Friday, May 30, 2014

Top 5 Best Korean War Movies

List: Top 5 Best Korean War Films
I love war films. The great war films out there tell honest, unbiased stories about particular events – or, more blunt, certain atrocities. However, filmmakers can only tell the same story in film so many times before it becomes cliché or bland. South Korea is a country with a rich cultural history, and a devastating war past. And, war films, particularly the films on this list, tell unique stories about the war and, more importantly, the people that fought them. The following war films are some of the best films in the region, with a unique focus on character and suspenseful, atrociously-elegant war sequences.

5. A Little Pond
A compelling film based on the hardly mentioned U.S. massacre of Korean refugees during the Korean War. The setup is tense and unforgettable, and the climax is brutal and devastating. A Little Pond dares to tell a controversial story – and, I love it, I really love learning about these types of events. It does suffer from its short runtime, though.

4. The Front Line
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
Centered around the 1953 ceasefire, The Front Line follows Kang Eun-pyo, who is sent to investigate the death of a commanding officer by a South Korean bullet and the possibility of a North Korean spy. The Front Line is a meaningful and thought-provoking war film taking the audience through the horrors of war; it's equally exhilarating and suspenseful through its distinct action sequences.

3. My Way
Read My Way (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
The fact-based story of rival sprinters Kim Jun-shik and Tatsuo Hasegawa and their horrendous experience during World War 2. I give major credit to My Way because it introduced me to a story I've never heard – too many war films cover the same material, but My Way covers a more obscure event. The rivalry and the general complicated relationship between Jun-shik and Tatsuo is meticulously crafted, the war sequences are graphically violent and very suspenseful, and the acting is great. This is director Kang Je-gyu's return to film making, and it's very welcomed.

2. Welcome to Dongmakgol
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
Welcome to Dongmakgol follows three North Korean soldiers, two South Korean soldiers, and a U.S. pilot during the Korean War when they find themselves in the isolated village of Dongmakgol – a village where they treat people as people and don't know of war. Welcome to Dongmakgol is the most unconventional war film on this list, but it's also the one of the most powerful and likely the most meaningful of the bunch.

1. Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War
Read Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War (Review) Here!
Taegukgi: The Brotherhood of War is the tale of two brothers who are drafted into the Korean War. The pair experience the atrocities of war, as one would expect, but the human relationship between the pair and the surprising character arcs really differentiate this film from the rest. Top that with superb performances from Jang Dong-gun and Won Bin, as well as the direction from Kang Je-gyu, and you have yourself the best Korean war film.

Thanks for reading! Tweet me your favorite Korean war films, or just your favorite war films period, @JonathanCA_KMR! By the way, I know 71: Into The Fire is acclaimed by many, but I can't get my hands on it... yet.

Want more of my lists?
Top 10 Best Horror Anthologies
Top 10 Best Korean Comedies

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Film Review: Crawlspace (2012)

Crawlspace (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

" a fan movie comprised of their favorite SciFi horror scenes and concepts..."

A group of soldiers are sent into a secret underground government facility after receiving a distress call and losing contact...

Crawlspace is a straightforward SciFi horror film. The story continues to follow this group as they are ordered to kill the escaped prisoners and rescue the surviving workers. The job is complicated when the team leader finds Eve (Amber Clayton), someone who resembles his presumably dead wife. It's further complicated when this group of elite soldiers find themselves facing off against the labs experiments. And, it's even further complicated when they begin to experience hallucinations. A film with a lot of ideas, Crawlspace leads to a decent ending.

Like I said, Crawlspace has a lot of ideas -- some very familiar and some slightly original. It starts off as a traditional "soldiers enter abandoned facility to kill" horror film, à la Resident Evil. Then, it switches to a monster horror film when they run into a biomechanical gorilla. And then, it switches to a hallucination horror film, messing on the idea of psychic soldiers. But, that's it: it a lot of ideas with little development or focus.

When I saw the biomechanical gorilla, I thought I was in for a treat; but, instead, it abandons that idea and opts for a more cliché hallucination plot. The ending also features another switch in focus, but I won't spoil it. This lack of focus makes it feel like a fan movie comprised of their favorite SciFi horror scenes and concepts, but with mediocre execution. Sure, it has some light suspense, it's atmospheric, and it throws a few jump-scares at you, but it never focuses, it's never consistent.

The acting ranges from mediocre to good. Amber Clayton is good, Ditch Davey is decent, and Peta Sergeant is mediocre; Sergeant suffers from some severe overacting. The film is shot decently, sometimes it's too dark. The setting was great, though, I really enjoyed the set design. There are some decent gore effects, too. Justin Dix builds some light suspense and decent atmosphere, but the story and direction are all over the place -- he lacks a consistent, confident, and creative vision.

Overall, Crawlspace had incredible potential. Unfortunately, it dwindles due to the lack of focus and originality. There is some decent suspense, some decent atmosphere, and a few surprisingly good jump-scares, but the meat of the film -- the story -- is severely flawed. I recommend a rental for this movie for fans of the genre, but it's not worth purchasing at full price.

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Film Review: Lost in Thailand (2013)

Lost in Thailand (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

" can count on Baobao..."

Scientist Xu Lang (Xu Zheng), who discovers a valuable solution called Supergas, goes to Thailand to find his boss before his competition Gao Bo (Huang Bo) does...

Lost in Thailand starts off a bit complicated due to the reasoning for going to Thailand and the many characters introduced. Fortunately, it eventually irons out. Anyway, Lang arrives at Thailand and partners up with the bizarre and practically cursed Wang Bao (Wang Baoqiang). Of course, Xu intends on using Bao to beat Gao Bo to their boss' location. Unfortunately for them, the trio get lost and wander from unfortunate event after another; rough massages, spying and hiding, an odd obsession with Bingbing, running from thugs and fighting kickboxers, and so on. It's repetitive and a bit longwinded, but Lost in Thailand eventually reaches a hilarious ending.

Lost in Thailand is a funny but flawed comedy. The film's balanced blend of quirky, lighthearted, slightly raunchy, and slapstick humor is more than enough to conjure consistent laughs. Bao's character alone dominates most of the laughs with his poor timing and plain bad luck -- everytime something looks up for Lang, you can count on Baobao to ruin it. As hilarious as it is, it's also part of the problem. This creates a repetition issue in the film. Here's how most of the goes: Bao messes something up, Lang and Bao fight and breakup their partnership, Lang realized he was harsh and teams up with Bao again, and repeat. And repeat. And... repeat. Furthermore, the characters and most of the plot points are very cliché; you've seen these characters, character arcs, and story before. If you can get past the repetitiveness and the generic characters, Lost In Thailand is a good time.

Xu Zheng and Huang Bo are good. Wang Baoqiang, however, is hilarious; sure, his character is occasionally frustrating, but Baoqiang has the most energy and laughs among any of his cast mates. The scenery is beautiful, the cinematography is great. The music matches the energy of the film. Writer, director, and actor Xu Zheng does very well in delivering the laughs; the film's frame is generic and it is repetitive, not the humor is genuine.

Overall, I liked Lost in Thailand. I laughed plenty of times and had a good time; Wang Baoqiang performance and character is definitely a highlight for the film. However, although many of its laughs are genuine, the frame is generic -- the characters and some of the plot points feel like they've simply been copied from another film and pasted in. Worth a rental or a stream.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, some sexually suggestive themes.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Film Review: Forget Me Not (2009)

Forget Me Not (Review)
United States/2009
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...fortunately, the horror is consistent during the second and third act."

Sandy (Carly Schroeder), her brother Eli (Cody Linley), and their group of friends play a game of ghost tag at a graveyard, where they run into a mysterious girl...

Forget Me Not continues to follow this group of friends as they are unwittingly terrorized by a person of their past. However, as each one gets picked off, they're also erased from the memories of their friends and loved ones. The only person that actually remembers them is Sandy, so the rest of the group continue with their lives completely forgetting about their lost friend. This makes characters like Eli think Sandy is crazy, while becoming vulnerable to the past. A very interesting and surprisingly creative concept. Forget Me Not leads to a decent ending; it's a sinister ending, but it really wasn't all to effective.

The unbelievably generic and stupid characters are the biggest flaw of Forget Me Not. These characters are exactly what you'd expect from a B-movie horror film: the douchebag, party-hard characters that are so edgy and cool. They're not likable, and they're not distinct for the genre. Furthermore, there far from the brightest characters out there. "Oh God, I'm being chased by some monsters, should I run towards my friends who are around the corner or into the woods? I guess I'll go into the woods." Except for the stupidity, their atrocious characteristics are most evident during the introduction. Fortunately, the film doesn't fail in the horror department. There are some great scenes with actual suspense, there are a few effective jump-scares, and I really enjoyed the unique visuals; and, fortunately, the horror is consistent during the second and third act.

Carly Schroeder does well as a partying teenager, but she overacts a bit when the role becomes demanding. Cody Linley had some great energy and charisma, though. The rest of the cast play their roles well, but that's not saying much since the characters aren't demanding. The film is shot competently, nothing bad or exceptional. The music was a little overwhelming for a horror film; it sounded like it wanted to be a rock-and-roll/ominous hybrid score, but it failed -- it never felt eerie or spooky. Writer and director Tyler Oliver has an interesting concept and crafts some scary scenes well, but lacks decent characters and consistency.

Overall, I liked Forget Me Not. It's a decent horror film. I really enjoyed the concept, the horror is there, at least, and the visuals are great. But, the characters are so bland, generic, and irrational, it really hinders what could've been a unique experience.

Score: 5/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood, some sex and sexual reference, and some drug use.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Film Review: Buried Alive

Buried Alive (Review)
United States/2007
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...nothing really happens during most of the film."

Wanting to visit his old family home, Zane (Terence Jay) invites his cousin, Rene (Leah Rachel), and a group of friends to the old, secluded cabin...

Buried Alive is your typical run of the mill slasher. The characters consist of the generic tropes we've come to hate, or occasionally love: douchebag off his meds, douchebag just to be a douchebag, computer geek introvert, and a few loose sorority girls. This cast of characters show up at the cabin's caretaker's trailer, Lester (Tobin Bell) -- creepy old guy -- and he tells them not to do specific things. Fast forward five minutes and they do the same thing they were told not to do. Anyway, there are some interesting aspects of the story, it turns out Zane has a dark family history and he and his friends are being targeted by a malicious, axe-wielding spirit. And, eventually, she kills some people. It ends just as you'd expect -- meh.

Buried Alive is generic. I've got that point across, right? Furthermore, nothing really happens during most of the film. Generic is bad on its own, but it's even worse when nothing happens. A generic slasher can be saved by great suspense, gory visuals, and actual horror. Surprisingly, Buried Alive has very little of each. The suspense and tension is minimal, the gore, albeit good, is limited to two scenes, and there are a few jump-scares spread throughout. The antagonist is underused until the end. And, the ending becomes your typical run-and-hide slasher. There isn't much life in Buried Alive; it kept me interested, but never really hooked me or satisfied my thirst for horror.

The acting is B-movie from most of the cast. Terence Jay plays a very generic character, but he seems miscast -- he feels out of place. Tobin Bell is great, despite his limited screen time, as the creepy and perverted caretaker. Otherwise, the film is simply serviceable; serviceable cinematography, serviceable soundtrack, and so on. The gore effects were very limited and even disappointing; the over-the-top scenes were cool and all, but this is no throwback to the age of practical gore effects. Director Robert Kurtzman disappoints in both direction and special effects; the same man that brought us Wishmaster in all its gory glory brings us a toned down, bland, and uncreative slasher.

Overall, Buried Alive is a bad slasher. The generic story and annoying cliché characters could've been overlooked if everything else was exceptional, but it's not; the horror is very poorly constructed and limited. A few exceptional gore sequences,or more just like two, can't save the film.

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

Top 10 Best Horror Anthologies

List: Top 10 Best Horror Anthology Films
For those of you who don't know, a horror anthology is a collection of stories with a horror theme. Sometimes the stories interlink, sometimes they're completely different. Sometimes the stories are accompanied by a frame story, sometimes they're creatively told as one. Regardless, horror anthologies aim to entertain offering plenty of variety and pure horror bliss. So, here's my list of the best horror anthologies – as usual, you can find many of these on Netflix Instant.

10. Bangkok Haunted
Read Bangkok Haunted (Review) Here!
Three young women at a bar share three stories of love, sex, and mystery. A Thailand horror anthology, Bangkok Haunted is an entertaining supernatural-themed film. Like I said in my review, there is one great story, one good story, and one mediocre story. Not the scariest anthology, but that's why its at tenth on the list.

9. Tales from the Darkside
A housewife prepares to cook a little boy for dinner. To buy some time, the little boy tells her several Tales from the Darkside. The stories include Lot 249, which is about a mummy brought to life for revenge, Cat From Hell, which is a story about a killer cat, and Lover's Vow, which is about a man who has to hold a terrible secret about a demonic creature. The first story isn't scary, but the second and third deliver the scares, entertainment, and originality you crave from a horror anthology.

8. Creepshow
Directed by George A. Romero and written by Stephen King, Creepshow tells five tales of vicious creatures, a plethora of cockroaches, animated corpses and more. Creepshow oozes with diversity and style – it's likely the most recognized anthology on this list thanks to its iconic stories. If the legendary pare aforementioned isn't enough to sway you, then at least watch “They're Creeping Up on You!” and see if it changes your mind...

7. Twilight Zone: The Movie
Twilight Zone: The Movie is often overlooked, but it's one of my favorites. The prologue is a classic on its own; “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” will spook those afraid of flying, bad weather, and creatures; “It's a Good Life” is a surreal and bizarre trip into a young boy's fantasy. The two other stories are also great. All in all, this is a very memorable horror anthology, and a great film for fans of the fantastic and legendary series.

6. V/H/S
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
A refreshing take on both the found-footage and anthology subgenres, V/H/S tells 5 horror stories with unique perspectives. The frame story is spooky, “Amateur Night” is told uniquely through a camera installed in a pair of glasses and features a terrifying story of a succubus, “Second Honeymoon” has Ti West directing his signature slow-burn, throwback style of horror, another story is told through a webcam chat, and the final story is a fun thrill-ride. There is one dud in the bunch, though. Regardless, it's a fantastic film.

5. V/H/S/2
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
V/H/S/2 uses the same formula of the first installment but amplifies the horror and adds a pinch of diversity. This installment features more than a few hauntings, such as zombies, cults, and aliens. I think this installment is better thanks to the variety it adds; it also shortens the runtime of the first film, but adds even more terror, which is great.

4. Three... Extremes
Three... Extremes blends horror from Hong Kong, South Korea, and Japan for an extreme vision of terror. Dumplings is a great standout segment, and an even better standalone film. Director Park Chan-wook delivers a sadistic tale of suspense and torture. And, Takashi Miike crafts a bizarre, unique vision with a shocking ending. If you're a fan of Asian horror and anthologies, you definitely do not want to miss this.

3. Tales From The Hood
Maybe it's the nostalgia, but Tales From The Hood is arguably one of the best horror anthologies of all time – which is why it's at number three. The film's story are told by a creepy funeral director, including stories of rouge, racist cops, a monster in the closet, a racist Southern senator and a few killer dolls, and a vicious gangster put through some terrifying psychological tests. Each story has a pinch of social commentary, but the terror is definitely there.

2. Phobia 2
Read Phobia 2 (Review) Here!
A young teenage criminal seeks refugee as a Buddhist novice, but karma comes back to haunt him. A biker shares a room with a brain dead patient at a hospital, but he may not be as brain dead as initially thought. Japanese backpackers find themselves caught in a human trafficking scandal, where the humans turn into zombies. A car dealer loses her son in a used car dealership, but there are more than cars present. And, finally, a pinch of humor is added with a mock sequel to Alone. Phobia 2 is fun, creative, and exciting – it's a refreshing, versatile experience offering pure terror for fans of every type of horror.

1. Trick R' Treat
Read Trick R' Treat (Review) Here!
The greatest horror anthology of all time. A masterpiece of horror and my personal Halloween tradition. Trick R' Treat tells 4 stories of eccentric town principal, a school bus massacre, a surprise party, and tops of the anthology with Sam – the orange footsie pajama trick-or-treater with a sack over his head – who is present in every story, as well. The most unique aspect of Trick R' Treat is it creative, interlinking storytelling. That, and its fun and horrifying stories make this a favorite.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what your favorite horror anthology movies are by tweeting me @JonathanCA_KMR, or leave a comment below. Please share this list with your friends if you enjoyed it!

Want more of my lists? Check out my last two:
Top 10 Best Korean Comedies
Top 10 Best Found Footage Horror Movies

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Film Review: Narc (2002)

Narc (Review)
United States/2002
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...nerve-shredding and unforgettable..."

Months after an incident causes the death of a drug dealer and a miscarriage of an innocent bystander, undercover officer Nick Tellis (Jason Patric) is reinstated and works with hard-boiled detective Henry Oak (Ray Liotta) to find the killer of another undercover officer...

Narc follows Nick and Henry as they delve deep into the criminal underworld to find a cop killer. With the case running out of fumes and leads running thin, Nick and Henry partake in some unethical methods of extracting information. We also get a glimpse of the affects of this type of work on a family man like Nick, and the demons that haunt him. Meanwhile, Henry shows some shady and brutal characteristics -- as well as the affects of his work on his personal life. Narc moves ferociously to a tense, unforgettable climax -- it's arguable to say it's an open-ended and conversational ending.

Narc is a by-the-books yet very effective crime thriller. The troubled cop meets hard-boiled bad ass is something we've seen before, but it works out very well. The story kept me hook from beginning to end, and delivers a surprising ending; you may expect some aspects of the finale, but I think it'll still manage to deliver some surprises. However, the ending did leave some loose ends; as cliché as it already is, I felt the "nagging wife" subplot for Nick was effective in building character but wasn't fully fleshed out. Regardless, Narc is successful in immersion, in creating suspense, in creating pure tension, and building up to a very satisfying climax.

I like Jason Patric in his role; he really builds his character well with facial expressions and dialogue, really developing a troubled person. Ray Liotta steals the show with a strong yet believable performance; he speaks with great confidence and conviction. The film is technically well made, from the soundtrack to the cinematography. The introduction features a chase scene where I though the camerawork was way over the top, but it is only during the intro. Written and directed by Joe Carnahan, Carnahan delivers a suspenseful and immersive tale that delves deep into the world of undercover police work, and the unethical actions of some officers.

Overall, Narc is a fantastic crime thriller. I was hooked from beginning to end, I didn't check the timer once as I was completely immersed. And, the climax was nerve-shredding and unforgettable, and grounded in reality. A film with very few flaws, Narc comes highly recommended.

Score: 9/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, and some brief nudity.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Film Review: Kalifornia (1993)

Kalifornia (Review)
United States/1993
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...the right blend of horror, psychology, and insight..."

In order to write an honest book about serial killers, Brian Kessler (David Duchovny) and his girlfriend, photographer Carrie (Michelle Forbes), travel across the country visiting infamous murder sites. The pair share the trip with Early (Brad Pitt) and his gal... unknowing of Early's psychotic tendencies...

Kalifornia continues to follow the two couples on their road trip. Carrie doesn't care for their road buddies, but Brian embraces them with open arms. But, as they travel further, they get some insight into their true characters, particularly Early's. Every now and then, Early slips into his serial killer mode and slaughters an unsuspecting victim. But, Kalifornia is not a slasher, the bulk of the film focuses on character, and it's interesting to see the various character arcs. Brian does things, like shooting a gun or drinking excessively, that show honest character development. The final act of the film becomes a little more of a slasher than expected, but it works out well.

Kalifornia is an effective psychological horror film. Now, this isn't a film about hallucinations or delusions -- that's not what I mean by psychological. Instead, this is a film that gets under your skin as it focuses on honest, believable characters. Some may be stereotypes, but there aren't any superheroes or villains. The concept is unique and creative, and well developed, despite some plot contrivances. I honestly thoroughly enjoyed the story. It's the right blend of horror, psychology, and insight; and it all blends to create an engaging and entertaining film overall.

However, there is one significant complaint: Carrie. Carrie is one of the most annoying characters ever captured on film. (maybe an exaggeration, but you get the point.) She's a complete buzz-kill with her annoying, pretentious stuck-up attitude. In fact, I'd say Early is a much more likable person than Carrie despite Early being the real antagonist. I can fully understand annoying characters in film when they serve a purpose. This character does not serve a purpose, but to annoy the audience with her smug facial expressions. Maybe it's to show the difference between Brian and Carrie, which would work, but for what purpose?

Anyway, Brad Pitt is fantastic in this role; he maybe too charismatic for the role, though, I shouldn't like Early more than Carrie. Michelle Forbes plays her character well, I can't fault her for the character she plays. David Duchovny is also great, but he lacks screen presence -- he's easily outshined by Pitt. The score was great. The film was also shot nicely. Dominic Sena's direction is great, delivering a consistent film and pulling great performances from the cast; it does feel like it lacked focus towards the end, but just a tiny bit. Otherwise, the film is technically up to par with most of the best 90s films.

Overall, Kalifornia is an effective serial killer horror film. It's a disturbing look at several characters and their actions, as well as insightful experience; it's not an encyclopedia of information, but you may learn a little something from Kalifornia. The film loses some steam and focus towards the end, and one character spoils the trip for everyone, but the bulk of the film is great.

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

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Film Review: Jacob's Ladder (1990)

Jacob's Ladder (Review)
United States/1990
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...a film that demands a second viewing, and I don't mind giving into those demands."

Jacob Singer (Tim Robbins), a Vietnam War veteran turned postal worker, suffers from bizarre and even dangerous hallucinations induced by his war experiences and the loss of his son prior...

Jacob's Ladder follows Jacob as he tries to connect the pieces. He struggles to remember one seemingly significant night during the Vietnam War -- a night that he dreams of constantly -- and suffers from vivid, nightmarish hallucinations. At the same time, Jacob's life is in constant danger as he is attacked by strangers. The plot thickens when his platoon confess to having similar symptoms. What happened on that night in Vietnam? Is the army responsible? Or have they lost their minds? Jacob's Ladder leads to a haunting yet meaningful ending -- an ending we've seen plenty of times by now, but an ending I'd say is iconic and shocking, especially for those who aren't familiar with the psychological sub-genre of horror films.

Jacob's Ladder is an incredibly engaging, subtly horrifying, and superbly effective mystery film. I was hooked from beginning to end; being someone who's seen hundreds and hundreds of films, I saw the ending coming for quite some time, but I appreciated it, regardless. The film is ambiguous and symbolic -- two attributes that helped further immerse me into Jacob's Ladder. This isn't a traditional horror film -- don't expect gallons of blood or gore, don't expect jump-scares or loud-noises, and so on. Instead, Jacob's Ladder works as a moderately paced slow-burn, really eating at your psyche. It features a well-developed ominous atmosphere, as well. Jacob's Hallucinations are as honest as they can get -- there not overwhelming, but they are realistic, in a sense.

The mystery is engaging. It often jumps from reality to fantasy, from present to past. Some of Jacob's hallucinations and delusions works so well, I felt like I was hallucinating. What I'm saying is: Jacob's Ladder is a film that distorts reality, and with good reason. I know the destination, right, but I don't know how I'm going to get there. There are hints scattered throughout the film, some more blatant than others, and some possible symbolism. Consequently, Jacob's Ladder is a film that demands a second viewing, and I don't mind giving into those demands.

Tim Robbins plays the lead, and he plays the lead well, especially during the most demanding scenes; for some odd reasons, though, I felt like this role would've been better suited for Michael Douglas. (Why?) The film is shot well, including the Vietnam scenes. It's not heavy on special effects, but the makeup is great when it's used. The music is subtle, blending well with the film. Adrian Lyne is fantastic in crafting such an ominous atmosphere and telling such an immersive mystery.

Overall, Jacob's Ladder is a haunting psychological horror film. The horror is subtle, and may not be appreciated by the jump-scare fans (which I'm occasionally a part of), but I found it to be psychologically disturbing. The plot kept me engaged, and often had me questioning my own sanity. (I'm not crazy, trust me.) I loved the story so much, I plan on giving it another go as soon as possible. I strongly recommend this masterpiece for open-minded fans and fans of challenging and ambiguous films.

Score: 10/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, some gore, and nudity. (Jacob's girlfriend is often topless, and a few other topless scenes, as well.)

Monday, May 19, 2014

Film Review: Marathon Man (1976)

Marathon Man (Review)
United States/1976
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...starts off slow and steady, then sprints towards the finish line."

Thomas Levy (Dustin Hoffman), nicknamed Babe, spirals into a conspiracy involving the death of his brother, priceless diamonds, and a Nazi dentist, Christian Szell (Laurence Olivier)...

Marathon Man starts off very slow. The first act of the film builds up the mystery surrounding Babe's brother and his current operation involving Szell and Szell's brother. This buildup drags its feet, explaining every detail, but still purposely omitting some details -- it wouldn't be a mystery if you knew it all. After the first act, the film picks up the pace with an epic game of cat-and-mouse as Babe tries to save himself and find out why his brother was killed. The second half of the film is filled with suspense and great twists and turns. Thrill after thrill, Marathon Man leads to a decent ending; I really enjoyed it for a moment, but then there were some actions that seemed very unlikely.

Like I said, Marathon Man starts of very slow. The first act pays close attention to detail and character, but it really isn't very efficient. The second half of the film is an adrenaline-filled thrill ride. The suspense is authentic, creating some nail-biting moments. The second half of the film is a masterfully crafted thriller. I also really enjoyed how Dr. Szell was portrayed; instead of an over-the-top villain you may expect, Szell comes off with some restraint, and I feel like that makes him much more human, in turn making him much more sinister. Aside from the inconsistent pace and a few issues with the ending, I don't have many problems with the story in Marathon Man.

Dustin Hoffman is great -- sometimes his performance is melodramatic, like when he's shouting, but he's otherwise as authentic as he can get. Laurence Olivier really gives human life to his character -- he avoided becoming a cliché with his controlled and consequently becomes a much more believable threat. The music was fantastic in every regard. The cinematography is also great. Director John Schlesinger could've been a bit more efficient with the first act, but his skill in creating genuine suspense in exemplary.

Overall, Marathon Man is a great thriller, despite some pacing issues and its decent ending. In fact, I'd argue Marathon Man is much like a marathon: it starts off slow and steady, then sprints towards the finish line. I just want to emphasize, though, I give this a very strong 8/10 -- it's not a bad film in any way, but it could've been more efficient.

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

Friday, May 16, 2014

Top 10 Best Korean Comedies

Top 10 Best Korean Comedy Movies 
I'll be honest: I've never been a big fan of comedies. In fact, I've reviewed less than 20 on this site in over a year! However, I recently started watching foreign comedies, particularly Korean comedies. The mixture of cheeky, bizarre, quirky, and often black comedy is exactly type of film. So, here's my list of the best Korean comedies – many of these films are available on Netflix Instant and Amazon Prime, too! 

As usual, if you're a fan of Korean movies, check out I update that site with a new review every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. I have over 60 reviews posted already!

10. Over My Dead Body 
A mixture of comedy and crime film, Over My Dead Body follows a trip of quirky characters as they kidnap the dead body of a wealthy and cold-blooded pharmaceutical head. Neither aspect reaches fully potential, but I laughed plenty of times during the film. Ryoo Seung-bum delivers a show-stealing performance. 

9. The Righteous Thief 
Hong Mu-Hyeok and his family are thieves who steal from the rich and help the poor. Their target, Jeong-Min, is bizarre and quirky, but Mu-hyeok's girlfriend Song Hyeon-Hwa, played by Lee Si-young, steals the show with her hilarity. 

8. Dancing Queen 
Jung-hwa has dreamed of becoming a singer her whole life, but her husband's dreams and strong potential as Mayor may stop her... unless, she disguises herself. Dancing Queen is a by-the-books comedy/drama; however, it's also a very positive and lighthearted comedy with genuine humor.  

7. Baby and Me
Read Baby and Me (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
 Rebellious high school student Han Joon-soo's life is flipped upside down when he's left with a baby and a note claiming he's the father. Baby and Me is a hilarious comedy with genuine, unique humor and some very charismatic characters -- it does lose some humor towards the end, though. (Baby and Me received a slightly lower score than Dancing Queen, but I think Baby and Me is the better comedy, while Dancing Queen is better as a complete package.)

6. Dachimawa Lee 
Super spy Dachimawa Lee is off another secretive assignment that will require his incredible kung-fu skills and an array of gadgets. The slapstick, quirky, and bizarre humor are great, and Ryoo Seung-bum once again steals the show with a hilarious performance. (Again, although I rated Dachimawa Lee lower than Dancing Queen, I do think Dachimawa Lee is a better comedy than Dancing Queen, but Dancing Queen is a more balanced film.) 

5. Penny Pinchers 
Ji-Woong, jobless and carefree, teams up with Hong-Sil, his thrifty neighbor, to make some money. A romantic comedy if I've seen one, with great chemistry and wonderful humor – and this is coming form someone who usually dislikes romantic comedies. 

4. To Catch A Virgin Ghost 
When their diamonds are stolen, Yang-e and his gang track them to a remote village where not everything is what it seems. To Catch A Virgin Ghost is a hilarious genre-bender, solely aiming to entertain through its black and lighthearted humor. 

3. The Quiet Family 
A family moves into a large home, which they convert into a lodge, in the mountains. Business eventually shows up, but their guests end up dying mysterious deaths. The Quiet Family is a brilliantly written black comedy featuring hilarious performances from two big stars – Choi Min-sik and Song Kang-ho. 

2. Chawz 
Read Chawz (Review) Here! 
Officer Sun-kyeong is transferred to a quiet, crime-less village. All is well until a giant man-eating boar shows up to terrorize the village. A fantastic horror-comedy hybrid, Chawz is a bizarre and quirky laugh-out-loud comedy. 

1. See You After School 
Goong-dahl is deemed the unluckiest man alive. He returns to class after some extensive scientific training, but he's still as unlucky as ever. This is the definition of quirky comedy. I laughed from beginning to end – I mean, literal outbursts of laughter. Bong Tae-gyu is hilarious as the lead, capturing a certain quirky charisma.  
Thanks for reading! Let me know your favorite Korean comedies in the comment section below or tweet them to me @JonathanCA_KMR 

Looking for more of my lists? Check out these two: 
Top 5 Best Korean Movie Actors

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Film Review: Here Comes The Devil (2012)

Here Comes The Devil (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...enters some very taboo territory..."

While on a small trip, a married couple lose their children over a hill. They eventually return safely, but everything is not what it seems...

Here Comes The Devil has a rough start. It moves slowly with a gratuitous sex scene after another until the children get lost in a desolate hillside. Eventually, the children return and the parents try to find out what happened to them that night. The children act odd and erratically, and circumstantial evidence leads the parents to believe something horrific may have happened on the hillside, and they begin to track the perpetrator. But, as Sol (Laura Caro), the mother, gets deeper and deeper into the mystery, she begins to believe something much more sinister and paranormal has occurred. The ending leaves a few questions unanswered; it's open to interpretation, which may frustrate some viewers, but I liked it quite a bit.

Here Comes The Devil is a very daring horror film. It feels like a throwback to some classic horror films due to its execution and subject-matter. On that note, the film enters some very taboo territory, so be warned. Anyway, this isn't a traditional possession film as the title may imply. It works on a very psychological level thanks to its focus on character, drama, atmosphere, and suspense. The story really kept me hooked, I really wanted to know where it was headed. On top of all that, the film as a whole, not just the ending, is really open to interpretation. Sure, it may have a definitive meaning, but the subtle and blatant symbolism are definitely worthy of discussion. I was disappointed in the introduction, there were a few pacing issues, and some of the directional choices, like the constant zooming and the flashing montage, weren't my cup of Joe.

The acting was great. Laura Caro is great, a demanding and versatile performance. The child cast was kinda cold and unenergetic, but that's what they were supposed to be I suppose -- they don't really get a chance to shine, either. I liked the cinematography, but I didn't like some of the editing; I'm not a fan of flashing scenes, and this film has a long one -- I feel it's unnecessary and even a health hazard for some viewers. There's one really gory scene that gorehounds will love, definitely a throwback to Italian horror. Writer and director Adrián García Bogliano crafts an ominous and symbolic horror film; it could use some fine-tuning, but it's a very daring and horrifying entry in the horror genre, regardless.

Overall, Here Comes The Devil is a very good horror film. I'm a sucker for atmospheric and suspenseful horror film, and this film delivers. The introduction was mediocre and it occasionally loses momentum, but it's ultimately a memorable flick.

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Film Review: The Objective (2008)

The Objective (Review)
United States/2008
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...can be repetitive, but at least the runtime is short..."

In Afghanistan, CIA Agent Keynes (Jonas Ball) teams up with a Special Forces unit to track an important Afghan cleric by the name of Moban.

The Objective follows this group as they search for Moban. Moban is no longer in his home, and the group find out that he has escaped into the mountains. With a new guide they recruit from Moban's home, they head into these mountains, which are said to be a deadzone. Much of the story really follows a simple formula: the group moves forward, they are either attacked or experience something bizarre, they camp out, and repeat three or four times. The ending of the film felt unsatisfying; the ending, although ominous and eerie, left many unanswered questions.

The Objective is a great concept with decent execution. First and foremost, this isn't a traditional horror film as some would assume. But, it does have some great tension and suspense, as well as a fairly-built ominous atmosphere. There are some great scenes in this film that are drenched in mysticism; the ominous headlights seen from afar, the first attack on the convoy, and so on. The formula can be repetitive, but at least the runtime is short enough to limit the pain. And, aside from the previously mentioned scenes, The Objective can often feel uneventful and bland. One moment it'll be moving at the speed of light, the next it'll be dragging slower than a snail. Disappointingly, the film fumbles for its ending with a very mediocre finale.

The acting is mostly good. Jonas Ball is good for most of his performance. There are a few moments where the acting feels very amateurish, but that's only when the roles become demanding, which isn't often. I like the music, it fit the setting and tone well -- the distortion of some of the sounds really helped create the eerie vibe. Some of the special effects looked clearly out of place, but they are fortunately rarely used. Director Daniel Myrick does well in creating the tension and suspense, as well as establishing the ominous atmosphere; however, Myrick fails in delivering a consistent and balanced film, and the ending was unfulfilling.

Overall, The Objective is a good, ambitious horror/thriller. The horror is far from mainstream, but that makes for a very atmospheric and suspenseful film, which I enjoy. However, The Objective suffers from an inconsistent pace, a lack of balance, and a poor finale. Definitely worth renting or streaming, though.

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

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Film Review: Side Effects (2013)

Side Effects (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...even it's climax feels like a jab from an average kindergarten student."

Shortly after her husband, Martin (Channing Tatum), is released from prison, Emily Taylor (Rooney Mara) drives her car into a concrete wall in an attempt to commit suicide...

Side Effects continues to follow Emily after the accident as she begins to cope with depression through her psychiatrist Jonathan Banks (Jude Law), who prescribes a series of antidepressants with little effect. Eventually, after contacting Emily's previous psychiatrist, Victoria Sebirt (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Jonathan places Emily on a new drug called Ablixa. Unfortunately, the effects of the drug cause Emily to commit murder, and Jonathan's life is flipped upside-down. The first half of the film had promise of being a deep commentary on the use of prescription drugs and their potential side effects -- emphasis on promise and potential. The second half of the film becomes a more straightforward thriller where the less you know becomes more effective. The ending of the film is good, but it lacked impact, like the rest of the film.

Side Effects is a psychological thriller. The less you know, the better. The problem with side effects is that it always comes up shorthanded -- it never really reaches it full potential. The first half of the film has a focus on the prescription and use of drugs, and their respective side effects. The second half of the film becomes a thriller surrounding a certain conspiracy and web of lies. Although both halves are well made, both halves tend to lack effectiveness. The film really doesn't have any punches -- even it's climax feels like a jab from an average kindergarten student. It had me interested, and I wanted to see what direction it was going, but the destination always turned out to be just decent. Don't expect a full look into the world of prescription drugs, and don't expect a fully fledged thriller, either. Also, the first half is good for what it is, but be warned: it moves at a slow pace. The second half is also good and picks up the pace, but... well, you know, everything I said in this paragraph.

Rooney Mara is mediocre. Rooney Mara isn't bad per se, she can read her lines and deliver with some realism, I won't exaggerate and act like she's the worst. But, she has absolutely zero screen presence or charisma -- she just seems boring and bland throughout her entire performance -- and it's just detrimental to the experience. In fact, the entire time she was on screen, I thought: Kate Mara would've been so much better for this role. It says a lot when Channing Tatum delivers a more tolerable and interesting performance considering he's usually better at comic roles. Regardless of Rooney Mara's lead status, Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones really steal the show with fantastic in-character roles. The rest of the technicalities, like the music and such, are really standard -- nothing bad or exemplary. Steven Soderbergh's direction seemed to be lacking this time around; the package is neat and interesting, but the lack of impact is disappointing.

Overall, Side Effects is a good film; it's technically well made, the story had me hooked, there are some great scenes, and Jude Law and Catherine Zeta-Jones are great. It's premise is interesting, but it fails to capitalize on its ideas. Furthermore, there is no shock or "wow" factor, despite how hard it really wants to, and Rooney Mara is a "poisonous fog bank" for the film. (<< you'll get that if you've seen the film.) A mishmash of great and terrible, Side Effects is simply good.

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

Film Review: Merantau (2009)

Merantau (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Streaming
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...the action is spectacular..."

Yuda (Iko Uwais), a master of Silat, leaves his rural home to follow the Merantau tradition and seek life experience and success on his own...

Merantau continues to follow Yuda as he realizes his life alone will be more difficult due to unexpected circumstances. Homeless and alone, Yuda's wallet is stolen by a young beggar boy who leads him on a wild chase to his sister, Astri (Sisca Jessica), who works as a dancer for an abusive pimp. From then on, Yuda finds his purpose in saving Astri and her younger brother. The film leads to a tense and powerful ending -- unexpected, and likely not what most film fans will enjoy, but definitely memorable and strong.

Merantau is an Indonesian action-drama. Those seeking pure action won't find much in the first 30 minutes. Instead, this film's first act focuses much more on Yuda's character and the concept of Merantau. I thought it worked very well as buildup for the ferocious second and third acts of the film. The action choreography is smooth and consistent, there are a few scenes that didn't feel right, though. Otherwise, the rest of the film, after the first 30 minutes, is filled chase, cat-and-mouse, and fight sequences. Much of the film reminded me of Tony Jaa's Ong Back, which is a good thing.

My biggest gripe with the film is the villains -- and, yes, they're treated as villains you'd see in a superhero film. The stereotypical, ultra-cliché English guys in a foreign country is so bland and boring, and even unrealistic. Especially towards the end when these guys are like "We know martial arts, too!", and even during scenes where they speak to each other or others about nonsense. I mean, I'm not saying these type of guys can't be antagonist, but the way they're presented in Merantau takes away a lot from the authenticity of the film.

Iko Uwais delivers a dramatic, believable performance, and he also delivers the action. Sisca Jessica also does well as a supporting actress, but doesn't have much screen time to shine. The action choreography is fantastic during most of the fights. The film is also shot beautifully, I like the engaging camerawork. The music was good for the setting, but not very memorable. Gareth Evans writes and directs, and, aside from the antagonists, he does exemplary work.

Overall, Merantau is a great action film. The antagonists made the film feel very cheesy, which caused contradicting vibes during the film, but the action is spectacular and the story, especially the concept of Merantau, is very interesting and engaging.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood. It's your basic martial arts action film, there's maybe only one or two bloody scenes.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Top 10 Best Found Footage Horror Movies

List: Top 10 Best Found Footage Horror Movies
I'm not the biggest fan of found footage horror films. It started off as a fresh, creepy concept back when Paranormal Activity revitalized the style, but it has become tired and unoriginal since then. I've reviewed recent found footage horror films like Hollow, The Devil's Pass, and A Night In The Woods, and I can't say I'm impressed. But, there are some gems hidden among the heaps of trash – and fortunately for you, I'm willing to dig through the dumpsters. Here's my list of the best found footage horror movies – some of these are even available on Amazon Prime and Netflix Instant Streaming!

10. The Frankenstein Theory
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
A documentary teams enters the Arctic Circle to prove the Frankenstein novel is a work of nonfiction. This is one of those horror films where the story holds up the film instead of the scares. There are some great scenes, a few ominous frights, but it's nothing we haven't seen before. But, I do love the originality of the plot.

9. The Blair Witch Project
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
A group of young filmmakers enter the woods to document the legendary haunting of the Blair Witch. Arguably the original found-footage horror film, The Blair Witch Project is a film that plays on the less you see, the more frightening it is... or should be. I don't find it particularly frightening, but I definitely find it entertaining.

8. Apartment 143
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
A team of parapsychologist visit a widower and his family who seem to be haunted by a malicious entity. Apartment 143 skips the introduction filler and jumps right in – no cliché character development, no small-time door closing and pots falling – it takes you right into the haunting, and I really like that. It's not completely original, but I really enjoy how fast it moves and how it removed most filler...

7. Grave Encounters
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
Grave Encounters the crew of a paranormal reality show as they lock themselves in a supposedly haunted psychiatric hospital. I love the honest parody of the many ghost hunter shows on TV, it has more than a handful of genuine shockers, and the setting is fantastic.

6. The Bay
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
A documentary-style found-footage horror film following a reporter who was at the scene of an epidemic in the Chesapeake Bay. This is a bit more of an original take on found-footage, offering both great jump-scares and some vicious gore. It's very well-paced and a great change of scenery for the genre.

5. Frankenstein's Army
Read Frankenstein's Army (Review) Here!
Watch it on Netflix Instant
Frankenstein's Army follows a group of Russian soldiers as they stumble upon a village that harbors a secret lab. In this secret lab, the group find terrifying creatures build from the parts of fallen soldiers and metal. Far from your traditional found-footage horror movie, Frankenstein's Army is a creative and visually impressive horror film; the creatures, especially the makeup and costume, are the highlight for this unique entry in the sub-genre.

4. Paranormal Activity
The original Paranormal Activity is my favorite installment of the series. It brought the audience into a home that reflected theirs, and it focuses on a “realistic” haunting. It proved you didn't have to believe in ghosts to be afraid of your own home. Although not without flaws, Paranormal Activity is rightfully an iconic horror film, and the poster child for the found-footage sub-genre.

3. [Rec] 2
A direct sequel to the original classic, [Rec] 2 continues to follow the terrifying crisis within a quarantined apartment building. [Rec] 2 is widely considered as the “Aliens” of the franchise. It keeps many of the horror aspects of the original, but also increases the scale of the film. [Rec] 2 is still very frightening, but focuses more on the thrills and adrenaline-rush than its predecessor.

2. V/H/S/2
Watch it on Netflix Instant!
I loved the original V/H/S, but this sequel definitely outdoes it. It's bigger, badder, and more versatile than the first film, featuring a blend of everything scary – jump-scares, spooky visuals, ominous cults, and aliens. The segment Safe Haven is worth the price of admission alone! Considering we received so many mindless horror sequels, I wouldn't mind a yearly installment of V/H/S thanks to the variety it brings to the table. (By the way, considering I already have a pair of sequels taking up this list, I decided not to include the original V/H/S. It's a great film, though.)

1. [Rec]
A young reporter and her cameraman are shooting a documentary/report on firemen. While shooting, they end up at an apartment complex on a call, and that apartment is quickly quarantined, locking with a deadly, contagious virus... [Rec] is not only one of my favorite found-footage horror movies, but I also think it's one of the greatest horror films of all time. It builds up an ominous atmosphere, and delivers chilling moment after chilling moment. It's the perfect blend of pure-breed horror and adrenaline.

Thanks for reading! What are your favorite found footage horror movies? If it missed the list, let me know and I'll check it out. (I know, I know, but I haven't seen Noroi yet. I'm still trying to get my hands on a legitimate version.) And, please share this post with your friends on your favorite social media sites, like Facebook, Twitter, and all that other good stuff. (You can use the icons in the gray rectangle below)
Looking for more great lists? Check out my previous two:
Top 5 Best Korean Movie Actors
Top 10 Best Japanese Movies on Netflix Instant