Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Atlantis: Secret Star Mappers Of The Lost World

The lost civilization is discussed in this slow-moving and boring speculative documentary. Founded by Atlas, Atlantis was supposedly an economic powerhouse at the end of the Ice Age, and apparently it may have journeyed through a worm hole because why wouldn't it. Rambling on and on, Atlantis: Secret Star Mappers of a Lost World features experts contradicting one another, bickering over locations in Spain and Northern Africa, maps, drawings, and photos of statues and ancient stone structures from around the world, and inconsistent sound levels, the documentary adds insult to injury by incorporating math into the situation, and if there's one thing in speculative documentaries about lost civilizations that may or may not have existed that I just will not stand for, it's math, or science, or sense.

Masterpiece Or Forgery: The Story Of Elmyr de Hory

The story of the mysterious, charismatic art forger is examined in this slow-moving documentary.

Clifford Irving provides much of the backstory, although narration suggests he shouldn't be as trusted as one would hope considering his career.

Elmyr de Hory supposedly painted with Picasso and Matisse in Paris, and after being ignored by the art world for his own original work, focused instead on forging art and partying with celebrities. After gaining notoriety and facing punishment, de Hory attempted suicide with pills and cognac, supposedly dying at the hospital. Or did he, as it was rumored he fled, allegedly disappearing.

Featuring museum directors refusing to talk on the record, a brief examination of forgery techniques de Hory may have used, and awkward, silence-filled interviews with art professionals, former friends, business contacts, and celebrities, Masterpiece Or Forgery bores at times in spite of a charismatic and fascinating grifter at its center. There was a humorous moment when the film-makers were presented with a budgetary problem regarding a trip to South America, where they slyly insert stock footage of South America in lieu of an actual trip and acknowledge it as such.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Snakes On A Plane

I'm thrilled to be invited to join Barry Cinematic's Nature's Fury blogathon. If you get a chance, stop by Barry's entertaining and exceedingly well-written blog Cinematic Catharsis. It's an honor to be asked to contribute. I find it fitting to contribute to this particular blogathon because I'm often furious about nature.

Well, I'm often furious about nearly everything, but I really hate nature.

Nature is that annoying, bothersome stuff one speeds past on the way to the nearest coffeeshop. It's boring and bug-filled, and it often results in excessive sweating and sunburn. I avoid it at all cost. Forests and meadows, while picturesque in film, are often sorely lacking in boxes of snack cakes or fried vegetable dumplings when you're actually out in the tedious midst of it, so I really can't be bothered. Exactly how does one get an order of red curry with tofu delivered to the wilderness? I don't know, and I never want to find out. Against their better judgement, nature enthusiasts often try to convert me to their ways, explaining that there's fun and exertion to be had out in nature, but I'm unconvinced. I had fun once, and I can almost guarantee it was indoors, although I can't remember what it was. Anyway, deep sea fishing, rock climbing, jet-skiing, or any other noxious outdoor activity usually involves dangerous tools and machinery far from the nearest hospital, and nature has it out for you anyway. The Earth will eventually see you dead, buried six feet underneath it for all eternity. No need to provoke it.

Speaking of provoking, maybe I should review the film. I should admit that I've seen Snakes On A Plane before. That didn't make it any easier to sit through. I should also admit that I attempted try to review Snakes On A Plane as though it was a romantic comedy, focusing on the relationships between the characters and refusing to mention the word 'snake'. Unfortunately, Snakes On A Plane thwarted that attempt, since there are few memorable characters and almost no relationships of any kind.

Here it is:

Samuel L. Jackson and two dozen or so disposable minor characters attempt to jettison unconvincing snakes from an unconvincing plane in this dreary action/adventure film.

A man witnesses a mob hit on a prosecutor. After the mobsters come for him, an FBI agent saves the day. They escape the gunmen, and the FBI agent convinces the witness to fly to LA to testify and to endanger his life, which of course he does, otherwise the film would end seconds after the opening sequence because there's very little else going on in Snakes On A Plane other than snakes on a plane.

Aboard the flight are the usual disaster film characters, all of whom are written solely to provide conflict; a germaphobe rapper and entourage, a spoiled, pampered woman and her miniature dog, several flight attendants, one of whom is soon becoming a lawyer and another mere moments from retirement, a mean British businessman, two young boys flying sans parents, and a young newlywed couple, one of whom is anxious and uses a lot of decongestant. None of them are particularly compelling.

Providing the plot device that powers the entire film, the mobster fills the plane with deadly snakes that have been jacked up on snake pheromones. Meanwhile, everyone watches that flight safety routine that starts every flight. Since no one pays attention to those while on an actual flight, I'm uncertain why the film makers devoted so much time to it since the film is an already mind-numbingly long 1 hour and 45 minutes. Some time later, boxes of floral arrangements explode below deck, releasing seemingly thousands of computer-generated snakes because of course they do.

After about 30 seconds of character background and development, the bathrooms are all suddenly occupied by corpses. Amidst jump scares, POV snake-vision, and an allergy to leis, snakes with the ability to plot out their human victims' deaths and somehow kill nearly instantly drop from every luggage compartment, which seems unlikely. 90% of the plane's occupants are either bitten, unconscious, uninteresting, or killed, and there's still an hour to go in this film.

After periods of running, screaming, and convenient turbulence, one of the flight attendants kills a snake in an unlikely airplane microwave with a pre-programmed setting for 'snake'. In an effort to contain the snakes, the remaining passengers build an unlikely luggage wall to keep the snakes out, although the creatures had just minutes before somehow maneuvered their way from the cargo hold to the overhead luggage compartments. I'm not certain how Samsonite deters serpents while metallic plane fuselage, ductwork, avionics, or whatever material separates three unlikely floors of airplane doesn't, but I'm not an expert in luggage or aircraft. Everyone argues, and the aircraft plummets a few times. Things collapse, crash, or break. Snakes climb stairs and swallow grown men. Someone uses a hairspray called 'Spray N Run' as a torch. Samuel L. Jackson comes up with an unlikely way to rid the plane of snakes that also conveniently endangers everyone on board, and the film comes to an abrupt halt on the runway. The remaining passengers decide to keep in contact with one another, and I'm uncertain why. Maybe it's because of snake-induced trauma-bonded co-dependency, but I'm not an expert in snake-related plane mishaps or interpersonal relationships.

While not as awful as a majority of the likeminded films churned out by The Asylum since its release, Snakes On A Plane is overlong and ridiculous, but watching and reviewing it kept me indoors and away from nature, so it has that going for it. Snakes On A Plane bores between scenes of snake attacks. However, it's mildly recommended if you like stuff that sucks.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Haunted North America: Witches, Ghosts and Demons

Canadian ghost stories are examined in this dull paranormal documentary.

Amongst the stories recounted in this documentary are an armless ghost in a Gibraltar Point lighthouse, the apparition of a sea captain seen in a Prince Edward Island playhouse, a hermit seen in the lonely, out of the way White Otter Castle, and the menacing Marie Corriveau, a Quebec witch hung in an iron cage from a wooden cross, who murdered by placing a few drops of mercury in her victim's ear.

Featuring interviews with historians and eyewitnesses, Haunted North America is marred by unintentionally comical recreations and overwrought narration. Concentrating primarily on ghost stories in Canada, Haunted North America is misnamed, and rather boring.

M. Hulot's Holiday

A man goes on vacation at the french seaside, resulting in slapstick in this classic French comedy.

Like a lazy summer day, little of importance happens in M. Hulot's Holiday. An open door causes a stiff breeze to blow pouring tea into a different cup. An inner tube covered in leaves is mistaken as a funeral wreath. And the titular character of the story goes to the beach, or goes for a drive, or dodges cars, resulting in one misadventure after another. Utilizing sight gags and little dialogue, M. Hulot's Holiday is hardly a laugh riot. Instead, it's a dry, nearly continuous stream of minor jokes. However, its influence is easily seen in the films of Monty Python and Woody Allen.

I wish I could say I was floored by M. Hulot's Holiday. It was a pleasant diversion, but an easily forgotten one.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Children Of The Stars

The film-making UFO cult is examined in this fascinating documentary. Ruth Norman, outrageously coiffed and gowned leader of the UNARIUS group, founded the organization in an attempt to better mankind before a mothership of 'space brothers' was to supposedly land on Earth in 1974.

Seeing themselves as rulers and prophets who have lived for thousands of years, they 'psychically remember' past lives and episodes of Flash Gordon and Star Trek as though they were based on real events. They created ad-libbed films, whose plots were supposedly based on past-life experiences.

Marred by inconsistent editing and harsh lighting, Children Of The Stars still manages to captivate, mostly on the quirky appeal of the charismatic leader Ruth Norman and her eccentric followers. Using stock footage of public domain sci-fi films pads out the runtime, and inclusion of the clips seems a natural fit alongside clips of the group's own films. The oil paintings of the organizations members and leaders are a highlight.

Children of the Stars is a bewildering look at a fringe belief system, with a rich DIY outsider art aesthetic.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

The Castle Project

The restoration of an allegedly haunted Colorado mansion, and the supposed paranormal activity that occurs, is examined in this documentary. Featuring a mummified cat, dust particles, and a nervous dog, the attempt to turn a run-down mansion into a bed-and-breakfast while in the midst of a flurry of supposed paranormal activity is outlined day by day, often with little to show other than the creepy stories of the workers who witnessed it. Concentrating on the claims; the sound of crying children, disembodied voices asking 'Are you there?', former owners telling tales of emptying specimen jars of brains into the sewer, unexplained shadows, gives a sense of authenticity and a couple of chills to the film. The presentation of EVP evidence and footage of flickering lights helps suspend disbelief. Unfortunately, inconsistent sound levels, awkward editing, shaky camerawork, and a disjointed storyline filled out with visits to French chateaus and a preachy ending about Purgatory lowers the overall film to an advert for the soon-to-be-finished B&B. Simultaneously an effective haunted house tale and a less-than-effective episode of This Old (paranormal) House, The Castle Project slowly loses energy throughout its unfocused runtime.