Sunday, March 29, 2015

Incredibly Odd...


  Now, if you know me, you know I like odd movies. Better than that, I love downright weird movies. Whether intentionally weird, or just fringe interests. You haven't lived until you've done a double-feature of Brazil and City of Lost Children. Just saying. I also happen to love psychological thrillers, movies based on comic books/graphic novels, and all that stuff. So The Scribbler looked like it was right up my alley. It took me a crazy long time to finally get around to watching it, but I did! The question now is, am I glad I did? I really don't know.

  The movie is about a young woman named Suki who suffers from dissociative identity disorder (multiple personalities) and has been subjected to a new treatment called the "Siamese Burn" which successfully 'burns' away some of the extra personalities. When she shows progress, she's put in a halfway home/apartment building called Juniper Towers, affectionately dubbed 'Jumper Towers' due to the incredibly high suicide rate. Anyhow, her doctor gives her a portable Burn Unit and prescribes a schedule on which to burn away the personalities. Suffice to say, between the cadre of other insane characters, and the unfolding mystery about Suki's personalities themselves, the movie gets crazy.

  It feels woefully unfocused though. The tone is a bit all over the place, does it want to be horror? A dark comedy? Sci-fi? A superhero story? Somehow it tries to be all of this, and instead of being a groundbreaking success, the movie fails to blend all these genres to any adequate end and instead we get a rather unfocused mess, albeit an ambitious one. Ambition always earns brownie points with me no matter the end result. Anyways, the movie is not without it's upsides. Actress Katie Cassidy is exceptionally watchable as Suki, making her manic enough to be fun in a dark way, and messed up enough for us to feel sorry for her. She grew on me.

  The rest of the cast is also really solid. Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer) plays Suki's doctor who's forced to languish between a half-hearted evil mad doctor vibe and a good-hearted but misguided physician. If he had been able to play up one of those angles to it's fullest, it would've been great. As it is, we're not sure what we're supposed to feel about him. He's reckless, but it seems at times his heart is in the right place. Or is it? He was a frustrating character who was ultimately too bland to make any sort of impact, but you can feel the potential he had and it's a bit sad it wasn't realized. Suki's mental case friends are all kind of neat, and they're all well played. Not too much to say there either unfortunately since they don't have much to actually do.

  In fact most of the movie plays out like a bad drug trip. Really, stuff happens... but not a lot of stuff really happens. The movie also tries to generate a big murder mystery, but it doesn't work. We're not quite sure what's going on until the very end of the movie, and at that point the climax is a super-powered fist fight on the roof of the building. I don't even know how we got to that point. I mean, plot-wise, yes... but it was incredibly out of left field. Which brings me to another complaint, not enough is explained about anything. How the hell did the doctor devise the Siamese Burn unit? We need to know more about it. And we need to know more about... just, everything. I feel like even though we got answers, they just led to more questions.

  The movie would have us believe that it's some strange origin story to a brand new superhero, but mostly it just feels like it's uncertain and should've just stuck to being punk-ish psychological drama. The sci-fi/superhero angle is just nuts. Not entirely bad or anything, just really nuts. Technically speaking, the movie is proficient in pretty much every aspect. There's some fantastically neat visuals. The acting is all well and good. The movie is unique. The score is good. But something is just off. The pieces don't gel well together. The movie is memorable, but not exactly good. In fact, the more I think about it... the more I think it was kind of a waste of time.

  I didn't really enjoy it, and I wouldn't watch it again. It was uncomfortable and ultimately pointless. Not that it wasn't well made, but it needed a lot more focus and more streamlined story. There were lots of inconsistencies and plot holes. And after a while I stopped caring about any of the characters. It was exhausting. Avoid it, if you're super curious... watch the trailer I guess. The movie was disappointing, which is sad because I was really looking forward to seeing it too. Ah well, can't win em all. Gotta press on!

Monday, March 23, 2015

Uneven but exciting


  1 part horror, 1 part drama, 2 parts romance. That's Spring. It's a fantastic and unique flick about a young man named Evan who in the wake of his mother's passing, leaves behind his dead end job and meaningless life for a trip to Italy. It's there he ends up falling for a beautiful and secretive woman. This is definitely not a case of "What he doesn't know, won't hurt him." because her secrets are very... very dangerous. Spring could have easily squandered tons of wonderful character development and descended into run-of-the-mill cliche. It keeps you guessing while it matters and lets you develop feelings for the characters. Believe me when I say, it's worth the slow pace.

  I feel like this is what we'd get if we commissioned David Cronenberg to make a modern fairytale romance movie. There's definitely a good bit of Lovecraft peaking through in the movie. And I've seen plenty of slow burn dramas about people rediscovering themselves via falling in love in a foreign country. The movie wears it's inspirations on it's sleeve, and that's okay because it doesn't feel overly familiar. It does very original and neat things with the concepts it shows us. Unfortunately, the juxtaposition between full-on romance drama and gory horror stuff makes the movie feel uneven when it shouldn't. Mainly because the makers seemed dedicated more to the romance angle. It really is a romance movie with horror trappings as opposed to a horror movie with a romantic sub plot.

  Despite feeling uneven at times, I was surprisingly okay with it. The movie was trying to tackle two separate moods and merge them under one roof. It's hard enough to make a horror movie effective with characters you care about, it's arguably even harder to make a romantic drama that makes you really feel what the people are going through and avoid coming off as excessively sappy or cliche... and then to try and turn both of those movies into one? Somehow they pulled it off. It's a little rough around the edges, and depending on how you wanted it to turn out you might be disappointed but- when all is said and done the movie does exactly what it sets out to do.

  We actually care about Evan, and against our better judgment we really care about the woman, Louise, as well. To me, that's impressive. We care what happens to them. We want them to work out their problems and we want love to triumph all. Yet we're also on the edge of our seats waiting for that other shoe to drop because... shit, this is a horror movie. Louise has some dark stuff she's hiding from Evan, and we can't quite tell what her intentions are. We don't know if Evan is going to be a victim of some sort or what, but the movie doesn't allude to anything good. Homie's in trouble. Or is he? When he's not taking Louise out on dates, he's found a job working a small farm for an old man named Angelo. Evan and Angelo have great chemistry and their scenes together were great.

  In fact, most of the supporting characters, of which there aren't too many, are all great. All the characters come across as genuine and impeccably acted. Evan himself is great. He's a bit detached, a bit distant, but he also knows he's found something he doesn't want to let go. He's a simple, quiet guy who can be a party animal and yet also appreciate the simple things in life. It's a very thin line to walk and keep straight, but actor Lou Taylor Pucci does an exceptional job. Both leads turn in fantastic performances, both Pucci and Nadia Hilker who plays Louise. They play off of each other's strengths and carry the movie when it seems to drag. In fact, just like in another great movie I saw not too long ago, Honeymoon, the leads don't just distract us from the slow pace, they make us wish we had even more time with them. That's rare.

  So, yeah. The pacing is rather glacial depending on what you expect from the movie. But I didn't even notice the pace until I started really thinking about it afterwards. It took me a little bit in the beginning to really get into the characters and invest, but not too long at all. Once I was invested, I was down for wherever this movie was going to take me and however long it was going to take to get there. It was a hell of a ride. Without spoiling anything, there is some 'supernatural' stuff in the movie, but interestingly enough the movie goes out of the way to explain that supernatural things are only "supernatural" because science hasn't caught up to it yet. In fact, science is a major theme in the movie once certain things are revealed.

  Horror movies are probably the worst offenders of tossing logic and science to the wind. They so often resort to using 'magic' or 'voodoo' as an easy scapegoat to get away with nonsensical ideas and concepts. Spring tries it's damndest to explain everything as scientifically as possible without ever stranding us in some sterile lab. The setting is still cozy apartments and picturesque outdoor cafes with views to die for. (No pun intended...) Suffice it to say the feel of the movie is very unique for one so firmly couched in scientific themes. Anyhow, with Evan as our anchor, the more questions he gets the answers to, so do we. It's a really convenient set up and a downright clever one at that. Unfortunately it's this same dedication to logic and explanation that renders the last act of the movie less thrilling than it is more emotional and exposition heavy.

  If you came for something twisted and gory, you might be disappointed with the last act, to some extent. Because most movies that juggle horror along with a secondary genre tend to defer solely (or at least mostly) to horror for the last act where they pull out all the stops and deliver the most thrills. Zombieland, Ghostbusters, Evil Dead II, all these are perfect examples. However, Spring is a romance drama first and a horror movie second. In fact, I'd argue that the horror aspects are a tool this movie uses to create tension and drama between characters. No different than... say... drug abuse, alcoholism, or mental problems. So when all is said and done, after a lot of retrospective thinking, Spring isn't a horror movie. It's a romantic drama with scary stuff in it.

  My ultimate point is that, if you came for the horror, you might not like the last act because the last act is the ending to a romance movie, not a horror movie. If you get my meaning. The horror stuff is part of the plot, but the usual 'kill-the-monster' focus that's front in center in most other creature features is nowhere to be found here. Instead, the focus is on the relationship between Evan and Louise. If you invest in the characters, and enjoy the movie for all it has to offer, the ending might satisfy you. It worked for me. It's a strange movie, but I loved it. It's a romantic, body-horror, drama that would easily fit in the filmographies of guys like David Cronenberg or John Carpenter. The difference? This is a heartfelt love story more than it is a practical effects laden gross-out horror flick.
But make no mistake... it is both.

  And can I just say... those effects, whether they were digital or practical (so good, I could't even tell at some points) are friggin amazing. Also, the movie has a surprising sense of humor. There are several laugh out loud moments, and they're all well earned. It's certainly not a comedy, but even in balls-to-bone horror movies or dramas there are always funny moments to break up a relentlessly dour atmosphere. Spring is no exception. It's humor is timely, earnest and very well written. It's a huge plus to this movie which is already completely worth watching. Regardless of how flawed and uneven it is, with a potentially underwhelming ending, Spring is still worth every second of your time and attention. It deserves to be seen and we need many more movies willing to take risks as bold and unique as this one does. I loved Spring and I hope to buy it as soon as possible.

Unconventional and haunting


  Another fantastic indie horror film that I put off watching for way too long. It's a love it or hate it movie I think. Though I sincerely hope it stays out of the reach of people who would hate it because this brand of filmmaking needs to be encouraged and supported. It's next level thinking. Resolution trades in your traditional go-to movie villain/monster for a higher concept altogether. The movie is about a decent guy named Mike who's trying to save his best friend, Chris, from the throes of meth addiction by chaining him up in an abandoned cabin and inducing withdrawal. Tensions are exacerbated however when strange "stories" start finding their way to Mike and Chris, stories with grisly endings.

  I really don't wanna give away too much else, so if this sounds remotely interesting to you already, add it to your Netflix Instant Queue like... right now. If you'd like to read on, find out in detail why I really enjoyed the movie, my exact thoughts on it, and such- by all means, read on! Anyhow, despite all it's lofty concepts, the movie would've been moot if the leads were played by dull or stiff actors. You can really feel some genuine history between these two characters. There's a bit of familiarity in both of them. I think I personally know people who are like Mike and Chris to some extent. Both characters are basic archetypes, but it works. We don't need to know every single detail about their lives. Mike is the upstanding straight laced guy with a wife, and Chris is a crack addict who squats in a shitty unfinished cabin out in the woods.

  It might be hard to glean at first, but these two definitely have chemistry. As things get harder on them both, we can see glimpses of the friendship they once has. There are times when despite the insanity of their current predicament, they end up reminiscing about old girlfriends and high school drama. They end up really coming to life in those moments, and I ended up caring about these two. A lot of movies have that same sort of dichotomy but few make it feel so natural. Another perfectly serviceable movie that springs to mind is Scenic Route. Nothing really wrong with that movie, but at no time do you feel that sort of genuine friendship-lost between the leads. In Resolution, it may be achieved solely by exploiting emotional shortcuts and visual shorthand, but I'll be damned, it actually works.

  Thus when things gets crazy, I'm glad that the movie didn't drive a bigger wedge between our leads in order to create tension. The plot supplies it abundantly from many other sources. As the viewer it was key for us to be on Mike and Chris' side, not pick one or the other. Lets just say that Chris' withdrawal is the least crazy thing that the duo has to endure. Dogged by Chris' drug dealers, the cabin's owners, and those mysterious stories- they go through quite a bit by the end. The movie manages to generate a richly suspenseful and creepy atmosphere while also avoiding tipping it's hand or hinting towards any answers too strongly. A big chunk of the movie is basically a mystery as Mike is trying to find out who or what keeps leaving these 'stories' for him and Chris to discover. His discoveries are as interesting as they are haunting.

  I stress that this is not a conventional horror movie, and that is precisely why it works. There's no slasher, no demented psycho, no typical antagonist of that nature. One imdb reviewer posited the theory that the only real antagonist is... well, us. The viewer, the audience. We are the antagonist. I won't explain how or why he came to that conclusion, nor will I say if I agree or disagree with it- but it just goes to show that the movie is a thinking man's movie. It's all food for thought. Something to talk about, analyze, and scratch your head at. It's semi-ambiguous ending is fitting, if not a little confusing... but it works. It's haunting and scary and we wonder exactly what's been going on.

  If you're looking for a typical monster-in-the-woods movie, Resolution is not for you. Nevertheless, as an avid movie watcher who's always down for new things, Resolution delivered something very different, unconventional, and thought provoking. Not many movies do that these days. It really hit the mark for me. I think it had something to say about people who watch movies, not directly, but hopefully if you're interested and you watch the movie, you'll understand what I mean. If you're really looking for movies like this, I can also recommend Triangle, Pontypool and Honeymoon. I suppose when all is said and done it'd be more proper to call Resolution a cerebral thriller, depending on how loose your definition of a horror movie is. I wholeheartedly recommend Resolution. Go see it.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Interesting


  I've always appreciated the animation of Ghost in the Shell more than the movie as a whole. It doesn't click with me. It never has. This time was no different, for the most part. Despite lots of bullets and blood, it's not a very action packed movie. Not that there's anything wrong with that. Instead, the movie is a bit more introspective. It has things to say about the path our society is on, and the line between man and machine. Unfortunately I don't find much of the movie all that engaging. Fortunately, it still has some impressive animation that is used to great effect in creating moods and visuals that extend far beyond each scene and reach right into you. There's a lot to love about Ghost in the Shell, but maybe even now after all these years... I'm still missing something?

  I don't need my anime to be super action packed in order to be entertained by it. I loved the sequel to Ghost in the Shell, it clicked with me more than this one did. I even felt the absence of Major Motoko. But you'd be forgiven for missing her in this one as well. She's almost a non-character for most of the movie. Her somber personality and stilted dialog render her largely inert except for a few key moments. She's not fun to be around. She's not even that interesting. Things happen to her that are interesting, her partners have the potential to be interesting, but she's not. She has issues and ideas that are engaging and worthy of screentime- if only they had any. She identifies as female, has a human brain, but a cyborg body that hasn't the capacity to menstruate. For all intents and purposes, it's a genderless body.

  Themes like that are only ever skirted around in the movie because the plot propels it forward at such a rate that I couldn't help but feel it was breezing right over all the interesting stuff. Fortunately, the "villain" of the movie is really interesting, but he's hardly in it save for a few scenes. I mean, there's a lot of interesting concepts and ideas in Ghost in the Shell but it doesn't have the runtime to accommodate them. I feel like the movie has a lot to say about personal identity, loss of identity, sexuality and how we define it. But again, you'd be forgiven to think the movie is simply about hackers, terrorists, and artificial intelligence. It's somehow about all of that and then some.

  I can't put my finger on it quite precisely but the things I wanted more of from Ghost in the Shell it didn't deliver. Even it's action scenes, of which I can't even really remember if there was more than one or two, aren't and can't be the selling point. There's one fantastic sequence that evolves from a chase, to a shootout, and finally ends up in a hand-to-hand showdown. This scene is great because it showcases the creativity and inventiveness the makers had. There's some dazzling stuff on display there. But these scenes are largely singular and contained. They are neat and exciting highlights of a movie very unconcerned with raw thrills or adrenaline fueled pacing. Thus, these scenes are bookended on either side by some really solemn and peaceful moments.

  Motoko is not unlike Neo from The Matrix. She's a one-note character, but the movie wouldn't work if she was any different. Those aforementioned peaceful moments have a lot to do with her nature and her personality. They reflect her thought process in many ways. Motoko frequently seems to have her mind somewhere else, contemplating deeper issues. Focusing on existential problems. This kind of thing is highlighted by a particular scene, among others, that seems to be a visual tour of the city as it rains. It's gloomy, dour, and stunningly atmospheric. It's also calm and relaxing. Something that most of this movie is not, but it's also a distinct mood that is evoked more than once for sure. It's in these scenes that I found myself deeply involved with the movie.

  Those quiet scenes of contemplation and reflection are the engaging stuff. The plot and story are deftly written and executed, but they fail to garner the level of interest that it's more somber scenes do. Only in the end do we see where the movie was taking us. It makes sense and is actually really interesting, if not outright thought provoking. The climax of the movie is almost emotionally moving in a way, but we remember that these characters have done nothing to earn my affection. It's been visual shorthand from the beginning. Should I be interested and care about these characters simply because the movie has us follow them around as they do what they do? Is there something larger at stake? We hardly care, so what does it matter? Unfortunately, the characters are just not given too much to do.

  They are not unlike pawns on a chessboard the movie is playing both sides of. They're shuffled about from one inert revelation to the next, allowing us glimpses of staggeringly impressive potential, but I hesitate to say that hardly any of that potential is ever fully realized. I'm well aware this movie has legions of hardcore fans who might actually jump at the chance to tear my review apart and shove my opinion down my throat. But I fail to see how so much ire can be mustered over characters so inert. Then again it's also entirely possible that I've missed the point of this movie. That because I don't "get it" it's failed to connect with me in any significant way. I like the movie. I feel that despite a lack of active interest, it ends up being... interesting.

    Undeniably, there is something about this movie that sticks with me. Something I'm waiting to pinpoint, because I haven't been able to so far. The movie has stuck with me, and in my head for years. That's important. Not many movies can really do that. It does speak volumes about the quality of the film in and of itself that despite my lukewarm reaction to it after two viewings, I'm willing to see it more times in the future. I've even bought it. It's a solid movie, but maybe undeserving of the excessive praise it gets. It seems to excel only in being exceptionally watchable, doing nothing to avoid the vague "something" preventing it from being anything that might stand out in my memory.

  It doesn't have the punch and energy to be a popcorn action flick nor is it emotional enough to resonate as the brainy drama it so desperately wants to be. It's a 'mood movie'. Much like Taxi Driver, or Equilibrium. It's strengths are in the meticulously crafted visual language it's honed in order to impart very specific feelings and moods to it's audience. It takes serious skill and craft to do that.
In closing, I reiterate that I believe the movie is more than the sum of it's parts. It manages to be a moody and dramatic sci-fi thriller that I can only hope gets better with each re-watch.

There is something in Ghost in the Shell that keeps me coming back for more, and I hope maybe I never find out what it is so I will always have an excuse to keep looking.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Excelsior!


  If you're a Marvel nerd, comic geek, or even just a movie lover you probably have heard of the 1994 Roger Corman produced Fantastic Four movie. You've heard all about why it was never officially released, you've probably seen images, or even seen a bootleg copy of it yourself, but if you haven't... contrary to popular opinion, I think you're missing out. With a new Fantastic Four reboot looming on the horizon with nothing but bad pre-release buzz, I figured I owed it to myself to see this one. After all, I am a comic geek, a Marvel nerd, a movie lover, AND a Roger Corman fan. There was no downside to this little venture. With my expectations set to abysmal, and a Papa John's pizza on the way, I settled in to feast my eyes on... The Fantastic Four.

  Well, the movie opens with some neat outer space shots behind the opening credits. The sort of low budget space stuff that still manage to look really cool? (see: Forbidden World, Galaxy of Terror) That, coupled with incredibly catchy theme music kinda got my hopes up that maybe, just maybe, this movie had been unfairly maligned. I'll say it right now, the establishing parts of the movie are kinda great. Sure it's a bit campy and some of the dialog is hokey, but we actually get to see Reed Richard's (Alex Hyde-White) friendship with Victor Von Doom (Joseph Culp). Something the newer movies never show us. Despite Reed's best efforts, everything goes south once Victor's calculations land him in the morgue after a failed experiment. Then we cut to ten years later or so. Everything so far is actually really solid. I expected utter garbage, but the sets are really well made, the acting isn't bad, and I'm just... stunned.  I mean, either it's good, or I'm conditioned to Corman productions.

  Maybe it was my low expectations going in, but I was thoroughly entertained throughout. Especially as Reed assembles his crew for a revolutionary mission into space, where they plan to study some cosmic rays or something. I dunno why I'm explaining all this. We all already know the story. The point is, that the movie follows it really closely. Admirably so in fact. There are some odd sub-plots that they weave in there, which do nothing but needlessly complicate the movie. For example, Reed has a diamond crystal thingy set up to absorb the cosmic rays so it wouldn't hit the crew instead, and this Mole Man-esque jewel thief steals it, swapping it with a fake one. Which isn't bad, but this Mole Man dude isn't the main villain. Doctor Doom is. You could've had Doom's minions do the same thing, and the story might've started to make a little more sense.

  As it is, it follows adequately from scene to scene as each group of characters go through the plot, acting and reacting as necessary. And speaking of acting, it ranges from surprisingly convincing and serviceable, to hilariously bad. Fortunately the hilariously bad bits are rather far and few in-between and usually those scenes are victimized by bad camera angles and/or crappy writing. Unfortunately, usually both. I really stress the fact that on the whole, most of the acting is decent. Nobody was going to win any awards here, but they all get an A+ for effort. Their line delivery is only as strong as the dialog allows it to be. When Reed starts explaining how their powers reflect their personalities... it was kind-of groan worthy, but somehow Alex pulls it off with a straight face, and as a viewer I felt compelled to keep a straight face as well.

  It was the least I could do since It really does seem like everyone involved, on-screen and behind it, were really truly trying to make a fun movie. All things considered, they succeeded. It's a crying shame that Captain America (1990) got a theatrical release and this didn't. Relegated to bootlegs for all eternity, I think that The Fantastic Four might've found an apologetic and dedicated cult following. Especially in the wake of super dark and serious superhero movies like the Nolan Batman trilogy. The pendulum swings one way, and then the next, and had this been officially released, I could see people being a little kinder to it these days. But it's back-alley black market distribution hurt it's reputation at the outset. In no way was the final quality unacceptable for a low-budget 1994 movie.

  But then again, I have a soft spot for tripe like Street Fighter, Captain America (1990), and Doctor Mordrid (A Doctor Strange inspired flick also made under the Corman banner of New Horizons). But it bears mentioning that the bright colorful comic book feel of the movie saves it from being at odds with itself. The Fantastic Four's outfits are true blue, the Thing looks ripped from the pages of the comic, and Doctor Doom has an extravagant throne room in his sinister clifftop castle-lair. The movie is pretty much in love with it's comic book roots, and it shows. It's a blast. A cheesy, hokey, low budget, blast- but don't hold the shoestring budget against the movie. It's still fun if you have the right frame of mind. The Fantastic Four themselves make the most of their low-budget superpowers as they disappear, punch, stretch, and flame their way through Doom's minions in completely unabashed fashion.

  The whole cast looks like they're having fun, and I think that translates rather well into the movie itself. Nobody is having more fun than Joseph Culp though. In full comic-faithful regalia as Doctor Doom. He chews scenery with an insatiable hunger. But it works. He's so over the top, he hit the perfect note for Doom. He also manages to be more scary and intimidating than the last iteration of the character seen on-screen. Culp plays Doom like he's a villain in an old Flash Gordon serial. This Doom is Ming the Merciless, Skeletor and even a dash of Darth Vader, all rolled into one. He points and gestures and makes broad sweeping movements with his arms, knee deep in full-on bad guy melodrama. He even has the voice right, that is... when we can hear it. For some reason, I don't think they bothered to ADR (re-record) any of his lines. So a good portion of them are muffled behind his mask. It's ridiculous, and kind of hilarious. Sadly undercutting the delightfully evil performance Culp had worked up so far. He's still one of the best things of the movie, nonetheless.

  The movie does have it's fair share of humor, but it's situational, and never (intentionally) dares to descend into slapstick. The score tends to make some scenes sound sillier than they actually are, as does the occasional mishap in the editing department. However, when all is said and done, the movie is flashy, colorful, and full of creative special effects. Alas, it's is creativity born out of a nearly non-existent budget but still, they were trying. It's impossible to talk about this movie without mentioning the money they had to work with around every corner because you can tell if they had a bigger Hollywood-sized budget, this movie would've been absolutely great. As it is, it'd destined to forever be derided by bandwagon haters on the internet who'll never fully give it the time of day. I found a lot to love in this campy little flick. It has the energy of a Saturday morning cartoon, and the flashy visuals to match.

  If you're not expecting something on par with the likes of Batman (1989) or Superman: The Movie, you might just have a decent time with it. It's better than most superhero sequels from that era, and manages to be a really fun movie throughout. Or maybe I'm so used to the production value of Corman movies that the badness of this movie never phased me. I reiterate, it's campy, it's cheesy, but it has it's heart in the right place and manages to be rather exciting in a childlike way. I ended up watching it with a couple little kids, and these are kids who are used to the big budget extravagance of modern superhero cinema like The Avengers and Man of Steel, and not once were they anything less than enthralled with The Fantastic Four. If watching movies like this with the eyes of a grown-up skeptic hinder me or you from enjoying them, then maybe we've something to learn from those little kids. Sometimes having fun with something means it doesn't need to be perfect or convincing. Sometimes rubber suits and crappy computer effects can still be exciting.

  I was 8 years old all over again with this movie, and there's nothing wrong with that.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Ghoulishly fun!


  If you follow my blog, read my reviews, you'll know I'm a big Lovecraft fan. Being a Lovecraft fan, I've observed that in general, fans of him and his works fall into two categories. Ones who think his stories make great movies, and ones who think his stories would make great movies... provided they ever made them properly. I feel really bad for the fans who fall into the latter category because Necronomicon is really freakin' cool. As was From Beyond, Re-Animator and Dagon. All these movies, including Necronomicon, were made by the same people (more or less). They should release all of them as a set. They work so well together! So let me just start by saying, if you didn't like Re-Animator (and I don't know why you wouldn't) you're not gonna like the rest of these and especially not Necronomicon.

  If you did like Re-Animator, then you're in luck! Necronomicon, despite several shortcomings, is precisely the type of slimy, gore-filled, practical effects extravaganza that you'd want it to be. When it hits it's stride it also manages to serve up good acting, and solid writing. Not to mention some seriously disturbing stories as well. Yes, I said stories, plural. Necronomicon is in fact an anthology movie. It has three different segments, and a wraparound starring Jeffrey Combs as Lovecraft himself. The wraparound is one of my favorite things about this movie because Combs is brilliant as Lovecraft and manages to exude the kind of mysterious charisma he brought to Doctor Mordrid (a low budget riff on the Marvel character, Doctor Strange).

  The first story, "The Drowned", is kind of convoluted, but still good. It stars Bruce Payne (Passenger 57) as a man who inherits an old clifftop mansion by the sea, Apparently somewhere inside lies the secret for him to bring his dead wife back to life. Of course, when has bringing the dead back to life ever been a good idea in movies? Things go horribly awry in a spectacular fashion, exceeding even my own expectations of just how crazy this movie was going to get. I knew by the end of the first segment I already loved the hell out of this movie.  Yet, segment 1 was not without flaws. Like I said... it's pretty convoluted.

  All the segments are excerpts being read from the Necronomicon itself, by Lovecraft in some sort of strange library. Then in segment 1 we have a flashback and then a completely separate flashback, and I almost lost track of what was happening altogether. A flashback in a flashback in basically, yet another flashback. This is like the friggin Inception of flashbacks. If you manage to keep everything straight, the story pays off well more or less. Early on in the opening, Lovecraft explains to us that the fate of all mankind rests in the balance and it's up to him to save it. However, we're never really sure how or why transcribing stories from the Necronomicon is supposed to do that. It's never explained or elaborated on. In fact, if anything, Lovecraft seems to accidentally make things worse. But alas, who knows?

  Anyways, segment 2, "The Cold" stars David Warner as a scientist who's discovered the secret to eternal life. Of course, that kind of crap comes with a price... and a murderous price at that. Segment 2 is also largely told in one big flashback. It works slightly better here, but unfortunately the story itself isn't as interesting and the characters are uniformly annoying. Warner is great, but he's sort of peripheral until towards the end of the story. The rest of the characters chew scenery like they're starving and overact like there's no tomorrow. I enjoyed the concepts and the practical effects, especially the fantastic gore scenes, but overall segment 2 wasn't all that great.

  Of course the movie doesn't let up and moves right along into segment 3. Now, I found it odd that all of these stories seem to be set close to modern day (the 90's), and the wraparound with Lovecraft is set in the 1920's. It's not exactly clear if he's having visions of the future, or if he's reading these stories from the book itself and the book has recorded future events in it... which would be cool, but it's just never explained. I could spin theories all day, but the movie should've explained this better. It just seems like they omitted some dialog or a few scenes that would've clarified it better. Segment 3 however, is honestly the best one.  It's about two cops who end up being led into some creepy tunnels far below the streets of the city... like lambs to the slaughter.

  Segment 3, "Whispers", is the goriest, scariest, most disturbing and unnerving segment out of all of them. It's also probably the most depressing despite having the most likable protagonist. Whispers flies off the rails, turning into one of the hands down craziest things I've ever seen in a horror flick like this. With some of the best gross-out practical gore effects I've seen in a while, Whispers had me squirming in my seat like a little kid. It was great. As was the final part of the wraparound. Jeffrey Combs kicks so much ass as Lovecraft it's ridiculous. He has leading man charisma while also preserving that natural nerdiness he has. The movie wraps up with a bang as Lovecraft apparently averts some sort of mini-Armageddon I guess, it's not too clear.

  But who cares? The movie manages to generate more squirm-worthy visuals than any ten modern mainstream horror movies. It's wall to wall practical effects and has Jeff Combs as Lovecraft himself. It's a far cry from perfect, or even great, but it's so much fun. A damn good time to be had by horror fans everywhere. It's the kind of crazy, over-the-top, diamond in the rough that I think more people should see. It has all the visual insanity of From Beyond, but with the Gothic creepiness of Dagon. It's adventurous at times, and downright mean-spirited at others. But despite everything you can see a lot of effort and care went into making it. I liked it so much I think it's fair to say I loved it even. A must own for my collection and a full recommendation to boot.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Stark Raving Mad


  This is a movie about a group of young amateur filmmakers who through a series of wild coincidences end up in the middle of a brutal Yakuza feud, and with the participation of both sides, set out to document their climactic bloody showdown... as an action movie. Let all that sink in for a moment. Crazy, right? Well however crazy you think it sounds, the movie is crazier. It's a drama, a comedy, and on the outside edge, it is an action movie... within an action movie. I didn't watch the trailer for it, and stumbled onto it via a random suggestion on an internet message board. Best random suggestion ever? It just might be. Why Don't You Play In Hell? is like a Japanese Tarantino flick turned sideways. It's amazing.

  This movie is all over the place, tonally. Parts feel like a childhood adventure movie with a gang like The Goonies, and other parts feel like A Better Tomorrow, or a Chan-wook Park film. It's everywhere, all over the place. It doesn't ever really settle into one mood. Yet it decides on a style very early on. The movie is abuzz with an infectious frenetic energy that brings even the most mundane moments to life in spectacular fashion. Characters boldly strut into scenes, quickly state their business, and before we know it, we're at the next scene watching someone else do something. It's so tightly edited that we feel like the movie's moving along at a breakneck pace.

  This is good... and bad. On one hand, the movie isn't actually moving as fast as you might think. In fact, it drags a bit in the first half. On the other hand, the fact that we feel like it's speeding by helps to cover up the fact that in reality, it's lagging. You almost can't complain because the movie is full of madcap characters in even crazier lives. You can be certain the movie starts in reality, but after a certain point, reality is subjective in this movie. It's over-the-top nature has us seeing things that couldn't normally happen. Most of the times, this is for either shock effect, or a strong visual effect. It works incredibly well either way.

  For all that alone, I recommend this movie. It's insane, it's off the wall, and it's the kind of movie we don't get enough of. It's honestly about the love of movies and filmmaking. At times, it's downright endearing, and then before you know it, it's dangerous and serious. Somewhere in the middle of those two things, it's also ridiculously funny. You can't find a better cinematic grab bag anywhere. Unfortunately, it's feel good tone wasn't meant to last. The ending is actually quite disturbing, but in a very sad way it makes sense with the internal logic of the movie. I don't wanna give it away, because it's still awesome, but at the same time... I didn't walk away feeling so great. And with a movie about childhood dreams, true love, and following your dreams... the ending was real downcast.

  Again, on the flip side, it's also a movie about the Yakuza and the consequences of violence and revenge. A lesser movie would feel uneven, but not this one. It juggles all of it really well. It does slip up here and there, where we go for long stretches of time without seeing certain main characters as the story sidelines them completely. It's only then does the movie feel a bit disjointed. The payoff is fantastic though. When all the characters inevitably get together and the stories all converge, it's freaking great. No complaints there.

  The acting is fantastic, pretty much across the board. Again, the world of this movie has it's own set of rules. Characters age ten years, and still wear the same clothes. So when someone is hamming it up or chewing the scenery... it fits. Moreover, it's that kind of energetic insanity that permeates this movie on just about every level. From the music to the settings, and especially the visuals. The casting is great, and the characters are great. It might feel like a bit much at times, but like I said, when everything comes together, it's great. Not unlike a bunch of puzzle pieces clicking into place and somehow the final image is crazier than you could've possibly expected.

  It's a sideways meta movie that's a movie inside of another movie. And while Why Don't You Play In Hell? could've been stronger, a little more refined, but I feel that the answer to that is within the movie itself. Sometimes you don't have all the time in the world to get it right, you just have to be in the moment and get it made. What ever you come up with is a labor of love. Which is definitely written all over this movie. It's certainly not perfect, and has a fair share of issues, but it's a damn fun trip that had me laughing and gritting my teeth throughout. If you're looking for something crazy that'll hold your attention, you could a lot worse than this movie. If you ever get the chance, check it out. I definitely think more people should see it.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Surprisingly Effective


  I saw this a couple weeks ago, being a big fan of Stuart Gordon's H.P. Lovecraft movies, I figured it was about time I sat down to watch Dagon. Unfortunately Jeffrey Combs wasn't in this one, as he was in more than a few of Gordon's other Lovecraft adaptations, but Gordon cast some guy who's got the Jeff Combs look and mannerisms down. Next best thing and all that. Anyways, the movie wastes no time landing our protagonists in the creepy fishing village of Innsmouth. Oops, sorry, in this movie the village is called "Inboca". Cause it's set near Spain and "boca" is Spanish for "mouth". Oh. The movie is hampered by some stiff acting, and some really dated early 90's CGI, but you shouldn't hold that stuff against it. Dagon is still a damn fine horror movie.

  With their boat wrecked in the midst of a terrible storm, Paul and his girlfriend make it to the shore of Inboca and seek out help. What they find instead is unspeakably terrifying. Fortunately for anyone after a few good scares, that's not just a tagline. The townspeople are all members of a murderous cult, worshiping an ancient entity, one of the 'deep ones' known only as "Dagon". The movie follows Paul around as he's separated from his girlfriend and chased through the dark rainy town by the townspeople, who he slowly starts to realize are all slowly mutating into fish-like creatures. It's weird on top of strange, and deep fried in terror.

  As a movie, Dagon is often uneven in most regards. Sometimes the dialog is natural and flows, and sometimes it's stilted and forced. Same can be said for the momentum, the acting, and the effects. However, make no mistake, when the movie is good- it's really friggin good. Ezra Godden, the Jeffrey Combs lookalike, does a great job as the lead. His arc has him facing some downright disturbing shit, and he soldiers through it, not like an action hero, but like a man profoundly scared out of his skull. He plays his role with gusto only faltering where the script does. Everyone else is spot-on for the most part. The acting itself was good enough where I never really noticed it one way or the other unless I really thought about it. Everyone played their part, and well.

  There's lots of special effects in Dagon. Some of these effects are computer generated and those effects are kinda shitty, unfortunately. Things don't feel as real as they need to in order to have the impact should have. Impact and effect are the bread and butter of a movie like this. On the other hand, there's loads of practical effects too. Those are absolutely great. In a town full of mutant fish-men you can bet there's some disturbingly good practical effects to be seen. There are some scenes that drag on too long, and others that feel out of place, but whenever the movie has a big effects moment, everything clicks for the most part.

  The strange visuals and downright creepy atmosphere of the movie is enough to recommend it in my point. Even as the movie gets deeply mean-spirited, something keeps you glued to this movie. An uneven blend of greatness and mediocrity, Dagon is cheesy, unsettling, horrific, and ultimately a job well done. I had to step back and look past it's shortcomings. There's a great movie under all this. It's there. You just gotta pay attention. It's low budget and has too much filler, but it's also a delightfully strange and haunting tale that deserves a look-see. Is this the foremost ideal Lovecraft movie? No, for that, I direct you here. Nevertheless, while Dagon is knee-deep in blood and guts, it doesn't forget it's roots and never sacrifices it's atmosphere for anything. It sticks to the cold and rainy darkness that seems to envelop this movie completely.

  Not enough horror movies are even capable of generating a atmosphere this rich and creepy. Props to the makers of Dagon. It may never get mainstream appreciation, but for Lovecraft fans, and horror fans, all you have to do is look around, scratch the surface of what the internet has to offer us, and you'll find excellent word of mouth about this movie. To which I am gladly contributing. Not every movie is perfect, and neither is Dagon, but it's a valliant effort held back only by lack of resources and money. One thing they never seemed short on was passion. This project seems like it was backed by people with big respect for the source material and who really wanted to make a good movie. Not enough movies nowadays have a crew like that behind it. In this day and age, we need more movies like Dagon. Thus, if you're a horror fan, you should see it. No doubt about it.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

High Quality Fever Dream


  To tell you the basic premise of this movie would be like promising you a story, and all you get is the fringe oddities of a drug induced fever dream. Surreal in every regard, one's basic grasp on the story is frequently lost in spectacular fashion as we're assaulted with wild visuals saturated in vibrant colors that toy with your head. Whether that's a good thing or a bad thing is up to you. I pride myself on being able to recommend really strange and trippy movies to friends of mine who aren't as cinema-savvy as myself, but this movie threw me for a loop. I don't know if I can recommend this, because honestly I can't say I actually enjoyed it.

  I'm sure there's a whole genre of movies just like this out there, but it's really saying something when I can divine a more straightforward plot from Alejandro Jodorowsky's The Holy Mountain than I can from this movie. I'm sure that this is a movie that you can only classify as art, because I'm not sure it's anything else. It's a story told through a dream-like mode of storytelling. It's told through disjointed images, sounds, and pure expression. Everything is strategically placed and shown to evoke specific emotions in the viewer. After an hour and a half (almost) I can't say I was made to experience emotions that I'd want to experience again.

  Not to say it was an experience I regret having, but about halfway through, it had become a chore. Far be it from me to say there are limits to what you can get away with in a movie like this, because a movie like this is art, and you can't put limits on artistic expression, but... there are limits to what you can get away with in a movie like this. In one scene that's too surreal for me to even describe, certain events keep repeating themselves. The first few times, you get it, but it doesn't stop at a few times. I'm almost certain the scene is meant to unsettle and exhaust the viewer. Then the question becomes, what am I subjecting myself to?

  Sometimes a more coherent plot can save a sequence like that because there's context and within that context you, me, the audience, can understand what the hell is going on. At the same time, the movie makes no effort to be grounded at all. Context? Coherence? Pft. Those things have no place in this movie. You'd need a tour guide and a GPS unit just to navigate this maze of a movie and find the exit. If it wasn't for the impressively crafted and stunningly realized visual language, this movie would've have been more of a mess than a maze. As it is, you can somewhat divine a loose narrative because there are certain scenes that seem to take place entirely in a normal reality.

  Unfortunately those scenes are little more than guideposts, or rest stops. A break from the delirium. Funny enough, you get the sense that everything that's happening is happening in reality. Even the insane and off the wall stuff. The movie is shot as if the camera is in another dimension, peaking in on ours. Things are distorted, seen close up. The picture is often split several different ways, and then mirrored. A simple conversation between two men become a dizzying, intense, up-close tour of subtle facial expressions, body language, and the movement of their eyes. So, in a movie that can lend such craziness to such a mundane thing, how can any other thing be taken for granted? You can't tell the drug trip, so to speak, from the regular stuff.

  Not unlike a dream. Or a nightmare in this case. Dreams, captured in their raw form, and put up on a screen would probably play a lot like this. Dreams make sense when you're in them, but as you try to recall them after you wake... you remember how odd some of it was, and in the worst cases (or best) you find yourself simply unable to explain it. The Strange Color of Your Body's Tears is for all intents and purposes a murder mystery and a horror movie. I can only recall a handful of names and a smattering of significant looking scenes. The rest is a blur of colors and motion. Visuals stand out as important, faces we should recognize, things we should understand, but by the time the credits roll... all you can do is remind yourself that you're awake now.

  I can imagine this is what a normal movie would look like to a cro-magnon man. Someone so profoundly illiterate that a regular movie would be a mind blowing hallucinatory experience. Perhaps some artists aren't seeking to tell a story so much as they are looking to share a sight, a sound, a feeling. Ultimately, they are sharing an experience. It's not for us to comprehend or understand. It is at best, a concept. An emotion. Did I like this movie? No. I'm not looking for an experience like that. I can say I safely draw the line at Lynch and/or Jodorowsky. I tend to want a little logic in my movies. My dreams are already crazy. But for those of you looking to see someone else's dream, I wholeheartedly recommend this one. It's horror in it's purest form. It shows us what unsettles us and frets not the details of things like context, dialog, setting, plot, or story. It's a slew of fever dream imagery strung together on a most basic premise.

  Is that a bad thing? Or is it genius? That's up to you. But either way, if you're interested, odds are it's at least worth it. It's balls deep in symbolism and savagely psychedelic imagery. It's begging to be analyzed, psychoanalyzed and then probed in all it's naughty areas. Only then will you have experienced this movie to it's fullest. Have a conversation or two about what such and such part really meant, or try to understand what such and such image was really about. I won't indulge though, because this isn't my kind of art. It's interpretive fodder for intellectuals who aren't satisfied unless they can Sigmund Freud the hell out of a movie. My semi-repeated involvement with movies like this are interesting experiences, always, but invariably end when I'm done writing my review. It won't get any amateur psychoanalysis out of me.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Simply fantastic


  After Digging Up the Marrow, I decided to keep the indie horror thing going and give Honeymoon a shot. If third time's the charm, I can't imagine how what I watch next could possibly outdo such a damn fine movie. I had known about Honeymoon for a fair minute. A month or two. However, in doing a bit of looking up on it, word of mouth wasn't great. In fact people complained the movie was vapid, and even a bit threadbare. Others accused it of being slow and tedious. I don't know exactly what they were expecting, or what kinds of movies those reviewers like... but Honeymoon was none of those things.

  It's pacing deliberate, it's story simple, but it's all in taking the time to familiarize you with our protagonists. Trust me, nothing is arbitrary. Newlyweds Bea and Paul retreat to an old cabin that's been in her family for ages for their honeymoon. It doesn't take long for things to go awry as Bea's strange behavior starts to worry Paul. That's about as vague as the Netflix description was. At this point, you have no idea what it could be. The movie's taglines, seen on a few of it's different posters, all point in different directions. I don't even really want to tell you what I thought was going on because the littlest nudge in any direction could give the plot away... and that would be criminal.

  It's not a big "twist" movie, but the fun in it is discovering what the hell is going on with these two as the movie progresses. It could be anything. The movie held my attention like nothing else has recently. I started to notice things, little things, just like Paul. Played by Harry Treadaway, Paul, who reminds me of a young Dennis Quaid, is our anchor. It's his point of view that the audience is seeing things unfold from. It's a familiar role that could easily slip into cliche. A concerned husband or father, noticing strange things about a wife, girlfriend, or daughter. Yet Treadaway's performance has us buying into every single second. It feels genuine and sincere. ...And also a bit familiar. Movies like The New Daughter, Possession, and The Possession spring to mind (all good movies). Not to say Honeymoon has too much else in common with those movies, so don't let those titles fool you. However, if you are a fan of that specific little sub-genre, you'll love Honeymoon.

  Possession is a fantastic movie that is nothing but a emotionally charged drama about infidelity... until it pulls the rug out from under you in slow motion as the main character discovers something is just not right with his wife. As authentic and nerve wracking as the marital spats and ear-shattering shouting matches were in the first half of the Possession, Honeymoon is content to go in the entire other direction, obviously. Bea, played with charm and gusto by Rose Leslie, and Paul are the happiest newlyweds ever. Drunk on their own affection for each other and completely in love. Thankfully it never gets over saturated, and it's easy to get caught up in their happiness. I found myself smiling often and almost forgetting what kind of movie I was watching.

  Both Leslie and Treadaway play their roles with such sincerety that it ends up being downright gut wrenching. No matter what you think this movie is about, keep an open mind. Experience it for what it is. Rather than drop a twist on you like a sack of bricks, it gives you enough hints and clues for you to slowly arrive at your own conclusion. In doing so, it avoids any sort of adverse knee-jerk reaction. A lesser movie might have tried to spin it as some big surprise at the end, but a smart moviegoer would have already figured it out. Putting it out there as a last minute surprise twist would've been borderline insulting, because the same movie has been prodding us to figure it out this whole time. And, you know... we fucking did. It needs to affirm our suspicions, not try to surprise us with what we already know.

  Honeymoon does just that. By the time you figure it out, it's been handled so delicately and with such care that you just want the movie to acknowledge what's happened. It does, and... it's fantastic. The movie is a bit depressing so don't go in expecting something that'll leave you upbeat, but go in with a lot of patience, and an open mind. This visually stunning movie more than satisfied me. It's dripping with atmosphere and tension and it plays to it's own strengths. There was a lot on the shoulders of Leslie and Treadaway, having to carry basically a whole movie on their own, but they did it. They did it really damn well too. I can't recommend it enough. I'm in love with this haunting little movie. It was fantastic. Offhand, I can't even think of a single complaint.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Just Because You Don't See Them...


  Who says good poster art is irrelevant these days? One glimpse at poster art for Adam Green's Digging Up the Marrow and I knew I had to see it. That, and admittedly someone spoiled a small scene for me on tumblr, showing me a picture. Damn you people. You suck. But... thank you at the same time. It caught my attention and pointed me towards this awesome movie. It brings to mind another fantastic found footage movie I saw last year, The Taking of Deborah Logan, and sadly I neglected to write a review on it. I wasn't about to make that mistake twice. Digging Up the Marrow deserves to be heard about.

  Let me get this out of the way and say, I am not at all fond of found footage films. I'm not denying there's a handful of good ones, but by and large the genre has become nothing if not bloated with entries made on the fast & cheap with no creativity or real effort behind them. The whole concept of found footage has been done to death, and then some. It takes an amazing amount of effort just to come up with a good concept that would work best as a found footage film and stand out amidst the sea of shitty ones. The Marrow is one such film with a good, if not great, concept. You know all the deformed infants and kids you hear about, and see grotesque exploitative pictures of? As they grow up, we don't just see them walking around among us. They kind of just... disappear. Nobody looks for them, nobody cares, and nobody notices. Where do they go...?The movie poses us this question, and then provides us with a theory...

  They've all gone underground and grown up to be what your average person would consider bona-fide real monsters. After all, it asks, what really is a monster? The movie itself is very much caught up with the why's and how's of it. Proof and reality. Nevertheless, most of the characters in the movie are real people playing themselves. Right down to the star, writer, and director- also playing himself, Adam Green. He has an instant honesty in the role, which probably comes from playing yourself and not a character. For those of you don't know, he's an up and comer in the horror genre. I feel somewhat safe saying 'up and comer' because before this, I didn't even know who he was. He did the Hatchet movies apparently. I'm sure he'd be disheartened to know I've barely heard of them.

  Well I have now. Adam Green seems like a very cool guy. We hear about his deep personal affinity for monsters and how it translated over into his work. The first half of this movie feels exactly like a real documentary for all intents and purposes. It started feeling more cinematic once Ray Wise popped up as a potential crackpot, named Dekker, with the theories about these underground monster populated cities. A whole network of them. He calls this sub-civilization... "The Marrow". It's catchy, it's fitting. You say it enough times, it sticks even. It's wholly unpretentious and intriguing. The core concept of the movie revolves around this, so it had to be something that could hook you just from hearing about it.

  If Dekker sat me down and spilled his guts about The Marrow, I'd believe him. I wouldn't show up to start doubting him. Of course, Adam Green and his cameraman needed more than just theories and drawings. They needed video. Which is of course where the faux-documentary makes the shift into true found footage. Or as Adam would call it "Footage footage". There's nothing 'found' about it, see? The movie demands you believe in The Marrow right away even though Adam and his crew don't. You have to. Otherwise, there's no movie here. So much build up about monsters and 'what if they were real?' and wishing and... it'd be a dick move if the core concept of the movie was a hoax. Adam wants to believe in Dekker as much as we, as an audience, have had to this whole time.

  The pacing is rather glacial, but it needs to be.  If it blows it's load too soon, we get a shitty final act or some lame plot patchwork, filling in where we should've been getting the actual reveal. As the movie holds your attention on faith that there will be monsters, a small mystery within the internal workings of the film starts to crop up. Dekker himself is an enigma. He wants his theories about The Marrow to be filmed, by Adam and co. but he's being incredibly secretive at the same time. About the strangest things to boot. Adam ends up having to investigate Dekker while they all stake out an entrance to The Marrow. Which looks like nothing more than a large hole in the ground. At a cemetery of course. Because... where else would monsters go?

  In part, the unseen grandiose side of the concept was explored ages ago in another movie called Nightbreed. That movie was of a different tone altogether and carried a much different message. But underground cities? Populated exclusively by monsters? All around graveyards? Yeah, there's no denying some familial feelings here. It's what was lurking in my head the whole time watching this movie. Yet it talks it up so much, so huge, and shows you so little- but in the best way possible, that your imagination goes wild with it. It shows you just enough to get your brain going, and then manages to scare the shit out of you. That is, if you're engrossed at this point. If not, the scares will land flat, and you won't care.

  See, once you're caught up in the mysteries and the procedures and the theories... the movie is free to unleash what it has lurking in the shadows at you. It's fast, it's sudden, and it only works because you're so into it. These scares would be wasted in a lesser movie. Even though they're not entirely the most groundbreaking scares ever, Adam sells the hell out of it. In the situation, and beyond. He's fantastic. An anchor for the viewer in every way that matters. I wish I could tell you more, I want to show you the drawings, have you listen to Dekker, let your own imagination go wild. But I realize that I'm simply recommending you go seek out the movie. And you should. It has it's issues, plenty of them, but a lot of creativity, heart, and effort went into making this one atmospheric, scary, and worth your time. Don't pass it up.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Darker Heroics!


  Three years after the uneven joke-filled adaptation of the manga of the same name, The Guyver somehow got a sequel. Guyver 2: Dark Hero. In all respects this is a much better movie than the first one. So much so that it feels like a soft-reboot. They took all the complaints about the first one to heart, and really worked on it in this one. For all intents and purposes, this is the dark, serious, intense movie we should've got the first time around. The rather bland Jack Armstrong who played Sean the first time around has been replaced by David "Solid Snake" Hayter. He may only have a few default emotions he switches between, but Guyver: Dark Hero knows exactly what it is, and what it is doesn't call for deep oscar winning acting.

  Hayter pulls off the solemn brooding expressions quite well. It's most of what's required from him in the script. Sean's a tortured guy. The Guyver unit itself is shown as something of a deadly burden this time around. It's not your average Iron Man suit apparently. It has a personality of it's own, and it's bloodthirsty. The opening of the movie has Sean, as the Guyver taking the fight to a bunch of drug dealers picking up a shipment of heroin (I think?). We saw how brutal the Guyver was against Zoanoids, imagine him fighting regular humans. It's every bit as crazy as you might think... and bloody. Very bloody. Broken limbs, sliced throats. If you haven't figured it out by now, Guyver 2 is actually rated R. Woo!

  I should be clear on this though, they got away with a lot in the PG-13 from the first one, so in no way do I think Guyver 2 needed to be rated R. I firmly believe it spends it's R rating entirely in the opening scene against the drug dealers. Several f-bombs and a gory throat slice. That's the worst of it though. The rest of the movie is more or less within PG-13 bounds. More or less... There is some rather bloody Zoanoid-on-human violence much later on, but it's brief. Still safer in an R rating than a PG-13, but still. The problem with the first movie wasn't it's lack of swearing and gore. It was the slapstick humor. Which... thank God, is completely absent from this movie. For that reason alone, Dark Hero is already better. Hang on to your butts though, there are even more reasons.

  The action in Guyver 2 comes faster and hits way harder. Due in no small part to fantastic fight choreography and amazing sound effect work. There are parts of this movie that feel technically subpar or somewhat slipshod, but the fights, the action scenes, all the stuff people actually showed up for? Absolutely great. Downright impressive. Sean really embraces his heroic side and saves the day over and over in full-on high-flying fashion. The whole... murderous Guyver unit thread was sorta dropped and not picked up again after the opening. I mean, the unit keeps trying to activate itself through various points in the movie, and Sean struggles against it, but the movie quickly gets it's R rating, and it's new edgy subplot out of the way in the opening and never really touches either of them again.

  Granted the Guyver makes short work of a big scary Zoanoid at one point with graphically bloody results, but it's still rubber suits all the way around. That's one thing, killing humans is another. Visually speaking, one gets you an R rating, the other does not. Just look at Aliens Vs. Predator. Anyhow, it's the Guyver vs. Zoanoid action that I was really hoping delivered, and boy did it ever! The action scenes here are beyond top notch. Guyver 2 really sheds that whole childlike nostalgic feeling and goes straight for the action. This is an action movie to the core. It just also has alien bio-armor and big intimidating monsters. Who thankfully don't drop a sick beat before they fight this time around. The Zoanoid designs are even better this time around. Scarier, better acted, and awesome animatronics. Leaps and bounds ahead of the last movie.

  Dark Hero is not without it's downsides though. After the atmospheric opening, the movie takes place solely around an archaeological dig, where Zoanoid bones have been found. This is fine for the plot, and is actually interesting, but as far as locations go... it's somewhat boring. The first movie had great sets put to good use in even better set pieces. This movie has some wooded areas as a backdrop, and it feels less like it had to do with a conscious story decision and more to do with budget restraints. It also shows with the Guyver suit itself. Despite being pretty much identical in design to the one from the first movie, alot of the animatronic bells and whistles have been removed. The suit's color scheme has also been vastly simplified.

  In the first movie the Guyver suit was shades of grey, with subtle blues and greens, and pops of a fleshy red. Now it's just several shades of blue, and only blue. Not that it's particularly bad looking, I rather like it. But it looks simple. I miss the complexity of the suit from the first movie. The movie more than makes up for it by allowing Hayter to play Sean as a mysterious badass. Thus making the Guyver scenes all that much more fun. The transformation scenes are exceptionally cool, and in some ways even outdo the ones from the first movie. Maybe they're not as batshit crazy, but they're super fun and creative in their own way. The body-horror aspect isn't as prominent in this one, but we get lots of cool and colorful scenes via dream sequences and flashbacks that break up the visual monotony of the woods and the dig site.

  On top of disappearing plot threads, an overly simplistic story, some momentum issues, and moderately stiff acting, Guyver 2 rids itself of the silliness of the first movie and fills in the gaps with loads of hard-hitting action scenes. I never knew watching men in rubber suits go at it could look so brutal and vicious. (Sorry Godzilla...) I'm not sure what else you could want from a Guyver film. Having never read the manga or watched the anime, i'm sure I'm missing out on something, maybe the fans are still clamoring for their ideal adaptation. But I'm thoroughly satisfied with Dark Hero. It may be a bit simple, but it delivers! It's a hard-hitting, fast paced, beat-em-up, monster-filled, kung-fu flick. If that sounds like your cup of tea, you owe it to yourself to check this one out, even if you haven't seen the first. Super fun movie.

I AM the Guyver!


  No thanks to the cover art, some people might think Mark Hamill is The Guyver. He's not. Yeah, that disappointed 13-year-old me too. This 1991 cheese fest is based on a manga of the same name. Little can be said for the acting or the writing, or the editing... or the directing... but! The movie isn't all bad. The first time I saw it, I was 13 or 14. At that age, things like Power Rangers and Beetleborgs were fun, nostalgic, childhood memories, but the appeal of a kung-fu hero fighting alien monsters didn't die off. If only it were a bit more mature, a bit more big-budgeted. Well, the answer practically fell right into my lap when I happened upon an old VHS of The Guyver for sale at a local bookstore.

  It was impressive! ...Mostly. On one hand, it had some seriously neat practical effects. Suits of bio-armor, fantastic creature design, and cool animatronics. To a kid raised on movies like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1990) and Star Kid, The Guyver was nothing if not etching it's way into my list of guilty pleasures. It was really cool stuff. On the other hand... it was painfully silly. Half of it clearly wanted to be taken seriously, but... the villains have all the seriousness of the bumbling henchmen in your average Saturday morning cartoon. As inept and goofy as they are, the movie asks us to believe they could be a threat. See, the bad guys in this movie aren't exactly your regular bad guys...

  They can morph into these hideous super-strong monsters called Zoanoids. And with a few notable exceptions, the hideousness is ruined by the fact that the goofy inept henchmen... are still goofy and inept as Zoanoids. They cease being scary when they rap insults at the hero before trying to tackle him. If this was ever considered 'cool' you can shoot me now. A monster who literally raps and wears jewelry? Good lord. It's so silly and goofy it takes you out of the movie, which otherwise involves conspiracies, murder, and general all-around violence. Unlike my other childhood faves, The Guyver is a full PG-13, and not without it's fair share of disturbing images and graphic creature-on-creature bloodshed. So why did they ruin this tone with silliness only a little kid could smile at? Anyone over the age of 6 will probably just stare in disbelief or annoyance, and likely both.

  If you stick it out and persevere though, the payoff is rather worth it. There comes a point when the silliness tapers off, and the pace tightens up, leaving no time for anything but action and fighting. The climax of the movie manages to impress and surprise. Even as jaded as I was by 14, I was still honestly surprised. Even though the tropes and plot devices the movie uses are stuff we've all seen a hundred times, The  Guyver knows how to repackage them so they still feel new. Or... just about new at least. Anyways, the movie is about a young man, Sean Barker, who finds an alien device, called a 'Guyver' unit, that ends up infusing his body with a protective suit of bio-armor that looks like a cross between H.R. Giger's Xenomorph and RoboCop. Yeah. It's that cool. Anyways, some evil dudes from an evil mega-corporation have been hunting down this device, and that put Sean and the ones he loves... right in the crosshairs.

   As per usual, Sean has to use the Guyver to fight back and save the day. Yet it's still the weirdest superhero movie you're ever likely to see. All the Zoanoids are grotesque, well designed, and fearsome but despite this, they're still rubber suited monsters. They still have shades of the low budget Power Ranger monsters we all remember. The Guyver suit itself looks fantastic. Like... really fantastic. The kind of practical effects laden super-suit, stuffed with animatronic bells and whistles, that we just don't see anymore. The movie makes good use of all it's practical effects as it pits these two opposing forces against each other, and much blood is shed. I mean it too. The Guyver rips off a monster's arm at one point and snaps his neck so violently, blood sprays out. So clearly this movie isn't for kids, thus the humor is still a major point of contention. But the weirdness persists, and it's not a bad thing.

  Despite being a superhero movie, it's also kind of freaky. Like a body-horror movie. The villain's main plot to to mutate more people into Zoanoids. This process doesn't always go so well. We're treated to some fairly grotesque sights. Within the boundaries of a PG-13 rating of course. Then there's the Guyver unit itself. The way it melds with Sean looks downright disturbing, and rather violent. If it wasn't for the silly tone and the kung-fu fights, this movie could almost pass for a horror flick. Whatever you want to call it, it's a monster movie. All the monsters just happen to know how to fight. Even the battlegrounds for the Guyver and the Zoanoids are varied. From grimy urban alleyways, to big grim warehouses, and even a secret science laboratory.

  The sights in this movie are outrageous and insane. There's nothing grounded about this movie. Pervy mad scientists, bumbling henchmen, alien monsters, mutating people into creatures, Mark Hamill as an angry CIA agent with a mustache, and kung-fu fighting. Who knew these alien monsters could fight so well? Nevertheless, despite the stiff acting, shoddy dialog, and so on- when the movie cuts to the chase and gets serious, it's really fun. The lead monsters have their moments of being truly scary and when it really matters, they feel like a true threat to our hero. Anyways, the movie is indeed a mixed bag. The ridiculous slapstick humor pretty much sinks it, but there's some really neat stuff that's made it worth a few re-watches for me. Most of it is so bad it's just... bad, the rest is really cool and sleekly made.

  They simply don't make movies like this anymore. Either you're someone who's glad about that... or you're the kind that's already made up their mind they'd like to see this movie. In that case, I suggest you do as I did and follow up with the vastly superior sequel: Guyver 2: Dark Hero. Nevertheless, if you're in the mood for something a little dated, a little nostalgic, something wierd or just plain odd... you could do worse than The Guyver. It's stupid, odd, gizmo-filled and action packed. It's by no means good, but it's strange, and sometimes... that's enough.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Not half bad


  The year 2001 seems like forever ago, it was the year we first got Lord of the Rings on the big screen (Bakshi's version nonwithstanding) and Harry Potter for that matter. Not to mention hundreds of other incredibly good and famous movies that people remember fondly to this day. Then there was Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Now, I dunno. I can readily see why fans of the game franchise would be pissed off with this movie. It has literally nothing to do with the games. Who thought that would be a good idea? I don't know. Nevertheless, non-fans (myself included) found it fairly accessible, realizing they wouldn't have to be on the up-and-up with the games to understand the movie. The result? A largely mixed bag that serves as an incredibly interesting piece of history, ripe to be explored and discussed.

  As a movie itself, The Spirits Within isn't bad. It's exciting, flashy, and full of action. It's brimming with concepts and ideas that are much bigger than could adequately be explored within the confining runtime of a feature film. The Spirits Within needed to have it's own game series. I would've played it. On the other hand, nothing about blonde kids with spiky anime hair and obnoxiously gigantic swords appeals to me. I know I probably just alienated a bunch of readers, but as consumers in a media-obsessed culture we all have to look from the outside in. We have to judge books by their covers, and we have to make decisions on what we see. To me, the Final Fantasy games look like the epitome of what I hate in gaming. Anime style, turn based, RPG fantasy games make my skin crawl.

  Some people love it, I get that, I'm cool with that, but since The Spirits Within isn't even a remote adaptation of the games or their stories, the most you can even complain about is that they used the name "Final Fantasy". Beyond that, this movie has to be judged as it's own beast. When I talk about the 'concepts and ideas' in The Spirits Within, I really don't mean it's whole Gaia theory. The environmental message in this movie is snore-worthy. It's really sad when you find yourself as annoyed with the protagonists as the main villain is.

  "So, if I point a gun at the Earth, and fire... I'm not just shooting dirt, I'm killing the Earth?" he asks, sardonically at one point. A line clearly meant to make him seem like a douchebag, but I'll be damned if it didn't make me smile. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for making sure we take care of the planet we live on, it's not like we have a backup... but I don't need that message shoved down my throat in my movies. In almost every sci-fi movie with an environmental message, the plot and characters suffer greatly. They only just get by in this movie, and no thanks to the computer animation either. Which is where I'm torn. I think if this movie had been live action, it would've been easier to watch, and might've had more shelf life... but at the same time, it probably wouldn't have gotten as much notice, or been as memorable.

  Not to mention the technological achievements they accomplished in making something like this. Despite how dated it looks, there are moments you can easily forget you're watching computer generated models move about in a digital environment. There are some fantastic shots in the movie, and it's visually stunning at times. Which helps. It feels like it has all the bones of an amazing sci-fi movie, but none of the guts. Dr. Aki Ross is cute and stoic, but she's a one-note character. No matter how well she's rendered, her emotional range is kind of stunted. Which can't be said for all the characters. Maybe it's just the other voice actors breathing life into their characters, but some of the secondary characters are simply fantastic.

  Computer animation needed to mature a bit before an experimental movie like this was made. At the same time, it's experiments like The Spirits Within that push the boundaries and advance the technology. Nevertheless, I'm feeling particularly scatterbrained today. The concepts and ideas I love in this movie, are the elements that almost get sidestepped. Alot of the technology they use, the little gadgets, gizmos. All of these things would be put to much better use either in a long standing film franchise, or a video game series. Who wouldn't love to play as one of the Deep Eyes soldiers? Shit, I'd love to. Sign me up dammit. And the aliens... in this movie, are ghosts. Taking the Starship Troopers aesthetic to a whole new level. It's a mind blowing concept put to great use here, and then quickly forgotten altogether once the movie bombed.

  Granted, some would point me towards the Mass Effect games, and I would explain to them I've already played them, and the ending last one left me cold and wanting. Ick. I'm a fanboy. I have gripes. Get over it. Nonetheless, it is interesting to point out the connections between Mass Effect and this movie. Stylistically, they're kissing cousins. But the low key ambiance in the earlier scenes of the movie, and the Earth-based globe-trotting adventuring featured in the rest of it, are not things I felt directly echoed into Mass Effect. Those games played more towards Star Trek or Firefly. Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within is a huge heap of potential just waiting to be tapped into again.

  It's a shame it had no real audience to love it and connect with it. It's technological feats were praised, but it's ideas were left alone to collect dust while the company behind the movie went bankrupt and shut down, with no intentions of ever expanding on the world they created here. The movie is dated, a little stiff, and unfortunately more lifeless than it has any right to be, but it still surprised me. It's probably my third viewing of it since it came out, and it's never looked better than it has on Blu-Ray. All the glowing x-rays, holograms, and alien ghosts make for stunning atmosphere and fantastic visual treats that movies today are still struggling to adequately deliver.

  The action scenes are impressive. The filmmakers made use of the fact they were working in a digital environment, putting the camera places you couldn't normally, capturing the action from exciting and unexpected angles. A huge chunk of this movie reminds me of Starship Troopers, and that's a good thing. The difference is that this movie has a strange sort of technical freedom in things like lighting and camera movement. It's unhinged in a way that you couldn't get in a live action movie. On top of that, there are settings and scenery that are just breathtakingly intricate and eye-popping. More than the special glowing gadgets and creatures, it's these shots that create the atmosphere of The Spirits Within.

  All in all, for a movie about souls, spirits and ghosts, it could've used a bit more heart. That's not to say the characters are devoid of merit. I liked them. They were if anything, likable. I heard that they had planned for the likeness and model of Aki Ross to be a digital actress and star in other movies, becoming a cornerstone of their studio. I would've loved to have seen her become ever more realistic over time. It's nothing short of a shame that this neat little sci-fi gem is all but forgotten, save for the hateful comments in passing by a bunch of bitter Final Fantasy fans lurking on internet forum boards. Those are not the right people to appreciate this movie. Mass Effect fans might enjoy this, and certainly those looking for something more in their sci-fi movies. It's short on feeling, but huge on neat and original ideas.  Well worth watching for the visuals alone, and definitely worth a look if you can stand the semi-dated looking CGI.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Yeah, I'm thinking he's back


  I want very badly to call this movie Keanu Reeves' comeback. Unfortunately, it's not like he ever really left. He just kept making underwhelming stuff. And then he made John Wick. Holy balls. John Wick is the kind of flick Keanu was born to make. It's probably his most emotionally charged movie too, which is astonishing considering how simple and gleefully action-minded it is. He emotes like a seasoned stage actor, taking us through the gamut; grief, anger, rage, depression, and even joy for a moment or two. What's amazing is that for once, he's given the perfect material to work with and his acting is on par with the stunts. I don't think Reeves is ever really a bad actor, he's just an actor who needs a part tailored for him. He gets miscast in a lot of movies, but suffice it to say, John Wick is not one of them.

  Reeves plays the eponymous title character, who used to be a hitman of sorts for the Russian mob. At one point however, he met the love of his life and made a deal with the boss to retire from the life. He actually pulled it off and got out, to live happily ever after with his wife. Unfortunately, an illness claimed her life, and as a parting gift... she left John an adorable Beagle puppy, named Daisy. Then, not a day later, the son of his old boss takes a liking to Wick's car, not knowing who he is. Then, having turned down their offer to buy it from him, they break into his house at night... beat him to a pulp, steal his car, and kill his dog. This sends the entire Russian mob into a panic because this jumped up little shit just send the boogeyman himself into a blind rage.

  Wick dives back into his old life, calling up old acquaintances and meeting familiar faces again. All as he systematically kills his way to the boss' son, Iosef. This is a very simple story. It's cut and dry, black and white, no nonsense. It's also full of neat scenes and awesome secondary characters. Unfortunately, these little interludes, particularly one where Wick seeks lodging at a fancy hotel that seems to be a no-business zone for hitmen and the like- these scenes interrupt the pacing of the movie. They're also one of the chief highlights. John Wick isn't just a plain action movie, it creates a whole world for it's characters to inhabit. One full of shadowy clubs, unspoken rules, and secret alliances. It's really immersive, interesting, and endlessly fun.

  Oddly enough, this movie feels like a sequel. All these familiar faces feel like ones we should've seen before. Not that the movie ever leaves us in the dark as to who they are, it handles that adequately enough, but... even the backstory seems like it could use it's own movie. A prequel maybe, one that has Wick pulling off that one last "impossible" job for the Russians, essentially earning his freedom and riding off into the sunset with his ill-fated wife. It's a whole movie right there, and it's one we don't get to see. I want to see it. Namely because more John Wick at this point can't possibly be a bad thing. I'm skirting around the real topic of discussion here, the real star of the movie...

the action.

  ...And holy hell, is there action. I suppose the fact that John Wick was directed by Keanu Reeves' longtime stunt double Chad Stahelski played a big hand in how slick and well shot all the action is. Every single fight is choreographed down to every last bullet, every single movement, and nothing is wasted. Nothing is superfluous. As an action fan, I think the highlight of any action movie is when they do something you don't see a lot, or they do something unique in an action scene. Off the top of my head, just about every fight scene from The Raid (and it's sequel), and even the shootouts in Dredd. They all managed to be really creative, and at the least they were all exceptionally well executed. However, action movies become a drag when all they are is guys blindly firing guns at each other while the camera shakes like it's having an epileptic seizure.

  John Wick doesn't roll like that. Each shootout is paced, tracked, and choreographed. Reeves moves through the scenes with calculated precision, shooting, punching, kicking and judo-flipping enemies as he sees fit. He moves and fights like clockwork. This does more than just give us mind-blowingly cool action scenes, this infuses something into the character of John Wick. This is a guy who the entire Russian mob is afraid of... and the movie is keen to show us exactly why. Wick is a goddamn machine. They way he fights and shoots is part of his character. It's why he's the best. The whole movie hinges on that selling point. He has to be frighteningly good at killing. He can't be a stock action hero. He has to be on the next level of convincing badassery. I'm happy to report, Keanu pulls it off like he was The One all over again.

  Not since The Matrix have I seen him in a movie that utilizes him so well. John Wick is a very good movie. It has a few hangups with the length of the story, and a few momentum hiccups, but I'd be lying if I said I felt these were serious issues. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. With any movie I feel like there's a checklist of a few little things to ask yourself when reviewing it. Would I watch it again? Would I buy it? Would I recommend it to others? When it comes to the case of John Wick, for all three questions, the answer is a resounding "Yes."  It's been too long of a time since I saw a Keanu Reeves vehicle that blew my hair back, because most of his post-Matrix filmography is either moderate (Constantine, Street Kings) to snore inducing (The Day The Earth Stood Still) and some unfortunate misfires (47 Ronin). So, regardless of how you wanna look at it, John Wick is a supremely satisfying return to form for Keanu, and a breath of fresh air for action fans.