Friday, November 29, 2013

Film Review: Olympus Has Fallen (2013)

Olympus Has Fallen (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"This is a brainless popcorn blockbuster, and a good one at that."

After President Asher's (Aaron Eckhart) wife dies in a fatal car accident, lead Secret Service agent Mike Banning (Gerard Butler) is relieved and placed into the Treasury Department. 18 months after, the South Korean Prime Minister arrives at the White House with unexpected guests...

Olympus Has Fallen continues with a double-crossing of sorts as a North Korean guerilla unit raids the White House and takes the President and other high ranking officials hostage. Fortunately, special ops super soldier Mike Banning is able to assist his former team and infiltrates the White House. After the chaotic raid, Banning has to save the President's son and the President himself from within using any weapon he can get bid hands on and hand-to-hand combat. Thereafter, the terrorists intentions are revealed and the stakes raise. The ending is what you would expect, but it is executed well enough.

In order to really enjoy Olympus Has Fallen, you'll have to suspend belief for two hours. Yeah, we all know this whole situation really isn't plausible for several reasons. And, yeah, the whole "special ops, super soldier" character is an extreme cliché. But, the action sequences are superb and very consistent. Shootouts there, close-quarter-combat here, and explosions everywhere. There is some great suspense and tension, and the raid sequence is fantastic. This is a brainless popcorn blockbuster, and a good one at that. Oh, and if you're anti-U.S., you'll probably dislike the vibe of the film or confuse it with propaganda; I didn't see it that way, I think it lacks the brains needed for propaganda. Just watch it for the action, keep the politics out of mind, and you'll have a solid experience.

The acting is great from the entire cast. Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, and Morgan Freeman are all great in their roles. The characters are cliché, especially the North Korean villains. The special effects were mediocre during many of the scenes, particularly any sequence with planes or helicopters, they felt very out of place and low budget. However, the rest of the action was well executed. Antoine Fuqua directs a consistent action film. The writing is also easy and smooth, although the dialogue is very cheesy.

Overall, Olympus Has Fallen delivers enough action to justify the two hour runtime. It has some bad special effects, cliché characters, and very mozzarella (cheesy) dialogue, though. Great for a night in.

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

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Film Review: Munger Road (2011)

Munger Road (Review)
United States/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"The little horror in Munger Road is not enough to save it from mediocrity."

A group of friends visit the locally legendary Munger Road said to be haunted by kids who died horrible deaths -- either by a vicious murderer or train accident. At the same time, two small town police officers search for an escaped serial killer...

Munger Road has an interesting story. I love urban legends, and this film plays out like one. So, the group of friends visit Munger Road for a small experiment, but, as they return home, they find themselves stranded. And, there seems to be an ominous presence surrounding them. Meanwhile, two police officers search for an escaped serial killer by following different leads -- visiting abandoned homes and vans, and so on. Eventually, the police officers and the teenagers cross paths, in a way. The ending of the film is unfulfilling and abrupt; it ends with a "To Be Continued." title, but without closure nor promise, especially considering the sequel is nowhere in sight.

The main problem with Munger Road is its generic writing and characters. Every character seems to be copied from other films and pasted into Munger Road. It doesn't help that both guys are obnoxious, and their girlfriends are ridiculously stuck-up. They're also not very smart and bi-polar, as they stupidly separate and one character switches emotions so quickly. And, the dialogue, oh the dialogue: "Did you call me a bitch? You called me a bitch? Like, oh my God, Becky, he called me a bitch!" (note: not verbatim, but you get the jist.) Oh, as for the cops, one is an old-timer and the other is a young guy who's afraid of everything. Ultimately, the comic relief in this film, from either group, falls flat.

As for horror, Munger Road has a spooky atmosphere. The ominous feeling is great during the scenes on Munger Road. There are a few loud noise jump scares, a few work well, but most fail. There are also a few scenes with great suspense, but, unfortunately, suspense really isn't used often in the film. I liked some of the eerie, subtle images in the film, like the first time we see an ominous figure standing behind the car. The stupid and annoying characters may hurt the film significantly, but at least there is some horror.

The acting was good from the entire cast. Everyone speaks clearly, and show some solid emotions; there are a few lines that sound robotic, but it's definitely not bad for a low-budget horror film. The music is good, as well, although it does get repetitive. Nicholas Smith's writing and direction are really at fault here. The writing really doesn't develop its characters or its story, and the ending is almost offensively mediocre -- again, it feels so rushed and abrupt, kinda like Smith said, "I don't know where this is heading, so I'll just bullshit it and address it later... or never." (queue: Vincent Price sinister laugh) The direction also suffers as he doesn't pull enough from his cast and there are some inconsistencies, as well.

Overall, Munger Road has some solid horror elements and it will kill a night if you have nothing better to watch. But, the writing is bad, the characters are annoying and stupid, and the ending is a slap in the face. The little horror in Munger Road is not enough to save it from mediocrity.

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

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Film Review: Dog Pound (2010)

Dog Pound (Review)
Canada/2010
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...doesn't do much to differentiate itself, but it's emotionally effective and well-made..."

Angel (Mateo Morales), Butch (Adam Butcher), and Davis (Shane Kippel) are teenage criminals who are sent to a juvenile detention facility with tough-but-fair guards and other vicious inmates.

Dog Pound is a by-the-books jail drama. After a quick introduction to the three leads and their crimes, we witness their lives in the juvenile facility. The guards are fair but stern. Their fellow inmates, however, range from passive and eccentric to vicious and angry. The bullying inmates cause the most problem for Angel, Butch, and Davis, but, eventually, they find a safe haven within each other. Together they build a friendship -- the type of friendship where they bully each other, but care. The third act is brutal, and the final sequence, particularly the final scene, is devastating.

Like I said, though, Dog Pound is a by-the-books jail-prison drama. If you've seen one, you've likely seen Dog Pound. There's the tough-guy top-dog of his unit, the stern-but-caring guard, the fights, the drug trade, the suicide, and the obligatory rape scene. (It seems like every prison film absolutely needs a rape scene nowadays.) Dog Pound really doesn't try to differentiate itself. Fortunately, the short runtime, the consistent pace, and emotionally effective story make the clichés feel less offensive. In fact, this is a great film with many intense sequences, and it'll be even better if you haven't watched a film like this at all, or at least if it has been a while.

Mateo Morales, Adam Butcher, and Shane Kippel are great as the leads. Mateo Morales, despite having the least screen time, delivers the most believable and natural performance, though -- some of the other performances occasionally felt over the top. Ultimately, every character nails their performance, so you'll either feel bad for some or you'll be infuriated by others. The music blends well with the film, but it's not very memorable. Kim Chapiron's direction is great, pulling a lot from his cast and his story, despite lacking some needed originality. On the technical side, the film is very well made.

Overall, Dog Pound is a great jail drama. If you're a fan of the genre, this one doesn't do much to differentiate itself, but it's emotionally effective and well-made, regardless. If you've been drained by jail dramas, wait a while before watching this, otherwise, you're in for a tense ride.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, nudity and one rape scene.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Film Review: Howl's Moving Castle (2004)

Howl's Moving Castle (Review)
Japan/2004
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a fascinating fantasy film."

While walking to visit her sister, Sophie, a young hatter, encounters a powerful and renowned young wizard named Howl, who brings her into a sticky situation. Shortly afterward, the Witch of the Waste, who is in love with Howl, visits places a spell on Sophie that transforms her into a 90-year-old woman...

Howl's Moving Castle continues by following Sophie as she pursues Howl and attempts to break her spell. Proven to be more difficult than initial thought, Sophie begins to find some relief in her new age as she has little to lose the older she gets. Meanwhile, a foolish war is being waged, literally and figuratively, both of which concern Howl. This adventurous tale flows well into a more action-oriented yet meaningful and equally enchanting final act. The ending of Howl's Moving Castle can best be described as sweet, or Happily Ever After.

Howl's Moving Castle is a fascinating fantasy film. The characters are very creative and easily likeable; okay, you may initially hate the Witch of the Waste with her smug face and quadruple chins, but she gets what's coming, and it's a surprisingly pleasant character change. The characters' interactions are also humorous. The overall tone of the story is very lighthearted and even inspiring. In fact, some of themes the film tackles are self-esteem, love, and war. Fortunately, other than the war theme, the themes rarely preach and the film can easily be enjoyed as a fantasy-comedy-action hybrid. On that point, every element in this film is balanced very well to create a moderate pace -- there are few moments when the film loses some momentum, but it generally moves at a steady pace and keeps the audience engaged.

The Japanese voice acting is superb. Color me surprised when I found out Chieko Baisho voiced both the younger and older Sophie; Baisho is extremely talented with great enthusiasm, excitement, and overall emotion in her voice. The animation is beautiful throughout with lush and vivid colors, along with the uniquely designed characters and settings. I also thoroughly enjoyed the soundtrack, it's enchanting and adventurous capturing both of the strongest elements in the film. Hayao Miyazaki's direction and writing are as strong as ever, I don't need to praise this genius anymore than I have already, though.

Overall, Howl's Moving Castle is a superb fantasy adventure with so much to offer. It's significant themes, at least most of the them, serve as very effective backdrops, and the mystifying and entertaining adventure takes center stage. This another fantastic animated film the entire family can and should enjoy; in other words, I strongly recommend it.

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

Friday, November 22, 2013

Film Review: Network (1975)

Network (Review)
United States/1975
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!"

After learning of his impending termination from the air due to poor ratings, Howard Beale (Peter Finch), long-time anchor for the UBS Evening News, announces on live television that he will commit suicide on the following Tuesday's broadcast. Initially disappointed and angered, the Network eventually decides to milk his breakdown for better ratings...

Basically, Network follows the UBS television network as it battles poor ratings. Essentially, they begin to take advantage of Howard Beale and his crippling mental state. We see the politics surrounding every move the network makes, how they work and what they'll do to gain ratings, and gain insightful knowledge on the effects of television, as well as the politics that surround TV and in general. All in a tightly written and exemplarily performed satirical package. This consistent black comedy leads to a vicious ending -- both in it's chilling content and dark humor.

Network is a black comedy drama -- a satire strongly reliant on dialogue. Fortunately, the dialogue in this film is tight, intelligent, and engaging. Although a black comedy, Network isn't a laugh-out-loud feel-good romp. Instead, Network is written as a satire to address political and social issues -- fortunately, the black comedy negates the film from preaching. On top of that, many of the monologues are unforgettable, every line is delivered with great power, meaning, and thought. The plot moves at a consistent pace, and always has something to say -- subtly or in your face.

The acting is fantastic from the entire cast. Peter Finch delivers a phenomenal performance thanks to his many opportunities to monologue; Finch has so much character and emotion in his performance, it's unbelievably impressive. Set and costume design stood out to me as the film felt authentic, which helped the performances achieve maximum believability. The direction is superb from Sidney Lumet, really delivering a smooth and consistent experience. (I also really enjoyed his work on Before The Devil Knows You're Dead.) Paddy Chayefsky's writing also stands out as engaging and entertaining; in this case, it's also fair to call it "brilliant".

Overall, Network is superb black comedy/drama satire film. The dialogue is memorable and insightful, and the film entertains immensely. The direction and writing are superb, and the acting is fantastic from the entire cast -- effectively complimenting each other. I don't say this often about films, but it is safe to do so here, so I'll say it three times: Brilliant! Brilliant! Brilliant!

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

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Film Review: Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011)

Martha Marcy May Marlene (Review)
United States/2011
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a tedious film without an identity."

After she escapes from a cult, Martha (Elizabeth Olsen) moves in with her sister and her husband. However, Martha begins to suffer from paranoia and delusions...

Martha Marcy May Marlene is advertised as a psychological thriller -- I'll even end up tagging it as such -- but most of the time, it fails to build on such themes. The story is not told in chronological order, often jumping from the past back to the present and back to the past again. Regardless, it's told well and easy enough to follow. However, there isn't much meat to the story -- it severely lacks plot. For most of its runtime, the story fails to use its paranoia and delusion themes. The story can be explained as a vacation for Martha, with an occasional outburst or odd question, but nothing else. The last act of the film features a weak climax, as well as an ambiguous ending -- since the film lacks a plot, how do end the story?

Martha Marcy May Marlene suffers from a lack of identity; do you want to be a psychological thriller or a character study of mental health? Either way, the film fails to deliver. The cult takes too long too develop only to find out it's just another cliché. The characters have many drawn-out conversations, but they don't develop actual character. There is no paranoia, there are only a few (questionable) delusions, there are no thrills, and there is only one scene with actual tension. There is no atmosphere and there is no immersion. This isn't a movie, it's a poor man's attempt at arthouse. (note: I've thoroughly enjoyed many arthouse films like Bullhead and Only God Forgives.)

On the technical side, I like the cast. Elizabeth Olsen is impressive with a very interesting and engaging performance, occasionally embodying a truly delusional character. The editing is great, I like the seamless transitions between flashbacks. The music also fits the themes of the film well. However, the writing is boring and lifeless, and, again, the direction tries way too hard to create "art" -- the long, tedious shots and boring back-and-forth conversations between characters are completely unnecessary for the plot -- well, if there were a plot to begin with.

Overall, Martha Marcy May Marlene is a tedious film without an identity. The film fails to evoke any emotions in its characters and the audience. The performances are great and its technically exceptional, but it lacks a plot, so it just goes to waste. I do not recommend the film.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Some violence, sex, and nudity.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Film Review: Hard Boiled (1992)

Hard Boiled (Review)
China/1992
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...action paradise."

Inspector "Tequila" Yuen (Chow Yun-Fat) teams up with an undercover cop playing the mob's highest-ranking assassin to capture a common enemy.

Hard Boiled has a fairly simple story. Tequila is a hard-boiled cop that goes against the rules to get the job done. When one of his partners dies during a shootout with a small army of gangsters, Tequila begins to track the head of the mob and runs into a newly familiar face. From there on, Tequila teams up with the undercover cop to take down a rich, gun-smuggling triad boss. Of course, there are some tense betrayals and tests of loyalty, as well. The ending is explosive and well-executed, much like the rest of the film.

Hard Boiled is more reliant on its action than story. First, the story is interesting and well-done. It has cheesy dialogue and encounters, but I felt that added to the charm and style of the film. The action sequences are all shootouts. Everything explodes in a sense in this film: bird cages, tables, chairs, doors, and so on. There are some many particles on screen, it's amazing. Aside from that, there are plenty of actual explosions, especially towards the end. I really like the shootouts in the film because they're thrilling and creative; there are many stunts implemented into the shootouts, like jumping through windows, surfing on carts while shooting, or gliding forward or back through the air while shooting, and so on -- it's simply spectacular.

Chow Yun-Fat is great as the lead with plenty of charisma to pull off the cocky supercop. Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is also great as Chow Yun-Fat's counterpart adding some character to their relationship. John Woo standout with his superb direction, especially for the many shootouts; every action scene has so much detail and consistency, and the execution is flawless. I like the set design, especially when they're blown up by gun fire -- everything looks fantastic. The music is also well-fitted and I liked it all, especially the use of jazz.

Overall, Hard Boiled is action paradise. Every other scene is filled with creative action sequences and daring stunts, the final act, in fact, is pure action. Hard Boiled is arguably one of the greatest action films of all time; and, I feel it deserves more credit, especially considering most action films nowadays are filled with computer effects.

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

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Film Review: Europa Report (2013)

Europa Report (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...awe-inspiring, chilling, devastating, and even petrifying..."

Six astronauts journey to Europa, one of Jupiter's moons, to trace potential sources of life.

Europa Report continues to tell of the six astronauts and their trip -- their enthusiasm, their excitement, their stress, their homesickness, and so on. Traveling further than any human has ever traveled, the crew eventually reaches Europa. However, unexpected issues arise, which cause problems for their secure arrival. Furthermore, their exploration of Europa reveals a possible life source that may threaten their return home. Is their life on Europa, or is it all in their head? Europa Report continues to an exciting, albeit darkly ambiguous, ending.

Europa Report is a found-footage, mockumentary-like SciFi film. Fortunately, it plays out like a traditional film and avoids the many found-footage clichés. There is a strong SciFi presence, and it contributes significantly to the plot; in fact, much of the Science seems plausible and it is even engaging. The story plays out like a slow-burn and features many suspenseful sequences; one of these sequences is awe-inspiring, chilling, devastating, and even petrifying. I thoroughly enjoyed the balance of story, science, and suspense. However, there is one sequence I didn't enjoy, which follows the horror logic; you know, the "I got what I need, and I know anything else I do is dangerous, but u'll do it anyway" logic. The final act loses some steam, as well.

The acting was great from the entire cast. Every performance felt very authentic and succeeded in capturing the appropriate emotions. Daniel Wu and Anamaria Marinca particularly stood out to me with their very immersed performances. The film is shot beautifully with great cinematography, set designs, and special effects. I was more so impressed by how the film felt so realistic, and used the found-footage style while avoiding its generic staples. The soundtrack is also perfect, really an exemplary OST for the SciFi genre. Sebastián Cordero's direction is very consistent and smooth, pulling great performances from his cast and constructing some stunningly suspenseful sequences.

Overall, Europa Report is a fascinating slow-burn SciFi film. It has an engaging plot and actual Science elements, as well as more than a handful of suspenseful sequences -- one of which I truly loved and won't forget any time soon. There are a few flaws, though, like the one sequence of "horror" logic and a slight lose of momentum towards the end.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Film Review: My Neighbor Totoro (1988)

My Neighbor Totoro (Review)
Japan/1988
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...the whole family can and should enjoy thanks to the clean content, great humor, adorable visuals, and genuine sense of adventure and dreamlike creativity."

A university professor, Tatsuo Kusakabe, and his daughters, Satsuki and Mei, move into an old house in rural Japan to be close to their hospitalized mother. Satsuki and Mei, however, end up stumbling upon and interacting with the friendly spirits of the woods.

My Neighbor Totoro is light on plot but heavy on theme, heart, and ingenuity. The story follows Satsuki and Mei as they live there everyday lives until they stumble upon a friendly spirit they call Totoro. From there on, they have an unbelievable magical experience, and witness the impossible -- whether it be awkwardly spending time with Totoro at a bus stop or climbing giant trees and conjuring beautiful melodies. The only real conflict in the film appears during the final act, but with great suspense and emotion, as well as creativity. The ending is heartwarming and reassuring, a very positive conclusion.

My Neighbor Totoro is fairly simple, and, honestly, that's not a bad thing. The story is pure magic, playing out like a fairytale. It blends lighthearted humor, adorable visuals, and a light sense of adventure to create a smooth and consistent tale -- a very enjoyable and entertaining tale. Both Satsuki and Mei are lovable and adorable, and Totoro is equally sweet, despite that cheesy, almost creepy smile. These visuals and characters alone contribute greatly to the heartwarming feeling of the film. My Neighbor Totoro is one of the only films that almost brings tears to my eyes for more reasons than one. The themes, such as family and environmental, are subtle yet powerful.

The voice acting is great from the entire cast. They -- particularly Noriko Hidaka and Chika Sakamoto, who play the siblings -- capture emotion perfectly, such as sadness, happiness, and especially enthusiasm. Studio Ghibli delivers a film with great production values, from the enchanting soundtrack to the beautiful visuals; on that note, the soundtrack is perfect for the film and its themes, and it also works well on its own. Hayao Miyazaki has ingenious writing and direction with My Neighbor Totoro.

Overall, My Neighbor Totoro is a masterpiece of animation. This is a film that genuinely has a lot of heart. Maybe it's the nostalgia of my childhood, but it's almost like a moment of reflection and introversion. This is a film that the whole family can and should enjoy thanks to the clean content, great humor, adorable visuals, and genuine sense of adventure and dreamlike creativity.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Safe for all audiences.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Film Review: Friday The 13th (2009)

Friday The 13th (Review)
United States/2009
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...has everything you'd expect from an installment in this series."

Six weeks after group of sex-having, weed-loving friends are slaughtered at Camp Crystal Lake by the hockey-masked killer Jason Voorhees (Derek Mears), another group of friends arrive at a cabin in the very same woods...

The first 23 minutes or so of Friday The 13th introduces the classic formula the series is known for: drugs, sex, and slaughter in the woods. This first group of characters are a bit douchey, but ultimately likable. Unfortunately, the second group of character, of which we spend a bulk of the runtime with, are ultra-douchebags and incredibly cliché. On the other hand, we all know their fate, so it kinda cancels out. Essentially, the story has Jason picking each character off one by one with the most brutal methods. The film loses some steam towards the end, and the final act is a bit generic -- the last minute or so is a great throwback, though.

Despite both stories essentially using the same formula, I feel like the story would've been more enjoyable if the characters were switched. Also, there's this entire brother-sister subplot that doesn't make much sense, it hurts the film significantly. Jason Voorhees is large and intimidating in this film, executing his victims with brutal force. The kills are gory, with gallons of blood and a plethora of violence; the first set of kills are memorable, really cringe-worthy and even disturbing. There is some great suspense, and there are a few great chase scenes, as well. Really, Friday The 13th has everything you'd expect from an installment in this series.

The acting is competent enough. I mean, the film really doesn't demand much from its cast, it's more like: can you be a douche? How big are your breast and are you willing to rub them with baby oil? Derek Mears is fantastic as Jason Voorhees thanks to his intimidating size and ominous screen presence. The special effects and makeup are superb, I really enjoyed the gore effects in this film. (as disturbing as that may sound.) The cinematography is great, capturing a dark and eerie mood, much like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003).

Overall, Friday the 13th is a worthy reboot -- in fact, it's better than most of the franchise's later sequels. The introduction is superb, the rest is great, aside from the weak and unnecessary subplot. I recommend this film for gorehounds and fans of the series.

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

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Film Review: Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (2007)

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead (Review)
United States/2007
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"This is a very suspenseful, tense, and atmospheric crime thriller."

Pressed by their financial stress, brothers Andy (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and Hank Hanson (Ethan Hawke) plan on robbing a mom and pop jewelry store, but it all fails apart and causes a chain reaction of violent consequences...

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead has a story you're better off going into only knowing the basic premise. The film is not told in chronological order, rather it jumps from past to present and shows some scenes from the different viewpoints. The story follows Andy and Hank as they plan a robbery -- you quickly find out, it is the robbery of their parents jewelry store. When it falls apart, we see the consequences as they play out for each character. There are quiet a few twists and turns, and it ultimately leads to a devastating conclusion.

Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is well-told, despite the nonlinear storytelling; in fact, the storytelling contributes quite a bit to the film's great immersion. This is a very suspenseful, tense, and atmospheric crime thriller. I was at the edge of my seat for the bulk of the runtime, the rest of the time I was trying to catch my breath. The film follows strong themes of family and consequence -- in fact, the film strongly focuses on the dysfunctional relationships within the family, which makes for some incredibly tense and even emotional encounters.

Philip Seymour Hoffman is hypnotizing with his versatile and genuine performance. Ethan Hawke is equally impressive with his very emotional performance -- he really captures the reluctant, "baby" of the family character well. The soundtrack is perfect for the themes of the film, as well as perfect in building up suspense and emotion. Sydney Lumet's direction is flawless as every scene holds strong significance and holds the audience. Kelly Masterson's writing is also very creative and engaging.

Overall, Before The Devil Knows You're Dead is an incredible crime thriller. It kept me hooked from the sexual introduction to it's jaw-dropping ending. The performances are superb, the score is effective in more ways than one, and the direction is perfect. Don't miss this film.

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

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Film Review: The Exorcist (1973)

The Exorcist (Review)
United States/1973
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...a slow-burn horror film with great suspense and unforgettably creepy visuals and audio."

Actress Chris McNeil (Ellen Burstyn) and her daughter Regan (Linda Blair) live a seemingly normal life. That is until Regan begins to show signs of mental illness and becomes more and more aggressive as time passes...

The Exorcist is a possession horror film. I'd like to note, though, that The Exorcist plays out a bit more like a horror-drama hybrid. The drama and horror, however, compliment each other well, making each element much more effective. The story in The Exorcist is slow-burn as the aggression continues to buildup. The story goes out of its way to explain and explore the potential medical explanations for Regan's actions -- I love this aspect of the film. When all else fails, and Regan's actions become violent for her mother and herself, an exorcism is requested. The finale of the film is unforgettable -- a shocking ending regardless of your beliefs.

The drama and horror are fantastic in The Exorcist. There is great character development, and the relationships are also fleshed out; this makes the relationship between Chris and Regan believable, in turn, making many of the sequences much more effective and horrifying. This isn't a big, flashy jump-scare horror film, it's a slow-burn horror film with great suspense and unforgettably creepy visuals and audio. Regan's transformation is unbelievable -- from an innocent, sweet girl to a vulgar, violent demon -- all in the same body. I'm sure there are some people that will and have automatically dismissed the film because of their conflicting beliefs, but this doesn't bother me -- it's simply fantastic filmmaking.

Ellen Burstyn performance is great, she has the charisma of an actress and the concern of, well, a concerned parent. Linda Blair is perfect, she plays the innocent child so well during the first act, it's almost painful to watch her unbelievable change. The music is perfect, delivering an ominous and creepy soundtrack; the iconic theme is a beautiful track on its own. The cinematography and camerawork is perfect, really setting every shot in the most effective way. The special effects and makeup are superb. William Friedkin's direction is also fantastic, showing great restraint and variety, as well as perfectly pacing the film.

Overall, The Exorcist is a masterpiece of filmmaking. An unforgettable film, and one of the best horror films of all time, particularly due to the fantastic blend of horror and drama. Don't miss out on this film, especially don't miss out because of conflicting beliefs -- this is simply a superb piece of filmmaking that shouldn't be missed.

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

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Film Review: Bangkok Haunted (2001)

Bangkok Haunted (Review)
Thailand/2001
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...has a great story, a good story, and a mediocre story."

Bangkok Haunted is a horror anthology with three stories of love, sex, and mystery told by three young women at a bar.

Bangkok Haunted's first story follows a young woman who finds an antique drum possessed by a dancer's spirit. This story jumps from past to presence and has a strong romance presence. In fact, it works much more as a romance story than it does horror, despite a handful of skin-crawling moments. The second story follows a lonely young woman as she uses an aphrodisiac spray to get the men she wants... with some deadly consequences. Again, it's not very scary and relies mostly on sex. The final story follows a young detective as he investigates a suicide he believes is actually murder. This story blends mystery, horror, and some disturbing visuals to be the most well-rounded. The ending of the film is interesting, but confusing as the frame story doesn't have much story.

The biggest problem for Bangkok Haunted is its often confusing storytelling. The first story works well most of the time, but the jumps from past to presence can be poorly translated. The second story features some elements and characters that aren't explained properly, so it leaves many questionable scenes. Surprisingly, the final story -- the story with the deepest and most blatant mystery elements -- has the smoothest storytelling and the best balance of elements. The first story has a handful of spooky moments as well as some creepy visuals, and the final story has some devastatingly disturbing scenes and an engaging mystery. The second story was a drag and lacked impact.

The acting was great from most of the cast, everyone delivers a more than competent performance. The cinematography is great during the first story, really capturing the beautiful scenery. The music is also good, it can be creepy one moment and electric during another. The direction from Oxide Pang, from the Pang Brothers, and Pisut Praesangeam is solid -- a few tweaks could've made it an easier ride, but it's solid, regardless.

Overall, Bangkok Haunted has a great story, a good story, and a mediocre story. They all share a supernatural theme, but this anthology isn't very scary. If you can stream it, buy or rent it for cheap, you should do that cause it's mostly enjoyable -- much better than the last film from the Pang Brothers I watched, The Child's Eye.

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

Monday, November 11, 2013

Film Review: A Gang Story (2011)

A Gang Story (Review)
France/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...one of the few gangster crime films I can consider a full-fledged action film..."

A retired gangster's peaceful life is disrupted when an old friend emerges with a burden of problems that threaten both of their families well-being...

A Gang Story follows retired gangster Momon (Gérard Lanvin) as he tries to free his childhood friend, Serge (Tchéky Karyo), from prison and the people he has double-crossed. At the same time, we witness Momon's past and how his relationship with Serge came to be. The story jumps from past to present, showcasing the problems they faced and face now -- from bank and armored vehicle heist to gang warfare. This fast-paced gang story ends with a thrilling and unexpected conclusion.

A Gang Story is a basic yet entertaining crime thriller. The storytelling can be confusing at times, mainly due to the constant flashbacks; in fact, there is even more confusion when time changes within the flashback. However, the main plot is easy enough to understand. The action is thrilling with several well-executed heists and blazing shootouts to keep you at the edge if your seat. This is one of the few gangster crime films I can consider a full-fledged action film thanks to the consistent action sequences. The story has been done before, but it still plays out well and has some differentiating factors. (by the way, there is also a dog death in this film, but you don't see or hear the actual killing, it's not graphic and it doesn't look real, at least in my opinion.)

The acting is great from the entire cast. Gérard Lanvin plays an older Momon and takes the most screen time; fortunately, his performance is stern yet emotional and genuine. The soundtrack really stood out to me, it has a Hans Zimmer vibe to it giving the heists and other such scenes an epic feeling. The film is shot beautifully. The editing is often overdone and occasionally inconsistent, but it doesn't severely disrupt the film. The storytelling has a few bumps, but, as I previously stated, you won't most any significant details.

Overall, A Gang Story is an action-packed crime thriller worth experiencing. The production values are stellar, and the story is great for fans of gangster and heist films. It's something that has been done before, though, and there are some editing and storytelling issues.

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

Friday, November 8, 2013

Film Review: Twixt (2012)

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

"...but it was immensely entertaining and very engaging."

Has-been writer Hall Baltimore (Val Kilmer) stops at a small town for a book signing during his book tour. After some convincing from the town sheriff, Hall is drawn toward a murder mystery involving a young girl with a wooden stake through her chest...

Twixt continues with Hall entering dreamlike states to solve the murder mystery. In this dreamlike state, Hall meets a bizarre set of characters including a young girl, V (Elle Fanning), and even Edgar Allan Poe. I like the blend of reality, where Hall interacts with equally bizarre characters, and the surreal, which hypnotizes you with its style and content. The mystery is engaging, although some of it is unnecessarily confusing like the nonspecific timeline. Twixt ends on a somewhat confusing, but bloody note -- I'm talking gallons of blood; and, it's a note you can freely interpret.

As for horror, Twixt has an ominous, almost enchanting gothic tone. This isn't a traditional mainstream horror film -- you won't find torture or jump-scares. Instead, Twixt blends horror themes and an engaging mystery to create the gothic tones and atmosphere of the film. Expect many Edgar Allan Poe references, vampires, satanic cults, and death. The film has some subtle symbolism and I believe much of the film, especially it's ending, is open for interpretation; in my opinion, it can mean one of two things, but im sure you'll find plenty of possibilities. Above all, it's more like a mystery film with excellent horror themes -- definitely something different.

Val Kilmer is great as the lead, he's very versatile and I really enjoyed his impersonations -- definitely an underrated star. Elle Fanning is also good, but she has limited screen time. The rest of the acting is competent enough, definitely enjoyable but not demanding. The art style is fantastic, I love the contrasting colors during the dream sequences. However, some of the special effects and sets feel cheap and out of place. The soundtrack is also enchanting, and adds to the folklore vibe and gothic tones of the film. Francis Ford Coppola has great writing and direction during most of the film, although it could use some tightening.

Overall, I enjoyed Twixt. It has quite a few flaws, but it was immensely entertaining and very engaging. The style may seem to artsy for some, but I felt it added to the film's engagement factor -- it was occasionally hypnotizing. Remember, though, it's a low-budget independent arthouse horror film -- don't expect something like The Conjuring.

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

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Film Review: Unrest (2006)

Unrest (Review)
United States/2006
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...very disappointing film considering the great special effects and musical score."

Medical student Alison Blanchard (Corri English) arrives at a hospital for med school fresh off the waitlist. As they begin to dissect a cadaver for a group project, Alison begins to fear for her safety as an ominous presence is felt and employees start dying.

Unrest continued with Alison telling everyone that will listen that she doesn't believe in spirits but believes she's being targeted by an angry spirit. She has this special power to feel and she's always right when she has this feeling. Meanwhile, some characters conduct some cheesy flirting, quite a few douchebag moments, and some research on the cadaver. So, nothing really happens otherwise, except for a few disappearances and discoveries. There is a severe lack of focus throughout most of the film, you cant tell if its a ghost story or otherwise -- and not because it's a good mystery film. Unrest ends disappointingly -- the ending feels very forced, and even pointless when you think about the logic surrounding their decision.

Unrest has a promising beginning. It starts off slow and creepy, really creating a burning sensation of tension and suspense -- which, unfortunately, doesn't last long. This feeling of dread quickly wears off when we're introduced to the one dimensional students -- one who is a giant d-bag. Afterward, Unrest doesn't really do much with its ideas; and, most of its ideas are there to push a poorly focused story forward. Aside from being filled with plot contrivances, and relying on a character's feeling (most of her dialogue is "I have this feeling she was murdered or committed suicide," as if it has any significance.) the characters are illogical and even annoying. I mean, really, you'll be surprised to find the douchebag character has an even more annoying and douchebaggy fiancé. Like I said, after its chilling introduction, the film runs out of steam and becomes a bore.

Corri English is competent as the lead, but lacks charisma and genuine emotion; she delivers some of her emotional scenes like a robot, you can see a lack of investment in her facial expressions and eyes. Otherwise, the rest of the acting was okay, good enough. The special effects are great on the dead cadavers; the claims of being the first film to use real human bodies aren't confirmed, but they look real enough to send chills down your spine. The music is also a great, redeeming factor for the film. The direction and writing severely lacks focus and terror, it just doesn't have any direction where the film is freely flowing as if it's bring improvised on the spot.

Overall, Unrest has a promising introduction, but quickly loses its momentum and becomes a drag to get through. The lead is a bore, the horror is almost nonexistent, and the story is all over the place -- relying solely on a feeling. Its a very disappointing film considering the great special effects and musical score.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, and nudity. (only the dead bodies appear nude.)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Film Review: Truth or Die (2012)

Truth or Die (Review)
United Kingdom/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"The tension in the atmosphere is dreadful..."

After his younger brother, Felix, is humiliated at a party during a game of truth or dare, Justin (David Oakes) invites the prime suspects to Felix's surprise birthday party. Unfortunately, his younger brother has since committed suicide, and the best way to find out why is through a game of truth or die...

Truth or Die is interesting. It starts off with a cliché party full of costumes, drugs, and sex -- with obligatory dubstep music and mixture of slow/fast editing. Now, the surprise party afterwards is where it gets interesting. Justin is looking to avenge his brother's passing, and he'll do it by torturing the people that tortured Felix. He uses a sadistic version of Truth or Dare to force the hands of the players -- to make them turn against each other. The film moves ferociously through its first and second act, but fumbles during the third. The ending is, unfortunately, farfetched and forced -- it feels like it really wants to shock the audience, but it simply doesn’t work.

Truth or Die works mainly off of its intense encounters -- particularly during the games of Truth or Dare. The tension in the atmosphere is dreadful during the quick, emotional exchanges between characters. The torture isn't graphic, but disturbing, nonetheless. The film works extremely well during these sequences, which take place during the first two acts. The final act of the film, however, stumbles. Now, the inconsistent illogicalities becomes more frequent; there are scenes that make you shake your head because it is legitimately unbelievable, they make you scream at the screen: why would you do that!?! There is a solid twist during the final act, but the twist at the very end is farfetched; it just doesn’t seem plausible, and seems to solely be looking for a shock-factor; I appreciate the attempts, though.

The acting, in general, is great. Again, primarily during the first two acts, the cast excels. David Oakes is great as a psychopath looking for revenge; he's got the charisma of a functioning sociopath. Florence Hall is also great throughout her screen time. Jennie Jacques is great during the first two acts. Unfortunately, Jacques' character, despite how physically attractive she may be, takes on a larger role during the final act, which highlights some bad acting: she overacts most of the finale, and her dialogue and delivery is also occasionally cringe-inducing. I blame the dialogue on the rushed writing, though, since her dialogue consists of over delivered, cheesy one-liners. (which, cause more illogicalities.)

Overall, Truth or Die is a very good revenge thriller. It's genuinely thrilling during the first two acts, I was at the edge of my seat during most of the exchanges. However, the final act is bad; it feels rushed and hollow, the ending is weak and implausible, and Jacques takes a turn for the worst. I recommend renting or streaming for fans of the genre.

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

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Film Review: Pacific Rim (2013)

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

"This is how you make a summer blockbuster..."

In 2013, Earth is under attack from colossal creatures called the Kaijus, who emerge from a portal on the Pacific Ocean floor. So, the world leaders set aside their differences and pool their resources to develop Jaegers, humongous humanoid war machines, to battle the Kaijus.

Pacific Rim continues as the Jaegers program is discontinued due to poor results and as new plans to build a large wall to keep the Kaijus out show more promise. However, Marshall Stacker Pentecost (Idris Elba) keeps the program alive and pulls Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) out of retirement for a new, daring mission. And so, the story continues with some more training, some flirting and bickering, some lighthearted comedy, and a few large scale battles. Pacific Rim ends with a magnificent final sequence, albeit incredibly cliché -- I don't hate happy endings, but this one just feels too forced and generic.

Pacific Rim has a fantastic concept. Huge robots battling gigantic beasts using the Ocean and major cities as their battlegrounds -- what could go wrong? And, really, nothing actually goes wrong with the main premise. The action sequences are superb, delivering heart-pounding thrill after breathtaking thrill with technical perfection. My problem lays with the cliché, generic, and cheesy dialogue and plot points. The dialogue is very B-movie, while lacking the B-movie charm necessary to pull it off. Most of the plot points are predictable, you know how'll start a relationship, who'll die, and who'll sacrifice themselves and so on. Fortunately, the superb action immerses and entertains you enough to make these issues miniscule.

The acting is all-around great. Charlie Hunnam lacked some necessary charisma, but he's good, regardless. Idris Elba, on the other hand, is fantastic with a plethora of charisma and charm. Charlie Day and Ron Perlman are also great, adding a layer of lighthearted comedy thay blends well with the rest of the film. Guillermo del Toro's direction is fantastic, as well. Pacific Rim is a technical masterpiece with its superb special effects, beautiful eye candy cinematography, and thunderous score. The colors are incredibly vivid further bringing you into this world, this is a must watch in high definition.

Overall, Pacific Rim is a fantastic blockbuster. Sure, the story and dialogue lack some much needed originality and could've been less cheesy, but the action and concept are superb. This is how you make a summer blockbuster -- a film that only aims to entertain.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Film Review: The Frozen Ground (2013)

The Frozen Ground (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...an immensely interesting investigation, a suspenseful hunt for justice, and two great leading men."

17-year-old Cindy Paulson (Vanessa Hudgens) manages to escape from a deranged killer only to find her story questioned by the criminal justice system due to her career as a prostitute and the suspect's reputation. The case lands on Sgt. Jack Halcombe's (Nicolas Cage) lap, and he begins his hunt for the suspected serial killer Robert Hansen (John Cusack).

The Frozen Ground is a by-the-books investigative crime drama. We follow Halcombe as he investigates Hansen and attempts to stop is vicious murder spree. Hansen, however, is well respected in his community, and the police have let him off time and time before. With the help of the reluctant and troubled Cindy Paulson, Halcombe just might have a chance. The investigation keeps you hooked, and thr authenticity of the story keeps you interested long after the film ends. On that note, the film's ending comes together very well with a very tense final confrontation.

The Frozen Ground plays it safe, but not to a fault. In fact, playing it safe adds to the authenticity and believability in this case. Fans of crime dramas will have plenty to sink their fans into, and those who love true-to-life serial killer films will enjoy the authentic-vibe; however, The Frozen Ground does tread familiar ground. The investigation is interesting, including the race-against-the-clock search warrants and the dreadfully tense interrogations. There are a few action sequences, but they aren't far reaching; fortunately, they add more suspense to an already suspenseful story. The storytelling has some continuity issues as well as some unnecessarily confusing editing.

I really enjoyed Nicolas Cage's performance, although it is a safe one -- don't expect the eccentric energy he usually has, this is something different, but good. Vanessa Hudgens also delivers a solid performance. Ultimately, John Cusack steals the show with his fantastic performance, really playing his diverse character well; one moment he's the innocent family man, the next he's a vicious serial killer. The soundtrack is somber yet thrilling and suspenseful, a perfect fit for the film's theme. The writing is safe and tries to be as authentic as possible, no superhero cops or Jason Voorhees-like serial killers or so on. Aside from the writing, Scott Walker does well as the director as well.

Overall, The Frozen Ground is a true-to-life serial killer drama with an immensely interesting investigation, a suspenseful hunt for justice, and two great leading men. There are some technical flaws regarding the storytelling, and even a few minor flaws with the actual story, but it's really a great and entertaining experience.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, and nudity. (No, Vanessa Hudgens only dances but not in the nude.)

Friday, November 1, 2013

31 Days of Halloween Review Recap!

Looks like we made it through a fantastic 31 days of horror, posting at least 1 review a day! Although I am a bit worn out, I had a great time watching horror film after horror film -- some classics and some completely new films, some spectacular horror films and some duds. Anyway, I thought I should post a recap of all of the reviews I posted this last month, with a link to their respective review and the score. Thanks for reading, and I hope you stay for more!

10/01 - 23:59 (2011) - 7/10
10/02 - Absence (2013) - 2/10
10/03 - Aftershock (2012) - 5/10
10/04 - American Mary (2012) - 4/10
10/05 - Apollo 18 (2011) - 2/10
10/06 - The Apparition (2012) - 2/10
10/07 - Black Christmas (1974) - 10/10
10/08 - Blood Runs Cold (2011) - 6/10
10/09 - The Cell (2000) - 10/10
10/10 - Dawn of the Dead (1978) - 10/10
10/11 - Death of a Ghost Hunter (2007) - 5/10
10/12 - Eden Lake (2008) - 10/10
10/13 - The Fog (1980) - 9/10
10/14 - Ghost Photos: The Cursed Images (2006) - 5/10
10/15 - The Innkeepers (2011) - 8/10
10/16 - Ju-on: The Grudge (2002) - 8/10
10/17 - Ju-on 2 - 7/10
10/18 - My Bloody Valentine (1981) - 8/10
10/19 - Paranormal Activity 4 [Unrated] (2012) - 3/10
10/20 - The Return of the Living Dead (1985) - 9/10
10/21 - The Rite (2011) - 2/10
10/22 - The Serpent and the Rainbow (1988) - 7/10
10/23 - The Shining (1980) - 10/10
10/24 - The Thing (2011) - 5/10
10/25 - Urban Legend (1998) - 6/10
10/26 - The Conjuring (2013) - 10/10
10/27 - The Curse of Chucky (2013) - 7/10
10/28 - Maniac (2012) - 9/10
10/29 - Poltergeist (1982) - 10/10
10/30 - Shirome (2010) - 6/10
10/31 - Trick R' Treat (2007) - 10/10

Average Score: 212/310 = 6.8/10