Saturday, January 30, 2010

THE IMDb


It stands for Internet Movie Database, and it is just that (and more).

I have spent more time on the waves of imdb.com than any other website (though Facebook is creeping up from 2nd place). It is a place for dedicated film geeks and casual moviegoers alike. I can think of a reason for absolutely everyone to utilize this superb website. If you really care to challenge my claim, go ahead. Give me any individual in any situation (even an Amish) and I will inform you of a reason they'd consult IMDb.


At IMDb you can check movie times at your local theatre, look up information on any movie (past, present, and those in the works), or discuss any film in any way on the vast message boards (a true example, I recently caused quite a a stir on the message board for "(500) Days Of Summer" when I declared Summer Finn was one of the great movie villains of our time). All these options, among several others, are available.

One of the most popular features on IMDb enables users to give a film a "star" rating, you can reward any movie with anywhere from 1 to 10 stars. The Database takes the movies with the highest averaged rating (also taking into account the number of voters) and forms the controversial Top 250 list, which is essentially supposed to represent the greatest 250 movies of all-time. Many feel that the list has unreasonable problems. To illustrate this 

point I quote from an interesting section that Wikipedia has gathered on the subject:

"Criticisms of IMDb ranking:

The validity of the Top 250 has come under scrutiny. The skepticism includes accusations of ballot-box stuffing or voting ambiguity.[16]

Soon after its release, WALL-E garnered high ratings from users, eventually pushing it to #6 on the list. Soon afterwards, WALL-E's message board became filled with posts from users urging others to vote it a "1", after which its rating dropped significantly.[17]

Another example occurred in July 2008 when The Dark Knight temporarily took the number one spot away from The Godfather. CNET's Harrison Hoffman theorized that the

hype surrounding the movie outweighed clear thinking, and noted that the number of "10" votes for the film corresponded with a large number of "1" votes that suddenly appeared in The Godfather's voting bin (that knocked that movie down to #3 at the time) were the markings of a "drastic shift" that "hardly seems the work of a wise crowd." A "mob mentality", he maintains, can "greatly skew a product of its collective wisdom."[18]"

End quote.

Certainly sometimes a super-hyped film will make the list and even surpass classics of yesteryear (I recall when the terribly overrated "300" hit theaters a few years ago, it had its moment to shine on the Top 250), but over time things usually balance out (these days "300" is no longer on that list with an average user rating of 7.8). All in all, it is a matter a personal opinion (like many things in life!). "To each his/her own" and "agree to disagree" are profound ideologies that I feel people need to better
understand and allow. This is a topic for another day (another post), but mark my words: I will return to address it.

Now... where were we? Right, the Top 250. Dear readers, please do not dismiss this disputed list. Nobody is going to agree 100% with the list and that is okay. Despite the unfair ratings and biases of many users, I still find the Top 250 to be very important. Why? Beacause it is an accumulation of opinions from people young and old the world over. In many ways it accurately reflects the most popular and most loved movies in the world today. As of right now, the top ten on the Top 250 are as follows:

1. The Shawshank Redemption (1994)
2. The Godfather (1972)
3. The Godfather: Part II (1974)
4. The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (1966)
5. Pulp Fiction (1994)
6. Schindler's List (1993)
7. 12 Angry Men (1957)
8. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
9. The Dark Knight (2008)
10: Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Having seen all ten of these (one or two of which would make my own "Top 10 Films Of All-Time" list), I must declare it is an impressive list. I personally have discovered many gems thanks to the Top 250. If you are a lover of movies you'd do yourself a favor to check it out.
So the next time you are desperately trying to remember which films Charlton Heston (Aha! I just went to IMDb to make sure I spelled it right! See! So useful!) starred in or your family is wanting to know when the next Pixar film will be released, make the short and easy trip over to imdb.com. Even if you were to google your contemplated movie questions the most trusty links will be to none other than IMDb itself.

www.imdb.com

Updated 4.12.12

Friday, January 8, 2010

DISTRICT 9 - REVIEW

District 9
August 14, 2009
112 min

Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchel



"District 9" is a unique (even weird) hybrid that delivers something rather miraculous. It comes from a different place than most blockbusters and probably shouldn't even be labeled as such. Regardless, this is among the best science fiction films of the decade.

Days after returning home from Taiwan I began hearing word on "District 9." It currently ranks #102 on IMDB's Top 250 (for those who aren't familiar with The Internet Movie Database, in my next post I will exclusively explore this supreme website and the fervor-inducing "Top 250" list featured thereon). This popularity, Peter Jackson's name attached, and seeing the trailer (you can check it out here) for myself brewed up quite the appetite in me to see this movie. Last night I finally beheld "District 9."

Allegedly, in the dawn of pre-production this was originally going to be the "Halo" movie, based on the insanely hyped video game of the same name. For funding reasons the license was withdrawn and the possibility of a "Halo" movie was shelved. I am not terribly saddened by this, because what first-time (feature-length film) director Neill Blomkamp (supported whole-heartedly by Peter Jackson, director of The Lord of The Rings) ended up crafting is a bright star in the night sky of recent cinema.

Some "Halo"-esque elements are noticeable in "District 9" (i.e. a South Africa setting, an alien race coming to earth, and humans forced to deal with them) but the two remain incredibly distinct. In all fairness to Blomkamp, who wrote the very original screenplay for his movie along side Terri Tatchell, it should be noted that he was born in South Africa and that "District 9" was based on a short film he made four years ago, "Alive In Joburg." In short, he is in no way a "Halo"-hack, but rather deserving of the praise he has already garnered for directing one of the most refreshing movies of the decade. (Blomkamp did make some short "Halo" films, which further demonstrate how great a filmmaker he is.)

It is the present year in Johannesburg, nearly three decade ago a massive spaceship arrived and has been hovering over the city ever since. Aboard the ship we discovered a race of aliens, very much in need of help, whom mankind derogatorily refers to as "prawns," though they do look like such. The government gave them a place to stay, District 9, but over the years it has turned into slums and the aliens have become a burden on society. Thus, a plan is made to evict all residents of this District and relocate them 200 km away to a "better place" (to me it looks like a modernized concentration camp).

The first half hour of "District 9" is supreme to the final two acts, it begins with a sensational documentary-style that drops the viewer right into this alternate 2010. These are some of the most effective moments I have seen in film. Strangely the documentary-style altogether disappears for the middle act and is only brought back in the film's final minutes to tie a pretty bow on the entire feature. What begins as an intriguing science-fiction epic somewhat dissolves into a typical action flick, albeit with peculiar flavor. Still, "District 9" is knees and feet above the likes of "Transformers," due to the emotions it explores and genius of concept.

This film is a fascinating commentary on the mistreatment of others. It's reminiscent of specific occurrences in the last 100 years from the Holocaust, and various race riots, to the current rise in human abortions. While I know understanding can go a long way, I find myself now wondering in the context of the movie, whether "prawns" and humans could ever coexist.

Our protagonist (well, "anti-hero" would label him better) Wikus Van De Merwe is played so well by Sharlto Copley that I soon forgot I was watching a performance. Wikus heads the team sent to begin the evictions at District 9 and several memorable scenes arise and one grave event in particular which ends up toting the rest of the movie. His character has probably the worst consecutive three days in the history of film, and you will no doubt feel a wide array of feelings for his character.

I usually won't delve into budget details when reviewing a film, but this deserves to be an exception! "District 9" was made for $30 million. Compare that with the likes of "Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen," which cost $200 million. "District 9" not only looks better than most CGI-heavy blockbusters, it IS better.

In conclusion, "District 9" is an exceptional film. It felt like two movies mashed into one, which may have been intentional technique; regardless, both work well enough. Resorting to the stereotypical "action-movie" at moments was this film's main drawback. But it still manages to entertain and engross throughout. Simply put, it is spectacular. Let it be known that Neill Blomkamp's "District 9" makes my list of top directorial debuts. I know I'm not alone in looking forward to what he'll bring to the theatre next.



★★★★½

CONTENT: strong bloody violence, strong language, disturbing imagery and moments (The majority of this film is not for everyone. Acts two and three are full of violence, disturbing content, and admittedly over-abundant language. However, I would recommend just about anyone to at least watch the first act, about a half-hour in, for the splendid experience that it is.)

Updated 8.23.12

Friday, January 1, 2010

ENTER THE TOME

Yesterday forenoon (the last day of '09) it became palpable to me that I needed a spot entirely devoted to film, or strictly speaking, film as perceived and considered by yours truly. Thus I acted on this realization and slammed my flag into the tough ground of these tenebrous parts. This is it: THE FILM TOME (thefilmtome.blogspot.com).

May this be a place where I can proclaim my passion about certain motion pictures and about this art form in general. From this site I shall publicly rant and rave over particular flicks. I will explore the vast pastures of cinema, the old and the new, the foreign and the familiar, the popular and the spurned. All things film... all things according to me.

Film (the consuming and the producing thereof) has been my passion for nearly the last decade. I do not know how it all began, though this much is certain: my two older sisters and I would use our folks' video camera (that brute would take VHS tapes - it shocks me that once upon a time he was new and cutting-edge) and we would make all sorts of home-movies. In those early days I was primarily concerned with being in front of the camera (as is evident from the "Lewis Goof-Off Tape" archives, as they were commonly called). As the years have tallied on the wall of life I've become chiefly prevalent in screenwriting, directing and editing, though I still find sundry occasions to act, on and offscreen.

Taking part in creating videos with my family and friends has helped me respect the filmmaking process. Experience in producing film has enriched my experience in consuming film and vice versa. These home-brewed opuses, along with my exposure to such classics as "Raiders Of The Lost Ark" and "Beetle Juice", must have been crucial elements of planting seeds for early onset cinephilia in me. Watching our own products on the same TV-set as Hollywood's progeny, and comparing the two, blurred the lines between a studio release and a homemade feature. A truth was proven: any lucky soul with a video camera can make a movie. This tome celebrates that notion. (Note: While I hold this belief, you will surely ascertain that the majority of the movies I recognize are those released by studios.)

I'd like to conclude with a few words about the movies themselves, addressing them both collectively and individually, these brainchildren of myriad filmmakers over the past century. I believe there is ample learning to be had from each feature. Whether you are a filmmaker, a critic, or a casual moviegoer, let the movies you behold teach you. Some pictures seem to exist merely to entertain; and don't get me wrong, this characteristic is wonderful. However, the best of films are those that edify (educate and enlighten), inspire, and ultimately lead to our (the audiences') own improvement.

Welcome to my film tome.

-J.S. Lewis

Updated 4.12.12