Name: laraemeadows

Most Recent Reviews by laraemeadows

Cirque du Freak: The Vampire's Assistant

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Reviewed by laraemeadows

Marvelous reckless abandon in Cirque du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant, falls prey to an invisible, ill timed hand of meaningless restraint. The restraint is not only unnecessary, it puts a lampshade over the brilliance in this movie.

Goodie-two-shoes Darren Shan (Chris Massoglia) and his bad influence friend Steve (Josh Hutcherson), sneak off to attend Cirque du Freak, a traveling freak show. Amongst the standard freak show staples is a beautiful dancing spider, Octa owned by Larten Crepsley (John C. Reilly) and Darren is instantly hooked. His obsession with the spider leads him down a path that changes his life forever.

I don’t know if writers Paul Weitz and Brian Helgeland were fighting with the studio or with each other, but there is an obvious push-pull in Cirque du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant which leaves the viewer with whiplash. There are times during Cirque du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant that I felt I was watching inspired film making. At other times, the inspiration is sucked into a vacuum of despair.

As is the theme with Cirque du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant often, the conversations bounce between freakishly hysterical, and, not a moment later, is so bad the entire audience groaned, out loud while slapping their foreheads in disbelief. Literally.
At times, visuals were creative, interesting, glittering and spectacular. The exaggerated sets and stunts are almost enough to make me giggle like a little girl. Just as quickly as the child-like snickering came, it disappeared, and all that was left were loud colors and dreadful purple lighting dimly illuminating half-developed characters.

It may not have even been that the colors were dreadful, but that the scenes lasted way too long. Every aspect of Cirque du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant lingered on screen long beyond its expiration date. In fact, each exaggerated aspect takes up so much time, the filmmakers didn’t have time to include a complete plot. They ended the movie somewhere around the middle of the plot, without a real climax and while leaving the door open for a sequel.

Cirque du Freak – The Vampire’s Assistant strives to satisfy one’s senses of whimsy, adventure, and fantasy with a bit of cinematic candy but the filmmakers leave it in the mouth so long, it becomes nothing more than a gag.

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District 9

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Reviewed by laraemeadows

District 9
When aliens come to earth and are unable to leave again, they are forced into a slum in Johannesburg, South Africa, in an area called District 9. Amazing visuals allow District 9 to capture the audience’s attention in an inescapable trap. The shallowness of the plot may be the only tool given to the audience to get out.

Aliens land on earth, malnourished, and their mothership in shambles. They are herded into a tin hut community while humans try to figure out what to do with them. After twenty years of tension between the aliens and the humans, the government gives full authority to MNU, a multi national corporation, to evict the aliens to a tent community two hundred kilometers away. They put a sniveling, weakling, corporate bureaucrat, Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), in charge of the move. Due to international law, MNU must notify the aliens of their eviction and Wikus is sent into the field to do the notifications. While out in the field, Wikus gets new insight into the needs and plight of the aliens, even though he struggles not to submit to his feelings.

The aliens in District 9 are computer generated into live action scenes. The team of alien animators do an extraordinary job of making the aliens seem as tangible and realistic as the human players on screen. The lighting of the prawns (a slang term for the aliens) in many of the scenes give texture so real, it is as if they could reach out and you could feel their exoskeleton roughly rub against your skin.

District 9 is shot in a mix of documentary and live action styles, blended seamlessly together. The documentary is about Wikus and how he is betrayed. This documentary gives perspective to the story of the aliens, and invests the audience in both sides of the story. At first it seems a bit piecemeal, but by the end, the reason for the mixed style offers the audience something to take away.

Even given the emotional investment by the viewers, the story is little more than a two hour long chase scene with explosions and firefights. There is an emotional component, but it reaches as deep into the audience as body lotion. Every time it seems there could be a question of morality, or a moment of emotive genius, it is blown up, shot or runs away. The take away at the end of the movie I mentioned earlier is as valuable as what you’d probably get as a wedding favor at a redneck wedding.

A thinking person would find District 9 wanting more and frustrated with the half-given plot. A person who just wants to watch things blow up, see things go boom and escape their lives for a couple of hours will have a great time at District 9.

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Thirst

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Reviewed by laraemeadows

When the Catholic Church in Korea tries to cure a disease, the treatment has unexpected consequences: vampires – of a sort. Unconventional, uncomfortable, shocking, hysterical, and fantastically entertaining, Thirst (Bakjwi) made me squirm with stomach-turning delight.

Unsatisfied with his life, Father Sang-hyeon (Kang-ho Song) agrees to volunteer for a life-threatening medical experiment. The experiment goes as planned but the treatments have a serious side effect for Father Sang-hyeon; it turns him into a vampire with thirsts for more than just blood. The Father does his best to feed his hunger ethically, but eventually, he abandons ethics and begins to make more and more morally ambiguous decisions, the worst of which surrounds his childhood crush, the beautiful, Cinderella-esque, Tae-ju (Ok-vin Kim). Tae-joo has lived with her drunken, slightly masochistic mother-in-law Lady Ra (Hae-sook Kim) and her sniveling, snotty, sickly son Kang-woo (Ha-kyun Shin) since she was a girl.

Thirst does start off slowly and dares the audience to believe that this will be a run of the mill, mystical Catholic-Church-creates-vampires movie. Slowly, the director, actors and writers walk the audience down a seemingly safe path of overplayed mediocrity. It isn’t until I walk directly into their trap that I realized I’d been duped. Not only is Thirst the most original vampire movie I’ve ever seen, it manages to do so while still covering necessary vampire themes and disarms the audience by making their seat feel like it shifted underneath them.

Director and writer Chan-wook Park and writer Seo-Gyeong Jeong never miss an opportunity make the audience squirm in their seats. There are graphic, yet ill at ease sex scenes that barely register as sexual at all. The relationship between several of the characters left me wondering if the lot of them had been dropped on their head as babies. By far, the most discomfort I felt was when I was laughing at things that in real life are not supposed to be funny.

Chan-wook Park and Seo-Gyeong Jeong turn scene after scene from tragic to tickling. Anyone who isn’t a sociopath will laugh, feel guilty about laughing, the laugh some more. Most specifically, any scene with blood was at the same time horrifying and hysterical. Where the vampire is in relation to the blood-letter takes the edge off the fact that the vampire is sucking vital blood from the person’s body.

As soon as the laughter has ceased though, serious topics slip in. Questions of killing, domestic violence, sexual abuse, faith, or a lack thereof, and unexpected changes in the personality of characters seep in through the skin like a salamander breathes. Due to the unconventional story-telling, it’s nearly impossible for an audience member to defend themselves from the revolting myriad of incoming emotions.

My usually stoaic husband wiggled as much as I did, often covering his mouth because he was utterly floored by some of the kill scenes in Thirst and he wasn’t alone. Most of the audience was clinging to their partner, shifting in their seat, giggling, breathing heavy and holding their hands up to their eyes with their fingers spread. “Eeew” and “ha-ha” could be heard at the same time by viewers unable to control their reactions.

There is a strange attention to how Thirst looks by the director. He doesn’t shy away from strange camera angles, movements or settings. Innocent props become sinister. There is a simple change of scenery late in the movie that changes the entire mood and symbolizes a change in the direction of the characters.

During some parts in the beginning, the acting by Kang-ho Song and Ok-vin Kim leave much to be desired. I don’t know if the director wanted them to be horrible on purpose to take the audience off their guard, but it really just came across as ridiculous, kludgy and strange. If you hang in there, I promise, the movie picks up and will shake the senses of even the most reserved.

I have never had so much fun being revolted. Every time I think of the movie, I shift in my seat and think ICK with a smile on my face right before I get the chill up my spine. This subtitled Korean gem, Thirst, will satisfy those who love a good story and those who love good horror. Spine crawling, seat jerking and satisfying, Thirst is a must see! If your local small run theater is not showing this, call them and demand they do!

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Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

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Reviewed by laraemeadows

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince is the sixth movie in Harry Potter film series. Too dependent on previous films or expecting the audience to have read the books, Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince fails to develop into a complete movie.

Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) is whisked away by his professor and fellow wizard Dumbledore (Michael Gambon )to meet with Horace Slughorn (Jim Broadbent) to encourage him to return to his professorship at Hogwarts School. Harry and Dumbledore continue to attempt to find a way to defeat Lord Voldemort and prevent him from returning to the living world. Ron Weasley (Rupert Grint) and Hermione Granger (Emma Watson) dance around their feelings for each other and engage in typical teenage romance melodrama. Draco Malfoy (Tom Felton) sneaks around, waving his wand at bookcases in dark storage rooms, spiraling down an emotional whirlpool.

As an added bonus for the audience, the director and writers have left bonus loose ends for the audience to enjoy. The extraneous footage includes destroying mystical stuff, a girl who has a crush on Harry, some broom related sporting events, potions, and curses. The cinematic loose ends fray long enough to braid and be sold as rope to climbers heading off for K2.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince reminds me of leftover casserole. Leftover casserole is made by taking the remnants of a week’s worth of food, layering it in a casserole dish and hoping it tastes good enough that your family won’t run out on you. If you sprinkle it with parmesan cheese, it can look delicious, but it almost always tastes like week old, reheated donkey-butt stew. Director David Yates and writer Steve Kloves take a bit of left over the Sorcerer’s Stone, covers it in Order of the Phoenix, slathers on Chamber of Secrets, dumps in Goblet of Fire and sprinkles Prisoner of Azkaban, bakes it with parmesan on top (the special effects) and thinks we will eat it.

It shows a total lack of cinematic integrity to assign the audience required reading or mandatory viewing in order to understand anything that is taking place on screen. It is perfectly rational to expect a first time Harry Potter viewer won’t get every mention but they shouldn’t be completely lost. It is not too much to ask for a bit of recap, artfully worked into the story so new viewers can understand what is going on. It irritates me to no end that David Yates, and the production staff think we should pay full price for a half a movie. In one of the more “intense” scenes in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, Dumbledore says, “Once again I must ask too much of you, Harry” but I think it’s the writer and director who have asked too much of the audience by hiding the casserole behind a smoke screen - literally.

Smoke comes out of the water, goes into the water, is outdoors, is indoors, and seems to follow Harry and his compadres, regardless of their travels. Harry would be the alpha caveman of any cave based solely on his ability to attract fire to himself. Based solely on the beauty of the smoke, Harry Potter is a stunning movie.

All of the effects in Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince shimmer almost brightly enough to make one blind to the disparities in the plot. Well lit sets are set against green-screen created backgrounds that seem to flow naturally into each other. While some of the scenes don’t work as well as others, they all work well enough to suspend disbelief and make wizardry riveting.

Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince has no beginning, nor an end; it is only a middle. With nothing to tell the audience what has happened up until now and an unraveling carpet for an ending, it fails to offer the audience a reason to sit through the film. It should be renamed to Harry Potter and a Half.

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