Friday, January 31, 2014

The MPAA Bias: The Impossible vs. Tidal Wave, and Margin Call

Have you ever asked yourself: why is this movie Rated PG-13 with so and so, while this movie is Rated R with less of so and so? Of course, you can replace that so and so with violence, sex, drug use, language, and so on. I'm saying, why are some films Rated R for the silliest things like language, while others are often PG-13 for content that pushes the boundaries?

How about we start with two disaster movies with similar premises as examples -- two films that I've seen and reviewed: Tidal Wave and The Impossible. Tidal Wave is Rated R for "some disturbing disaster images and language" while The Impossible squeezes by with a PG-13 rating for "intense realistic disaster sequences, including disturbing injury images and brief nudity." Honestly, which one sounds worse simply by these descriptions? And, I've seen both films, The Impossible is graphically violent compared to the melodramatic sequences, without gore if I may add, in Tidal Wave. It's ridiculous to believe The Impossible is more suitable for a teenage audience than a popcorn disaster film like Tidal Wave.

Why did The Impossible receive a PG-13 rating? Was it because it's based on a real event? Was it because it was destined for the Academy Awards? Does the studio behind The Impossible have some moles planted in the MPAA? Or, is it really suitable for teenagers? But, then, why isn't Tidal Wave suitable for the same audience, especially considering it's less violent and less realistic? It's quite clear there is a strong bias in the MPAA, or a strange inconsistency that should be fixed. I know some people completely ignore the MPAA ratings, but many actually follow these guidelines, and when they're inconsistent, they're dishonest.

Another thing that makes me question the rating system is a film titled Margin Call. Now, Margin Call, for those that don't know, is a film that follows an investment bank during the financial crisis of 2008. Here's the kicker: Margin Call is Rated R for language. That's it -- language. Not necessarily obscene, excessive, or offensive, either. Now, is it Rated R because the MPAA believes the language would be too complicated for teenage audiences, or do they actually believe it is that offensive? More offensive than the graphic violence and nudity in The Impossible? Either they're making one large assumption on the intelligence of the audience, or they have no idea on how much weight they should place on certain elements.

In the end, the MPAA serves a purpose, but when it's as inconsistent as I've shown in this quickly but thoughtfully written editorial, that purpose is almost pointless. If you can't consistently stick by your values, or when your values are so misguided, what's the point of having a rating system. Personally, I don't use a rating system like the MPAA in my Parental Guides (those at the bottom of my reviews). I tell you what to expect in the film, including violence, gore, sex, nudity, language, drug use and so on, but I don't tell you who it's best for -- I don't tell you if it's good for teenagers or if it should be restricted. That should be your responsibility. If people were to judge the content of the film on their own, the MPAA wouldn't be responsible for forced censorship of films or hindering the releases of said films. Anyway, I digress, I seem to be going in another direction now.

What do you think about the MPAA? What do you think about the examples I have set up? Have you noticed any other examples? I'd love to hear your opinion on this, so please leave a comment below. Let's get a discussion rolling.

Oh, and share this post with friends on Google+, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever you use! I greatly appreciate it, thanks!

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Film Review: Lesson of the Evil (2012)

Lesson of the Evil (Review)
Japan/2012 
Format Viewed For Review: Blu-ray (Hong Kong Version) (CN Entertainment Ltd.)
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...works well as an all-out slasher/thriller and as a social commentary..."

Seiji Hasumi (Hideaki Itō) is a well respected, popular, and charismatic English teacher on the surface... with psychopathic tendencies and a lust for blood bottled deep down.

Lesson of the Evil follows Hasumi as his sociopath personality slowly surfaces. For example, Hasumi develops a relationship with a student who has been sexually harassed by another teacher; Hasumi also plants a bug in his classroom to spy on the students and staff; and, well, he kills without sympathy or empathy. As students and staff begin disappearing, some classmates begin to suspect foul play. This bizarre tale leads to an shocking, ultra-violent third act, and a thought-provoking, well-played ending.

First up, Lesson of the Evil is a horror/slasher with possible satirical elements. I emphasize possible because I don't really feel like the satirical elements, and they are there, were fleshed out enough. Sometime I couldn't tell if I should take a scene seriously or if I should laugh. It kind of felt like it was aiming for an American Psycho vibe, but it doesn't quite reach that level of satire and black humor. Regardless, there are a handful of darkly humorous moments -- more than enough for the length of the film, and well-constructed enough to have me laughing.  

Lesson of the Evil works well as an all-out slasher/thriller and as a social commentary -- everything becomes clear during the ending. Overall, I applaud the story for being daring and thought-provoking -- this is a film that most filmmakers would be afraid to make. The final act alone, especially in the U.S., would likely be attacked by mainstream media due to the content. Oh, and there are a couple of storytelling mechanics that don't work well, so you might get lost once or twice. Not detrimental to the experience, but you'll have to work a tiny bit more than an average popcorn flick to keep up.

Hideaki Itō is fantastic as the lead; he's as sinister and maniacal as he is charming and charismatic, much like Christian Bale in American Psycho. The rest of the cast is impressive, especially considering its comprised of mostly teenagers/young adults. Visually, the film is beautiful. The camerawork is engaging, and the cinematography, particularly during the final act, really shines with great sets and use of color. The soundtrack is perfect, it plays right on queue to create some unforgettable moments. The direction of Takashi Miike is fantastic -- it's creative, unique, daring, and stylish. Miike does what most filmmakers won't do with a slick, distinct style, and he does it in great volume. I watched the Hong Kong Blu-ray release, which works on Region A Blu-ray players; the English subtitles are great, there are a few grammatical errors, but they never hurt the film.

Overall, Lesson of the Evil is a fantastic slasher with a shocking third act and superb ending. There is some confusing storytelling and a couple of moments where the satire elements fail to deliver, but those are minuscule issues compared to the rest of the film.

Score: 9/10
Parents Guide: Excessive strong violence and blood, some sexuality and some nudity (usually in the dark and barely visible.)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Film Review: Floating City (2012)

Floating City (Review)
China/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...incredibly captivating and engaging."

The story of Bo Wah Cheun (Aaron Kwok), a mixed race orphan, who hurdles over every obstacle to become one of the country's most successful self-made man in 1940s Hong Kong.

Floating City is told as a reflective memoir of Bo Wah Cheun's life. From the beginning we know he has reached the success he has thrived for, but he finds himself in a moment of introspection, which sparks a barrage of flashbacks. It moves through the biggest moments of his life -- his stormy birth, his relationship with his cousin, his education, his work, and so on -- with brief monologues between periods. Fortunately, the story has little filler. In the end, Floating City delivers a powerful, reassuring ending.

Floating City is an emotional drama. There are moments of sadness, depression, anger, loss... but, there are also moments of inspiration and triumph. Floating City is a story of people, a story of life, a story of discrimination and a story of poverty. The story is powerful and well-written, especially the monologues, and the storytelling is smooth. I'm surprised, in a good way, how much story is in this one hour forty minute feature. Floating City is also incredibly captivating and engaging. In fact, I was surprised to see it end so quickly -- where did the time go?

Aaron Kwok takes the lead with a wonderful performance -- a restraining yet subtly emotional performance with great depth. The supporting cast was mostly great; Annie Liu was a bit out of place, though, I feel her performance would've been smoother and more authentic is she stuck to her native language. The music is wonderful, a beautiful soundtrack -- I wish it were available for purchase in the U.S., that's how good it is. The film is visually enticing -- the cinematography is beautiful, creating breathtaking images around every corner. There are a few scenes with blatant use of special effects and green screen, and I feel like these could've been easily avoided; they don't hurt the film significantly, but they should be noted. Yim Ho's direction is consistent, focused, and balanced; and, along with cinematographer Ardy Tam, Yim Ho constantly creates lush, attractive images throughout.

Overall, Floating City is a beautiful drama, both in narrative and aesthetics. The story is important and effective, the storytelling is engaging, and the themes connect with the audience -- or, at least, I related to them. Aaron Kwok also delivers a wonderful performance as the lead. A few minor gripes hold the film back from perfection, but it shouldn't be missed.

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Film Review: A Hijacking (2012)

A Hijacking (Review)
Denmark/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"I'm impressed at how well it built suspense off of its dialogue and performance alone."

The crew of a hijacked Danish cargo ship is held hostage by Somalian pirates as negotiations, led by CEO Peter C. Ludvigsen (Søren Malling), escalate...

A Hijacking is straight-forward in its story and storytelling. It basically follows Peter as he negotiates with the Somalian pirates, who use Mikkel Hartmann (Johan Philip Asbæk), the crew's cook, as a tool to get what they want. It goes over several months of negotiations, usually skipping weeks at a time, and it gets more tense as the time elapses. Every scene of negotiation had me on the edge. The story doesn't really hold many surprise, not that it has to, and it eventually reaches a dark, tense climax. However, it really wasn't necessary and feels tacked-on for shock value. The actual ending was a bit more open and honest.

A Hijacking is more of a drama-thriller hybrid, despite being advertised as a full thriller. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, though. I feel like well made drama elements really help create a more effective experience in the long run, and these dramatic elements in A Hijacking do that masterfully. The negotiations scenes are tense and powerful. The scenes on the cargo ship range from depressing to hopeful, you occasionally feel a sense of Stockholm syndrome. Despite being a straight-forward film, A Hijacking has plenty of life and feels very authentic.

There are a few things that would've benefited from some expansion, like the interactions with the Somalian pirates. Also, I was disappointed by the lack of an actual raid/boarding scene -- I know it's a lower budget film, but it just feels like there should've been a visual hijacking in a film titled A Hijacking. However, it may have been for the best to keep the authentic feel of the film and to avoid the Blockbuster vibe. There are also also a few -- and I want to emphasize, a few -- moments where the film lost some momentum. Generally, though, it moves at a moderate pace.

Søren Malling is great, he steals the show with his performance -- hr captures the right emotions, not overdone or fabricated. Johan Philip Asbæk also does a great job with a strong supporting role. The setting is captured well with great cinematography and camerawork. Music rarely plays in the film, and, when it does, it plays almost seamlessly. However, I felt like the absence of music didn't hurt the film at all: the dialogue alone masterfully builds up great suspense. Tobias Lindholm writes and directs this film with great focus on authenticity and suspense -- I think his other feature, The Hunt (Review), was a bit more daring and tense, though.

Overall, A Hijacking is a great drama-thriller. I'm impressed at how well it built suspense off of its dialogue and performance alone. And the focus on authenticity is a great addition -- no superheroes or villains in this flick, just real humans.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, including animal violence. (the throat of a goat is cut and briefly shown during one scene.)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Film Review: The Unborn Child (2011)

The Unborn Child (Review)
Thailand/2011
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...there is a disappointing lack of horror..."

Trai (Somchai Kemglad), Phim (Pitchanart Sakakorn), and their daughter, Yaimai, begin to experience a haunting when Yaimai brings a toy home from a temple...

The Unborn Child also follows a young teenage couple who unexpectedly get pregnant and hire an illegal abortionist to help, and a young woman who is pregnant -- this third subplot is very obscure throughout most of the film. So, all three groups begin to experience hauntings seemingly from children ghosts. There really isn't much to discuss on the plot. The final act briefly gets lost in itself with some bizarre, out-of-place scenes. However, the ending does delivers some satisfying, albeit dark, closure.

The Unborn Child is a film with a familiar yet interesting concept, and an unfortunate lack of scares. The predictable plot could've been excusable if it had a bit more content and horror. Instead, the film feels like it's dragging its feet to an inevitably predictable ending. Okay, there are some frights to be had. A couple of loud jump-scares and creepy visuals are spread throughout, like a scene with a bloody, crying ghost, but not enough to justify the already short runtime. There is some suspense, too, but it is very light and underused. I would be lying if I said I wasn't entertained, but I would also be lying if I said I was petrified.

Also, the film makes its intentions clear at the end where it almost turns into a PSA -- well, almost clear. In a sense, this is an anti-abortion film as it clearly states that the film is dedicated to the dead babies and it hopes there won't be anymore. At the same time, it may be an anti-illegal abortion film since it drops statistics about the issue and its relevancy to Thailand. It even states it's part of a campaign to raise awareness. (obviously all of the above is not verbatim, but that's what it's stating.) Regardless, The Unborn Child never really preaches, at least not until the final 2 or so minutes, I just felt I should let you know if you're against this type of stuff in films.

The acting is good, nothing spectacular but far from bad. If it adds any weight, Pitchanart Sakakorn is stupendously gorgeous to look at. The cinematography is good, a couple of scenes feel cluttered, though. The music is great, I really enjoyed the soundtrack. I purchased and viewed the Hong Kong Region A Blu-ray; the picture and audio quality are great, the English subs are more than adequate. Poj Arnon directs The Unborn Child with only competent skills, never really striving to master his direction; he doesn't seem to build suspense well, and there are problems in storytelling and consistency.

Overall, The Unborn Child is a serviceable horror film. It's just barely decent, but entertaining, nonetheless. The story is interesting, despite being generic, there are some good jump-scares and eerie visuals, and Pitchanart Sakakorn... well, she's just beautiful! (the movie's not really getting points for her beauty, though.) However, there is a disappointing lack of horror in this film, and some story and storytelling elements are sloppy.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, including abortions and dead fetuses.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Top 10 Best Foreign Dramas on Netflix

I'm from the United States. I love our domestic dramas, like Take Shelter and Prisoners, but I also love the international releases -- from South Korea to Denmark. These foreign dramas tend to travel into territory Hollywood is afraid to explore. They offer a sense of culture shock, and I love it. So, I've compiled this list of my favorite foreign dramas, and, to narrow the scope and have a common denominator, all of these films can be found on Netflix. Also, some of these films might have elements of other genres (i.e. a drama-thriller hybrid) blended into them, but the core should be as dramatic as it gets. And, finally, I haven't seen every foreign drama on Netflix; if I missed one of your favorites, leave a comment and I'll check it out.

One final note: I tried to skip the films everyone lists as their favorites to give this list some originality and identity. So, some of your popular favorites may be missing from this list.

The Hunt
Watch it on Netflix!
Read The Hunt (Review) Here!
A powerful and difficult drama to watch. The film focuses on a man on the verge of repairing his life only to be brought down by a small lie -- a molestation accusation from a kindergarten student. Prepare yourself for one of the most infuriating, saddening, and gripping experiences ever captured on film.

Pieta
Watch it on Netflix!
Read Pieta (Review) Here!
A dark and moody drama that follows a vicious young man whose life is flipped when a woman shows up claiming to be his mother. This is a multi-layered drama with strong themes and subtle symbolism, and a plot that leads to a devastating climax.

Graceland
Watch it on Netflix!
Read Graceland (Review) Here!
Graceland is a low-budget drama-thriller hybrid that travels to uncharted territory. The film keeps you on edge as it takes you through the criminal underworld of child trafficking, and it keeps you there until it reaches its twisted climax.

Ocean's Heaven
Watch it on Netflix!
Jet Li offers a more sentimental role in this powerful drama about life, death, and family -- it doesn't dwell in complete darkness, as there is some light in this film.

Biutiful
Watch it on Netflix!
Read Biutiful (Review) Here!
In a sense, this is a beautiful film about life, death, and relationships -- it's painful, saddening, depressing, and even haunting, but beautiful. This is especially effective for those that have been affected by terminal illness.

A Hijacking
Watch it on Netflix!
Read A Hijacking (Review) Here!
Moving slightly away from bleak and depressing, A Hijacking is a drama/thriller hybrid. It features a level of realism most films don't reach, and some authentic, gut-wrenching suspense.

Floating City
Watch it on Netflix!
Read Floating City (Review) Here!
Beautiful in both narrative and aesthetics, Floating City is a captivating drama about life, family, sacrifice and discrimination, and it's equally inspirational, triumphant, and reassuring.

Masquerade
Watch it on Netflix!
Read Masquerade (Review) Here!
An immersive and authentic historical piece, Masquerade delivers a powerful, dramatic tale. Masquerade becomes more effective as it masterfully blends drama and comedy, as well as its subtle yet noticeable political undertones.

Aftershock
Watch it on Netflix!
A raw, emotional disaster drama. The disaster is difficult to watch and effective, but Aftershock differentiates itself by focusing on the difficulty of rebuilding one's life after a disaster -- which can be a disaster on its own.

Hara-Kiri (2011)
Watch it on Netflix!
Takashi Miike helms this remake and creates a beautiful but poignant tale; a technical piece of art, and a classic narrative told for modern audiences.

Love foreign films? Love Netflix? Enjoy this list? Have friends? (Of course you do!) Why don't you share this posts on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and anything else you use by using the social media buttons in the gray rectangle below. While you're at it, follow me on Twitter @JonathanCA_KMR for updates! Thanks for reading!

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Film Review: Pulse (2006)

Pulse (Review)
United States/2006
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"I won't lose any sleep at night..."

After her boyfriend abruptly isolates himself and leaves an odd message on her phone, Mattie Webber (Kristen Bell) visits his apartment to find him a mess and disconnected -- he mysteriously commits suicide that same visit. Thereafter, Mattie, and her friends, begin to have odd online encounters -- ghostly figures that begin to invade through technology.

Pulse is a American horror remake of Japan's 2001 Kairo. Pulse follows a very formulaic, by-the-books path. The story mostly follows Mattie as she tries to find out why her boyfriend committed suicide. Her friends are slowly picked off by an unknown entity transmitted through our technology, while Mattie finds a new love interest, Dex. Now, Dex and Mattie team up to find the source of this ghostly virus -- a ghostly virus that leads up to a solid, albeit slightly unfulfilling, ending. I know the concept sounds interesting, but it is executed poorly.

The story fails to buildup its atmosphere and never develops its characters; it's a hollow shell lacking depth, despite its creative concept. The themes and messages feel rushed and distorted; what was once a story of society, loneliness, and unhealthy technology dependence is now a story of... nothing; some of the scenes are offensively overwhelming, lacking necessary subtly, like "look, everyone is using their phones and playing videos games or something... that's what the original film was about, right? Right?"

As far as its horror elements, Pulse uses some suspense and jump-scares to conjure its terror, as well as some disturbing visuals. Due to the lack of atmosphere development, its dark, gritty style is useless and ineffective. The suspense is very light when used properly; usually, it fails to create tense moments. When the suspense does work, it leads up to some solid jump-scares. The jump-scares are occasionally jolting, but usually predictable. The disturbing visuals consist of suicides -- they're not very graphic, but they can be chilling. I won't lose any sleep at night, and I doubt most of you will either.

The acting ranges from mediocre to bad. Kristen Bell is the lead, and she's very bland -- usually underwhelming or overacting, rarely hitting her mark. Along with their incredibly hollow characters, the rest of the cast doesn't have much to work with; their performances are bland and misguided because they have no identity -- you can blame the sloppy writing for this. The special effects are great, they usually blend well with the rest of the film and compliment the gritty style, but, with a severe lack of scares, they tend to be useless. The music usually works with the film, but it is equally ill-fitted. Jim Sonzero directs this film, although there isn't much direction; surprisingly, Wes Craven wrote this film, along with Ray Wright, and it comes off as sloppy and generic.

Overall, Pulse is a bad horror film. The concept is creative and interesting, despite being a remake, but the scares are minimal, the story is cliché, the characters and themes are poorly presented and underdeveloped, and the acting is bad. I'm not someone who hates remakes (I liked The Grudge and The Eye), so this isn't baseless or biased, Pulse is simply a bad film.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Film Review: On The Edge (2006)

On The Edge (Review)
China/2006
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"On The Edge keeps you on the edge throughout..."

After working undercover with Hong Kong's rising triads for eight years, Harry Sin (Nick Cheung) returns to the police force for ordinary cop work. However, Harry's colleagues, like his hard-boiled partner Lung (Anthony Wong), have trouble trusting him...

On The Edge tells the story of the Harry's past and present at the same time. One moment, we'll see Harry discussing his past actions with Lung, then we'll see those actions play out in a seamless flashback. The story finds Harry struggling to gain the trust of his partners, as well as struggling to cut his ties with the criminal underworld. Its main focus is Harry and his character, and the struggle within, which is influenced by those on both sides -- his coworkers and his former friends. This short crime thriller ferociously leads to a thrilling climax and a tense ending.

On The Edge follows a basic yet interesting premise. It is a crime thriller, but it also feels like a character study. It's not very deep, but it does take time to develop Harry and his struggles. As for the thrills, On The Edge keeps you on the edge (<you like that play on words? no? okay...) throughout with its suspenseful encounters and dialogue exchanges, as well as its thrilling action sequences. Considering its short runtime, On The Edge has very little filler, but, at the same time, I wish it delved deeper into Harry's psyche. This is one of the rare occasions I felt a film was too short for the subject. Otherwise, its action, suspense, thrills, and slick style offer more than enough entertainment.

Nick Cheung is great, I enjoyed watching his character evolve, and he delivers great, genuine emotion during the end -- you can really feel the panic and suspense. Anthony Wong is great as well, playing a tough cop with an attitude, and surprisingly playing it very calm yet intimidating. The film is shot nicely, I like the camerawork and cinematography. Also, the music was very unique for the genre, and I loved it. Director Herman Yau delivers a clean cut film with great balance and consistency; I hoped it would focus more on the undercover work and his tailings, but the short runtime hindered those expectations.

Overall, On The Edge is a great crime thriller. It moves at a fast pace, it's stylized well, and it offers plenty of suspense and thrills. It feels a bit light due to the runtime, but it still manages to offers an interesting story.

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

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Film Review: Confessions (2010)

Confessions (Review)
Japan/2010
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...keeping you glued to your seat until its unforgettable finale."

As she announces her resignation, junior high school teacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) begins her revenge on the students who murdered her four year old daughter by feeding two students HIV-contaminated milk...

A vicious psychological revenge thriller, Confessions continues as Yuko's revenge slowly plays out. Although Yuko is no longer their teacher, the revenge continues as Student A and Student B, the culprits of her daughter's murder, suffer from the seed she has planted. I want to avoid spoilers, so I won't go deep into detail, but every scene is intricately planned to lead to Yuko's revenge, even when she's not present. It's a deep, psychological revenge that continues to build up throughout the story. Oh, and it does lead to an unforgettable climax -- a breathtaking ending that may leave you in awe -- or at least a moment of contemplation and reflection.

Confessions is a slow-burn psychological revenge thriller. The story has strong psychological themes, interesting symbolism, and subtly yet powerful social commentary. I believe the story, as well as its themes and commentary, are relevant around the world, and I applaud the filmmakers for being brave and daring enough to make such a film. As for the revenge, it's not a graphic torture film. The psychological approach is much more effective, it stays with you long after the film ends and it's just as brutal and disturbing as the graphic violence you'd find in a film such as I Saw The Devil. (A fantastic film for different reasons, by the way.) A bit of a tangent: if you're reading this review -- not just skipping to the final paragraph -- I'd like to know what you though the symbolism and messages in the film, please leave a comment.

The storytelling may take a moment to get accustomed to, but it is clear. It's not told in chronological order because it focuses on several characters. Fortunately, this focus in beneficial for the character development. And, the great character development creates a much more effective experience. The style of the film is also refreshing. The use of slow-motion and constant but well-fitted cuts works well with the film. It gives it a strong Art House feel, and, in a sense, it really is; however, it can be fully enjoyed as a pure thriller, as well.

Takako Matsu steals the show with a powerful yet subtle performance. Takako dominates the first act, slips away during the second, and delivers a beautiful final blow during the final. The rest of the cast is great, I was genuinely impressed by the child cast in the film. The film is beautifully shot, the artistic choices work well with the film. The music is superb, the soundtrack choices blend well and create a much more impacting experience; the music is important in this film, and it's fortunately well made and selected. Tetsuya Nakashima's direction is refreshing and creative, he really knows how to hone in on certain story elements, as well knowing how the be subtle with others. A very nice balance in storytelling, as well.

Overall, Confessions is a very effective revenge thriller. The story hypnotizes you with slick visuals and shocking plot points, keeping you glued to your seat until its unforgettable finale. The film also features some thought-provoking themes and commentary, creating a work of art worth talking about it. Fans of the genre, and fans of film in general, should not miss this masterpiece.

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

Monday, January 20, 2014

Film Review: Phobia 2 (2009)

Phobia 2 (Review)
Thailand/2009
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...Phobia 2 covers all of the bases of horror."

Phobia 2 (aka 5-way Intersection) is a Thailand horror anthology with five stories: Novice, Ward, Backpackers, Salvage, and In The End.

Novice follows Pey, a young teenager who committed a crime, as he seeks refuge, at the request of his mother, as a Buddhist novice. However, he is reluctant to quit his hard attitude and karma gets back to him. Ward follows Arthit, a biker who fractures both of his legs in an accident, as he spends the night at the hospital. His roommate, who is brain dead, just might have a little life in him yet. Backpackers follows two Japanese backpackers as who hitch a ride and get caught up in a human trafficking scandal that quite literally raises the dead. Salvage follows Nuch, a shady car dealer, who loses her son in her used car dealership -- which has much more than cars waiting for her. In The End takes place on the set of Alone 2, sequel to Thai horror hit Alone, where the dead seem to be walking on set.

Each story in Phobia 2 is unique and creative -- within the film, of course. What I mean is: each story offers something the others don't. Whether it be different settings or concepts, each story is differentiated. I like this because it creates variety. Otherwise, I think this would've gotten bland fast. Fortunately, it doesn’t. Each story offers a nice blend of terror. There are plenty of jump-scares, great suspense, spooky images, gory visuals, and much more; Phobia 2 covers all of the bases of horror. In the case of In The End, there is some refreshing humor in its bizarre concept, and this hilarious humor blends well with its horror elements. Also, I really enjoyed the ending for each film, some are unexpected and even shocking. The stories compliment each other well, and the pace is fluid; everything flows perfectly.

The acting is great. There is a great range of emotion depending on the story, but it usually stays in the good to great acting range. Marsha Wattanapanich plays herself in In The End, and she adds so much life to an already vibrant cast. The special effects are mostly great, some felt out of place, but that was only during close-ups. I did like most of the special effects in Novice, including the large trees. (I won't get into detail to avoid spoilers.) The cinematography is also fantastic, although occasionally the set seemed cluttered during some scenes. The direction and writing is great from across the board. Compressing these stories into these mini-features, without sacrificing quality or horror, is a great accomplishment.

Overall, Phobia 2 is a fantastic horror anthology. Each story is unique and creative, filled with a wide variety of terror for practically every type of horror fan. It is an exciting, refreshing horror film, and one of the best horror anthologies around. I highly recommend this film.

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

Friday, January 17, 2014

Do you deserve to watch a film that doesn't deserve your money?

As I browse the internet, I tend to spend hours watching movie trailers. "This movie doesn't deserve my money, I'll be downloading it" - a comment I see in many film trailers, usually the films that will likely meet poor reception. If a film doesn't deserve your money, do you really deserve to watch it? Simply because it may be a bad film, should you be able to watch it for free?

I think these are thoughts of the entitled population. If it's not a masterpiece, it doesn’t deserve your money. However, some films simply may not be your cup of tea. Because you dislike or you think you will likely dislike it, doesn't mean you should steal it and contribute to the devaluation of the property. Other people may enjoy the film, and enjoy supporting the company that made the film. Companies like The Asylum even has a legitimate audience. Even if some of these films are cheap cash-ins, they often have their legitimate audiences. Some people think this type of "justified" piracy (i.e. illegally watching movies that you have little interest in) does not come at a price -- there is no harm done. But, if you paid for it, you'd be giving the filmmakers funding and ambition for another movie targeted the audience that actually enjoys it; you don't have to watch the second coming, take it as a lesson learned.

Generally, I've never agreed with piracy. In some cases, I've seen people download a movie, and pay for it later -- I suppose I can understand this reasoning. However, you must be willing to pay for the movie, even if it were the worst film ever, in order for this thought process to be legitimate, in my opinion. For example, if you say or think "I'm downloading this film because I don't have money now, but I'd really like to see it and pay them back later," you must honestly intend on paying for it later in order to avoid being malicious. None of this "it ended up sucking, so I'm not paying for it" nonsense. Even then, I wouldn't condone piracy, I'd just understand why. There would still be some harm done, but not nearly as bad as the first example.

I don't really have a purpose for this post. Maybe I'm envious of those that freely download the films I pay for -- why don't I have the guts to do the same? Maybe I honestly believe piracy is harming the film industry -- if people paid for to watch the movies they were interested in, would we lower the amount of senseless cash-ins and unbelievable sequels? Regardless, let me answer the question I presented first: No, a bad film you have little interest in does not warrant your piracy. Oh, and this doesn't include those that watch films not available in their country, out-of-production films, and films that were never released. I still don't know how to feel about that topic.

Also, I'm not trying to be malicious or rude to the pirates out there, but I would like to understand your reasoning. Can't risk the cash on a purchase? Don't want to support crappy films? What entices you to piracy? The world may never know... (*crunch*)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Film Review: Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear (2013)

Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...makes me wish Scott Adkins were the new Batman."

When his pregnant wife is brutally murdered, a distraught Casey Bowman (Scott Adkins) ends up in Thailand to train at Nakabara's dojo. Casey, however, is haunted by his loss and has a savage thirst for justice...

Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear continues as Casey tracks his wife's murderer. Fortunately, Thailand has traces of the suspected murderer -- a vicious drug lord held up deep in the jungle. Basically, the story continues to follow Casey as he investigates the drug lord and his location, usually by beating information out of the locals, and preparing for battle in the jungle. A fight scene here, some investigation there, another fight scene, and so on. The final action sequences are fantastic. The ending has an interesting, albeit completely unnecessary, twist; regardless, it offers an opportunity for more action, so I don't fault it.

Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear is a direct sequel to Ninja. However, you don't really have to watch the first to enjoy the second. It still suffers from some consistency and storytelling issues, but not nearly as much as the first. In fact, this film plays out like a typical revenge film, so it's much more focused. The story is good, and the setting is great. The action sequences, which is what most people will likely watch this for, are great. The fight choreography is great, the fights are smooth yet vicious. From the fistfights to sword-fights, the film's action sequences really hook you. And, there are plenty of action scenes to show off Adkins' incredible skill as a martial artist. I really enjoy the concept of a modern-day ninja, despite only being used during the final act. In fact, it kind of makes me wish Scott Adkins were the new Batman.

Scott Adkins is good as the lead; his character really isn't demanding, but he plays competently and has plenty of charisma. The rest of the cast is also good, nothing really special, though; Vithaya Pansringarm only appears briefly, and he performs well. The fight choreography is great, as I previously stated; the use of slow-motion is well-fitted, and fortunately not overused. The music serves its purpose, but it is forgettable. The film is shot nicely, though, Thailand is a beautiful setting. Isaac Florentine's direction is consistent, much better than the last film in the series.

Overall, Ninja 2: Shadow of a Tear is a great martial arts action film. The story is better than the first film, as is is the storytelling, editing, and action sequences. In fact, it is an overall great improvement over the last. But, it is not without flaws. Those looking for a deep story, great characters, and much more, will like be disappointed. This is an action film at heart, and a successful one.

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Film Review: The Hunt (2012)

The Hunt (Review)
Denmark/2012
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"The gripping and intense atmosphere never lets you go..."

Lucas (Mads Mikkelsen), who works at a kindergarten in a close-knit community, becomes the victim of mass hysteria when he's accused of sexual assaulting a student.

The Hunt becomes more and more difficult to watch as the story unfolds. We witness one small lie take an enormous toll on the life of one innocent man. Lucas tries to continue living normally, but, as the lie snowballs out of control, he realizes he can't -- the people he was so close have become distant and hostile. Lucas' life quite literally crumbles before your eyes -- any hopes he had to repair his life, his family, his career, are gone. The unbelievably tense story leads to an abrupt yet fulfilling and honest ending -- it may frustrate some audiences, but I see it as a clean and appropriate ending that I refuse to spoil.

The Hunt is an incredibly effective and impacting film. The story is as realistic as it is important -- it doesn't pick sides or lay blame. At the same time, the story is infuriating and saddening. Some of the characters, like the head of the school and the parents, react so ignorantly, illogically, and occasionally stupidly, and only fuel the fire... but, can you really blame them? Would you react differently if these disturbing allegations were brought up concerning your child or a relative? Sure, the school teacher shouldn't have played psychologist, and neither should have the parents, but it really isn't out of reach. I'd bet this situation has happened numerous times before, and it's disturbing... but understandable.

Ultimately, The Hunt works very well as a drama. The gripping and intense atmosphere never lets you go -- it keeps you ground, with your shoulders locked up and fists clenched. Every scene is important to the plot -- from the buildup to the ending -- so there is no filler, which is an accomplishment on its own. The pacing is also ferocious, at least for a drama, almost feeling like a purebred thriller. If you're interested in the film, and you let the dark, suspenseful atmosphere immerse you, the film will feel like it's moving on fifth gear. It's themes are disturbing, but they're handled with class and realism -- it steers clear from absurdity.

Mads Mikkelsen easily steals the show with a powerful performance. Mikkelsen delivers superb emotion with realistic subtly -- you can see it all in his eyes alone. The rest of the cast is equally impressive with strong, realistic performances. The film is shit beautifully, despite the disturbing themes. The music in the film is subtle, seamlessly blending with the film -- it works very well with the rest of the film. Director Thomas Vinterberg does an incredible job telling a balanced, consistent story without filler -- the direction is truly focused. Writers Tobias Lindholm and Thomas Vinterberg pen a daring story/screenplay, again, with great consistency and balance.

Overall, The Hunt is a remarkable masterpiece. It is an almost unbearably tense drama captured with amazing subtlety and balance. When I say unbearable, I mean it in a good way, cause this film really is the definition nerve-wracking. It is infuriating and even frustrating, but that only makes it much more effective in the long run. Don't miss this film.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, sexual themes, and brief full male nudity. (these moments consists of a brief skinny dipping scene, and some brief pornographic images during one other scene.)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Film Review: Cloud Atlas (2012)

Cloud Atlas (Review)
Germany/United States/2012
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a very entertaining and meaningful genre-bender."

Cloud Atlas is comprised of six stories -- each with different themes, tones, and settings, and each interlinking to create a ripple effect across the spectrum to deliver one unified, strong message.

It is difficult to further explain Cloud Atlas without prolonging the review; you see, this is a film that spans centuries, with each story being fully and distinctively developed to present a similar ideal. For example, and let me start with the most significant and attractive story in my opinion, Neo Seoul, 2144 follows Sonmi-451, a human clone programmed to serve and comply as a fast food server, as she tells her story to an archivist. Her story is one of emptiness and pain until she is freed by a rebel commander who teacher her new ideals, and shows her the world beyond her bunk -- beyond the figurative chains that enslaved her. Ultimately, she is a person, clone or pureblood, she is a person like everyone else. Every story is distinct, yet they are neatly interwoven to stand together. Cloud Atlas ultimately leads to a final act that closes all lose ends and leaves the audience, or at least left me, in a moment of introspection and thought-provocation.

Right off the bat, Cloud Atlas quickly introduces each story and setting, and each story is told at the same time. What I mean is: the film will show one action in Neo Seoul, 2144, then seamlessly jump into San Francisco, 1973 for a similar, or even related sequence. This type of storytelling requires your full attention, and, fortunately, the stories are interesting enough to keep you seated and captivated. However, Cloud Atlas may be punishing if you don't pay attention, or if you watch it in pieces; I know the long run time may have you thinking "I'll watch half today and the rest some other time," but that would be detrimental to the experience. The film mixes elements of Sci-Fi, Action, Drama, Comedy, Romance, and more into its huge runtime, and the elements blend well to create a truly effective genre-bender. Also, Cloud Atlas is an entertaining as it is meaningful; its message is strong, but not preachy, and thought-provoking.

Most of the cast does a wonderful job playing many, many characters. Tom Hanks stood out with a versatile performance -- from arrogant to introspective, evil to good -- an all around superb performance. Also, Hugo Weaving delivers a phenomenal supporting performance, really fantastic, especially when dressed in drag. Halle Berry was disappointing, though. Don't get me wrong, she's great, but she barely leaves her comfort zone; and when she does, you probably won't notice until the credits. The soundtrack is amazing, one of my favorite film soundtracks to date. The film is shot beautifully, and the special effects are superb, especially during the Neo Seoul sequences. I though the makeup was hit-and-miss -- sometimes it was amazing, but it occasionally felt ill-fitted and distracting. Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer are great as the directors, they really did a great job piecing together this enormous epic.

Overall, Cloud Atlas is a very entertaining and meaningful genre-bender. Be wary, however, it requires your undivided attention to capture the full experience -- to truly understand the film. Cloud Atlas is complicated, and occasionally frustrating, but it is also very rewarding and refreshing. I think it's a film that will grow with its audience on repeat viewings.

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

Monday, January 13, 2014

Film Review: Ghost Train (2006)

Ghost Train (Review)
Japan/2006
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"If you're a fan of Japanese horror, you'll probably be stuck in the middle..."

A young boy, Takeshi, finds a train ticket in a red card holder. Afterward, woman in black tells him he's going to die. The next day, Takeshi goes missing, and Noriko, his classmate, finds the same ticket...

Ghost Train continues with Noriko disappearing slightly afterward, so Nana, Noriko's elder sister, begins to search for her. At the same time, one of Nana's classmates begins to a suffer similar fate -- she's haunted by a woman in black looking for what is hers. The film plays much like a traditional Japanese horror film where a ghost is looking for some closure. It does attempt to differentiate itself; some scenes and themes, like the friendship scenes/conversations, have some real heart.; at the same time, they don't feel like they belong. All you really need to know about the plot is: Nana is trying to save her sister. Ghost Train moves forward to a predictable ending -- it even feels like it drags on a bit.

I like the concept and setting of Ghost Train. Most of the film takes place on either a train, the train station, or the runnel, and they all work very well. The film's attempts at being more are also well appreciated. As far as horror goes, there is some light suspense and a few jump-scares -- neither are very effective, unfortunately. I do, however, like the subtle ghostly images; you know, the creepy visuals of ominous shadow walking in the background, I love it. If you're a fan of Japanese horror, you'll probably be stuck in the middle; I don't want to dislike it, but I know it's just not scary. It moves at a fair pace, but it doesn't have much of a story to tell, so it feels kind of empty and bloated.

The acting is good -- nothing special, but far from terrible, as well. The setting is captured nicely, the film is never too dark or bright; the cinematography is great for such a low budget film. On that note, this film really remind me of the Tales of Terror from Tokyo series in regards of its quality -- not a bad thing at all. The music was also good whenever it played. Takeshi Furusawa's direction is okay, but it never strives for more than good enough -- he shows promise, but no attempts to reach it.

Overall, Ghost Train is a fairly decent J-horror film. Fans of Japanese horror, folklore, and ghost stories in general will find some entertainment. However, the film has a severe lack of horror and originality. Buy it at a low price, rent it, or wait until it's available for streaming.

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

Friday, January 10, 2014

Top 10 South Korean Films You Probably Haven't Seen On Netflix

List: Top 10 South Korean Films You Probably Haven't Seen On Netflix

Let's be honest: in the vast internet sea we call Netflix, there is a plethora of crappy films swimming menacingly... waiting... stalking... hoping to waste your valuable time. Fortunately, there are also hundreds and hundreds of films worth your time, and many come from the fantastic South Korean film industry. But, we've all seen Oldboy, The Man From Nowhere, and The Host, right? So, I've compiled a list of the best South Korean films on Netflix that may have flown under the radar -- we can also call it the top 10 underrated South Korean films on Netflix, or top 10 sleeper hit South Korean films on Netflix. (Based on movies with 100,000 ratings or less/Listed without a specific order)

Also, what better way to shamelessly plug my new website KoreanMovieReviews.com than to post my first list on the same subject! (seriously, though, please visit my new website if you're interested in South Korean films.)

Pieta
Watch it on Netflix!
Read my review: Here!
A dark, disturbing family drama that slowly burns until it explodes in a breathtaking climax. Look for the strong themes and symbolism, as well, which help build its bleak atmosphere.

No Doubt
Watch it on Netflix!
Read my review: Here!
Another dark crime thriller revolving around a child molester accused of killing a young girl in a small village. The film takes the time to show the impact on the father of the deceased child, the child molester and his family, and the outside forces, such as the police and other villagers.

Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox
Watch it on Netflix!
Read my review: Here!
The Japanese aren't the only talented animators, although they truly are spectacular, as Yobi, The Five Tailed Fox brings an eccentric and charming young fox into an enchanting tale of people, and the proper treatment of each other. Like I said back in April, when I first reviewed the film, "souls taking care of souls."

Doomsday Book
Watch it on Netflix!
Read my review: N/A
A fun South Korean anthology with a great blend of horror, SciFi, and comedy. All of its stories are incredibly entertaining to watch.

Hansel and Gretel
Watch it on Netflix!
Read my review: Here!
One of my favorite South Korean films of all time, it really captures the magic and blends some great horror elements into the mix. And, it features a charismatic performance from Shim Eun-kyung.

Welcome to Dongmakgol
Watch it on Netflix!
Read my review: N/A
During the Korean War, three North Korean soldiers, two South Korean soldiers, and an American pilot end up in an isolated village -- and end up in a battle of wits. A beautiful war film with strong elements of humor that focuses less on war and more on people -- people are people, and this isolated village can teach just about anyone the importance of love.

The Executioner
Watch it on Netflix!
Read my review: N/A
The film follows a group of correctional officers who are ordered to execute three prisoners -- the first execution in 12 years. This is an unbiased, balanced, and emotionally-effective drama on a difficult topic.

Over The Border
Watch it on Netflix!
Read my review: Here!
Cha Seung-won delivers a wonderful performance in this powerful film of love and people, and the borders that often keeps us apart.

Meet Mr. Daddy
Watch it on Netflix!
Read my review: N/A
A touching, even thought-provoking, drama with a big heart. With moments of genuine humor and sadness, the film keeps pulling at all of your emotions until the very end.

Silenced
Watch it on Netflix! 
Read my review: N/A
My second favorite South Korean film of all time, behind Memories of Murder. This is a bleak and powerful tale that is true to life. A movie about the abuse of hearing-impaired students by the faculty. It is hard to watch, and you may not want to watch it again, but it is a story that must be heard.

If you like this post, or if you're a fan of South Korean film, or both, please share it without your friends and family through Google+, Twitter, Facebook, or whatever you use. You can use the buttons in the gray rectangle below. Thanks!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Film Review: Prisoners (2013)

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

"...the best film of 2013."

Keller Dover (Hugh Jackman), a hardworking carpenter, and his loving family visit their neighbors, the Birches, for Thanksgiving dinner. As the day continues, the families' young daughters, Anna and Joy, disappear without a trace...

Prisoners continues as Keller contacts the police to report the disappearance and a suspicious RV they had previously played on. Detective Loki (Jake Gyllenhaal) heads the case and tracks the RV, confronting Alex Jones (Paul Dano), the driver, shortly afterward. However, the evidence doesn't connect and Alex Jones can't be held. An infuriated Keller takes the case into his own hands, while Loki continues to search for the girls. As far as story description, this is as far as I'll go to avoid spoilers -- fortunately, the film's trailer does the same. The twists and turns lead to a satisfying, almost open-ended ending.

Prisoners is a devastating drama with strong themes of family and morality. The film keeps you hooked from beginning to end, never losing momentum. This is surprising considering the approximate 2 hour 30 minute runtime. Prisoners has a story to tell, and it'll tell it without filler. Every scene has a purpose, and, by the end, everything connects masterfully. As for drama, with great performances, style, and direction, the film is extremely effective. The intensity is in the air and the atmosphere is dreadful. The suspense is almost unbearable at times. And, some scenes might even bring you to tears, especially if you're a parent. This isn't a feel-good film, instead, it's a dark, powerful, and effective drama -- you may not want to return to this film after one viewing, it's that effective.

Hugh Jackman delivers a powerful and intense performance -- one of his very best. Jackman is one of the pillars for the film as he unleashes every emotion possible in an incredibly touching manner. Jake Gyllenhaal keeps up with an equally impressive performance, a very realistic and believable performance. Paul Dano is awkward and eccentric -- perfect for his role. The rest of the supporting cast are superb and keep up the emption and momentum of the film. The music is dark and ominous, and well-fitted for the film. The cinematography is beautiful, every shot is masterfully composed. Denis Villeneuve's direction is flawless, being very consistent and pulling much from the vast.

Overall, Prisoners is a powerful drama-thriller hybrid with a twisted story. The performances, the style, the music, the cinematography... it all blends perfectly to create an intense, unforgettable atmosphere. I can't praise this film enough. Prisoners is a must watch film, at least once, and the best film of 2013.

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

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Film Review: The Sorcerer and the White Snake (2011)

The Sorcerer and The White Snake (Review)
China/2011
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...much like a live-action anime."

Abbott Fahai (Jet Li) is a monk who hunts demons along with his assistant to keep order. Meanwhile, Xu Xian (Raymond Lam), a herbalist, falls off a hillside and is saved by the White Snake's, who goes by Susu (Huang Shengyi), kiss.

The Sorcerer and The White Snake continues with Xu Xian falling in love with Susu -- unknowing of her demon identity. However, Susu is only searching for true love, she's not evil or malevolent. Abbott Fahai, meanwhile, believes only bad will come from a relationship between demon and human and believes he must uphold a standard of safety and ethics. And so spawns a battle between Abbot and the White Snake -- with Xu Xian caught in the middle. The final act is an epic battle that kept me at the edge thanks to the film's great buildup -- who will win?

The Sorcerer and The White Snake is a fantasy action film, much like a live-action anime. I thoroughly enjoyed the fantasy elements as it made for creative battles -- the action is refreshingly exhilirating. Part of the buildup I enjoyed was the concept of good versus good. You see, both Susu and Abbot have good intentions, which makes the outcome difficult to predict, and it actually makes you want to root for someone; who do you want to see win: the demon searching for love or the man trying to keep the world safe? There's a certain subplot that starts to develop and initially works well as it adds much humor and charm to the story. Unfortunately, this subplot is quickly abandoned and only returns when it's most convenient for the story.

I really enjoyed both Jet Li's and Huang Shengyi's performances, as well as Raymond Lam's. Although not very demanding, the cast work well together and are more than competent. The special effects occasionally feel out of place and cheap -- I didn't watch this in 3D, which is probably part of the reason. However, the cinematography is great, and often compliments the special effects making them more than tolerable. (I didn't expect blockbuster visuals to begin with, so I don't fault it much.) The fight sequences have great choreography and deliver the thrills. Ching Siu-tung's direction is also pleasing and consistent.

Overall, The Sorcerer and the White Snake is an exciting, fun, and entertaining action-fantasy film. Although it feels incomplete, the action and story deliver pure enjoyment and awe. Fans of anime will likely find it most enjoyable.

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

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Film Review: The Stool Pigeon (2010)

The Stool Pigeon (Review)
China/2010
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"Think of it as a fantastic blend of Infernal Affairs, Heat, and The Fast And The Furious (the good ones)."

After his informant's cover is blown during bust, police detective Don Lee (Nick Cheung) struggles with his guilty conscience. A year later, Lee recruits Ghost (Nicholas Tse), who's fresh out of prison and in need of money to save his sister, as a stool pigeon...

The Stool Pigeon continues as Ghost begins to infiltrate the crew of a notorious and elusive robber, Barbarian (Lu Yi), under the instruction of Lee. Ghost becomes the driver for Barbarian's crew, and they begin to plan a high-stakes robbery. The tension rises and Ghost tries to keep his identity as an informant secret, and as Lee attempts to keep Ghost safe. The Stool Pigeon leads to a thrilling third act and a devastating ending -- a daring yet grounded in reality ending that is impressively effective.

The Stool Pigeon is a crime thriller working on many levels. For one, it's incredibly entertaining as it moves at a brisk pace without filler -- all of the content is interesting and relevant. Also, the film delves into themes such morality and honesty with great subtly; the character struggles help build a sense of life on screen. If you're looking for drama, action, or thrills, this film has all of the above. Fans of crime films won't be disappointed, either, as the film has authentic police work; the informant and surveillance scenes are spot on, for example. I was especially impressed in the film's ability to built up great suspense, intensity, and immersion -- from beginning to end, I was hooked.

Nick Cheung and Nicholas Tse are very impressive as the lead roles. Both have great versatility and really shine during the most tense moments. The entire cast match the leads with believable performances, as well. The music is well-fitted for the themes and settings, as well as a great aid in building tension and suspense. The film is shot beautifully with great camerawork and cinematography. Dante Lam's direction is superb, great consistency, immersion, and suspense; he also captures the action sequences with great precision and style.

Overall, The Stool Pigeon is a superbly raw and gritty crime thriller. It's pure entertainment and adrenaline injected straight into your veins. Think of it as a fantastic blend of Infernal Affairs, Heat, and The Fast And The Furious (the good ones). I highly recommend The Stool Pigeon for fans of the genre no, fans of film in general have to watch this masterpiece.

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

Monday, January 6, 2014

Film Review: Ted (2012)

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

"...a great comedy with a wide range of humor..."

As a child, John Bennett (Mark Wahlberg) received a teddy bear for Christmas named "Teddy." That night, upon a falling star, John wished Ted was alive... and it comes true.

Ted continues at present time, 2012 in this case, as John and Ted (Seth MacFarlane) are still best friend and share an apartment with Lori (Mila Kunis), John's girlfriend of four years. Following a typical formula, John must cut his ties with Ted to grow up and further develop his relationship with his girlfriend. So, John and Ted split up, John trying to be an adult and Ted working on the fast track at a convenient store. Of course, the issue persists, and the relationship problems continue to grow. The ending of the film is as clichés as it gets, but that's what it's aiming for, or at least that's how it seems.

Ted is consistently humorous with a great range of comedy. It has some lighthearted and black comedy, some offensive jokes, and plenty of references to the great 80s and pop culture. Ted actually plays out like an 80s comedy, which is why the ending and many other elements feel cliché. This feeling was kind of irritating and inauthentic, though. I laughed throughout the film, however, and enjoyed the old-shool comedy story. There are a couple of jokes that don't really land, but they are outnumbered by the good ones. On that same note, the referential comedy is hit-or-miss depending on how knowledgeable you are on the references. Also, although the film is moderately paced, the runtime feels bloated and the film begins to drag during the final act.

Mark Wahlberg is great as the lead with a very fun and genuine performance. Mila Kunis is also great, despite less screen time. Seth MacFarlane is a great voice actor, his voice sounds like a mixture of his many characters from Family Guy and American Dad, mostly Peter, Quagmire, and Brian, though. The many guest appearances also perform well. The special effects are superb, Ted's design is perfect and his movements are incredibly fluid amd consistent The music is exciting and captures that 80s vibe very well. The film is shot well with great camerawork. Seth MacFarlane's direction and writing are great, showing skill and even greater promise.

Overall, Ted is a great comedy with a wide range of humor -- more than a handful of laugh out loud moments. The creative story also takes you back to the good old days. However, some jokes fail to land, and the referential comedy can split the audience. Also, the runtime is bloated causing some unfortunate exhaustion before its end.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, excessive profanity, nudity and some sexuality.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Film Review: Now You See Me (2013)

Now You See Me (Review)
United States/France/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"A real disappointment..."

Four talented street magicians -- Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Merritt McKinley (Woody Harrelson), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) -- receive mysterious yet recognizable cards calling for their presence. Together they form the super group The Four Douchebags Horsemen...

Now You See Me continues as The Four Horsemen gain popularity a year after forming. During a show, they rob a bank in Paris from Las Vegas as a trick and dump the money on their audience -- but it was much more than a trick as the money is actually missing. Now, they have an FBI agent and his new Interpol partner on their tail. The authorities try to keep up, but the Four Horsemen are always several steps ahead. Anyway, this process continues for the rest of the first and second act: "magically" rob the rich, give to the poor, escape, repeat. The final act attempts to explain everything, but it doesn't really matter -- it's all left to magic.

Now You See Me requires you to suspend belief to truly enjoy the experience. I have no problem doing this (see: White House Down), but it really didn't help this time around. First, the magic is all computerized, from the simplest of tricks to the most complicated. Some authentic magic, or illusion, would of been beneficial. The explanations are absurd and require much more than suspended belief to really take serious. The Four Horsemen are barely developed and have little screen presence. We really only see them during their shows, and although they're somewhat entertaining, the little screen time makes them less effective overall. Some scenes don't really fit, either, like when Jack Wilder suddenly turns into Jack Reacher. Oh, on that point, the FBI, and I'm talking about everyone, are completely useless and incompetent. The film is exhausting due to the repetition, and the runtime is unnecessarily bloated, as well. I like some of the action sequences, and some of the humor was great, so the film does have it's moments; though, not enough to hold the film up.

Jesse Eisenberg is solid as Atlas, I like his interpretation of an arrogant magician; however, it still feels like Eisenberg playing Eisenberg, change the character up a bit for once. Isla Fisher is competent enough, but has very little screen presence and charisma; she ends up being generic and bland through most of her performance. Woody Harrelson and Dave Franco are redeeming for the film; the former being humorous, witty, and charismatic, the latter being charismatic and genuine. Otherwise, the film is procedural for Hollywood. The music is great, the cinematography is great on the eyes, and so on. Some of the editing was too much -- way over-edited -- but only during a few scenes.

Overall, Now You See Me has some solid action scenes and some great humor. But the film fails to capitalize on its biggest attraction: the magic. The magic is boring and inauthentic, the runtime is bloated, some of the acting is barely decent, and the twists and turns aren't as surprising as it wants its audience to believe. A real disappointment considering how highly regarded it was during the summer.

Score: 4/10
Parental Guide: Some violence.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Film Review: Laddaland (2011)

Laddaland (Review)
Thailand/2011
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...enough to scare me quite a bit."

Thee (Saharath Sangkapreecha) moves his wife, daughter, and son to a new house in a gated community called Laddaland. However, Laddaland isn't as joyous as it sounds...

Laddaland continues as a traditional Thailand ghost story, but manages to be a little more. When a neighbor dies, the family begin to see ghosts. Thee won't accept it, his wife is reluctant, their rebellious daughter is frightened to the point of moving, and their son really doesn't mind. But, the hardships of his life begin to take toll, and the ghosts add enough stress to break him and his family. As the community abandon their homes, Thee stands his ground. The final act of the film becomes a bit too hectic and cliché, but the actual ending was unexpected; a unbelievably sad ending that will probably split audience as it just doesn't seem fair -- but that's part of its effectiveness.

First, most of the characters in Laddaland are annoying. Thee is a pushover, but he's tolerable. His wife starts off tolerable, but she's really just an illogical cheater who gets worse as the film progresses. Thee's mother-in-law, who we never see, is annoying and manipulative. Thee's daughter is actually manipulated by her grandmother into hating her father and she's generally irritating. Then, Thee's new neighbor is abusive to his family and disrespectful. Ultimately, I didn't like most of the characters, but I didn't fault the film much because of that; I understand I won't like every character in every film, and, ultimately, it all pieces together well.

Although the story is a bit cliché, Laddaland offers enough unique elements to stand on its own. There are many emotional aspects in the film we really don't see in horror films nowadays. There is also quite a bit of character, no matter how unlikable, in the film, which is surprising. The horror is mostly loud music jump-scares with some suspense and disturbing visuals. Out the dozens of jump-scares, there were quite a few that were really jolting. These jolting jump-scares, along with the suspense and disturbing ghost designs, were enough to scare me quite a bit. The runtime felt a bit bloated, especially towards the end, but it was tolerable. On that point, the daring ending is almost devastating; a fitting ending for a film that plays the polar opposite of a feel-good film.

The entire cast is great in this film. Saharath Sangkapreecha is especially impressive with a strong performance with great emotion. The special effects are great, although it barely relies on them. The cinematography is great, the film is beautifully captured. Sophon Sakdaphisit's direction is great, really crafting a terryfing tale through great consistency, atmosphere, and suspense. The writing is a bit cliché, but it is also occasionally daring and original. The film is technically well made.

Overall, Laddaland is a great Thai horror film with an emotional story, great character, and a gallery of jump-scares. If you're a fan of Asian horror or jump-scares (like those found in Ju-on: The Grudge or Insidious), then this film is definitely for you. Being a hardcore fan of Asian horror, my honest score is a 7/10, my biased score is an 8/10 -- I know it has flaws.

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

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Film Review: Jack The Giant Slayer (2013)

Jack The Giant Slayer (Review)
United States/2013
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

" ...almost every element in this film is underutilized, from its concept to its action."

Jack (Nicholas Hoult) is a young farmhand who is given mysterious beans by an on-the-run monk in exchange for his horse. Later at night during a storm, Isabelle (Eleanor Tomlinson), the princess, arrives at Jack's home seeking shelter... until the princess and his home are forced into the skies by a massive beanstalk.

Jack The Giant Slayer continues as Jack and Elmont (Ewan McGregor), the princess' guardian, as well as many others, travel up the beanstalk to find and return the princess. At the top of the beanstalk is a beautiful land... filled with wandering giants. What should have been a fairly simple mission becomes complicated when the princess' husband-to-be, who also came along, reveals his intentions. And so on and so forth, Jack and Elmont basically work together to save the princess. This predictable story leads to a superb, action-packed finale -- definitely a highlight for the film.

Jack The Giant Slayer really lacks a certain magic. The film is based on a fairly tale, "Jack and the Beanstalk", and it just doesn't really have that vibe. An interesting and creative concept, sure, but it never really uses it effectively. On top of that, the story feels light and uneventful. There is a sense of adventure, but it never reaches awe-inspiring levels, which is disappointing considering the supposed scale of the adventure. The scale is most notable during the epic final act where it finally takes advantage of its giants. The plot is predictable, the characters are cliché, and there are a few plot contrivances -- oddly enough, I kind of expected all of this, so I didn't hate it.

Nicholas Hoult has some charm and charisma with his performance, but not enough to be a leading man -- good but not great. The same goes for Eleanor Tomlinson, who doesn't really get a chance to shine. Ewan McGregor is great, though, with some charm and humor in his performances, as well as some seriousness. The music is fantastic, really exhilarating, despite the film not lacking some. The cinematography is great, a real breathtaking aspect of the film. The special effects are also spectacular. Bryan Singer's direction is great, but he fails to capture the heart and magic needed for a fantasy film like this.

Overall, Jack The Giant Slayer is an entertaining fantasy film. It has some action, some humor, and some fantasy. However, almost every element in this film is underutilized, from its concept to its action. It's technically a spectacular film, but it's only a good film in every other aspect, like story and acting, and those have more weight, in my opinion.

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