Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Film Review: Below (2002)

Below (Review)
United States/2002
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a great job in building an eerie and ominous atmosphere..."

During World War II, the USS Tiger Shark rescues the survivors of a British hospital ship. Later, the crew face a German ship, as well as their own sanity.

Below mainly follows Lieutenant Brice (Bruce Greenwood) and Ensign Odell (Matthew Davis), as well as Paige (Olivia Williams), of the British ship. They face a German ship on their tail, as well as their own psyche. Is the submarine haunted or is the crew hallucinating from a lack of oxygen? They do, in fact, hallucinate and hear voices, and they also bicker and fight amongst each other. The story leads to a great resolution; the ending has some corny dialogue, though.

Below does a great job in building a sense of paranoia. You can have an idea, but you really don't know if it's sabotage or supernatural. Below also does a great job in building an eerie and ominous atmosphere; this, in turn, amplifies the suspense and tension aboard the USS Tiger Shark. On that point, the setting is immersive and... well, cool. Submarines are awesome, to be blunt. There are some creepy visuals and some jolting jump-scares, as well.

One of the issues I had was with Paige's character. This character is conniving, demanding and disrespectful. The other characters aren't exactly drenched in charisma, but at least give me a reason to tolerate Paige's self-righteous and arrogant behavior. (that reason never comes by the way.) Otherwise, the rest of the film has room for improvement, but there aren't many glaring and staggering flaws to be found; I guess you can say the room for improvement is small but notable.

The acting is all-around good. Bruce Greenwood and Matthew Davis are good. Despite having issues with her character, Olivia Williams did well, too. The film looks great; like I said, I loved the setting, and the great cinematography helps it shine. The music is standard horror/thriller music; works for the genre, but nothing distinct. Director David Twohy does a great job in crafting the atmosphere and developing genuine suspense; the story has some flaws, and it occasionally loses momentum, but it is a spooky and effective film thanks to Twohy's direction.

Overall, Below is a very good horror-thriller. It's a slow-burn film with a great suspense and and a spooky atmosphere. There's room for improvement and one character is a rotten apple for the film, but it works out to deliver an entertaining and even frightening film. Don't overlook Below.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Film Review: The Legend of Hell House (1973)

The Legend of Hell House (Review)
United Kingdom/1973
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...more of a goosebumps-inducer than a jumper"

Physicist Lionel Barrett, his wife, and two mediums are paid to investigate the Belasco House, also known as Hell House due to its infamous past...

The Legend of Hell House is fairly straightforward. The film starts off quickly as the group are hired and sent to the haunted house. They have a week to investigate and report their findings regarding survival after death. The group have conflicting beliefs regarding what is causing the anomalies, so they occasionally bicker as well. I thought the story, as simple as it may seem, was insightful and even spooky. I especially enjoyed the details about the house's history. The ending offers an interesting take on the haunting -- it's a bit of an open ending where you don't definitively know what's going to happen, but it was interesting, nonetheless.

The Legend of Hell House moves through the days rather quickly, but I'd say it's a bit more of a slow-burner than a fast-paced jump-scare gallery. In fact, The Legend of Hell House is more of a atmospheric, suspenseful horror film. Obviously considering its age, it's definitely old-school in its approach. If you're looking for jump-scares, this doesn't really have many. It focuses a bit more on visual scares and developing its ominous atmosphere -- more of a goosebumps-inducer than a jumper. Some of the characters are not really likable, though, and some of the dialogue was mediocre. And, although I enjoyed the ending, I thought the final act was longwinded.
 
The acting was good, nothing special or terrible; it's on the melodramatic side, but as were many 70s films. I really liked the cinematography -- I thought the film was beautifully shot. Some of the camerawork and angles were a bit odd, but it was also very distinct in its style. The set design was elegant. The music was helpful in creating the great atmosphere. John Hough's direction is good; like I said, some of the stylistic choices were odd, but at the very least, he builds up great suspense and atmosphere, which is the main purpose of a horror film.

Overall, The Legend of Hell House is a very good horror film. I'm a big fan of atmospheric and slow-burn horror films, and Hell House delivers on both. It has some pacing and story issues, but it's still worth watching.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, partial nudity.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Film Review: Devils on the Doorstep (2000)

Devils on the Doorstep (Review)
China/2000
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...brilliant blend of black humor and war drama..."

During the final years of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese peasant Ma Dasan (Jiang Wen) is forced by a mysterious man -- at gunpoint -- to take custody of and interrogate two Japanese prisoners.

Devils on the Doorstep follows Ma Dasan and the other villagers as they deal with the two prisoners, who are from the Japanese army. One is a self-preserving translator and the other is an arrogant and vicious soldier. Dasan and the villagers basically interrogate and hide the prisoners from the occupying Japanese army, and each set of characters face their own conflicts and arcs. This brilliant blend of black humor and war drama leads to a mesmerizing climax and awe-inspiring ending.

The story may seem simple, but it's actually really deep. The characters are complex and interesting, and there is plenty of story to fill the two hour fifteen minute runtime. It's a spectacular balance of black humor and drama. The humor is black, but not irreverent or offensive; I laughed out loud more than a few times. The drama is emotionally powerful -- the type of drama that conjures that lump in your throat, the one that's hard to swallow. It balances both elements well to deliver a moderately paced and and, well, balanced film.

Fans of historical films will like this one the most. I thought it was very insightful and interesting. It's even more surprising knowing the film was produced in China. This isn't a film that outright demonizes the Japanese, like many other Chinese war films have in the past. Instead, this film focuses on telling an entertaining and effective story, and subtly delivers its social commentary -- a commentary about people and the society at the time. Definitely a film to make you think, and maybe even make you study up on the subject.

The acting is all-around superb. Jiang Wen, who also directs, delivers a standout performance; a strong pillar for a powerful film. The rest of the acting is also impressive, especially considering there aren't many big names attached -- I think it made the film feel more raw and realistic. The soundtrack is superb, I loved the traditional music, and I also loved the music during the credits. The film looks beautiful; the black-and-white helps the film stand the test of time, and it helps give the film a distinct style. Director Jiang Wen masterfully crafts a vivid portrait of people during war time; his direction is magnificent.

Overall, Devils on the Doorstep is a masterpiece. It's an immensely entertaining film thanks to its black humor, and it's emotionally-powerful thanks to its meticulously crafted drama and story. The film is also a technical marvel featuring magnificent direction and acting from Jiang Wen, elegant cinematography, and lovely music. It's a must-watch film.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some brief sex and nudity.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Film Review: Rites of Spring (2011)

Rites of Spring (Review)
United States/2011
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...partly spoiled by bad acting."

Two young women are abducted after a night at the bar, while a group of criminals execute their own unrelated kidnapping...

Rites of Spring starts by following these two young woman, particularly Rachel (Anessa Ramsey), who are abducted for a ritual -- a ritual meant to satisfy a strange, locked away creature. Meanwhile, a group of criminals, particularly Ben (A. J. Bowen), kidnap the daughter of a rich businessman. Eventually, the two unrelated kidnappings interlink -- in more ways than one -- and the creature is unleashed. The film leads to a mediocre ending, at the very least -- it's abrupt and leaves some unanswered questions, but it doesn't really have any where else to go, so I don't know how harshly to fault it.

Rites of Spring is a unique spin on the traditional crime/kidnapping film, obviously as it blends creature-feature horror elements into the formula. And I liked it. It's a simple yet creative story. The crime elements offer some tension and twists, and the horror offers some moderate suspense and gore. It doesn't reach nail-biting levels, but it's pretty damn satisfying. There are some dull moments, but the short runtime is forgiving. The creature isn't fully-explained or all-that fleshed out, and it could've used more back-story, but at least it looked decent and ominous.

The acting is the deepest pitfall for the film, though. A. J. Bowen is okay, but he definitely underperforms. Anessa Ramsey, on the other hand, ridiculously overacts. Her shouting, screaming, and grunting was more humorous than believable -- and that all she does after the first 5 minutes. Ramsey was terrible. (Should've tried for Sara Paxton -- they look similar and Paxton can act much better.) The film is shot well, though. I liked the camerawork, too. The music was great, really blended well with the film. The special effects and makeup were decent; there is some blatant use of computer blood, though, which looks bad. Writer and director Padraig Reynolds delivers a creative story with some decent suspense and thrills; however, there is some inconsistent pacing and he failed at controlling Anessa Ramsey's overacting.

Overall, Rites of Spring is a simple and decent film. It's story is easy to jump into and it's entertaining, and there is some solid suspense and tension. The short runtime makes this a solid time-killer, too. There are a few moments where the film loses momentum, though, and the film is partly spoiled by bad acting.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, and a 5-10 second shot of full nudity.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Film Review: Piranha (1978)

Piranha (Review)
United States/1978
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...just enough b-movie cheese, mild suspense, and practical effects to be moderately entertaining."

While searching for a pair of missing teens, insurance investigator Maggie (Heather Menzies) and local alcoholic Paul (Bradford Dillman) unwittingly unleash a vicious group of genetically-modified piranha.

Piranha continues to follow Maggie and Paul after accidentally releasing this set of piranhas. Basically, they find out more about the piranhas, then try to stop them from hitting two groups: a summer camp full of children and a resort on opening day. The buildup to the climax is slow and mildly effective, and the climax is surprising and well executed -- I often forget how old-school films had more freedom and were more daring -- anyone could be a target, no need to be politically or socially correct. The ending was good, too, but it ends with a cheesy line.

I suppose it should, though, considering Piranha is a b-movie at heart. And, as a horror b-movie, it's filled with bad dialogue, intentional and unintentional humor, and some decent and outdated special effects. Sure, it's somewhat ineffective and uneventful during its first hour, but it has some much appreciated charm. In fact, it has enough charm and wit, as well as good enough direction, to be an enjoyed as more than just another b-movie. I'll tell you this: it's not as "b-movie" as The Incredible Melting Man, that's for sure.

The acting is on par with most 70s horror and b-movies. In other words, it's occasionally decent but mostly bad. Our two leads, Heather Menzies and Bradford Dillman, are decent. The rest sound like robots -- I mean, there is no fluidity in their spoken word. The film looks and sounds decent, though. The special effects and makeup are decent -- I like watching these old-school films for the special effects, so I'm slightly biased. They look out of place at times, but they're interesting, to say the least. Director Joe Dante is good; the film shares many similarities to Jaws, but has a distinct charm and wit thanks to Joe Dante.

Overall, Piranha is a good film. It's a little slow and uneventful at times, and it undoubtedly treads familiar territory, but it offers just enough b-movie cheese, mild suspense, and practical effects to be moderately entertaining. If you're a fan of these types of films, Piranha is satisfactory.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some nudity.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Film Review: McCanick (2013)

McCanick (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"I liked the story, especially the climax, but it takes too many shortcuts."

When Simon Weeks (Cory Monteith), a young man with a lot of secrets, is released from prison, Eugene McCanick (David Morse) goes down an obsessive path to track him down.

McCanick is a crime-mystery film that follows McCanick as he tracks Simon, the young man McCanick put behind bars for murder. The story also follows McCanick during the past, as it slowly unveils what happened between McCanick and Simon. There's a little bit of unnecessary chitchat blended in, but the story mostly gets to the point. The climax was interesting and well-executed. I liked bits and pieces of the ending, too, but it felt illogical and abrupt for the most part.

McCanick's main issue is its cliché, contrived, and all-too-familiar plot. The story is simple enough to jump straight into and the mystery is also engaging, but it's held back by the aforementioned issues. There are scenes that you have to question because they're either illogical or contrived. "Why did that happen? " or "What kind of reasoning is that?" are questions you'll likely be asking. I liked the story, especially the climax, but it takes too many shortcuts.

David Morse is hit-or-miss with his performance; he's perfectly competent until the role becomes too emotionally demanding, then it becomes unnatural. Cory Monteith was good, though. In fact, the supporting cast was all-around great. The film's cinematography was okay, and the music was great. Josh C. Waller's direction is good, too. The writing from Daniel Noah feels half-baked, though -- there's a great story in there, but it's held back by plot contrivances and clichés.

Overall, McCanick is a good crime film. It has an interesting mystery, some tense and suspenseful scenes, and a surprising climax. But, the story treads very familiar territory, it's contrived and cliché, and the actual ending is disappointing. It's a good time killer, though, and not nearly as bad as some other viewers claim -- definitely worth viewing if you have a Netflix subscription and if you're a fan of the genre.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Film Review: Mad Max (1979)

Mad Max (Review)
Australia/1979
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"The action sequences are top-notch..."

In the outback of Australia during a dystopian future, lawlessness reigns supreme as biker gangs terrorize communities and the last of the police force, known as the Main Force Patrol, hunt them down.

Mad Max follow the Main Force Patrol, particularly expert driver Max (Mel Gibson), as they, well, police the outback. It's a fairly simple and barebones story, but with a great concept and immersive world. Anyway, after chasing a member to his death, Max is interwined in a conflict with a vicious motorcycle gang. A battle that hurts a fellow police and causes him to consider quitting the force. A battle that takes a much larger toll on Max as the story progresses. It leads to a great climax and great ending.

Like I said, Mad Max has a barebones story. In fact, it feels compressed and cut because it glides through some major moments. It feels like it skips or rushes through some critical scenes in the plot. One huge event happens, like a death or character conflict, then it quickly edits through to the next. It keeps filler to the minimal, but also leaves little to no opportunity for proper buildup or character.

Fortunately, the world it builds is great. I liked the dystopian future it develops -- it's not a post-apocalyptic world, but it works in creating a genuine feeling of lawlessness. I also liked the story, despite it being very simple. The action sequences are top-notch, too, especially if you like real stunt work instead of computer effects. Fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat chases, some shootings, and a few trembling explosion. What it doesn't have in story, it almost makes up for in action.

The acting is generally good. I liked Mel Gibson as the lead, he's very charismatic. Some of the supporting cast is great, while some are corny. The film looks great, and I really enjoyed the camerawork. The film stands the test of time in high definition. Some of the music is decent, but a lot of it is overwhelmingly melodramatic and corny; the music makes this film feel more like a b-movie than it really is. Director and co-writer George Miller does well in crafting the film's great action set pieces, but lacks a fluid and consistent flow; it's fast-paced one moment, then loses steam, then picks up again; the story also feels very barebones.

Overall, Mad Max is a very good film. The concept is intriguing and the world is immersive, the action is fantastic, and Mel Gibson is great as the lead. However, the story does suffer from being too minimalistic and choppy pace. The soundtrack doesn't fare much better, either. Worth watching for actions fans and fans of old-school b-movies.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood, some very brief sex and nudity.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Film Review: The Fog (2005)

The Fog (Review)
United States/2005
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...suffers from a severe lack of horror."

The small town residents of Antonio Island face a supernatural fog that harbors secrets of their past...

The Fog mainly follows Nick (Tom Welling) and his girlfriend, Elizabeth (Maggie Grace), as the town is hit by odd occurrences induced by a thick bank of fog. Nick aids Elizabeth in... finding out why the fog is coming? The story also follows local radio host Stevie (Selma Blair), who, uhh... sees the fog coming? As you can see, there isn't much certainty in the story because it really doesn't have much of a story to tell. Plenty of characters, but not much happens throughout most of its runtime. The characters just wander around talking about fog and dreams, but the story never comes full circle and it never focuses. To be blunt, I thought the ending was stupid, as well.

Unfortunately, The Fog also suffers from a severe lack of horror. The film is heavily reliant on loud-noise jump scares, but has a severe lack of suspense. And, without suspense, the jump scares becomes ineffective. Also, because the story is so weak, you likely won't be immersed into the film, which makes the jump-scare even more ineffective; it'll probably get your attention, but it most likely will not scare. There was one jump scare I liked, which involved a sink and some solid special effects, but that's only one scare in a film that drags for over an hour and a half.

The acting is also bad. Tom Welling and Maggie Grace can occasionally hit mediocre, but they come off as boring most of the time. Selma Blair is the worst offender with her bland and uncharismatic performance; this is even worse considering she plays a DJ, which should have charisma and a soothing voice -- again, she has neither. The music is the most disappointing aspect of the film. I haven't even mentioned this is a remake so far in this review, but I feel like I have to now. The music in the original is classic stuff, this is generic. I did like the camerawork, the lighting, and some of the special effects, though. Director Rupert Wainwright lacks consistency and vision; this film is poorly balanced, lacks distinction, and especially lacks any form of horror.

Overall, The Fog is a bad horror film. I have seen and reviewed the original, but went into this with an open-mind, as I do every film. Even then, it's a bad film. It has little story, the characters and the cast are bad, and, worst of all, it's not scary. It's a great film to look at, but visuals can't save it.

Score: 2/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Film Review: The Fairy Tale Killer (2012)

The Fairy Tale Killer (Review)
China/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...you won't lose any sleep if you skip it."

Jun (Wang Baoqiang) stumbles into police custody and confesses to murders that he has not committed... yet.

The Fairy Tale Killer follows police detective Han (Sean Lau) and his crew after Jun is released from custody and warned about falsifying a police report. Soon after his release, Jun's confessed murders begin to occur, all sharing a common fairy tale theme. In the meantime, the story tries to blend family drama with Han, his loving wife, and their autistic son -- it doesn't work. It reaches a decent climax, but the ending is unsatisfactory. The film makes it seem like something big and jaw-dropping is occurring, but it's really bland and even somewhat incoherent.

Fairy Tale Killer is a thriller-mystery film, with some horror and drama. There are some decent thrills spread throughout the film, and the mystery is at least somewhat interesting and engaging. The horror, however, is ineffective; it's a handful of mediocre jump-scares and some bloody visuals. Even more disappointing is the pointless and ineffective drama. It's melodramatic and boring, and it adds nothing to the film's story; it's occasionally used to push the story forward (i.e. a plot contrivance), but it offers nothing else.

The acting ranges from bad to decent. Sean Lau is good, although the performance isn't very demanding. Wang Baoqiang, who is funny in Lost In Thailand, is disappointing; it looks like they were aiming for a Joker-style character, but Baoqiang delivers a one-note performance that grew old fast. Some of the supporting cast were also bland, and there was also quite a bit of overacting from some of the cast. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream are also mediocre -- the translation is riddled with bad grammar and spelling errors.

The film's music is bad and good; it often sounds out of place, but it'll sound good on its own. The film also looks decent -- some of the photography is too dark and muddy, but it's also distinct and even stylish, much like The Detective. Director Danny Pang, of the Pang Brothers, has a decent concept and interesting story, but flawed execution; the direction seems unsure and unfocused, trying to blend different genres that can't seem to compliment each other.

Overall, The Fairy Tale Killer offers a few thrills, some suspense, and an interesting mystery. Unfortunately, the story is a mess, especially the ineffective and unnecessary drama elements, and the ending is underwhelming. The acting and direction are also hit-and-miss. If you're looking for something to kill and hour and a half, and if you're a fan of Sean Lau or the creative concept, this might be somewhat enjoyable. Otherwise, you won't lose any sleep if you skip it.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Film Review: The Believer (2001)

The Believer (Review)
United States/2001
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...very contemplative and interesting..."

The story of Danny Balint (Ryan Gosling), a radical Neo-Nazi who is a Jew himself.

The Believer is a drama following Danny as he delves deeper into his self-hatred and joins a radical fascist group. Danny has buried his Jewish roots and has developed a deep hatred for the Jewish people, as well as anyone below him in the racial "hierarchy." This group hones his charisma and uses his skillful speaking in attempt to break their beliefs into the mainstream. Meanwhile, Danny fights himself while plotting a vicious crime. The ending is great -- a very contemplative and interesting ending.

I think The Believer is a great film. I liked the story. I liked the focus on character. I liked the internal conflict and the character arc. For those of you interested in culture, like I am, this film also gives an insightful view of the religion. I wished there was a bit more background information, though, instead of the same old recurring flashback; the film just drops you into the plot without much buildup or background. Also, there are a couple of scenes where Danny fantasizes -- they're choppy and don't add much to the film -- fortunately they're far and few between.

Ryan Gosling is fantastic as the lead. His charisma really works in creating this troubled, confused, and complex character. The rest of the acting is also good -- not on par with Gosling's performance, but good. The film's cinematography was also good, as was the music. Some of the music sounded out of place, though. Aside from a few scenes, like the flashbacks and fantasies, Henry Bean's direction is great in pulling great performances, developing an interesting conflict, and creating some surprising tension.

Overall, The Believer is a great film. The story presents and develops an interesting and complex character, and leads to a great ending. The charismatic performance from Ryan Gosling is also top-notch. It's not on par with American History X, but it's a great complimentary film if you're looking for films with similar themes.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, sex and nudity.