One should go into The Fourth Kind aware of a single important fact: Despite claiming to be based on a true story, and featuring numerous realistically creepy candid accounts, it’s essentially entirely made up stuff. People seemed to have a huge bee in their bonnet about that, but curiously weren’t bothered by it in The Blair Witch Project, another film guilty of the same gimmicks. Cinema is make believe anyways, and if the story works, then what does it matter. This is one of the scariest films I’ve ever seen, thanks to a few well orchestrated and very bizarre moments that transcend what usually gets passed off as horror these days. It tells the alleged story of several incidents and encounters with paranormal beings in and around Nome, Alaska, from the perspective of psychologist Abigail Tyler, played by Milla Jovovich in elaborate, atmospheric reenactments, and by Charlotte Milchard in terrifying newsreel testimonials. Something has come to Nome, and is causing not only disappearances but very, very weird behaviour among the townsfolk, and a general aura of poisonous unease. Abigail does her best to work with patients and locate the source ofnthe trauma without losing her mind or having an encounter herself. Her patients babble and rave, but there’s consistency to their claims, prompting her further belief and summoning of other experts, including a language specialist (Hakeem Kae Kazim) and an old colleague (Elias Koteas), who are equally as stumped. The town sheriff (Will Patton) believes her to be a complete whacko and does everything to hinder her efforts at every turn. Patton starred in another film that’s very similar to this, Mark Pellington’s The Mothman Prophecies, and his grave presence only perpetuates the same kind of eerie supernatural vibe, albeit far closer to outright horror than Mothman. The way the film shows the ‘real’ Abigail sometime following the events chilled me to the bone. She’s broken, haunted and speaks as if there’s a stain on her soul from some otherworldly force. The film knows what gives people that creeping, cold dread fear that we seek so desperatly in the genre, and gave me a fair helping of it. Whether or not the story is even remotely true is trivial; they’ve made a gruesomly scary tale out of it, and that’s what’s important. Also, you’ll never look at owls quite the same way after seeing this. Top shelf horror.
Ultraviolet (2006) presents a future ravaged by a disease known as hemophagia that mutates its victims giving them enhanced speed, strength and intelligence but with a drastically shortened life-span of 12 years. The government tried to eliminate all of the diseased but a number of them eluded capture and formed an underground terrorist group dedicated to bringing down the oppressive regime. Caught in the middle is a deadly infected agent named Violet (Milla Jovovich), who retrieves a case that provides the key to destroying all of the infected people or it might save her because her limited life-span has almost expired.
Director Kurt Wimmer packs in a lot of exposition in the first ten minutes (almost too much) forcing the viewer to absorb a lot information as this world and its rules are established. He certainly doesn’t waste any time, getting right down to the story but at the expense of any kind of character development. Ultraviolet doesn’t settle down until halfway through its 94-minute running time as it attempts develop its characters but by that point we really don’t care because we have been bombarded with all of this eye-popping action and vibrant set design. After awhile, all of the exposition becomes too much to absorb and you just have to surrender to the film’s arresting style.
Like he did with Equilibrium (2002), Wimmer has created a protagonist that can kick major ass and look really cool doing it – what more could you ask for from a film like this? Sadly, Milla Jovovich still can’t act worth a damn but fortunately the movie doesn’t give her much of a chance to as it goes from cool action sequence to the next at a near breathless pace. After working with such a talented actor like Christian Bale in Equilibrium what possessed Wimmer to work with the acting black hole that is Jovovich?
That being said, Wimmer ups the ante with the action sequences, using way more extensive CGI in this movie, most notably in an eye-popping chase sequence where an attack helicopter pursues our heroine along the side of a building, defying gravity as she rides along its face. Even the fight scenes feature a lot more CGI, which is a shame as part of the charm of Equilibrium was the au natural combat.
Wimmer adopts a striking primary color scheme against bleached out silvers befitting Violet who can change the color of her hair and clothing at will. In the background of a given scene there can be splashes of yellow or purple and then someone could walk by in a red outfit. It sounds like a jarring effect but Wimmer makes it work somehow. His command of composition of what is contained within the frame has become more advanced and his skill as a director has improved greatly (as has his budget, apparently) – this is a great looking movie.
Ultraviolet is similar in terms of story to the live-action Aeon Flux (2005) movie only with infinitely better action sequences. However, Wimmer’s screenplay is quite weak with very wooden dialogue. He should have adopted the less is more approach of Aeon Flux, which was a nice example of visual storytelling. The set design and visual effects are much slicker and infinitely more colorful compared to the almost monochromatic color scheme of his previous film. Ultraviolet is all a bit silly – scratch that, very silly – but it is completely committed to its own sci-fi hokum in a way that is strangely admirable. In a perfect world, the major Hollywood studios would give Wimmer $100 million to make a big, splashy summer movie instead of hacks like Brett Ratner who has no personal style. What Wimmer needs to do is stop writing his own screenplays and work with somebody who can – that would surely result in an infinitely better movie that he is clearly capable of making.
Luc Besson’s The Fifth Element is what you get when you give a massive budget to a director who has an otherworldly flair for imagination and a creative pulse that doesn’t subside for one single second. It’s one of the best sci fi films ever made, a pure intergalactic rush of absurdist qualities anchored by a solid blueprint that’s both akin to and far removed from countless space movies out there. The surprise, and what works so well, comes from Besson and his team crafting a warped and almost Dr. Seussical world that dabbles in cartoonish territory, boggles the eyes endlessly and continually assures you that anything goes in terms of style and tone. It’s an all timer for me, a blast of zany ideas, lovable characters (even the villains are teddy bears to me), a celebration of off the cuff production design and a goddamn certified barrel of fun. Most who read this will know the plot inside out and up and down, but we all know how much I love babbling on about actors and events, so bear with moi. There’s an adorable prologue (“Aziz, light!!!!”) In which an alien race called the Mondosheewans arrive on earth to remove a sacred and very powerful item from an Egyptian pyramid. They resemble shambling steam punk Volkswagen beetles, and are a force of good. This takes place in the 1800’s, and before you can say Luke Perry, we’ve flashed forward to a dazzling futuristic New York City where the events that came before come full circle. Self depracating cabbie Corben Dallas (Bruce Willis) has a day of unending bad luck, until a gorgeous humanoid being named Leeloo (Milla Jovovich was my first cinematic crush in this role ♡) literally falls into his lap, or rather, crashes through the roof of his cab and incites a high speed chase in hover cars, a fantastic sequence, I might add. It turns out this slender, orange deadlocked babe is the human manifestation of the coveted artifact that the Mondosheewans took into their possession. Willis and Jovovich have an immediate exasperated chemistry that practically leaps off the screen as giddily as your heart does whenever they’re seen together. They’re one of the cutest couples in history, and soon embark on a wild adventure to prevent mass destruction at the hands of a giant ball of pure evil that threatens earth (and no I didn’t make that up). Also threatening them is Jean Baptiste Emanuel Zorg (wish that was my name), played by Gary Oldman in a preening, gaudy display of theatrical evil that must be seen to be believed. Zorg is an arrogent megalomaniac who basically runs the city, out to find the ancient stones that are the key to stopping that malevolent force that hangs out just outside of earth’s atmosphere. This is the only film that can claim it has a scene where pure evil itself calls up Gary Oldman on the phone for a chat, which has to be some kind of achievment. There’s a gaggle of incredible actors running around as well, including Bilbo Ba-, I mean Ian Holm as Father Cornelius, a priest of an ancient order sworn to protect Leeloo, the president of the united states (Tiny Lister, once again I’m not making this up), a hapless general (John Neville), a tweaked out petty thief (Mathieu Kassovitz in a scene of pure WTF), Brion James, Lee Evans, and Chris Tucker. Oh good lord Chris Tucker. I don’t know how the guy has the energy, but he keeps it in mania mode as Ruby Rod, a flagrantly horny loudmouth prima donna radio DJ that tags along with Corben for a few gunfights and explosions and shrieks like a banshee all the while. Willis has never been as amiable as he is here, it’s as if John McClane wandered into an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000 and decided to have some fun. Truly a great protagonist. You will fall deeply in love with Milla as Leeloo. Her lithe physicality, unearthly dialect that she actually learned in full for the film, striking naivete and burgeoning compassion all make her one of the most unique and mesmerizing heroines to ever exist in a film. Oldman mugs, chews scenery like a bulldog, prances about like he’s in a grade school play, and is a sheer diabolical delight. The scene where he demonstrates the ‘swiss army gun’ for his dimwitted extraterrestrial cohorts is time capsule worthy, as is the entire film. Besson directs and stages his world with a reckless abandon that plays like a watercolor painting of pure expression. If there’s an idea someone had, it ended up in this film no matter how outlandish and random it is. That’s the kind of carefree artistic qualities that all movies should have; a willingness to be silly, to be crazy, to step outside the box and then trample on it whilst hurling confetti all about the place. This film is a shining example of that, and stands out as not only one of my favourite films of all time, but one of the best ever made. Big BADABOOM.
I’m a huge admirer of the filmmaker Michael Winterbottom, and his wildly underrated effort from 2000, The Claim, is a hugely impressive piece of work that’s begging for reconsideration and an upgrade to the Blu-ray format Alwin Kuchler’s muscular and expansive 2.35:1 widescreen cinematography painted a forbidding canvass of mountain life circa 1867, with the intelligent and morally ambiguous screenplay by Frank Cottrell Boyce (loosely based on the novel The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy) borrowing shades from Altman’s masterpiece McCabe and Mrs. Miller. Michael Nyman’s score is blustery when called for, and subtle most everywhere else, contributing greatly to the epic sweep of Kuchler’s full-bodied images. Winterbottom has always struck me as the British version of Steven Soderbergh, a restless talent interested in exploring every possible genre, refusing to be pigeonholed, always bursting with vitality and style and smarts. Peter Mullan is, as usual, fantastic as the strong willed ruler of Kingdom Come, the Northern California town that was crafted entirely for the film, only to be totally destroyed during the fiery final sequences (I’m spoiling nothing as this much his hinted at in the trailer). Sarah Polley, Wes Bentley, Milla Jovovich, and Nastassja Kinski are all excellent as the other main characters, all of whom cross paths with Mullan and get in the way of his perceived sense of happiness. This is narrative that hinges on jealousy, deceit, loyalty, love, business, and the ever burning quest that some people have to own and control all that they come into contact with. There are shades of Serena (an overall disappointment but not without its technical merits) and There Will Be Blood (one of the great films of the century) and other recent American period pictures detailing the harsh living conditions and the discovery of valuable resources (The Claim centers its dramatic action over the great California Gold Rush). The film was shot on location in Alberta, Canada, and it truly looks it – The Claim feels cold, remote, challenging, and daunting. This is an obscenely undervalued piece of cinema that seems to have snuck by way too many people. I can remember seeing it in a mostly empty theater in Los Angeles and thinking to myself that I was secretly being treated to one of the best films of that particular year.