Monday, September 30, 2013

CinematicAddiction's 31 Days of Halloween 2013!

With Halloween around the corner, it's only right to follow tradition and celebrate with a 31 Days of Halloween special! I'll be posting around 31 horror reviews throughout the month of October -- maybe less, maybe more. It'll be a diverse list of horror films to help you setup your own marathon; some traditional horror classics, contemporary horror, sleeper hit horror films, low-budget and straight-to-DVD horror, Asian horror, and any other type of horror I can get my hands on.

To follow the marathon, bookmark the 31 Days of Halloween page by clicking here, or clicking the page tab titled "31 Days of Halloween" under the site's header. Posts relating to the 31 Days of Halloween will be clearly marked on the info panel. Remember, there will (hopefully) be a movie review every night, and possible a few horror themed articles and lists, so you don't want to miss out on this!

Thanks for visiting, and I hope you have a great Halloween month!

Film Review: Oblivion (2013)

Oblivion (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"From its epic showdowns to its exhilarating air battles, Oblivion delivers great SciFi action."

In 2077, Tech 49 Jack Harper (Tom Cruise) is stationed on Earth repairing drones for the large space station called the "Tet". 60 years prior, Earth was nearly destroyed during a war with alien invaders, which resulted in the use of nuclear weapons. As his time on Earth comes to a close, a mysterious crash landing pulls Jack into a twisted conspiracy...

Oblivion continues to tell of Jack Harper as he discovers the truth regarding the alien invaders, the Tet, and his identity. Jack meets other survivors that open his mind and bring forth the truth -- the truth that jeopardizes his safety, as well as his partners. There is a lot of information to absorb, and it continues into a twist-filled second half; in this case, it's better to avoid as much information as possible if you want a more surprising experience -- that includes avoiding IMDB as it holds a major spoiler. The film concludes with an epic finale, albeit cliché.

I think Oblivion is well-balanced. There is an abundance of information to absorb regarding the story, but there are also several spectacular action sequences. From its epic showdowns to its exhilarating air battles, Oblivion delivers great SciFi action. The story is great, but is is occasionally stifled by some sloppy storytelling; some odd placements for flashbacks, and poorly delivered information may make you scratch your head once or twice. On top of that, there were some odd plot contrivances that I didn't enjoy, either. I like the concept of the story and most of the execution, but it definitely needed some polish.

Tom Cruise is great as Jack Harper -- he has plenty of energy and charisma to hold down the lead. The supporting cast is also fantastic; Morgan Freeman appears briefly, but he delivers a witty and cool performance. The special effects are spectacular, as is the general cinematography -- this is pure eye candy. The soundtrack by M83 is phenomenal -- hands down one of the best of the year, and perfectly complementary to the SciFi setting. Joseph Kosinski direction is great, but the screenplay could've used polish.

Overall, Oblivion is a great SciFi action film. The story is great, but has a few holes and weak plot contrivances; however, the film excel at every other level, from its cinematography to its soundtrack, and it has plenty of thrills for action fans.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood, brief nudity.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Film Review: Solomon Kane (2009)


Solomon Kane (Review)
France/United Kingdom/Czech Republic/2009
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...the touch of darkness and great action make this a refreshing and engaging visit."

Sea Captain Solomon Kane (James Purefoy) is damned for hell by the Devil's Reaper, but escapes into solitude and ends up in a monastery. As he attempts to lead a peaceful life, Solomon Kane is forced to fight once again -- this time, for redemption.

Solomon Kane is a fantasy adventure which, of course, follows the titular character as he seeks redemption. To save himself, Solomon Kane will have to save a young women he had befriended but had been captured by the Devil's forces. His journey will lead him through legions of evil forces in burnt down villages, abandoned churches, small enemy camps, and will ultimately lead him to his own nightmares. The ending is about what you'd expect, but epic, nonetheless, and fulfilling.

Solomon Kane doesn't strive to be much more than what we've previously seen -- and that's okay. Yeah, it's not original or creative, but it's action-packed, thrilling, and covered in a dark atmosphere that many fantast films purposefully avoid. If you're looking for action, Solomon Kane delivers tenfold; if you're looking for fantasy, albeit not very creative, there are plenty of villainous characters with ominous designs. It does lose momentum about an hour in due to repetitiveness, but it regains some for its finale. Solomon Kane is a been-there-done-that film, but if you haven't been there recently, the touch of darkness and great action make this a refreshing and engaging visit.

James Purefoy plays Solomon Kane and really embodies the character -- he can be emotional one scene, and send chills down your spine with his ferocious power and anger during another. The special effects and makeup are great through most of the film; there are, however, a few scenes that the special effects are blatantly out of place. The action choreography is good, but they are very safe and by-the-books; the swordfights can be brutal and engaging, but lack realism and risk. Michael J. Bassett crafts a dark atmosphere for this fantasy epic with his great direction.

Overall, Solomon Kane is a great fantasy action-adventure film; you've likely seen a story very similar, and you won't see much new, but the lead is fantastic, the atmosphere is unique and immersive, and the action sequences are engaging and consistent. Generally, Solomon Kane is a great way to kill a night.

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

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Film Review: Ninja (2009)

Ninja (Review)
United States/2009
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"...the concept is distorted by the many side plots and inconsistent storytelling."

After he's vanished from a dojo, Masazuka (Tauyoshi Ihara) vows to take vengeance and retrieve an old chest called the Yoroi Bitsu, which contains the suit and weaponry of an ancient ninja. Casey (Scott Adkins), an American adopted into the Japanese dojo, is assigned to protect the chest as it is sent to New York...

Ninja is a martial arts thriller. The story is interesting -- I like the concept of modern ninjas in New York. However, the story has so much to tell in so little time. Over the course, we're placed into a rivalry between Casey and Masazuka; we're introduced to Casey's love interest and their relationship; we see an secret organization and their corrupt actions; there are detective trying to find out what's going on; and so on. Since every event feels disjointed, Ninja feels follow and forgettable, as well as inconsistent. The ending is good, but easily predictable.

The action sequences are good. Fans of Scott Adkins will still enjoy his ferocious speed, his powerful punches, and vicious kicks. Some of the action sequences are by-the-books, been-there-done-that, which makes them forgettable but enjoyable. There are only two or three sequenced I really, really enjoyed, including an epic battle in a subway, and a one vs many scene towards the end, as well as a ninja vs ninja fight. The fight scenes take center stage in this film, and the story feels like it's rushed and simple there as filler; there is no story or character development, or emotional depth; it's a fight scene followed by a generic bridge to connect to another fight scene.

The acting is okay from the cast. Without much character, there isn't much to work with. Scott Adkins does well as the lead; he hits everything competently when it comes to acting, and he is a beast when it comes to the physical scenes. The music felt ill fitted, and generic. The special effects remind of the 2003 samurai classic Zatoichi: The Blind Swordsman; unfortunately, that's disappointing considering the use, the time and the budget differences. There also seems to be a lack of direction to blame for the inconsistent storytelling and screen direction.

Overall, Ninja offers some great fight sequences and an interesting concept. But you've likely seen many of these fights before, and the concept is distorted by the many side plots and inconsistent storytelling. I recommend streaming or renting before purchasing.

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

Film Review: In Hell (2003)

In Hell (Review)
United States/2003
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"...if you like this genre, you've likely seen this film before."

After the murder of his wife and his subsequent revenge, Kyle (Jean-Claude Van Damme) finds himself in one of the hardest, coldest prisons in Russia where the prisoners fight for the wardens' entertainment. Initially reluctant, Kyle eventually unleashes the rage bottled up within...

In Hell is a prison drama with action elements. It doesn’t feature over-the-top fights, rather it focuses on its plot and buildup. The plot has been done before -- it offers very little to those looking for a new experience. Basically, Kyle goes to jail, he's bullied along with the other newbies, he snaps after certain events, and finally begins to fight back. The final act of the film shows some ambition with and offers a glimmer of hope and triumph to an otherwise bleak tale.

Don't get me wrong: I enjoyed the bleak, hopelessness this film delivers throughout as it was effective, but the final acts adds some genuine motivation and triumph. The film starts off bland and sloppy -- offering the same old same old with a rushed feeling. It gets better as it progresses, though. The second half of the film starts to blend some realistic action with it's bleak tones; this, in turn, creates a more effective, impactful, and entertaining prison drama. I enjoyed the action for its pure, realistic, albeit tamed, combat -- well, at least, most of it.

Jean-Claude Van Damme is great in this film -- both as a dramatic and physical actor. The rest of the supporting cast is very good, there is some forced, unnatural dialogue delivery and some weak monologues, but they don't ruin the experience. The fight choreography is great, delivering raw, realistic combat -- other than one or two, there aren't many superfighters in this film. The music was okay, it was ill-fitted during many scenes, though. Also, the audio quality on the Amazon Prime stream was bad -- the bad audio mixing for the source film is also partly responsible.

Overall, In Hell is a good prison drama/martial arts film. It's nothing new, original, or creative, and there are some poor technical aspects, but it offers a great performance from the lead, a meaningful message, realistic fighting and a great final act. But, really, if you like this genre, you've likely seen this film before.

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

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Film Review: The Expendables 2 (2012)

The Expendables 2 (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"Action fans will be impressed, just expect a little bit of cheese with your order."

After saving a billionaire hostage, the Expendables - Barney Ross (Sylvester Stallone), Lee Christmas (Jason Statham), and family - are recruited by Mr. Church (Bruce Willis) to retrieve a classified item from a downed airplane. When an Expendable is killed Vilain (Jean-Claude Van Damme) and his right-hand man Hector (Scott Adkins), the Expendables go on the hunt...

The Expendables 2 is an action extravaganza with an all-star action hero cast. The story is simple and straightforward. The Expendables track international criminal Vilain, who has not only murdered an expendable, but has also stolen an important blueprint that can change the world; on that note, Vilain makes for a great villain, despite being underutilized. A few fistfights here, a couple shootouts there, and a plethora of explosions; also, expect some a lot of cheesy dialogue - the humor missed more than it hits, but when it hits, it really hits. The story reaches an epic climax where old and new stars clash. That's about it.

Now, let's be honest, we're watching this film for its action, so it's fine for the story to take the back seat. Fortunately, the action is spectacular - the large-scale sequences are often awe-inspiring as they blend shootouts, fistfights, and explosions on land, water, and sky. Many will likely be anticipating Stallone vs Van Damme, but I was waiting for Statham vs Atkins. The Stallone-Van Damme fight was great, but the use of computer effects during the fight hurt its authenticity, in turn, hurting its impact. Statham and Atkins were impressive, I always enjoy a great Atkins fight. The use of computer effects, which range from blood and gore to vehicles and destruction, wasn't great as it felt out of place.

The Expendables 2 features an all-star cast of action heroes. The acting is good enough, delivering most of their performances well, despite lacking any versatile character. Van Damme stood out to me as he had a lot of energy, and so did Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger, despite their limited screen time. Aside from some sloppy computer effects, the action sequences are choreographed exceptionally and the cinematography is great. The music matches the tone of the film, gives it an epic vibe. The writing is solid, although it doesn't experiment much. (i.e. It's formulaic)

Overall, The Expendables 2 is a great action film. Most of the star power is used efficiently, the action sequences are superb, and the humor, albeit hit-or-miss, is solid. Action fans will be impressed, just expect a little bit of cheese with your order.

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

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Film Review: Antiviral (2012)

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

"...I love the concept, but disliked the execution."
 
Syd March (Caleb Landry Jones) works at a clinic which sells viruses harvested from celebrities to die-hard fans; he also uses his body as a vessel to smuggle illegal samples to piracy groups. When Syd contracts a deadly virus from superstar Hannah Geist, he is dragged into a much more sinister plot...

Antiviral is an interesting blend of SciFi, horror, and social commentary. The story continues with Syd discovering the sinister plot, as well as trying to save himself from the deadly virus. However, it is much more twisted than expected as the plot twists at every corner. One moment he'll be attacked by obsessed fans and piracy groups; the next, he'll have to escape a facility trying to record the virus for "closure". The film's ending is chilling, but expected; I like the ending of the film, although it drags a bit, and felt like it left room for some interpretation -- actually, it left room for some contemplation and reflection.

The problem in Antiviral is its lack of story. For a film over 1 hour and 40 minutes long, Antiviral lacks meat -- it lacks events. It also lacks bridges connecting certain scenes; I don’t need a film to hold my hand, but when a scene ends abruptly and starts in a new environment, it kind of feels disconnected. To replace the bridges, the film features prolonged "art-house" scenes; the "ooh look at this long, unnecessary close-up" or "Hey, I'm thinking deeply up here"; I say the "artsy" approach fails this time, it feels inauthentic and forced. The concept is chilling, the view on society -- despite being pessimistic -- is believable and may be accurate, and some scenes are incredibly disturbing. I don't completely hate it, I just wish it used its concepts more than it used its art-house elements.

Caleb Landry Jones is great as the lead, although his performance is mostly minimalistic; he occasionally lacks screen presence, but it's redeemed by his facial expressions and dialogue delivery. The rest of the cast is also great, Malcom McDowell is always a welcomed addition. I liked the film's musical score, it matched the genre and tone of the film; it felt ominous, which adds to the chilling concept. Brandon Cronenberg has a solid story, but lacks the tight direction and storytelling required; his attempts at being an artist are just too blunt and obvious, and actually eclipse the story.

Overall, Antiviral is a decent SciFi film; I love the concept, but disliked the execution. From a technical standpoint, excluding its screenplay, it's an exceptional film. I recommend for open-minded filmgoers, fans looking for a pure horror film will likely be disappointed.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some nudity.

Film Review: Chinatown (1974)

Chinatown (Review)
United States/1974
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...the less you know going in, the more effective the experience."

Private investigator J.J. "Jake" Gittes (Jack Nicholson) is hired by Evelyn Mulwray (Diane Ladd) to spy on her husband, Hollis Mulwray, the chief engineer for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. After photographs of Mulwray are published on the paper, Gittes is approached by Evelyn Mulwray (Faye Dunaway) -- the real Evelyn Mulwray.

Chinatown continues to follow Gittes as he attempts to find out who set him up. Gittes, instead, finds himself in a web of lies, or better yet, an ocean of lies and half-truths. The mystery unfolds with a twist and turn at every corner; who really is this? who really is that? and, why? -- the questions that will Gittes will ask the strongest and shadiest people. This hunt for the truth ends with a jaw-dropping ending -- the truth hurts.

I purposely kept the description brief and ambiguous. Chinatown is a mystery film, after all, and I wouldn't want to take the fun away from you. The investigation is reliant on its engaging dialogue and intense encounters, along with incredible and well-placed twists; the investigation genuinely kept me interested, I even considered breaking out a notepad to follow along. The story is briskly paced and eventful, keeping the movie consistent and relevant.

Jack Nicholson is fantastic as the lead with coming off as genuinely charismatic; his expressions are always accurate and really speak for themselves, especially at the end. The rest of the cast is also superb, although they share less screen time. The era is captured perfectly through the magnificent set and costume design, and the great music. Now, the cinematography is superb. The engaging camerawork is masterful in creating an immersive atmosphere -- this is a film that is creatively and stylishly shot, and, in turn, stands the test of time. Robert Towne's writing is flawless, as is Roman Polanski's direction.

Overall, Chinatown is an incredibly engaging and entertaining mystery film. I was glued to the screen for its complete runtime -- from the initial investigation to the superb finale. Remember, I purposely skimped out on details (notice the shorter review) -- the less you know going in, the more effective the experience.

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

Monday, September 23, 2013

Film Review: World War Z (2013)

World War Z (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"I didn't like the intro ... but the rest of the film had me at the edge of my seat."

After narrowly escaping a zombie outbreak in Philadelphia, former UN investigator Gerry Lane (Brad Pitt) is sent around the world in search of a cure.

World War Z is an action/horror zombie thriller, with a pinch of mystery and social commentary. The story begins sloppily in Philadelphia with an epic escape sequence that spans the first 25 minutes or so. This sequence is filled with inconsistencies, illogicalities, and, worst of all in my opinion, poor screen direction. From the car escape to the supermarket, and then to the apartment complex, everything feels disconnected and insignificant -- the characters, the dialogue, the story, the action... everything is so frantic you just don't know why or what you're watching. The lack of significance and screen direction continues into their retreat and the recruitment scenes, but it isn't as bad as the story begins to develop.

Fortunately, World War Z picks itself up for another hour and a half of nonstop action and investigation. Gerry traveled the world, albeit not in too much detail, as he tries to track the virus and find the cure. Every location has it's own epic set piece, whether it be escaping hordes of zombies in Israel or racing against zombies to fuel up your plane in South Korea. Hell, even a plane has its own set piece. These action sequences use a little suspense, some horror, and plenty of thrills to keep you at the edge of your seat until the end. The final sequence has more tension and horror than the rest of the film; the ending itself feels a bit abrupt and unsatisfactory, but it does the job.

Brad Pitt is great as the lead; his character doesn't demand much, yet Pitt delivers a realistic, human performance. The supporting cast is also great. I really enjoy the soundtrack in this film, especially the theme that plays during the credits. The cinematography is usually great, however, some scenes are too dark, and, along with the frantic action, it's difficult to comprehend some scenes. This isn't a traditional zombie film, World War Z uses a lot of computer effects and the zombies aren't as graphic as expected nor was the violence; but, I think the computer effects worked well with the scale of the zombie hordes, which were ridiculous. Mark Foster was able to recover from the bad direction in the intro, but he seldomly reaches exceptional levels.

Overall, World War Z is a very good action/horror blockbuster. I didn't like the intro and it has a few technical flaws, but the rest of the film had me at the edge of my seat. For fans of blockbuster action, World War Z delivers.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood, some gore.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Film Review: A Haunted House (2013)

A Haunted House (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"A great comedy to kill a night."

A young couple, Malcom Johnson (Marlon Wayans) and Kisha (Essence Atkins), move in together. After abnormal flatulence and other supernatural events, a haunting is suspected...

A Haunted House is a spoof of many contemporary horror films, including Paranormal Activity and The Devil Inside. It follows Malcom Johnson and Kisha as they react to strange events. Along the way, they bring in several specialists, including a psychic (Nick Swardson), a security expert (David Koechner), a Father (Cedric the Entertainer) and some thugs. Very simple, straight-forward story, which surprisingly follows a clean structure up to its credits -- sure, it's repetitive, but the randomness is minimized.

The comedy in this film isn't as random as most spoof films -- and I appreciate this. But, it may not be comedy for everyone, and some jokes might fly right over your head if you're not familiar with other forms of horror media; for example, I loved the "She might be like the Witch from Left 4 Dead..." reaction from Cedric the Entertainer, while those not familiar with the video game will completely miss it. The jokes often miss, as well. Be warned: it is an offensive film with jokes about racism, sex/rape, and religion occasionally feeling mean-spirited. However, it's not a film that promotes either. The main offense of this film is it's repetitive jokes and formula, which can cause fatigue.

Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins are great as the leads; they are charismatic and feel like a real couple. I liked David Koechner and Cedric the Entertainer the most in the supporting cast. The writing is much better than most spoofs releasing nowadays; although it's much more balanced and direct, the jokes are repetitive. The first act is solid, the second act is okay, the final act is great.

Overall, A Haunted House is a good spoof film. The comedy isn't for everyone, especially those easily offended or those unfamiliar with horror. It has more than a handful of laugh-out-loud moments, and many moments worth a smirk or giggle, but it's almost crippled by its repetitiveness. A great comedy to kill a night.

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

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Film Review: Julia's Eyes (2010)

Julia's Eyes (Review)
Spain/2010
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...the type of impact that made The Exorcist scary."

After her blind sister presumably commits suicide, Julia (Belén Rueda) begins to suspect foul play and is engulfed in the mystery. However, the further she gets, and the more frustration and stress she experiences, the further her own eyesight diminishes...

Julia's Eyes is a high-tension thriller blended jolting horror and effective horror elements. The story follows Julia as she tries to prove foul play in her sister's death. Through her investigation, Julia finds out about the "invisible man" -- that man that no one cares for, that man that's always ignored, that man that no one sees. Eventually, she believes she may be the next target of this lucrative shadow. At the same time, her own eyesight is damaged from the stressful situation -- some which she often places herself in. The story ends with a twisted finale, and a somber farewell; the twists are piled up to move the story along, not necessarily shock, and they work well. And, the film uses its runtime widely with its consistent thrills, horror, and drama.

This isn't a pure-breed horror film. Julia's Eyes is a thriller a myster, a horror, and a drama. Most of the film is weighted down by its dreadful suspense and tension -- further complimented by the tense atmosphere the film creates. The wonderfully executed chase and hide-and-seek scenes are thrilling and breathtaking. There are plenty of unforgettable, jolting jump-scares to... well, make you jump out of your seat. And, it only gets better during the second half as the film implements an intense apartment sequence. These amazingly executed elements, that is the thriller and horror elements, stay consistent from beginning to end. The drama relies off its engaging dialogue and involving characters, as well as the effective concept of the "invisible man"; I felt this element added a significant impact to the film, the type of impact that made The Exorcist scary.

Belén Rueda is fantastic as the lead, with a very dramatic and believable performance. The rest of the cast is equally impressive with their performances. The music is well-fitted in creating the atmosphere, as well as delivering the unexpected jump-scares: it blends seamlessly with the film to create a very effective experience. The film is shot beautifully, the cinematography is captures the bleak setting up to the end. The direction. Guillem Morales direction is great, really pulling a lot from the plot and cast -- making each aspect an effective element.

Overall, Julia's Eyes is a terrifying thriller. The thriller, mystery, horror, and drama elements are balanced perfectly to create a consistent and effective experience. Guillem Morales masterfully crafts this petrifying tale with the precision of our greatest film making legends. Don't miss this film, it's an unforgettable time killer.

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

Film Review: Welcome to the Punch (2013)

Welcome to the Punch (Review)
United Kingdom/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...it's like if Max Payne were directed by John Woo..."

Obsessive London detective Max Lewinsky (James McAvoy) is injured as he pursues bank robber Jacob Sternwood (Mark Strong) -- his failure to capture causes great distress over the years. When his son appears injured by a gunshot and captured by the police, Sternwood comes out of hiding, and Lewinsky is right on his trail...

Welcome to the Punch is a by-the-books crime thriller. Lewinsky continues to pursue Sternwood hoping to redeem himself, while Sternwood tries to piece together the events prior to his son's arrest. Both Lewinsky and Sternwood are eventually dragged into a conspiracy that goes much, much deeper -- so deep, they'll have to work together to climb out alive. Rivals forced to work together? Like I said, by-the-books and safe. The film's ending is great, albeit abrupt; I really like the openness of the ending, I'm really hoping for a sequel.

Starting a bit slow, Welcome to the Punch is a film that gets better and better as it progresses. The action sequences consist of some chases and some fantastic shootouts -- the shootouts are beautifully captured as particles and debris flies through the screen in slow motion. Mix in a few suspenseful conversations, an explosion here and there, and you have a well-rounded crime thriller. On the point of suspense, one particular scene was masterfully crafted to keep you on the edge, sweat dripping down your face, and breath held. Really, it's like if Max Payne were directed by John Woo, albeit not as dark. However, it doesn't offer much new or innovative to the genre; sequences like this have been done before, and the story, as previously stated, also plays it safe.

James McAvoy and Mark Strong are fantastic as the leads. Both McAvoy and Strong display great collectiveness, and deep emotion -- fantastically crafting their characters as more than cardboard cutouts. The action is brilliantly choreographed, the shootouts, particularly the slow-motion effects, remind me of the Max Payne video games, and that's a good thing. The music is also fantastic as it created a very epic vibe. The film is beautifully shot, but the blue tint is sometimes overwhelming -- call it "Welcome to the Blue". Eran Creevy is great as the director, his story and screenplay could've used some polish and originality.

Overall, Welcome to the Punch is a great crime thriller; the action and the suspense is topnotch, and the superb acting is very effective. We've seen the story before, but it works wonderfully anyway and manages to entertain immensely. I recommend purchasing for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

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

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Film Review: Nightfall (2012)


Nightfall (Review)
China/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime:No

"...this by-the-books investigation lacks engagement and involvement."

Detective George Lam (Simon Yam) begins to investigate the mysterious death of Han Tsui, a famous and adored musician. Lam eventually begins to connect the case to a recently paroled mute, Wong Yuen-yeung (Nick Cheung), who may have a strong connection with his presumed targets.

Nightfall is a by-the-books crime thriller. It begins with a very stylized, wonderfully choreographed fight sequence. It follows with some cop clichés -- out of touch single father with an estranged daughter -- and continues to the investigation. The mystery continues for the rest of the film with a by-the-books investigation; it's an interesting investigation, but not engaging nor involving. A few action sequences here and there, and you there's most of the film; the chase scenes are solid, and there is one particular scene I really enjoyed. The ending is mostly predictable -- there are some aspects you might not guess, but most of it is heavily foreshadowed. Despite the predictable finale, I did enjoy the final sequence.

Nightfall has several issues. I don't have a problem with by-the-book mystery films -- I enjoyed The Factory, which had a similar approach. However, this by-the-books investigation lacks engagement and involvement. Also, this investigation really isn't mysterious -- maybe I should be an investigator, cause I could see the ending from a mile away. This, in turn, makes for a prolonged and repetitive film. Especially the final recap scenes that show you the events over and over... and over. The unnecessarily lengthy runtime becomes a greater offense when it's paired with a slow pace.

The acting is great from most of the cast. Simon Yam and Nick Cheung work well together and have strong screen presence. The English actors were bad -- fortunately, their screen time was limited. I thoroughly enjoyed the music in the film. However, the sound mixing was off as the music was too loud and the dialogue was too low. The film is shot beautifully, the film oozes style. The special effects aren't great, but there not used often in the film anyway. The writing is by-the-books safe, doesn't take any chances, but never really develops some of its ideas either.

Overall, Nightfall is an okay crime thriller. There are some thrills to be had, the ending might surprise some, and the acting and music are great. The almost unbearable repetitiveness, the predictable, safe plot, and the bloated runtime are big negatives for me, though. I recommend streaming or renting before purchasing.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Film Review: Hannibal (2001)

Hannibal (Review)
United States/2001
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"In a way, Hannibal makes me appreciate The Silence of the Lambs much more..."

After a botched drug bust, FBI Agent Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) is reassigned to the Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) case, in which Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), Lector's only surviving victim, has a special interest. Lector reemerges and Starling races to capture him before Verger.

Hannibal is a crime thriller taking place 10 years after The Silence of the Lambs. The film focuses on both Starling and Verger as they try to track and capture Hannibal Lector, who has been "hibernating". There isn't much investigating, in fact, most of the film is simply waiting; waiting until something happens, reacting, then waiting -- the psychological depth is nonexistent. Instead, the story implements more straight-forward thrills and chills through its tense encounters and disturbing visuals. The ending is good, but it feels rushed and implausible.

The most negatively effective change in Hannibal is the change in Agent Starling -- both in character and actress. The change from a subtly developed, deep, powerful and independent character from Silence of the Lambs is changed to a very generic, hollow, tough "don't take nothing from no one" character for Hannibal is very disappointing. Her character is simply dislikable, annoying, and irritatingly cliché; the whole "I'll fight you without pads!", "I'm in charge;", "You'll know when I'm taking to you when I look at you!" persona is just so forced and pretentious -- it works better when it feels authentic and is developed properly. In fact, this change feels so radical, it would've been better to introduce a new character all together, at least if you're going to ignore consistency. This is based on character, though, Julian Moore's performance is also disappointing.

The story in Hannibal is hollow for a 2 hour feature. Like I said, not much is going on throughout the 2 hours. For a crime thriller, we never delve deep into the mind of the criminal; however, there are quite a few thrills to be had, and plenty of memorable deaths. I wish there was more investigation going on instead of the reactive approach, though; Agent Starling spends most of her time in a dark room contemplating about the past and waiting for information instead of investigating or progressing. As far as memorable, tense conversations, Hannibal is limited to very few. This is a film that'll likely be remembered for its violence rather than its story.

Julianne Moore's performance is mediocre, yet competent. I'm not a big fan of Jodie Foster's performance, but Moore makes me wish Foster stayed. Moore simply isn't consistent with her character, including her accent; and, much of her performance is overacted in what seems like an attempt to outperform Foster before her -- she fails to do so, though. Fortunately, Anthony Hopkins and Gary Oldman support the film greatly with their superb performances; Anthony Hopkins isn't as great as he was in Silence of the Lambs, but he performs well, regardless; Gary Oldman is particularly impressive with his performance, really taking on the character with a chilling persona. Ridley Scott's direction is great, as usual, but he needed a better, more fulfilling screenplay and a better lead to really match the previous installment.

Overall, Hannibal is an okay crime thriller. It features a hollow story, a weak lead, and an inflated runtime, but redeems itself with tense and violence plot points, two great supporting performances, great direction, and solid music. In a way, Hannibal makes me appreciate The Silence of the Lambs much more; and, Julianne Moore's performance makes me miss Jodie Foster.

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

Film Review: The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

The Silence of the Lambs (Review)
United States/1991
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...the psychological aspects of the film are superb."

Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) is training at the FBI Academy when she is asked to interview the brilliant, cannibalistic serial killer Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins). The goal: use Lector's deep knowledge and insight to capture Buffalo Bill -- a serial killer who skin's his female victims' corpses.

The Silence of the Lambs is a crime thriller with deep horror and psychological elements. The story itself revolves around Starling's investigation, as well as her newfound relationship with Hannibal Lector. The investigation leads Starling and her peers into a tense manhunt for Buffalo Bill -- a manhunt that escalates after Buffalo Bill kidnaps a senator's daughter. There are a few surprises that keep the film moving, not so shocking or unexpected, though; in fact, some don't seem all that plausible, but I digress. The ending is dark, I loved the buildup before, and the tension during the final sequence.

The investigation is interesting and engaging, but lacks some momentum; it often works off of a slow-burn, but that is absent during some sequences. The conversations between Starling and Lector are immersive -- deep, psychological, and effective conversations that send chills down your spine. Most of the dialogue works well in creating the "chilling" mood -- the dialogue works well in creating petrifying visuals. The visuals of graphic violence is unforgettably realistic and haunting. In fact, there are many scenes that work well off their chilling subject-matter and buildup; I won't spoil them, however, as some may come as a surprise.

Jodie Foster is good as Starling. However, Foster, in my opinion, lacks the strong screen presence and southern charisma needed for this lead character. This is particularly somewhat an issue as she is constantly, and easily, outperformed by Anthony Hopkins -- who delivers a sinisterly haunting and unforgettable performance, despite his limited screen time. The music is fantastic in creating the right mood and atmosphere for the film. The special effects and makeup are perfect and deliver incredibly disturbing moments. Jonathan Demme direction is great.

Overall, The Silence of the Lambs is an incredibly effective and well-rounded crime thriller; the psychological aspects of the film are superb. However, a less than charismatic lead, a few implausible moments (in a film mostly reliant on realism), and a lack of momentum make this film fall short. Widely regarded as a masterpiece, Silence of the Lambs doesn't reach that standard in my opinion, but it is great and worth watching, nonetheless.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, disturbing visuals and partial nudity.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Film Review: Star Trek Into Darkness (2013)

Star Trek Into Darkness (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...epic, epic, and epic."

Captain Kirk (Chris Pine) and the crew of the starship USS Enterprise are recruited to hunt commander-turned-terrorist John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbacth) -- who has been conducting several terrorist attacks through London.

Star Trek Into Darkness continues with Kirk and crew pursuing John Harrison into Kronos. Diplomatic issues arise as one false move can cause all-out war with the Klingons. On top of that, there is much more to be discovered about the sinister John Harrison, as well as the skeptical mission the Enterprise crew has been sent on. The story stays consistent throughout, really staying focused and keeping its momentum to the end. The ending, unfortunately, is a bit abrupt, unfulfilling, and cliché -- it's not bad per se, but it isn't as exceptional as the rest of the film.

Star Trek Into Darkness' biggest advantage is its exceptional action sequences. I'm not too familiar with the Star Trek series so I can't be too harsh -- if something is wrong, I really wouldn't know, unfortunately. But, for people like me, Star Trek Into Darkness delivers a fascinating SciFi world with exhilarating action sequence after another. This entry packs in a great variety of action including blazing shootouts, incredible chases, and thrilling starship battles. Like I said, the story is very focused on one situation, yet it manages to deliver several different action sequences -- I really liked that, very clean yet versatile.

Chris Pine is fantastic as Kirk; his performance has great range, and he is a very charismatic lead. Zachary Quinto returns as Spock with another incredible performance -- very calm and collective, yet deep and likable. Benedict Cumberbacth delivers a sinister performance as the villain, a bit over-the-top but always manages to steal the show from the rest of the cast. The special effects are spectacular, they really work well in creating the SciFi world. The cinematography is pure eye candy -- the vibrant colors work very well. The music is awe-inspiring and compliments the action very well. J.J. Abrams' direction is fantastic, as well.

Overall, Star Trek Into Darkness is a spectacular SciFi adventure; the story is engaging and interesting, the action is breathtaking, the visual effects and cinematography are beautiful, the music is perfectly fitted... the ending was really my only issue with the film, unfortunately. Otherwise, Star Trek Into Darkness is epic, epic, and epic.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Film Review: The Iceman (2012)

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

"...with incredible screen presence, you don't want to take your eyes off him..."

Richard Kuklinski (Michael Shannon) is recruited by mob boss Roy DeMeo (Ray Liotta) as a hitman after being laid off. Richard, who soon became known as The Iceman, is able to keep his profession secret from his wife and daughters up until his inevitable capture in 1986.

The Iceman follow Richard Kuklinski from his first date with his future wife as well as his first hit, living the good life with his family, to his inevitable demise. It skips from date to date very often as it tries to present the most significant events. There isn't much story or character throughout the film -- in fact, most of Kiklinski's character is developed subtly, white the rest of the characters are barely characters. The story is a very basic come-up to downfall, but it's interesting and entertaining, nonetheless. The film ends as expected, but manages to have an epic vibe accompanied by an equally chilling monologue; I actually enjoyed the ending very much.

The Iceman isn't a biopic or a detailed character study. No, The Iceman is a crime thriller with plenty of thrills. I do wish there were more details into such a interesting, cold person, and I also wish there was more context to the hits. Most of the hits play out like montages -- you don't know why they're getting killed, you don't see much preparation, but you see the brutal execution. The time skips, the subtle character development, and the montage-like hits make for a fast paced, clean cut, and incredibly thrilling film, but a film that lacks information. This is a story that could've benefitted from a longer runtime and more details; don’t get wrong, though, this is a fantastic thriller, but for those expecting a detailed biopic, I recommend adjusting your expectations.

Michael Shannon is superb as Richard Kuklinski. His performance is delivered with such power, with incredible screen presence, you don't want to take your eyes off him; through his cold performance, you can see why Kuklinski is known as The Iceman. Ray Liotta is fantastic, he is really mastering the intimidating, boss-like character with his calm yet powerful performance. The supporting cast, due to the lack of character and screen time, don’t get the opportunity to excel, but they're more than competent; I like James Franco's performance despite his limited screen time, for example. The music is great in this film, really building a cold atmosphere, and leading your emotions with ominous and somber tones.

Overall, The Iceman is a great crime thriller. It's pure entertainment packed with two fantastic performances, a chilling story, and great music. I don't significantly fault it for lacking information and character, but I do think you should know ahead of viewing: this isn't a deep character study of The Iceman, it's a pure thriller from beginning to end meant to entertain -- and that it does.

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

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Film Review: Ghost Dog: The Way of The Samurai (1999)

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (Review)
United States/1999
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"Everything else is great, even with the overwhelming use RZA's music and humor."

In the inner-city, Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) follows the strict life of a samurai. Believing he is a retainer for local mobster Louie, Ghost Dog assassinates a made man for him. But, the assassination goes awry and Ghost Dog becomes the target of the criminal organization.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a unique crime drama. Of course, the story follows Ghost Dog as he lives a calm, collective life, following the code of a samurai; he works as a hitman on the side, with few friends and reading books in his free time. In order to protect himself and his master, Ghost Dog must also face the criminal organization. And so it builds up to a climatic shooting and a showdown for its great ending; an open ending that allows for some free interpretation. Overall, the story is very interesting and unique.

But, it's not without flaw. By the time the film ends, it feels somewhat uneventful. Many scenes feel like music videos promoting RZA's music and other rap; not exactly useless as they give time to contemplate, but they occur way too often and unnecessarily inflate the runtime. Aside from those segments, the plot also suffers from some illogicalities and inconsistencies. Although the film works mostly off the action and drama, there are a few scenes with overwhelming humor; I can stand subtle humor and such, but I can't really take the themes and contemplative aspects of the film seriously with such eccentric and overwhelming humor.

Forest Whitaker is great as the lead. He really delivers his character well, coming off as a calm soul - a modern day samurai. The rest of the cast deliver great performances, as well. Although I disliked the way it's used, the music is great - really a fantastic soundtrack from RZA. Jim Jarmusch has great direction and creative writing - but the writing could've been tighter. Technically, the film is great.

Overall, Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a great crime drama. The story is creative and interesting - even contemplative to a point - but it suffers from some inconsistent writing. Everything else is great, even with the overwhelming use RZA's music and humor.

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

Film Review: The Factory (2011)

The Factory (Review)
United States/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...but the overall investigation and experience up to the end is quite enjoyable."

Detectives Mike Fletcher (John Cusack) and Kelsey Walker (Jennifer Carpenter) have been aggressively searching for a serial killer and abductor of prostitutes. The elusive Gary Gemeaux (Dallas Roberts) only hunts during the winter, which makes him difficult to track. When his daughter is abducted, Fletcher becomes obsessed with the case and excuses the law from his investigation...

The Factory continues with the investigation. You know who the killer is from the beginning, but you slowly learn his sinister intentions. It's somewhat a two-sided investigation, although one outweighs the other; Fletcher's investigation is more hard boiled and emotional, while Walker attempts a by-the-books investigation. Either way, it is interesting and immersive, even if it's not all too original. The film's ending is unexpected, but for all of the wrong reasons; the twist isn't set-up properly and is ineffective -- the hints aren't actually hints, and the obligatory flashback/hint montage sequence at the end is reaching.

I like the dark style of the film. It keeps a gritty vibe and dark atmosphere throughout. There is some strong violence, but it's not incredibly graphic or disturbing. The investigation is interesting, which is good since it dominates the runtime. Although the ending is reaching, I like the dark vibe and anti-Hollywood approach -- every film doesn’t need a "happily ever after" ending. My main problem with the film, aside from the unjustified twist, is the annoying cast of characters; there are several characters in this film that are annoying, bi-polar, and overly-emotional, which makes them hard to root for; some of their actions are jaw-dropping stupid and unexplainable.

John Cusack is great as the lead -- he has some great moments of overwhelming emotion. Jennifer Carpenter is solid, despite her character having one of those annoying bi-polar moments. Dallas Roberts is perfect, he's really infuriating with his sinister performance. The cinematography is great in capturing the dark atmosphere, and the music compliments the vibe. The writing is mostly by-the-books, but it features an interesting investigation and case; a little more character depth, and more logical characters, would've' been beneficial.

Overall, The Factory is a great crime thriller. The far-reaching twist and annoying characters hurt the film, but the overall investigation and experience up to the end is quite enjoyable. It's not Se7en, but that's no reason to miss this film. I recommend a purchase for fans of the genre, a rental otherwise.

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

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 - The Dream Master (1988)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (Review)
United States/1988
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"...a decent fantasy/horror/comedy film."

Kristen, Joey, and Kincaid have been released from Westin Hills hospital and try to lead normal lifes as high school students. Kristen's nightmares return, as well as Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund), and she accidentally brings both old and new friends into her nightmares, including Alice Johnson (Lisa Wilcox), a frequent daydreamer.

A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master features the biggest changed in the series so far. The Dream Master is a fantasy/horror film with strong comedy elements. The fantasy elements aren't as creative or fun as Dream Warriors; in fact, most of the dream sequences are underwhelming. The film isn't as scary as before, especially Freddy Krueger as he takes a more comedic role -- almost every line of dialogue from Krueger is a punch line, and although most are humorous, they take away from Krueger's nightmarish presence.

The story initially follows Kristen and then other survivors, until Kristen's powers are transferred to Alice. Then, Freddy Krueger uses Alice to capture her friends. By using Alice, Krueger is no longer limited to the original children of Elm Street. Most of the kills are plain and forgettable; however, there are a few scenes that use fantastic visual effects, including some wicked transformations. The new kids are quickly introduced and have almost no significance - they are never developed in any way, I even had trouble remembering their names. Unfortunately, most of the film is generic and cheesy, and it leads to an underwhelming ending.

The acting is good. The cast get the job done, but they never shine because their characters are very shallow. Robert Englund has some sinister charisma, unfortunately his character is no longer scary. The writing is lazy and sloppy, it's cheesy and cliché; the story feels like a cash-in. The special effects are great, even spectacular, during some scenes; they are unfortunately underused.

Overall, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master is a decent fantasy/horror/comedy film. It has moments where it shines, but it is severely underwhelming considering the greatness of the past three installments. The fantasy feels rushed and uncreative, the comedy is overwhelming, in turn, making the film less scary. For those looking to kill time and to be somewhat entertained, I recommend renting or streaming.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some nudity.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 3 - Dream Warriors (1987)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (Review)
United States/1987
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"All of the elements ... blend together well, and create a unique experience."

Kristen Parker escapes from a nightmare only to have her wrist sliced by Freddy Krueger. Mistaken for a suicide attempt, Kristen is admitted to Westin Hills hospital, along with other teens with similar symptoms. Nancy Thompson, now a dream specialists, manages to calm and relate to the teens and concocts a plan for fighting Freddy.

The story in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is great: it is a horror-fantasy blend with some comedic elements, and it all comes together masterfully. Nancy Thompson returns, six years after the events of the first film, and we get a deeper look into Freddy Krueger's past. The story features a new concept, much more interesting than possession, where Kristen is able to bring others into her dreams; this really helps create and further develop the characters; it also helps create some surreal situations. The ending of the film is somewhat underwhelming, but it works with the film; not as fun as the last two films.

The horror consists of its surreal, disturbing imagery and spectacular special effects, as well as some jump-scares. This time around, the comedy is much tighter and fluent, usually consisting of Freddy Krueger's witty one-liners; the humor is still light, it's not enough to consider the film a horror/comedy. Freddy Krueger has a consistent presence in the film; he is still a creepy character, but he much wittier. All of the elements - the horror, the fantasy, the comedy - blend together well, and create a unique experience.

The acting is great. Patricia Arquette performance as Kristen Parker is a bit overdone, especially the screeching yelling - fortunately, she's not actually the lead. Heather Langenkamp returns Nancy Thompson, and her performance is great, better than her performance in the original film. Robert Englund returns as the sinister Freddy Krueger, and he does a fantastic job - with a bigger screen presence, he still manages to impress. The special effects are amazing, the film has many spectacular set pieces that surpass those of the previous films.

Overall, A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors is a great horror/fantasy, with a creative concept, genuinely scary moments, witty humor, and surreal visuals. It's better than the 2nd, which I liked, but not as effective or memorable as the first, which I loved.

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

Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street 2 - Freddy's Revenge (1985)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (Review)
United States/1985
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...the film has its moments and is ultimately entertaining."

The Walshes move into Nancy Thompson's old home 5 years after the first incident. Jesse, a high school student, begins to have nightmares of a burned man with a bladed glove on his hand, and, after finding Nancy's diary, realizes that Freddy Krueger has returned.

Freddy's Revenge has an interesting concept that moves away from the original as it no longer focuses on dreams vs. reality. This time around, Freddy Krueger is looking to possess Jesse through fear. You see, Freddy Krueger gets his strength through fear, and nightmares invoke that needed fear within Jesse. And, through possession, Freddy Krueger can wreak havoc in the real world. Most of the story focuses on Jesse's struggle - his inner battle against Freddy Krueger. The film flows with a fast pace towards a gory and surreal-like final act and a great ending. Again, a predictable 80's slasher ending, but a fun ending regardless.

The concept is interesting, but it never is fully fleshed out or actually scary. The horror consists of some jump-scares, gore, and surreal visuals. The jump-scares work well, but I felt like some stronger suspense could've helped. There are some great gore scenes, including a wicked transformation. The surreal visuals have a stronger presence towards the end where it feels like the original film, creating a mind-playing-tricks-on-you vibe. There is some humor, unfortunately it's hit-or-miss; some scenes made me laugh, while I questioned if I should laugh during others. Fortunately, the humor doesn't have a strong presence overall. The real problem with the story is that it lacks effectiveness, it doesn't have many memorable scenes that will make you come back or stay up at night.

The acting is great. Mark Patton plays Jesse Walsh in the lead. He speaks fluently and shows great emotion, like fear. He reacts like a real person, albeit a little over the top. Robert Englund returns as Freddy Krueger and he does a wonderful job with his sinister laugh and expressions. The writing felt a bit misguided at times, mostly during its attempts at humors. Again, it doesn't fail, but it doesn't hit a perfect mark. The special effects are fantastic, I always loved the old-school effects.

Overall, A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge is a good horror film. It's not as original, creative, or scary as the first, but it holds its own with a refined concept and competent execution. Although it lacks impact, the film has its moments and is ultimately entertaining. I recommend a purchase for fans of the genre and franchise, a rental otherwise.

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

Monday, September 9, 2013

Film Review: A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984)

A Nightmare On Elm Street (Review)
United States/1984
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a horror masterpiece"

High school student Tina has a nightmare in which she is stalked by a burned man with a bladed glove. Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp) and her boyfriend eventually discuss the nightmare as they spend the night with Tina - and Nancy reveals she's had a similar nightmare. The teens find that they are being stalked in their dreams by Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund) - and these nightmares have bloody, real world consequences...

A Nightmare on Elm Street is a very creative and effective horror film. The concept of reality vs. dreams is discussed often and used effectively to create a very eerie vibe; is this scene in reality or in a dream? This kept me guessing and resulted in some surprising scenes - some featured great jump-scares and others featured tons and tons of blood; on that note, the horror consists of the eerie concept, some suspense, effective jump-scares, unbelievable amounts of blood, and surreal visuals - everything nightmares are made of. The story follows a consistent path, every scene connecting perfectly to create a very effective and immersive experience. So, every scene is relevant to the plot - whether they are based in reality or imagination - this is good because it is able to stay focused, despite focusing on two dimensions. The ending of the film is a bit predictable, but fun -- the type of fun where you say, "that was cool."

The acting is about what you'd expect from an 80's horror film. The delivery can be robotic at times, but it works well with the film. Heather Langenkamp plays the lead and she does well; she plays a normal high school student at the start, and transforms into a paranoid, anxious, and sleepless (and quickly aging) teenager. Robert Englund plays Freddy Krueger with an eerie sense of charisma; he plays the character sinisterly, but never taking it too seriously. The rest of the cast, including Johnny Depp, are great and keep the film alive.

The special effects and makeup are great. Freddy Krueger has a disturbing, memorable design - a true horror icon. The film uses its great editing and shooting to compliment the effects. So, a scene like the tongue phone or the bloody bed come as genuinely unexpected. The special effects really standout, and fans of on-screen effects will be pleased as computer effects are limited. Wes Craven writes and directs this film with exceptional skill.

Overall, A Nightmare on Elm Street is a horror masterpiece. It's entertaining from beginning to end, and flawlessly executes its amazingly unique concept. Don't miss this classic film, even if you're not a fan of the genre.

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

Friday, September 6, 2013

Film Review: The Lords of Salem (2012)

The Lords of Salem (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a disturbingly elegant horror film with a great story, creepy atmosphere, and disturbing visuals."

Heidi (Sheri Moon Zombie), a radio DJ in Salem, Massachusetts, plays a record she received as a gift -- a mysterious gift from the a local band named The Lords of Salem. After playing the record multiple times, Heidi begins to experience disturbing visions...

The Lords of Salem is a story-heavy, satanic horror film. The story follows Heidi over a week as she has disturbing visions after playing the record; her visions become more vivid over the course of the week, and the witches of Salem may have returned. Meanwhile, author Francis Matthias (Bruce Davison) tracks the record, which leads him into the history of the witches of Salem -- a particular coven of witches that may be searching for vengeance. For a horror film, it offers a lot of information to absorb, and continues to do so until the end. The ending is bizzare -- filled with creepy, disturbing visuals, strong symbolism, and a pinch of ambiguity.

The Lords of Salem is a slow-burning, atmospheric horror film. The main focus is the story, which is interesting and creative. The horror mostly built from its haunting atmosphere -- an atmosphere that is developed from the superb cinematography, creepy music, and disturbing visuals. Those looking for more traditional, straight-forwards horror will be glad to find quite a few jolting jump-scares; enough jump-scares to keep contemporary horror fans awake and frightened, and conservative enough to avoid being a gimmicky jump-scare gallery. I really thought the film was genuinely frightening; the focus on atmosphere and tension is a breath of fresh air nowadays, and the jump-scares are actually shocking enough to conjure a jump most of the time. One of the issues I had was with the story; there are a few scenes that weren't necessary at all, and some scenes that could've benefited from more information/explanation; at least for a tighter, more informative experience.

Sheri Moon Zombie is mediocre as the lead; she occasionally excels, but most of the time, Mrs. Zombie's dialogue is delivered unnaturally and blandly; her performance gives the film an amateurish vibe. Fortunately, the great supporting cast, well, supports the film. The cinematography is superb; the film is beautifully shot as it captures the magnificent set-design and mesmerizing lighting. The music is perfect for the film, setting an ominous, creepy tone from beginning to end. The cinematography and the music compliment each other well to create a chilling, immersive atmosphere. Rob Zombie's direction is great, really showing a filmmaker making progress; but, he should really consider casting someone other than his wife.

Overall, The Lords of Salem is a great horror film -- a disturbingly elegant horror film with a great story, creepy atmosphere, and disturbing visuals. The lead is mediocre, yet competent enough, and some tighter writing would've been beneficial, though. Like Only God Forgives, this is a film you'll either love or hate; and, like Only God Forgives, I tend to be leaning towards love in this case.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, excessive full nudity and sexuality. (no sex scenes, though.)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Film Review: Fallen Angels (1995)

Fallen Angels (Review)
China/1995
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes 

"It greatly blends many elements together that end up complimenting each other well..."

A hitman named Wong Chi-Ming (Leon Lai) wants to quit the business, but has to separate himself from the love of his life -- his business partner who he rarely sees. Meanwhile, Ho Chi Moo (Takeshi Kaneshiro), a mute prison escapee, falls in love with Charlie, a girl he runs into every night, but has trouble expressing himself.

Fallen Angels tells two stories at once; the stories do not relate except for the themes, like love and loneliness, and occasional character run-ins. Wong Chi-Ming's story has a heavier, bleaker tone as it blends stylish action and helpless romance. Ho Chi Moo's story is a bit more comic, occasionally leaning towards black humor, while keeping its hopeful love themes. I enjoy how both stories and how they occasionally clash -- a little more than you may initially think. I also enjoy the bittersweet ending of both stories, which lead to an interesting finale.

Fallen Angels is a love film with action and comedy. The action is very stylish consisting of shootouts usually captured through slow-motion or motion blur, or both; they can be overwhelming for those with sensitive eyesight. The humor can often be lighthearted, and it can occasionally be black as night; however, I felt the humor blended seamlessly with the rest of the film. The film has a very arthouse vibe yet it manages to differentiate itself -- at least most of the time. So, expect a few unnecessarily long scenes and even a few music videos within the movie; the pacing is great most of the time, except for these prolonged scenes.

The acting is great from the entire cast. Takeshi Kaneshiro is the standout for the film with his voiceless performance; it's impressive how he delivers a range of emotions -- from happiness to disappointment -- without a single word (excluding the monologues). The soundtrack is mesmerizing, really contributing to the arthouse vibe and creative a "cool" character. The shooting style can often be to beneficial and harmful; on one hand, some shots are unique and creative, offering a better insight; on the other hand, the camera movements are often unnecessarily overwhelming, which can cause dizziness. However, I enjoy the sets and I loved the vibrant lighting in some scenes.

Overall, Fallen Angels is a great film. It greatly blends many elements together that end up complimenting each other well; I thoroughly enjoyed this film, these stories, despite a few technical flaws; or, at least, what I see as flaws.

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

Film Review: 1911 (2011)

1911 (Review)
China/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...offers an interesting story, but suffers from poor execution."

Leading the 1911 Xinhai Revolution, Huang Xing (Jackie Chan) and Sun Yat-sen (Winston Chao) work together through the battlefields and the politics, respectively, to revolt against the Qing Dynasty - to unite the people under a new government and overthrow their oppressors.

The story, one that I'm not very familiar with, is unfortunately poorly told. It's an interesting story, and one that's not told very often in film, but fails to tell an actual story. I understand some of the main points of the film, but most of it is disjointed; the constant flashbacks and jumps from event to event make it hard to follow. On top of that, the significant events move by so quickly, as do the subtitles, which makes them ineffective and offer very little information. (this is a more significant issue for those that do not speak the film's language.) In fact, many of the significant events end with little closure, and with a very unfulfilling feeling.

The action sequences are great. They don't offer much new to the war genre, but they are technically well-made and entertaining; the atrocities of war are beautifully captured. I'd say much of the film is dominated by war sequences, big and small, that will leave action fans with some satisfaction. Without character development or attachment, the war is treated as a basic action sequence; without symbolism, meaning, or suspenseful buildup, I was not emotionally involved nor did it ever feel like a revolution was going on. Considering the short runtime, these war sequences could've been reduced to give more information, smoothen the story, and make the remaining war sequences effective.

The acting is great from Jackie Chan and Winston Chao; both offer great emotion, and the latter offers the charisma you'd expect from a leader. The rest of the cast is decent - nothing horrible, but definitely not spectacular. The writing is severely flawed - poorly structured and disappointingly hollow. The direction from Jackie Chan and Zhang Li is okay - again, it really isn't impressive as not much is pulled from the cast or story. The cinematography is great, the film is beautifully shot and the war sequences are bittersweet.

Overall, 1911 offers an interesting story, but suffers from poor execution. The writing is bad, the editing is sloppy, and the acting is merely decent; even the action sequences fail to impress, despite being technically great. With the little 1911 has to offer, don't expect a history lesson or a grade A action film. I recommend a rental or stream, if you're interested.

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

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Film Review: Se7en (1995)

Seven (or Se7en) (Review)
United States/1995
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...the less you know, the better!"

Recently transferred homicide detective David Mills (Brad Pitt) and the soon-to-retire William Somerset (Morgan Freeman) team up to capture a sadistic serial killer whose murders relate to the seven deadly sins.

Seven, or Se7en, is a neo noir psychological thriller. In this case, the less you know, the more effective the experience. The investigation plays a large role in the film -- Mills and Somerset use every trick in the book to trace the elusive killer, including reading books about the seven deadly sins to predict his movements and to get into his head. The story is as much about the atrocious crimes of the serial killer as it is about Miller and Somerset as partners and separate characters; character development is deep yet subtle, focusing on dialogue, actions, and expression. This engaging investigation leads to an unbelievable climax -- the pure intensity had me clenching my fist, sweat dripping down the side of my face, lungs full of air... Remember, the less you know, the better!

I thoroughly enjoyed Seven. This isn't an action thriller full of explosions and fistfights. No, this is a thought-out, psychological thriller. The dialogue is dominant in this film with engaging conversations and deep investigations; you're listening to every word because every word has a purpose; you're glued to the screen because you don't want to miss a single piece of evidence. In fact, you might want to break out a notepad and get involved with the investigation. There are some disturbing and shocking visuals, but most of the violence is off-screen; most of the investigation focuses on the aftermath of a torturous death. Thanks to its engaging attitude, Seven has a ferocious pace and a forgiving runtime.

Morgan Freeman is fantastic with his deep performance; his smooth dialogue delivery and facial expressions end in genuine emotion and character. Brad Pitt is much more arrogant in his role, and he captures it exceptionally; his few moments of overacting are easily forgivable due to the rest of his amazing performance and his arrogant charisma. Kevin Spacey also delivers with a devilish and captivating performance. The music stands out from the beginning with an ominus, chilling track, and it stays consistently dark and immersive as it blends seamlessly with the film and its themes. David Fincher's direction is masterful as he brilliantly crafts this dark, gritty tale.

Overall, Seven, or Se7en, is a brilliant psychological crime thriller. It delves deep into an engaging investigation as well as into the mind of a serial killer, and ends with an unforgettable climax that will leave you breathless. (the less you know!) This is one of my favorite films, and I highly recommend it.

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

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Film Review: Universal Soldier Regeneration (2009)

Universal Soldier: Regeneration (Review)
United States/2009
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...blend booming explosions, blazing shootouts, and vicious fistfights."

After kidnapping the Ukainian prime minister's son and daughter, a terrorist group holds them hostage in a Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant until their comrades are released. It is soon revealed that the terrorist have their hands on a lethal weapon -- a Next-Generation Universal Soldier (Andrei Arlovski). After failed attempts at neutralizing the target and saving the hostages, one of the original and best UniSol is rearmed -- Luc Deveraux (Jean-Claude Van Damme).

Universal Soldier: Regeneration has a simple story. In fact, there isn't much I can add due to the lack of significant events; the story lacks creativity and innovation, despite the unique concept. It follows an easily identifiable formula; start the mission, fail, try a different approach, fail, wait for Luc Deveraux, train and reactivate, and finish with a huge action sequence. If you're looking for a deep, character-driven story... look elsewhere. This story is all about the action, and I'm okay with that.

The film starts with a great kidnap-chase sequence. An edge-of-your-seat car chase -- dodging, and often driving through, other cars while exchanging fire with other vehicles. It continues into several missions which blend booming explosions, blazing shootouts, and vicious fistfights. Luc Deveraux takes the lead during the final act with a superbly choreographed action sequence, which is complimented by the slick camerawork. In fact, the last 30 minutes of the film consists of pure action. Its safe to say: this is a fantastic all-out action film.

Andrei Arlovski is good in this film, although his character isn't really demanding; his presence is intimidating and he performs his action sequences adequately. Jean-Claude Van Damme has brief appearances throughout, and finally takes the lead during the final act; his performance is great, as are his action sequences. Dolph Lundgren briefly appears -- less than 15 minutes or so -- and delivers a great performance, as well. The action is superbly choreographed, the music is well-fitted, the choreography is great, and the cinematography is solid. John Hyams is great as the director, although a better story would've been beneficial.

Overall, Universal Soldier: Regeneration is a great action film; the story is nothing new, and it never strives to be more, but the action sequences are superb, the film is technically exceptional, and the pacing is fast -- a pure action film that will easily kill a night.

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

Film Review: The Place Beyond The Pines (2012)


The Place Beyond The Pines (Review)
United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...as far as the wide theatrical releases of 2013 so far, this is the best."

Luke Glanton (Ryan Gosling) is a local celebrity as Handsome Luke -- a daring motorcycle stuntman turned bank robber to support his newfound son. Avery Cross (Bradley Cooper) is a low-ranking beat officer turned hero caught in a corrupt system.

The Place Beyond The Pines is a very effective crime drama. The less you know the better. That's not to say it's a twist-filled story, but it's a better film experience if you avoid reading about it beforehand. Luke and Avery's stories interlink to create a large saga of crime -- a tale of crime from both sides of the law. Luke, a career criminal, wants to support his newborn son; without a job or opportunity, Luke takes up bank robbing. Avery is a low-level, over-qualified patrol officer, subconsciously looking to move up; also hoping to keep his worried family intact, and to come home to his infant son. A significant event in both their lives leads to corruption, pain, and change. From there on, the ethical battles within continue. The ending of the film is superb -- bittersweet without pushing too far as to alienate sensitive audiences.

The story relies on its dialogue. Luckily, the dialogue is engaging and immersive; it's the type of dialogue that keeps you involved and invested -- the type of dialogue that keeps you at the edge of your seat. The film's themes consists of family, fate, and ethics. There are moral dilemmas that make for unbearably tense exchanges -- gripping, powerful moments of good vs bad; and, there are many, many moments like this, which are perfectly executed. There are three stories that interlink -- all of these stories are related and have minimal filler. With that, the film moves at a very well balanced pace, holding on to its momentum from beginning to end; in fact, the film was over before I knew it. The runtime is surprisingly forgiving, so if you're avoid movies due to their possibly inflated runtimes, know this film uses its runtime wisely.

Ryan Gosling is fantastic as Luke. He shows a lot of emotion -- from subtle sadness to genuine happiness -- and shows unexpected energy in his bank heist scenes. Bradley Cooper is equally impressive with his performance -- you can see the the look of uncertainty and disbelief in his eyes, really capturing a man trapped in an ethical battle. Ray Liotta also delivers a brilliant performance that supports the second act of the film; his performance was genuinely impressive. Derek Cianfrance direction is fantastic as he creates a very unique and immersive atmosphere, and pulls so much from his cast. The cinematography captures the mood of the film. Better yet, the music compliments the haunting subject-matter of the film; the soundtrack is ominous and bleak, yet elegant in its tones.

Overall, The Place Beyond The Pines is a fantastic crime drama; a drama that justifies its runtime through its incredibly involving and entertaining story; a film that excels in its acting, direction, music, and cinematography. Don't miss out on this film -- as far as the wide theatrical releases of 2013 so far, this is the best.

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

Monday, September 2, 2013

Film Review: Traffickers (2012)

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

"Traffickers is a bloody thrill ride..."

Forced to complete one last job, Young-gyu (Im Chang-jung) boards a boat with his crew to harvest the organs of Chae-hee -- a crippled young woman. Sang-ho (Choi Daniel), Chae-hee's husband, notices her disappearance and rushes to save her... but, not without heavy interference.

Traffickers is a dark and disturbing crime thriller about the illegal human and organ trafficking in Korea and China. The story follows Young-gyu as he completes his final job. His crew operates by abducting passengers on boats and harvesting their organs before their arrival -- corrupt cops and customs allow for some leg room. The story's starts off rough and a bit confusing as it introduces many characters and a lot of information to absorb; however, this rough introduction eventually settles down for a smoother ride, with a few bumps on the road. That's all you need to know, really. This plot is twist heavy, especially the second half; every corner hits you with a shocking, unbelievable twist, and then turns for another blow. The ending is dark and depressing, but powerful and effective; it won't end like your typical Hollywood thriller.

Traffickers focuses on creating a thrilling situation after another. The tension is genuine as I felt goosebumps through my body and as I clenched my fist. The chase and hide-and-seek scenes are adrenaline charged as they keep you suspended through their high tension. The brutal fights end in bloodbaths -- gallons and gallons of blood are spilled. And, as previously stated, there's a twist at every corner that keeps you hooked -- I couldn't take my eyes of the screen. This is a pure thriller, with some subtle social commentary -- there aren't many films that address the corruption involved in the trafficking of human organs.

Im Chang-jung is great with his versatile performance -- occasionally bland, but mostly spot on. Choi Daniel is also great with his often emotional performance, it felt genuine. Oh Dal-su is a personal favorite, and this performance further solidifies him as one of the greats; he's darkly humorous and eccentric with this role. The music is mostly great, it gets very epic during the twists; and, since there're plenty of them, the music is mostly epic. The film is nicely shot, really captures the dark mood of the film. The direction pulls a lot out of the story and cast, the writing could've benefitted from polishing.

I own the South Korean First Print Blu-Ray of the Traffickers. The slipcover is high-quality with a smooth surface and vivid colors. The blu-ray case is clear, and there is only one disc. The subtitles during the film are flawed; they're good enough to get through the film, but they contain spelling and grammatical errors -- in fact, you may have to rewind and pause to absorb the information properly. Other than that, everything else, like the picture and audio, is high quality.

Overall, Traffickers is a ferociously paced, brutal, and disturbing crime thriller. Despite its rough start, Traffickers is a bloody thrill ride with great acting, music, and direction; and, a story worth watching and absorbing considering how often this problem occurs around the world.

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