Monday, November 5, 2012

Double Feature: Chasing Mavericks and Silent Hill: Revelation

This is it. I'm finally at the end of reviewing my vacation movies. In seven days I watched nine movies, most of which were the leftover films I had not yet seen in Fall 2012. But the two movies I saw on October 26'th were both (then) new titles, albeit for a weekend disappointing overall for Hollywood. I've already recounted my showing of Cloud Atlas, but how did that weekend's Chasing Mavericks and Silent Hill: Revelation compare?

Chasing Mavericks turned out to be a surprisingly-solid surfing movie directed by noted directors Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted. Telling a fictionalized rendition of the life of legendary surfer Jay Moriarty, played by fresh-faced Jonny Weston, the film chronicles Jay's life as the product of a broken home, bullying schoolmates and romantic rejection. His escape from the troubles of life is surfing, and he idolizes local legend Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler), whom he considers one of the best. Frosty is always up for a challenge in the waves, and he is part of a crew that regularly surfs Mavericks, huge waves meant for experts only. Jay is insistent on riding one, and while Frosty doesn't approve of the 16 year-old to take such a risk, he agrees to do so because he know that Jay would try even without his consent. As Jay trains to take on the massive wave, he learns a lot about himself, and the effect his life has on others.

Insert your favorite Beach Boys lyric here.
The reason Chasing Mavericks resonates so well is the depth of its acting talent. If the real-life Jay was anything like Weston's performance, it's easy to see why he would be so popular. Weston plants an inscrutably positive attitude on our leading character; in a world where many heroes' motivations trend into grey areas to achieve their goals, it's nice to see a person succeed without giving up their moral backbone and least partially because of that inherent goodness. Butler seems to be on a self-help kick, picking up roles to try and inspire the younger generation. He's fine here, but to be frank any number of similarly-talented actors could have done the job. It's a strange direction, especially as his current career path seems to take him farther and farther from the popular successes of 300 and Law Abiding Citizen. I know he doesn't want to be typecast as a genre actor (who does?), but there's also the idea of playing to your strengths. Butler needs a hit to re-cement his status as a leading man, and I somehow don't think the upcoming Playing for Keeps is going to do it. A solid supporting cast makes their infrequent appearances work, as Elizabeth Shue and Abigail Spencer do good in their limited capacities. Surprisingly good is Levin Rambin, a TV actress given her first big movie role. I'm not surprised she's good - I really liked her performance on Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles - but in that it took her this long to make it to the big screen (I'm not counting her tiny role in The Hunger Games). Hopefully, this will just be the first in a slew of opportunities for the still-young actress.

Does California ever gets cold enough for wool caps?
After that, Chasing Mavericks has its share of problems. Supposedly the majority of the story takes place over the course of twelve weeks, but other than that we get little idea of the world outside of this tiny Californian area. Is it Summer, because the water is apparently fine to surf and swim in every day? Is it Fall or Spring, as Jay is (occasionally) shown in school?  Is it winter, because at the end everyone is wearing cold weather clothes? There's no sense of continuity to the story, surprising from the directors with titles such as LA Confidential, 8 Mile, The World is Not Enough and Gorillas in the Mist between them. With a steadier hand, this film might have avoided many of the issues that dogged its creative process and been much better for it.

Butler's next role: Hobo Joe.
It's not all bad; the lessons Jay learns can be taken to heart and applied to anyone's life, the characters are just complex enough without being unfathomable, and the whole thing thankfully doesn't come off as an after-school Saved by the Bell special. It could have used some polish, but Chasing Mavericks deserved more love than the empty theaters it was shown to last weekend. It's a solid piece of work, and one you ought to check out after it swiftly hits the DVD racks.

My second Friday film was the new Silent Hill flick with Todd; she always wants to see the latest horror films, and while I see more movies without her than I do with, I'll always make provisions for the scary movies she wants to see, especially as we both prefer subtle scares and ghost tales to the gory idiocy of torture porn. Despite being based on a second-rate video game series, the first Silent Hill definitely matched that criteria; scaring while also juggling a satanic monster-laden universe wrapped in fog and ash. It stands as one of the better-received video game adaptations, and was anchored by a solid acting team of Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, Laurie Holden and Deborah Kara Unger. They're all but wiped away in this sequel, which both rewrites and ruins the ending of the first film.

Sharon da Silva (Adelaide Clemens), now going by the name Heather. and her father Christopher/Harry (Sean Bean) have been on the run since the finale of the first Silent Hill. Hunted by the same cult that had kidnapped Heather as a child, Harry has hoped to keep his adopted daughter safe and out of their hands. But somehow their pursuers have caught up with them. They kidnap Harry, dragging him back to the creepy town of Silent Hill, knowing that Heather will follow. With fellow outcast Vincent (Kit Harrington), Heather journeys solely to find her father, but also might discover something terrifying about herself in the process...

Nope, it's not a snow day.

Revelation manages to maintain the SFX production levels of the original despite about half the budget, though with about six years of technology improvement that's hardly surprising. Some scenes feel a bit stretched in terms of resources, but for the most part these are the outliers and not indicative of the effects as a whole. Monsters feel just as gloriously present, and 3D manages to enhance the effects without relying on the "in your face" gimmicks many films still cling to. Unfortunately, you can still tell that there are budget issues (such as only two transformations from the "calm" grey Silent Hill to the "black" violent variety") masked as serious plot lines. It's the sign of a troubled production when the budget precisely dictates the story you can tell, and director Michael Bassett does nobody any favors in directing each scene like a "monster of the moment" ordeal, negating the potential the monsters possess in the world of the movie.

Zombie Nurses: sexy AND scary
A smaller issue with the film, though by no means less noticeable, is that despite the film taking place in America, most of the cast are distinctively not American. Now, I never, EVER mind foreign actors portraying Americans (or other Caucasian races), if they can play it correctly. Guy Pearce, Andrew Garfield, Hugh Laurie, Gary Oldman and Kate Winslet have all done amazing jobs portraying American characters, made more impressive by the complete transformation of their accents in the process. But some actors can't get everything right, not even Sean Bean. I'm sure Clemens and Harrington are more talented than they let on here (I've yet to see Harrington in Game of Thrones, so we'll see) but you can tell they're not used to American accents; every once in a while they simply pronounce words in such a way that just feels plain wrong, causing almost more of a distraction than the silly story and blink-and-they're-gone creatures.

I think someone needs a time out.
Silent Hill: Revelation suffers from a multitude of ailments, but the worst might be that, after six years, the Silent Hill brand is just not as strong as it once was. Where once it commanded respect in the same vein as similar franchises Resident Evil and Dead Space, there just isn't room for another creepy town/monster mash story of the like we see here. If you REALLY want to give Silent Hill a try, just rent the original. Twice much love, attention, and money was put into it, and unlike the direct-to-DVD sequel that will eventually rise from the ashes of Revelation, it will be well worth your money.

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