Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Haunted Dollhouse Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Three idiotic tales that make no sense that have some aspect of their story relating to dolls.

Review: What the fuck did I just watch?! Few words can describe how stupid this piece of shit is, but I will do my best as always. The first story involves art thieves pretending to be a Hollywood crew scouting out filming locations at some castle. Supposedly this is in Italy yet everyone speaks English and sounds pretty damn American to me. This family that lives in the castle is really weird and more reminiscent of something you'd see in "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" or some movie along those lines. Apparently the castle is guarded by some stupid little puppets that kill evil people, and since the thieves try to rob the castle it isn't too hard to guess the results, huh? The ending gets even more retarded than one may think as some of the family members become zombies, and everyone seems to just go crazy for no conceivable reason. Like most shitty movies, this story ends abruptly. Nothing makes sense, everything looks pathetic, no scares, and not even any potential to waste. The second story is about some prison/jail/halfway house/whatever the fuck for women and some girl trying to get by. Unlike the last tale, this had some potential at the beginning that was seriously wasted. The main girl is beat up by a gang of girls, tormented by a guard, and hounded by the warden or whatever the hell she is. Eventually the main girl's daughter gives her some "worry dolls" that will take away her problems if she sleeps with them under her pillow. Now I'm familiar with this folklore and they had a cool scenario set up had they made the dolls come to life and go after the people she wanted gone. They even made the dolls look distinct with the potential to have an actor dressed up in a costume and exact revenge on each tormenter. I suppose I'm a better writer than these idiots because they went in a completely moronic direction and simply made the dolls crawl into the ear of the main girl and semi-possess her into getting revenge for herself. My god this was torture to endure as I kept wishing it would end already. There are so many cringe-worthy moments and illogical directions in the plot. Big shock, the story ends suddenly and pointlessly. Finally, we come to the only semi-decent story which is actually just 30 minutes of another movie called "Dollman vs. Demonic Toys." The thing about all the stories is that they feel jumpy and that scenes are missing and this may explain it. I wonder if the first two stories were also just shortened versions of other movies? But the thing about the third story is that you immediately notice the change in film quality while the other two did feel recent. Regardless, they're so fucking stupid I would hate to watch the full films! The only reason I even rated this film as high as I did was because what little was shown from "Dollman vs. Demonic Toys" was actually kind of entertaining and because it featured a super hot chick in a nurse outfit! If you're unfamiliar with the "Dollman" and "Demonic Toys" franchises, this story at least catches you up on those pieces of shits; but they are at least the kind of shit so bad it's good. Anyway, the Dollman is some alien bountyhunter who is only a foot tall and he works with a girl who was shrunk by aliens. He teams up with a cop who was trying to kill the demonic toys. For the most part, it is kind of action-packed as the Dollman fights the toys with all the sets designed to be larger than life. Honestly, if this even remotely entertains you, just watch the actual movie instead of the shortened version here. Well, suffice to say, the Dollman kills the dumb toys and the film ends. Just thinking of how stupid this movie is as a whole has me nodding my head in shame. I mean, seriously, what the fuck is this shit? Maybe the first two stories were unreleased films? Whatever, it doesn't matter because this movie sucks in every facet of filmmaking 'nuff said! I cannot express more strongly: DO NOT WATCH THIS SHIT!

Notable Moment: Any time we see Ginger aka Dollchick looking sexy as hell. She definitely knew how to work that nurse outfit!

Final Rating: 3/10

The Grudge 3 Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Kayako and crew have set up residence in the Chicago apartment complex, from the previous film, and continue their rampage as Kayako's sister attempts to end the curse at last.

Review: This truly is the oddball of the franchise even more so than "Ju-on: The Curse 2," because not only does it not follow the fragmented story telling style, but it's the only entry to completely have the setting in the USA. Rather than trying to find its place in this franchise, this movie just follows a typical horror film's format and makes little sense in the process. It all wreaks of a cheap cash-in, and this is the kind of shit people hate about Hollywood. Anyway, the story picks up where "The Grudge 2" left off with the Jake kid being attacked by Kayako and somehow surviving and being put in a mental hospital; he is then quickly dispatched of by Kayako which makes you wonder why he was even allowed to live in the first place. For some reason Kayako and crew have ditched Japan to permanently haunt this apartment building in Chicago. An immediate contrivance is the fact that we are introduced to Kayako's sister, Naoko, who somehow knows about Jake's death. This is especially stupid because why would anyone make the connection, and there is just some throwaway line about "someone" trying to shame Naoko. So this "someone" happens to know that not only is Kayako a ghost killing people, but knows Naoko is the sister? Who the hell is this mystery person?! Naoko is surprisingly the most interesting character as she goes to the USA and attempts to exorcise Kayako once and for all. The other characters are just some family that takes care of the apartment building, a few neighbors, and Jake's psychiatrist. I was waiting until this installment to bring up something very important about this franchise: Kayako has always been wonderfully portrayed by Takako Fuji and she has been replaced this time around. Although the new actress is okay, you feel the emptiness to the scares without Ms. Fuji's presence to carry the film; it's stupid too because we see Ms. Fuji as Kayako in flashbacks of the Saeki murders. Toshio's actor is often replaced in all the entries, but he looks especially pitiful here which exasperates how noticeable the replacements were. There aren't many scary scenes and, in fact, there are quite a few laughable moments such as when we see a giant CGI Kayako face. On the other hand, there were a few interesting ideas, if not done to the best of their ability, such as Kayako coming out of a painting. The acting actually did feel better than the last movie, which is sad, even from the little girl, Rose, who I thought would be super annoying but wasn't too bad. By the end of the film, Naoko does manage to exorcise the Saeki crew but at a cost since the main dude kills Naoko when he's possessed by Takeo. This part pissed me off because no one tried to help Naoko...they just sat back and let her die. But apparently the curse has been spread to Naoko since we see her come back as a new ghost. I really don't mind this approach because it could have opened up possibilities for some future entry, but then they ruin what little momentum they had by still showing Kayako in that fucking beloved final zinger! Eh, this is a mixed bag for me because I do hate so much about this film, but for the most part it is just a mediocre waste. It's nowhere near as bad as you may think, but definitely not good. It was direct to DVD so I suppose I can forgive most of its flaws because its budget was low. I guess give this one a view for closure if you've seen all the other films, but understand this is probably the worst in the franchise since "Ju-on: The Curse 2" had its own set of problems but was still more enjoyable. Well, this is the end of the road thus far, but there is supposedly another entry coming at some point so look out!

Notable Moment: When Jake's psychiatrist is attacked by Kayako at the mental hospital. Kayako's sudden appearance is startling, and they made her appear somewhat scary in bright lights which was impressive.

Final Rating: 5/10

The Grudge 2 Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The curse has spread to an apartment building in the USA after a failed attempt to burn down the Saeki house.

Review: Like the previous remake, I don't know why this entry receives as much hate as it does. The problems with originality and such, again, go back to Takashi Shimizu for taking the story in this direction. This is his baby so you can't fault Hollywood entirely for making this story completely out of the unused elements of "Ju-on: The Grudge" and parts of "Ju-on: The Curse 2." As I mentioned before, I think this is the second best Kayako looks in the whole franchise so she definitely feels scarier this time around. In fact, there are better scares overall compared to the last film. There were even more subtle shots such as when the Allison character first goes into the closet that leads to the attic in the Saeki house and we see a glimpse of Kayako lurking in the shadows; little touches like this go a long way for me. The new lead, Aubrey, (played by Amber Tamblyn) brings a new perspective compared to the Karen character, since they're supposed to be sisters, whereby she seems more saddened and it feels more appropriate that Kayako would integrate with her as she did with the Rika character from "Ju-on: The Grudge." As for moving half the story to the USA, I suppose they felt this was necessary since they were exhausting ridiculous reasons to have Americans running around Japan. Oh, but they still found ways to have more there! This was one of my biggest complaints about the first film and yet we have more foreigners as the leads in Japan! Was it so hard to find Japanese stars that speak english? Or could they not just get some Japanese Americans? Ugh! The only Japanese characters they added, besides the Saeki crew, was a teacher we see for a second or two and one of the schoolgirls that lures Allison to the Saeki house, named Miyuki. Eh, she's cute enough, played by Misako Uno, but she was a terrible actress and delivers some horrible lines. They also slipped in Edison Chen, as if he's Japanese, although he does have a line about being from Hong Kong (yeah, you better dude), but he did a good job as a reporter trying to get to the bottom of the Saeki murders. Oh, and don't even get me started on Kayako's mom speaking english and a bullshit origin story for Kayako! FUCK! But back to the bad acting, there is quite the abundance to go around. It's funny too because some of these actors have gone on to better roles, but they were terrible here. My last gripe is that the ending was predictable. More so, it was so unbelievably predictable, I seriously have to wonder did they think the audience would not see it coming a million miles away?! The gist is that some girl has brought the curse back from Japan and it has spread to this apartment building, but we all knew it was Allison and not Aubrey! The way the music plays, the recap shots, and just the presentation makes it seem as if it was some big revelation that it wasn't Aubrey. Supporting this is the fact they even deleted the scene of Allison being followed by the ghosts of the other schoolgirls because that would obviously tell the audience right there. In the end, I do like this movie because I felt it pulled off some successful scares, a decent story, and of course that great musical score from Christopher Young. On the other hand, the acting mostly sucks, many contrivances, and not enough new material added to warrant a view from veterans of the franchise. I'd say it's worth a view just to see how creepy Kayako looks in this version, but "Ju-on: The Grudge 2" is, by far, the superior sequel.

Notable Moment: When Kayako comes for Miyuki at the love hotel. Besides some terrible acting, Miyuki, played by Misako Uno, delivers a hilarious line that I still make fun of to this day. She's cute though.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Grudge Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: An international student living in Japan visits a home haunted by the evil spirits of a murdered family.

Review: I'm well aware that the American remakes have gathered a reputation for being bad, which is justified, but I disagree and think there were many improvements that far outweigh the negatives. However, I cannot deny the glaring fact that most remakes are unnecessary, Hollywood is not churning out quality material any longer, and this film had many flaws that should have been improved upon at this point in the franchise! So let's tackle the mistakes first for a change, shall we? I don't care how many times I see this movie, I can't accept this many Americans in a film supposedly taking place in Japan! An American family moves into the Saeki house, Kayako's crush and his wife are American, the main girl, Karen (played strongly by Sarah Michelle Gellar), and her boyfriend are American, and even Karen's boss too! AHHH! Seriously?! My fucking god give me a break! This borderlines on absurdity and is extremely hard to ignore. I wish Karen's boyfriend had been Japanese or at least keep Kayako's crush as Japanese (and why the hell does Kayako love Bill Pullman anyway? Oh wait, it's Bill fucking Pullman that's why!). Okay, I need to calm down. Anyway, Kayako is not that scary looking this time around. It sucks because she was looking so disturbing in "Ju-on: The Grudge 2" but at least she does look creepier than in "Ju-on: The Grudge." I can't explain it but the makeup effects make her seem as if she's not really there as she appears so synthetic and not like a ghost woman. Maybe it was that the eyes are too big or because she seems frozen in certain facial expressions and isn't as animate? And my final complaint is that virtually nothing new is added! This was such a waste since I would have liked to at least had my expectations toyed with to some degree. This is the third telling of this tale after all! Now on the other hand, many of the problems about originality need to be addressed toward Takashi Shimizu, because he is writer/director of the original and remake and he could have gone in whatever direction he so chose. Since he chose this, I can't really fault them for wanting a straight up scene for scene remake. The atmosphere and presentation felt scary and unsettling with everything looking darker and the audience could also feel something was off as the characters did. The improved look of the house and the creaking floorboards were welcomed additions. I also felt the characters were more engaging what with the family that moves into the home, Karen, the detectives, and even the Saeki family; although I still preferred Rika (big shock, right?) from the original. Maybe I'm just another American that needs to be spoon-fed the plot, but I much prefer that this film took the time to properly show us the creation of the curse detailing each murder. Not only do I believe that this helps the audience actually gain a grasp on what the hell they're watching, but I think this made Kayako out to be a much more sympathetic character making her transformation much more tragic. Other than these facets, it's just the little things like the music, by the legendary Christopher Young, that enhances the film and makes it a worthy remake. While I do like this film, it is only close to the level of the originals and by no means surpasses them. This film is worth checking out and is even full of decent scares, but I would still recommend watching the originals first since they're vastly superior especially when you take into account their originality with inventing all these scares and the story. I watched the remakes first and still prefer the originals better so I don't think this is a case of which version you see first. Regardless, I stand by the fact that this franchise should be viewed as the five Japanese films first followed by the American trilogy.

Notable Moment: When Kayako is in the stairwell and latches onto Susan's rabbit's foot attached to her phone. It was a nice and eerie image of Kayako fading back into the shadows.

Final Rating: 7/10

Ju-on: Old Lady In White/Girl In Black (aka White Ghost/Black Ghost) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Two separate tales involving vengeful spirits: one surrounding the story of a murdered family and the other with an unborn twin.

Review: Before anyone gets all worked up over where Kayako and crew are, these are different curses but in a similar vein as the Saeki murders; this is not to say that there isn't a vague connection to the overall franchise. "Old Lady In White" is the better of the two as we explore the tale of a guy who became possessed and killed his whole family after failing the exam to be a lawyer. Despite the fact that this guy killed his dad, stepmom, sister, grandma, and niece, the grandmother is the one who embodies the curse (probably because the makers figured she would look scariest). There are some interesting ideas as this time the curse seems to spread to anyone who comes into contact with anyone or anything connected to the murders. This includes more police investigating the case and unfortunately the father of the main girl, Akane, who was a nice guy. Again, the story is much darker in these direct to video entries as we see a large chunk of the story dedicated to the fact that the killer was molesting the niece. Akane feels guilty she did not intervene when the two were children, but this leads to the oddest ending of the bunch as the ghost of the niece, Mirai, does not kill Akane but merely returns a toy the two shared. I wasn't sure what to make of this because these films never end on a happy note (if you can call this happy). At the same time, there didn't seem to be any resolution to the story since the curse is still going. It's an intriguing and surprisingly compelling little tale, but it feels like there is a lot more missing to fill in all the gaps especially in regards to why and how the killer was possessed. As for "Girl In Black," this is a much simpler story as we see a young girl, named Fukie, becoming possessed by her unborn twin. The spirit of the twin, I assume, has been slowly feeding energy off of Fukie until it begins to have the strength to manifest and attempt to control the girl. Also, the source of the curse is that the twin is angry that it was not born and wants everyone to feel its fury especially its family. The best part about this one is Fukie's nurse, Yuko, played by Ai Kago of Morning Musume fame. If you may recall to many of my reviews I mention this J-pop group as one I especially love. Not only does she do a great job but she looks cute all grown up! Anyway, this story isn't all that scary and felt like a huge let down as Fukie's aunt, a spiritualist of sorts, seemingly exorcises the twin only to realize she removed Fukie's spirit and left the evil twin behind. Fukie's mom commits suicide with her soulless body, but somehow the twin is unleashed and presumably kills my dear Yuko! And that is pretty much how that one ends after you piece together the order of events. Ugh, neither of these stories have good endings, but at least "Old Lady In White" left you feeling better and even a little hopeful. Both segments have decent atmosphere and a refreshing take on the franchise, but neither felt all that scary and "Girl In Black" feels much more shallow and empty. Finally, let me try to piece together the best explanation of how these two tales could be connected to the original Saeki haunting since we do see pointless shots of Toshio. I believe it is quite possible that the house that "Old Lady In White" takes place in could be the original Saeki home remodeled. One indication is that the mom finds a photo of the Saeki family lying around, Toshio is hanging out, and because the brother is seemingly possessed by an evil force; we can presume Kayako is absent because she was, in fact, reborn after part 2. As for "Girl In Black," the only connection is that I think the dad in that story road in the same taxi that Akane's dad drove. Other than that, there's no connection, and I could just be using wishful thinking. Overall, these films are decent for what they were and worth a view, but know what you're getting into ahead of time. Above all else, realize Kayako will not be there and enjoy these films on their own merits.

Notable Moment: When the grandma ghost charges at the girl in the bathroom. This really comes out of nowhere and catches the viewer off guard. Although, it is a cheap scare.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Ju-on: The Grudge 2 Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After a horror actress films a TV show episode at the Saeki house, she and the crew are haunted by Kayako.

Review: Now we come to my favorite entry in this franchise since I believe this is the scariest of the bunch even if there are some flaws to the story. I love the premise to this entry since no longer are we simply dealing with people moving into the Saeki house and the zany antics that ensue, but we are dealing with a film crew. The story feels more calculated and planned out than the other entries since they had multiple segments that felt disjointed from the overall plot while this film has all the events and characters tied specifically to the filming of the TV show episode at the Saeki house. The lead this time is an aspiring actress who has become a bit of a scream queen, named Kyoko; she is not to be confused with the psychic Kyoko from "Ju-on: The Curse 1 and 2." There is a mystery, albeit predictable, that steers the story since Kyoko is pregnant and the baby is seemingly possessed by Toshio after she and her fiance get into a car accident also caused by Toshio. Big shock, the baby is possessed by Kayako or is Kayako depending on whether we are to believe the original baby died. Also, Toshio serving as a more evil spirit this time worked better since I've always felt this franchise was confused about what it wants the ghosts to be. I think the ghosts were originally imagined as typical spirits from Japanese lure, but this concept of a disease-like, evil force was something new so it's better that they treat the ghosts more like evil forces than any kind of representation of their former selves. Meaning, Toshio and Kayako are not the ghosts of their living selves, but an evil force created through the murders that simply looks like them. Despite the predictability of the pregnancy plot, the scares, setups, and direction are further improved upon over the last film. This film's strongest aspect is the amazing background scares which there are so many. In fact, I would recommend watching this film a couple times to try and catch them all since most are subtle like a shadowy figure moving. This isn't to say that the big set pieces aren't just as scary because they are amped up big time compared to the other films. One of my favorite scenes is when the director is printing copies of Kayako's diary and the printer keeps making all black pages until they start to slowly form a really creepy outline of Kayako's face. Or another is when Kayako comes down the stairs to get this one girl, Chiharu, while Kyoko looks on and then Kayako suddenly turns to Kyoko; it's hard to explain, but you need to see the look on Kayako's face to get how scary that was. Speaking of our beloved Kayako, she looks amazing in this entry! This is by far the scariest she looks in the entire franchise even though I did like her look in "The Grudge 2" as a close second. But as much as I praise the improved makeup effects and scares, the story has continuing flaws. The time jumping aspect makes even less sense this time around since not only do we see more "haunting yourself" ideas, but we see time altering which really makes no sense. The Chiharu character, that I mentioned, keeps envisioning herself at the Saeki house dying, which would fit what Kyoko saw at one point of the film, but instead we are to assume she dies earlier? I don't know how to explain this one because it makes so little sense except if there were actual time traveling which I really don't think a ghost story should deal with especially if presented so confusingly. It is worth mentioning that Chiharu, played by the lovely Yui Ichikawa, played the same character (she was Izumi's friend) in the previous film so that was a cool connection. Lastly, the ending makes no sense yet again! So Kayako comes out of Kyoko at first in her normal adult form but then there is a baby form. Later, we assume much time has passed with a little girl Kayako as she, out the blue, decides to kill Kyoko. Kyoko seems quite pleased by this for some reason too as demon-girl Kayako just walks off into the sunset. I really don't understand any of this because what are we too assume? Kayako herself was reborn? The evil has taken a human form? How or why would any of this happen? Are we to believe there was an intelligence to this evil that had an actual plot to impregnate itself into Kyoko? Eh...anyone's guess is as good as mine since I strongly believe the writers just wanted to end the story with the audience left guessing. Kayako did look creepy though as a little girl so that at least made it chilling to see. Anyway, I highly recommend this entry even if it falls flat at the end and the time jumping can be confusing. This film is really scary and mastered the blend of in your face setups, jump scares, and subtle background scenes, a task not easily accomplished, while the cinematography, atmosphere, and direction feels superior to the other films. Don't miss this one since it's probably the most underrated entry in the franchise.

Notable Moment: I don't know if it was intentional or not, but when Megumi is sensing something in the shadows. We see an awesome shot of the camera slightly zooming in on her face, the lighting shifts, and Megumi's eyes seem to glow momentarily in a similar fashion to the other entries implying someone was possessed except she wasn't. Whatever happened, it was eerily effective.

Final Rating: 8/10

Ju-on: The Grudge Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After a crazed husband kills his wife and son, a curse is created that spreads to anyone that goes into the home or comes into contact with those who have.

Review: This is probably the story many are more familiar with, compared to "Ju-on: The Curse," since this is pretty much the plotline of the first two American films, and this is the easiest version to track down. Unlike the first two movies, this film tries to add a main character to that scattered storytelling-formula in the form of Rika (love that name!) played impressively by Megumi Okina. It definitely helped to have a lead character this time since the audience needed someone to guide the narrative or that we can identify with. Other than the addition of Rika, there are many new elements added to bring the running time to full-length compared to the first two; however, there were certain plot elements that were removed/added that weaken the film. The good: more fleshed out concepts with the family that moved into the Saeki home as they become a primary source of scares with each meeting an interesting demise. The presentation of each of the family members was cool since this allowed for some new ideas to see Kayako at work. There were some incredible setups that are still effective no matter how many times you see them like when Kayako appears on the security cameras. I will say that the husband's palm tree-looking hair did bother me though. There's a creative interpretation of how time works in the house and with the ghosts that feels imaginative. For example, one of the cops that worked on an earlier case involving the home tries to burn it down but is distracted by an older version of his daughter. Likewise, the daughter is revealed to have seen this cop (her dad) in the future. This could possibly address the issue of why the ghosts appear more human looking occasionally and then other times scary. Are the ghosts becoming more malevolent and powerful as their sense of time goes on? Lastly, there was just an overall sense of improvement with scares, story, atmosphere, and direction; for the most part, everything felt improved save for a few aspects. A major change that didn't work was Kayako looking noticeably less scary with lighter makeup and wig-like hair. I don't understand why, with a bigger budget, they made Kayako look so normal especially considering how creepy she looked in the first entry. I definitely did not like that there was even less background information on how the curse began. I get that they may not have wanted to repeat too much, but so little is told about the Saeki family in this entry. In fact, if this is the only entry you watch, you will know next to nothing about how this all started. The time concepts I liked can be confusing since there are multiple moments where you are thinking "what the fuck?" like Rika's friend saying Toshio is her student (huh?). Or the fact that the film implies people can be doing things as a ghost before they even died (what?!). So people can haunt themselves? Ghosts are time travelers? I don't really get it, but I do like that the film tries to show us that these ghosts exist in some kind of different dimension where the rules of time and space do not function the same. Finally, the ending does not make much sense (yet again). My best interpretation is that the film implies Rika (and perhaps others) will become a part of Kayako since I suppose she is more of an evil force than an actual ghost of her living self. I know others have interpreted it that Rika is taking Kayako's place as the ghost but obviously the sequels disprove that, and also because it wouldn't fit the theme that the curse is like a plague spreading to everyone who goes into the house or interacts with someone who went in. Despite my gripes, this is a really scary film and it is no wonder it has become a classic. There were so many new and creative ideas in this film that it felt so unique at the time compared to anything people were used to. This is a definite recommendation since it is essential horror viewing and a must for Japanese horror specifically. But, even though I rated this film higher, I still prefer "Ju-on: The Curse" since most of its flaws could have been fixed with more money, and that film felt like it had more heart.

Notable Moment: So many cool moments, but I liked when Izumi is attacked by the ghosts of her friends.

Final Rating: 7.5/10

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ju-on: The Curse 2 Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The curse is spreading to more households as, like a plague, Kayako's rage infects others with a connection to her house.

Review: Okay, this just barely qualifies as a film since it is way too short (70 or so minutes!), like the first entry, except that this movie spends half of that running time showing scenes from the previous "Ju-on: The Curse!" That is unforgivable. I mean, there's padding and then there's fucking bullshit! Ugh, well, if you can ignore this aspect for a moment, there's some decent material that follows that compliments the first movie more. Like all the films, that fragmented style of storytelling remains present as we are given multiple shorts that reveal to us the events that led to each character's haunting, possession, or death at the hands of Kayako and crew. If you recall, I explained how the first film ended idiotically with no explanation...well, this film (eventually) picks up right at that scene except it goes into further detail whereby it is revealed that the ghostly woman that Kyoko, the psychic, had been staring at is possessed by Kayako. The first film did not make it clear, but apparently that woman was the one who moved into Kayako's old house? From that shot, it does not look like the same house to me but whatever. Also, if it's the same house, why would this woman be mailed Kayako's diary? So someone, we can assume the police, removed the diary only to mail it back to the house? Uh okay. Kyoko's brother, who was the realitor that sold the infamous Saeki house, moved into Kobayashi's old apartment which then spread Kayako's curse to him and his family. Even Kyoko is seemingly possessed as we assume the curse is not only spreading but growing more powerful. The other characters we see bite the big one are some of the detectives involved in investigating the original murders as well as the subsequent deaths and disappearances. The last person to go bye-bye is the realtor's son who is attacked by Kayako at school as we see multiple Kayakos running about seemingly to tell the audience that the curse is unstoppable. It was kind of funny because the lighting was far too bright and Kayako's fast crawling appeared humorous more than anything; it's worth noting that Kayako's dress was so short in this film that it should come as no surprise they lengthened it in all the following movies. Some things in this film feel off more than the first since now Kayako is much more malevolent than the previous film. The makeup effects seem more refined, but I preferred the bloody Kayako over the pure white skin with dark eyes look. There are some nice scenes and the direction to spread the curse was an interesting idea. But at the end of the day, this is half a movie and deserves a score fitting of that. I would have rated this film significantly higher if more effort went into making it feature length. As it stands, if you got rid of the first 30 minutes or so of recap, you could just tack what remained onto the first film to make it one longer movie. I also can't recommend this film unless you could watch it for free and even then be prepared for an extremely short ride with not much payoff. I'm glad the franchise would go in a bigger and better direction after this, but I still respect what they were able to accomplish with so little budget and creative ideas.

Notable Moment: When Kayako subtly walks past the detectives in the background while they are in shock that a young policewoman claims Kayako is at the station.

Final Rating: 4.5/10

Ju-on: The Curse Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After a man kills his wife and son, their ghosts haunt and kill anyone who comes into their home.

Review: Let me begin by saying this is the very first of what I will refer to as the Grudge franchise. This is the Japanese original made for TV/Video version and not to be confused with "Ju-on: The Grudge" or "The Grudge:" the American remake. I know it is kind of confusing since the titles are all so similar as well as the plots, but I will do my best to sort this mess out. Lastly, there are a total of 8 films in this franchise counting the American trilogy but technically 9 if you count "Ju-on: Old Lady in White/Girl in Black" as two films (which I don't); I also heard there is going to be an American reboot coming so...just fucking great! Anyway, this is quite the impressive film given its low budget and how inexperienced the crew were at the time. Although many have come to know the story quite well, this and "Ju-on: The Curse 2" have the darkest stories of the franchise in my opinion. The non linear storytelling has often thrown off viewers, but it's what makes this franchise feel so unique, and I've come to appreciate this fragmented method whereby you put the pieces together in your mind as you go much like solving a mystery. To sum the story up from the tidbits during each segment: a few years back, the Saeki family, which consisted of the husband, Takeo, wife, Kayako, and son, Toshio, lived in a house in the suburbs. Kayako was obsessively in love with Toshio's teacher, Kobayashi, and eventually Takeo found out and lost his mind; Takeo then murdered Kayako, Toshio, and the family's cat creating this "curse" whereby Kayako became an evil spirit and Toshio's spirit fused with the cat. Anyone who comes into the home is then seemingly infected with the curse, similar to a disease spreading, in which they will be haunted, possessed, or killed by the ghosts. For the most part, the horror elements are simply seeing the ghosts slowly get to those who have come to the house which include a new family that moved in as well as various friends or visitors. Of note is the girlfriend of the new home owner's son who's played by Chiaki Kuriyama of "Kill Bill" fame among other roles; this is one of her early works, and I barely recognized her if it weren't for her distinct look and nose. The scares were original at the time with some creepy atmosphere from how slow the buildups were. I felt the overall approach to the scares was creative and made effective use of a tight budget; the lighting was definitely a nice touch to enhance the imagery. At the same time there are some subtle story elements that weren't in the later films that I could be looking too deeply into such as my belief that Kayako raped Kobayashi sometime that he passed out from drinking and she took him home and into his room. Takeo also says something weird about how he raised Toshio for him which implies he at least suspected Toshio was not his kid. Finally, there is the awkward scene in which Kobayashi wants to tell his wife something about Kayako but never finishes. Another unbelievably disturbing aspect, cut from the other films, is that Takeo kills Kobayashi's pregnant wife, rips out the baby, and beats it repeatedly in a sack until finally Kayako comes and kills that bitch; this is another aspect that I liked better instead of Takeo just killing himself in the later entries. As creative as this film is, there are many flaws that hurt it: for one, even though I praise the style of storytelling, it can be confusing and annoying to many casual viewers. Although this is nitpicking, I never understood why the ghosts sometimes would appear normal looking and then other times "scary." It's never explained and makes next to no sense. The film is insanely short and the ending is nonsensical and incredibly stupid if it weren't for the sequel to fill in what the hell it was all about; basically, the Kyoko character is walking along, sees a woman in a window (I suppose she looks vaguely ghostlike) and just runs away scared...that is no way to end a damn film! Finally, for better or worse, Kayako talks while she's a ghost in this version which can be creepy or stupid depending on your outlook. If you have only watched the theatrical versions, I definitely recommend going back and seeing the origins of it all. There is enough new material that was cut for the later versions to keep you entertained, but don't expect too much different. It also makes a nice contrast to see the difference in production quality and how much you can accomplish with next to nothing.

Notable Moment: When Kayako crawls down the stairs. Although this happens in many of the versions, I felt the cheaper makeup effects somehow created a more visceral look to the ghost.

Final Rating; 7/10

Mass Effect: Paragon Lost Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Taking place during the events of Mass Effect 2, we see the early exploits of the Alliance space marine, James Vega.

Review: If you're a big fan of the Mass Effect video games, like I am, then you were probably very excited at the announcement of an animated movie. You were probably immediately disappointed when you learned the film would focus on James Vega! Why would the writers feel Vega would be the best character to dedicate a film to?! He was annoying, overly cocky, utterly stupid, and an annoying addition to Mass Effect 3 when his slot could have gone to one of the many fan favorites like Miranda, Thane, Legion, etc. Thankfully, it would seem someone at least realized how stupid this character was and managed to make him significantly less annoying for the film. The story is simple as long as you know ME lure: Vega is stationed on some colony planet commanding a few marines when the Collectors attack; we pretty much know all of this right from Vega's mouth in ME3. Apparently there a few things we didn't know about Mr. Vega in ME3 that add to his character while some things create contrivances and continuity errors. I liked that they made Vega an ardent Normandy supporter, much more naive and unsure than the douchebag we know, and just a generally more normal soldier; the contrast between him and Shepard was a nice touch showing us that Vega aspired to be like Shepard but failed miserably which would explain some of the animosity in the game. Vega pretty much let's everyone in the colony die in favor of saving information that will stop the Collectors since he believes it will save more lives in the long run; later he would learn Shepard got the same information and more without losing anyone which further infuriates him. This revelation did add a decent layer of depth to this one dimensional character of the game. On the other hand, Vega has an Asari love interest which makes no sense considering all the effort that went into saving her, you'd think the two would still be together; the film even implies that the two are kind of together which would be fine if we had heard any mention of her in the game! In ME3, James blames himself for everyone being killed at the colony (which is mostly true) but he failed to mention the whole reason the colony was attacked was because of a Cerberus spy who was somehow working with the Collectors; this part made no sense at all unless he was indoctrinated but he wasn't so it's more of a plot hole than anything. Again, you'd think Vega would stress this betrayal since it was crucial to the story but we hear no word of this. Finally, Vega seems virtually unstoppable as he jumps from ridiculous heights and performs all kinds of acrobatics. This annoyed me to great lengths because Vega sucks in the game and couldn't do half of what he does here. Eh, this is an okay film with some decent action and drama even if not on par with typical ME storytelling. I suppose the biggest reason I lowered the rating was because of Vega himself and new problems with the story this film creates. If you're a ME fan, I definitely recommend checking it out since you may enjoy it more than I. If you have no clue what I've been talking about all this time, it's time you look up Mass Effect and get playing! It's a great franchise and the first game, in particular, is astounding. This movie does not even come close to doing the franchise justice as much as say the first or second game would do for a new fan. Enjoy this film for what it is, but stick to the games!

Notable Moment: When the krogan, Brood, dies and gives away his fuel cells to Vega; it was actually kind of touching even if their relationship was not fully realized.

Final Rating: 6/10

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A young Bilbo Baggins adventures out into the world of Middle Earth to help a group of dwarves reclaim their fallen city from a ferocious dragon.

Review: It's kind of hard to describe this film as a prequel because it technically is a prequel to the "LotR" movies, but "The Hobbit" novel did come first; this feels like the "Red Dragon" remake all over again! I'll admit, I did not read the book nor was I ever inclined to read it, but from what I've heard this film is a loose interpretation despite the fact that it's being turned into a trilogy. I suppose some things just don't translate well enough? Still, if you're going to stretch out a novel into that many movies, it should be a near perfect adaptation. For example, they added some villain, who is the main Orc, and altered the dwarves original, greedy motives. These things I can mostly forgive, but there was just something missing from the story to give it a more satisfying feel. It's hard to describe except to say this film felt as though it had no heart. Maybe it was the fact that there were too many characters to really connect to any one in particular, or because Bilbo and most dwarves did feel so useless unlike the Fellowship which all had their place. I felt so much more involved and invested in the characters and story in the "LotR" films, but I couldn't find any common ground this time around. It's not to say that this film was bad by any means, it simply did not captivate me in the same way. The acting is good for the most part although I felt some of the dwarves were a little too stupid that their acting felt questionable. The special effects are great and you can see the improvements over "LotR" especially in the form of Gollum; he really did feel as though he were physically there and not CGI. The action and set pieces are interesting enough, but they did feel more boring and I just couldn't accept that these goofballs could hold their own as well as the Fellowship; they even address the fact that only a couple of the dwarves are even warriors and they are inexperienced as well. Surprisingly, amongst a cast of dwarves and focused on a hobbit, Gandalf still manages to steal the show which I suppose is a credit to Ian McKellen. Another refreshing aspect was the many cameos such as Frodo, Galadriel, Saruman, etc. even though this was pretty much it for their characters; I'm sure we may see a few more cameos in the third film since I would imagine some kind of resolution scene in which the elder Bilbo gives his book to Frodo and maybe a final shot with the Fellowship or something. Some other annoying aspects is the fact that this is nearly three hours long accompanied by the fact that it is, indeed, a trilogy; it feels so unnecessarily long and drawn out without as much going for it as "The Lord of the Rings" since the whole world hung in the balance in those films/novel. Overall, it was great to return to Middle Earth and it was a fun film, but it's not as good or entertaining so far as "LotR"; perhaps the later two films can pick up the pace or bring more feeling from the characters. I do recommend giving this one a view as long as you maintain reasonable expectations or if you're a big fan of this franchise. However, it's definitely not worth that extra money for all the gimmicks they're pushing with this film. Stick to a standard 2-D version and I believe it will feel more worthwhile. 

Notable Moment: When Bilbo plays the game of riddles with Gollum. It's fun to see the two converse back and forth as Bilbo outsmarts the deranged Gollum.

Final Rating: 7/10

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Chernobyl Diaries Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A group of friends visiting Europe decide to take a local's offer to tour the abandoned areas near the Chernobyl power plant. 

Review: There is seriously something wrong with modern horror films nowaday, because they do nothing but waste potential (and my time). The beginning of this movie was decent enough letting the audience get to know the four main characters while slowly introducing three more which rounded out the entire cast (save for the background characters). The acting was also believable and the banter between the characters even felt real, but all of this gets brushed over once you realize the stupidity that awaits. Unfortunately, it doesn't take very long for this movie to go downhill fast with only, maybe, 30 minutes of entertainment. Fairly early on you will notice a most unusual choice from the filmmakers to use a shaky cam even though this isn't a found-footage movie; at first I kept thinking there was an extra character but nope. I mean, why the hell would they think this was a good idea? While I'm sure they will claim it's to bring a more visceral tone to the film, I will say it is because they couldn't afford decent makeup effects so they distorted the camera purposely as a pathetic means to mask this fact. And yeah, that's one of my big issues with why this movie fails so miserably as mutant humans make for a tired monster especially when you can't even make them look scary (or even have a single steady shot of one). One of the best moments of the film involves a bear so couldn't there maybe have been another direction to go? When, oh when, will filmmakers learn that mutated humans are not superhuman?! Especially in this case since it is never explained how the fuck these mutants can withstand the ridiculous amounts of radiation being given off by the reactors. The main characters at one point have their skin burning right off their bodies, but you're telling me if they just hang out for a little longer they will gain the ability to flip a van? Awesome! And why were they cannibalistic? I get that they would have been stretched for food, but then we see an abundance of wildlife they could eat as well as the fact that if they are eating each other, why are there so many mutants? Don't even get me started on the whole government knowing about the mutants plot line! Just pitiful. There are so many contrivances and flat out plot holes that it is hard to appreciate the decent atmosphere this film had going for it. Suffice to say, the ending is nonsensical, stupid, and a pointless zinger; so many shitty horror movies love ending on that beloved zinger! Ugh, the only reason I even rated this as high as I did was because it started off well with good atmosphere and the characters felt real (a lot of love for my boy Uri!). Other than that, this is just another forgettable piece of shit that brings the nauseating feelings of a found-footage film without any creativity and relies heavily on contrivances and cliches. An obvious pass unless you want to see writers who seem to confuse Ukraine with Russia.

Notable Moment: When the group is investigating an abandoned apartment building, they hear noises, and then a bear comes running toward them; it was quite unexpected.

Final Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Incite Mill (aka 7 Day Death Game) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Ten strangers are invited for a psychological experiment that lasts a week and will test their paranoia among other things...

Review: At first glance this feels like it will be one of the many "Saw" ripoffs out there, but there's actually quite a bit going on here. At it's core, the story is an homage to classic mystery novels with an overarching sci-fi aspect which, at times, feels like a contrivance to address certain plot issues that only a futuristic setting could get around. Basically, ten people are chosen to be a part of an experiment after applying to a job listing that is practically too good to be true. The group is confined to an underground facility in which they are provided with their every need, filmed, and monitored by a robotic sentinel attached to the ceiling which will kill them if they break certain rules; this whole process is intended to last seven days. It isn't long before the cast realizes they are in way over their heads as each person is provided with a weapon they can use to either defend themselves or kill someone while simultaneously unable to lock their doors. This part is really clever because each weapon is showcased by some mystery novel it was pivotal to as well as the fact that the main experiment is designed to represent "And Then There Were None." Big shock, someone dies the first night and so the real mystery begins: who is the killer amongst the group? The paranoia is great and the general atmosphere of wondering what the hell is going on works effectively. I suppose my only disappointment was that there were quite a few predictable twists, and it hurt that there was no final connection between the ten people chosen. Speaking of which, the characters are a bit cliched, but I was surprised by the development of some of them since they went in a direction I hadn't expected. To my greatest delight, the main female lead, Shoko, is played by Haruka Ayase (who I discussed more thoroughly in my "Ichi" review)! Unfortunately, she does not show off that buxom body, yet again (seriously?!), and her story line is the most predictable of the bunch. Complimenting Ms. Ayase's hotness is our lead, Yuki, played by my favorite Japanese actor, Tatsuya Fujiwara, of "Battle Royale" and "Death Note" fame. Another hot chick definitely worth my attention was the Miya character played by Satomi Ishihara (some major eye candy going on here!). The best character turned out to be the one I expected to die first: Ando. Ando's character started off as a cliched drunk but had the most development and grew by the end of the film. Overall, there was some solid acting from the majority of the cast with the exception of the cliched douche and his fiance. By the end of the film, you discover that all the events are being viewed on the internet. Now, a snuff video is plausible in the future, but it is implied there were other experiments so how would the main cast have never heard of this if it's so popular? You'd think something like that might make the news at the very least, right?! Anyway, Yuki is the only one who really lives and wins the experiment so to speak. Shoko lives as well, but it should come to no shock that she was working for the people sponsoring the experiment and was sort of a ringer manipulating certain events. Ando also lives, but he cheated and faked his own death; I was glad he lived though since I liked the relationship formed between him and Yuki. I had wanted Shoko and Yuki to get together because there was definitely something going on there, especially if you rewatch her early dialogue, and notice that she strategically whispers her real thoughts to Yuki so the internet audience can't hear. This is a wonderful mystery film filled with great ideas and creativity. It is only hindered by some plot holes, a few cliches, and some missed opportunities. I definitely recommend tracking this one down!

Notable Moment: At the end when Yuki wants to know why Shoko bothered to save him. It felt more interesting that Shoko just looked on with a longing stare rather than giving a real answer; Ms. Ayase is good at saying so much with just a look.

Final Rating: 7.5/10

Ms. Ayase looking as beautiful as ever:

Grave Encounters 2 Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After giving a negative review to the first "Grave Encounters" on his blog, a film student is contacted by a mysterious individual regarding the reality of the first film's events.

Review: After the surprisingly successful first entry, was this sequel able to live up to the original? Not a chance. Just like the first film, they continue with a found-footage style even though it is not fully realized in this instance which is noticed especially by the end. I was greatly disappointed because I really liked the first "Grave Encounters" and this film started off really strong with a somewhat original premise; the use of youtube reviews in the beginning of the actual movie is genius especially considering how effective youtube was in spreading interest in the first film! Likewise, the concept that the first film is, in fact, just a movie was creative while not entirely original and led to some interesting paths the story could go. As my plot summary suggests, the main guy, named Alex, thinks that GE sucked and was fake and is later contacted by a mysterious individual with the net handle: deathawaits6. This individual shows an alleged extended ending to the first film to entice Alex into investigating whether there was any truth to the first film. The more Alex investigates the actors, the show, the production company, etc. the more he becomes convinced that there may be truth to the notion that the movie is real. Alex then becomes borderline obsessed as he ignores his workload and his student film in favor of pursuing the truth. All of this character transition and investigating takes up about a third of the film which, while I appreciated the mystery, detracts from the scares and pacing. Eventually, Alex gathers enough evidence that the film was real with some acknowledgement from the producer and tracks down the mental hospital's location. Bringing along a bunch of friends, and cameras of course, Alex attempts to make a video blog regarding his own investigation in GE's realness at the actual hospital. At this point is when the film really falls apart as we see old scares being tread back over and introducing a nonsensical plot line that there is an overall spirit to the hospital that will only release one person if they promote more individuals to come to the hospital. The lack of new scares and an overall sense of unoriginality hurts the film drastically at the point that should have been the highlight. Alex and crew also run into Lance from the first film explaining that he has been surviving off rats in the hospital for almost a decade. I don't know how to explain it, but it's just presented so stupidly and feels out of place. Toward the end, only Alex and the girl who has a crush on him remains in which Alex kills her so that he can be the one to escape; this part was especially annoying because this whole "crush" plot line was useless and felt tacked on to add some kind of depth. The film simply ends implying Alex and the producer from the first film conspire to release a sequel that they emphasize is not real in a wannabe scary way. Eh, there were some cool moments and, like I said, the film starts off strong, but other than that, this is just a mediocre sequel that went nowhere. The acting is decent, there are some nice scenes, and it did have a decent twist at one point, but all I can say is that it was wasted potential and lost its way at some point. It's worth a view if you liked the first film, but if that didn't even do it for you, don't even think about this one,

Notable Moment: When the group meets where "deathawaits6" had said he wanted to meet within the hospital. They discover a quija board carved into a table and communicate with what appears to be the actual spirit calling itself "deathawaits6."

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Grave Encounters Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A film crew that investigates paranormal locations discovers a rundown mental hospital is actually haunted.

Review: I really need to commend this film for accomplishing so much with a small budget, mostly just internet promotions, and a cast of unknowns in a tired genre. Once more we are dealing with a found-footage style film that is focused on a group of paranormal investigators in a similar vein to TV shows like "Ghost Hunters." There are actually quite a few humorous moments as they make light of these kind of TV shows and how they are more than likely staged. I think the thing I liked most about this film was that it took ideas and themes from other films and was effectively able to make them scarier through the handheld camera perspective. For example, all those shots of the characters walking down the long, dark corridors in the hospital puts the audience on edge about what could possibly leap forth at any moment. The special effects were also quite impressive given the low budget; you'd be surprised how some cheap CGI actually made for a scary looking ghost in this setting. There were also interesting and original scares that played with your perception about what direction the film was going in. The scares are aplenty which added more tension and made the pacing feel stronger and more thought out. Finally, the acting is decent and felt believable which enhanced the sense of realism; I will admit there were a few shoddy moments though. But despite this movie being an instance of entertaining found-footage, there are some notable detractors such as the ridiculously spoiler-laden trailer that ruins virtually every scary scene. The beginning with the producer talking about the events is similar to the "The Tunnel" in that it ruins a large chunk of the mystery to come revealing that the cast is missing. The biggest problem is probably the fact that the film loses its direction toward the end and you get that feeling that the writers weren't sure how to end the movie; I really do not like the ending because it's not scary and just felt weak. These complaints did lower the score significantly for me especially because I'm so tired of shitty endings to films in recent years. Overall, this is a solid entry that almost breathes some fresh life into a sub-genre on its last leg. The acting, effects, and story are all good and could have been phenomenal if it had the budget necessary for its more ambitious scenes. If you're a fan of these kind of films, you definitely need to give this one a view and can probably find it on youtube.

Notable Moment: When the crew finally breaks down the entrance doors only to find they lead deeper in the hospital. This was a creative scare tactic, and I like the immediate sense of dread it sends the audience.

Final Rating: 7/10

The Bay Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A small town is overrun by mutated parasites found in the drinking water during a 4th of July celebration.

Review: I think this may be an indication that the found-footage genre is losing its momentum with a mediocre and pointless entry in the form of "The Bay." Right from the moment the film begins you're already removed from any sense of fear or the unknown as this movie makes the same mistake "The Tunnel" made by having characters discussing the events you're about to watch. Why would you reveal ahead of time what characters live instead of leaving the audience wondering? I get that they're going for realism, but it didn't work in "The Tunnel" either and that actually had some scary scenes to make up for the lack of mystery while this film was more of a monster flick. On top of that massive blunder, we have a premise that was not entirely thought through or they idiotically ignored the implausibility of the plot in favor of it looking cool. Essentially, the story is that these real life parasites, that latch onto fish and replace their tongue, have been mutated by various pollution in the water so that they are slightly bigger than a cockroach. The town recently installed a distillation center or something like that and the people begin drinking the eggs of the parasites which leads to them hatching and eating their way out of the host. Now I don't know how the eggs would live to maturity in the host, but what bothered me most was the fact that everyone in the town seems to break out with these things at the exact same time on the 4th of July! So everyone drank eggs that exact same day? They all grew and burst out at almost the exact same moment?! I get that it needed to work somewhat this way for movie purposes but throw in a line about how there was a mistake at the distillation center that day or some kind of explanation or it becomes stupid. The final aspect that hurt the film is this general sense of not really going anywhere; once the initial shock and awe is over, the film just sort of goes on showing various people with the parasites ripping through them. The ending felt abrupt and left me wondering what was the point to even making the movie as a mock-documentary? There was also an unforgivable and senseless zinger thrown into the end for no reason but as a cheap jump scare. On the other hand, there are some decent scenes and it did feel kind of real which is what they were going for most I suppose. It's not that this film is bad necessarily, but it just felt so pointless and would have been better as just a normal movie and not a wannabe documentary. I would say this film is just barely worth a view and only if you're a fan of these kind of films.

Notable Moment: When the one couple with the baby arrives in town only to discover that it appears deserted. There is a nice haunting atmosphere created.

Final Rating: 5/10