Screen to Shining Screen – Dolls, Assassins, and Demons (plus Philly fun!)

Couple of quick movie reviews this time.  Been meaning to write about these for a while but have been busy and didn’t get around to it until now, so they may be a bit more vague than they would have been.

First up is the documentary Marwencol, the feature debut of director/editor Jeff Malmberg.  Marwencol tells the story of Mark Hogancamp, who was brutally attacked outside of a bar on August 8, 2000 and who, after nine days in a coma and forty days in the hospital, was released with brain damage, leaving him with little memory of his life before the accident and severely impacting his fine motor skills.

In order to help himself recover both physically and psychologically, he created the town of Marwencol, a scale version of an imaginary town in Belgium populated by dolls, that takes it’s name from an amalgamation of his name, and the names of two of his friends (Wendy and Colleen).  Most of the characters populating the town are in some way inspired by people he knows in real life and he creates stories about the people and events in Marwencol that both help him to relax and allow him to think through his attack and other events from his past.  The documentary shows a unique look into the life of Mark Hogancamp and the stories of Marwencol.  It also follows his interactions with the real world as the art world takes notice of his photographs of Marwencol.

All in all, this is a GREAT movie, and everyone needs to see it.  The story of this man’s life is really heartbreaking, and his skill is amazing.  Apparently before the attack, he was a brilliant artist (You get to see several of his drawings in the film.), but after the attack his hands shook too much to continue drawing.  It’s really nice to see him able to channel that creativity into Marwencol.  The level of detail he puts into the dolls and the town is unbelievable, and the photographs that he takes make it look like a real town, inhabited by living, breathing people.  To be fair, I will say I was slightly creeped out by the man on occasion, with some of the violent, gory stories in Marwencol and the slightly stalkerish attitude he occasionally displayed, but other than that, I was with him the whole time.  This movie really works as a great art piece, a look at recovery after serious injury, and just an interesting look into the mind of Mark Hogancamp.  Definitely check this one out!

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Next up is The Mechanic, directed by Simon West (of Con Air fame), starring Jason Statham and Ben Foster.  The Mechanic  tells the story of a professional assassin (Jason Statham) as he takes in and trains an apprentice (Ben Foster), who has a connection to one of his victims.  I don’t want to say more than that to avoid spoiling the story, which, despite being an action movie, it actually has.

On a whole, I really enjoyed this movie (which was actually quite surprising).  As you’d expect from a Jason Statham movie, the action is intense and lots of fun.  The assassinations you see in the movie are well thought out and it would have been great to see one or two more before the story started up, but I guess that may have made it too long.  After seeing Jason Statham in a ton of other stuff before (Crank, The Transporter, Death Race, etc…), I’ve learned to expect an action star and not much else.  In this though, I was pretty surprised, as he really played the character well with some real emotional depth to it.

And Ben Foster…what can I say about Ben Foster?  He steals this movie.  The man can act and act he does.  I first saw this guy in an old Disney Channel show that my sister used to watch called Flash Forward.  He played the awkward neighbor and best friend of the main character, and for some reason whenever my sister watched the show, I was kinda always interested in his character.  Anyway, he’s grown up a bit now and likewise, so has his acting.  I really enjoyed him in the sci-fi thriller Pandorum and I really dig him in this as well.

The story in this movie is also pretty sweet.  Lots of twists and turns, and reveals that you aren’t expecting.  It’s definitely more than your standard mindless action movie, but it is definitely an action movie, so don’t expect TOO much.  The only thing about the movie that pissed me off a bit was the ending.  Not horrible, but very disappointing.  That said, it was only the last 5-10 minutes that I was let down by, and the majority of the movie is very watchable, so I would definitely recommend this to anyone who is curious, even if you are a bit skeptical.  One last thing: this is apparently a remake of an old Charles Bronson movie.  I’ve never seen the original though, so I can’t comment.  Maybe I’ll check it out and do a comparative review later.

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Last, we’ve got The Rite, directed by Mikael Håfström (Stephen King’s 1408) and starring Anthony Hopkins and Colin O’Donoghue.  This movie tells the story of a man, suffering with his faith, who decides to enroll in seminary school with the plan to abdicate his vows upon completion, in order to get a free college degree.  However, after finishing school he is approached by a priest who tells him about the world of exorcism and invites him to attend a class on exorcism in Italy.  While there he begins observing a working exorcist while dealing with his lack of faith.

I want to start by saying that while I love horror films, and am very interested in “Christian mythology” type films (demons and so on), I generally don’t like exorcism movies.  I did enjoy The Exorcist, but have never found it to be the great movie that everyone raves about.  So why did I watch this movie?  Honestly, I’m not sure.  Probably just because it was something I hadn’t seen, looked to have good production value, and had Anthony Hopkins in it.  And after having seen it, I’m of two minds.  I started off the movie being pleasantly surprised that I was really into it, and I finished the movie being quite disappointed that I had bothered to watch it.

There’s definitely quite a bit of positive in this movie.  The cinematography is very well done, especially in the use of lighting and rain.  Anthony Hopkins, as usual, kills this role and makes for a great “villain” in the movie.  Colin O’Donaghue, an Irish actor who I have never heard of or seen before, also does a great job in his role as the skeptic, and I immediately identified with a lot of his character.  What goes wrong then?  Basically, the last third of the movie.  Some slight spoilers ahead if you care (though not really ruining anything)…..

What I loved about this movie is that it presented demonic possession as something that may or may not be real, and explored the idea that perhaps it’s all just mental illness.   And as I said before Colin O’Donaghue’s character played the role of the skeptic.  At the end though, somehow this debate is thrown out the window, the skeptic magically believes whole heartedly, and the well written vagueness just disappears.  Even if the real life experiences that this is loosely based off of suggest to the writer that, without a doubt, possession is real, I would have preferred the ending to leave it up to the audience to decide based on evidence presented.

END OF SPOILERS!

For anyone who might come to this movie expecting it to be another horror movie about exorcism, stop right now and let me save you your time, this is definitely not that.  This is a decently written look on the debate of whether or not demonic possession is real and the current state of exorcism.  The ending was pretty rough and it was a bit boring, so I can’t really recommend it, but if you are bored and looking for something new to watch, you could do worse I guess…

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One last thing before I go.  While I’m on the topic of movies, there’s a pretty cool event that I’ll be volunteering at this weekend.  Anyone in the Philly area looking for something to do this Friday, should check it out!

This July, a group of Philly-based Japan enthusiasts are planning Philly Japan Arts Matsuri (PJAM), a four day Japanese music and movie festival to benefit the Japan Red Cross.  But first, this weekend they will have a kickoff event to wet your appetites ahead of time.

This Friday, May 13th, from 8:00, come out for the Philly premiere of Helldriver, the new Japanese splatter movie from Yoshihiro Nishimura, director of recent splatter films Tokyo Gore Squad, Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl, and Mutant Girls Squad (and makeup effects artist from countless other well known films).  A beautiful high school girl armed with a chainsaw sword powered by an artificial heart (!) leads a group of desperadoes on a secret mission into the zombie-infected wilds of Japan to exterminate zombie queen Rikka (Eihi Shiina from Audition and Tokyo Gore Police) Zombies and a chainsaw sword, what more could you want?

Also, stick around after the movie for live performances by two Japanese bands out of New York, punk-rock band Uzuhi and all girl rock band High Teen Boogie.

Tickets are $15, $10 if you only come for the movie.  All proceeds benefit the Japanese Red Cross.  Also, there will be a raffle drawing ($1 a ticket) for great prizes including DVDs and gift certificates to local restaurants.  Come on out for a good time for a great cause!  Hey, I’ll be there…  Check out the trailer for the movie and some clips of the bands below and head over to http://phillyjam.org/schedule for a more detailed schedule and other info.

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