Friday, August 30, 2013

Film Review: The Possession in Japan (2011)

The Possession in Japan (Review)
Japan/2011
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...the film lacks the character, depth, and creativity necessary for an effective horror film."

Mistakenly diagnosed as schizophrenic, 20-year-old Lisa and her family have been fighting a vicious demonic possession; Lisa has been tied to her bed at the recommendation of a former doctor and has taken abundant medicine -- but it hasn't worked. However, with the help of a Father, they may be able to save Lisa.

The Possession in Japan follows a very familiar path. It doesn't explain her treatment or possession as you are dropped right into it -- we never meet Lisa. A priest recognizes the signs of possession and requests an exorcism; he has a reluctant friend that may be of assistance, but has quit due to his past failure. This reluctant friend, however, eventually has a change of heart. A final exorcism is performed that explains the possession and its roots, and delivers a solid twist. But, by then, you'll already be drained from the cliché-filled plot and unnecessarily long run time. (and it's only an hour and twenty minutes long!)

The story doesn't try to be original or innovative. There is no character or depth. Therefore, the supernatural, scientific, and religious aspects of the film are ineffective -- the thought-provocation is nonexistent; you never wonder if it's an illness or a possession. Also, without character, the film lacks overall impact -- I couldn't care for Lisa or her family because they have no character. And, without impact or creativity, the film lacks the terror needed to make a great horror film, or a horror film at all, for that matter. There are some solid special effects, but there are also some terrible visuals, as well. There isn't anything shocking or disturbing -- Lisa's growls sound more like she's powering up a kamehameha wave rather than a vicious demon. Like Lisa's demon says, "It was a waste of time!"

The acting was okay. There were some moments of hilarity due to the overacting and cringe-worthy delivery, but it was mostly competent. The music was good, although it was occasionally ill-fitted. The visual effects ranged from good to bad; I liked the visual effects at the end, but a certain explosion was weak. I'm not looking for a big-budget film, hell, Graceland is close to masterpiece status and that has a microscopic budget in today's age, so I can't forgive it for looking cheap; horror is supposed to excel with lower budgets through practical effects and clever writing - this has neither.

Overall, The Possession in Japan isn't a good film. I like certain parts of the ending, as well as the possession explanation, and the younger sister adds some emotion to the story, but the film lacks the character, depth, and creativity necessary for an effective horror film. It's also unnecessarily long -- it really could've been cut to an hour -- and uneventful. Hardcore possession fans should rent, everyone else should wait for streaming.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Some disturbing visuals.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Film Review: Friday The 13th Part 8 - Jason Takes Manhattan (1989)

Friday The 13th: Part 8 - Jason Takes Manhattan (Review)
United States/1989
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"With the right expectations and interests, you should find some entertainment value in this installment..."

Jason Voorhees is miraculously resurrected once again from his grave at the bottom of Crystal Lake. Jason hitches a ride and jumps ship onto the SS Lazarus... filled with partying high school graduates heading to New York City.

And so the story continues as expected: a few annoying teenagers get slaughtered one by one as Jason teleports from place to place. The first two acts of the film are based on the cruise ship, which is a nice setting for a slaughter and a welcomed change to the usual environment. I say it was actually pretty solid to begin with. About two-thirds in, Jason finally reaches New York City for an underwhelming final act. I genuinely laughed out loud during one unintentionally humorous scene and again during another odd scene, and really couldn't care less for the ending.

As you'd expect from the series, the film isn't scary. It has some brutal kills and occasionally impressive special effects, but the actual kill scene is often off-screen; call me what you want, but I'd like to see the special effects in action rather than the aftermath. There are some jump-scares, a few that were solid thanks to some great visuals, but not enough. The boat setting was good, but the segment took too long. Maybe that's beneficial since the New York City segment was where the film fumbled for me -- most of the intentional humor was a miss, and I laughed at some "so bad it's good" moments. Other than that, expect the same cliché characters and generic character arcs, especially a cringe-worthy "tough guy boxer" character; the story has no emotional depth, so don't expect to care for the characters as they don't care for each other either.

The acting was good from most of the cast, especially towards the beginning. There are some over-exaggerated deaths, but most were okay. The settings were solid, although New York City was underused and poorly utilized; I ultimately liked the change in settings, at least this one time, since Crystal Lake had been poorly used more than once. The special effects were great, but they've been better in previous installments; not exactly a graphic film, but there are a few brutal kills. Technically speaking, it's pretty much a typical Friday The 13th with a change of setting.

Overall, Friday The 13th Part 8 - Jason Takes Manhattan is a solid installment in the franchise -- it's not the best, but it's far from the worst. With the right expectations and interests, you should find some entertainment value in this installment, at least enough to kill a night.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, sex and nudity.

Film Review: Friday The 13th Part 7 - The New Blood (1988)

Friday The 13th: Part 7 - The New Blood (Review)
United States/1988
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"...it really feels like a fantasy-horror-action film, instead of the usual."

Years after the events of the previous film, a 10 year old Tina accidentally kills her father with her telekinesis powers unlocked during a fit of rage. 7 years later, Tina returns to Crystal Lake with a doctor and her mother to help her recover, and accidentally uses her special powers to free Jason Voorhees from his watery grave.

The story continues as Tina receives treatment, while her neighbors -- a group of teenagers -- party next door. Her neighbors suffer the same fate as the lake occupants before them. Tina, on the other hand, adds some creativity by having special powers and grizzly visions of death. These power become more evident towards the ending as Tina faces off against Jason. The third act is more action/horror than horror, but it's thrilling and effective. The ending of the film was a bit cheesy and a bit unfulfilling, yet oddly satisfying.

I like the story in this installment as it adds more variety to the hit-or-miss series. However, due to the creative telekinesis approach, this may be a hate-or-love film; it really feels like a fantasy-horror-action film, instead of the usual. Jason Voorhees is much more intimidating this time around because of his size and design, I like this. Some of the kills are plain, been-there-done-that, while others are creative and brutal. I was never scared, but I can't say I wasn't entertained -- it was generally a fun experience.

This film doesn't suffer from story like the previous installments. Instead, the ridiculously over-the-top acting from the lead and most of the supporting cast brings the film down. The acting really ranges from terrible to barely decent, but never excels. It doesn't help that most of the characters are generic and hollow, as is there dialogue and delivery. The special effects were solid, the kills were great and Jason's design was better than most of the previous installments. The story has some creativity and innovations, kinda feels like the later installments of A Nightmare on Elm Street; but, it lacks consistency and balance.

Overall, Friday the 13th Part 7 is a good 80s slasher. The fantasy elements may turn some viewers off, but I took it as a breath of fresh air. The acting was unfortunately at its worst, and the characters could've been deeper, or at least likeable.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, sex and nudity.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Film Review: Friday The 13th Part 6 - Jason Lives (1986)

Friday The 13th: Part 6 - Jason Lives (Review)
United States/1986
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...better than the last installment."

Tommy Jarvis, who previously killed Jason, visits Jason's grave to cremate his buried body. However, Jason's dead body is struck by lightening and he is revived. Now, the zombified Jason returns to his lake to slaughter a new batch of camp counselors.

Friday The 13th: Part 6 has an interesting story. The story confirms Jason as a supernatural being as he returns to life, which explains how he walks so fast, and stalks an active campground; I like Jason's new design, I think it's something fresh for the series and it makes him more intimidating. The campground consists of the usual stupid teenagers and a group of kids looking to have fun; unfortunately, the story doesn't really utilize the campground or the kids as most of the action revolves around the campground rather than inside it. As expected, the characters have sex, mess around, then die. Jason is presumable defeated in a fiery finale, which was good.

Part 6 really doesn't pretend to be much more than a B-movie slasher. It's not actually scary since the suspense is simply not there leaving the jump-scares legless. The kills are better than the last installment. Although much of the action is still performed of screen, the gruesome aftermath of a kill was impressive. The comedy was hit-or-miss, again -- better than the last installment, though. The film implements some action elements, which gives the film some variety and life, but doesn't really excel; some people may even feel it's out of place.

The acting is mediocre, both leads have terrible delivery during some vital lines -- usually when they are shouting; in fact, I wasn't a big fan of neither lead as they were played poorly and their characters were soooo annoying. (more annoying than the usual lead in the series, the characters in this film just weren't all too likable.) I like the music in the film, I just wish the iconic sounds would have a stronger presence. The writing tries something new, and it succeeds at some of it, but it is still cliché and generic.

Overall, Friday The 13th: Part 6 is an okay 80s slasher. If you go in with the right expectations, I'm sure you'll find some entertainment from this installment -- just don't expect much innovation or an exceptional horror film and you'll be fine. A solid film to kill a night.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, some sex.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Film Review: Friday The 13th Part 5 - A New Beginning (1985)

Friday the 13th: Part 5 - A New Beginning (Review)
United States/1985
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"The ending has a very predictable twist, which also renders this installment useless to the series..."

Tommy Jarvis, now an adult, is released to a halfway house. After a fatal incident at the home, a new string of deaths untangles as Jason returns...

Another installment in the Friday the 13th series, another simple, generic story. Another secluded home in the woods is attacked by Jason Voorhees, who is supposed to be dead. Tommy, who originally killed Jason, has trouble interacting with his housemates, but that doesn't matter since they'll be killed anyway. So, the killings occurs as they are picked off one by one up until the end where the obligatory chase scene occurs. The ending has a very predictable twist, which also renders this installment useless to the series, at least so far; in fact, the twist doesn't make much sense when you look back at the mayhem -- it just leaves more unanswered questions.

As far as story goes, there really isn't much to tell; you've seen this story told before, at least 4 separate times if you're a fan of this series. There is some entertainment to be had watching Jason lurk and execute, but not much else. The character lack depth, and most are annoying. The horror is okay for fans of brainless slashers, but it's missing vital elements to make it genuinely effective. The humor is bland and over-the-top -- best described as annoying and obnoxious.

Part 5, or A New Beginning, uses plenty of jump-scares, many of which don't work at all. The suspense is almost nonexistent throughout -- the direction doesn't bother to buildup any tension before the kill, which is unfortunate. The kills themselves are solid. Some have been seen before, while others are a little more on the creative side; a lot of the actual violence is off-screen, which may positively or negatively influence your viewing. I love old-school, gore special effects, so this was disappointing.

The acting is mediocre. Aside from a few performances, most of the cast is over-the-top; an overwhelming force that comes off as unnatural and... well, annoying. The special effects are good for some scenes, but not as great as the previous installments; the absence of Tom Savini is evident. The iconic music is great, but I wish it had a stronger presence. The direction and writing is lazy; everything feels rushed and disconnected.

Overall, Friday the 13th: Part 5 - A New Beginning is a weak installment in the series; this film can be entertaining in the right setting and frame of mind, but it is riddled with flaws -- from the mediocre acting to the bad, generic story. I recommend watching if you're a fan of the previous installments or if you must watch every installment.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, sex and nudity.

Film Review: Friday The 13th Part 4 - The Final Chapter (1984)

Friday The 13th: Part 4 - The Final Chapter (Review)
United States/1984
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"Featuring the legendary Tom Savini, the gore effects are superb..."

After the events of the previous film, the presumably dead Jason is transported to the morgue. He comes back to life, kills the doctor and nurse, and escapes back into Crystal Lake. Meanwhile, a new group of teenagers arrive to the lake to the same old same old.

The difference between Part 4 and Part 3 is the consistency; part 4 feels a bit more balanced than the previous installment, and features a few more improvements. Unfortunately, the story isn't improved. It starts with a montage of the previous films, and continues into a hospital setting -- I like this sequence, the use of the setting and the first two kills. Afterward, the story delivers the same old same old; we see a group of teenagers skinny dip, smoke weed, have sex, and... that's about it (again). This bloodbath leads to an ending that feels a bit rushed and predictable.

As for consistency, the kills are fairly scattered across the film -- I'd say the kill count is balanced well. Part 4 also features technical improvements in the kills. The death sequences are shot much better with more visibility. Featuring the legendary Tom Savini, the gore effects are superb -- definitely a highlight for the film. The suspense is light, unfortunately, and the jump-scares fail to conjure the jumps. Due to these missteps, Part 4 isn't really scary. However, it is entertaining and fast paced.

The acting is better this time around. The writing and delivery still suffers from some cheesy 80s writing, but it is performed better than the previous installment. The music isn't particularly memorable, even the main theme feels underwhelming. Fortunately, the gore effects redeem some of these missteps. Unlike the previous installment, you can actually get a good look at the kill -- and they're worth watching for gorehounds. There isn't much to direct, it's practically the same film as before.

Overall, Friday The 13th: Part 4 The Final Chapter is a very good slasher. It fails to deliver the scares and the story is pretty much the same, but it manages to entertain with its gory kills, balanced story, and consistent pace. This installment felt like it was over before I knew it.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, and nudity.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Film Review: Friday The 13th Part 3 (1982)

Friday The 13th: Part 3 (Review)
United States/1982
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"It fumbles after a great introduction, but redeems itself a bit with the final act."

The story begins with a re-run of Friday the 13th: Part 2's ending. And so, it continues with Jason visiting a local store and slaughtering the live-in couple before moving on to the Higgins Haven. Soon, Chris Higgins and her friends arrive and another massacre occurs.

Friday The 13th: Part 3 is very straight-forward; the story is simplistic and generic. In fact, I can't really say much about the story because of the lack of story. The group of friend are quickly introduced, they arrive at the lodge, and they do regular stuff for a while -- actually, they really don't do much at all. They use a yoyo, and juggle, and smoke weed... IN 3D!! (I emphasize that because these activities are used to show off the 3D.) Then, as the third act begins, the friends are picked off one by one. And, it ends the way everyone expects it too. That's about it, unfortunately.

However, the film has a few moments where it shines. I like the often subtle use of Jason Voorhees, as he creeps in the background. There are a few scenes with great suspense, as well; I found a couple of scenes to have great build-up and execution. The kills feature solid special effects, despite the magnificent Tom Savini being absent. I like the first two sequences in the film -- the flashback and the local store -- and I also enjoy the final act, but almost everything in between is mediocre.

The acting, for example, is mediocre. The cast are okay, especially considering the genre and year of release, but their dialogue and delivery is often cringe-worthy. The moment of tension and panic are solid, but they should spend less time with the small talk. The writing is incredibly simple -- I'm not sure if there was even a script considering the dialogue and formulaic story. Special effects are solid, but they aren't highlighted or shown off; this is an element that could've redeemed the film a little more.

Overall, Friday The 13th: Part 3 is a good slasher film. It fumbles after a great introduction, but redeems itself a bit with the final act. I can't say I wasn't entertained, but I won't say this film is perfect, either.

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

Friday, August 23, 2013

Film Review: Mud (2012)

Mud (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...Mud is near flawless."

On a small island on the Mississipi River, Ellis (Tye Sheridan) and Neckbone (Jacob Lofland) find a boat in a tree. As they try to make it their own, they find out someone has already taken refuge in it, and he goes by the name of Mud (Matthew McConaughey).

The story continues to develop the relationship between the two boys and Mud; Ellis and Neckbone are already great friends, Ellis particularly is going through changes regarding love; while Mud is a stranded, misunderstood murderer looking to save the love of his life. Mud's goal is to leave the island with his girlfriend and escape his pursuers-- and these boys can help. Along the way, friendship and love will be questioned on both sides as they experience the ups-and-downs of relationships. Is love real? The film's ending is fantastic.

I thoroughly enjoyed Mud. It works fantastically as a coming-of-age drama, although we can simply call it a drama. It works mainly off its engaging dialogue and conversations, which really compliments the Southern environment and atmosphere of the film. The character arcs are interesting and masterfully executed. This isn't an action film, but Mud features a fantastic action sequence during its final act. The entire film has life -- it moves with the energy and momentum of an effective thriller, but never sacrifices character or plot.

Tye Sheridan and Jacob Lofland are superb; Sheridan, in particular, delivers a wide range of emotion -- from genuine excitement and interests to disappointment and sadness. Sheridan and Lofland share the best-friend chemistry and effectively compliment each other's performances. Matthew McConaughey has a strong presence as the title character: his southern charisma is perfect for the film, and he delivers at the highest caliber possible; McConaughey has surprised me film after film with his astonishing performances. The cinematography is superb, the location is captured beautifully. The music is perfect, well-fitted for the setting, although it has a smaller presence. The direction and writing is flawless, a triumph for Jeff Nichols.

Overall, Mud is a superb drama. From its deep plot to its spectacular performances, and the technical aspects that capture this immersive world, Mud is near flawless. This is a film worth watching, do not miss this.

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

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Film Review: The Hunter (2011)

The Hunter (Review)
Australia/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...the second half of the film is redeeming -- adding involving dilemmas, tense situations, and pure entertainment."

Mercenary Martin David (Willem Dafoe) is hired by military biotech company Red Leaf to gather samples of the Tasmanian Tiger -- a though-to-be extinct tiger whose existence is solely supported by two witness accounts in the last year. Martin has also been instructed by Red Leaf to slaughter any remaining tigers to keep the DNA exclusive.

The Hunter continues to follow Martin as he lodges with a small family and travels in and out of the bush -- 12 days at a time. Martin connects with the family while tracking the elusive tiger on his outings; he also faces discrimination from some of the locales and begins to question the disappearance of the man he replaced. And so, The Hunter finally reaches its climax as the mystery is unraveled and Martin finds himself facing a harsh dilemma. The ending is bittersweet, even unexpected to a point.

The main problem with The Hunter is its often dreadfully slow pace. This interesting story moves at a snail's pace, which makes this 1 hour and 40 minute feature feel like its over 2 hours. On top of that, the story is often uneventful: it feels very empty, as if hardly anything has happened. The second half of the film really starts to pick up the pace, though. The characters start to interact in involving ways, and the research and investigation builds up a tense atmosphere; in other words, the second half is an involving piece of work, well worth enduring the first half.

Willem Dafoe really steals the film with his great performance; he really delivers a very accurate performance, always hitting his target. The child cast also did an exceptional job being, well, kids. The cinematography is superb; the environment is captured beautifully, the scenery is often breathtaking. The music is also fantastic blending seamlessly with the film and creating the correct vibe at all times.

Overall, The Hunter is a very good adventure/thriller. The first half of the film, while interesting, suffers from an uneventful feeling and a tedious pace; the second half of the film is redeeming, adding involving dilemmas, tense situations, and pure entertainment. Technically, the film is superb; a beautiful film to see and hear.

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

Film Review: Graceland (2012)

Graceland (Review)
Philippines/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...it travels into territory Hollywood wouldn't dare enter..."

Marlon Villar (Arnold Reyes), a chauffeur for the corrupt Filipino politician Manuel Changho, is pulled over while taking Changho's daughter, as well as his own, home. A routine traffic stop quickly turns into a bloodbath as Changho's daughter is killed and Marlon's daughter is kidnapped. Now, to save his daughter, Marlon, the only witness to the crime, must convince Changho and the police into believing both children are alive...

Graceland is a raw, gritty kidnap thriller. The story is simplistic yet detailed. It travels deep into the criminal underworld -- particularly the underworld of child prostitution and the organ trade. Marlon still feels like a chauffeur as he is directed to bring Changho to face his inner demons. The story continues with Marlon stuck in the middle; on one hand, Marlon must comply with the kidnappers to keep his daughter alive, regardless of the situation; on the other hand, Marlon must keep Changho's daughter's death a secret, as well as his communication with the kidnappers, as Changho and the police become suspicious of Marlon' involvement. The twist arrived with a powerful, breathtaking blow -- some may see it coming, many will be in awe. The ending is somewhat confusing, at least briefly; however, I took a minute to think and really think I have it pieced together -- definitely a chilling ending.

Like the story, the storytelling and the events within the story are simplistic. This isn't a Liam Neeson kidnap action film like Taken. No, this is a dark, realistic kidnap thriller. Its dark subject matter is graphically presented. Some of the scenes are unbelievable; those who don't often watch foreign films will likely be shocked. Other than the intro, where we witness a sweet relationship between father and daughter as well as the daughters' close friendship, most of the film is dark and depressing; however, it's emotionally shocking and effective. Don't expect to be smiling and laughing, and don't expect action thrills. The film mostly consists of dialogue and tense and disturbing situations; these are masterfully executed and engaging.

Arnold Reyes is fantastic as the lead. His facial expressions are particularly impressive -- you can see the look of concern and sadness in his face. The rest of the acting is equally impressive with raw and genuine emotion from a standout cast, and great dialogue delivery. The film's shooting style fits well with the gritty subject and the environment. The music is fantastic, its a very strong element for the final act and the ending. The writing is tight and smooth, the end could've been clearer, but it ultimately works. The pace is fair, leaning towards fast pace -- the runtime is short, coming in at a lightweight 1hr 17min without credits.

Overall, Graceland is a haunting kidnap thriller. It's not the most innovative film in the world, but it travels into territory Hollywood wouldn't dare enter -- and it deserves credit for that. The film is tense, disturbing, and even frightening -- especially for parents. Don't miss Graceland, you won't be able to forget it.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, nudity.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Film Review: Lincoln (2012)

Lincoln (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...it features genuine performances, beautiful sets and costumes, amazing music, and superb cinematography."

Abraham Lincoln attempts to formally abolish slavery through the passing of the Thirteenth Amendment during the Civil War. In order to do so, Lincoln and his party must secure votes from both sides, which proves to be a difficult task for a worthy cause.

Lincoln is a historical drama. Although set during the Civil War, don't expect any war or action sequences. Nay, instead, Lincoln follows the path towards the abolishment of slavery through the political process -- on the surface and behind the scenes. The story moves through several significant events with more than enough detail; we witness the debates as well as the side political, as in the non-monetary bribery necessary to secure the vote. The film continues to account the struggle until the ending; for those who know, it is what you'd expect.

Lincoln relies solely on its dialogue, which feels authentic. There are plenty of debates, and Lincoln tells a story for story-time more than once. And, there are also regular conversations -- some more contemplative than others. The problem with Lincoln is that it occasionally lacks energy. I'm not talking about action or explosions, I'm talking about the element that gives the film life, the element that pushes the film forward and keeps the audience glued to the screen. Now most of the film does indeed have this element, but it occasionally does not, which temporarily hinders the storytelling.

Lincoln has an all-around exceptional cast. Of course, Daniel Day Lewis delivers a magnificent performance; he delivers an incredible Lincoln, exactly how I had pictured it beforehand; Daniel Day Lewis IS Lincoln. I won't go on and on about the great cast, but I'd at least like to mention Tommy Lee Jones and Sally Field as standouts. As expected, this film oozes with Steven Spielberg's signature style; the fantastic cinematography, the enchanting music... it's all very familiar, and as superb as ever. The amazing attention to detail in setting and costume creates a very immersive atmosphere; everything feels incredibly accurate and genuine.

Overall, Lincoln is a great historical drama. The film is technically flawless as it features genuine performances, beautiful sets and costumes, amazing music, and superb cinematography. Lincoln occasionally lacks the proper energy and the runtime is slightly inflated, though, so be prepared for the journey. It feels triumphant because it is triumphant.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, disturbing/gory images of war.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Film Review: Snowman's Land (2010)


Snowman's Land (Review)
Germany/2010
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...it's unique, it's darkly humorous, it's mostly engaging, and it's entertaining..."

Walter, a professional killer, fumbles during a job and takes up a new job protecting Berger's, a crime boss, home in the Carpathian Mountains. He is accompanied by an old friend -- the eccentric and irresponsible Mickey. When Berger's wife is accidentally killed, the pair try to hide the incident and hope to survive the following storm.

Snowman's Land continues to show Walter and Mickey as they try to hide their mistake -- well, mostly Mickey's mistake, anyway. What follows is a storm of suspicion, interrogation, lies, truths, and betrayals. I'll keep it at that to avoid spoiling some of the story's nicely executed twists and turns. The story's ending is good, although it lacks impact and explanation. That's about it, though. I'd say it's sorta uneventful, even for a 99 minute feature.

Snowman's Land is a crime thriller, but it's mostly relies on its black humor. Some of the humor is subtle, some is blunt, but I enjoyed most of it. I wasn't particularly thrilled during the film, but I was invested and there are a few tense moments. Not much of an action film, so don't expect shootouts and explosions. Because of the lack of thrills and action, and it solely relying on its black humor, the film often feels like it lacks energy, or life; add on a lack of significant events, and you'll notice the film is hollow, to a point.

The acting is fantastic. I really enjoyed both leads as they exchanging their opposite energies magnificently; they're polar opposites with great chemistry. I enjoy the cinematography, it really captures the environment and compliments some of the stylish choices. The music is also great, very unique and well-fitted for the black comedy. The writing and direction are great, but both lack a certain consistency; I like the stylish choices like the monologues and the subtleness, but it lacks the essentials in making a thriller.

 Overall, I like Snowman's Land -- it's unique, it's darkly humorous, it's mostly engaging, and it's entertaining, and, to top it off, it features two superb performances. But it lacks energy and consistency to keep the movie moving forward.

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

Film Review: Pusher (2012)

Pusher (Review)
United Kingdom/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...intense and violent, and it moves at a furious pace..."

Frank (Richard Coyle) is a low-level drug dealer who agrees to a large drug deal with a former cellmate. Frank borrows a kilo of cocaine from Milo (Zlatko Burić), a powerful and dangerous drug lord. When the deal is raided by the police midway, Frank is left empty-handed as he dumps the drugs in a river. Now, he must repay Milo... or else.

Pusher continues to follow Frank's hectic week as he tries to find the money before he loses his kneecaps; selling drugs, collecting debts, robbing past clients in a bloody rampage fueled by the will to survive. And when he thinks he's up, he'll be brought back down by a chain of unfortunate events. This ferociously paced crime thriller leads up to an open yet brutal ending, albeit somewhat unfulfilling.

As previously stated, the story follows Frank as he tried to make 55 grand in a few days. A title card will tell you when the day changes, and every day has a significant event. The film mostly works off its fast, intense dialogue and insane encounters. There are wild parties, brutal beatings, bloody suicide, robberies, and so on; all of this is complimented by a fantastic soundtrack. There are a few scenes I disliked because of the overwhelming color and flashing; the constant flashing in the club scenes is hard on my eyes. Other than that, the story moves at a ferocious pace thanks to the many events it packs in and the quick dialogue.

The acting is fantastic. Richard Coyle is great as the lead delivering his dialogue fluently with great charisma. Zlatko Burić is also great and charismatic, as well as intimidating when he has to be. The music is fantastic and works well for the film. The film is shot well, although the club scenes were discomforting. Luis Prieto pulls of a successful remake and manages to make it his own with his great direction.

Overall, Pusher is a great crime thriller. The movie is intense and violent, and it moves at a furious pace -- a great crime film to kill a night. A few scenes where discomfiting due to some technical aspects, and the ending was a bit unfulfilling, but it was ultimately enjoyable and entertaining.

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

Monday, August 19, 2013

Film Review: The Berlin File (2013)

The Berlin File (Review)
South Korea/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...The Berlin File never fails to entertain."

An illegal arms deal is abruptly disrupted by unknown and unexpected assailants, which, in turn, leaves North Korean spy Pyo Jong-seong (Ha Jung-woo) with no option other than a daring escape. Set up and betrayed, Jong-seong can't trust anyone, including his own wife and fellow comrades. Soon, Jong-seong finds himself facing off against South Korean intelligence agent Jung Jin-soo (Han Suk-kyu) and North Korean fixer Dong Myung-soo (Ryoo Seung-bum).

The Berlin File features a story with abundant information -- the introduction has so much information to soak up, it may be overwhelming for some viewers. That, and the fact that the film is filled with twists and turns, is the reason I won't go deep into detail for the story. However, I will be brief with the main points of the story: it essentially follows Pyo Jong-seong as he tries to find the person that set him up, whether it be his wife or his own government, and his quest leads him to a brutal reality -- people betray. This incredible story of loyalty and betrayal leads up to an incredible ending once again proving South Korea as an unpredictable force of cinematic magic.

As I previously stated, The Berlin File has a fully-loaded story -- along with the introduction, the first half of the film is mostly dominated by dialogue with occasional breaks of action. The second half of the film, however, is an action-packed thrill ride. The action consists of amazing shootouts, intense and brutal close quarter combat, and daring chases; the final sequence even features a tense cat-and-mouse showdown and a superb pistol fight. I'd say The Berlin File features spectacularly choreographed and impressively diversified action sequences -- some of the most thrilling captured to date. This is no lightweight when it comes to story or action as it excels in both.

The acting is superb from the entire cast. Ha Jung-woo is impressive as he captures his intimidating, cool character yet manages to show genuine emotion on demand. Ryoo Seung-bum is equally impressive with his sinisterly charismatic character -- he plays his character with such a devilish smile. The film is shot beautifully, and the cinematography is impressive. The music is great as it really adds to the thrills. The action is stunningly choreographed, especially the superb fistfights. Ryoo Seung-wan brilliantly writes and directs The Berlin File, but not without flaw. This is a story that would've benefited from a slightly longer  runtime to fit some more details and allow some breathing room -- it is occasionally difficult to follow.

As usual, the first print South Korean Blu-ray is high quality. The slipcover is beautiful and the two disc set -- which are both Blu-ray discs -- come packaged in a nice digipak; the first disc features the film and some special features, the second disc is loaded with more special features. Picture and sound quality are superb, you can really see a significant technical upgrade in the South Korean films of the last 10 years -- as a fan, it feels great to see the technical advancements compliment the amazing stories South Korea has brought upon us.

Overall, The Berlin File is a fantastic spy thriller -- from its captivating story to its jaw-dropping action sequences, along with an impressive cast, The Berlin File never fails to entertain. As South Korean action film, it's better than A Company Man; and, as an action spy thriller, it's slightly better than Skyfall. (only slightly, though.)

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Film Review: Hansel and Gretel (2007)

Hansel and Gretel (Review)
South Korea/2007
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...it's as magical as it is terrifying." 

After a car accident, Eun-soo (Chun Jung-myungh) awakens at night deep in a forest. A young girl, Young-hee (Shim Eun-kyung), approaches and offers shelter at her home, the "House of Happy Children". But everything is not what it seems in this home...

Hansel and Gretel is a magical yet terrifying film. Young-hee's older brother, Man-bok, and younger sister, Jung-soon, also accompany the home with an eerie presence. The story continues to follow Eun-soo as he tries to find a way out of the forest; his attempts are useless as he always ends up back at the home. As a new couple arrives and strange things occur at the home, Eun-soo eventually realizes he's being trapped with the children. The story ends with a bittersweet climax - an ending that can really make you break down.

The story blends elements of fantasy and horror to create a unique and creative experience; with these elements efficiently used, Hansel and Gretel plays like a terrifying fairytale. Throughout his stay, Eun-soo will witness the impossible; scenes such as the china doll transformation, the endless attic, and the human oak tree emit an eerie vibe that contribute to the fairytale atmosphere. There are nightmarish visuals, suspense, jump-scares, and some disturbing themes that make for a chilling tale. The story is wonderfully balanced, with every scene consistently moving forward with pure entertainment.

Chun Jung-myungh is fantastic as the lead; he really plays his character well and demonstrates a wide range of emotions. Shim Eun-kyung is the charasmaric lead for the child cast, and she does a wonderful job, as well. In fact, the children in this film are spectacular. The music matches the fairytale vibe and also uses elements of horror to create a spine-tingling soundtrack. The cinematography is superb, the film is shot beautifully; the fantastic lighting, the vibrant and hypnotizing colors... it's beautiful. The set design is also beautiful - I often wanted to pause the film just to soak in the amazing setting and costume design, there's so much to see!

I streamed this film on Netflix in October of 2012, and it suffers from a choppy frame-rate which, in turn, causes an uncomfortable viewing experience. The film itself does not suffer from this problem. I purchased the Blu-ray and it plays flawlessly. I strongly recommend the Blu-ray over the stream, especially since the 1080p Blu-ray further highlights the mesmerizing soundtrack and beautiful cinematography; if you watched the stream and hated the slow frame-rate issue, but saw the promise in everything else, I strongly recommend purchasing the film.

Overall, Hansel and Gretel is a mesmerizing fairytale - it's as magical as it is terrifying. The amazing story, the fantastic performances, the superb soundtrack, and the stunning cinematography make Hansel and Gretel a unique masterpiece among many from South Korea.

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

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Film Review: Sinister (2012)

Sinister (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...one of the best contemporary horror films."

Ellison Oswalt (Ethan Hawke), a washed-up true crime writer, moves his unsuspecting family into the home of a vicious crime -- a family hung by a tree in their backyard and an abducted daughter. Ellison finds a box of disturbing Super 8 films in the attic that bring a nightmare into his home...

Sinister continues as Eillison further invrstigates the initial murders -- the murder that took place in his newfounded home -- as well as the other murders captured on the disturbing Super 8 films; all while trying to cooperate with his (annoying) wife and his children. (you'll get it if you watch the film, but apparently every mistake the children make are Ellison's fault as you always hear "your son did this" or "your daughter...") With each film, Ellison gets closer to the haunting truth as he recognizes similar symbols in each film and a demon-like figure looming in the background - a deity call Bughuul. The truth is revealed at the end with an unsettling twist; some will see it coming, some will be surprised, but it's unsettling, nonetheless.

Sinister uses many different horror elements, and it uses them effectively. The atmosphere is most noticeable since it's dense and immersive -- the darkness compliments the other horror elements effectively. The snuff films are disturbing and graphic, and the use of ominous music during is perfect. There is amazing tension during the house segments as Ellison lurks in the darkness, hearing noise here and there. The jump-scares are impressively effective and even unique, although they may be spoiled if the trailer is still fresh in your head. This is an chilling film that focuses on horror without sacrificing character or story.

Ethan Hawke is a superb actor and he delivers a great performance in Sinister; Hawke delivers a wide-range of emotion, and is a believable husband/father. Juliet Rylance plays Ellison's wife, and, despite being an annoying character, she delivers a great performance, as well; she can be happy one second, then furious the next. The film is occassionally too dark for its own good, but it's viewable, it's just hard to comment on cinematography or set-design. The writing and direction is great as it pulls a lot out of a simple story -- it stays consistent and is incredibly balanced and paced.

Overall, Sinister is a fantastic horror film; it blends the best of horror and packages it with great performances and technical aspects. In fact, I'd say it's one of the best contemporary horror films.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Film Review: The Last House On The Left (2009)

The Last House On The Left (Review)
United States/2009
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...unsettling, disturbing, and emotionally effective."

John (Tony Goldwyn) and Emma Collingwood (Monica Potter), and their daughter, Mari (Sara Paxton), head out for a vacation at their lake house. Mari borrows the car to visit a friend, Paige, at work. At work, Mari and Paige meet Justin, who leads them to his family's hotel room to smoke. Shortly afterwards, Justin's insane family arrives: Krug (Garret Dillahunt), the leader and father, Francis (Aaron Paul), Justin’s uncle, and Sadie (Riki Lindhome), Krug’s girlfriend.

The Last House on the Left continues to tell of Mari and Paige's kidnapping. They end up in the woods where Paige tried to escape and Mari is brutally raped and left for dead. Now, ironically, this group of bandits end up at the Collingwood home, where both parties are oblivious to the facts... that is, until the truth is revealed. I won't spoilt the rest of the film, but its safe to expect violence. It begs the question: how far will you go to avenge a loved one? As for the Collingwood's, it's all the way. The first act builds up some character and the setting, the second act is infuriating, and final act is satisfying for fans of revenge thrillers. The runtime is slightly inflated, although the film has a fair pace.

This is a horrifyingly effective film. The story develops some character with the protagonists being likable, regular people. The antagonists, on the other hand, are disturbing. In fact, the antagonists -- personality and actions -- are so disturbing, it's infuriating; it's headshaking disgusting, and it makes it much more effective. The violence and the subject-matter is horrifying alone; on top of that, the film also uses strong suspense to create a tense atmosphere and general experience, more towards the end. The violence is abundant and realistic, so, if you find violence terrifying, you should be looking forward to sleepless nights. The violence can be overwhelming, even for hardcore fans; the rape, in particular, is unsettling.

The acting is great from the entire cast. I enjoy Sara Paxton's believable performance. Tony Goldwyn is great, although a few lines of dialogue seemed bland. Garret Dillahunt, Aaron Paul, and Riki Lindhome are perfect in playing their disturbing, unlikable characters; Lindhome overacts a few times, but she's usually captures her disgusting character well. The film is beautifully shot, despite its bleak atmosphere. The soundtrack is superb, John Murphy is a personal favorite. Dennis Iliadis' direction is great, he pulls so much from his resources and manages to successfully avoid the "torture porn" subgenre.

Overall, The Last House On The Left is a great revenge/horror film. It's not the most tasteful film, but it manages to be unsettling, disturbing, and emotionally effective. From a technical standpoint, it is exceptional. However, the violence is borderline, not quite but close, torture and it is often overwhelming; I'm not sensitive to violence, yet I cringed a few times. You've been warned.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood including sexual violence/rape, and sex and nudity.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Film Review: In The Mouth Of Madness (1995)

In The Mouth Of Madness (Review)
United States/1995
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"...an eerie atmosphere, dreadful suspense, shocking jump-scares, and nightmarish visuals."

When bestselling horror author Sutter Cane mysteriously disappears, John Trent (Sam Neill), an insurance investigator, is hired to find either Cane or Cane's missing manuscript. Along with Cane's editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), Trent travels into the mouth of madness...

In The Mouth of Madness follows Trent as he investigates the disappearance of Cane. Questioning everyone and everything he runs into, Trent logically suspects insurance fraud. However, after reading one of Cane's novels, Trent begins to experience disturbing visions - and so does Styles. These lifelike, and dangerous, visions lead Trent into questioning reality and fantasy; what's real and what's fake? The bizarre final acts leads up to an amazing, somewhat predictable ending.

This is an amazing horror film. It uses every horror element imaginable; an eerie atmosphere, dreadful suspense, shocking jump-scares, and nightmarish visuals. I particularly enjoyed the disturbing visuals, which were made more effective by the great editing. All of these horror elements are balanced well to create a versatile horror experience. Occasionally, some jump scares fail to deliver, but the overall horror is more hit than miss. It's consistently scary, while creating a psychological/mystery story.

Sam Neill is good as the lead; he occasionally excels with a few exceptional moments, but he usually plays it safe. Julie Carmen has a mediocre performance; she gets better towards the end, but, by then, she has already impacted the film with her bland delivery and overacted moments of fear. John Carpenter excellently directs this film. The special effects are fantastic, especially for those fans of old-school horror effects. The music fits perfectly with the film, even the beginning and credits music. (which, I initially disliked.)

Overall, In The Mouth Of Madness is a great horror film; the story is immersive and entertaining, despite a predictable ending, the scares are consistent and versatile, and the special effects are great; the acting brings the film down a bit for me, though. I strongly recommend for fans of the genre.

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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Film Review: The Exorcism of Emily Rose (2005)

The Exorcism of Emily Rose (Review)
United States/2005
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...the courtroom scenes are genuinely interesting and often tense, and Emily's story is mesmerizing."

Lawyer Erin Bruner (Laura Linney) is called in to defend a priest, Father Richard Moore (Tom Wilkinson), who has been charged with negligent homicide for his involvement in the death of Emily Rose (Jennifer Carpenter). During the trial, the horrors Emily Rose experienced are vividly told...

The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a courtroom drama and horror film. The courtroom drama takes center stage, with Emily Rose's horrific story bring told through flashbacks as witnesses testify. The trial presents a medical and spiritual analyses of the issue, and I enjoy this approach; many possibilities are discussed, and they're genuinely interesting. The flashbacks show the degradation of Emily Rose as she gets worse and worse; from chilling hallucinations to eating insects, her experience is terrifying, albeit somewhat repetitive. There is a flashback for an intense exorcism - not as memorable or chilling as The Exorcist, but very well done, especially for a PG-13 film. The trial proceeds as one would expect, and the film ends on an unfortunately generic "Hollywood" ending; the real case has significant differences, but this is a film, so I digress.

My main complaint is defense attorney Erin Bruner and most of her subplot. The concept of "I'm being haunted too!" makes the film more biased than expected, especially considering the courtroom scenes; with this subplot, the possibility of Emily Rose being mentally ill is discarded from the beginning as Erin is also haunted by similar forces; therefore, instead of contemplating, or at least playing with the ideas, of whether or not Emily is sick, you're told from the beginning that she's not. Although it makes for a few great scares, it ultimately hurts the films authenticity and believability. (that's not to say I don't believe in possession, but that's another discussion.) Aside from these issues, Erin also suffers from an incredibly cliché and predictable character arc.

Laura Linney is the lead in the film and she plays her character well; she doesn't really have the charisma for a role like this, but she is believable. Jennifer Carpenter is great, despite her limited dialogue; aside from some overacting, she has great facial expressions and emits the right emotion and the right moments. The music is great and creates a great atmosphere for thr film. The film is shot beautifully, especially the outdoor scenes.

Overall, The Exorcism of Emily Rose is a great courtroom drama and a good possession horror film. Erin's subplot is mostly useless and inflates the runtime, but the courtroom scenes are genuinely interesting and often tense, and Emily's story is mesmerizing. I recommend a purchase for fans of the genre - horror and drama - a rental otherwise.

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

Film Review: Don't Look In The Basement (1973)

Don't Look In The Basement (Review)
United States/1973
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"It's easily forgettable, and barely qualifies as a horror film..."

In a secluded mental health institute, Dr. Stephens, the head of the sanitarium, is fatally injured while treating a patient. Dr. Geraldine Masters is the only doctor left on the campus until a young nurse, Charlotte Beale, arrives with prior arrangements with Dr. Stephens. After some hesitation, Charlotte is allowed to work in this open institute... where the patients roam freely.

Don't Look In The Basement, or The Forgotten, has a simple, straight-forward story. The bulk of the film introduces the characters, and places Charlotte into some uncomfortable positions. She'll have odd conversations with the patients, or wake up to disturbing situations. Along the way, some of the patients will mess with each other. It's not really a terrifying look into the mentally ill; I was rarely shocked or impressed by these interpretations. The film tries to end with a predictable twist, but the delivery was incredibly sloppy causing it to lose any possible effectiveness.

As I previously stated, Don't Look In The Basement isn't actually a scary film. It's interesting, and often disturbing, but it never achieves actual terror. The entire film feels like a long detour to a weak resolution. It's slow pace and the lack of events make this a bore to get through - an often tedious experience. The ending of the film delivers some jump-scares, and some violence - the gore effects aren't particularly impressive or shocking. Any horror aspects this film offers fall flat.

The acting is solid. I enjoyed some of the performances, especially those that suddenly change from euphoric to angry. Generally, the acting feels very basic. The direction nor the writing never really try to pull anything out the actors and it doesn't bother creating an actual story. Like I said, it feels very uneventful. From a technical standpoint, nothing in this film stands out.

Overall, Don't Look In The Basement, or The Forgotten, is a mediocre horror film. It's easily forgettable, and barely qualifies as a horror film. I recommend streaming or renting before purchasing.

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

Film Review: The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (2013)

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh (Review)
Canada/2013
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...unique in a genre filled with jump-scare or gory horror..."

After his estranged mother, Rosalind Leigh, mysteriously passes away, Leon visits her home to recollect and view his inheritance. But, things go bump at night and a mysterious presence is felt; and the further he digs into the history of his family and the house, the deeper Leon digs into his psyche...

The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is an interesting little ghost story. Weighing in at a light 80 minutes, the story is fairly simplistic. Leon basically shuffles through the home -- getting deeper and deeper into the home's history and his own issues. But, really, that's about it. Leon simply walks around this spooky house and finds evidence of a cult and begins to question his sanity and religion. A mysterious creature also stalks from the shadows, up until the end where his presence is strong. The ending itself was a bit unfulfilling.

Rosalind Leigh relies on its spooky atmosphere and slow-burning pace to create a eerie experience. The house itself is an eerie character for the film -- one can argue that it has more depth than Leon -- as it conjures plenty of scares. There are a few effective jump-scares and some chilling visuals. The glowing eyes in the dark send chills down my spine; the creature itself was most effective when it subtly blended with the environment; it is occasionally overused, particularly during the final act, and feels completely misplaced. This is a case where less is more. The horror isn't the dark or gory, it's very practical, traditional, and slow; something to keep in mind for fans of contemporary horror.

The acting is solid, although the plot doesn't demand much from the (mostly) one man cast; the lead delivers everything competently, from dialogue to emotion, but, again, it doesn't demand much. The set design is great, really creating an effective character; the house is filled with dolls and statues, and other antiques, that are creepy on their own. The film is shot beautifully; there is one scene that made me dizzy, but the rest is captured smoothly. The music was also great in creating a haunted house vibe.

Overall, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh is a solid horror film -- the story is somewhat uneventful, despite the short runtime, the scares are light, and the pace is often too slow, but it's entertaining. It's also unique in a genre filled with jump-scare or gory horror -- it feels great to watch a slow-burning creeper every once in a while.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some disturbing visuals and blood.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Film Review: Pieta (2012)

Pieta (Review)
South Korea/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"The story is twisted and unbelievable, something that many South Korean film fans may be accustomed to by now."

Kang-do (Lee Jung-jin) is a brutal loan shark, making cripples of those that cannot afford the criminal interest rate. A woman (Jo Min-su) starts to follow Kang-do claiming to be his long lost mother.

Pieta is part social commentary, part revenge thriller. The story follows Kang-do as he reconnects with his mother after 30 years -- 30 years of harsh loneliness and brutality towards others. During this phase, we learn as much about Kang-do as we learn of his mother, which isn't much, but it feels like enough; the character development creates an effective story which, in turn, makes its themes feel genuine. Attempting to leave his life as a loan shark, Kang-do must face his inner-demons and his past actions; in fact, Kang-do must revisit his past to achieve redemption. This bleak tale leads up to a twisted ending -- a genuinely unexpected, unforgettable, and gripping finale.

Pieta is as entertaining as it meaningful. (Not "happy blockbuster" entertaining, but dark, effective entertaining.) The film covers themes of life, death, love, and commercialism through its well written story and subtle symbolism. However, I didn't feel like the film preached in any way. Instead of making a strong statement, Pieta is a thought-provoking, discussion-promoting film. What is life? What is death? What is revenge? What is redemption? What is money? I had to ask myself these questions many times over, willingly contemplating these concepts, while keeping this experience in mind.

Lee Jung-jin and Jo Min-su are superb. There are a few scenes of overacting, but those are excusable, or more like redeemed. Both actors show genuine emotion through their facial expressions, as well as the tone of voice, which I think is an accomplishment. Kim Ki-duk is fantastic as writer and director, crafting a meaningful and entertaining tale; provoking contemplation without sacrificing story, character, or entertainment. It is often unsettling and disturbing, but it isn't exactly graphic; much of the violence and sexual acts are implied, or performed off-screen.

The cinematography and music is fantastic. Both elements compliment each other and create a very bleak yet glowing atmosphere; contradictory, yes, but this isn't an easy movie to interpret or explain, so bare with me. And both elements are further exemplified on the fantastic Drafthouse Blu-ray; I highly recommend this definitive version, this is a film worth watching in high definition as it really helps evoke the proper emotion. The bleakness of the film is highlighted, which is important.

Overall, Pieta is a very effective revenge/drama film. The story is twisted and unbelievable, something that many South Korean film fans may be accustomed to by now. The themes and symbolism is crafted masterfully, which further adds to the film's effectiveness, further marking Pieta as a versatile and unforgettable masterpiece.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, and strong sexuality, including an attempted rape. (there is no graphic violence or nudity, but the implication is strong.)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Film Review: Mama (2013)

Mama (Review)
Spain/Canada/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

During the 2008 financial crisis, Jeffrey kills his partners and wife, driving his daughters, Victoria (Megan Charpentier) and Lily (Isabelle Nélisse), to a cabin shortly afterwards to finish it. That is, until a mysterious shadow figures protects them. Five years later, a search party, hired on behalf of Jeffrey's brother Lucas, find the young girls in a feral state in the cabin...

Mama continues to tell the story of the Victoria and Lily as they are adopted by their uncle and his girlfriend, Annabel (Jessica Chastain) - a rocker with an attitude. Eventually, the mysterious ghostly presence finds makes its presence known as it secretly interacts with the siblings and creeps through the home with an eerie presence. A barrage of jump-scares are delivered, with an occasional creepy scene here and there. Mama's identity and some backstory follows; as does the obligatory "the only way we'll solve this problem is by finding the source" hunt. It comes to an end, which I have mixed feeling for; on one hand, it tries to be unique and breakaway from the typical ending; on the other hand, it completely changes the genre into some sort of action and still manages to feel cliché.

As far as story goes, Mama starts off very promising. It introduces a unique concept and manages to stay creepy for the first half. Eventually, Mama loses its identity -- it loses its ambition -- and becomes a cliché horror film; it loses direction and aims for the same thing we've seen dozens of times. It doesn't help listening to Annabel complain every other scene; not only is the whining annoying, but it sets up the most predictable character arc ever. You probably can guess it before watching, so I won't be spoiling it, this is how it goes:
Beginning: "I'm not your mother, call me Annabel."
Middle: "This isn't my job."
End: "Now I want to be your mother."

Mama consists of mostly jump-scares, some suspense, and eerie visuals. There are a few creative and spooky scenes that really send the chills down your spine, but it is dominated by jump-scares. Usually, the jump-scares are predictable, basically the (loud music + sudden appearance) combination; it's unfortunate that the film rarely experiments with its unique concept, especially when it comes to the terror. Mama's design is creepy, her movements are chilling and the sounds she omits are disturbing - I actually really like her audio. However, Mama is heavily reliant on computer effects, they're great and all but they make it less effective. Ultimately, the horror is very hollow, but it at least delivers the basics and entertains.

I thoroughly enjoy Megan Charpentier and Isabelle Nélisse performances; both deliver great emotion and expression, and manage to steal the show. Jessica Chastain captures her character well; I don't fault her for playing an annoying character since she captures it well. The visual effects are solid, but often too overwhelming; particularly the ending where the special effects are most evident. The music is matches the film, and can range from spooky to thrilling. The writing starts off ambitious and creative, but becomes sloppy and cliché towards the end.

Overall, Mama is a good horror film. It starts off original and promising, but eventually becomes the film you've seen a dozen times over; it's not the worse thing that could've happened, but it is disappointing. The scares are hollow and only have surface value, yet it manages to entertain and should easily kill a night. I recommend a rental, a purchase for hardcore horror fanatics.

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

Film Review: Dark Forest of Death (2006)

Dark Forest of Death (Review)
South Korea/2006
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"You need endurance for this film -- and maybe a few energy drinks."

A group of friends, including a psychic of sorts, travel into the woods for a weekend. Their fun weekend quickly turns into a fight for survival as they realize they may not be alone.

Dark Forest of Death features a cliché first half. It follows the generic characters as they have fun hiking until one of them is injured. So, they camp out and decide to go about their business, usually on their own -- which leads to them being picked off one by one. The second half reveals the presence of zombie-ghosts, or something of the sort; so, if blood is spilled, that person becomes a pale, violent psychopath that can only be killed destroying the head. That's a little creative, but it's poorly executed -- underdeveloped and weakly explained; the same goes for the psychic visions. The film's ending goes on and on; when you think it's over, they somehow find a way to extend it even further; the final twists are predicable, and one has no immediate significance whatsoever.

The main problem with this film is the tediously inflated runtime. This is a story that could've been told in less than an hour, probably even 30 minutes, but, instead, it feels like it lasts longer than The Godfather! This is due to the very repetitive scenes. On top of that, some scenes just take forever as they are shot in unnecessary slow-motion and every single action must be captured -- like pulling every match from a matchbook... one by one... in slow motion. All of this significantly affects the storytelling as it quickly becomes tedious -- a real chore to get through. Suspense is nonexistent; there aren't any effective jump-scares; there are some solid gore effects and an effective stabbing, but those are few and far in between and aren't actually scary.

The acting was solid most of the time; the story doesn't demand much from the cast, but they perform competently. The film is also shot competently, but it fails to effectively capture the environment or mood. The music, although initially eerie, is repetitive and ill-fitted; some scenes don't need it, but it's used anyway -- overused would be an understatement. The writing, particularly the story, is poor; it's stretched out way too thin, becoming tedious and repetitive before the first act is over; the dialogue looks improvised, as well, but that just may be the writing.

Overall, Dark Forest of Death is a bad horror movie; what should've been a short film is stretched past feature-length; the ridiculous receptiveness and tediousness may put you to sleep, the violence may work as a wake-up call but it isn't scary. You need endurance for this film -- and maybe a few energy drinks.

Score: 2/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Film Review: New World (2013)

New World (Review)
South Korea/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"Some moments had my jaw on the floor, or clenching the side of my seat..."

After the head of the Goldmoon crime syndicate dies in a vicious car accident, an epic power struggle ensues between second-in-command Jung Chung (Hwang Jung-min) and the gang's number 3, Lee Joong-gu (Park Sung-woong). Meanwhile, Chief Kang (Choi Min-sik) uses his mole, Ja-sung (Lee Jung-jae) to influence the tides of war.

New World is a wonderful crime drama. In this case, the less you know, the better. The story quickly begins with a plethora of information -- a lot to soak in within the first 30 minutes, but it's delivered competently. Afterwards, the story will keep you on your toes as the twists and turns are delivered one after another; some you may see some coming, but others will blind side you. The story quickly barrels through the first half into a thunderous second half -- unforgettable would be an understatement. You may be able to see the ending coming, but that doesn't take away from the masterful execution. Generally, the story is highly engaging and very entertaining.

New World is a crime drama paced as an action thriller. Much of the film relies on its dialogue, and that's a good thing -- the dialogue is perfect in being engaging and intense. The dialogue-based encounters are so good, they deliver more tension than a traditional thriller. There are a few action sequences, especially towards the second half. These action sequences are masterfully executed as they blend effective violence and unbelievable tension; a bloody, bloody scene in an elevator quickly comes to mind, as well as the previous parking lot scene. The blending of action dialogue and actual action sequences creates a consistent pace -- the film was over before I knew it.

Lee Jung-jae, Choi Min-sik, and Hwang Jung-min deliver brilliant performances, fully immersing themselves into their roles; their dialogue, their emotion, it all comes off as authentic. The supporting cast is also fantastic, and the scale creates a real "mobster" vibe. The music is well-fitted, can be epic one moment and emotional the next; in fact, the soundtrack really contributes to the epic, thunderous atmosphere of the film. The direction and writing is superb, really pulling off a unique and entertaining story, without sacrificing character.

Overall, New World is a spectacular achievement in the gangster genre. The story is engaging and entertaining from beginning to end -- and I really mean from the first frame to the last. Some moments had my jaw on the floor, or clenching the side of my seat, either from the amazing twists or dreadful tension. Don't miss out on this film.

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

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Film Review: A Haunting At Silver Falls (2013)

A Haunting At Silver Falls (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime:No

"...lacks identity, it doesn't know what it wants to be."

Recently adopted Jordan (Alix Elizabeth Gitter) moves in with her aunt Anne (Tara Westwood) and uncle Kevin (Steve Bacic) in a small town; this small town is presumably well-known for its hauntings, particularly by the twins that were murdered at Silver Falls. Soon, Jordan starts having disturbing visions that lead her into a mystery...

A Haunting at Silver Falls is a generic horror film. The story continues with Jordan having visions of dead twins. These pale-skinned, dark-haired twins (sort of like an Asian ghost) follow her around - at home, at school, etc. I like this concept as it creates a spooky vibe, and I like the design of the ghost. (I'm a sucker for Asian ghost, though, so...) However, it becomes less scary the more you see it, and it is an overused concept. As you probably predicted, the story continues as Jordan tries to find their killer, people think she's crazy, and then she finds the predictable truth - very, very basic, indeed. Also, expect plenty of plot holes, inconsistencies, and illogicalities; I won't spoil the film, but maybe its best to have an incriminating discussion in your home instead of outside when someone just left seconds before - you know, so no one hears? Fortunately, it moves at a fairly brisk pace, so it doesn't feel like it drags.

The problem is: the film is very cliché and generic from the beginning. The film fails to use any of its promising concepts and ideas wisely. Instead, the urban legend isn't creepy, the ghosts are overused, and the story is predicable. I'm particularly disappointed by the ending; it feels so rushed and cliché, leaving many unanswered questions and ending abruptly. The scares consist of jump-scares, and the ghostly visuals; unfortunately, the jump-scares never worked since the set-up (i.e. the suspense) is nonexistent and, again, the ghostly visuals are overused.

Alix Elizabeth Gitter plays the lead and she's decent; she's very basic, like the rest of the film, though. Tara Westwood can't deliver her dialogue fluently as it all feels forced and unnatural, her performance is bland; she gets better towards the end, but it doesn't matter by then. Steve Bacic is okay throughout the film, but overacts a bit towards the end. Erick Avari plays a psychiatrist, and he's actually good; a highlight for the film, despite limited screen time. Like the story, the rest of the film is basic. The music, the cinematography, the direction... it's all barely tries to meet the minimum. The writing is the real culprit for the film; the story is cliché, the storytelling is sloppy, and the dialogue is bad.

Overall, A Haunting At Silver Falls has its moments, but it is held back by its cruddy story and writing, its mediocre acting, and lack of consistent scares; A Haunting At Silver Falls lacks identity, it doesn't know what it wants to be. A solid concept with severely flawed execution. I recommend streaming before paying directly to watch.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and gore.

Film Review: Sadako 3D (2012)

Sadako 3D (Review)
Japan/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"It worth watching for fans of the series and those looking to kill a night, but it doesn't offer much for everyone else."

After two mysterious suicides -- one at a bus stop and another involving a student -- the skeptical Detective Koiso and his partner investigate an alleged cursed video which causes the viewer to die. Akane (Satomi Ishihara), the teacher of the suicidal student, also investigates as a mysterious presence looms over her every move.

Sadako has a fairly simple story. Told simultaneously as they constantly clash, the detective and teacher eventually partner up to investigate the mysterious video. They find an online artist that has awaken Sadako, and now she's looking for a body. Eventually, Akane must face Sadako to save her life and possibly humanity. The ending is confusing as the story becomes jumbled and tangled, yet you can kinda grasp it. The film has enough energy and momentum to keep you interested for the first two acts, but it eventually runs out of steam. The story, in general, really isn't anything special -- it lacks depth and creativity, as well as many necessary horror elements.

Sadako mainly relies on jump-scares to terrify the audience. However, without the necessary suspense, most of the jump-scares are ineffective. There are some disturbing visuals, usually involving death, but they are underused. On top of that, the visuals are heavily reliant on computer effects -- it uses too much computer, in fact, which makes the visuals less realistic and less effective. The final act is the largest offender of the overused computer effects, it's almost laughable. The film is clearly meant to be seen in 3D since the 3D effects are so obvious in 2D; I don't know if it would've been scarier in 3D since many jump-scares clearly rely on the 3D effects, but I can say it looks cheesy, regardless. So, it's not very scary; not nearly as frightening as Ringu or The Ring.

I still enjoy the killer technology concept. This time around the video wanders through the internet as if it's choosing who it wants as a viewer. I don't want to give the film too much credit, but I also like the (what may be) commentary on modern society: a fascination with death to the point where teenagers tirelessly search for a suicide video as if they were desensitized to the matter -- and many of us may be, especially because of technology. It made me think a bit, but it was just me wandering off...

The acting is about what you'd expect from a horror film. A little stiffness here, some overacting there, but generally enjoyable. Satomi Ishihara has a solid performance as the lead. (although it's hard to judge accurately when you can only focus on her luscious lips... what?) The visual effects are mostly cheesy and, unfortunately, overused; they usually feel out of place and, in turn, break any immersion. The story is okay, although it lacks the depth and impact necessary for a great horror film; it was enough to keep me interested, at least to the end, and entertain a bit.

Overall, Sadako 3D is an entertaining and interesting horror film; however, it lacks actual horror, the story runs out of energy towards the end, and the ending is a mess; tack on too much computer, and you have a messy horror film. It worth watching for fans of the series and those looking to kill a night, but it doesn't offer much for everyone else.

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

Monday, August 5, 2013

Film Review: Stoker (2013)

Stoker (Review)
United States/United Kingdom/South Korea/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...masterfully crafts a surreal, and ominous, experience without a single flaw..."

On her 18th birthday, India Stoker (Mia Wasikowska) -- a young girl with powerful senses -- is shaken by her father's fatal car crash. During the mourning, India and her estranged mother, Evelyn (Nicole Kidman), come in contact with Uncle Charlie Stoker (Matthew Goode) -- a charming and charismatic man -- who's quickly invited into their home... and family.

Stoker continues to tell the story of India and her newfound uncle, Charlie -- and their eerie relationship. The relationship is buildup through chilling encounters, between each other and several third-parties; these third-parties range from family to classmates, regardless, the encounters are effective in creating the dark atmosphere and work well as bridges. With an ominous vibe throughout, Charlie's profession is eventually revealed, and his ulterior motives are as sinister and disturbed as expected. But, it doesn't end there, no; Stoker continues into a bloodbath (and beyond) -- a dark ending open for your interpretation.

Stoker features a story that delves deep into the human psyche; with its deep, and dark, psychological undertones, Stoker explores the uncharted -- and I like that, a lot. On top of these interesting undertones, Stoker oozes symbolism through its captivating visuals. This symbolism subtly explores the same undertones as the storyline; however, these symbolic images can be missed (or ignored) and are often open for interpretation, whereas the story is somewhat simplistic yet effective -- though, some may argue that the undertones of the main story are too deep and can be missed, I don't think you will. In other words, the film is disturbing, it's bleak; yet... it's deep and poetic.

From beginning to end, the film is visually and sonically engaging; the stylish visuals are beautiful to view and interpret, while the music blends seamlessly with the story and evokes the proper emotion at the proper time. The amazing camerawork is effectively complimented by the creative and unique editing. Every element in this film is incredibly engaging, creating an effectively surreal experience -- only those unwilling to truly explore the mind will find this film slow or uninteresting considering the spectacular visuals. Thanks Park Chan-wook's genuinely brilliant direction, the audience is captivated throughout the entire film; I can't stress it enough, Park is true visionary.

Mia Wasikowska is fantastic as the lead; her calm performance manages to capture every emotion necessary -- without being underwhelming or overacting. Matthew Goode is charismatic in his role, usually with a large, charming smile on his face; however, he also hits a wide range of emotions. Nicole Kidman is great, although she has very little screen time; I love her short monologue. As previously stated, the music, the cinematography, the direction, and the writing are superb. The technical aspects of the film are executed without flaw.

Overall, Stoker is a fantastic and surreal look into the darkness of the human psyche; the superb story is effectively complimented by the superb audio and visuals. Park Chan-wook masterfully crafts a surreal, and ominous, experience without a single flaw; in fact, this is Park's best work since Oldboy. This is a master's work, and it'll only get better on repeat viewings.

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

Friday, August 2, 2013

Film Review: Children Who Chase Lost Voices (2011)

Children Who Chase Lost Voices (Review)
Japan/2011
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

Since her father passed away, and with her mother working longs shifts as a nurse, Asuna has been taking care of herself - spending he lonesome days cocking, cleaning, studying, and listening to music at her hideout. One day, while walking to her hideout, Asuna encounters a mysterious beast and is saved by a mysterious boy named Shun. She eventually finds herself in traveling to a world called Agartha on a trip to say farewell.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices is an incredible adventure. Featuring a deep meaning and amazing action sequences, Children Who Chase Lost Voices takes us on an unforgettable adventure. Following Asuna and her companions, we witness the true meaning of life and death, and a genuine "farewell". Along the way, using swords and firearms, are adventurers fight mystical beasts and dangerous skeptics. The scale of the adventure is grand, traveling from the normal world into an underworld - on land and on water. Much of the first half covers character development and introduces the concept of a world under our world, or simply the underworld, and its capabilities. The emotional adventure leads up to a suspenseful and emotional endig, albeit slightly unfulfilling.

The adventure is thrilling and memorable - it's fun yet meaningful. The thrills come from amazing, creative beasts, or guardians, that often attack; as well as from the lush world filled with harmony, but threatened by the topsiders (Asuna and friends). Themes such as life, death, loneliness, attachment, and detachment are covered throughout the adventure; also some subtle symbolism open for interpretation. In fact, one of the main goals for one of the protagonists is to resurrect his wife -- at any costs. The concept, the creatures, the themes all seem very familiar, but they are executed masterfully and make for an incredibly entertaining and deeply compelling story.

The Japanese voice acting is fantastic. The pure emotion is capture perfectly, accurately creating everything from excitement to sadness. The animation is superb, with vivid colors, creative creature and world design, and smooth movement. The music is also perfect for the film as it creates a sense of adventure while featuring emotional depth; the music feels exciting, adventurous, epic, sad, and so on, at all of the right times. The story is told properly, despite a few cliché approaches, and it delivers an important message.

Overall, Children Who Chase Lost Voices is a superb adventure film; the action will have you at the edge of your seat with its exhilarating adventure, and the emotional depth will have you going from excited to the brink of tears. It is a magnificent anime and, despite some strong violence, can be enjoyed by the entire family. I strongly recommend Children Who Chase Lost Voices.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some strong fantasy violence and gore (usually involving mystical creatures.)

Film Review: The Secret World of Arrietty (2010)

The Secret World of Arrietty (Review)
Japan/2010
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

A young boy named Sho spends a week during the summer in his mother's childhood home. Days before a critical surgery, Sho discovers the "little people" when he sees his cat attacking something in a bush - this little something is Arrietty, a borrower who, along with her father, borrow the things humans won't notice if they go missing.

The Secret World of Arrietty is a very calm and tamed adventure, yet it manages to be deep and meaningful. The adventure follows Arrietty as she travels through the home, the indoors and outdoors; what seems like regular objects to humans makes for a huge and exciting adventures for the borrowers, like scaling the curtains of a window or dodging animals like cats and crows. I like the perspective of the borrowers because it is very detailed and creative. Along with the adventure, Sho and Arrietty develop a deep yet subtle relationship; building a trusting relationship, despite their limited interactions. Although mostly a positive film, The Secret World of Arrietty features a great antagonist; I couldn't help but feel frustrated at her actions, the story really creates an effective antagonist without fully demonizing her - which is a great accomplishment. My only complaint on the story is, despite its 1hr 35 min runtime, it feels slightly inflated - only slightly, though, so I don't fault it significantly.

The animation is fantastic. The level of detail is amazing, especially with the different scales to be considered like the human and borrowers perspective. I thoroughly enjoy the detail in size, it definitely helped create a believable story. The animation of the characters also helped create genuine emotion - I can sense the excitement and amazement in Arrietty's movements and facial expressions. On that note, the same can be said about the superb voice acting - every conversations, no, every word is filled with pure emotion that helped me stay immersed into this wonderful, unique world. I haven't watched the film in English, I watched the original Japanese voiceovers.

So, as I said, the lush animation and emotional voiceovers are grade A - it doesn't get much better than this for contemporary animation; the Disney Blu-ray has fantastic picture and audio quality, and features the Japanese voiceovers and English subtitles. The music is also superb, the original soundtrack works well with the story and film overall; I wouldn't mind listening to this superb OST on its own. The direction and writing are fantastic. Arrietty is another fantastic production from Studio Ghibli.

Overall, The Secret World of Arrietty is a fantastic, heartwarming animation; a beautifully animated, emotionally voiced, and genuinely exciting adventure. I strongly recommend this film for fans of the genre, and fans of film in general.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Film Review: Summer Wars (2009)

Summer Wars (Review)
Japan/2009
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

OZ is a massive virtual reality world that connects everyone and everything; every user creates an avatar and is free to participate in activities such as shopping, socializing, competitive fighting, and so on. Kenji, a math genius and OZ moderator, is invited by Natsuki to participate in her grandmother's 90th birthday. Kenji is eventually falsely implicated in the hacking of OZ, and a threat in the virtual world becomes all too real...

Summer Wars continues to show the bothersome and, more importantly, dangerous consequences of a world heavily dependent on technology. Along the way, Natsuki's family will humorously bicker and tease, while showing the importance of family and people; people taking care of people. Eventually, Kenji and Natsuki, along with her extended family, partner up to stop the menace through cyber warfare using their avatars and their computer skills; all while, albeit formulaically, developing their somewhat romantic relationship. After several exciting action sequences, Summer Wars reaches an epic finale. The story, despite a few clichés, is genuinely enjoyable and entertaining.

Summer Wars creates a deep world. The story, the concept, the design... it takes ingenuity to create a world like this, and this has plenty of it; I mean, the characters are brilliantly designed, OZ is fully fleshed out and in-depth, and the film offers so much more. The comedy elements feels very natural, never forced, and it creates many laugh out loud moments. The action is superb, with exhilarating fight and chase sequences; the scales gets so large it's often breathtaking. The story blends the action and comedy very well, they are blended seamlessly to create a consistent and immersive experience. It feels great to watch such a positive film, definitely a heartwarming movie.

The Japanese voice acting is nearly perfect. Mitsuki Tanimura plays Kazuma Ikezawa, which is a female playing a male; I know this is normal in animation, but this had me briefly confused; however, she captures the right emotions and ultimately delivers with her performance. The rest of the voice cast is fantastic, delivering authentic emotion. The animation is lush, the colors are vivid and the movements are smooth; a beautiful film to watch. The music is great, perfect for the film. Mamoru Hosoda directs and develops a fantastic story.

Overall, Summer Wars is a magnificent action SciFi adventure. It's extremely entertaining - the action and the comedy are top-tier, high quality. It has a few clichés, but the story ultimately works in being entertaining and meaningful. I strong recommend Summer Wars.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.