Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Film Review: Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (2003)

Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman (Review)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Zatoichi finds himself in a small village - a village caught in a gang war - where he befriends a friendly farmer and her gambling nephew; along the way, he also agrees to help two geisha in their quest for revenge.

Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman drops you right into the action. It's a very traditional yet immensely interesting samurai story; it's a samurai film that blends its drama and action very well. Zatoichi shows up at a time of violence and oppression for the townspeople, and slowly helps as he bonds with those he meets - whether it be the geisha seeking revenge for their family's slaughter or the kind farmer forced to pay excessive amounts for protection. The action sequences are superb and often intense, especially the samurai showdowns. Most of the characters have background stories told through flashbacks, which I enjoyed; however, Zatoichi stays mysterious as a traveling masseur, which I also enjoyed. The ending of this film was great; it was a bit odd, but I felt it added more culture (for lack of a better word) to the film, in turn, capturing the legend of Zatoichi; it's also a humorous, non-traditional ending effectively changing what you'd expect.

The acting was fantastic from the entire cast. Beat Takeshi, or Takeshi Kitano if you'd like, is amazing as the mysterious samurai, Zatoichi; a very smooth and believable performance, rather than over-the-top or overdramatic. The music in the film is great, especially the ending, which is paired with a great tap-dance sequence. The costumes and settings are great, really capturing the era. I also enjoyed most the visual effects. The splashing computer blood gave the film a comic book/manga vibe; however, the gore effects were bad, and often distracting. Fortunately, the gore is limited to a few scenes, so it wasn't a significant issue. I own the Miramax Blu-ray of the film, and it looks and sounds great; definitely worth owning, if you can find a copy.

Overall, Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman is a very entertaining samurai tale; the performances, the music, the action all create an immersive and authentic atmosphere. Highly recommended for fans of the genre.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong Violence and Blood, Some Gore.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Film Review: Ghost from the Machine (2010)

Ghost From The Machine (Review)
United States/2010
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

After his parents die in a car accident, Cody is left with the responsibility of his younger brother and the guilt of his actions prior to the accident. So, Cody begins to build a device that can bring his parents back. After several failed attempts, he's able to make contact, but not with his parents...

Ghost from the Machine is a very interesting story and concept. Can science bring back the dead? If so, is that going to far? Cody goes through several attempts, getting closer and closer every time. It plays out like a supernatural drama. There is one great jump-scare, and one very creepy scene - don't expect a haunted house roller coaster like Insidious. The bulk of the film relies on dialogue, which works well enough. What I really enjoy of the film is the ending; it manages to stray away from the predictable, formulaic ending many have grown accustomed to. However, the last third of the film also had an odd change in character - felt like it was forced to make the film a bit longer since it really is a long shot.

The acting was good for what it is - an independent film with a limited budget. There are a few scenes that felt unnatural and forced, but they were ultimately forgivable. The music was also good, definitely worked for the film, especially towards the end. Special effects are nonexistent as far as I know.

Overall, Ghost From The Machine is a good supernatural drama - I wouldn't classify it as a horror film, despite a few scary moments. It's worth watching for those with time to spare, and those that want to watch a SciFi-Supernatural blend.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Film Review: The Wig (2005)

The Wig (Review) 
South Korea/2005 
Netflix Streaming: No 
Amazon Prime: No 

Soo-hyeon (Chae Min-seo)  is struggling from terminal cancer. Her older sister, Ji-hyeon (Yoo sun), a mute, decides to remove her from the hospital and tells Soo-hyeon that she has been cured. Skeptical at first, Soo-hyeon begins to believe she is cured as she looks and feels healthier; however, her attachment to an eerie wig is worrisome...  

The Wig is a very sad and depressing story. Although not deeply developed, the relationship between the sisters is moving; they both care for each other, but things quickly change when the wig is introduced. From there on, The Wig consist of great jump-scares, disturbing imagery, and a bleak story. The twist in this film is very familiar, you've likely seen it before; it does have one unusual and original element, however. The ending of the film is dreadfully painful - cringe-worthy and depressing. The idea of a haunted wig is just that - a haunted wig. I don't think the story used hair in a horrifying way - it was basically a way to introduce the haunting/ghost. I mean, I'll still be able to look at wigs the same way as before; making hair a scary would've been unique, but it doesn't - a missed opportunity, really. Another complaint I had is: a character is suddenly dropped into the film simply to answer a few questions; however, her appearance alone poses more questions. Terminal illness alone is a terrifying idea, add a chilling ghost, and you have a terrifying experience.  

The performances were great. They really added to the film's overall effectiveness. The music was good; not really unique or amazing, but well-suited. The film has some great special effects and makeup; not heavy on computer effects, but strong on blood and violence. The ghost design - particularly the face - is disturbing and is a bit more original than other Asian ghosts. The cinematography is very dark, which add to its bleak atmosphere. 

Overall, The Wig delivers the scares and a sad story, further supported by great performances and an unforgettable ending. A very effective horror film indeed. I highly recommend for fans of the horror genre. 

Score: 8/10 
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some brief nudity.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Editorial: Watching Out-of-Production, Unavailable, or Hard-to-Get Films on YouTube: Illegal? Unethical?

Full-length films are starting to show up across YouTube as piracy continues to soar at an all-time high. The films - uploaded by users - range from the latest blockbusters to the most adored classics. I don't support piracy in most cases and this topic isn't supposed to be taken as an advertisement - I don't want you to rush over to YouTube to check out their selection. I want to discuss the viewing of out-of-production, unavailable, or hard-to-get films using this method. Do you think it's illegal? Unethical?

Most of the time, it will be considered illegal - someone likely has to own the rights to the film and likely didn't release it for free. However, there will be occasional cases where the film will be legal to watch. For example, a public domain film, like Nosferatu, can be watched by anyone.The main discussion of this article is morality and ethics of viewing the films you cannot purchase. These films are available on an extremely popular, mainstream website - almost anyone can find and watch these films, without even having to sign-in. So, should you feel dirty, or guilty, for watching these films?

Although some OOP films can be purchased (usually at ridiculously high prices), what about the films that were never released. For example, The Poughkeepsie Tapes, a 2006 horror film, has never been released, but it has been uploaded on YouTube. Is it unethical to watch this film? On one hand, it's 2013 and the film has not been released nor does it have a planned release. On the other hand, plans always change and by watching it, you may devalue the film for yourself - in turn, causing the company to lose money due to piracy. Ju-on: The Curse and Ju-on: The Curse 2 - the original films before Ju-On: The Grudge - are other notable examples of films that are out-of production/unreleased and unattainable, unless you watch them on YouTube or download from other sources. Should we be punished for watching these films?

Also, the issue of region locking comes to mind. There are many films that have been released exclusively in specific regions. This has stopped many customers from purchasing and consumers from watching many foreign films, unless you're one of the few that own a region-free DVD or Blu-ray player. A notable example of this is Noroi: The Curse, a film I've wanted to watch for years. It's on YouTube and I haven't watched it yet as I hope it gets a proper, high-quality release in Region 1/A format. I believe the very promising Thailand horror film, Alone, also had a release in the foreign market and does not have a release date for the Region 1/A market. Both films are region-locked and would have to be imported to watch. Would it really be illegal or unethical to watch these films? I love supporting the filmmakers and genres I love, but what if they don't let me?

Watching out-of-productions, unattainable films on YouTube: should it be frowned upon? Is it our drive for instant gratification - that is, we can't wait for a domestic or re-release of the film - that should be examined or even blamed? Should YouTube be partly responsible for the availability of these films? I'd really like to get a wider view on this subject, so please share your thoughts in the comment section.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Editorial: Whispering Corridors In Retrospect

The iconic Whispering Corridors series is a benchmark for Asian horror - particularly, Korean horror. The films are not directly related, and only share similar themes and settings. Some implement deep drama and supernatural elements to create an effectively haunting experience, others use shocking jump-scares and ghosts to create a temporarily frightening experience; regardless, they all focus on ghosts and all-girl high schools. In retrospect, Whispering Corridors is an amazing supernatural experience.

Starting with Whispering Corridors, the audience is thrown into the action during a frantic phone call revolving around the return of a deceased student. The film is creepy thanks to its slow-burning pace and its dense horror atmosphere; the story gets under your skin. It's a bit tamed compared to other ghost stories as in it's not an over-the-top ghost film with jump-scares at every corner.

Memento Mori, the second installment, uses its drama wisely, creating authentic relationships and implementing a bleak, compelling storyline. The drama that goes on between the characters works so well; you really feel the pain and frustration, and that makes the ending - the entire story, in fact - so much more chilling and haunting. The blend of a strong drama presence, and a ghostly third act reminds me of films like The Exorcist.

The series continues with Wishing Stairs. The concept of stairs that grant a wish if a 29th stair magically appears is a interesting concept; the consequences of using these supernatural stairs are equally frightening. This film loses some of the drama from Memento Mori, but retains some of the atmosphere from Whispering Corridors and fleshes out its horror elements. What I mean is: this film feels like a traditional horror film - the type of horror film you've likely seen before. It is a bit uneventful, but it does feature an amazingly quirky performance from An Jo, which I really enjoyed.

The series' strongest outing is Voice, the fourth installment. From a story and technical standpoint, Voice excels beyond the previous installments. The Whispering Corridors formula is better than ever as it balances drama and horror well enough to create a very terrifying and effective experience. And, it implements audio and visual scares, which adds some variety to the film. The smooth storytelling, the superb cinematography, and the great music add the film's immersion.

The final film, A Blood Pledge, feels very similar to Wishing Stairs, as it feels like a traditional horror film. However, A Blood Pledge shortens its runtime and adds in a plethora of scares, which were somewhat absent in Wishing Stairs. The blood-drenched ghost is more visible and evident than ever before, and the violence is turned up a notch. As a straight horror film, it lacks the benefits of the implementation of real drama elements, but it works very well to kill a night in a frightening way.

In retrospect, Whispering Corridors is an amazing supernatural experience. Every film in the series offers different types of frights - whether they are traditional jump-scares, or slow-burning, impactful frights. The settings and the characters always have a sense of authenticity, and they make for perfect haunting sites and victims. The stories' themes of friendships, jealousy, bullying, and taboo relationships are also relatable, which I believe added to the immersion of the series; you've probably seen these in your high school. The films all have their own flaws, despite the positive attributes in this article. However, the experience is still worth having for horror fans, especially fans of foreign supernatural films.

Oh, and all of the films share the same message: High school is hell - for the living and the dead!

Friday, April 26, 2013

Film Review: A Blood Pledge (2009)

A Blood Pledge (Review)
South Korea/2009
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Eon-Joo jumps off a building in an all-girls high school. So-Hee, Yoo-jin, and Joo-yeon are questioned about the incident as they were supposed to meet Eon-Joo that night, but were running late. The truth is: they all had a blood pledge to commit suicide together. Rumors of foul play begin to develop, and the three surviving girls begin to experience a disturbing haunting.

The story is very simple and easy to follow; the simplest and easiest in the entire series, in fact. The story starts off with a vivid suicide. The rumors begin to spread, while Yoo-jin and Joo-yeon try to hide the truth. Conversely, So-Hee suffers from the loss of a close friend, yet she's accused of foul play. I often asked: What really happened that night? The mystery, the horror, and the drama all lead up to a chilling yet bittersweet ending. The horror elements in this film are very blatant - it's not subtle or atmospheric horror. A Blood Pledge uses some violence, plenty of jump-scares, and a blood-drenched ghost to deliver the scares. I like the fact that the ghost is used so strongly and consistently, definitely a welcomed change in the formula; I really liked the shots from the top of the schools, particularly the students standing on high ledges, which made me a bit anxious. I do, however, miss the dense, terrifying atmosphere of the past entries. The haunting simply doesn't feel like an authentic haunting in this story.

The acting was great from the entire cast. Once again, it genuinely feels like a school, and the actors authentically play students. This is the bloodiest entry in the series (bloody clothing, bloody eyes, etc.) The special effects are well-done - from the makeup to the suicides. Cinematography was solid, exceptional during a few scenes. The music was great, often implementing a haunting piano. The film also had a fast, consistent pace and a short runtime making this an efficient time-killer.

Overall, A Blood Pledge is the purest horror film in the Whispering Corridors. It uses some light drama elements and some effective jump-scares and tension to create a frightening experience. It's a great way to kill a night, especially if you're a fan of Asian horror. I recommend a purchase for fans of the genre or the series, a rental otherwise.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Film Review: Spider Forest (2004)

Spider Forest (Review)
South Korea/2004
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Kang Min, a TV producer, mysteriously awakens in a forest. He wanders into a cabin where he finds a dead man who has been stabbed excessively. In a room nearby, Kang Min finds Su-Young, his girlfriend, also stabbed. Min sees the killer try to escape and pursues him until Min gets hit by a car. After brain surgery, Min awakens from a coma to find he is a suspect in the double homicide, and now, along with his police detective friend Choi, he must prove his innocence.

The story is very interesting and captivating. The story blends mystery, suspense, and horror very well and it's covered in a dark, immersive atmosphere. From beginning to end, I was following right along with Min as he told his story - the twisted events that led up to his coma. And, I was equally captivated as he continued deeper into the mystery - attempting to piece together his broken memories. Who was the killer? Who's on the other side of the phone? What are the "spiders"? These questions ran through my head; an excellent example of a film that keeps you guessing. Every piece of dialogue - every authentic conversation - flow together smoothly keeping you glued to your seat. The ending of the film delivers great twists, although it may have been done before. The film is also drenched in symbolism; your interpretation may not be the same as mine, and I love this; it creates real conversation!

The acting in this film is great. Kam Woo-Sung, who plays Kang Min, is great as a frustrated and confused widow. The special effects are limited, although the makeup is shocking in the aftermath shots of the murders. (the decomposing bodies with deep lacerations and covered in cobwebs.) The cinematography is also superb, the shots in the Spider Forest are beautiful. I loved the music in the film; it added to the noir-like, mystery style of the film, and worked very well to create suspense.

Overall, Spider Forest is a great murder mystery. The suspense and mystery create a genuinely immersive thriller. However, it can be a bit confusing and the ambiguity can be overwhelming; this is a film, like many great mystery films, that will likely benefit from a second viewing.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, nudity and sex (3 scenes, no more than 20 seconds each)

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Film Review: Voice (2005)

South Korea/2005
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

At an all-girls school, Young-eon, a singer, is strangely murdered by a music sheet late at night. The next day, she awakens only to find that she can't be seen or heard, and she can't leave the school. Her best friend, Sun-min, however, can hear her voice. Thereafter, the murder mystery begins to hauntingly unravel...

The story in Voice follows similar themes to those in the previous installments of the series - the friendships, the jealousy, and the taboo relationships. However, this film blends the best elements of the previous entries to create a very effective story. It is creepily atmospheric, like Whispering Corridors, incredibly dramatic, like Memento Mori, and evidently frightening, like Wishing Stairs; the scares consist of audio and visual spookiness. The story starts immediately, and constantly pushes forward - no filler. The ghost is much more evident in a dramatic way, and an equally terrifying way, which really sparked my interest. However, there are rules the ghosts have to follow, which I also enjoyed. It occasionally gets confusing, some parts of the third act may need clarification. The ending of the film is great, as well. The scene at the credits is very chilling.

The acting is great in this film; the students act like students, and, in turn, the school feels like a school. The film relies on creepy audio, instead of actual ghost appearances, although ghostly figures occasionally appear subtly. The film is shot beautifully, with superb use of color; a deep, "emergency" light red is often used to create a tense, terrifying atmosphere. Voice doesn't rely heavily on special effects. The effects it does use blend seamlessly with the movie, most of the time.

Overall, I really enjoyed Voice. It has a dense horror atmosphere, suspense, and slow-burning terror, as well as a haunting storyline. I recommend a purchase for fans of the genre or series, a rental otherwise.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Film Review: Safe (2012)

Safe (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

Mei, a brilliant young girl with the ability to memorize numbers effortlessly, is kidnapped by the Chinese Triads in China and sent to Chinatown, New York, to calculate criminal earnings and such. Mei is eventually given a lengthy, valuable number - a number the Russian Mafia wants. After a violent altercation between the Chinese and Russians, Mei escapes. She's saved by Luke Wright (Jason Statham), a down-on-his-luck former cop. Now, Luke must protect Mei from the Chinese Triads, Russian Mafia, and corrupt cops.

Safe has a simple story, thanks to the smooth storytelling. Despite jumping from time to time, the story was very easy to follow. I understand: most people won't watch this film for the story, though. This is an exciting, nonstop action-thriller. Safe delivers some incredible fistfights, constant shootouts, and thrilling chases. The film constantly pushes forward with a ferocious pace - exciting action sequence after another. It leads up to a bit of an underwhelming, anticlimactic ending, though.

The acting was great, for what it is. Jason Statham reprises his award-winning role as Jason Statham. (seriously, though, he's great at playing this same character in all of his films.) Catherine Chan plays Mei with a very tamed performance; she's not over-the-top, stereotypical, or underwhelmingly boring - she's just right. The fight choreography was great, with some solid variety spread throughout.

Overall, Safe is a great action film. The story is interesting enough, and the action is versatile and delivers nonstop. Definitely worth purchasing for fans of action films, especially for fans of Jason Statham.

Score: 8/10
 Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Film Review: Wishing Stairs (2003)

Wishing Stairs
South Korea/2003
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

At an all-girls boarding school, if you go up the 28 stairs while counting aloud, and find a 29th stair, a fox will grant you a wish. Kim So-hee and Yoon Jin-sung, a couple at the school, are competing for a single spot in a prestigious Russian ballet school; So-her is the best bet and seems to have the win locked down. However, Yoon Jin-sung, jealous and desperate, finds the 29th stair and wishes to win the competition; but, the wish comes with a chilling price...

Wishing Stairs is a ghost/revenge story. The concept of the "wishing stairs" is interesting, and the scenes are creepy as they slowly, hauntingly walk up the steps. The first half of the story takes the time to introduce the characters, the dilemma, and explain the wishing stairs; the second half turns into a traditional ghost story. Unlike the previous entry in the Whispering Corridors series, Memento Mori, this story focuses more on horror than drama. The ghostly presence is stronger and more consistent than before, particularly during the second half. So, the relationship between Kim So-hee and Yoon Jin-sung, and the other characters and actions (like the bullying) feel a bit shallow due to the stronger focus on horror; it's never fully explored which lessens the impact; I can't say I'll have trouble sleeping tonight. The fact that the story felt stretched out doesn't help, either. There are a few great jump-scares, and some very creepy imagery, as well.

The storytelling in this film is easy to follow compared to Memento Mori; It follows a linear path throughout most of the film and almost everything is explained clearly. The acting is great from the entire cast. I particularly enjoyed An Jo who plays a eccentric student; her facial expressions really capture her emotions well, you can really see when she's anxious, frightened, or happy. The film is shot well, great cinematography throughout. I also enjoyed the exceptional music; it perfectly matches the mood and it's the definition of a haunting soundtrack.

Overall, Wishing Stairs lacks impact; it has a handful of frightening moments and some creepy imagery, but the inflated runtime makes the film feel uneventful and the lack of character makes the story less effective than it could've been. Basically, it's a good horror film. I recommend a purchase for fans of Asian horror or the franchise, a rental otherwise.

Score: 6/10

Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some brief nudity.

Film Review: Haunters (2010)

Haunters (Review)
South Korea/2010
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Cho-in (Kang Dong-won) is a psychic who can control people with his mind and Kyu-nam (Go Soo) is a pawn shop manager who is immune to his powers. When Cho-in visits the pawn show to blindly rob them, Kyu-nam's boss is caught in the crossfire. Now, Cho-in faces his greater challenge - a man that he can't control.

The story in this film is great. It plays out like a SciFi/superhero film. Cho-in's psychic ability are limited to mind control - mind control that is ineffective to Kyu-nam. However, he is able to control everyone else, including large groups, and use them against Kyu-nam. These random pedestrians are expendable to Cho-in, which allows him to abuse them and they become Kyu-nam's burden. It's really a face-off between these two characters - a game of cat and mouse. The finale of this movie is great. Although it explains much of the film and adds a sense of believability, the final scene was on the odd side.

The acting was great in the film. Both Kang Dong-won and Go Soo do an incredible job playing opposites. Dong-won delivers a sinister performance, while Go Soo delivers a more humane and kind-hearted performance; both characters go through the motions. The supporting cast does a great job, as well. The film is shot beatifully, the style is perfect for the film's genre. Also, I loved this film's soundtrack - it's very versatile, being happy and upbeat at times, and tense and suspenseful during others.

The Blu-ray of this film is amazing. The picture and audio quality are superb. The menus are in Korean and English, so if you know any of either, you should be able to easily navigate the menus; the special features are in Korean, however. The film has English subtitles - no English dub. The Blu-ray version I bought came with an extra CD disc that contained the full original soundtrack - the title of the tracks are in English and the quality is superb.

Overall, Haunters is a great SciFi action film. Although it doesn't fully explore it's psychic concept (i.e. it limits itself to mind control), it is very entertaining and the action is consistent. A great film, and the Blu-ray + OST combo is definitely worth the price.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Film Review: Memento Mori (1999)

Memento Mori (Review)
South Korea/1999
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

In an all-girls high school, Soh Min-ah finds a diary written by fellow students, Yoo Shi-eun and Min Hyo-shin, who happen to be in a romantic relationship. Due to the bullying, Yoo Shi-eun and Min Hyo-shin's relationship begins to crumble, causing Hyo-shin to commit suicide. As Soh Min-ah reads deeper into the diary, strange events begin to occur in the school.

Memento Mori is a sad and effective supernatural story. The relationships between characters are fleshed out and authentic. The discussions - some very humorous - the students have feel real and natural, which adds to the immersion; it's not cliché or stereotypical "girl" talk. The supernatural aspects of the film are subtle and tamed yet they manage to be creepy and spine-tingling, effectively avoiding over-the-top appearances. The ending of this film is chilling. However, the nonlinear story can be hard to follow. The film jumps often from character to character, and into different events/times; a transition that feels like a flashback may not actually be for a flashback. If you're fully immersed, you should be able to follow the film, though.

The acting is great in the film. The characters feel like they are actually students and they've been friends for a long time; the actors share great chemistry. The film is light on special effects, which is very welcomed; no pale skin or long black hair in this film. The editing - particularly some of the transitions - often hurts the film's storytelling, as previously mentioned.

Overall, Memento Mori works very well as a supernatural drama with horror elements. Some of the very spooky scenes, and the compelling story make this film very effective; you might not be completely frightened, but you'll definitely be compelled. I recommend a purchase for fans of the drama/horror genre, a rental otherwise.

Score: 7/10

Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Film Review: The Snowtown Murders (2011)

The Snowtown Murders (Review)
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Jamie's life is unstable and hopeless; he's a poor kid being molested by his half-brother and his neighbor. That is until John Bunting enters his life as a father-like figure - he brings the stability and security Jamie's been longing for in his life. However, John is a manipulative bigot with horrifying ulterior motives...

The Snowtown Murders is based on a real story; it's a chilling account of John Bunting's disturbing killing spree field by the hatred of obesity, pedophiles, and homosexuality; it's a story of broken people, manipulation, and terror. The Snowtown Murders focuses on Jamie Vlassakis' struggle as much as it focuses on John Bunting's motives. There's a haunting, intense scene where Jamie is forced, by John, to shoot an innocent dog. And, John, devilishly and emotionlessly, watches and finishes the job afterward. There's brutally vivid torture, although much is done off screen. However, many scenes are prolonged which make them lose their effectiveness a bit. What I mean is: transition and miscellaneous-like scenes, such as watching a train ride by for a minute, take up too much time. So, the film overstays its welcome by a significant margin. I understand the purpose of these scenes: to create a dreadfully tense psychological atmosphere; it just didn't work for me. It is also a bit confusing due to its off-screen action, so you often have to assume.

The acting was great from the entire cast. Lucas Pittaway does a great job as a frustrated, hurt, and lost teenager. Daniel Henshall plays John sinisterly and effectively; the way he speaks and reacts to certain situations is powerful. The music is also great, matching the dark tone of the film.

Overall, The Snowtown Murders is a chilling and disturbing drama. The main problem lies within its unjustifiably inflated runtime; it often feels uneventful, which may cause it to lose its audience at times. I won't lie: my mind drifted off more than once. The slightly confusing storytelling also hurts the films immersion. If you can handle this bleak, disturbing story, then it's worth watching.

Score: 7/10 
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, including torture, and full-nudity (male and female).

Monday, April 22, 2013

Film Review: Whispering Corridors (1998)

Whispering Corridors (Review)
South Korea/1998
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Mrs. Park frantically calls the young teacher Eun-young, babbling about Jin-ju's return - the problem is: Jin-ju is a long deceased student. The next morning Ji-oh Lim, a psychic student, finds Jae-yi Yoon, another student, waiting in front of the school as they are the school clerks for the day. They eventually stumble upon Mrs. Park's hanging body. Mysterious occurrences plague the school, and rumors of a haunting surface...

The story in this film is a creepy tale of an aching ghost. What I mean by that is: the ghost in this film isn't exactly holding a grudge. Whispering Corridors heavily relies on its spooky atmosphere to create a tense and creepy story; don't expect many jump-scares in this film as they are almost nonexistent. It's a slow-burning creeper that develops its characters and their relationships to create an effective experience. However, much of the impact begins to dwindle as the film overstays its welcome and often pointlessly prolongs its scenes. It is a chilling story, especially during its haunting finale, but much of the film feels uneventful due to its prolonged runtime. Also, the film suffers from some confusing storytelling. Some viewers will be able to grasp the story immediately, but I'm afraid others will have to look it up. (personally, it took me a few minutes after the end to come up with a reasonable explanation, and it was chilling!)

The acting in this film is great. Some of the dialogue may come off as unnatural, but that is a very inconsistent issue. As it relies on suspense and atmosphere, the bulk of the film works very well without visual effects. A scene in this film has a creepy bleeding wall effect that works very well and effectively compliments the mood. Whispering Corridors was made in 1998, or so, so the quality of the video and audio aren't top-notch. However, I actually enjoy the grainy, old-school look in horror films.

Overall, Whispering Corridors is a creepy horror film - a welcomed horror experience that doesn't require jump-scares to create terror. It may have an inflated runtime, and it may lack significant impact, but it works well enough. Fans of slow-burning horror films will feel right at home with Whispering Corridors.

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

Film Review: A Bittersweet Life (2005)

A Bittersweet Life (Review)
South Korea/2005
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Kim Sun-woo (Lee Byung-hun) is a calm yet ruthless gangster, and an enforcer for Kang, a powerful mob boss. Kang suspects his new girlfriend, Hee-soo, is cheating, and orders Sun-woo to trail her; if she is cheating, he must kill her and her new lover. However, Sun-woo finds love in Hee-soo that threatens his life...

The story manages to make an entertaining gangster film. Just when you thought you've seen it all, A Bittersweet Life delivers a violent tale love, loyalty, and vengeance, with a fresh, well-executed style. The story balances action and suspense well with its themes. The edge-of-your-seat action consists of realistic fights, blazing shootouts, and thrilling chases. The film continuously pushes forward to an amazing finale - the action is breathtaking and the ending is bittersweet, reminiscent of the ending in films like Scarface and Taxi Driver. As with most South Korean films, the "happily ever after" formula is nonexistent; I won't go any further to avoid spoilers.

Lee Byung-hun delivers a very authentic and balanced performance as Kim Sun-woo. His charisma is electrifying as he nails this performance with pinpoint accuracy. A ruthless gangster played so elegantly. Shin Min-ah plays Hee-soo wonderfully, and beautifully, throughout her limited screen time; never overacting as many have done in similar roles. Kim Ji-woon smoothly and precisely directs this bittersweet tale. The pacing is great - ending before you're ready for it to end. Choreography for the action sequences was also exceptional creating a realistic and immersive experience. The music also adds to the film, and had a similar, yet distinguishable, sound to A Dirty Carnival.

I own the A Bittersweet Life Director's Cut Limited Edition Digibook on Blu-ray (Region A). The picture quality is great, and so is the sound; it's not perfect and there may be room for improvement, but it is great for a 2005 South Korean film. This edition of the film comes English subtitles for the film and for the menus (so you can navigate through the menus if you don't know Korean.) Special features include the Making of A Bittersweet Life, the Style of A Bittersweet Life, Commentaries (including a director's introduction) and much more. It also comes with some limited edition postcards; I wish I could share images of these but I don't think I can due to copyright laws and such. (leave a comment if you know whether I can or cannot share these.)

Overall, A Bittersweet Life works exceptionally as a crime drama, and an action thriller. It's beautiful noir-style, superb performances, and bittersweet story blend together to create a masterpiece - an addicting and immersive experience. I highly recommend purchasing this film, even if you have to import. The digibook I own can run you a nice chunk of change, so I recommend it for fans of the film or collectors.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Strong Violence and Blood.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Editorial: The Importance of Diversified Film

Do you watch films from all around the world? Or do you stick to domestic releases? Watching films from every region creates a diversified and unique experience - an experience that can change your outlook on life and concurrently entertain you immensely. I'm not saying one region is better than another region, not at all. Every film, regardless of origin, offers a unique perspective for its respective genre that makes it worth watching, at least occasionally

I'm positive film lovers around the world will find an entertaining and diverse experience by watching international releases. Action films vary from region to region. The United States is known for its explosive blockbuster action films like the mega-hit Skyfall, while South Korea is currently stepping into this zone with action films like A Company Man; both would be classified as action films, but they approach the genre differently, yet they usually attempt to attract the same audience. Another notable action film is The Viral Factor, which features spectacular action-sequences. The languages are different, but they all seek to entertain and thrill, often through different methods (i.e. gritty and violent, colorful and explosive, etc.) Horror is another notable that has large and small differences between regions. A film like Paranormal Activity relies on the unseeable, shaky-cam; [Rec] runs, literally, fear directly into the audience with a shaky-cam; and, the French have blown up with the most brutal shockers to date - things that can't be unseen. (Martyrs, Frontier(s), etc.)

I fully understand why some people don't watch foreign films. It's a bit of a culture shock for some; some films take unusual twists into taboo territory that may leave the audience in shock. Others simply hate reading subtitles or listening to horrid dubs; sometimes, reading subtitles or watching an out-of-sync dub may ultimately divert your attention form the film itself. As I mentioned earlier, some films can be shocking - culturally and visually. A film like Oldboy - which enters American taboo territory - can leave the audience in awe. Personally, I loved this feeling; it was completely unexpected and left me interested in the rest of the region's films. Reading subtitles has never been an issue for me - knowing two languages also helps me reach a wider market without having to read subtitles - and I hope some viewers can get over it. However, I usually don't recommend dubs as I feel like they usually remove the emotion and impact from the actor's voice. So, maybe you should still avoid those, too? In all seriousness, if you like dubs, please watch them; as long as you get to experience storytelling and stories from around the world.

Ultimately, all I really want to say is: watch films from every region, regardless of language, subtitle, or dub. If you already watch foreign films, please keep doing so. If you don't, you won't regret starting. It may give you a wider range and open your mind to new things. Give it a try?

What are your favorite foreign films? Have any recommendations? Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Editorial: For The Love of Film

I genuinely love film. I'm always looking forward to the next film, regardless of its reputation - good or bad. Reading this blog, you've probably realized I'm really into South Korean films, yet I enjoy watching films across the spectrum. The gore-fests, the tearjerkers, the knee-slappers, the breath-takers... everything is worth watching. And, I'm always excited to watch

I love a great story. It can be a deep, meaningful story with an important message or a whodunit, edge-of-your-seat mystery thriller - it can even be a combination. Welcome to Dongmakgol is a notable example of a meaningful and entertaining film; a war film that shows the similarities of people, regardless of region, through clean humor. Gone, Baby Gone is another film with a great story; the blend of a thought-provoking story (particularly the ending) and edge-of-your-seat suspense creates a truly immersive film.

I love a film with a fantastic soundtrack. The soundtrack really sets the mood for a film; kinda like a guide attempting to lead your emotions. The Black Rain soundtrack is phenomenal, and a very understated Hans Zimmer soundtrack; this soundtrack matched the mood and the setting of the film perfectly as it blends domestic and international sounds. The Cloud Atlas soundtrack is also mesmerizing and, again, very understated. A fantastic soundtrack blends seamlessly with the film, and can be listened to without the film.

I love a film with beautiful cinematography. Whether it's a film that's easy on the eyes or a film that can leave the audience in awe, cinematography is very important. Black Rain (yes, again!) is a beautifully-shot film, as are most of Ridley Scott's movies; on that note, Prometheus creates an amazing atmosphere through its beautiful visual presentation - definitely an example of awe-inspiring cinematography. The use of color is very important in film to create a beautiful experience and to evoke the proper emotions; the upcoming Only God Forgives is looking very promising from its trailer alone.

These are only a few notable examples, and only a few elements, of why I love film. Honestly, the story, the music, the cinematography, and the acting all blend together to create immersive film experiences - film experiences that sweep you away into unforgettable worlds. I'm genuinely looking forward to everything film has to offer; what are you looking forward to?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Film Review: The Thieves (2012)

The Thieves (Review)
South Korea/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

South Korean and Chinese thieves team up to steal a $20 million diamond, the "Tear of the Sun", from a highly secured casino - a risky task that will require all of their unique skills. But, a thief's natural habits kick in and a who's-playing-who scenario kicks in.

The Thieves has a fairly recognizable story. Thieves teaming up and planning a heist really isn't anything new; however, The Thieves uses this formula correctly as it never fails to entertain. Each thief brings a specific skill, whether it's recon or vault-cracking, and they all have witty personalities. The bickering is actually humorous. The action sequences this film incorporates are amazing. Some very daring and exhilarating stunt work to keep you at the edge of your seat, amazing shootouts that will have you trying to dodge bullets, and intense chases that will leave you suspended. It all leads up to a great ending. This is a huge step for South Korean action films; action that can match the biggest blockbusters.

The acting is great from the entire cast; from Jun Ji-hyun and Oh Dal-su's witty performances, to Kim Yoon-seok's manipulative and charismatic performance. The entire cast delivers consistently, and it's better as it is incredibly diversified. The choreography is stunning and well-done; the action sequences feel authentic, suspenseful, and sometimes unbelievable; truly a remarkable achievement for South Korean filmmakers. The cinematography of the film is also superb, especially the large scale shots.

Overall, The Thieves is a fantastic action-heist film. The superb action sequences take center stage, and are supported by a great, diverse cast. South Korean films are entering a new whole new level, raising the bar for action films around the world.

Score: 9/10

Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Film Review: Biutiful (2010)

Biutiful (Review)
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Javier Bardem plays Uxbal, a black marketeer struggles to support his children. Diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer, Uxbal prepares for the worst and attempts to atone for his past. But, every well-intentioned choice he makes and every day that dreadfully passes, Uxbal can't change his fate in this haunting drama.

Biutiful is a chilling, heart-aching drama. A story of love, life, and redemption. Uxbal has an authentic struggle in his life that we can not only see, but we can feel. Living everyday, trying to stay strong and prepare the children he loves very much for his inevitable departure. The terminal disease dreadfully and vividly worsens throughout the film, creating a frightening experience - not a "jump up and scare you" experience, but a "why does this happen to people" experience or a "this can happen to me" experience. Much of the film will send chills down your spine and even make you feel uncomfortable. The film has adequate symbolism that will be perceived differently by different people - and I love this element in film; it allows the audience to discuss the film in an open way.

Javier Bardem magnificently plays Uxbal - a performance that works as a pillar for the film. From beginning to end, we witness his character slowly deteriorate as the disease takes toll; Javier Bardem delivers a range of genuine emotions from anger to happiness - and everything in between. Bardem's performance is complimented by Hanaa Bouchaib and Guillermo Estrella's performances - his children in the film. Maricel Álvarez also delivers a captivating performance as an abusive, bi-polar mother and ex-wife. The storytelling is smooth and easy-to-follow, the music is effective at setting the mood, and the cinematography is often stunning. Alejandro González Iñárritu's direction is also superb.

Biutiful is a chilling, haunting drama - it's difficult to get out of your head. It genuinely hurts to watch a film that blends authentic relationships and terminal illness, especially if you've similarly been affected. The painfully beautiful story, the superb performances, and the
technical flawlessness make this a must-watch film. Do not pass this up because it's too depressing, it only makes it that much more effective and unforgettable.

Score: 10/10

Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, drug use, and excessive nudity.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Film Review: Nameless Gangster (2012)

Nameless Gangster (Review)
South Korean/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Choi Ik-hyun (Choi Min-sik) starts off as a Busan customs officer who stumbles upon 10kg of methamphetamines. Ik-Hyun eventually meets Choi Hyung-bae (Ha Jung-woo), a gangster, through a friend and sells the drugs. Ik-Hyun realizes Hyung-bae is from the same family clan, and they develop a close relationship; Ik-Hyun a business front with valuable contacts, Hyung-bae handling the criminal underworld with brutal force. Nameless Gangster is a magnificent gangster film with superb performances and excellent direction.

The story in this film is very interesting and captivating. It a classic story of a gangster's rise to power; the loyalty and the betrayal, the success and the jealousy, the business and the greed. It mostly uses intense dialogue/arguments, along with the occasionally violent fights, to keep the film moving; the action and dialogue blend to create a mesmerizing and edge-of-your-seat experience. The film is able to keep this captivating momentum up to its superb ending. Choi Min-sik is, as usual, hypnotizing with his excellent and authentic performance; Ha Jung-woo is able to deliver an equally impressive performance as a calm yet brutal gangster; the rest of the cast is great, creating an authentic gangster-vibe. The music is also perfect for the film, and it benefits from the great editing. Much of the film - from the story to the storytelling, and everything in between - reminded me of Scorsese's classic gangster films; in fact, the film had many elements similar to "Casino" and "Goodfellas", especially the music placement and a few notable homage scenes. This, of course, is a compliment to Yoon Jong-bin's wonderful direction.

The Blu-ray Coffee Book is a high quality product. The packaging is great, with several high quality pictures - consisting of the memorable characters - in book form (i.e. a digibook). It is a single disc Blu-ray with superb picture and audio quality. If you plan on watching the special features or browsing the menus, you should know Korean - as this is a Korean-language product, with English subtitles. Definitely an item worth purchasing for collectors or fans of South Korean films and digibooks.

Overall, Nameless Gangster is an excellent gangster film, from its brilliant and authentic performances to its captivating story and storytelling. One of the best gangster films in a long time; a film that takes its subject seriously without sacrificing entertainment. This is one of the best films from South Korea, and South Korea has A LOT to offer. Don’t miss out.

Score: 10/10

Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Film Review: Storage 24 (2012)

Storage 24 (Review)
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

A military plane crashes over London causing a state of emergency. Meanwhile, a group of unsuspecting people become trapped in a storage facility - completely unaware of the danger that lurks within. Storage 24 is a mediocre and cliché monster flick with few redeeming factors.

The story in this film is very generic. It tries to create character by having a pointless love triangle - which sets up the film for more cliché scenes and character arcs. You'll see everything coming from the beginning to the end. The main characters consists of best friends Charlie and Mark, Charlie's ex-girlfriend Shelley, and Shelley's friends Nikki and Chris - who are also a couple. Charlie visits the storage facility to get his stuff, unfortunately running into Shelley and her friends who are already clearing out the storage facility. The love triangle consists of a backstabbing friend and a cheating girlfriend. It's very cliché, and the characters are mostly annoying, nagging throughout. I can usually tolerate annoying characters as that's what they are usually supposed to be; however, I don't believe the characters were purposely made annoying for this film. The alien in this film is good; up close, it uses too much blatant CGI, otherwise, it's very large and violent. He's not fully developed as a predator, so it causes the film to lack suspense.

The acting in this film is okay. It's tolerable, and gets the job done. Antonia Campbell-Hughes, who plays Shelley, had a few scenes that were just bad and completely forced; she felt unnatural at times; for example, one particular scene has her acting frustrated, sad and confused, but you never feel the emotion nor do you ever believe she is either of the emotions in her unnatural body movements. The special effects were solid throughout the film. Again, some scenes use blatant computer effects, but the aftermath of a kill usually looks shocking; deep lacerations on victims' faces and bodies being torn into pieces.

Overall, Storage 24 is a lackluster monster film. Fans of monster films like Relic or Deep Rising might see some redeeming values and get the most out of the film; however, you're probably better off watching Relic or Deep Rising. I suggest streaming or renting before purchasing.

Score: 3/10

Parental Guide: Some very brief nudity on a magazine (less than 10 seconds), strong violence and gore.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Film Review: Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox (2007)

Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox (Review)
South Korea/2007
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

Aliens land on a small mountain where Yobi - a five tailed fox with the ability to transform - lives alone, and decide to live with her. 100 years into the present: the aliens are ready to leave, but one of the clumsy aliens accidentally causes the launch to fail and runs away after being scorned- putting himself and the group in jeopardy. Now, Yobi and the aliens attempt to rescue him from small children and an a fox hunter. Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox is a visually-stunning, heartwarming, and very entertaining animated film.

The story in this film is great. It is able to be an entertaining and meaningful story. It packs plenty of heartwarming humor through its clean, witty dialogue, and the minor actions of the characters, like the aliens mimicking each other, an alien using his hands as binoculars, or the aliens showing love through slaps. It also has some thrilling action, mostly through some great chases. I found the film to be very positive, emphasizing the proper treatment of each other; souls taking care of souls. And, its interpretation of the afterlife was also positive, interesting, and genuinely beautiful. However, the Yoyo aliens weren't fully developed; as in, they aren't fully utilizes and it often feels like they take the backseat. The ending of this film is magnificent, being truly bittersweet. I liked all of the main characters, Yobi being an incredibly delightful lead - and enthusiastically voiced by Ye-jin Son - and the Yoyo aliens being quirky whenever they had screen time.

The style in this film is beautiful and atmospheric, adding to its charm. The colors are vibrant, the character and settings are excellently designed. The film is great on the eyes. I can't put my finger on it, but most animated films don't use this exact style - Yobi really develops an identity of its own through its style, as well as its story. This is a film I truly hope receives a domestic, or at least region-free, Blu-ray release. The voice acting was perfect for all of the characters, and the music was superb.

Overall, Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox is a magnificent animated film, entertaining for any age group, and perfect for families. It's beatifully animated, perfectly scored, and enthusiastically voiced - with a genuinely heartwarming story. This is another stunning film from South Korea, among many more; don't miss out.

Score: 9/10

Parental Guide: Some Violence.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Film Review: No Doubt (2010)

No Doubt (Review)
South Korean/2010
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

As a new family moves into a small village, No Choong-sik's daughter, Mi-rim, goes missing; coincidentally, the son of the Yoo family, Se-jin, has a record for child molestation. Choong-sik attempts to find evidence against Se-jin, simultaneously punishing him; the villagers want to push the entire family out; and, the police race to find the truth. No Doubt is a very bleak and depressing film, a magnificent blend of "Memories of Murder" and "Mother".

The story in this film is very dark. It offers different perspectives of a very disturbing situation. We witness a father's agonizing pain and anger towards a system he believes is flawed. We witness the impact on the family of a sexual offender as a mother attempts to protect her son and a sister is mistreated solely due to relation. We witness the police racing to find the truth, often with bias and prejudice. And, we witness "guilty until proven innocent" at full effect as Se-jin is frequently assaulted and berated for a crime that he hasn't officially been linked to. The ending of the film is surprising, and unexpected, especially for those unfamiliar with South Korean films. The film balances out all of the characters and their perspectives very well; the film has a very "full" feeling, as it uses every minute of its short runtime effectively. This chilling, all-too-real story leaves you asking many questions about society, and I really enjoy this thought-provoking feeling. There aren't many films that can move you like this nowadays.

The acting was amazing from the entire cast. Tae-woo Kim is superb as a very hurt and angry father. Jeong-jin Lee is also excellent playing a very awkward sexual offender, and has a very disturbing speech/rant during the film; he hits all of his emotions perfectly, and captures his character in a unique yet authentic manner. In fact, the entire cast was exceptional. The superb acting added to the authenticity and immersion. The music was also great throughout the film, and really matched the bleak tone.

Ultimately, No Doubt is a very sad film that may leave you emotionally drained. The haunting, realistic story, and the superb performances make this film a must-watch. A purchase is HIGHLY recommended - if you can find a copy - for fans of South Korean films and the drama/mystery genre.

Score: 9/10

Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some brief nudity.


Welcome to CinematicAddiction.com! I'll be updating this website very often with: (1) a wide variety of film reviews from every timeframe, region, and genre, (2) original articles and editorials, (3) an assortment of top 5 through top 30 lists, (4) and hopefully much, much more. All of the content will be written exclusively for CinematicAddiction.com, as well

I will keep this website updated and I am willing to change with the audience's demands - as you'll soon find out, I'm very open-minded. Like my short and direct reviews? Prefer longer, detailed reviews? Want more recommendations? Want more food-for-thought, discussion-like articles? Leave a comment or email me, I'll consider anything.

I watch hundreds of films a year, enough to consider myself a cinematic addict. If you're a cinema addict - if you absolutely love movies - I hope you visit my website often!

- Jonathan