Thursday, December 31, 2009

Important Horror Films of the Decade

I was asked by several people if I was ever going to work on a "Top 10 of the Decade" list or what have you since it is so popular. To be honest I was never considering the idea because I have a terrible memory and deciding an order would be extremely difficult. However, I finally decided I could just craft a general "Important" list that just spits out my favorites of the decade in no special order.

Grindhouse (2007; Quentin Tarantino & Robert Rodriguez)

While not fully horror, it was indeed a tremendously profound release bringing the trashy styles of old back into the mainstream fold. Endlessly entertaining (more so Tarantino's) and inspiring, these must not go unwatched (as well as the trailers).

The Descent
(2005; Neil Marshall)

Marshall's important follow up to is surprisingly popular Dog Soldiers. It implemented both a fantastic visual style (only the natural lights they carried on them) and atmosphere that pretty much could creep anybody out.

A Tale of Two Sisters
(2003; Kim Ji-woon)

It has been stated before how much I admire this piece as well as Kim Ji-woon, so not much more needs to be said. This film is structured perfectly down to the last detail. Every shot has both a purpose and a meaning. It doesn't come much better.

Battle Royale (2000; Kinji Fukasaku)

While I'm not 100% convinced this is actually a horror (more of a drama) I didn't want anybody getting the idea I was neglecting it. A reflection of some of the finest political satire there is. Watch it.

The House of the Devil (2009; Ti West)

This nod goes both to the film itself, as it is a wonderful reimagining of what Roman Polanski would have done if he was West's age and to Glass Eye Pix who have really come into their own this decade. I look forward to watching many of their upcoming releases and hope they continue to polish their retro style.

Mockumentaries (Various)

I could go on to list a paragraph for several of the great mockumentaries of the decade, but I want to emphasize that this is the decade that followed Blair Witch Projects fantastic release. That led the way for this decade to explore the boundries of the idea and craft some of the most wonderful stories with them. Ex. Cloverfield, Quarantine, [REC], Paranormal Activity, etc.

(2005; Eli Roth)

Eli Roth's second huge venture into horror and what a venture it was. I would love to put all of Roth's films onto the list, but I feel Hostel is the most structurely tight and polished of them so I'll let it speak for all three.

Session 9 (2001; Brad Anderson)

Session 9 came as a bit of a surprise as it sort of snuck up on me and signified an important time in psychological horror in the United States. Thoroughly atmospheric and powerful, it is definitely one that has seen many plays on my television.

American Psycho (2000; Mary Harron)

Wonderful opus into the world of the high class yuppie. Specifically one who has completely snapped and uses the materialistic shell as his only cover. Absolutely wonderful.

Trick 'R Treat (2008; Michael Dougherty)

Fantastically structured horror anthology celebrating everyones favorite horror holiday. This film should become a staple for everyone's Halloween nights for now on. Also, can't forget our new mascot as well ;) .

Gozu (2003; Takashi Miike)

This selection is once again for a broader idea. Takashi Miike. He played an important role in both this decade and the last, and this pick was merely a reflection of one of his shining moments. Critics say he churns out too many films not to have great ones, but I don't think anyone can deny that when he has great ones, they truely are great.

Suicide Club (2001; Shion Sono)

Again, this is merely a symbol for the start of a very important career in the director that is Shion Sono. While not his first piece, it can be heavily agreed upon that this was his most important. Both creepy and compelling, Suicide Club was the underdog film of the decade. Not to mention a nod to the mindfuckery that are Sono's works.

Uzumaki (2000; Higuchinsky)

Another gem that has faded away from memories recently. This film showed that given the eye for it, mangas can be adapted onto the big screen with great success.

Shaun of the Dead (2004; Edgar Wright)

This piece proved the inspiration for a huge mishmash of other splatter comedies. The beauty of it all is that it is still the strongest one of the decade. Not that I won't give a nod to Slither.

Let the Right One In/Thirst (Various)

These two important pieces proved that vampire films can involve romance and not also be scraps off of a 12 year old girls journal. Solidly structured and nodding to the vampire films before them, these two prove that the moral ambiguity of vampires has never been explored and it really should have been.

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006; Scott Glosserman)

No need, there is already a review up ;).

Bubba Ho-tep (2002; Don Coscarelli)

One of my favorite horror comedies in existence. Shows off what Bruce Campbell can do with a "serious" role to play. Wonderfully creative and hilarious to top it off.

I'm sure I forgot several and any input would be helpful. If I think of more I'll make edits and tack them on in the end. Hope everyone has a wonderful 2010.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon (2008; Richard Gale)

I figured it was about time for another ludicrous short to be posted up on this site, so here you go. The Horribly Slow Murderer with the Extremely Inefficient Weapon is probably one of the silliest shorts in recent history. Check it out sometime as it is definitely worth the ten minutes of your time.

Spoorloos (1988; George Sluizer)

I've said before that I always use the titles I first heard whenever naming a review for this site, but this title is
Spoorloos for another reason on top of that. I don't want anyone thinking I'm talking about Sluizer's American remake under the same English title, The Vanishing.

A man goes on a road trip through France with his girlfriend/wife/what-have-you. While stopped at a gas station, she decides to stop in and get them both drinks and never returns. Completely destroyed by this, the man spends the next several years of his life searching for her kidnapper. His persistence pays off eventually, as his fliers finally catch the attention of the kidnapper himself.

It may seem like I'm giving something away even though I normally never do (with the exception of The Uninvited as I was completely determined to tear that remake apart). However, none of that description is a spoiler as most of that is given to the viewers right away. The focus of Spoorloos is very much the conflict and thoughts of the two men involved. It is for all intents and purposes one of the greatest character studies ever filmed. While one of the major points has popped up repeatedly in both film culture and music (how long would you search for the one you love?) there are a myriad of other important aspects to pick up along the way. Maybe the most important part, though, is how closely the film hits home. You have no choice but to immediately root for the man as he desperately clings to memories of her, knowing full well you would do the same.

I won't waste your time with many of the more technical aspects as you should be spending your time hunting down a copy of this piece for yourself, but some things need to be said for those who are interested. The camera is served to us in a mostly minimalistic style, rarely focusing on backdrops or rapid motion, chosing instead to give us intense, focused shots on the people involved. The camera never falters, challenging us to bare witness, and even mentally take part in, the events that unfold.

Score: 5/5

Notes: Never Take Bike Trips to France

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Attack the Gas Station (1999; Kim Sang-jin)

What comes to mind when you read a title like
Attack the Gas Station? Frankly, I had absolutely no idea what to think about it at all. The concept itself is odd, but not the annoying forced odd in films like Tokyo Gore Police that just irritate you. No, it sounded like some form of odd that could almost be compelling if crafted by the right hands.

Four Korean youth decide to attack a gas station.

No matter how I tried to wrap my head around it all, there always just seemed to be something missing. The idea of four trouble makers attacking a gas station hardly seemed like enough material to warrant an entire full length film. How much action could one possibly churn out of a limited cast doing what is essentially only robbing a single store.

Apparently you can derive endless action out of it, as that is exactly what Sang-jin accomplished. While I am not an expert in his works, I must say that after watching this piece a few weeks back that every other film he has done is now on my list of "must watch". Whatever it is that drives him to these ideas is like nothing I have ever seen in any other director before. To be able to craft such a stylized action comedy out of a simple title is just mastery of his craft at work.

I am going to make my analysis brief for this one, as most of the film is spoken for in just the title itself. Don't get me wrong, however, this is not some childish Apatow piece trying to soak up some cash from drug addled teenagers. The comedy in AtGS is both simple and at the same time very much more matured and thought through than what passes as comedy in the US today.

The colors tended to be sharp, adding more of an edge to the action sequences, of which there were many. The music was very much on key with the tone of the rest of the film and the camera never made itself unwelcome. It all shaped up into a breath of fresh air for me, as I no longer felt I had to wait for only the Coen Brothers to craft the comedies I enjoy.

Score: 4.5/5

Score: Attack the Gas Station, otherwise known as A New Way of Applying for Jobs

Monday, December 21, 2009

Paradise Murdered (2007; Kim Han-min)

With my winter break in motion and most of my friends visited, I finally have some time to sit down and enjoy a few moments of peace.

A small island community numbering only seventeen citizens finds itself in quite a situation. The situation being that all seventeen of them disappear and no one knows why. The film proceeds to go back in time to give us a first hand experience of what really happened.

First off let me say that despite how much I hate most thrillers that come out of the US, I've noticed foreign pieces tend to feel a lot more fresh and appear to know that they actually have room to move around and explore (see Memories of Murder for an example of this). This is most likely caused by the unbelievable amount of red tape and butchering scripts have to go through in the US to get the green light (aka, turn everything into
Se7en). The whole point of all this is mostly that just because things get described as thrillers, don't get too distraught until you find out what country it is from.

Right off the bat you notice that Han-min isn't planning on taking the entire film too seriously as we are introduced to the film by over-acting fisherman screaming about like little girls finding a spider. This is a trend that continues through the earlier parts of the film, and one can't help but feel a little uncomfortable with that. As I see it there are two sides to this, either you could see it as just some jabs at light-hearted humor, or you could see it as more of an inadequacy on Han-min's part. This film being his debut, (and strangely enough not on IMDb) odds are his confidence might have been a little on the lesser side of the spectrum. As far as I am concerned the jabs at humor were unnecessary as the film was actually interesting enough and had enough compelling atmosphere to stand on its own. This, in return, produces a negative effect as everytime one of the nonsense scenes pops up, it reminds you of just how much of a movie it really is.

As you should notice by the plot, this piece focuses on a very large group of individuals, which makes it hard for the director to make them appear as individuals and not just background noise. This might be the strongest asset this film has. While not as evenly spread and thorough as pieces like
9 Souls and The Thing, most of the cast on the island have enough time to develop past the 2D place holder mark. That accomplishment alone is fantastic considering there are seventeen of them and the film clocks at just under two hours long.

Overall the film has enough strength to hold on its own. While some of the absurditys can grind on your patience near the beginning, the whole thing comes together well enough as the tale progresses. The pacing and structure are solid, keeping your interest and not bogging the story down while trying to conceal what was really happening. It all wraps up into a nice mystery that while flawed, is still enjoyable enough to sit down to on a nice night before bed (if you can't tell, that is what I did ;) ).

Score: 3/5

Notes: Whodunit? Whodunwhat?

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Quick Shots II

I am hoping to have some time in the next few days to review a handful of movies, but just in case I thought I'd throw up a few more scores for those interested.

House of the Devil (2009; Ti West)

Black Dynamite (2009; Scott Sanders)

Prince of Darkness (1987; John Carpenter)

Jungle Holocaust (1977; Ruggero Deodato)

Eden Log (2007; Franck Vestiel)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quick Shots

I have been spending my time writing lesson plans for student teaching, so I haven't had much time to sit down and write reviews but I thought I should at least throw something up so here are a few movies I've seen over the past week or so (and a score to wet your appetite). In no particular order...

Wind Chill (2007; Gregory Jacobs)
Score: 4/5

I Sell the Dead (2008; Glenn McQuaid)
Score: 4/5

Antichrist (2009; Lars Von Trier)
Score: 4.5/5

Take Care of My Cat (2001; Jeong Jae-eun)
Score: 3/5

Let the Right One In (2008; Tomas Alfredson)
Score: 4/5

Trick 'R Treat (2008; Michael Dougherty)
Score: 4.5/5

: I have decided to make this an actual column for me to post films I have been watching but haven't had time to review, so expect a lot more of these from time to time.

Friday, September 25, 2009

They Live (1988; John Carpenter)

When I am asked to sum up my opinion of cinema from the 1980's I always use the same two word answer. While it is a very biased answer, many people still agree with me that it seems to fit the mood of the genres it touched. Those words?

John Carpenter

A drifter finds his way into work and a temporary home while, well, drifting. While there he notices some mysterious activity that leads him into a whole new world of truth.

They Live continues a tradition that many other horror directors started years before. The political commentary in it is so obvious, yet unlike Romero, it never feels too forced or pushed down our throats. It very much feels natural with the flow of the rest of the film and our attention never waivers from the action at hand.

They Live also marks the end of Carpenter's fantastic eighties career and in a way feels like an appropriate summary of his previous works before falling into his downhill slide in the nineties (with the exception of In the Mouth of Madness). However, after all of this introduction, where does it leave the film itself?

The character Carpenter places before us are absurd. We focus around a drifter whom we know nothing about who is thrust into a terrifying situation and instead of panicking he pulls out some guns and some cheesy one-liners. He meets friends by beating them or holding guns to them. The point I am trying to make here is that this film is awesome. This movie continues the enjoyment we all had when we first watched Escape From New York years earlier.

If you have never seen Escape From New York, then there really is no way to convince you that the description above is more than just ridiculous garbage. I am not a proponent of saying that trash cinema is actually high quality in disguise, but with Carpenter's works it really is. Everything was sculpted to their degrees on purpose. It is obvious with pieces such as The Thing and Halloween that Carpenter is no stranger to serious cinema and this idea helps solidify that he wanted these movies to look this way for a reason.

They reflect the absurdity of the political ideas that the films are commenting on. The genius behind such a tool is that not only does it further drive the commentary home, it also gives what would have been a more "normal" piece a life of its own.

I suppose I should briefly touch on the more concrete elements. The camera is well instrumented here and the black & white actually adds to the feeling that we are trying to be controlled as if our artistic minds are being suppressed by the lack of color. The score is typical of eighties Carpenter with very simple melodies being effectively used. The drawbacks are that while it is an undeniably strong film, you can't help but feel some of his spark fade on all aspects of the piece. It is like asking a landscape artist to do a portrait. The portrait will look good, yes, but it will still lack some of the genius that pushes his landscapes past the point of good.

Score: 4.5/5

Notes: Obey this review. Consume Carpenter's products.

Paranormal Activity (2007; Oren Peli)

I learned one thing from my years as a movie fanatic, and that is that crowds are terrible. I usually skip out on most theatre screenings simply because the crowds can completely break the atmosphere of a movie if they are bad enough. So when I go to see the screening of this film in a packed theatre of 750 people and it still manages to scare me... well... we must have something going for us.

Young couple X and Y (easier than typing in names) move into a house and Y (the woman, clever huh?) starts hearing noises during the night. She then goes on to tell X she has had previous experiences with hauntings and they should get help from experts.

We all know here how much I love mockumentaries, so when I caught wind of this a few months back I couldn't resist getting sucked in. As more and more reviews popped up saying that this is the scariest film they've seen in years my interest had no where to go but up. Lucky for me, one of the screenings just so happened to be close by so my friends and I packed up and shipped off (not that we really packed anything, it was only an hour drive, but whatever).

The problem with many modern day horror films is they try too hard to focus on flat out thrills and jumps and lose out on atmosphere. That or they are just terrible at all of it, but just roll with me for this. The situation is that more often than not, it is easier to craft some cheap thrills that can win over most common movie goers than it is to craft an atmosphere so dense that the ceiling might as well be two feet off the ground. This is where I find the greatest strength of mockumentary film making. When you design your piece into a form of first person perspective and amateur film making, you no longer have to carefully craft tense scores to match your inspired landscapes. The power of the first person perspective is its ability to push atmosphere through its own momentum.

This is of course assuming you can keep us wrapped into the films reality which can be the toughest part. Mockumentary film making is so barren of components relative to traditional film making that a lot more stress is put on what is there. The acting has to be top grade or else their characters fail to reflect what most of us would do. The lighting has to be perfect, neither showing us too much nor too little. The use of extravagancies such as CGI has to be justified to such an intense degree as its presence can abruptly rip you right out of an otherwise perfectly constructed piece.

After all of that, where does it leave our main topic, Paranormal Activity? If there was ever another mockumentary to continue Blair Witch Project's thrown (and to a lesser degree, Noroi's thrown) it would be this one. Many of the strengths that made Blair Witch so successful are what push Paranormal Activity forward. The day/night sequences that appeared in Blair Witch show up much stronger in Paranormal Activity. They train your body to react to the time of day without having to really lift a finger. It came to the point where the audience I was with started screaming as soon as realized a night sequence was beginning.

To make even more connections, the use of CGI in Paranormal Activity was almost non-existent. The concept was to use simple tricks to propel what would otherwise be a normal ghost story to scarily realistic proportions. The characters, while not perfect, still thrust the story forward with enough charisma to keep us interested.

While films like Cloverfield have shown us once again the unlimited possibilities we have access to using the mockumentary style, it is films like Paranormal Activity with their seemingly average subject matter that truly frighten us. This portrayal of events could have easily been anyone. It could have been you. That, my friends, is scary.

Score: 4.5/5

Notes: I know the still I used wasn't in the screening, which is exactly why I used it. It doesn't spoil anything and makes a clear statement at what you can expect.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Uninvited (2009; Charles & Thomas Guard)

This is a touchy subject for me. Like so many others, I am sick of this remake trend. The idea that foreign films are not enough to stand on their own and need "translation" into our culture is quite sickening to me. However, I simply decided to ignore the bulk of this trend and try to ride it out. Needless to say, the J-horror remake fad is dying slowly but surely (making way for slasher remakes...) and then this monstrosity pops up. As seen on the front of this blog, one of the films in my top ten is the deeply profound "A Tale of Two Sisters". Kim Ji-woon is an unstoppable force in the world of cinema today, and his works should not be touched. The labyrinthine structure of "A Tale of Two Sisters" mandates the viewer to watch its intricicies over and over to fully establish its beauty and awe-inspiring construction. So when it comes to the remake, well, comparisons must be made to establish the complete lack of necessity of it all. This will, in turn, lead to many aspects of the films being exposed, and while I will never divulge anything gigantic, I will be forced to dissect and compare specific scenes. So if you have never laid your eyes upon Ji-woon's masterpiece, I recommend you stop here and just know this; Never fuck with the Kim.

Some girl (now named American) is traumatized by her mothers death and is temporarily sent to an institution to recover. After some time, American is sent home to reunite with her father and sister (now named Bullshit) only to discover that her father's girlfriend has moved in. There is something off and neither American nor Bullshit like her. The veins go much deeper, but that is enough for now. Now to compare!

The first thing shoved into our face is how Americanized this film has become. We start out watching American make out with some guy at a party. Why? In the original folktale and Ji-woon's interpretation, there was never a need for such acts. I guess this is the US way of establashing innocence because she denies the advance to fornicate. That is how we interepret morals in our youth? Disgusting and unwarranted. The strengths of the character should lie within the character herself as this film is very much an understanding of her mind, not how much or how little she loves dick.

This paragraph is simply another example of Americanizing the film and contains spoilers, so skip this if you haven't seen the first one (it is the only one that matters). The development of the "other" sister in this film is quite a dramatic difference. In the original the sister was developed, just like everything else, as a way to cope with the guilt and resentment. The sister represented that which needed protection from the materialized evil that needed to be fended off. All forms of deep symbolism are discarded in the remake, choosing to adapt the more surfaced twist that is seen in umpteen dozen other films that have come out in the past decade.

The visual style of the remake craves desperately to be identical to its parent, but fails in all forms. As seen in the image above, the solemn beauty of the house in the first film is tried at, but simply comes off as background noise. The soundtrack is dull and does nothing but carry us from scene to scene as if they only included it because they knew they had to. The focus on water is present like in the original, and just like the original, it is simply there as an allusion to the original folktale. In that regard, I suppose, it can be considered even.

One thing that bothered me greatly was the change of title. "The Uninvited" seemed like a ridiculous title to me given the original content of the first film. I guess it is supposed to be a reference to the girlfriend who was never wanted in the home. However, most people would assume it to be about the apparations that occur, as if they were unwanted ghosts haunting the innocent people inside. That, of course, wouldn't make any sense, as in the original the apparations are not only wanted, but are needed in order for the center of our film to exist.

As I kept pondering the title, I suppose I came to understand it a little better. As I said before, the remake stripped all forms of depth and tradgedy that were essential to the original's success and beauty and threw them into a hole. I kept wanting to analyze the copied imagery for what it was in the original and tried to apply it to the remake. That was a poor mistake. All the copied scenes were thrown in without second thought by idiots who apparently didn't understand their existence in the first place. The example I will use here is the blood trail.

The blood trail was the essential escalation of her coping after her illusions were threatened when her father confronted her. The trials she was putting her sister through had to become more rigorous as her guilt grew heavier on her conscience. The trail was then later shown to represent the fragments of her different realities colliding as she finally lost herself with the confrontation with the girlfriend at the end. So what does any of this have to do with the remakes blatant copying? Nothing at all, they simply threw it in to create "tension".

The significance of "A Tale of Two Sisters" was built upon the significance of all of its little pieces. Everything that was shown was placed in front of us delibrately. What we get with "The Uninvited", however, is simply another collage of the dozens of other remakes, scare scenes slopped together by a story devoid of soul and meaning. Not only can the film not stand up to it's predecessor, it can't even stand up as its own film. The importance of this review really comes in expressing many of my ideas on "A Tale of Two Sisters" so that my eventual review of it doesn't have to be a book like this review is.

Score: 1/5

Notes: Bells, Pearls, and Insignificance

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Grotesque (2009; Koji Shiraishi)

Way back when I reviewed a movie called Noroi, which was themed similarly to the Blair Witch Project. In said review I also said the director had made other films themed off of the long-black-haired-girl craze in the form of "Ju-rei" and "Kuchisake-onna". Sprinkled onto the end was a little note containing the title and genre of his newest work, Grotesque. It seems it is time to leave the hair behind and go for a modern day torture porn flick. Awesome.

What to put into the summary... well, two people who just started dating get tortured.

You see the thing is, much in the vein of what Eli Roth wanted to do (but US censors didn't want him to do) Shiraishi brings back the certain flavor that torture porn films need. "Grotesque" comes straight to its point at the very beginning and doesn't stay longer than it wants to. The whole genius of this piece comes with the fact that Shiraishi got to make exactly what he had in mind; a brutal and explorative adventure into torture and rape that doesn't bother with the modern nonsense it doesn't require such as character development.

That isn't to say that this movie has no inner themes to it. You might be able to pull out some ideas about love (strangely enough) or something silly like that, but then why are you watching this film of all things? On that note, why was it necessary to include those things at all? I know I said Shiraishi's genius was his ability to do away with unneeded garbage, but that wasn't exactly true. It was just about 95% true, which is a lot closer than most people come.

The problem with Grotesque, however, begins a little past the half way mark. We are shown a very surreal series of scenes that didn't quite fit the relentless butchery that had been thrown into our faces up until that point. While I have mixed emotions about that segment of the film, it is not the only piece that will yank you back into reality. Near the ending the film takes a sudden, unwarrented change in tone that kills some of the final impact of it all. It felt sort of like a cop out when Shiraishi had already taken it so far.

Do these segments ruin the film? Hardly. I give kudos to Shiraishi for his attempt at updating the torture genre. The torture itself, being the main focus in the first place, is very vivid and can easily succeed in making any normal person look away in disgust. It is just a shame that the atmosphere had to be broken in a way that it could not be repaired.

Score: 4/5

Notes: Would you die for someone you love?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Make Over

After some consideration, I decided I would revamp my scoring system over the next few days. I wanted a system that could better reflect my opinions in a more precise manner. Plus, when using a scale of ten, it becomes hard to score films between the areas of one and five as once a film because trash, measuring the exact amount of shit it is becomes redundant. However, I always felt that the five scale was just a little too restrictive and it tended to clump my almost tens with my tens.

After giving it some thought, I decided that a minor change to the five scale would solve the issues I have been having. So let me now demonstrate the scale I have in mind.

1: Rubbish; Offal; Garbage. This will, and always has, been the lowest a film could acquire (unless you count zero, but that just feels like you are saying the film doesn't exist).

2: Mostly Rubbish; Bad. These are the films that are bad, but they may have some signs of life in them somewhere.

3: Average; Mediocre; Watchable. These are films that are on the border. They have enough material within them that might warrant a watch depending on your tastes.

4: Good; Worth Time. These are the films you should definitely look into if you have the time. While they struggle with minor points, they are still well constructed and demand your attention.

4.5: Almost Great. These are the films that are so close to being 5's that they deserve their own category separate from the 4's. This category keeps the 4's and 5's from growing to unruly and large. These films, like the 5's, are ones you need to see, but just with a little less urgency.

5: Great; Perfection. Enough said about these. These are the greatest films around. Buy them now.

Also, this list puts a cap on the recommended list, restricting it to only 4.5 and 5. This isn't to say you shouldn't still watch the 4's, but it shrinks the list to those films that need the most attention. Hopefully the transformation will be done within a day or two. Maybe even with a new review... but let's not get too ambitious.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Master is Back

After four years in exile, my favorite director Toshiaki Toyoda is back. Not only is he back, he is back in a big way announcing that his newest piece is following the trend of Kuchu Keien by pushing his previous trademarks and story arches out the window. Included with the news was this sneak peek...

This film will be a tremendous moment in cinema history for people who have been lucky enough to watch Toyoda's body of work. There is no doubt in my mind that Toyoda will drive home another perfect score with this one, but until then I will copy the plot from Twitch where I first found out about this piece of news. I'll keep this blog updated if any more news is released.

The time is the Middle Ages, when gods and demons reigned over a larger dominion than humans, before humans came to rule over the entire world. Oguri, a renowned masseur, is summoned to the fortress of the ruler of the dark world, a man known simply as the Lord and ailing from a venereal disease. After encouraging Terute—a captive princess from another land—to escape, Oguri is poisoned to death by the Lord before he can make his own getaway.

At a fork in the road between heaven and hell, Oguri is sent back to the land of the living in the form of a Hungry Ghost, in a state of apparent death. Saved by a monk who happened to pass by, he learns of a “spring of rebirth.” Meanwhile, Terute manages to flee from the Lord’s fortress and reunites with the undead Oguri. But the Lord is hot on their heels, hell bent on finding and punishing Terute.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Kichiku Dai Enkai (1997; Kazuyoshi Kumakiri)

Kichiku Dai Enkai comes off as sort of an inspirational film, as strange as that may sound. Not to the degree that I find their vague rebellionism inspiring or that I find their clothing so hip to the jive. It is more that this film plays like a gore film should. It has some good effects, some half decent acting, and even some good camera work. What is so inspirational about that? This was Kumakiri's senior thesis in college and is really just his college buddies messing around on tape.

As the story goes, some political college group gets in trouble and their beloved leader goes to jail. He decided to put his girlfriend in charge of the group which begins to sew discontent, etc.

I'm going to keep this review on the short side as I already wrote another review recently and I really should be writing papers instead. As stated before, this is a college level piece, but don't let that give you any wrong ideas. The only thing that gives away that this is a college work is the fact that the stars are all college aged.

The camera is what really sold me. While it has an amateur feel to it, it also portrays a very serious and skilled knowledge of the do's and do not's. The first Evil Dead film comes to mind as a comparison, however, I feel that Kumakiri does it a little better than young Raimi.

The score is sparse (whether it be from lack of budget or actual choice I'm not sure) but is effective enough when used. The real problem here lies with the pacing. To succeed at making a slowly paced, character driven piece (which believe it or not is what this film is) you really need to have actors that shine and can carry a lot of weight with their dialogue. While this shows ambition, it really isn't an area that tends to excel in college works. While I doubt it was naivity on Kumakiri's part, it still is a wound that the film never really can rebound from.

Score: 3/5

Notes: Slow Pacing? Character Development? In a gore film?

Sling Blade (1996; Billy Bob Thorton)

A film highly overlooked by most people due mostly to the monolithic success that was Forrest Gump, Sling Blade is... wait a minute. I never review anything up here...

Much better. Well, I might as well do the plot first too... Karl, a mildly handicapped individual, is put into a mental hospital after killing his mother and her lover at a very young age. Fast forward a few years and now it is time for Karl to be released as an adult to create a life of his own. With great unease the hospital releases him, and we get front row seats to just how adapted Karl is.

Alright, now to backtrack, Sling Blade was regrettably ignored by most people (myself included... but I was 6, give me a break) during the colossal reign of Forrest Gump. I'm not saying Forrest Gump didn't deserve the attention, but we need to learn to spread the love a little more.

The first moments of the film where we witness Karl's interview with a young girl writing for her school newspaper and then his eventual release set an unforgettable tone of unease. This is our first introduction to Karl, and we are thrown right in with the rest of the characters as we try to figure out whether Karl has really recovered. This part of the film seals the deal as to why Forrest Gump won out. The light-hearted sides of film tend to sell better.

That isn't to say that the entire film has a serious tone about it, that is. In actuality, the film does have quite the mixture of emotions thrown into it with great success. Add on top of that a great timely soundtrack to fit the southern atmosphere and baby, you got a stew going.

The only thing I can dock this film for is the lack of replay action it will get (which is another contrast to Forrest Gump). This film is a beast (two and a half hours or something like that) and it just didn't feel like the material was enough to warrant frequent repeats (it was damn close, though).

Score: 4/5

Notes: Hades (Some people call it Hell, but I call it Hades)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Busy Busy

As summer has come, I have found myself in a surprisingly time consuming list of summer courses and what time is left over has been with family or other hobbies that are tying up my funds (PS3 & WH: 40k). My time should free up a little more around the second summer semester allowing me to watch a few movies and write my opinions on them. So until then, enjoy some posters and stills from some of the games I've been playing.

Friday, May 1, 2009

The Good, the Bad, the Weird (2008; Kim Ji-woon)

This film is a lot of "seconds" for me. It is my second Kim Ji-woon film (the first being A Tale of Two Sisters which I obviously loved). It is my second venture into Asian westerns. While not a second, I will also say this is one of my many ventures into films starring Song Kang-ho (Memories of Murder, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, etc.) Now, with this film having connections with so many of my top ten, can it live up to the standards I have set for it?

The three main characters are of course the Good Guy, the Bad Guy, and the Weird Guy. They all end up on a hunt for the same map that may or may not be worth anything at all. As their struggle continues, more and more parties are brought into the mix, all trying to get ahold of the map for themselves.

This movie was a surprise on all accounts. Not only did I get everything I wanted from it, I got it in such an enjoyable package of comedy and inspirational action sequences that this is truly a film for the books. Enough of this love affair...

Starting off with the camera, I must say that Kim Ji-woon pulled out all the stops. His eye for color was well documented in A Tale of Two Sisters, but this particular title shows off some of his other skills. He manages to create some wonderful panoramic shots of the desert as well as a handful of wonderfully constructed set pieces for the action sequences. There is no flaw here.

The soundtrack is as equally stunning as the camera work. The music brings you back to the days of Westerns, but maintains a very modern feel to it to give itself its own identity. While a lot of aspects of this film are very obviously based on another film with a very similar title, that doesn't mean that this piece does not have enough to stand on its own. No flaw here either.

What's left? The acting? Please, this film stars three of South Korea's most prominent actors (as well as my favorite, Song Kang-ho whom I mentioned above). The only thing to drive people away from this movie is its lack of depth. I normally never bring this up, because usually the plot is enough to give that part away, but I thought I should address it at least once.

I was once told that you have directors who either are good at telling stories or are good at making you think and that the perfect directors are the ones who can bring those two together. I was never truly sold on that idea (it was an argument for David Lynch, who I am not a fan of). I feel you don't need to encapsulate both of those aspects into every film you make. I think all you need to do is find the balance of the two you are most comfortable in and make the best of it. You don't need to stump your audience or give them life changing realizations to make them enjoy your films. Let this be one of those that proves my point.

Score: 5/5

Notes: Kim Ji-woon's films are expensive, which is what is making it take so long for me to acquire them.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Martyrs (2008; Pascal Laugier)

Martyrs is a film stemming from a new found obsession with gore and violence not seen much before in France. In the vein of Irreversible and Inside (among others I haven't reviewed yet), Martyrs picks up where the others left off and excels.

A young girl who is tortured and beaten when younger manages to escape. Grows up, makes one true friend, and together they decide to take matters into their own hands. Pretty straight forward, right?

The only summaries I was ever given before seeing this film were very brief such as the one I just gave, so despite being told how amazing it was, I was still a little bit nervous. That sort of plot just sounds weak... like some sad attempt to hold scenes of violence together. I was gladly proven wrong so if that summary had you concerned, you can relax.

The camera and acting are what really shine through in this piece. The shots are very well constructed and balanced. They also take great care in never showing you more than they need to during each moment. Some of their earlier moments (first half hour) have tremendous build ups until the film takes a drastic change of pace. However, the camera stays right with it as once the pacing and mood change. The cutting immediately becomes erratic and uneasy.

Touching briefly on the acting... it is superb. The two main actresses pull their characters off in stride, never once letting us doubt their roles. Nearing the end, one of them plays off desperation spotlessly (with the little help of camera sweeps and a minor score).

The only thing that goes against this film is that, like with most ultra violent films, they lose replay impact after each viewing. So once again...

Score: 4.5/5

Notes: Long haired girl... in a French film?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Kourei (2000; Kiyoshi Kurosawa)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is a big name in the J-horror circle, however he is a man I have more or less ignored for mostly monetary reasons. The only other work I have seen of his before this one was his very popular Kairo. There is one thing that becomes apparent from watching either of the previously stated pieces, and that is that Kurosawa has quite an eye for camera.

A psychic is out to prove herself as real with the help of a college student. She is given the opportunity to when a young girl gets kidnapped off of a playground, but things go wrong, shit goes down, etc...

I have a problem with movies dealing with psychics. It's not so much that they are bad plot devices, it's just that I get so sick of them because I know "psychics" in the real world are just people robbing others of their money. I can't help myself from getting annoyed whenever I see one on film, even if they are "real" in terms of the story. It would be unfair for me to dock this film for that however, but I just had to get it out there.

As I stated earlier in the introduction, Kurosawa's mastery of the camera is very much apparent. He uses everything from slow crawls, first person perspectives, and room sweeps all to their fullest potential. He tries his hardest to get everything he can from his chilling sequences. Speaking of which...

Kurosawa also presents his chills and scares very effectively. He is not shy in showing you what the characters see, and he tries his hardest with the use of a limited score and effective camera to make every second of it count. He also doesn't use cheap shots to try and scare you; he uses an effectively built up atmosphere to slowly build up a lingering sense of paranoia.

So is there anything wrong with it? While Kurosawa does build the atmosphere he wants, the films slow pace sometimes works against it instead of for it. There is also a reference to Dopplegangers that is played with but sort of just becomes neglected. While this may look like your average J-horror film on the outside, it plays very much different from your Ju-on's and your One Missed Calls. This is very much a low key, brooding piece meant to haunt you long after it is over. So while it's pacing halters it slightly, Kurosawa achieves what he set out for in the end, giving this film a score of...

Score: 4/5

Notes: Long. Black. Hair. Again.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Noroi (2005; Koji Shiraishi)

I can now officially say that Koji Shiraishi is a director whose body of works completely confounds me. He is the director of Kuchisake-Onna (Carved) which was an awfully mediocre underachievement of generic asian cinema. Also, while never having seen it, Ju-Rei was a film that was torn apart by critics (not that they matter too much) for being exactly what I described Carved as.

Out of the blue, Noroi. A film so scary I actually looked away. As embarrasing as that may sound, true horror/gore hounds such as myself live for events such as this. The thrill of being scared, even if only for a few moments, makes it all worth while. However, when a movie such as Noroi comes around, dealing those thrills out in spades, it can bring most people to their knees (or just have them look away like I had to). Our main man is a paranormal investigator who is currently looking into a curse and the connections between the people it is having an effect upon.

(Don't worry, I went back and watched the scene again so I didn't miss anything.)

So do you see my confusion with Shiraishi now? On one hand he is scraping the bottom of the J-horror bucket looking for any long haired actresses that might be left over, and then on the other he is making possibly the scariest mockumentary that exists to this day. It has also come to my attention that his newest work might actually be yet another peak in his career so I will be waiting impatiently with both eyes wide open (mostly because Noroi has made me too scared to close them).

Right, onto the movie... Well, as usual with mockumentaries, there is only so much that can be said. So much of the success relies upon powerful acting and storytelling, which this film is drowning in, and once they obtain those aspects they are well on their way to being a diamond in the rough. All the performances in this film are top of the line (with a special nod to Mitsuo Hori with a mind blowing performance as an eccentric "super psychic").

As far as storytelling, Shiraishi took great care to craft an intricate backstory to go along with the "current" events to tie it all together. This leads to a world that feels very much real, which in return only draws us, the viewers, into the curse that much deeper. The development of the backstory reminds me very much of another high class mockumentary film (Blair Witch) that uses it as a method to make the material that much more real. We suddenly question whether or not these films are actually mockumentaries.

There is a score used here, but it is very scarce. It is simply sprinkled in to make the experience that much more horrifying.

To quote a critic who is much more popular than I...

"So in summary: if you don't crap yourself by the end of Noroi, then chances are that you're dead inside and no amount of horror movies will ever scare you."

Score: 4.5/5

Notes: Score is subject to change. I felt such an urgency to get the word out about this film that I haven't given myself time to watch it a second time yet.

P.S. The quote can be found here...

P.P.S. Shiraishi's newest film is named Grotesque, and is a very intriguing looking torture porn.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Rant II

I have a feeling that rants might become their own column, so I have named it appropriately...

This time on rant, I wanted to take a more humorous approach and talk about some of the stupid things I have heard and seen (relatively) recently regarding cinema. To start off...


That's right, as if the horde of obnoxious little girls in chain pants wasn't enough to drive us insane, they are now creating their own religion to remind us just how dumb they are in case we forgot sometime between Queen of the Damned and now. The best part is that they require you to acknowledge that all the characters are indeed real people and truly exist. Yeah... right.

2. This is a story my friend told me. He was hanging around our campus, I believe, and he overheard someone say, and I paraphrase, "Yeah, Hostel? That terrible Saw rip off."

I really don't believe that story needs any explaining. There are so many points that are just so wrong it hurts.

3. This last one is something I once read. I was browsing the IMDb forums and happened upon a Black Christmas hate thread (the original, not any of this new bullshit) and they brought up how it was terrible (SPOILER LOOK AWAY NOW IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN BLAIR WITCH OR BLACK CHRISTMAS) because it, like Blair Witch, never showed the "bad guy". They called it lazy writing and directing.

Are you joking me? Really? They are the lazy ones... what about you with your lame ass excuse because you have no imagination?

This ranting feels like a nice break between movie reviews and reminds me I need a new director post soon. I will have to get on that sometime...

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Memories of Murder (2003; Bong Joon-ho)

It is about time for me to cover another of my current top ten, Memories of Murder. This review is going to contain many more stills than I normally use because this is one of the most beautifully shot films ever, and it just so happens that a lot of the scenes I was going to talk about happen to have images I could find.

At a time when South Korea was desperately trying to claw it's way up to match the modern, leading first world countries, a killer arose to take advantage of the confusion and chaos that was enveloping the criminal justice system. As young women start to wind up murdered across a small province, local "detectives" Park and Cho are forced to team up with a professionally trained detective straight from Seoul, Seo. As the crimes continue, the three men desperately dig for any sort of connections between the murders that might help them get one step ahead.

The thriller tones sound obvious, but I assure you that this is nothing like the garbage you see coming out of the US. Several important aspects are at play during the film, all of which play a major role in the development of the case and of the characters, themselves. Park and Cho are from the small province they watch over, and thus have not yet become part of the rapid development that Seoul has been put through. This leads to complete differences in styles that make Park and Cho come off as idiots and almost neandrotholic. However, as the film progresses and the characters evolve, you see that the truth is completely different. You begin to understand the motives of the three men and why they act the way they do.

Right from the start you are shown the lack of organization that Park, Cho, and Seo have to try and work with. They are not taken seriously by the citizens around them, which leads to a lack of containment at the crime scenes and results in the destruction of valuable evidence. As the film develops, you start to witness the full extent of Bong Joon-ho's eye for the camera. The still above represents one of my favorite scenes in which a reinactment of a crime goes wrong. The shot and the one that takes place after it are truly awe-inspiring. As far as the score goes, it melds perfectly with the mood of every scene, further dragging us into their desperation and hopes.

The true extent of the desperation, and a major turning point for one of the detectives is the still above. We witness a truly heart-wrenching scene that connects to a part earlier in the film that makes you want to break down and cry with them. However, not all of the movie is as emotionally draining, as interspersed throughout the piece we find some truly fabulous humor, but never enough to ruin the overall tone that lurches over the film. The performances are spectacular, some of the greatest I have ever seen. As discussed earlier, the detectives transitions and our opinions of them were only possible by the spotless performances of all involved.

The point I am trying to get at? That this movie is damn near perfection. I could continue to go on and on, but I rather not give anymore away than I already have. The only thing I could see bothering people is the pacing. I have witnessed this first hand, that when people go into a thriller they expect slick, fast paced action. However, I think that those people are fools and should go back to their Fincher films and leave the real masterpieces to people like us.

Score: 5/5

Notes: I wish I could score it higher, The film with the same title being released this year is NOT a remake (I was so happy to find that out).

Monday, March 23, 2009

The Baby's Room (2006; Álex de la Iglesia)

When I reviewed my first Film to Keep You Awake, I said horror films made for television tend to feature too much lighting. It is becoming quite obvious to me that this television series has done away with that problem and has begun dealing with another recent problem plaguing film in general. Digital. Need I say more?

A young couple moves into a nice house that was mysteriously cheap. As soon as they move in they begin to hear voices through their baby monitor and start to get worried. It is obvious where I am going with this now, so I'll just leave it at that.

While The Baby's Room retreads ground that has been so retreaded that I doubt there is even ground to be treaded on there anymore, it does it well enough that it deserves some credit. While the ghost tale is not the only horror cliche at work here (the ending comes to mind) it still has enough chills to make it a worthy experience.

The soundtrack is sort of bland and uninspired, which matches perfectly with the script, I suppose. The pacing is adequate; keeping you interested enough to keep you going. The acting is a lot better than one would expect, which happens to be one of the only aspects where this film reaches beyond average.

The camera is of the same bland quality, but with one major exception. During the course of the film, the couple acquires a baby monitor with a video feed. This leads to some very interesting, almost mockumentary type scenes where we are bound to only the limited sight of the monitor. This leads to some actually effective chills until the film dials it down and goes for a more straight forward approach that drags it back into the realm of normality.

So to wrap this brief entry up, while the film reeks of cliche, it's use of an effective medium for certain scenes gives it's score a little bit of an edge to a final of...

Score: 3/5

Notes: Potatoes are red.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Jacob's Ladder (1990; Adrian Lyne)

It has taken me a long time to thing of something to write as an introduction to this review. I had all these wonderfully constructed things to say in my mind about the movie, but nothing as an introduction. Then I finally gave up and put this.

Jacob is a Vietnam veteran who has returned home to New York (I think it was New York... whatever, just Big City X). He had gotten a doctorate degree, been divorced, and is now dating a woman who works at the post office with him (despite his doctorate, yes). His life starts to go off has he begins to flashback to a certain day in Vietnam where his platoon was attacked and he, himself, was injured. His flashbacks begin to manifest themselves into reality, having an effect on his health and daily life. As to prevent giving away much else, the rest of the film is him combating his flashbacks and memories of his past.

I find it hard to limit myself to such a summary of this film. To really get a grasp on what I am going to try and explain to you, you really just have to watch it for yourself. This film is so heavily event driven that reviewing it will be hard without being able to directly reference certain events. I will try and express what I can anyway, however, as I feel this is a neglected film that needs to be heard.

Jacob's Ladder is for all extents and purposes, a film about a man's struggle within himself. While that is pretty generic sounding, you have to realize that it really is a man's struggle within himself. The genius of Lyne's work is that he makes all the events, no matter how disturbing, completely grounded into reality on some sort of level. This is very important in the impact of the film as it drives you so strongly convinced of reality until the last scene of the film.

The whole film is built off of dual meaning. While you are watching the film, every event is both significant in the life of Jacob as he perceives it, and as a symbol in the struggle he is having. I am trying to drive home to you that this film is a lot deeper than just gore and drama on screen.

I know the previous segment will be hard to follow without having actually seen the film, and I apologize that I really can't simplify it anymore. I needed to stress the importance of the symbolism so that people don't walk away feeling the ending as some sort of cop-out. That could completely ruin the whole film for them, and they don't even realize they are missing out on what they really just saw. Now I will discuss some of the more technical aspects I usually cover so that there is at least one part in this review people who have yet to watch this movie can grasp.

At first I was weary as the camera felt sort of dull and unmotivated to really capture any scene with any real form of emotion. However, I quickly found out how wrong I was as the film threw me into some of the most wonderful visuals I can remember seeing in recent history. The soundtrack is unmemorable (there might not even be one... that is how forgettable it is) and is the only truly real disappoint in my mind at the moment. That rounds off this review with a...

Score: 4/5

Notes: Hippy Scientists, No Post-Production Special Effects

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (2006; Scott Glosserman)

In a world where slashers are not movies, but in fact reality, a young man by the name of Leslie Vernon is about to become the next great killer. To mark the occasion, he has given special access to three young wannabe journalists to record him as he prepares for the night that he hopes will launch him into slasher history.

Oh and how he succeeds. This film is everything a slasher should be and everything a satire wants to be. I say wants to be because as we all know, slasher satires have been done before. Don't let that scare you off, though, this is no Scream. With self references that put Scream's to shame and acting that is truly inspiring (more on that later) Behind the Mask is worth ten times it's own weight in gold. If someone would be so kind as to calculate what that actually comes out to that would be very helpful. I am simply assuming that it comes out to a decent amount, but wouldn't I look like a fool if it wasn't?

Anyway, on to the acting. While acting is an aspect I tend to skip over unless it is appalling, I felt that with this movie, it is very much needed. Nathan Baesel as Leslie Vernon is captivating to say the least. He appears in front of the screen like a child celebrating Christmas. His energy and vigor are palpable as we watch him jump and tremble with excitement at the very idea of his special night.

The cinematography is everything you could want in a slasher and more. Throughout the film we switch from mockumentary style camera as we watch the journalist's footage and pretty standard yet crisp slasher filming. The transitions flow smoothly, despite how it may sound, and work beautifully in a certain sequence where we are walked through the night as Vernon wants it to unfold.

The weak points? Well, there really aren't any. While maintaining a resemblance to the slasher formula, the mockumentary filming and the depth to the satire give it a life and a feel of it's own. However, with that comes a certain understanding that the audience must have a previous grip on basic slasher standards. I want to give it two separate scores to resemble this, but I wouldn't know how, so for now...

Edit: I have decided not to punish this film at all for expecting some previous knowledge. So a perfect score it is.

Score: 5/5

Notes: Ahab, Virgin, and Robert Englund