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I really do hate that I have to do this. A small indie that got no proper distribution and actually found financial success through exposure from internet piracy is not the kind of film that deserves a negative review. It’s impressive enough that the film got made and completed, why should I tear it down? It’s already the underdog. But the simple truth is, Ink, despite its ambition, is not a good movie.

The film involves some weird dream world and a lot of weird sci-fi/fantasy elements. There is a potentially emotional drama at the core of it, but there are also a lot of special effects and fight scenes. The problem is that none of it actually connects. The drama would be involving had it been written well. It might be easier to connect to the characters if the acting was any good. The special effects would be impressive as more than just examples of low-budget ingenuity if only the film had a good visual style.

Actually, the visual style is the first thing that had me down on the film. There is no reason for any film to look this bad, and a low budget is not an excuse. Evil Dead was made for no money, and it isn’t the most polished looking film, but it has a really nice, gritty quality to it. Ink suffers from MirrorMask syndrome. Instead of attempting to design a compelling look for the film, the director chooses to blow out the whites and give every shot an awful soft-focus effect. It’s awful and distracting.

The next problem with the film is what I’m going to call “the film student effect”. It’s non-linear, it attempts to deliver exposition through “showing” at every possible step, and maintains and ambiguity for much of the storyline. This might sound good, except that it all still feels paint-by-numbers. It’s non-linear, not because it needs to be, but because, well, why not? The bits of expository action, especially at the beginning, go on for too long and treat the audience like we would not have understood what the characters were doing had they not shown at least five or six examples. And the ambiguity? Nothing but laziness. If I still don’t understand anything about the rules of the world or why the characters are doing what they’re doing halfway through the film then we have a problem. That problem could be mitigated if the writing or the actors provided and easy entry point for me to relate, but nope, it’s all too amateurish.

Ink is not a good film. I totally understand why people would be impressed by such a low budget film have such ambition, but ambition only gets you so far. If the film does not deliver a good story with interesting characters then it’s all for nothing, really. Such is the case with Ink. I applaud writer-director Jamin Winans for getting the film made, for getting some quality effects work done, and even for embracing the underground distribution the film had to go through to get in front of an audience. But that’s really all I can do.

Pedophilia is awful and wrong and monstrous and evil and the worst, most despicable act a human being can engage in. I think most of us agree on that. The Woodsman agrees with that as well, but it also dares to ask the question, aren’t pedophiles people, too?

The Woodsman stars Kevin Bacon as Walter, a child molester, recently released from prison, attempting to adjust to a normal life and possibly cure himself. It’s a short movie, and very focused on those two things. On the one side he gets a job at a lumber yard and through that gets a girlfriend. On the other side he is seeing a psychologist and trying to work through whether there is any hope for change from within.

The film is quite powerful in the way that it doesn’t make outright judgements about the character, instead allowing Kevin Bacon and his amazing performance to breathe humanity into him. What we see in him is not a monster, but a man, drawn to young girls and prone to committing heinous crimes. He knows that what he does is wrong in the eyes of society—even though he does try to justify his actions with the classic “they want it, too”—and unlike some truly far-gone psychopaths he wants to change because he values the normalcy associated with being a part of society.

But there is one point where I think the movie fails itself a little. It’s actually quite a good scene, with some wonderful acting and a powerful realization, but it feels forced, a little too contrived for the sake of catharsis, and that undermines what the film is otherwise trying to do. In the scene, Walter is attempting to get close to a young girl after speaking to her for a little while. Through doing that he comes to understand that the girl has been touched inappropriately by her own father. The tears streaming down her face, the pain in her eyes, and her eventual submission all coalesce to finally show Walter the true results of his actions. At that point Walter might not be “cured”, but for the first time he is actually properly disgusted with himself, giving him a much stronger motivation to change.

The problem with the scene is that the entire hopeful ending of the film rides on it, but the situation itself seems too coincidental to be realistic. It feels like the hand of a screenwriter at work, finding any possible way to bring along that change within the character. As I’ve said, the scene itself, on it’s own, is very good. But in the context of the rest of the film it feels somehow wrong; the only time the film actually tries to impose a moral judgement on the character that the audience is supposed to buy into. This goes completely against the more hands-off approach of the rest of the film, and it is a lesser film for it.

All that being said, The Woodsman is still a powerful film. It has perhaps the best performance Kevin Bacon has ever delivered. It generally treats its difficult subject matter with a great degree of nuance and sophistication. It is a difficult film, no doubt. It deals with a moral grey area that most people would rather see as black and white. It gives humanity to monsters, and while that may be tough to deal with, it is great to see the film do it anyway.

I’m a very heavy user of the Filmspotting.net message boards. It’s one of the best film communities you’re likely to find on the entire web. Friendly folk who love real, in-depth talk about movies and other subjects. I recently decided to take my forum participation to the next level by starting a marathon. The premise is simple. I gave everyone and anyone on the forum the mandate of choosing five films I had yet to see. Any films. Good, bad, long, longer, disturbing, fun, anything. My first set of five films, submitted by forum member, Junior, consists of five films by Frank Borzage. First up: Lucky Star.

First of all, I have to admit complete ignorance of the work of Frank Borzage. I have not seen a single one of his films, and going into Lucky Star, I was completely unaware that is was silent. No problem, I like many silent films. But I have to say, I was a little worried. In my experience, silent dramas have often been too slow for my liking. A lot of stationary shots of people wildly acting out motions. You get the idea after a few seconds, but the shot just keeps going on and on way past the point of tediousness. So it was with a little bit of trepidation that I stepped into the world of Borzage. After watching Lucky Star, all I can say is, that trepidation has been fully been replaced by a ravenous desire for more.
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