Cuthulu Mythos" stories which were published in pulp magazines in the 1920's and 30's. Over the years, he's gained a large cult following. Many people rank him up there with Edgar Allen Poe as a master of American literature.

The documentary follows a loose, but entertaining format. The biographer S.T. Joshi explains the particular childhood of Lovecraft at the turn of the century and how this effecting his view of the world. Many authors who cite Lovecraft as a major influence are also given their chance to talk about him. There's even a visit to the annual HP Lovecraft film festival which features the latest adaptations of his works.

The film does have its faults. There's a rather poor attempt to recreate an old black-and-white film interview of a professor from one of his books. We also get to see the painful attempt to show a real "Lovecraftian" cult who tries to summon up one of the elder gods with a Blair Witch conclusion.

Best of all is a talk with the author Neil Gaiman who describes Lovecraft's view of the universe as "We're all screwed."

Worth seeing if you get the opportunity.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Stauffenberg (2004)

Excellent German film about the failed plot to assassinate Adolph Hitler in WW2. I think there was another version of this incident recently starring a Hollywood celebrity, but I'm not sure. I really do need to get out more often.
The problem with this movie is the very nature of it's subject matter: you know how badly everything is going to end. At least the filmmakers have the decency to let you see the ringleader's tragic demise at the very beginning.
If I have any complaint with this movie, it's the contrived nature of how Von Stauffenberg comes to see the necessity of removing Hitler by any means necessary. You see the good German officer in Belorussia suddenly finding out about atrocities. More plausible is the next scene where he's involved in the tragic African campaign and witnesses a comrade die.
The actual bombing occurs off-camera. Stauffenberg is conferring with another conspirator when a loud "bang" is heard in the background. Another officer, not in on the plot, tells them it's probably just an animal in a mine field.
A quality film with good production values which needs better international exposure.