Archive for March, 2012

Contagion

Contagion, 2011, USA/United Arab Emirates

By Graeme Coleman

Contagion is the most well put together disaster film to date. Steven Soderbergh delivers a disturbingly realistic film about an out-of-control pandemic that kills millions of people within a few short months. This heart-pounding film is very intelligent, genuinely frightening, and filled with an amazing cast.

Contagion stars Marion Cotillard, Matt Damon, Laurence Fishburne, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Kate Winslet. These main characters are all equally important to the film, although I think this story is better suited for a TV series. That way we could dig deeper into their characters and have more of an emotional stake in the film. Either way, the stars of this film did an incredible job.

The film starts on “Day 2” of the disease, focusing on the ill Beth Emhoff (Gwyneth Paltrow) who is on her way back home to Minneapolis, Minnesota from a business trip to Hong Kong. Contagion moves at a quick pace, as a few other infected people perish within the first few minutes. Beth manages to make it back to Minneapolis to her family before suddenly dying, leaving her husband Mitch Emhoff (Matt Damon) alone with her son. The young boy becomes sick and dies early on as well, leaving Mitch wondering why he is immune to the virus. His young daughter who lived in a different city comes back to Minneapolis, and he spends the rest of the film doing whatever it takes to keep her from getting sick.

Dr. Ellis Cheever (Laurence Fishburne) is Dr. Erin Mears’ (Kate Winslet) hard-pressed boss at Atlanta’s Center for Disease Control Prevention. They impressively devote their lives to finding a cure to the disease. Their efforts end up getting them both into trouble, and Erin’s life ends up in jeopardy. We know just enough about Erin to have an emotional attachment to her. Ellis finds himself trying to save Erin, while being the target of public criticism and outrage on how the center is handling the pandemic– especially by Alan Krumwiede (Jude Law).

Alan is an Australian blogger who claims to have found a cure and is extremely suspicious of all authority. It is hard to tell if he is a villain or hero. On one hand, his cure seems to work and millions of people begin to listen to him; on the other, his writing on the internet is spreading mass amounts of fear to his audience. I guess spreading news on the internet could be like spreading a virus as well– if it is causing a panic.

Leonora Orantes (Marion Cotillard) has the most under developed character of all. She is a World Health Organization doctor who heads to China to discover the source of the virus, where she finds more than she was expecting. Putting yourself in Leonora’s situation, you could only imagine what she goes through. The problem is that we do not get to see it, we only get to imagine it. But, of course, forcing multiple protagonists into a film is nearly impossible to do without leaving a few things out.

We live in a time where Lindsay Lohan is considered a “disaster” to millions of people, so it is nice when a film like Contagion slaps us in the face with reminder of what a real disaster looks like. Comparing this disaster movie to others, I would say this is the best one yet. I love the horror of the raging, zombie-like diseased, like in 28 Days Lateror The Crazies, but Contagion is just so believable.

4.5/5 stars

Puss in Boots

Puss in Boots, 2011, USA

By Jennifer Hanson

I avoided this film in theatres as I saw the Shrek franchise grow progressively worse.  I just didn’t trust this movie to be worth the price of admission and refreshments.  I was wrong.

Puss in Boots represents a new life for the Shrek film series.  It’s a prequel to the series that focuses on the early life of Puss (Antonio Banderas).  After years of living as an outlaw, Puss runs into Kitty Softpaws (Salma Hayek), who is trying to steal magic beans from the notorious Jack and Jill (Bill Bob Thorton and Amy Sedaris).  He discovers that Kitty’s partner in crime is Humpty (Zach Galifianakis), who was the childhood best friend of Puss.  This reunion is not a happy one, as Humpty betrayed Puss many years prior.  The three reluctantly team up to steal the magic beans, and plant them, in order to get their hands on the legendary golden eggs.

The movie was charming, and avoided the pop culture humour that doomed the Shrek franchise.  The film is a satire of the Zorro films, but it offers more of a timeless quality than the pop culture references of Shrek, which are already dated.  Several new fairy tale characters separate from the Shrek franchise are introduced in this movie, as well.  I’m not sure if any of the supporting characters will ever have the likability of Gingerbread Man (Conrad Vernon), who was always my favourite character in Shrek.

Banderas continued to bring charm to Puss, and both Hayek and Galifianakis are welcome additions to the series.  Banderas is an excellent voice actor.  I worried that I’d feel removed from the film, as Banderas has such a distinct voice, but he really got into character, and I was able to focus on the film, and not the fact that it was Banderas.  I did feel that Hayek was a bit underused and would have liked to know more about her character.  Galifianakis was excellent, though.  His character was written well, and had a great story arc.

The highlight of the movie (for me, at least) was seeing the early life of Puss.  The animators did an awesome job animating Puss as a kitten.  As a cat lover, I was on a cute induced high during the entire sequence.  I could never really imagine Puss as a kitten, and, while his origin may have been slightly cliché, satire works by mocking these sorts of clichés.  The animation as a whole was beautifully done.  I wish I’d rented the HD version of the film off of Apple TV.  When one contrasts the original Shrek with Puss in Boots, you can really see just how far computer animation has come in just over a decade.

I highly recommend this movie.  It was such a refreshing surprise.  It was exciting, heartfelt, and funny.  Too often in movies aimed more at children, adults find themselves bored by childish humour or overly simple plot lines.  Puss in Boots manages to appeal to both children and adults with a dynamic plot, powerful characters, and the occasional joke that may just go over the heads of young children!

4/5

Bad Teacher

Bad Teacher, 2011, USA

By Andrew Burns

I thought long and hard for something funny or witty to open this review but this flick just sucked all the humour out of me.  You might think with some top notch comedic talents in the credits this movie would be good for a chuckle or two.  Sadly no, barely even a smirk.

Ok so before I rip into this attempt at a comedy I’ll give a quick rundown of the premise.  Cameron Diaz plays the world’s worst seventh grade middle school teacher, Elizabeth Halsey.  No that’s too specific, she plays the world’s teacher.  Elizabeth is about to quit teaching for good as she is about to marry into a huge inheritance when her groom to be calls it off.  Thinking the best way to find another loaded smuck to marry for his money Elizabeth decides all she needs is to get herself a boob job.  Elizabeth goes back to teaching to save up for her implants and when that isn’t enough she rips off and uses her students to turn a profit.  One fellow teacher catches on to Elizabeth and the two secretly feud back and forth.

Most viewers are going to have a hard time swallowing the terrible messages Bad Teacher has in it.  Diaz’s character has zero redeemable qualities to her so not once would anyone watching this flick root for her.  Elizabeth lies, cheats, steals, back-mails, embezzles, and even drugs people to get what she wants and then in the end she actually does.  Meaning if you walk all over people, and then stab them in the back, happy endings do come true.  To be perfectly honest none of that stuff mattered to me.  I could care less if I didn’t want to root for the main character because she is an awful person.  It was almost refreshing to see a cruel character not do a 180 with their personality after some kind of epiphany in the movie’s third act.  Almost.

No it wasn’t the film’s poor life messages I had a problem with, it was the comedy.  I never found Diaz’s whole reckless bad teacher act funny but I figured some of the other cast members would shed comedic light on this film.  After all, Diaz co-stars with the very funny and hugely popular Jason Segal, arguably one of the funniest SNL host in recent years in Justin Timberlake, and the always hilarious John Michael Higgins.  Yet nothing but some mildly humorous moments scattered too far apart to string together any laughs.  Now a days studios rarely put this many big names into a rated R comedy in fear that it might limited their potential audience.  When this does happen actors and filmmakers normally take advantage of the ability to use of crude and vulgar language and/or situations, but here every bit of talent is wasted on a couple F-bombs and a pair of fake beasts.

If I had to say one good thing about this movie I’d say it’s only 90 minutes long.  Even that being said that’s still 90 minutes I’ll never get back.  I went into this movie with low expectations because I’m not that much of a Diaz fan but I did expect some funny considering her cast mates.  Segal is probably the best thing about this movie and he is only on screen for about 5-10 minutes total, so that right there tells you something.  Whatever laughs you think you might get out of this movie, I assure you just watching the trailer will give you the same results.  Blaming the writing or direction seems unfair so I’ll just blame the movie as a whole.

0.5 / 5 Stars

Slash Film Website Analysis

By Graeme Coleman

SlashFilm.com (“/Film”) is a website dedicated to “blogging the reel world.” In other words, it’s designed to provide its audience with relevant news, reviews, and trailers about current and upcoming films. The site started out small in 2005, but has since grown and earned some well-deserved respect in the film industry. “/Film” has gotten attention in marketing, print, television, radio, and online . “/Film” has even been chosen to cover multiple film festivals. Since I am creating a film review blog for my research project, I felt like this site was imperative to analyze.

Rhetorical Design

As I stated earlier, “/Film’s” primary function is to provide its audience with interesting and informative news, reviews, and trailers for current and upcoming films. Its audience is very broad; it basically consists of anyone who is interested in modern movies and news about their production and cast. The site is in a blog format, with a header at the top of each page, making it very self-explanatory; the information easily attainable by users. “/Film’s” slogan, “blogging the reel world”, is  a great play on words which sums up the site in a nutshell: a blog about the film industry. After surfing the site for some time, it becomes apparent that the their are no rhetorical undertones of any policies you are meant to pick up; it’s apparent that “/Film” is a genuine blog made by people who love film and want to share their perspectives on it with the world.

Interface Design

The site is extremely easy to navigate. As mentioned, the site is in blog format, with a consistent header at the top of each page. There is a large “/Film” logo in the top left corner of each page that allows you to return to the homepage at any given moment, as well as a Google search bar on the top right corner of each page. This interface gives users total control of their journey on “/Film” because of its self-explanatory and simple design. When navigating from page to page, you are always greeted with the exact same format, and big pictures to accompany each article. As far as consistency goes for interface design, it gets 5 out of 5 stars. “/Film’s” identity is kept static throughout your entire tour of the site.

Finding evidence of the “W-4” was effortless. The “Who” is always clear. The writers of each article are credited with their name underneath the title of every piece posted. The “What” was also very clear; all posted content on the website is film-related, whether it’s news, reviews, or trailers. All content posted has a straightforward title, including the name of the film(s) it is regarding. The “Where” is a little less obvious. But if you scroll down on each page, the list of contributors to “/Film” appears, which states where they are from. Also, at the very top of each page, above the main header, there is an “about” and “contact” link, where you can find out where the site is based. Lastly, all pieces that are posted have the date of their posting underneath each title, giving you the last of the “Ws”: “When.”

Site Design

“/Film” has a basic site design, allowing you to focus on the entertaining pictures and articles in the center of each page. Every page consistently has the same header with navigational links to your desired destination. The content is comprehensibly provided in an organized, linear blog style, starting with the most recent stories at the top. You will never find yourself forced to navigate through unwanted information, which is nice (and somewhat refreshing); users will find it easy to locate whatever functions they are searching for. The simple purpose of this site is to entertain and inform people who are interested in film, and this site stays loyal to this purpose.

Page Design

The layout of each page is unchanging, keeping the site easy to use and reliable. In the top left section, users will always be able to find a large “/Film” logo, which will bring them to the homepage. The contrast of content in the foreground with the plain, white background keeps your eyes focused on the content in the middle of the pages and film-related advertisements on both sides. There is enough white space between content that it keeps the site clean and not too cluttered. Users will benefit from this site’s stress-free, simple and consistent page design. The blue, grey and white color scheme of “/Film” blends nicely together, and it isn’t too eye-catching (or too much of an eye-sore). This allows you to stay focused on the main content in the center, which remains the same length from page-to-page.

Typography

“/Film” has a consistent type style throughout the entire site. All content is in light-grey, Verdana, 12 point font, which blends nicely with the main grey, white and blue hues visible on the site. Headers are larger in size, and all content is very legible. There are some blue, underlined hyperlinks on specific terminology and titles throughout the content, allowing the viewer to go deeper into information and understanding of those hyperlinked words, should they not understand them or need further clarification. There are also hyperlinks to a “comments” and “read more” section for each story. The typography is very traditional and easy to read.

Editorial Style

The editorial style of “/Film” is highly clear and concise. Ideas, points, and opinions are very coherent, making each article an enjoyable read. There are a few film-related terminologies used, but sometimes have a link to them, describing what they are. There are a lot of references to actors’ prior works and other movies, but each article gives you insight to why speaking of these references is relevant, and these references generally give you a better understanding of the film or storyline they are discussing. All content is extremely interesting; each article is told with an opinionated and straightforward tone. When authors tell it like it is, a trust between them and their readers is built. The immense knowledge that these writers have, and include in each piece, gives them strong credibility.

Graphics and Multimedia

As stated earlier, there is a nice, simple header and banner at the top of each page, consisting of “/Film’s” name/logo. Other graphics on the site are also found on every page. All advertisements are film-related and found right beneath the header and on both sides of the content, which sits in the middle of each page. Within the content, there is always one picture or trailer to accompany each story or review. You will find a sufficient amount of multimedia if you go to the “Trailers” heading, where trailers and related discussions are provided in abundance. All advertisements are relevant to the film industry, and all graphics and multimedia are eye-catching and interesting. This aspect of the site is amusing and keeps you captivated.

Overall Impressions

Overall, I found “/Film” to be exceptional; it supplied me with what I was looking for, and it was very easy to use, due to its consistency and simplicity. “/Film” has fascinating content for multiple aspects of the film industry, making this website compelling to the point where film fans will lose track of time getting caught up reading about upcoming films and watching trailers. Lastly, but certainly not least importantly, I praise the fact that their stories are told with an honest voice.

Tapped

Tapped, 2009, USA

By Jennifer Hanson

This documentary examines the bottled water industry and the damage it is doing to small town water supplies, the environment and human healthy.  In the past few years, bottled water has become extraordinarily popular, and it has created a perception that tap water is “unsafe”.

I very rarely purchase bottled water.  I’ll buy it, maybe, twice a year, if I’m desperately thirsty and don’t happen to have my reusable water bottle with me.  The fact is, 40 per cent of it is filtered tap water, according to the documentary.  Most people have no reason to purchase bottled water, because there are excellent water filtration systems available.  I drink a lot of water, and have a Brita water filter.  I fill it up a few times a day, and the water is excellent. Even when I have to drink tap water, I don’t mind, because Winnipeg’s tap water is delicious.

The bottled water industry is almost completely unregulated.  This actually makes it less safe than tap water, which is strictly regulated.  The bottles water comes in contain a variety of different chemicals that leach into the water.  They are also made using rendered crude oil, so millions of gallons of a non-renewable resource is going into the production of bottles that often end up in a landfill or in the ocean.

Nobody could call this documentary unbiased.  Many representatives from the bottle water industry were edited in an almost mocking way.  But the information presented is so important.  As a society, we often purchase products without thinking of the consequences they have for the world around us.  Bottled water hurts water supplies, the environment and even our own bodies.  Here in Winnipeg we are so lucky to have access to clean and delicious water, so why should we spend money on bottled water?  A litre of bottled water costs more than a litre of gasoline!

When the “general public” gets into a legal battle with a major corporation, they need all of the help and publicity they can get.  The makers of this documentary have done a great service to the small towns currently fighting Nestle, Coca-Cola and Pepsi.  Hopefully this film will help inform the public of the harm bottled water does.  While we may assume that it is safer or healthier than tap water, that is simply not the case.

If you are looking for an unbiased look at the bottled water industry, I would suggest you skip this documentary.  But if you are interested in learning more about the effect bottle water has on the planet, I’d highly recommend you watch this film, which is available on Netflix.

3.5/5

Blade Runner: The Final Cut

Blade Runner, 1982, USA/UK

By Andrew Burns

He first was that smooth talking space smuggler, and then that whip welding archeologist, Harrison Ford next became that badass Blade Runner in director Ridley Scott’s 1982 classic sci-fi film of the same.  Star Wars was my sci-fi cinematic bread and butter growing up but because of its R rating for parentally I never got to fully experience Scott’s fantasy epic till I was older.  Well I’m I’ll grown up now so I thought why not re-visit this classic, since it has actually changed over the years, in its latest and last revision: Blade Runner The Final Cut.

As fanboys and critics alike all enjoy condemning Lucas for his every alteration of the beloved Star Wars films, Scott too is guilty of tinkering when his own films over the years.  Blade Runner was originally released back in 1982 and has since then had a total of 7 different versions.  Back in 2007 Scott rolled up his sleeves one last time and turned out this version – The Final Cut – with enhanced visual effects and a slightly altered ending.

Even though I had seen parts of the original film many years ago I still couldn’t remember anything about it so I had nothing to compare it to when I watch this Final Cut.  Being too young to remember my first Blade Runner experience actually turned out to be a blessing.  It’s not too often one can re-watch a film from their childhood and still experience that same awe factor.  The updated visual for the world of a 2019 future Los Angeles is full of vibrant cityscape shots that rival today’s modern CGI onscreen creations.  The wide shot images of the advanced, yet run down, metropolis are crisp and beautiful revisions to its first silver screen appearance in ’82.  Scott doesn’t over do these updates and makes sure not to over polish the rest of the film’s footage.

The story of Blade Runner has inspired countless films over the years.  Blade Runner’s visual style is an obvious source of inspiration for films to follow.  However, it’s the combination of this revolutionary look and the movie’s interesting story concept which help lift it to cult status.  The tale of Blade Runner may seem overly complex given it sci-fi genre but it surprisingly never gets bogged down in technical details and is more about the inner struggle from its main character, Deckard (Ford).  Deckard is a retired police officer who gets pulled back into duty when six planet-banned bioengineered humanoids, known as replicants, return to Earth.  Replicants are human based workers (or slaves as they see it) that look like any average 2019er, were created to work off world as cheap labour.  Four dangerous replicants have come to Earth and are of the lethal advanced models. The fifth replicant isn’t as much of a threat considering it didn’t know it was a replicant.  Deckard is charged with track them down and killing all six replicants.  Or to put it in 2019 terms Deckard is a blade runner who retires replicates.  A bit hooky, but it works in the sci-fi genre.

Ford’s Deckard struggles with what it means to be human while he hunts these replicants.  On the other side the non-human replicants that go to deadly lengths to obtain a humanity for themselves.  The tag line from the Tyrell Corporation that births/creates these android replicates is “more human than human”.  That odd slogan plants the certain doubt in Deckard’s mind about himself.

If viewers have a hard time wrapping their head around the missing 6th replicant they can just as easily get lost in the wonder and spectacle visual universe Scott created.  For the refined Final Cut version of Blade Runner both fanboys and first timers will appreciated the modern movie tweaks to this classic piece of cinema science fiction.  The altered ending to this last and final version of the Blade Runner leaves the conclusion open to multiple interpretations for audiences to take it.  Viewers might exit the film believing one thing over another but will all leave with so serious vintage eye candy.

4 / 5 Stars

Very Aware Website Analysis

By Jennifer Hanson

Very Aware is a film review and news blog run by Scott Hutcheson.  A number of contributors write for the website, and upcoming film releases are reviewed, and trailers and movie posters are posted.  The “Columns” section of the website features news and commentary about the world of cinema.

Rhetorical Design

The website is aimed overwhelmingly at film fans; particularly those who read reviews and follow film news.  Big budget films and independent films are covered, which allows the website to appeal to a wide demographic of film fans.  TV viewers are a secondary audience, as there is a section featuring television news.

Very Aware seeks to entertain and educate film fans.  Going to the theatre is expensive, and informative reviews help visitors determine how to best spend their money and time.

Interface Design

The website uses a blog template; likely a WordPress template.  It is very cleanly designed; the navigation bar at the top is clear, and it’s easy to navigate the website.  This navigation bar is on the top of every website, so it is easy to go from page to page.

What this navigation bar lacks, however, is a “home” button.  The “home” page links to the latest articles and the most recent interviews done by the website.  As the interviews are often buried within the “news” section, the interview links on the homepage are valuable, and the fact that one must click the banner to return to the homepage may be confusing for visitors at first.  Separating the “news” and the “interviews” on the navigation bar may be a good idea.  There is ample space on the bar to add another two buttons, and it would make navigation slightly easier.

The latest reviews can be found in the right sidebar, which offers a convenient shortcut for visitors who are looking for a recent post.

The “who” is always made clear, as the author of every written piece is credited.  Their bios are easily accessible through the navigation bar or found at the bottom of articles they’ve written.  The “what” is also clear; the website consistently posts content about film or television, specifically news, interviews, reviews and content promoting upcoming films.  “Where” isn’t particularly clear.  While the author bios do state where the authors are from, “where” doesn’t seem to be a priority.  The website is based out of the United States, and most of the films reviewed are American films.  Every written piece is categorized by date, which is valuable to the audience as it allows them to read the most timely articles first, or search through the archive for an older review.

Site Design

The website is broken into different categories: News, Reviews, Trailers, TV, Columns, Posters and About.  Each category has its own “homepage”, where the most recent posts can be found.  Every post is categorized well, and this system allows visitors to determine which type of content they would like to access.

The home page is very visual; no full articles are posted, but various images, and blurbs about their most recent articles are posted.  This works well for their intended audience, as the blurbs allow visitors to get a sense of what an article is about before clicking the link to it.  Each blurb sits next to a thumbnail, and the thumbnails are integrated cleanly.

Graphics

As the website is a film website, graphics are used heavily throughout.  Photos from films are placed in every article and review.  They appear next to the article title and article “teaser” on the “news”, “reviews” and “trailers” pages, and within the written pieces themselves.  They are well-integrated and encourage visitors to read the articles.

Advertisements appear throughout the website, as well.  Many of them are fairly discreet, but there is one that consistently appears below the header of every page.  This is an awkward place to put an ad, especially since the ads are often animated.  It is distracting.  One ad that often appears is one for Netflix, and the colours in the banner are similar to the colours in the header.  The ad is also larger than the header itself.  This can lead to a negative first impression for a first-time visitor.  They may get the sense that the website is “full of ads”, and that it is not worth their time to visit if they will be bombarded with ad content.  Such a prominent space would generate considerable ad revenue, but those who run the website must balance that with the potential hit their reputation will take for having such a glaringly obvious ad right next to their header.

Editorial Style

The writing is straight-forward and very casual, which allows it to be accessible to a wide audience.  Each author lists pertinent information (such as the name of the film, director and stars) at the beginning of each post, and continues to list performers throughout.  There are no links in the reviews, which is ill-advised, and there are few links in the news stories.

Typography

The font used throughout the website is consistent and easy to read.  The authors also add bold formatting in the form of titles and subtitles throughout their posts.  This aids readability and makes their content look polished and professional.

Multimedia

Film trailers are regularly posted, and they are generally embedded as YouTube videos.  The trailers are sized well and do not interfere with other elements on the website.

Overall Impressions

I felt that the content of Very Aware was well-written, professional and valuable to its primary audience.  The website itself is easy to navigate, and fairly clean, but a poorly placed ad does detract heavily from its visual appeal.  In the review portion of the website, it would be a good idea for the authors to incorporate more links into their posts.  This will make it easier for the audience to get more information about the movie and its stars.

While working on this piece, Very Aware experienced considerable downtime.  Those who manage the site were very good about tweeting updates, but the downtime itself was quite concerning.  This does call into question the reliability of their web hosting.

Overall, Very Aware is a great resource for film fans who are interested in staying informed about the film industry through news, interviews and film reviews.