Sunday, August 31, 2014

Film Review: Oldboy (2013)

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

"'s not a bad film because it's a remake, it's simply a bad film."

In 1993, advertising executive Joe Doucett (Josh Brolin) is mysteriously kidnapped and imprisoned in a hotel-like room. After 20 years, he's released and forced to find out why and who abducted him.

Oldboy follows Joe. He doesn't do much in the hotel-like room, but witness world events from his television. Eventually, he starts to train for his "redemption." And so, he's released, and he goes on his mission for vengeance. He's aided by a nurse named Marie (Elizabeth Olsen), and soon afterward meets The Stranger (Sharlto Copley), who's responsible for Joe's kidnapping. At this point, Joe tries to find out the aforementioned why and who. Not much mystery, though, thanks to the handy iPhone. He beats and kills some people, then meets up with The Stranger for the climax. The idea behind the climax packs a punch, but the execution is flawed; it has no burn, it happens in a snap without any buildup whatsoever. The ending was also weak.

Oldboy is a disappointing revenge thriller. A remake of Park Chan-wook's Oldboy, this film tries to differentiate itself, but always comes off as half-baked -- it always ends up in the same place as the original. The film ends up suffering from these slight changes because it makes the story feel extremely contrived; it also cuts the natural flow and consistency in the story, so the scenes feel disconnected. Unfortunately, there isn't much mystery here, either. The power of the internet and iPhone basically hands everything to Joe -- there is no investigation, and it makes it feel too simple. The film overall lacks the subtly in character and story, as well; it's in your face and shoved down your throat, without any character depth or proper story development.

As I stated previously, there is a severe lack of suspense and tension. This makes the daring climax feel forgettable, and it causes the rest of the film to drag. You'll often ask yourself: "Was that important? Was that the climax?" However, there are some exciting and bloody action scenes. Joe comes out of his prison as the Hulk, he can use his fierce punches and kicks to launch his opponents and snap necks. Okay, it's not very realistic, I know, but it's at least decent. It also, ironically, gives the film some life -- it helps you wake up. The violence is hindered by the obvious computer effects, though; why use the obvious computer blood?

The acting was mediocre. Josh Brolin is decent, but when the role becomes demanding, he just can't hit the high notes. Sharlto Copley was surprisingly bad -- I'm not sure what he was aiming for, but he was laughable. Elizabeth Olsen is a saving grace, despite her limited screen time. The film is shot nicely; I thought the cinematography was good. The music was mediocre, though; it's a very standard and generic soundtrack, especially compared to the original. Director Spike Lee lacks a confident and distinct vision. I get the feeling he didn't want to make this film. I think the studio and producers wanted this film to be made as soon as possible and picked a random director out of a hat, and Spike Lee was the unlucky one. It's just a too generic, too soulless film to be a Spike Lee film.

Overall, Oldboy is a bad film. And it's not a bad film because it's a remake, it's simply a bad film. The story is contrived, bland and disconnected; the climax is poorly setup and rushed; the acting is bad, as is the music. As a standalone film, it's bad; as a remake, it's half-assed and uninspired. If you absolutely hate subtitles and dubs (i dislike the latter myself), you might find some enjoyment from this film. Otherwise, stick to the far superior original.

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Film Review: Wreckage (2010)

Wreckage (Review)
United States/2010
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"Aaron Paul and Scoot McNairy can't save this film."

After their car breaks down during a race, a group of friends seek aid in a nearby junk-yard only to find themselves a target to a mysterious killer...

Wreckage begins with a laughable attempt at family drama. Then, it skips 15 years into the present for an almost decent serial killer intro. Finally, you reach what felt like never-ending credits. If you don't like this introduction, stop the movie, and try watching something else -- it doesn't get better. The rest of the plot basically follows Jared (Mike Erwin), who runs off for help early in the film, as he plays superhero to save his friends from an unknown assailant. It's boring and bland, and it leads to a predictable ending.

First and foremost, most of Wreckage is unintentionally hilarious. It's not bad enough for the story to be cliché-riddled, it's also filled with laugh-out-loud dialogue, stupid characters, and laughable acting; blend them all together and you have an unintentionally hilarious horror film that's funnier than most comedies nowadays. For example, Jared's dialogue is unintentionally hilarious because of how it's written and performed; his character is made out to be some super soldier military vet, but he looks and sounds more like he played too much Call of Duty. Even worse, the film doesn't have a shred of horror. There is no suspense or tension, and its jump-scares have no jump. Thrills? None of that, either.

Okay, aside from the unintentional humor, there was some genuinely funny comic relief. It's not a lot, but it was enough to conjure at least a handful of laughs. This comes in the form of the humorous nephew of the junk-yard owner, played by Scoot McNairy, who offers a quirky and funny character. Of course, this isn't a comedy, so it doesn't help much. It's not so funny, it's scary -- it's more like so bad, it's funny.

The acting is mostly bad from the cast. Mike Erwin lacks the charisma and delivery for a leading man. The cast during the family drama segment I mentioned are the worst offenders, though. Aaron Paul is decent, but his character is generic and his dialogue is bad. Scoot McNairy is a beacon of light, a saving grace for this film -- okay, maybe not a saving grace, but he definitely helped me get through the film! The music is bad. The cinematography is mediocre. The special effects are low-budget computer graphics -- nothing special or terrible. Director John Asher doesn't do much directing -- I mean, the dialogue and performances are so bad, and the film has no horror.

Overall, Wreckage is a bad film. It's not scary or thrilling, and it has more unintentional humor than intentional. The acting is mostly bad, and the cast get little help from director John Asher. Aaron Paul and Scoot McNairy can't save this film.

Score: 2/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Film Review: Thinner (1996)

Thinner (Review)
United States/1996
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...holds up as fun and creative after all of those years..."

After obese lawyer Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) negligently kills an elderly gypsy woman, Billy finds himself cursed to lose 40 pounds a week...

Thinner is a simple yet entertaining story. The story continues to follow Billy after he kills the elderly woman and escapes any criminal charges. He's cursed by the gypsy's father and begins to lose weight -- too much weight. Anyway, he finally becomes convinced about the curse and hunts down the man that placed it on him. It feels a little rushed and abrupt during the final act, but I thought the ending was great.

Thinner is a body horror film. I didn't find any of it horrifying or even gross, but it was pretty damn cool. The concept was really interesting, and the execution makes for a very entertaining ride. It was a fantastic transformation to watch. There's also some cheeky humor blended into the film, which helps create variety and a handful of chuckle-worthy moments. There are some scenes that don't have much logic, though. In fact, the entire concept doesn't seem very rational; I mean, not to absolve Billy of his responsibility or anything, obviously he's guilty, but this old gypsy guy kills several people because his daughter wandered into the streets without looking both ways? I mean, you have gypsy powers, maybe you could just torture him with nightmarish visuals of guilt until he confesses?

The acting was good from most of the cast. I think Robert John Burke did very well as the lead. Kari Wührer was bad, though; her dialogue, her shouting... it was all bad. Otherwise, the film is a standard horror film. The cinematography holds up, and the music is good. The special effects and makeup are great, although it does occasionally look like the fat suit might fall apart at the seams. The high definition version available on Netflix Instant is great, too. (it expired, oops!) Director Tom Holland does well in executing the creative theme; I especially enjoyed the fast and consistent pacing, and great balance of body horror and humor; the film does lose momentum and focus towards the end, though.

Overall, Stephen King's Thinner is a very good film. It's a very fun and entertaining horror film. The story holds up as fun and creative after all of those years, the direction is great, and its all-around well-made. The story runs out of steam towards the end and there's a lack of rationale, but it's definitely worth watching.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Some strong violence and blood, some very brief nudity and sexuality.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Film Review: Re-cycle (2006)

Re-cycle (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime Instant Video
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...a great horror-adventure hybrid."

Bestselling romance novelist Ting-yin (Angelica Lee) struggles to write her new book about the supernatural. As she gains traction, her book comes to life...

Re-cycle follow Ting-yin as the discarded content of her book comes to life. At first, she begins to witness odd occurrences in her home -- she sees shadow figures and finds hairs that don't belong to her. Eventually, she stumbles upon a world of abandoned ideas and people. In order to get out of this bizarre world, Ting-yin must reach the Transit, and to do so she receives help from a young companion. The ending was great; it is ambigious, so I'd say it's open to interpretation, and what from what I interpret, it's great.

Re-cycle starts off as a traditional horror film, and a very good one at that. It's loaded with great suspense, effective jump-scares, and spooky visuals. About 40 minutes in, Re-cycle becomes more of an adventure film with horror elements. It's not necessarily bad because the world we're introduced to is both refreshing and creepy -- it kind of reminded me of Silent Hill. It does mean that the film becomes less scary as the film progresses, though, and that is somewhat disappointing considering how frightening the first act is. If you're as open-minded as I am, you'll likely love the world the film builds, despite the horror imbalance.

The film's themes of abandonment were also very interesting and even some what thought-provoking. This theme blends in well with the story, it's not something that was simply tossed into the mix. It does have a few plot points regarding abortion and abandonment, but it doesn't preach. It's simply a plot point, not necessarily a commentary. If you want something that preaches, check out The Unborn Child. (that film literally ends with a PSA.)

The acting was great. Angelica Lee is a great leading lady, very charismatic and genuine. There is one scene where the acting was mediocre, though. The film looks amazing. I loved the set design for the different worlds the film goes through. The music does well blending with the film; that is, the film sounds like a horror film during the first thirty minutes and like an adventure film during the latter half. The visual effects are also great, especially for a horror film. The English subtitles for the Amazon Prime Instant Video stream are very good -- very few noticeable flaws. The Pang Brothers show great direction; the horror is very effective during the first half, the adventure is very exciting during the second half, and the film is all-around refreshing and entertaining -- what else can you ask for from a director?

Overall, Re-cycle is a great horror-adventure hybrid. The film is scary and exciting, the story is great and original, and the world is immersive. It is unfortunate that Re-cycle isn't a pure-breed horror film, though, especially considering the terrifying first act. It's an overlooked film worth watching, don't skip it.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Some disturbing visuals.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Film Review: Below (2002)

Below (Review)
United States/2002
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a great job in building an eerie and ominous atmosphere..."

During World War II, the USS Tiger Shark rescues the survivors of a British hospital ship. Later, the crew face a German ship, as well as their own sanity.

Below mainly follows Lieutenant Brice (Bruce Greenwood) and Ensign Odell (Matthew Davis), as well as Paige (Olivia Williams), of the British ship. They face a German ship on their tail, as well as their own psyche. Is the submarine haunted or is the crew hallucinating from a lack of oxygen? They do, in fact, hallucinate and hear voices, and they also bicker and fight amongst each other. The story leads to a great resolution; the ending has some corny dialogue, though.

Below does a great job in building a sense of paranoia. You can have an idea, but you really don't know if it's sabotage or supernatural. Below also does a great job in building an eerie and ominous atmosphere; this, in turn, amplifies the suspense and tension aboard the USS Tiger Shark. On that point, the setting is immersive and... well, cool. Submarines are awesome, to be blunt. There are some creepy visuals and some jolting jump-scares, as well.

One of the issues I had was with Paige's character. This character is conniving, demanding and disrespectful. The other characters aren't exactly drenched in charisma, but at least give me a reason to tolerate Paige's self-righteous and arrogant behavior. (that reason never comes by the way.) Otherwise, the rest of the film has room for improvement, but there aren't many glaring and staggering flaws to be found; I guess you can say the room for improvement is small but notable.

The acting is all-around good. Bruce Greenwood and Matthew Davis are good. Despite having issues with her character, Olivia Williams did well, too. The film looks great; like I said, I loved the setting, and the great cinematography helps it shine. The music is standard horror/thriller music; works for the genre, but nothing distinct. Director David Twohy does a great job in crafting the atmosphere and developing genuine suspense; the story has some flaws, and it occasionally loses momentum, but it is a spooky and effective film thanks to Twohy's direction.

Overall, Below is a very good horror-thriller. It's a slow-burn film with a great suspense and and a spooky atmosphere. There's room for improvement and one character is a rotten apple for the film, but it works out to deliver an entertaining and even frightening film. Don't overlook Below.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Film Review: The Legend of Hell House (1973)

The Legend of Hell House (Review)
United Kingdom/1973
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...more of a goosebumps-inducer than a jumper"

Physicist Lionel Barrett, his wife, and two mediums are paid to investigate the Belasco House, also known as Hell House due to its infamous past...

The Legend of Hell House is fairly straightforward. The film starts off quickly as the group are hired and sent to the haunted house. They have a week to investigate and report their findings regarding survival after death. The group have conflicting beliefs regarding what is causing the anomalies, so they occasionally bicker as well. I thought the story, as simple as it may seem, was insightful and even spooky. I especially enjoyed the details about the house's history. The ending offers an interesting take on the haunting -- it's a bit of an open ending where you don't definitively know what's going to happen, but it was interesting, nonetheless.

The Legend of Hell House moves through the days rather quickly, but I'd say it's a bit more of a slow-burner than a fast-paced jump-scare gallery. In fact, The Legend of Hell House is more of a atmospheric, suspenseful horror film. Obviously considering its age, it's definitely old-school in its approach. If you're looking for jump-scares, this doesn't really have many. It focuses a bit more on visual scares and developing its ominous atmosphere -- more of a goosebumps-inducer than a jumper. Some of the characters are not really likable, though, and some of the dialogue was mediocre. And, although I enjoyed the ending, I thought the final act was longwinded.
The acting was good, nothing special or terrible; it's on the melodramatic side, but as were many 70s films. I really liked the cinematography -- I thought the film was beautifully shot. Some of the camerawork and angles were a bit odd, but it was also very distinct in its style. The set design was elegant. The music was helpful in creating the great atmosphere. John Hough's direction is good; like I said, some of the stylistic choices were odd, but at the very least, he builds up great suspense and atmosphere, which is the main purpose of a horror film.

Overall, The Legend of Hell House is a very good horror film. I'm a big fan of atmospheric and slow-burn horror films, and Hell House delivers on both. It has some pacing and story issues, but it's still worth watching.

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

Monday, August 25, 2014

Film Review: Devils on the Doorstep (2000)

Devils on the Doorstep (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...brilliant blend of black humor and war drama..."

During the final years of the Second Sino-Japanese War, Chinese peasant Ma Dasan (Jiang Wen) is forced by a mysterious man -- at gunpoint -- to take custody of and interrogate two Japanese prisoners.

Devils on the Doorstep follows Ma Dasan and the other villagers as they deal with the two prisoners, who are from the Japanese army. One is a self-preserving translator and the other is an arrogant and vicious soldier. Dasan and the villagers basically interrogate and hide the prisoners from the occupying Japanese army, and each set of characters face their own conflicts and arcs. This brilliant blend of black humor and war drama leads to a mesmerizing climax and awe-inspiring ending.

The story may seem simple, but it's actually really deep. The characters are complex and interesting, and there is plenty of story to fill the two hour fifteen minute runtime. It's a spectacular balance of black humor and drama. The humor is black, but not irreverent or offensive; I laughed out loud more than a few times. The drama is emotionally powerful -- the type of drama that conjures that lump in your throat, the one that's hard to swallow. It balances both elements well to deliver a moderately paced and and, well, balanced film.

Fans of historical films will like this one the most. I thought it was very insightful and interesting. It's even more surprising knowing the film was produced in China. This isn't a film that outright demonizes the Japanese, like many other Chinese war films have in the past. Instead, this film focuses on telling an entertaining and effective story, and subtly delivers its social commentary -- a commentary about people and the society at the time. Definitely a film to make you think, and maybe even make you study up on the subject.

The acting is all-around superb. Jiang Wen, who also directs, delivers a standout performance; a strong pillar for a powerful film. The rest of the acting is also impressive, especially considering there aren't many big names attached -- I think it made the film feel more raw and realistic. The soundtrack is superb, I loved the traditional music, and I also loved the music during the credits. The film looks beautiful; the black-and-white helps the film stand the test of time, and it helps give the film a distinct style. Director Jiang Wen masterfully crafts a vivid portrait of people during war time; his direction is magnificent.

Overall, Devils on the Doorstep is a masterpiece. It's an immensely entertaining film thanks to its black humor, and it's emotionally-powerful thanks to its meticulously crafted drama and story. The film is also a technical marvel featuring magnificent direction and acting from Jiang Wen, elegant cinematography, and lovely music. It's a must-watch film.

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

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Film Review: Rites of Spring (2011)

Rites of Spring (Review)
United States/2011
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...partly spoiled by bad acting."

Two young women are abducted after a night at the bar, while a group of criminals execute their own unrelated kidnapping...

Rites of Spring starts by following these two young woman, particularly Rachel (Anessa Ramsey), who are abducted for a ritual -- a ritual meant to satisfy a strange, locked away creature. Meanwhile, a group of criminals, particularly Ben (A. J. Bowen), kidnap the daughter of a rich businessman. Eventually, the two unrelated kidnappings interlink -- in more ways than one -- and the creature is unleashed. The film leads to a mediocre ending, at the very least -- it's abrupt and leaves some unanswered questions, but it doesn't really have any where else to go, so I don't know how harshly to fault it.

Rites of Spring is a unique spin on the traditional crime/kidnapping film, obviously as it blends creature-feature horror elements into the formula. And I liked it. It's a simple yet creative story. The crime elements offer some tension and twists, and the horror offers some moderate suspense and gore. It doesn't reach nail-biting levels, but it's pretty damn satisfying. There are some dull moments, but the short runtime is forgiving. The creature isn't fully-explained or all-that fleshed out, and it could've used more back-story, but at least it looked decent and ominous.

The acting is the deepest pitfall for the film, though. A. J. Bowen is okay, but he definitely underperforms. Anessa Ramsey, on the other hand, ridiculously overacts. Her shouting, screaming, and grunting was more humorous than believable -- and that all she does after the first 5 minutes. Ramsey was terrible. (Should've tried for Sara Paxton -- they look similar and Paxton can act much better.) The film is shot well, though. I liked the camerawork, too. The music was great, really blended well with the film. The special effects and makeup were decent; there is some blatant use of computer blood, though, which looks bad. Writer and director Padraig Reynolds delivers a creative story with some decent suspense and thrills; however, there is some inconsistent pacing and he failed at controlling Anessa Ramsey's overacting.

Overall, Rites of Spring is a simple and decent film. It's story is easy to jump into and it's entertaining, and there is some solid suspense and tension. The short runtime makes this a solid time-killer, too. There are a few moments where the film loses momentum, though, and the film is partly spoiled by bad acting.

Score: 6/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and gore, and a 5-10 second shot of full nudity.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Film Review: Piranha (1978)

Piranha (Review)
United States/1978
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...just enough b-movie cheese, mild suspense, and practical effects to be moderately entertaining."

While searching for a pair of missing teens, insurance investigator Maggie (Heather Menzies) and local alcoholic Paul (Bradford Dillman) unwittingly unleash a vicious group of genetically-modified piranha.

Piranha continues to follow Maggie and Paul after accidentally releasing this set of piranhas. Basically, they find out more about the piranhas, then try to stop them from hitting two groups: a summer camp full of children and a resort on opening day. The buildup to the climax is slow and mildly effective, and the climax is surprising and well executed -- I often forget how old-school films had more freedom and were more daring -- anyone could be a target, no need to be politically or socially correct. The ending was good, too, but it ends with a cheesy line.

I suppose it should, though, considering Piranha is a b-movie at heart. And, as a horror b-movie, it's filled with bad dialogue, intentional and unintentional humor, and some decent and outdated special effects. Sure, it's somewhat ineffective and uneventful during its first hour, but it has some much appreciated charm. In fact, it has enough charm and wit, as well as good enough direction, to be an enjoyed as more than just another b-movie. I'll tell you this: it's not as "b-movie" as The Incredible Melting Man, that's for sure.

The acting is on par with most 70s horror and b-movies. In other words, it's occasionally decent but mostly bad. Our two leads, Heather Menzies and Bradford Dillman, are decent. The rest sound like robots -- I mean, there is no fluidity in their spoken word. The film looks and sounds decent, though. The special effects and makeup are decent -- I like watching these old-school films for the special effects, so I'm slightly biased. They look out of place at times, but they're interesting, to say the least. Director Joe Dante is good; the film shares many similarities to Jaws, but has a distinct charm and wit thanks to Joe Dante.

Overall, Piranha is a good film. It's a little slow and uneventful at times, and it undoubtedly treads familiar territory, but it offers just enough b-movie cheese, mild suspense, and practical effects to be moderately entertaining. If you're a fan of these types of films, Piranha is satisfactory.

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

Friday, August 22, 2014

Film Review: McCanick (2013)

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

"I liked the story, especially the climax, but it takes too many shortcuts."

When Simon Weeks (Cory Monteith), a young man with a lot of secrets, is released from prison, Eugene McCanick (David Morse) goes down an obsessive path to track him down.

McCanick is a crime-mystery film that follows McCanick as he tracks Simon, the young man McCanick put behind bars for murder. The story also follows McCanick during the past, as it slowly unveils what happened between McCanick and Simon. There's a little bit of unnecessary chitchat blended in, but the story mostly gets to the point. The climax was interesting and well-executed. I liked bits and pieces of the ending, too, but it felt illogical and abrupt for the most part.

McCanick's main issue is its cliché, contrived, and all-too-familiar plot. The story is simple enough to jump straight into and the mystery is also engaging, but it's held back by the aforementioned issues. There are scenes that you have to question because they're either illogical or contrived. "Why did that happen? " or "What kind of reasoning is that?" are questions you'll likely be asking. I liked the story, especially the climax, but it takes too many shortcuts.

David Morse is hit-or-miss with his performance; he's perfectly competent until the role becomes too emotionally demanding, then it becomes unnatural. Cory Monteith was good, though. In fact, the supporting cast was all-around great. The film's cinematography was okay, and the music was great. Josh C. Waller's direction is good, too. The writing from Daniel Noah feels half-baked, though -- there's a great story in there, but it's held back by plot contrivances and clichés.

Overall, McCanick is a good crime film. It has an interesting mystery, some tense and suspenseful scenes, and a surprising climax. But, the story treads very familiar territory, it's contrived and cliché, and the actual ending is disappointing. It's a good time killer, though, and not nearly as bad as some other viewers claim -- definitely worth viewing if you have a Netflix subscription and if you're a fan of the genre.

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

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Film Review: Mad Max (1979)

Mad Max (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"The action sequences are top-notch..."

In the outback of Australia during a dystopian future, lawlessness reigns supreme as biker gangs terrorize communities and the last of the police force, known as the Main Force Patrol, hunt them down.

Mad Max follow the Main Force Patrol, particularly expert driver Max (Mel Gibson), as they, well, police the outback. It's a fairly simple and barebones story, but with a great concept and immersive world. Anyway, after chasing a member to his death, Max is interwined in a conflict with a vicious motorcycle gang. A battle that hurts a fellow police and causes him to consider quitting the force. A battle that takes a much larger toll on Max as the story progresses. It leads to a great climax and great ending.

Like I said, Mad Max has a barebones story. In fact, it feels compressed and cut because it glides through some major moments. It feels like it skips or rushes through some critical scenes in the plot. One huge event happens, like a death or character conflict, then it quickly edits through to the next. It keeps filler to the minimal, but also leaves little to no opportunity for proper buildup or character.

Fortunately, the world it builds is great. I liked the dystopian future it develops -- it's not a post-apocalyptic world, but it works in creating a genuine feeling of lawlessness. I also liked the story, despite it being very simple. The action sequences are top-notch, too, especially if you like real stunt work instead of computer effects. Fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat chases, some shootings, and a few trembling explosion. What it doesn't have in story, it almost makes up for in action.

The acting is generally good. I liked Mel Gibson as the lead, he's very charismatic. Some of the supporting cast is great, while some are corny. The film looks great, and I really enjoyed the camerawork. The film stands the test of time in high definition. Some of the music is decent, but a lot of it is overwhelmingly melodramatic and corny; the music makes this film feel more like a b-movie than it really is. Director and co-writer George Miller does well in crafting the film's great action set pieces, but lacks a fluid and consistent flow; it's fast-paced one moment, then loses steam, then picks up again; the story also feels very barebones.

Overall, Mad Max is a very good film. The concept is intriguing and the world is immersive, the action is fantastic, and Mel Gibson is great as the lead. However, the story does suffer from being too minimalistic and choppy pace. The soundtrack doesn't fare much better, either. Worth watching for actions fans and fans of old-school b-movies.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood, some very brief sex and nudity.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Film Review: The Fog (2005)

The Fog (Review)
United States/2005
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...suffers from a severe lack of horror."

The small town residents of Antonio Island face a supernatural fog that harbors secrets of their past...

The Fog mainly follows Nick (Tom Welling) and his girlfriend, Elizabeth (Maggie Grace), as the town is hit by odd occurrences induced by a thick bank of fog. Nick aids Elizabeth in... finding out why the fog is coming? The story also follows local radio host Stevie (Selma Blair), who, uhh... sees the fog coming? As you can see, there isn't much certainty in the story because it really doesn't have much of a story to tell. Plenty of characters, but not much happens throughout most of its runtime. The characters just wander around talking about fog and dreams, but the story never comes full circle and it never focuses. To be blunt, I thought the ending was stupid, as well.

Unfortunately, The Fog also suffers from a severe lack of horror. The film is heavily reliant on loud-noise jump scares, but has a severe lack of suspense. And, without suspense, the jump scares becomes ineffective. Also, because the story is so weak, you likely won't be immersed into the film, which makes the jump-scare even more ineffective; it'll probably get your attention, but it most likely will not scare. There was one jump scare I liked, which involved a sink and some solid special effects, but that's only one scare in a film that drags for over an hour and a half.

The acting is also bad. Tom Welling and Maggie Grace can occasionally hit mediocre, but they come off as boring most of the time. Selma Blair is the worst offender with her bland and uncharismatic performance; this is even worse considering she plays a DJ, which should have charisma and a soothing voice -- again, she has neither. The music is the most disappointing aspect of the film. I haven't even mentioned this is a remake so far in this review, but I feel like I have to now. The music in the original is classic stuff, this is generic. I did like the camerawork, the lighting, and some of the special effects, though. Director Rupert Wainwright lacks consistency and vision; this film is poorly balanced, lacks distinction, and especially lacks any form of horror.

Overall, The Fog is a bad horror film. I have seen and reviewed the original, but went into this with an open-mind, as I do every film. Even then, it's a bad film. It has little story, the characters and the cast are bad, and, worst of all, it's not scary. It's a great film to look at, but visuals can't save it.

Score: 2/10
Parental Guide: Some violence and blood.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Film Review: The Fairy Tale Killer (2012)

The Fairy Tale Killer (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

" won't lose any sleep if you skip it."

Jun (Wang Baoqiang) stumbles into police custody and confesses to murders that he has not committed... yet.

The Fairy Tale Killer follows police detective Han (Sean Lau) and his crew after Jun is released from custody and warned about falsifying a police report. Soon after his release, Jun's confessed murders begin to occur, all sharing a common fairy tale theme. In the meantime, the story tries to blend family drama with Han, his loving wife, and their autistic son -- it doesn't work. It reaches a decent climax, but the ending is unsatisfactory. The film makes it seem like something big and jaw-dropping is occurring, but it's really bland and even somewhat incoherent.

Fairy Tale Killer is a thriller-mystery film, with some horror and drama. There are some decent thrills spread throughout the film, and the mystery is at least somewhat interesting and engaging. The horror, however, is ineffective; it's a handful of mediocre jump-scares and some bloody visuals. Even more disappointing is the pointless and ineffective drama. It's melodramatic and boring, and it adds nothing to the film's story; it's occasionally used to push the story forward (i.e. a plot contrivance), but it offers nothing else.

The acting ranges from bad to decent. Sean Lau is good, although the performance isn't very demanding. Wang Baoqiang, who is funny in Lost In Thailand, is disappointing; it looks like they were aiming for a Joker-style character, but Baoqiang delivers a one-note performance that grew old fast. Some of the supporting cast were also bland, and there was also quite a bit of overacting from some of the cast. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream are also mediocre -- the translation is riddled with bad grammar and spelling errors.

The film's music is bad and good; it often sounds out of place, but it'll sound good on its own. The film also looks decent -- some of the photography is too dark and muddy, but it's also distinct and even stylish, much like The Detective. Director Danny Pang, of the Pang Brothers, has a decent concept and interesting story, but flawed execution; the direction seems unsure and unfocused, trying to blend different genres that can't seem to compliment each other.

Overall, The Fairy Tale Killer offers a few thrills, some suspense, and an interesting mystery. Unfortunately, the story is a mess, especially the ineffective and unnecessary drama elements, and the ending is underwhelming. The acting and direction are also hit-and-miss. If you're looking for something to kill and hour and a half, and if you're a fan of Sean Lau or the creative concept, this might be somewhat enjoyable. Otherwise, you won't lose any sleep if you skip it.

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

Film Review: The Believer (2001)

The Believer (Review)
United States/2001
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...very contemplative and interesting..."

The story of Danny Balint (Ryan Gosling), a radical Neo-Nazi who is a Jew himself.

The Believer is a drama following Danny as he delves deeper into his self-hatred and joins a radical fascist group. Danny has buried his Jewish roots and has developed a deep hatred for the Jewish people, as well as anyone below him in the racial "hierarchy." This group hones his charisma and uses his skillful speaking in attempt to break their beliefs into the mainstream. Meanwhile, Danny fights himself while plotting a vicious crime. The ending is great -- a very contemplative and interesting ending.

I think The Believer is a great film. I liked the story. I liked the focus on character. I liked the internal conflict and the character arc. For those of you interested in culture, like I am, this film also gives an insightful view of the religion. I wished there was a bit more background information, though, instead of the same old recurring flashback; the film just drops you into the plot without much buildup or background. Also, there are a couple of scenes where Danny fantasizes -- they're choppy and don't add much to the film -- fortunately they're far and few between.

Ryan Gosling is fantastic as the lead. His charisma really works in creating this troubled, confused, and complex character. The rest of the acting is also good -- not on par with Gosling's performance, but good. The film's cinematography was also good, as was the music. Some of the music sounded out of place, though. Aside from a few scenes, like the flashbacks and fantasies, Henry Bean's direction is great in pulling great performances, developing an interesting conflict, and creating some surprising tension.

Overall, The Believer is a great film. The story presents and develops an interesting and complex character, and leads to a great ending. The charismatic performance from Ryan Gosling is also top-notch. It's not on par with American History X, but it's a great complimentary film if you're looking for films with similar themes.

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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Film Review: Asylum (1972)

Asylum (aka House of Crazies) (Review)
United Kingdom/1972
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime Instant Video
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"I wasn't particularly scared by any of the stories, but I was definitely entertained."

Dr. Martin (Robert Powell) arrives at an asylum for the incurably insane for a job interview. Martin can have the job if he can identify Dr. Starr, the former head of the asylum, who is now a patient...

Asylum is a horror anthology. Each story is told to Dr. Martin from a patient who may or may not be Dr. Starr. The first story, titled "Frozen Fear," is about the husband who conspires with his mistress to kill his rich wife. The second story, "The Weird Tailor," follows an old tailor on the verge of being kicked out into streets due to financial issues; he's given the opportunity to make money when an eerie man gives him the job of crafting a suit out of unknown materials. The third story "Lucy Comes To Stay," follows a young woman who is recently released from an asylum, and placed under the watchful eye of her brother and nurse; things go astray when her friend, Lucy, arrives. The final story, "Mannikins of Horror," blends into the frame story to tell of a doctor who creates small mannequins he plans on bringing to life. The ending of the story was surprising -- some may see it coming, but it's great, regardless.

I liked this horror anthology. Each story works on a slow-burn, with some light suspense and jump-scares. They build up ominous atmospheres and tell interesting and engaging stories. I wasn't particularly scared by any of the stories, but I was definitely entertained. My favorite story is Frozen Fear, followed by Lucy Comes To Stay. The Weird Tailor tells an interesting story, but it lacked the horror -- its just didn't have the suspense to be scary. The frame story was great, though. I especially liked how the last story sort of blends into the frame story.

The acting was all-around good. Although limited to the frame story, Robert Powell was really good. If anyone stands out, though, it would be Barbara Parkins -- she delivers a great performance. Otherwise, the film is technically well made. The only thing I didn't like about the shooting was in The Weird Tailor; the material used in the suit was too vivid, it distracted my eyes. The music was fantastic, I really liked the introduction and credit pieces; the rest of the soundtrack is ominous and eerie, which help build the atmosphere. Director Roy Ward Baker did well in creating atmosphere and light suspense.

Overall, Asylum is a good horror anthology. I didn't find any of it petrifying, but it was all-around entertaining. As a fan of horror anthologies, I found this to be very good compared to many of the anthologies I've seen. If you're looking for something atmospheric and short to kill a night, spend a night in this asylum.

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Film Review: Arbitrage (2012)

Arbitrage (Review)
United States/2012
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...a film you really have to stick with to reap the reward..."

On the verge of a huge merger, billionaire Robert Miller (Richard Gere) finds himself trying to avoid more than fraud charges...

Life is hard for billionaire Robert Miller. He's in the midst of selling a hedge fund for huge profits, but must deal with an audit and a weary buyer. He accidentally kills his mistress in a car wreck. He's being investigated by a douchebag detective who can't seem to sit straight. His self-righteous daughter is snooping through their records. And, so much more. And that's really all that Arbitrage is: a character-study, albeit lacking some depth, with a decent character arc.

Arbitrage is an interesting film. It starts off very slow and without a hook -- it really offers nothing to pull you in. This feeling of boredom continues for the first 30 minutes or so. Then, suddenly, the story starts moving. It's not a fast-paced thriller, but, believe it or not, things start happening -- a story with actually interesting events begins to unfold. Sure, it still moves at an unnecessarily slow pace, but it at least becomes engaging. Arbitrage is a film that becomes more engaging, and generally better and better, as it progresses. It's a film you really have to stick with to reap the reward -- no matter how punishing the first act and how merely decent the reward is.

The acting was all-around good from the entire cast. I like Richard Gere, but I felt like he underperformed -- the character just doesn't come to life. Otherwise, it's all simply good -- nothing special and nothing terrible. The film is shot nicely, I liked the cinematography. I also liked the music, especially how it blends into certain scenes. Nicholas Jarecki is hit-and-miss as writer and director. On one hand, I think his direction is competent, and he eventually gets a grasp on the "thriller" aspects (although it never feels like a full on thriller.) On the other hand, the writing is boring and uninspired -- the characters don't pop like they should in a character-study, and the story feels busy yet bland.

Overall, Arbitrage is a decent film. It has a very rough start, but gets better and better as it progresses. It never quite reaches its full potential, though, partly due to the lack of efficient and effective characters and suspense (this is advertised as a character-study thriller after all). If you're a hardcore fan of Gere or the genre, you may enjoy it the most.

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

Friday, August 15, 2014

Top 10 Best Korean Romantic Comedy Movies

Top 10 Best Korean Romantic Comedy Movies
Sassy? Check. Quirky? Check. Bizarre? Check. Korean romantic comedies revitalized my interests in both romance and comedy movies. Honestly, I was never a big fan of either genre, save for a few films. But, Korea has once again pushed my love for film into new territory. If you love the signature Korean comedy and love a genuine romance, you'll love the films on this list. So, here it is, my list of the best Korean Romantic Comedies:

10. My Girlfriend Is An Agent
Read My Girlfriend Is An Agent (Review) Here!
Expert special agent Ahn Soo-ji and her ex-boyfriend Lee Jae-joon, who works as a rookie agent, hunt down a group with a dangerous weapon. However, the pair work the same case but from different departments causing... a lot of misunderstandings. Although it doesn't fully capitalize on its premise, this is a funny slapstick comedy with two charming leads.

9. Spring Bears Love
Read Spring Bears Love (Review) Here!
Spring Bears Love follows Hyun-chae, played by Bae Doo-na, after she finds love notes in the library and begins searching for her secret admirer. It's funny and the romance is genuine, and Bae Doo-na is a bae (that's how the kids spell babe nowadays right, or am I still out of the loop?). However, it is cliché and repetitive, so be prepared.

8. Love Fiction
Read Love Fiction (Review) Here!
Love Fiction follows Goo Joo-wol, played by the excellent Ha Jung-woo, as he finds a muse in a woman with hairy armpits and a complicated past. This is a unique rom com that solely follows the male perspective, and I like the originality. It's also funny and charming, although a little too long for its own good.

7. The Perfect Couple
Read The Perfect Couple (Review) Here!
The Perfect Couple follows a mismatched pair: a cop with peak-phobia and a clumsy reporter. The film is a little different than the typical romantic comedy, but I thought it was funny -- it was even hilarious at times. Aside from one running-gag that runs out of steam, this is a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

6. 200 Pounds Beauty
Read 200 Pounds Beauty (Review) Here!
Tired of being of being overweight, talented singer Kang Han-na, played by Kim Ah-joong, undergoes surgery and reemerges as the sexy Jenny. Although very predictable, 200 Pounds Beauty blends its lighthearted, slapstick and quirky humor perfectly -- the first half of the film is laugh-out-loud hilarious! Kim Ah-joong also delivers a must-watch performance.

5. Penny Pinchers
Read Penny Pinchers (Review) Here!
Carefree and jobless Ji-Woong teams up with thrifty penny-pinching neighbor Hong-Sil to make some money. Aside from the last twenty minutes, Penny Pinchers is a refreshing romantic comedy with some great wit and quirk. The humor is hilarious, and the pair of leads are charismatic enough to hold the film down. It's very fun film, which leans more towards "cute" comedy, and is enjoyable for everyone.

4. Dancing Queen
Read Dancing Queen (Review) Here!
Jung-hwa sees the opportunity to become a famous singer, like she has always dreamed, but finds it may interfere with her husband's plans of becoming Mayor. This is a film that plays it a little safe and by-the-books, but still manages to strive based off of the two charismatic leads, the lighthearted and laugh-out-loud humor, and its important message.

3. My Dear Desperado
Read My Dear Desperado (Review) Here!
Unemployed but dedicated Han Se-jin moves into a one-bedroom basement apartment and finds out her neighbor, Oh Dong-chul, is a middle-aged gangster. Another film where I couldn't get the smile off my face, My Dear Desperado is a charming romantic comedy with a lot of heart. The first hour of the film is more original than most romantic comedies nowadays.

2. My Little Bride
Read My Little Bride (Review) Here!
High school student Bo-eun is conned by her grandfather into marrying college student Sang-min. Can she keep it a secret from her classmate and will they fall in love? You probably know the answer considering most rom coms end the same, but My Little Bride is hilarious. This is one of the few films that literally made me laugh-out-loud. It's also uplifting, I practically smiled throughout the entire film!

1. My Sassy Girl
Read My Sassy Girl (Review) Here!
You probably guessed it, but My Sassy Girl is my favorite. The film follows goofy but charming Gyeon-woo who meets a drunk girl on a train, and slowly develops a genuine but harsh relationship with her. The humor, which is mostly humiliation and embarrassment, is absolutely hilarious, and the romance is incredibly effective. Both elements compliment each other perfectly to create an amazing romantic comedy experience. A must-watch masterpiece of the genre.

Thanks for reading! Did I miss one of your favorites? Leave a comment below or tweet them to me @JonathanCA_KMR! I'd love to hear what you thought about the list or your opinion on Korean romantic comedies.

Want more of my lists? Check out my last two:
Top 10 Best Japanese Horror Movies
Top 10 Best Martial Arts Movies on Netflix Instant

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Film Review: Leprechaun (1993)

Leprechaun (Review)
United States/1993
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...the type of film that makes you want a remake."

A father and his daughter, Tory (Jennifer Aniston), move into the O'Grady house where a deadly leprechaun (Warwick Davis) slumbers in the basement.

Leprechaun mostly follows diva Tory and house painters Nathan, Alex, and Ozzie, after Ozzie unwittingly releases the leprechaun from a crate. Aside from Ozzie, who is a bit dimwitted, no one knows about the leprechaun. Anyway, the leprechaun wants his 100 pieces of gold, so he goes on a murderous rampage until he gets them. That's pretty much everything that happens in Leprechaun. The ending was really cheesy and predictable.

Leprechaun just doesn't really work. It's a horror-comedy but without much of either. The film's suspense and tension are either mild or nonexistent most of the time, so there is never any effective buildup. Most of the jump-scares are duds. There are only a few death scenes, so the special effects/makeup have a minor presence; they're underwhelming and disappointing, anyway. It has some cool ideas, like the Leprechaun being able to change his voice, but it barely uses them. As for the humor, it's hit-or-miss. I laughed a few times, like the Leprechaun's use of vehicles, but some of the humor was cringe-worthy bad.

The acting is all-around mediocre. Jennifer Aniston plays a typical character -- the role isn't demanding, but she fits the character. Warwick Davis... fits the character, too, I suppose. I guess there really isn't much acting going on. Otherwise, its a standard horror film in music and cinematography. The makeup effects on the Leprechaun are good -- I like the design, it's probably the only part of the film anyone could possible find a bit creepy. Writer and director Mark Jones fails to conjure any horror and hardly any laughs, partly due to the failure to craft atmosphere and tension, as well as some very cheesy writing.

Overall, Leprechaun is a bad movie. It's not the "good" type of b-movie, unless you like laughing at underdeveloped concepts. It has a few funny moments and a few decent scenes and ideas, but not nearly enough to justify a feature-length runtime. This is the type of film that makes you want a remake. Avoid it unless you're revisiting for nostalgia.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Film Review: The Last Days (aka Los Ultimos Dias) (2013)

The Last Days (aka Los Ultimos Dias) (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...very atmospheric and occasionally awe-inspiring."

A mysterious epidemic causes a severe case of agoraphobia -- an irrational fear of open space -- for the world's population, forcing them to find refuge in buildings, subways, and sewers.

The Last Days mainly follows Marc (Quim Gutiérrez) and his co-worker Enrique (José Coronado), who have been trapped in their office for months. Eventually, Marc buds into Enrique's plans to venture out through the sewers using a GPS. Marc uses this opportunity to search for his girlfriend, while Enrique keeps his intentions hidden. The Last Days is fairly simple for the most part, but engaging and entertaining. However, the film does become somewhat contrived and even cliché during the final act. The ending itself, although decent, also overstayed its welcome.

The Last Days works very well off of its incredibly immersive world. The post-apocalyptic world, particularly the method of travel, reminded me of Metro 2033, which is fantastic. It's very atmospheric and occasionally awe-inspiring. This is partly due to unique concept. The use of agoraphobia, although not plausible or very realistic, is very creative and makes for some unique scenes. It really helps differentiate the film from others in the genre.

The Last Days suffers from the simplicity of the story, though. It has a very unique concept and a very immersive world, but the story is so simple and even cliché. It gets better and better as it progresses, at least until it fumbles again for the final act, but it never reaches its full potential. There are certain aspects that I truly did enjoy, but it just never lands -- it never hits hard and it never captures a natural flow. Also, I just like to point out, the film isn't necessarily grounded in reality; so, if you need a film to be realistic for your enjoyment, then this film might not be for you. Otherwise, I'm not going to bother nitpicking the film to death.

The acting is good from both Quim Gutiérrez and José Coronado. The film looks splendid. The lighting is very vivid and vibrant, it really adds to the atmosphere of the film. And, so does the great cinematography and the very engaging camerawork. The music helps set the mood; it's occasionally melodramatic, but it shouldn't bother anyone who does not mind the melodramas of film. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream are near perfect. Writers and directors David Pastor and Àlex Pastor craft an elegant world with an interesting concept; however, the story and character lack some depth, and the film generally feels somewhat uneventful and unbalanced.

Overall, The Last Days is a very good film. The immersive world and the creative concept are superb. The film is also great on the technical side boasting beautiful cinematography and excellent camerawork. However, the story suffers from being too simple and somewhat uneventful, as well as from a contrived and cheesy ending. The Pastor Brothers have the style and direction locked down, but can use some fine-tuning on their writing.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Violence and blood, a brief sex scene.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Film Review: The Incredible Melting Man (1977)

The Incredible Melting Man (Review)
United States/1977
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...sit back and have a great laugh with this 70s b-movie cheese."

During a flight to Saturn, astronaut Steve West (Alex Rebar) is exposed to radiation causing his skin to melt and a murderous rampage...

The Incredible Melting Man mostly follows Dr. Ted Nelson (Burr DeBenning) and an Air Force General as they search for Steve West, who escapes from a hospital and wanders around killing people. That's pretty much all that happens in the story yet it's surprisingly engaging -- at least, if you're into this sort of SciFi cheese. Anyway, after several gory deaths, a couple of dinners and naps, The Incredible Melting Man ends with a visual spectacle -- the ending itself is as cheesy as the rest of the film, though.

The Incredible Melting Man is a b-movie. Don't fret, though, it's the "good" kind of b-movie. It starts off with one of the cheesiest and most robotic lines I've ever heard, then proceeds to a hilarious slow-motion escape where a nurse bursts through a closed door for no apparent reason. And, it has plenty of unintentional humor spread throughout the film, too, like a game of hide-and-seek and more cheesy dialogue. You'll probably find some of its overall concepts to be hilarious, like "setting foot" on Saturn.

If you're looking for horror, you won't find much in The Incredible Melting Man. It's not a suspenseful, creepy, or atmospheric horror film -- it's a cheesy horror film. If you want a recommendation: don't expect even a shred of horror. The Incredible Melting Man does, however, have some spectacular practical special effects. So, if you like old-school gore, you're in for a real treat. Severed heads and arms, face biting, and, oh yeah, a melting man!

The acting, for the most part, is bad. There's some promise in the acting, at least for some of the supporting cast, but that's brought down by the terrible dialogue. I liked the music, though. And, like I said, I loved the special effects and makeup by Rick Baker -- some of the most intriguing special effects I've seen. Writer and director William Sachs probably wanted to be taken seriously with this film, but it's best viewed as a b-movie. Otherwise, the writing and direction are bad.

Overall, The Incredible Melting Man is good b-movie. It's unintentionally hilarious and it has amazing special effects and makeup; the story, albeit flawed, even offered enough to keep me hooked and engaged to the end. If you're going to watch this without b-movie standards you're in for a bad experience. Otherwise, sit back and have a great laugh with this 70s b-movie cheese.

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

Monday, August 11, 2014

Film Review: Home Sweet Home (2013)

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

"...Morlet has a stylish, clear vision, but it's clearly not a vision of horror."

Fresh off date night, married couple Sara (Meghan Heffern) and Frank are locked in their home by an intruder.

Home Sweet Home is a very simple film. It begins with the intruder entering and touring the empty home in a somewhat creepy introduction -- the idea of someone invading your privacy without ever knowing is creepy on its own. After sealing the house, the intruder hides and the couple arrive. From there on, Frank and Sara -- actually, only Sara -- try to survive the night. This dreadfully slow and boring film leads to a stupid ending -- it tries to be something shocking, but fails miserably.

The thing about Home Sweet Home is that it's too simple. The concept is generic to begin with, but the story is also simple boring and uneventful. Hardly anything significant happens in this one hour fifteen minute film. Most of the runtime is dominated by unnecessary filler scenes. On top of that, every other scene seems to be in slow-motion. The intruder, for example, moves in slow-motion during practically all of his scenes; he doesn't just move in slow-motion, though, he also inspects everything in slow-motion, like a caveman first discovering fire. (probably not accurate, but you know what I mean.)

I'm not sure if writer and director David Morlet knows this, but slow does not equal suspense. You can't just have everything and everyone move as slow as possible and expect tension and suspense. That's another big problem with Home Sweet Home: it's not scary. Aside from the slightly creepy but also too long intro, there isn't a shred of horror or thrill in this film. There may be a spark of suspense every now and then, but it always dwindles from too much buildup and it always leads to a dumb climax. And by that, I mean it's filled with stupid character choices and fakeout jump-scares.

The acting is all-around mediocre. Meghan Heffern doesn't have a natural delivery, it always sounds like she's reading right off the script. The only other two cast members are also weak; one doesn't speak and the other shares limited screen time. The film looks and sounds great, though; the music is good, and I enjoyed the cinematography. But, I guess that's the cliché problem: it's all style, no substance. Director David Morlet has a stylish, clear vision, but it's clearly not a vision of horror.

Overall, Home Sweet Home is a boring and generic mess. It's a stylish film, but offers no horror whatsoever. And that's the problem: a boring film can't be good simply because it's stylish -- all it is then is boring. Removing the slow-motion scenes removes half the runtime, removing the unnecessary filler removes half of that, and that leaves you with a possibly decent short film. In other words, try short films, David Morlet.

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Film Review: Hammer of the Gods (2013)

Hammer of the Gods (Review)
United Kingdom/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"A few decent scenes ... can't redeem an otherwise boring and poorly written film."

A dying Viking king sends his son, Steinar (Charlie Bewley), to find his vanished older brother, Hakan.

Hammer of the Gods follows Steinar as he, along with a few others, track Hakan into dark territory. Hakan being the last hope for the Viking clan as an army Saxons approaches. Anyway, that's practically all that happens. A battle here, a game there, another battle and so on. Hammer of the Gods doesn't hook or engage the audience throughout its generic and boring story. It does become more interesting and engaging towards the end, but it feels too little, too late. The ending itself is decent, but also cheesy.

Unfortunately, Hammer of the Gods doesn't fare any better when it comes to action, either. There aren't many hammers, but quite a few sword fights. The fight choreography looks and feels very amateurish -- some swinging and some blocking, but it never feels like an actual battle. It usually leads to a bloody execution, but the fight itself is generally boring. The final fight sequence towards the end is really the only decent action scene in the entire film. With a dud story and mediocre action, Hammer of the Gods doesn't offer much to anyone -- fans of the genre or otherwise.

The acting is occasionally good, but mostly mediocre. Charlie Bewley is a promising leading man. However, the writing is very bad. The dialogue feels out of place and lacks the natural flow of, well, a natural conversation. If that's not enough, the film also uses terribly out of place music; dubstep and rock music... Really? With its poor dialogue and music, it's like the filmmakers wanted to be as anti-immersive as possible. The landscapes look great, though. Director Farren Blackburn lacks a strong and consistent vision; aside from the half-baked story and bad writing, the action choreography also suffers.

Overall, Hammer of the Gods is a bad film. I can forgive a generic story, but a boring story is unacceptable. Unfortunately, this is both. A few decent scenes, like the drinking game and the last 20 minutes or so, can't redeem an otherwise boring and poorly written film.

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

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Film Review: Dead Man Down (2013)

Dead Man Down (Review)
United States/2013
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a surprisingly original and stylish film."

Ruthless criminal kingpin Alphonse Hoyt (Terrence Howard) has been tormented by a mysterious man who kills off Alphonse's crew and plays cruel psychological games with him.

Dead Man Down follows Victor (Colin Farrell), who is part of Hoyt's criminal family and who is also responsible for Hoyt's prolonged psychological torture. You see, Victor has infiltrated Hoyt's crew with hidden intentions -- he's been planning his vengeance for a tragic event that Hoyt was responsible for years ago. In the meantime, Victor meets Beatrice (Noomi Rapace), who has been damaged and plans to use Victor for her own vengeance. The story is surprisingly engaging and original until the climax. Although the climax offers some much appreciated action, it also becomes a little too convenient. The ending was overall a disappointment compared to the rest of the film.

First and foremost, I'd like to say I really love the trailer for Dead Man Down -- even more so after watching the film. From the trailer, you can expect a cliché yet stylish film; instead, you get a surprisingly original and stylish film. In other words: I thoroughly enjoyed this neo-noir crime thriller. There are a few moments where the pacing halts then speed up, then halts, and so on, but it generally kept me engaged until the very end.

Even the subplot between Victor and Beatrice was engaging. Sure, Beatrice isn't the most developed or rational character, but it does offer some variety and originality to the film. However, if I could choose, I'd much rather they scrapped it all together. Like I said, it's decent, but it doesn't really offer anything critical to the story -- in fact, it serves as a contrivance for the climax. On the point of the climax, aside from the music, is one thrilling and very well-executed set piece.

The acting is great. Colin Farrell offers a charismatic and even subtle performance. Noomi Rapace also does very well, and looks amazing doing so. (for the sake of this critical review, she doesn't get any benefit from the latter. Really. I promise.) Terrence Howard is also great, but he doesn't have a lot of screen time. The music is hit-or-miss; sometimes it compliments the film, sometimes it doesn't fit at all. On the other hand, the film looks beautiful; I loved the elegant and meticulous use of vibrant lighting. Director Niels Arden Oplev pulls great performances from his cast and executes a mostly engaging and entertaining thriller.

Overall, Dead Man Down is a very good crime thriller. The story is interesting and entertaining, it'd oozing from its slick and attractive style, and there is some great acting. The subplot, although with decent execution, doesn't offer much to the film, though, and the ending partly fumbles an otherwise great setup.

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

Friday, August 8, 2014

Film Review: The Conspiracy (2012)

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

"...a handful of familiar elements and genre clichés, but it still managed to entertain."

Documentary filmmakers Aaron (Aaron Poole) and Jim (James Gilbert) begin to document a conspiracy theorist named Terrance. All is well until Terrance mysteriously vanishes.

The Conspiracy continues to follow Aaron and Jim as they pick up where Terrance left off, or at least Aaron does. They begin to piece together Terrance's work and attempt to find a pattern. They're eventually led to a secret organization set out to create a new world order, a global community led by a single government. It's a simple but engaging and interesting plot that leads to a great but familiar climax, and a satisfying ending.

The Conspiracy is a mockumentary-style film -- I suppose it may also be viewed as a found-footage film. Anyway, the mockumentary style works for the film. I'm not a conspiracy theorist myself, but I definitely enjoy them. So, right off the bat, The Conspiracy kept me hooked and interested. It also manages to keep this momentum up to the end. And, even though I knew where it was headed, I enjoyed the destination. The Conspiracy is a very interesting and very entertaining film; it's also very well paced and tightly-packaged with minimal,if any filler -- it was over before I knew it.

The acting was great all around. Their characters may not be deep or complex, but Aaron Poole and James Gilbert deliver believable performances. (the latter sort of looks like Bradley Cooper, if that's any help to anyone...) The film looks and sounds like a documentary; it becomes a little more found-footage during the final act, but it fortunately avoids becoming nauseating. Writer and director Christopher MacBride treads familiar territory, but still delivers an engaging and entertaining mockumentary.

Overall, The Conspiracy is a great film. It has a handful of familiar elements and genre clichés, but it still managed to entertain. Maybe it was my interest in conspiracies, maybe it was the forgiving short runtime, or maybe it was the great climax. Regardless, I really enjoyed the film. If you're open-minded or enjoy a solid mockumentary, I think you'll enjoy The Conspiracy.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Generally appropriate for all audiences.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Film Review: The Boogeyman (1980)

The Boogeyman (Review)
United States/1980
Format Viewed For Review: Amazon Prime Instant Video
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: Yes

"...severely lacks any horror elements..."

Siblings Willy (Nicolas Love) and Lacey (Suzanna Love) are punished by their mother's abusive boyfriend. Willy, with the help of Lacey, ends up killing him that same night...

Fast forward 20 years, the pair live a seemingly normal life, although Willy no longer speaks. After they receive a letter from their mother, who is near death, Lacey begins to suffer from nightmares of the horrid night 20 years ago. So, Lacey and her husband visit Lacey's old home where she breaks a mirror due to seeing what she believed to be was her mother's boyfriend. Anyway, she inadvertently releases his spirit (I think?) and he begins to kill by possessing household items, like knives and scissors. The ending was mediocre, and leaves room for sequels.

I didn't like The Boogeyman. The concept is interesting, but the story takes forever to get started. Nothing really happens until halfway through, and even then it still staggers to its ending. It just doesn't have a hook or an interesting story. It's also not very scary. Some of the death sequences were surprisingly violent, though, so they may jolt you, but the rest of the film lacks horror. There is no tension or suspense, no atmosphere, not even a handful of jump-scares. I think the best way to describe The Boogeyman is as BORING -- slow-paced, dull, uneventful, cheesy, and bad can also describe it.

The acting ranged from bad to mediocre. Suzanna Love was okay, and Nicolas Love also does well considering he doesn't speak throughout most of the film. I think the dialogue was bad, though, very wooden and unnatural. I liked the use of color and lighting during some scenes, but most of the time it's too difficult to see what's going on -- either because of bad lighting or bad camerawork. The music was the best part of the film; the soundtrack screams 80s and has a great sound; the editing for the music was bad, though. The makeup was decent, too. Writer and director Ulli Lommel lacks consistency and flow; the film is simply boring, especially due to the lack of horror.

Overall, The Boogeyman is a bad supernatural slasher. It severely lacks any horror elements, the story takes too long to get started and has little consistency, and the acting was mediocre. It has some surprising death sequences, but not nearly enough to redeem the film. The soundtrack was also great. It's one of those B-movies where you can't tell if it's supposed to be a b-movie or if it's actually bad -- I think it's the latter.

Score: 3/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some brief nudity.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Film Review: Space Pirate Captain Harlock (2013) (Anime)

Space Pirate Captain Harlock (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

" of the best-looking animations I've ever seen."

In the near future or distant past, mankind has discovered a way to travel faster than the speed of light. In turn, mankind colonizes thousands of planets and population growth accelerates beyond control. A war between many factions to return to Earth ensues leaving many dead and no victor. The issue is resolved when Earth is declared sacred, and humanity is essentially vanished.

Space Pirate Captain Harlock follows the young and ambitious Logan (Haruma Miura), who is recruited by Captain Harlock (Shun Oguri). Captain Harlock is, you guessed it, a space pirate battling for freedom and redemption. Captain Harlock has an ambitious plan to "start over" -- I supposed, to reset humanity -- but has been relentlessly pursued by The Gaia Sanction. Filled with great characters, amazing action sequences, and an interesting plot, Space Pirate Captain Harlock leads to a great climax and ending. The ending is predictable, but keeps up with the epic vibe the rest of the film develops.

First and foremost, I'm not familiar with the source material -- at all. So, Space Pirate Captain Harlock is naturally a lot to digest. There's a huge cast of characters, a vibrant universe, and a complex plan with many twists and turns. I'm not going to lie: I was confused at least a handful of times and had to rewind once to make sure I was getting everything correct. Maybe it's because I'm a newbie to this universe, or maybe it's just not as efficient as I'm used to.

Regardless, this is one refreshing and lively universe. The setting is great; although it's mostly in space and in the spaceship, we see some great worlds. It's just such an immersive universe, it really pulled me in and kept me hooked. There are also some amazing characters, like Kei (Miyuki Sawashiro) and Captain Harlock. The action sequences are exhilarating and awe-inspiring. Think of it as pirate battles, but in space, obviously. The ridiculously beautiful visuals help amplify the awe, especially during battle, with amazing use of colors and particle effects.

I watched the film with the original Japanese voiceovers. Haruma Miura, Shun Oguri, and Miyuki Sawashiro standout with genuine voice work; as usual with Japanese voice work, the voiceovers are very genuine and enthusiastic. The music is fantastic; it's an epic soundtrack that helps create those awe-inspiring moments. The visuals are spectacular -- this is one of the best-looking animations I've ever seen. The use of vibrant colors is also appreciated. The Netflix Instant stream is available in high definition, which is how you should watch it, with perfect English subtitles. Director Shinji Aramaki does well in pulling great voice work from the cast and delivering epic, large-scale space battles, but the storytelling is often inefficient.

Overall, Space Pirate Captain Harlock is a great film. The universe is immersive, the story is interesting and entertaining, the action is amazing, and the visuals are spectacular. The story is often complex, though. However, this may be because I'm not familiar with the source material and I don't speak Japanese, so I had a little more work to do. It probably could've been more clear if it had a longer runtime, the 1 hour 43 minute runtime does not do this universe justice.

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

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Film Review: Bad Lieutenant (1991)

Bad Lieutenant (Review)
United States/1991
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: No
Amazon Prime: No

"...spectacular performance from Harvey Keitel"

While investigating the rape of a nun, The Lieutenant (Harvey Keitel) faces his inner demons, which consists of sex, drugs, and gambling addiction...

Bad Lieutenant really isn't about the investigation, despite what my own and what every other description out there will tell you. Instead, Bad Lieutenant focuses on the Lieutenant and his character -- particularly, the deterioration of his character. He gambles thousands and thousands of dollars on baseball games, he consumes many drugs and alcohol whenever he gets the chance, he's sexually deviant, and so on. The film's focus is entirely on the Lieutenant, and what he'll do next. I did enjoy the ending -- very dark, gritty, and contemplative. However, I also thought that due to the lack of story, it felt like a forced character arc -- a resolution that doesn't quite fit.

The fact that this is a character-study may divide some audiences. I love films that focus on character, especially those that enter darker, more taboo territory -- and this succeeds in doing that tenfold. However, I also love a great story. Character is great, but what's the plot? The investigation into the nun case? That plays a very minor role in the film. In fact, that subplot's sole purpose is to offer a resolution -- and, like I previously stated, a resolution that feels forced and out of character. Ultimately, the story is very thin. You're really just watching a character deteriorate -- descend deeper and deeper into his own hell -- as he goes from one situation to another. And, I'm okay with that -- but I won't pretend like it's anything more.

If the story is thin, Harvey Keitel does everything he can to redeem it. Keitel delves deep into this confused and complex character to deliver a powerhouse performance -- which is exactly what a character study needs. The rest of the acting is also great. The film is shot nicely, creating a bleak and gritty atmosphere. The choice of music is also fantastic. Although we constantly complain that many films nowadays don't have enough character development, this is a rare film where it may be too much. The writing could've been fine-tuned to find a balance between character and story -- in this case, the former is overwhelming. Director Abel Ferrara does very well in creating this gritty character-study; doesn't cut any corners and delivers a consistent experience.

Overall, Bad Lieutenant is a fantastic character study and a good crime film. The thin story is partly redeemed by the spectacular performance from Harvey Keitel, as well as the focus on character. I am left wanting more, though, and I wish the story had a more balanced focus.

Score: 8/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, graphic drug use, sex and nudity, including a rape scene and full-frontal nudity.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Film Review: Back to 1942 (2012)

Back to 1942 (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...a very powerful, engaging, and interesting historical film with phenomenal cinematography..."

During the Second Sino-Japanese War, refugees of Henan, China, flee a devastating famine.

Back to 1942 is a historical film that mainly follows the refugees of Henan as they attempt to survive their voyage, and as they are neglected by their government and attacked by the Japanese. It mainly follows the 300+ miles journey of Master Fan (Zhang Guoli) and his family, as well as a fellow villager's family. Also, TIME journalist Theodore H. White (Adrien Brody) investigates the source of and documents the famine. Back to 1942 leads to a very strong ending.

In fact, much of Back to 1942 is powerful -- it's bleak and emotional. The story is devastating, to be blunt. And, the atmosphere it builds is ominous and chilling. Thanks to the superb costume and set design, as well as acting, the film really pulls you into this tragic event. Some of these scenes will be infuriating -- many of these scenes, particularly those regarding the difficult choices the refugees face, are understandable, though. (what would you do to survive a famine?)

However, the story is so vast, it leaves little room for proper character. There's a connection, even one that's emotional and effective, but it often feels miniscule. In fact, due to the lack of proper character development and strong, distinct characters, I often found myself confused on who was who; particularly the two families that share their trip, since there were several daughters, husbands, fathers, servants, and so on. Like I said, it still an effective connection, but it could've been more.

Enough of the could've would've, though, since I don't dwell on what could've been. Anyway, films like this should be taken with a grain of salt. Films based on "true" events often suffer from some distorted facts or, worse, forgotten facts. There are always two-sides to every story, and even if they're similar sides, there'll always be some minor differences. I'm not very familiar with this event, but it seems to at least try to be as accurate as possible. Just take it with a grain of salt, that's all I'm really trying to say.

Like I mentioned earlier, the acting is all-around great, even fantastic at times. Zhang Guoli, in particular, is very impressive. Even Adrien Brody proves he can still deliver a great performance. I've mentioned this before in my reviews, too, and I'll do it again: films based on war or tragedies tend to have some of the very best cinematography, and Back to 1942 is no exception. Back to 1942, despite its bleak subject, looks absolutely stunning. The music also adds to the emotional depth of the film, it really helps invoke some deep feelings. Director Feng Xiaogang meticulously crafts an a film of epic proportions; it's a bit disjointed and unbalanced, but it ultimately works in creating a lively and powerful experience.

Overall, Back to 1942 is a great film. It has some flaws in its story and storytelling that could've been alleviated by a stronger focus or longer runtime, but, like I said, there's no point in dwelling on what could've been. What we do have is a very powerful, engaging, and interesting historical film with phenomenal cinematography, set and costume design, and great acting. Definitely worth seeking for fans of historical films.

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

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Film Review: A Touch of Sin (2013)

A Touch of Sin (Review)
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...very effective and uncompromising."

Four bleak and violent tales of contemporary China.

A Touch of Sin is sort of like an anthology. The first story follows Dahai (Wu Jiang), who works for a coal mining company, and who has been cheated by the corrupt. The second story follows Zhou, who earns his living as a robber. The third story follows Xiao Yu (Tao Zhao), who works as a receptionist in a sauna and is involved in an affair. The final story follows Xiao Hui, who, after causing an accident at works, struggles in the workplace. Each story shares a common theme of violence, and each story attempts to relay a message or commentary. The ending is good -- it leaves you in a moment of contemplation, or at least it did for me.

I think A Touch of Sin works very well as a tense drama. However, there are a few moments where the film loses momentum and the film gets lost in translation. The first story, for example, begins with a very strong character and commentary. The second story, however, feels underwhelming -- not only is the pacing off, but it also fails to deliver a strong character or message. The third and fourth, especially the former, I think work very well in making a statement, and also work very well in revitalizing the tension of the first story. Generally, each story ends with violence, and each story reflects a different part of modern China -- it's a very bleak look, but also very effective and uncompromising.

On another point, I think the film would've been even more effective as a spiritual series, kind of like Park Chan-wook's Vengeance trilogy, instead of an anthology. You know, where a each film has a different set of characters and plot, but share a similar theme. The short runtime for each story in this film limits the amount of character development and buildup, which makes the climax less effective than what could've been.

The acting is great, occasionally phenomenal. Wu Jiang and Tao Zhao are fantastic. The film looks beautiful, despite the bleak and violent subject. The choreography for the few brutal action sequences is also refreshing, I particularly enjoyed the camerawork. The music blends well with the film. The English subtitles on the Netflix Instant stream are great -- I didn't notice any flaws. Although he is often limited by his short runtime, writer and director Jia Zhangke does very well in crafting his uncompromising vision; this isn't a film you'd usually seen one out of China, and I'm impressed just seeing it release.

Overall, A Touch of Sin is a very good film. It's a dark and tense look at contemporary China -- four distinct faces of contemporary China, in fact. It is often hindered by its short runtime and slow pace, though, and one story is underwhelming compared to the other three. If you're looking for something different from the region, and something that offers some contemplative value, A Touch of Sin is for you.

Score: 7/10
Parental Guide: Strong violence and blood, some animal violence in the form of a horse getting brutally whipped. (it might be fake, but I can't tell nowadays, so it's worth noting for animal lovers.)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Film Review: 13 Sins (2014)

13 Sins (Review)
United States/2014
Format Viewed For Review: Netflix Instant
Netflix Streaming: Yes
Amazon Prime: No

"...exciting, gross, and bloody fun."

In order to take care of his family, Elliot Brindle (Mark Webber) partakes in a game with thirteen different challenges for money, each becoming more daring and dangerous as the game progresses.

13 Sins basically follows Elliot as he completes these challenges. The film begins by setting up the situation and character during its first 15 minutes, or so, but then it becomes challenge after challenge. The challenges start simple, like swatting and consuming a fly, then escalate to something like making a child cry, and eventually become more grizzly, like homemade amputations. It's a simple but surprisingly engaging story that leads to a great climax; the ending feels abrupt, though, and sort of like a cop-out.

13 Sins, despite being a remake of 13: Game of Death, is a refreshing horror comedy film. It's a little more like a thriller, though, as I don't think this was in any way frightening. Still, 13 Sins is exciting, gross, and bloody fun. Whether its eating flies (which doesn't compare to eating feces in the original film) or cutting off arms, it's a twisted trip through the deterioration of one character. The humor is mostly black, and conjured a few chuckles; it doesn't have a strong presence, especially during the second half.

Most of the acting is great. I thought Mark Webber did really well as the lead. Ron Perlman has a smaller role, but he's also good. Otherwise, the film looks and sounds great; I didn't have any complaints when it came to the cinematography or music. The special effects don't really shine, but they're decent enough. Director Daniel Stamm does very well in pulling great performances from the cast, and delivering a very consistent and entertaining film; it's also very well paced and balanced.

Overall, 13 Sins is a great film. It's almost as great as the original, although not nearly as graphic. It's a very black and dark film, but it's fun and exciting for the right audience. And that "right audience" would be fans of black comedies, thrillers, and the original film. If you're open-minded and looking for something fast-paced and bloody to kill a night, 13 Sins is for you.

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