A Film Review Blog

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Location: Dallas, TX
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Saturday, April 22, 2006

I was SO wrong about "Silent Hill"

A few weeks ago, I predicted that the film adaptation of "Silent Hill" would be worth watching. After pouring over production stills and reading interviews with the cast members, I thought, "Finally, a film based on a game that might turn out good!" OH how wrong I was! You know it's a bad sign when the woman working the ticket booth tries to discourage you from buying a ticket. Here's the exchange I had with the woman at the local cinema. Let's call her "Starla."

Me: Two for Silent Hill, please.
Starla: Are you sure?
Me: Um, yeah. Why, is it that bad?
Starla: Oh, well, we have other movies, lots of other movies. How about American Dreamz? Have you seem American Dreamz?
Me: Well, I think we're going to go with Silent Hill.
Starla: We're also showing Scary Movie 4? You might like that!
Me: No, no, I want to see Silent Hill
Starla (shakes head): Well, okay honey, here you go.

For those who don't know, "Silent Hill" is a horror game series that was first released by Konami in 1999. It's one of the creepiest and most atmospheric games out there, drawing imagery and themes from everything from the Kabbalah and "Jacob's Ladder" to Ira Levin and David Lynch.

Although the movie's plot exists outside of the continuity of the games, it appears to be a blend of Silent Hill 1 and Silent Hill 4. Jodelle Ferland plays Sharon, a creepy little girl suffering from somnambulism and a terminal case of bad acting. She keeps having sinister visions and sleepwalking around waterfalls and 4 lane highways. Instead of, say, locking the doors at night, her mother Rose DaSilva (Radha Mitchell) takes Sharon to the town of Silent Hill for...well, we aren't really sure. Of course, Sharon disappears, and Rose is left alone to find her in the creepiest town in the universe.

Well, not entirely alone. She gets some help from officer Cybil Bennett (Laurie Holden) a cop who is pursuing Rose for...well, we aren't really sure about that either. Together, they explore the Midwich School (undoubtedly a reference to John Wyndam's novel "The Midwich Cuckoos" upon which "Village of the Damned" was based). There they find "clues," along with a a seriously fucked up janitor's corpse in the ladies' room. It is in the school that they first encounter the Red Pyramid (although he is never overtly referred to as such in the film) who swings a big knife around but doesn't really accomplish much. Apparently, a gigantic executioner from a parallel world is no match for two screaming women. The Red Pyramid, who was a creepy and fairly important figure in the game series, is seriously underused and completely unexplained in this film.

From the school they progress to a hotel, they meet some cult members and...oh, never mind. This really isn't worth explaining in detail. Let's see if I can do it in 20 words or less. Lost little girl. Identical demonic little girl. Burn unit. Nurses. Barbed Wire. Useless exposition. Nonsequiter ending. Credits. Ta-da! Brevity is the soul of wit, or, in this case, my sanity.

There are a lot of problems with this film. One of the biggest problems, surprisingly, is that in some ways it is too much like a video game. Video games do not have the same pacing and structure as films (nor need they). A video game rarely has a single climax--it has levels, and bosses, and then more levels and more bosses. The film version of Silent Hill is similar. We're not watching a character develop or a mystery being solved--we're watching a 2-dimensional skin hop from one challenge to the next with very little logic explanation. Because watching the film is passive, not interactive, it is very frustrating and often quite boring.

All in all this film was a tremendous waste of time. It had some potential--major kudos to cinematographer Dan Laustsen and production designer Carol Spier who created some amazing shots of the town. Most of the sets were beautiful and eery, even though the lighting was sometimes a bit too dark. I actually kind of liked the shots of Rose running through the mist in the town, catching glimpses of storefronts and hearing random, creepy noises. The director made the unfortunate choice of overusing the sepia and grain filters, giving the film that "I'm a Junior in film school," look. The costumes and makeup were very striking; half of the creatures looked like they stepped out of an H.R. Giger painting. A lot of it, however, just made me feel like I was watching a two hour Marilyn Manson video. The whole thing was pretty painful. Let me put this into perspective. After we saw Silent Hill, my boyfriend and I went home and watched "Vampyros Lesbos," Jesus Franco's 1971 "erotic horror tale about a vixen vampiress seducing and killing women to appease her insatiable thirst for female blood." We both agreed that this film--with its wacky psychedelic sitar soundtrack and random cutaway shots of scorpions, moths and a guy in a turtleneck who looks an awful lot like Paul Michael Glaser from Starsky and Hutch--was about 10 million times better than "Silent Hill."

The amount of money you'd have to pay me to see this film: $7 .

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Inside Man (2006)

In my review of "Matchpoint," I noted how wonderful it was that Woody Allen, for the first time in almost 10 years, had finally returned to form with a truly great film. Now, with "Inside Man," Spike Lee reminds us of his tremendous skill. He is in great form here, seamlessly combining a classic crowd-pleasing heist story with contemporary messages about racial and cultural intolerance. The film stars Clive Owen as the brilliant bank robber and Denzel Washington as Detective Frazier, a good cop whose career is in jeopardy due to a departmental scandal. Owen and his cohorts rob the Manhattan Trust on Wall Street. Detective Frazier and his partner (Chiwetel Ejiofor) are called in to deal with the hostage negotiations. The bank's President played by Christopher Plummer, who is very concerned that something private in his bank will be discovered and used against him. Jodie Foster plays Madeline, a mystery woman of notorious discretion and moral flexibility who handles delicate affairs for the world's most despicable people.
Everything about this film is clever, from the friendly banter between Washington and Owen to the real meaning of the title "Inside Man." This is the real New York, the New York filled with every kind of person imaginable from every cultural background and socioeconomic stratum. One of the most enjoyable scenes features Washington trying to translate the language supposedly being spoken by the bank robbers. Rather than going to the language experts, he consults the people on the street, only to discover a construction worker who informs him that it's "100% Albanian." The worker, however, does not speak Albanian--his ex wife is Albanian. So the cops call his ex-wife and have her translate. In one small scene, Lee manages to convey his melting pot picture of his hometown--a town where you're better off asking the man on the street than you are calling the consulate-- while being immensely entertaining. The construction worker is just one of many entertianing supporting characters--we also meet a Rabbi/diamond expert, a corrupt mayor, countless blatantly racist police officers, a Sikh who is understandably pissed about being repeatedly mistaken for Arab and a dorky middle-aged bank manager with a Kanye West ringtone. The plot is smart and satisfactory, and the cast provides all the icing a moviegoing audience could possible want.

The amount of money I would pay to see this film: $10