DVD Review: Paintball

Hi!

Paintball. What is it exactly? It boils down to individuals or teams competing against each other to see which team can eliminate the other players and/or complete one or more objectives. Each player has a paintball gun loaded with paintball ammunition (capsules containing paint or dye) used to “mark” other players.

Though this is a game, many competitors take it very seriously. There are now several professional teams around the world, each of which is sponsored monetarily or with equipment to take part in worldwide tournaments. However, most participants are amateurs, participating in their free time to blow off steam and compete with (or against) their friends and coworkers.

Paintball, directed by Daniel Benmayor (now working on the sequel to Hitman), takes a group of eight strangers out for a fun weekend of being weekend warriors and turns it into a live fire game of cat and mouse. When I heard about this movie, I was intrigued and wanted to see how Benmayor and writer Mario Schoendorff would turn this simulated combat into a horror thriller.

Honestly, I was surprised at how well it worked. It has a mix of elements from thrillers, adventure films, and horror that comes together nicely.

The players – Frank (Neil Maskell, Nil by Mouth, David (Brendan Mackey, Touching the Void), Eric (Patrick Regis, Anaconda III), Anna (Jennifer Matter, Dead Cert), Iris (Iaione Perez), Brenda (Anna Casas), John (Peter Vives Newey), and Claudia (Claudia Bassols) – start out in the back of a truck, blindfolded and taken to a remote location. They all answered the call for the “ultimate” in paintball competitors. And some of them are hardcore.

As they start after the first of several flags, the team starts to gel. Working together, they find shelter in a bus in the hail of paintballs from the opposing team. In the bus, they find a case that contains a strange piece of equipment and a bullet-proof vest. One of the team puts the vest on thinking it strange, but playing along. As they start heading to the next objective, he takes a shot to the chest. It turns out to be a real bullet. And when another teammate is shot in the head, they know something has gone horribly wrong.

The group quickly starts to panic and things continue to get worse as they move from flag to flag, hoping that if they get to all of the objectives they can go home in one piece. Of course, the sniper trying to kill them one at a time might have other plans…

I absolutely loved the international nature of the team. That’s something I find lacking in most American-made films. The group was from all over the United States and Europe. But when the stuff started hitting the fan, everybody reacted like a real person would – fighting their fight or flight response.

The other thing I found fascinating was the relative lack of blood on screen. Instead of bathing everyone in red every time a limb is hacked, a person is stabbed, or when bullets rip flesh and bone, the director chose to switch to a nightvision view from the perspective of the killer. The shades of gray make arterial spray look bright white. So the violence is still seen, but mitigated a bit.

Is this film going to win an Oscar? Probably not. Is it fun to watch as person after person gets eliminated? Definitely. And as you go through the story, you catch glimpses of the truth of what’s going on behind the scenes to try and piece things together.

In addition to the film, the DVD includes the trailer, some teasers for other IFC Films releases, and a “Making Of…” feature that focuses on Benmayor and producer Julio Fernandez talking about what their goals were with the film. They wanted a story that would appeal to the average viewer, engaging them with the trials the characters on film were going through. The work with handheld cameras and longer sequences was used to bring viewers into the action in a more real-time way. At the beginning, I have to say the “shaky cam” effect was a bit much, but it does work for the majority of the film where it’s used.

If you’re looking for an atypical thriller set during a paintball weekend, I’d definitely encourage you to check out Paintball. It was fun and has some interesting twists and turns to keep you guessing to the very end.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up Paintball at Barnes & Noble below…

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Book Review: The Art of Drew Struzan

Sometime in the last 20 years or so, the movie industry lost a bit of magic. Once upon a time we hardly had movie trailers on television. Instead, we’d see posters for upcoming movies that would try to snag a bit of our imagination. As much as the script, the actors, the soundtrack… the posters were an integral part of the moviegoing experience. And typically they’d be painted by hand, not edited on a computer or massaged as a photograph. The posters I remember from my youth were just as worthy of hanging in a gallery as they would be hanging on your bedroom wall.

Between 1977 and 1981, I must have had two or three different variations of the Star Wars poster on the walls of my bedroom. They were all in vibrant colors and captured the magic of “a galaxy far far away” better than any of today’s movie posters do. It’s become so bad that I hardly even look at posters any more because they all look the same – a miasma of faces and logos thrown together by a marketing department somewhere.

During this seemingly bygone era, one of these artists seems to have done an influential movie poster for every movie I loved in that time. Drew Struzan. Through the years, he captured a part of my imagination with posters for Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Big Trouble in Little China, Hook and many many more. It was through his talents I was drawn to many movies in my youth – with his art acting as a Pied Piper tune to lead the way.

The Art of Drew Struzan provides a glimpse into the magic his movie posters captured during his career spanning more than 30 years. But along with that you see the tragic tale of how the marketing machine of Hollywood has left the artistic tradition of movie posters in favor of a fast-food style that makes nearly every modern poster pale when compared to those of the past.

A foreward from acclaimed director Frank Darabont sets the stage with a discussion of how the “suits” have lost their way in marketing and a bit about how he came to know Struzan over the years. The artist did many pieces for Darabont’s movies, though some never made it to the public. And an introduction from author and film critic David J. Schow provides a glimpse into the life of Struzan and a lifelong appreciation for how much of his soul the artist puts into each piece. These are well known men in movies and the admiration for Struzan’s work is obvious, but more than that there’s an appreciation for how he works as well.

After that, the book progresses from Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 to Hellboy II: The Golden Army in 2008, showing black and white sketches, partially done pieces, and final artwork along the way. Struzan tells stories of each period as you go through the years, offering explanations for why certain things happened the way they did.

Struzan’s relationships with Spielberg, Lucas, Darabont and Guillermo del Toro through the years, along with other actors and directors makes for fascinating reading. But you can tell it’s all told with a touch of sadness the more recent you get. The fact that marketeers commission art from him but don’t use it is a travesty in my view and that seems to be the case more and more frequently as you go through the book. It’s no wonder that he retired in 2008.

The art alone would make this a worthwhile book to pick up – but it’s the context and history you get along the way that seals the deal. The Art of Drew Struzan should be on the reading list of any movie buff. Be sure to check it out at your local or online bookseller!

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up books about Drew Struzan below!

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Why doesn’t Nikita work for me?

Hi there…

Every so often, I ponder why I like one television show, but not another. Sometimes I blame it on the actors (“I don’t like So-and-So”)… Sometimes I blame it on the writing… And sometimes there’s just something missing that brings a particular show together.

As another Fall television season approaches, I’m looking at the schedule and wondering what shows I think I’m going to like and what I’m not.

The first of the premieres was Nikita on The CW. Though there is beauty, action, and gadgets – unfortunately it’s not going to be enough to keep my attention.

When La Femme Nikita was released in 1990 from then relatively unknown director Luc Besson, I managed to catch it on video. It blew my mind. It was intense, with action, acting, and the sense that there was much more there than met the eye. Actress Anne Parillaud as Nikita was fierce, intense, and demanded your attention on screen.

We’ll skip the Bridget Fonda movie Point of No Return, which was an American take on the original. It was horrible and we’ll leave it at that.

When the television series popped up in 1997 starring then unknown actress Peta Wilson in the lead role, I was hooked again. Somehow it not only managed to capture the intensity, action, and depth of the original movie, but it expanded the story in a way that never lost itself in the weeds. I lost track of the series in its last few years, but watched from ’97 through ’99 and enjoyed it thoroughly.

That brings us to the 2010 version of Nikita starring Maggie Q as Nikita. She’s stunning and intense, but not quite as imposing a figure as either Parillaud or Peta for me. But it’s when you get past Maggie to the rest of the cast that I started to lose interest.

Shane West in the role of Michael – Nikita’s handler – just doesn’t cut it. Compared to the first TV series where Roy Dupuis plays the character, West simply doesn’t have the dynamic range to play sensitive to scary. West has tried over the last 10 or so years to shake the image of teenager Eli from ABC’s Once and Again with roles like Tom Sawyer in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Dr. Barnett in E.R., but it’s just not working for me.

And Melinda Clarke as Amanda, the woman who transforms beautiful, troubled people into runway models with grace and poise as they assassinate people. Melinda is a great actress who’s been in some very eclectic things over the years, including Soldier of Fortune, Inc., Spawn, and CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. But Amanda pales when compared to Alberta Watson’s Madeline from the ’90s series as well. Watson ate up the screen in that role.

There are other characters I could compare to earlier incarnations, but I won’t. In this case, it seems to be a mix of writing and casting that’s making Nikita not work for me. Maybe I’ll check in after a few episodes to see if it’s improved any – but most likely I won’t be watching again unless I’m very bored.

What do you think? Or did you even know that Nikita had started? If so, you’re better at ignoring advertising than I am. I’d seen ads in magazines and on television for weeks before the series premiere.

For more information about Nikita, check out their website here.

–Fitz

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