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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Terror Train Review


Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Onboard a train with a New Year's Eve costume party, a killer seeks revenge against classmates that played a prank on him three years earlier.

Review: Even though Jamie Lee Curtis is arguably the most famous scream queen, she only starred in five horror films, in quick succession, before a long hiatus that lasted until the abysmal "H2O," in 1998, that I already discussed. Of those five, "Terror Train" is easily the most overlooked and underrated of the bunch. I think the problem was that "Prom Night" was released only months before this film so it was overshadowed; also, the motive of the killer in "Prom Night" was much better and surprising (one of the few times I didn't guess it). If you want to pull a Randy from "Scream" and rent them all VHS style, the other four are, of course, "Halloween" 1 and 2, "The Fog," and the aforementioned "Prom Night." What set this film apart from the rest was its creative setting aboard a train which provided for many possibilities that, with the accompaniment of New Year's Eve, the creators definitely capitalized on these ideas. The close quarters of the compartments, the cold, snowy night outside the windows, and the sense of no escape created a nice atmosphere that slashers usually ignore. The one major drawback is that this film follows the typical '80s slasher formula with some prank gone wrong and a masked killer seeking revenge years later (I believe this movie was one of the first to adopt this formula though). On New Year's Eve three years earlier, some stereotypical fraternity was following a tradition of forcing new pledges to get lucky. The ringleaders of the fraternity coaxed this kid named Kenny into believing the main character, Alana (Ms. Curtis), was going to be his "first." While Alana was apprehensive to help, her boyfriend, Mo, convinced her with the belief they would just scare him. Instead, Kenny finds himself about to make out with a cadaver driving him into some kind of nervous breakdown. In the present, the kids are now about to all graduate and decide to throw an elaborate costume party on a train since Alana has an interest in trains and Mo is rich and can afford it. Alright, this is one of the major bullshit moments of the movie because are we to believe that, not only did all these kids stay together over the years, but they were all in actuality freshmen during the opening segment?! How can you be the leader of a frat as a freshman? You'd be one of those pledges. At first I excused it because they claim to be medical students, but then later admit that they really were freshmen during that first scene. So...what the hell? Mo's best friend is nicknamed Doc and he's like the main douchebag responsible for everything, but for some reason there is some kind of gay undertone that is never explored more thoroughly; like Doc sabotages Mo's relationship more than once while telling Mo "you'll always have me." I had hoped more characters would appear suspicious, but for the most part you can tell certain people are not the killer as is the case with these two goofballs. Something you will notice immediately, or maybe it's just me, but there are a lot of '80s hot chicks! I'm sure I mentioned this before, but that's when someone looks like they'd be hot as hell back then, but wouldn't quite cut it by today's looks without a makeover. I mean, damn, even Vanity has a small role here looking sexy as hell. But, the show is completely stolen by David Copperfield in a rare acting appearance playing a mysterious magician. Not only does he channel his stage presence into the role, but he is the quintessential red herring that will probably have you convinced he's the killer for the first hour or so. I'm not sure who was cast first because they definitely wanted you to believe Kenny could have turned into Mr. Copperfield if he cleaned himself up a bit and with three years of change; there's even a point in which they look at the yearbook and see that Kenny once performed a magic show at school. If you watch enough horror movies, you'll realize when a slasher wants you to believe someone is the killer, they typically are not. People are slowly picked off as the killer jumps from disguise to disguise with only the conductor becoming suspicious. To be honest, I originally thought the conductor might be the killer as perhaps Kenny's dad or something, but they weren't going for that kind of surprise. As I said, the hot chicks catch your eye which definitely draws your attention to the ugly assistant to the magician who looks almost artificial and stands out in stark contrast. This is important because she is a he and is, in fact, Kenny in disguise. While it is an interesting reveal, it is kind of stupid because how did the magician not realize his assistant was a guy? To be fair, if I weren't so enthralled by the babes I might not have caught on so I'd imagine casual viewers will still be surprised. After some serious shenanigans and contrivances galore, Alana believes she kills Kenny by throwing him from the train only for him to catch back up to her. Right when he's about to kill her he suddenly flashes back to the original event three years ago and goes apeshit. The conductor takes the opportunity to really throw him off the train. With some final shots to show he's dead for sure this time, the film comes to an abrupt end with no real resolution. Did the writer just get to a point where he was like "aww fuck it, he dies, the end?" I think this lackluster ending also contributed to why this movie has faded into obscurity so much more than its peers. Overall, there are some great ideas implemented, the intrigue is good, and the killer is memorable. On the other hand, details needed to be polished up, the story could have been tightened to remove unresolved subplots that come off as filler, and more characters should have been presented as suspects; there was, at best, three or four contenders. Anyway, this one is definitely worth a view if you enjoy this style of slasher as this was one of the better entries from the '80s. I can't believe how few remember this film and even fewer have watched it.

Notable Moment: When the magician performs the first part of his act. What can I say, Mr. Copperfield is the ultimate showman.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hideshi Hino's Theater or Horror Review



Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A collection of 6 films inspired by the works of famed horror writer Hideshi Hino.

Review: Some horror fans may recognize the name Hideshi Hino better from his controversial "Guinea Pig" films that, while disturbing, appear much more tame by today's standards. Mr. Hino is also a famed manga writer with a distinct style allegedly invoking inspiration from events that occurred to him in his personal life. This fact remains true even in regards to the six films featured in this series as each is opened with an introduction from Mr. Hino who served as the writer on all six; however, the intros are not individualized as the same dialogue is repeated each time. While there is a general cheesiness to the tone, it does come off more as an homage to other famous anthologies. I'm still not entirely sure how these films would have aired in Japan because they have the quality of a TV budget (or worse), but the running times are so inconsistent I can't understand why no degree of uniformity was applied; it's of note that the movies are on the short side. Each film tells an individual tale unrelated to the other which was a wasted opportunity to create some sort of bridge or recurring characters that always adds more to the enjoyment of anthologies. Well, here we go!

The Boy From Hell: Oh dear lord this sucks from beginning to end! In case you're wondering, this is the film chosen to be featured on the box of the set which is retarded because this is easily the worst of the bunch! Who honestly thought that this entry would be the selling point?! From the moment this bad boy starts you may find yourself rethinking why you even bought this set, because you immediately notice the laughable effects. I mean, the effects are so bad that it boggles the mind and some of these shots could have been pulled off easily even with no budget! I am not exaggerating when I say this, but, seriously, high school kids could have pulled these shots off better. Fuck. But hey, effects aren't everything if you have a solid story, right? Well, the plot is nonsensical, inconsistent, and plain stupid. So, some top surgeon's son is killed in the dumbest of car accidents that I believe comes off more as survival of the fittest since clearly the kid was too stupid to live. For some odd reason the surgeon, named Setsu, buries the kid in the middle of nowhere or something...I really don't know; she never even tells anyone the kid is dead either, but since she lives in a fucking castle (no, this does take place in modern times!) I guess that's okay! If that weren't dumb enough, some strange woman suddenly appears and claims that if Setsu kills another kid at the grave with a claw or whatever it will resurrect the dumbass kid, named Daio. Now, one would think the randomness of this woman would somehow connect to the overall plot but of course not! When Setsu takes some boy from her hospital to use as a sacrifice, Daio comes back to life and instantly kills the mysterious woman. Ugh. Apparently Daio is a kind of zombie now and eats people every night. This catches the attention of a detective with a pointlessly big noise; he also appears to be the only cop in Japan who even cares people are being murdered since he never has backup even when bodies are literally lying in the streets. After trying to implant organs from fresh victims into Daio, Setsu believes she can make him normal. Eventually the detective catches Setsu in the act and kills her and Daio bringing this film to a merciful ending. There are so many piss poor decisions made here it is quite shocking. The pacing is a mess, things make little sense with absolutely no explanation, character's actions do not add up, random shots of hell or something, and even the music feels out of place. If you want to know how to fail at almost every aspect of film making, besides the acting, look no further than this piece of shit. If I could sum this entire film up in a single word it would be embarrassing!

Dead Girl Walking: This entry takes a more unorthodox approach as we definitely feel the homage vibe to classics like "The Twilight Zone." The use of black and white, the style, the music, particularly beautiful shots, and the overall story harken back to the surrealism of older anthology tales through its matter of fact presentation. What I mean by this is that the story is structured in such a way that you spend more time focusing on what is happening than why it is happening which is not always an easy thing to do given the subject matter. The premise is that a girl named Sayuri inexplicably dies from a heart attack of some sort while watering her plant. Even though she is pronounced dead, she is able to live on despite her body continuing to decompose. I'll admit, nobody questioning this fact was the weakest part of the film. Sayuri wonders what is happening to her and dwells on the similar decay to the aforementioned flower as her family seeks to burn her withering body. Amidst the family's attempt destroy her, Sayuri escapes taking a guise through use of a tablecloth that serves as a makeshift cloak; in this escape her mother is seriously injured and her sister presumably killed. Sayuri wanders aimlessly trying to understand what is happening as she continues to fall to pieces, but no one wants to be around her obviously. She then bizarrely runs into a man who lures her into being a sideshow for weird men in business suits. What they do or don't do with her is left up to the imagination as we cut back to her being dumped where she originally was picked up by the weird guy. You don't even want to know what I think happened to her! When realizing most of her face is gone, Sayuri is discovered by her parents still desiring to burn her. She flees to an abandoned building where her feet finally tear off leaving her with no means to run. In a last ditch effort, Sayuri uses her own foot to cause her mom to light them all on fire creating an explosion with only her head surviving the blast. Seeing a dying flower not far in the distance, Sayuri manages to pull her head close enough to the flower as she putrefies into nothing but blood. In an interesting conclusion, Sayuri merges with the plant restoring it to life. While this entry borders that delicate line between insightful and pretentious it's able to leave the viewer successfully wondering about the deeper meaning behind it all. There were some intelligent choices made especially in regards to masking the low budget with creative techniques. Overall, this film was a decent and mostly compelling throwback with excellent presentation and visual style. It's actually more than likely the best of the six.

Lizard Baby: Providing a little bit of everything within the series, this entry gives us a decent comedy/horror with most of the plot coming off as tongue in cheek. This is probably the film that I'd imagine most resonates with Mr. Hino because it is about a writer and sort of mocking low budget horror films in the process. Basically, a guy was somehow hired as the script writer for a horror film even though he struggles with thinking up ideas that are frightening while simultaneously being terrified of scary movies. Now I won't claim to be an expert on Japan's film industry, but I really don't think they hire people to write scripts in this fashion. Well, anyway, the director and producer hate his first idea and tell him to try and gain inspiration from things that scare him. Although it is never discussed, it is obviously implied that what is scaring the writer so much is that his wife is pregnant and he is soon to be a first time father. Like many expecting parents, they worry about the safety of their child and will it be born normal, etc. While at a routine checkup, the writer is inspired by a poster showing the similarities between the life cycle of other animals compared to humans. They say the best inspiration comes from your own life as well as the fact that you should write what you know so he begins to write a script about a baby that turned into a lizard while in the womb and the madness that ensues for the parents. Frequently we are shown the movie within a movie concept as you see the laughable puppet "lizard baby" the writer's film is using. In a cruel twist of fate, once the film becomes a success, the writer's own baby turns out just like the one from his script. What's funny is that we are repeatedly shown parallels between the writer's real life and film except the reactions are always so different from the movie version and reality. For example, in the movie the family grows to love the baby, but in reality he wants to kill the baby. I should note that the real lizard baby looks okay and uses a combination of puppetry and I think dogs or cats in a costume. I was kind of hoping the twist would be that the guy had been so stressed out trying to write the script that he was only imagining that his script came to life, but, in actuality, he had a normal baby; there was a lot of evidence to support this possibility. Instead, the twist is that everything we've been seeing was all just another script...but...this writer does have a lizard baby and a possible second lizard baby on the way?! So, let me get this straight, I'm writing a review about a guy who wrote a movie about a guy writing a script about a guy writing a script about a guy writing a script?! AHHHH! Eh, the effects aren't that bad and this one plays out mostly as you'd expect. The ongoing gag is okay and since this film is so short you don't become too worn out on it.

The Ravaged House: Zoroku's Disease: Don't even let that deceptive title toy with your expectations. Ravaged house my ass. Such bullshit, maybe they meant household as in the family being torn apart? This may not be the worst of the six, but, it's by far, the most boring of them all. And you just knew it was going to be the longest one to boot! Mother fuckers! This pissed me off because this is also the only entry with no shitty special effects, and, in fact, looks pretty damn beautiful with some nice imagery of what rural Japan looks like these days; although, I find it hard to believe they'd be living this technologically deprived. Hell, it doesn't even seem like the kids go to school...oh come on! So anyway, the story is not even that of a horror film and plays out like a lame drama with no discernible message or purpose being presented. A family of four lives an uneventful life in a small village when their son, Zoroku, becomes stricken with some mysterious disease that is likened to leprosy but worse. Throughout the whole film I kept trying to reassure myself that the disease would have some relevance to the plot other than as a contrivance to create mindless drama...but who am I kidding, screw explanations! The disease never contributes to the plot other than as a means to make Zoroku an outcast and to burden the family. Where are the horror aspects? At least add a dash of intrigue or mystery. Why not make up some ridiculous origin for the disease in the same vein as all the other shenanigans going on in this series? Or here's an idea, how about make the point of the story ironic. The town's people could kill Zoroku out of fear the disease would spread only for his corpse or something to contaminate the water supply. Then they all have his disease. Too much like "Cabin Fever?" Who cares! There are so many better ways to add a horror route, but they felt some lame brother/sister relationship coupled with the town bully would be more compelling? This is supposed to be a fucking horror film for god's sake, Mr. Hino! I can't even take the climax seriously because the bully is wearing some kind of mawashi (I forget what the hell these things are called) the whole time! If you are suffering from a serious case of insomnia, this may be the cure you're looking for. Ugh, this is also the only film that has a coherent story as well which further emphasizes my annoyance that the other films with potential did not have their scripts better focused while this one has clarity but no substance.

The Doll Cemetery: This was another instance of the story feeling like two separate scripts that were merged at some point. While "Dead Girl Walking" is probably the best of the films, it mostly accomplished what it set out to do without a lot more room to expand. This entry, on the other hand, had significantly more potential that was miserably wasted due to a multitude of reasons. In fact, the scope of the film that I think Mr. Hino had probably envisioned was much grander than they could feasibly create on this meager budget. It's a shame too because this plot could have worked into a decent film franchise or TV show. The premise is that two kids want to join their high school's club called the "Occult Detective Club." To be honest, I can't see a Japanese school supporting such a club and allowing them to have their own office, but hey let's roll with it! As it stands, the club only has four members (6 with the newbies) as they claim to investigate paranormal phenomenon with the aid of their president who is a powerful psychic (this is another case where, by psychic, they actually mean a wannabe spiritual warrior). I wish they spent more time dealing with the club in general and giving us a backstory and lowdown on some of the things they've been up to. Unfortunately, things become a bit convoluted as we don't learn much about this club, how it was established, or pretty much any explanations at all. The last case, I'm assuming given the opening scene, the club was investigating was an alleged suicide by a girl that had something to do with a haunted doll. After one of the new recruits is attacked by another doll spirit, the psychic decides the club must fight back. This scene with the doll attacking was surprisingly well done and could have been memorable with better lighting, makeup, and buildup. The club then opens some portal to a hellish world with doll spirits that, once again, looks beyond embarrassing. I really don't know what the club was planning on accomplishing by this nor does the movie give you any indication that they did either. Since we have no clue why anything is happening, it is hard to follow what the end goal of each action is! From here we had another kind of clever idea with a clown doll proclaiming himself to be the "clown of hell." I guess he was meant to be some kind of main villain, but, after personally killing two club members, he gets his ass beat easily by the psychic. There is this sense that the film is unsure if it wants to be an action or horror while not quite pulling off either. So the psychic basically says the one girl needs to make peace with her little fucking dolly to end it just as they realize one of the members must get left behind because one of the doll spirits fucked with the portal. After a major transition that should have been integral to the story, the one girl basically wraps everything up saying they got rid of the dumb doll. Then we cut to the psychic girl going back to dolly-world to kill that clown of hell for good. Just thinking about the sheer zany antics that went on makes me laugh. I will give this film a little credit for being so over the top while working in some cool and interesting ideas. I wish they'd go back to this, clean up the mess of a script, and work this into either a decent full length film or as a pilot for a TV show. This really could have been the best entry if it forgot the dolls and focused on the club and its formation.

Death Train: Closing things out, you'd think they saved the best for last, right? Of course not! This entry felt so much like "The Doll Cemetery" in the fact that it tried to tackle much more than the budget could handle with lots of good ideas wasted. For the most part the special effects are kept in check with only a few embarrassing moments; I'd actually say they probably used a larger portion of the budget on bringing this one to life or the director had a better idea on how to present the effects. The story is that three girls take a train to some amusement park when the train abruptly crashes. Far too early on is it revealed that everything we are seeing is some sort of limbo world as the girls are, in reality, in critical condition from the crash; everyone who barely survived the crash is in this dreamworld too. We've seen this kind of plotline hundreds of times before except other films try to keep the audience guessing until the end; I'm not quite sure why they chose to remove the mystery right out the gate. The girls find themselves seeing strange visions, forgetting things, aspects of their lives being altered, and the emergence of strange injuries as each draws closer to death in the real world. A lot of these ideas were interesting and provided a bit of intrigue in what direction the story would go since we already know none of it's real. I did like the merging memories and the reliving moments, because this made me think that they were going to throw in a real twist that would somehow connect the story to the events mentioned as taking place before the opening scene--that things would somehow come full circle. Eventually the girls are hunted by zombie-like creatures that try to kill them in this dreamworld which serves as another means of reflecting death in reality or that these creatures capturing them represents that they lost the fight to survive the injuries. The zombie idea was not fleshed out properly at all and they look like the leftovers from "The Doll Cemetery," or they were used here first, whichever. Things sort of stop making sense at some point, and it felt like the production crew gave up or something and decided to merely throw out nonsensical scenes. By the end, we aren't even sure what became of two of the girls since one was still on the run from the zombies and the other sort of passes out back at the train. Maybe we are to believe she emerged alive in the real world? Whatever, that's no way to end the damn movie without any kind of resolution. When you remove any kind of imagination like this, you can't also leave the audience hanging since then everything was for naught! I had high hopes for this one since it had the scariest sounding description on the back cover, but it did not live up to its potential whatsoever. I will say this, however, it left me with the most horrific of images of some old lady eating her own troll bogies!

Ugh, what can I say, you need to majorly lower your expectations to enjoy these films. I mean, other than "Dead Girl Walking" none of the entries were able to accomplish what they were going for. Some could have been impressive if the stories were more cohesive, kept on target, and didn't drift off into oblivion. Mr. Hino, sorry, but you are to blame for most of this. At the same time, I suppose you get what you pay for with a collection like this. I only paid $7 (I feel bad if you paid more than $15!) for this set so that wasn't too bad with all things considered, but, at the end of the day, these are mostly just mediocre to bad films with only hints of creativity and potential. On top of that, you don't know how fucking tired I am of writing "wasted potential" when I'd love nothing more than to see more films live up to their utmost promise. Well, on the bright side, at least there were plenty of alum from other Japanese horror films and TV sprinkled about if you have a keen eye; there was even Narumi Konno that I recently mentioned in another review (although looking far too young back in 2004).

Notable Moment: From "Dead Girl Walking" when Sayuri is roaming the streets while wearing her makeshift cloak. The look was reminiscent of Victorian England and the shots were aesthetically pleasing.

Final Rating: 5/10 (overall)

Monday, May 20, 2013

Double Feature: Death Penalty.com and Death Penalty.com: A New Beginning Review


Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Various individuals use a mysterious website that organizes group murders to cover each other's tracks.

Review: (Death Penalty.com): Let me first say I'm not sure if you can even buy these movies separate, because there's virtually no information out there on these films. In a lot of ways, it works better as a double feature, as advertised, because both films are extremely short (like 70 minutes a pop) and reminded me of "Ju-on: The Curse" 1 and 2 in the way they would have worked better as a single film; although the plots of these films are not as fluid but thankfully there isn't as much gratuitous filler as "Ju-on: The Curse 2!" If anybody can clear things up with more details I'd gladly welcome such information. Anyway, I'd say the best way to describe this film is a mash-up of ideas from the "Saw" franchise, every '80s slasher ever, and with a hint of "The Incite Mill" except minus a workable budget. While having a low budget doesn't necessarily break a film, it was too noticeable to the point that amateur film students wouldn't even make some of these egregious mistakes. One of the most annoying facets was the misuse of a punching noise in place of a stabbing sound; there's really no conceivable excuse for this and it happens far too often. There were also many problems with the flow of continuity which may have been due to bad editing since I highly doubt there was any kind of script supervisor to be had. At first I was chalking up some of the errors to, perhaps, pointless contrivances, but the faults felt more like stupidity rather than a deliberate attempt to keep the story moving. I'd say there were plot holes, but I think the true problems lay with the technical aspects rather than faulty writing. While some issues are due to errors, there were plenty of simply idiotic moments that do detract from the enjoyment of the film as well. The acting is sort of so-so with terrible delivery from the lesser characters and just acceptable performances from the leads. The pacing and music were somewhat off kilter with some odd choices to say the least which I thought would be the easier parts for a movie like this. As a matter of fact, I was so often perplexed by the decisions regarding this film because underneath all the bullshit there's a pretty good film ruined by the presentation; this is yet another instance of a decent story with original ideas suffering from laughable execution. The premise is that the main guy, Ryuta, works for a wannabe brothel of sorts, but hates his boss and wants him dead. I was hoping they would play up the notion of this brothel more, but it's more of a plot device to create red herrings for the audience. Somehow, Ryuta stumbles upon the titular Deathpenalty.com where he discovers a group of masked individuals that also share his desire to see someone bite the big one. Coordinating the group is another masked individual proclaiming himself to be God. The rules are interesting as there are 6 individuals with each taking turns to play a part in the murder of one of the other participant's victims. The idea is that you create an alibi for yourself in the process while also addressing the fact that people may not have the will to kill someone they know but are more likely to kill a stranger without hesitation. Likewise, you create a mutual affiliation of guilt to prevent others from betraying one another. Essentially, you need at least 4 participants with one person choosing the victim, someone to do the killing, one to provide the murder weapon, and someone to take care of the cleanup. If someone fails to play their part or if you try and quit before the rotation is over you will be killed. To ensure things go smoothly, God employs his "angels" to take care of loose ends as well as the quitters. Ryuta accepts the terms for a time being until one of the other participants, a girl calling herself An, eventually chooses Ryuta as her victim. There was definitely some aspect of the story lost here because we are provided evidence that An knew Ryuta was one of the killers yet still proposed this scenario knowing it would play out preposterously...the problem was that this fact was never addressed or discussed! So as Ryuta tries various ways to escape his fate he further seeks to uncover the identity of An since he believes she is one of the brothel girls. If this isn't your first foray into the realm of horror, you will obviously take notice to an out of place scene in the beginning of the film showing Ryuta encountering some schoolgirls. Well, as you may quickly guess, An was one of those schoolgirls; worse, they put the girl on the cover of the DVD for whatever moronic reason! Maybe the logic was: scared, cute Japanese schoolgirl will lure in more sales! Regardless, I can see how others might not have taken notice and the mystery is presented cleverly enough. It was the amount of intrigue that actually enhanced this film and made it appear much better than it really is. Unfortunately, the ending falls flat as Ryuta goes mad, killing mostly everyone he works with, only to be killed offscreen by the police. There were so many possibilities regarding the direction to take this creative story, but, not only did the makers not capitalize on their ideas, they presented them so poorly with an unforgivable load of technical problems. Overall, I will forgive a lot due to the budget restraints and judge it less harshly, but this could have been so much more with serious polishing up and a rework of the script. It's worth a watch for the creativity, but, with all things considered, it is nothing more than mediocre.

(Death Penalty.com: A New Beginning): A new beginning eh? This isn't Jason 5! Will anyone even understand that reference? Oh well. So this film serves as a prequel to the last one which is dumb because how is it a "new" beginning when, in fact, it is the beginning?! While many of the technical flaws are cleaned up this time around, there are still plenty of noticeable grievances especially one reoccurring continuity error. Stuff like the acting and direction show vast improvements as well. I should note, however, that these new problems created for this entry were absent from the first film combined with a general lack of creativity or imagination. The first film was kind of a mishmash of various other films with some creative ideas, but this film is clearly an homage to '80s slashers whether the makers even knew what they were doing or not. The film opens with a girl killing herself while talking to someone on the phone accompanied by quick flashbacks of a rape (although it may appear to be at a glance, the girl is not An from the first movie). We then cut to something like 5 years later with a group of 7 game testers working on some new game connected to Deathpenalty.com. For whatever asinine reason, they are residing in some resort-like lodge looking for bugs in the game's design. The logistics of how exactly these individuals are testing out the game is severely glossed over as well as any degree of expertise in regard to how they were chosen. Obviously they were chosen to come there to be killed, but wouldn't you as an individual question your own qualifications, and who masterminded the arrangement of an interview and detailed what their job would be, and how the hell did they get there since there's like only one car?! I know you may be thinking why am I asking these questions, but considering how things play out, this could be a huge ass plot hole as we're never given an answer! This time around there are only 4 people using Deathpenalty.com drawing upon the fake game testers as their pool of victims; as always, God is coordinating the distribution of duties and presumably arranged the circumstances we're presented. It's not long before the body count starts to rise as the game testers realize that Deathpenalty.com is real and that individuals are using it and selecting them as victims in real time; unlike part one, the kills occur in rapid succession of one another. Somewhat of a red herring, the film reveals early on that one of the girls in the 7 is also one of the killers but that is only to lead you to believe she is the one running the show. Since this film was inspired by '80s slashers you should keep in mind that all of this will connect back to the girl committing suicide in the beginning. Unfortunately, it does not wrap up coherently and the plot outlined needed to be tightened to bring a better semblance of sensibility as we don't fully understand the motives of God. For example, we don't even learn anything about these people using the website nor do we learn anything about the girl helping God, but I suppose we can assume this was the origin of the "angels" he spoke of in part one? So anyway, the main girl, Mio's, sister, Nana, was the one that committed suicide as we learn Mio is still traumatized by the incident. With everyone dead except Mio and some guy, in classic '80s style, it is revealed the first victim turns out to be alive and was the one setting everything up. Apparently this first victim is also the face behind God and the creator of Deathpenalty.com. I'd love to say he has some awesome motive and that everything comes full circule, but nope! He is doing everything to honor Nana since it was her rape that drove her to suicide, but we are never told his connection to her or why he would care. Was he her boyfriend or admirer or what?! Apparently Nana had started a website to help unite bullied individuals fight back against their abusers but once the bullies found out this led to people committing suicide. In the oddest of decisions, the film went with the idea that members of her site raped Nana rather than going with the bullies being responsible. I suppose this is unique but makes little sense since it would require these wimps to somehow become wannabe tough guys. Eh, it just feels forced to me. Well, the last guy alive with Mio was the cameraman that recorded the rape and God wants Mio to kill him herself. Mio explains to God that Nana was kind and started her website to help people and would not believe in revenge. God relents as Mio and the rapist guy leave. We then cut to God continuing his plan to implement Deathpenalty.com, undeterred, justifying that he still believes the site will serve its own purpose. The problem with all of this is that none of the action has the kind of impact the writer was going for because the audience has no connection or involvement with the drama. I might feel that God was more tragic if we actually knew what drove him to plot any of this. Plus, why involve Mio in such an oblivious manner considering she was put in harm's way? Sorry, but I'm not buying it. The twist was probably planned and written before the rest of the film could fill in the gaps to the story. What can I say? I liked the homage vibe but it was not calculated for shit and suffered from continued errors from the first film. For every improvement over the first film this one added its own problem while lacking creativity as compensation. I suppose it's a toss up, with this entry slightly worse than the first film, but I'll admit it had some potential. When you consider how short this film is, you'd think they would have spiced up the ending with more clarity and beefed up the ending. Overall, as a double feature these are interesting films that attempted to bring some originality while not quite having the means to accomplish such an ambitious undertaking. These films are worth a watch despite their shortcomings, but understand you will probably notice the flaws more often than not.

Notable Moment: For the first film, when you realize the identity of An is the schoolgirl from the beginning of the film. You could see it coming a mile away, but it was an interesting reveal. For the second film, probably when the one girl is in her underwear! She was especially busty and they even featured her on the back of the DVD's cover as a incentive to buy it (that's not what convinced me to buy this though!). She should have been topless...that would have made it much, much better!

Final Rating: 5/10 and 4.5/10

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Paranormal Movie Review



Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Yet ANOTHER parody film based on "Paranormal Activity."

Review: Why do I keep torturing myself into watching these stupid movies? I wonder if somebody, somewhere is keeping track of what movie is the most parodied in history, because I'm starting to think "Paranormal Activity" must be inching its way closer to the top position. Was there really that much material to work with? I liked PA, and I'm probably in the minority of those that enjoyed PA4, and even I cannot understand the fascination to keep parodying this franchise. You'd think PA was on "Star Wars'" level of fame to warrant this many stupid films pathetically trying to be funny. You know, more than that, PA also has just as many ripoffs as it has parodies so there's something about this franchise that wreaks of cash-in even more than the real franchise! Well, at least this movie was better than "A Haunted House" so it has that going for it, but is that really much of an accomplishment? Actually, there was one major factor that made this film stand out as maybe the best of the parodies (again, not saying much): the many cameos from random actors. But there was a certain oddity to the cameos that enhanced the appearances to make them vaguely humorous; they weren't funny, but some did bring a smile to my face, and I did chuckle once or twice. For example, Tom Sizemore sporadically popping up out of nowhere, Kevin Sorbo strangely quoting "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys," Eric Roberts as a gay demonologist, and even the sexy Maria Menounos as a psychiatrist. It's hard to explain, but there was an unusual sense of humor at work in the writing that you will either appreciate the bizarre nuances or find it all beyond idiotic. Sometimes those little details do make a difference though like how one character is carrying a toy lightsaber for no conceivable reason. Like most of the parodies, however, the jokes still break down to either hit or miss with many more misses; thankfully only one or two gags eat up more time than they should as the pacing is a little tighter here. Another thing that I did like better than a lot of the other shitty movies was that this film acknowledged a lot of its own stupidity while breaking the 4th wall multiple times and even joking that the DVD of this particular movie had been pirated already. Or another instance was how the film starts off with a different female lead only for her to be killed off and suddenly replaced (both are hot though!) and a part where it says how much time you have wasted watching the film thus far. While I'll admit this film did a decent enough job trying to separate itself from the other hundred parodies, let's face it, all of these parodies suck. It's not as though we don't already know which scenes from PA will receive mandatory recreations. They throw in too many pop references which immediately date the movie, try too hard to beat the jokes into the audience's head as if the comedy wasn't already dumbed down enough, keep unfunny setups going far too long, and are unoriginal and uninspired, often copying the same jokes over and over again that were never funny to begin with. This is not to say that a parody can't be funny. There just needs to be more creativity, imagination, and a better understanding of what's funny; this is the main reason why I believe the first "Scary Movie" was so successful and the rest of those movies were painfully awful. Shockingly, "Scary Movie 5" is also using PA as its basis. Overall, this is just another shitty movie about as bad you would possibly imagine with only a few intelligent choices that set it a little further ahead of the pack. If you haven't had enough of these parody films, then I suppose you should check this one out because it felt a little funnier than the others I've seen.

Notable Moment: When Eric Roberts' character says there's nothing they can do about the demon so they should just end the movie and the credits begin rolling. This was sort of clever.

Final Rating: 4.5/10

Saturday, May 4, 2013

The Road (Filipino 2011) Review


Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The odd tale of a killer haunted by ghosts over the course of 20 years.

Review: Obviously this isn't the more famous "The Road" based on the book of the same name, but that doesn't mean this film has nothing to offer. First, I have to say, this is the best looking Filipino horror movie I have ever seen. Finally someone is using a quality camera, although, to be fair, that worn out look was enhancing the atmosphere for many films like "Sukob." But more so, there was a genuine attempt to include the lovely scenery the Philippines has to offer as a backdrop. There's a bit of originality to the whole story even if it mostly touches on concepts we've seen a thousand times or more. The story is told backward starting in 2008, then 1998, and 1988 before jumping back to 2008 to close it out. This was somewhat of an odd choice considering this film was made in 2011 but okay; allegedly it spent a long time in production. Although these times jumps serve more as separate tales rather than a cohesive plot, it does all come together in the end even if predictably. The 2008 portion is where the majority of the scares occur, but it begins by introducing us to some medal-winning police officer, Luis, who presumably begins to investigate killings on this one particular road. This then leads to three dumb teens that wander onto that abandoned road where they find themselves haunted by ghosts. I've read so many people criticize this portion of the film, but I can't understand why. The ghosts have an interesting design and decent makeup effects. In fact, the makeup and other special effects were generally better than 99% of other Filipino movies! I actually thought they used a lot of creativity and ingenuity for some of the shots considering they probably couldn't naturally perform a decent number of the stunts. Some of the scares were good although it could have been significantly better considering how much I liked the appearance of the ghosts and felt they were underutilized. My main concern with this section was how unclear it was whether the ghosts killed the kids or did the killer eventually catch up to them? This is important because if the ghosts did it, that does not keep within the plot established later. The 1998 portion explains how some of those ghosts came into being as the killer, in his teens, kidnapped two sisters whose car broke down on that same road. There's this whole "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" vibe to this segment as the killer mindlessly has his way with the girls all the while we see even more ghosts lingering in the background. There's some decent action and intrigue, but this is essentially the weakest portion to the film only slightly adding to the brutality of the killer. The 1988 segment shows us the origin of it all with the killer as a younger boy living with his abusive and insane mom, wimpy father whose being cheated on, and his first encounter with an attractive woman. I don't blame him though, some random hot chick, named Martha, played by the curvaceous Ynna Asistio, comes to the door asking can she do your laundry, how are going to react?! I know what you're thinking: "Ryan, ANOTHER hot chick?" I know, but this one is offering to do the laundry! Lucky son of a bitch! To be honest, she was way too flirty with the young killer which was kind of unnerving, but I guess she was supposed to feel bad for the boy and was trying to be nice. Anyway, there's this whole "Psycho" vibe to the segment which makes a lot of this movie feel more like an imitation of other films, but they work the material differently enough. So the mom kills Martha, followed by the dad killing the mom, but then he later commits suicide out of guilt leaving our young killer left to grow up batshit crazy. The whole time the killer continues to see everyone's ghosts for some inexplicable reason. Back in 2008, as the police find the only survivor of the three teens, one cop finds a hidden passage at the house the killer lived in. He also finds that medal Luis had won revealing that Luis is the killer...so shocking right? No, not at all. Just the opposite; it's so stupid because why would Luis still be living at the house, how would no one realize this, and wouldn't the police have done a thorough background check on Luis? Whatever, Luis kills the one cop that realizes this, shoots his boss (who was acting like a bitch for some unknown reason), and drives off down this wonderful road where the ghosts of his victims force Luis to shoot himself. Eh, things could have wrapped up more tightly. While this film may turn some away due to the ample cliches, I'd say its real weakness lies with unresolved plot points that don't reach proper resolution or make no sense whatsoever. Why were the teens seeing ghosts in the beginning? Isn't Luis supposed to be the one seeing ghosts and why? If the mom was such a bitch, how the hell did she land two guys?! Seriously, how the fuck did Luis become a cop? How did the first two teens die? Why didn't anyone come looking for Martha? Why didn't the mom's boyfriend ever come back looking for her? Aaaah enough! I think you get my point now. This is an entertaining horror flick with some good ideas that were wasted at some point all the while failing to fill in its many gaps. I liked the look and feel to everything, especially the ghosts, and telling the story through different time intervals was fun. However, it simply made the ending more predictable, no real investment to the characters, and the genre switches from horror film to crime drama needlessly. This film is worth a view even if because it is great to look at, but it becomes a huge letdown when you think of all that it could have been.

Notable Moment: When Ella hilariously falls out of the car! I'm still laughing over that scene.

Final Rating: 6/10

Wouldn't I just love to have Ms. Asistio come up to me offering to do my laundry!

Friday, May 3, 2013

Push Review



Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Individuals with various psychic powers find themselves involved with a plot to recover a serum that greatly enhances these powers.

Review: This is one of those movies you watch and then completely forget about almost immediately despite it having some good ideas. It's kind of hard to explain because the story is on the bland side with some obvious holes as if they were holding back for an intended sequel which I wouldn't hold my breath for. This is probably the worst and most annoying aspect of the film. It's not as though this is an established brand that fans can jump aboard. It hurt the film tremendously to save material pointlessly when this was the one chance to wow the audience. For example, we keep hearing about the one girl, Cassie's, played humorously by Dakota Fanning, mother as the greatest clairvoyant in the world setting the events of the film in motion; the film even ends with a line about "time to get your mom" or something to that nature. Well, maybe that should have been the plot to this film! There is also the dad of the main guy, Nick, played by Chris Evans, who knew something was up before he died as if there were a bigger scheme afoot. These kind of shenanigans occur the entire movie long. It's just something weird you will pick up on as you watch the film with plotlines that keep pointing toward a larger picture that is meant to unfold later. Speaking of which, the plot is nothing special or even close to original as it felt much like a theatrical version of "Heroes" which is basically the X-men which is allegedly a ripoff of the Doom Patrol. These people aren't superheroes though and, to be more precise, the characters have typical psychic powers (though they have little nicknames for them) like telekinesis, clairvoyance, and mind control, with a few other bullshit powers like sonic screams, knowing someone's location through touching their stuff, and, most bullshit of all, the ability to block other people's power. This bothers me so much because how would you ever discover this ability?! Apparently some sector of the government, called the Division, has been working on a drug or whatever to improve the overall powers of an individual. This organization is so cliched they don't even make sense. The government wants to control people with these powers yet everyone at the Division has powers? Plus, if they're rounding up people with powers, as it is implied, why are so many allowed to run free? This is not to mention the main point of the film is to find a girl named Kira (better grab your notebook honey!), played by the always captivating Camilla Belle, who has the only version of the serum and is the only survivor of its injection. But we get no real understanding of how her powers have been boosted. I'm having flashbacks to "Star Wars" with the whole Anakin is the chosen one bullshit even though he never really does anything better than a regular jedi master. So if the serum doesn't even do anything major, what is the point to anything? But the pointlessness to it all is further exasperated due to the fact that Nick and his crew want to protect Kira and the serum while the Division and a bonus group of criminals with powers also seek the serum. So everyone wants this dumb drug that doesn't even do anything from what we can tell! Okay, with all that said, I still must admit this is a fun action film that somehow becomes an interesting heist movie in the last half hour. I am sucker for watching people with powers fight each other and this movie mostly delivers. But seriously, all the powers suck except telekinesis since you could rip people to shreds if it were possible. I'd be rampaging through the city blowing shit up "Dragon Ball Z" style if I had those powers! It was annoying seeing Nick constantly getting his ass handed to him even when he had the upper hand. Actually, Nick comes close to dying multiple times, but he's always spared for dumbass reasons which was a wonderful ongoing contrivance. As for the heist, Nick assembles a cool group with various powers and they plot to recover the serum and defeat the Division and the crime gang respectively. I should mention one member of the crew is Emily, played by the, seemingly, forever beautiful Ming-Na Wen; does this woman ever age?! And another hot chick was the lollipop girl (how provocative) from the crime gang played by Xiao Lu Li. The heist works out nicely because the hardest part is blocking the clairvoyants who know what you will do. So Nick writes down everyone's job along with decoys and then erases his mind so not even he knows the plan anymore. Needless to say, it all works out in their favor as they get the serum but idiotically lose Kira which was conveniently a part of the plan in order to defeat the Division. All right, I definitely liked this movie more than I should have. It is certainly not without its flaws, which there are numerous, but it is fun and mostly delivers at what  it was trying to offer. There were some fun ideas that would have made for an entertaining franchise even if unoriginal. More so, there was a certain charm to it all that I'm sure many won't care about. Of course a major contributor to rating this film a little higher was the abundance of babes that always goes that extra mile for me! Overall, this is a mediocre film held back by the writer's own stupidity while made slightly better by decent casting, some cool effects, and an admirable heist. "Push" is worth a rental or watch it on TV, but that's about as far as I'd go with it.

Notable Moment: Probably when Cassie says the line, "damn," because, for some reason, I constantly keep repeating the stupid way she says it years later. I'll admit, sometimes I can't explain myself.

Final Rating: 6/10

The lovely ladies of "Push" starting with Ms. Belle:

Ms. Wen:

Ms. Li:

Parasite Eve Review


Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A researcher is unwittingly manipulated into bringing his wife back from the dead in order to create a super being that will eradicate humanity.

Review: This is another film that has been terribly mislabeled as a horror movie when it's more of a romantic sci-fi. I haven't read the book that this is based on, but, from what I have heard, the book is much scarier and gory; eh, this film would have benefitted more from that kind of action. Some may recall the Playstation games based on this same book, but those served more as sequels taking a loose interpretation of the events and expanding upon them. The plot is sort of convoluted, farfetched, and even dragged out, but somehow it works if you understand what to expect. In fact, the love story is very endearing even if bordering on the sappy side, but you better adore it or else this movie will simply not work for you. The story is that a researcher studying mitochondria, named Toshiaki, played quite passionately by Hiroshi Mikami, has become the unknowing key to creating a new race to succeed humanity at the behest of, what I will refer to as, Eve. Essentially, the mitochondria in our cells are believed to have once been a separate organism that reached symbiosis with the first cellular life a billion years ago or whenever. I'm not an expert by any means, but the movie does a decent enough job explaining the gist of it all the while not overwhelming the audience. Well, apparently the mitochondria have some form of a unified consciousness, I suppose, much like a hive mind which is what Eve is representing. The mitochondria, or Eve, have designed a plan to create what is often referred to as the "ultimate being" by combining the perfect candidates, timing, and conditions to move mitochondria forward evolutionarily. Believe me, it sounds more complicated than it really is. Toshiaki's wife, Kiyomi, played beautifully by Riona Hazuki, embodies Eve's consciousness and manipulates certain events so that Kiyomi will be killed, Toshiaki will use his research to resurrect her, and her organs, through a donation, will be implanted in a girl that is meant to be the host of the ultimate being. You see what I mean by farfetched, right? Let me explain that it's not like this plan came into being overnight, as it's stressed Eve has been working toward these ideal conditions that entire billion or so years. Oh, and the way she is able to manipulate so much is through a form of mind control as mitochondria are in every human; let me also mention that I refer to Eve as singular but keep in mind "she" is representing all mitochondria. So Kiyomi gets her head crushed in a car accident, some obsessed doctor, Yoshizumi, makes a deal with Toshiaki that he will give Toshiaki Kiyomi's liver in exchange for transplanting her kidneys to a girl named Mariko, and Toshiaki's uses the liver cells (which is convenient because he had been studying liver tissue regeneration) to attempt to recreate Kiyomi's body somehow. Through the magic of sci-fi, the liver cultures manifest a gelatinous-looking creature that is able to morph into a hotter version of Kiyomi. So wait, now I'm looking for a hot, green-eyed, slicked-back hair, evil Japanese girl as my new girlfriend? Oh great, where the hell am I going to find someone like that?! Even though Eve is structuring the egg of the ultimate being within Mariko, Eve needs the sperm of Toshiaki to fertilize it. She then proceeds to seduce the depressed Toshiaki into "giving her a billion years worth of love!" She really says this. I could be wrong, but I think that's a little too much to ask of one man. Eh, she would have won me over. Once the billion years of banging ends, Eve reveals that Kiyomi never really loved Toshiaki, but it was Eve that wanted him as a piece in her scheme. Eve forced Kiyomi to come to him and attract him in the right way while adjusting her personality as she felt it was necessary to further deepen Toshiaki's love. Eve continually explains that she has been waiting forever for these circumstances to arise. Much of this was suspected by the real Kiyomi through notes she would write herself which Toshiaki stumbles upon. At this point, talk about a total bitch slap to the face with a betrayal of epic proportions. Considering how much of this movie is dedicated to establishing how deep and profound their love is, this comes as a real shock to know none of it was even real, well, at least for Kiyomi. Eve then controls Toshiaki's student, Sachiko, at a press conference to announce that her plans are about to come to fruition. She then demonstrates her ability to activate the mitochondria within a human's cells to force them to combust. Toshiaki and Yoshizumi realize that this ultimate being will soon be born in Mariko now that Eve has Toshiaki's sperm. They attempt to intercept Mariko but they arrive only to discover Eve has already set the final stage of her plan into motion. Eve ignites more people on fire as she moves to flee the hospital Mariko had been recovering at. Yoshizumi tries to slow her down through some bullshit security system, but Eve makes her way to the roof as Toshiaki makes a final plea to Kiyomi's sensibility that he believes still resides within Eve. Eve continues to gloat more about how hard it was to accomplish everything and how humanity is finished...you know, the usual villain stuff. But when Eve has had enough chitchat Toshiaki reveals he had fallen in love at first sight with Kiyomi long before they met by Eve's hand. Either through Kiyomi or due to Eve's disbelief, she refuses to accept this and inquires more. Toshiaki believes he has touched a chord with Kiyomi and slowly moves to embrace Eve, but she begins lighting parts of his body on fire that, for some reason, don't seem to burn him. As he finally touches Eve, it either reawakens Kiyomi and she did really love Toshiaki or Eve did love Toshiaki. Your guess is as good as mine, but I'll play it safe and believe Kiyomi really did love Toshiaki and Eve was talking out her ass. As the two kiss they both light on fire and burn away as Mariko revives and we can assume the ultimate being is dead as well. The final shot shows when Toshiaki first saw Kiyomi and how entranced he was by her as well as showing that Kiyomi did take notice of Toshiaki further implying Kiyomi did have a will of her own since Eve did not recall it. Obviously the book's ending is much different with the ultimate being born but transforming into male due to the male mitochondria not agreeing with Eve's plan. For what it's worth, this is an excellent romance flick, a moderate sci-fi, but laughable horror film. The acting is really moving as the love story builds, and I wanted the characters to have a happy ending. It's a timeless belief that love conquers all especially when you are giving a billion years worth of it! The music and effects were both surprisingly good with all things considered. However, the movie is too long, a lot of contrivances, pacing could be tightened, and probably should have stuck closer to the book's horror roots. If you like overly sentimental romance films, definitely give this a go, but I still feel this is a great movie regardless. Might be a bit difficult to track down, but should be worth it. Fans of the PE franchise will probably hate this though due to the deviations and emphasis on romance.

Notable Moment: When Kiyomi first returns as Eve looking so damn attractive. That's one hell of a makeover: from cute to sexy in the blink of a green eye.

Final Rating: 7/10

Ms. Hazuki in my own little Eve montage. Gotta love those green eyes!

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Oblivion Review


Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After a war with aliens that left Earth uninhabitable, a security drone repairman and his partner ensure the safe keeping of resources for what's left of humanity.

Review: Say what you want about Tom Cruise being crazy in real life, but he knows how to pick his films. This is one of those movies that has a little something for everyone while still bringing something new to the sci-fi genre in both visuals and presentation. Annoyingly, this is also one of those movies where the trailer spoils the major twist, although, I think most would guess it fairly early on; thankfully there is much more to the story than relying on the twists. The plot, as the main character, Jack (Tom Cruise), believes it to be is that 60 years prior, aliens came to Earth and destroyed half the moon to create natural catastrophes on the planet. Once the planet had been devastated, they invaded but were thwarted by a nuclear war which, upon its end, left Earth uninhabitable, the aliens defeated, most humans dead, and those who survived set up a base on Saturn's moon, Titan. Now, in 2077, Jack is a repairman for the security drones that guard massive reactors converting water into energy to take back to Titan as well as other resources. Besides maintenance, there is always the threat of remaining aliens nicknamed Scavs. Jack's partner and lover is named Victoria, played quite sexily by Andrea Riseborough, who works as a communicator of sorts as the two receive orders from Sally who commands from a space station in Earth's atmosphere called the Tet. Repair teams are given limited mission time before they go back to Titan as well as their memories erased to protect the mission. However, Jack has reoccurring dreams of a woman on Earth, at the Empire State Building, before the war which would be impossible. At the same time, Jack feels a strong connection to Earth and prefers it to Titan even setting up an isolated cabin with trinkets he has found in his travels. All this talk of Mr. Cruise playing a guy named Jack is giving me flashbacks of "Legend." I should address how beautiful and impressive the backgrounds look in this movie; this is how CGI should be done unless you really do have the budget to make a character look as good as Gollum! Anyway, Jack stumbles upon a Scav signal being sent from what's left of the Empire State Building to a ship in orbit and discovers it was a human vessel. As Jack goes through the wreckage, he finds humans in cryogenic life-pods including the woman he continually dreams about. To his surprise, the security drones begin executing everyone, but Jack is able to convince them to leave the woman alone as he takes her pod back to their headquarters aloft a massive, high tech tower. Jack and Victoria revive the woman who says that her name is Julia, played by the beautifully alluring Olga Kurylenko, and she had been a crew member on a NASA ship called the Odyssey in 2017. Julia reveals she knows who Jack is but does not elaborate to which Jack decides he will figure it out through the flight recorder. Along the way Jack and Julia are captured by Scavs, which, big surprise, are humans of course because you saw the trailer with Morgan Freeman, who plays Malcolm! Malcolm wants Jack to figure things out on his own by going to areas believed to be irradiated, but he reveals their agenda is to send a drone armed with explosives to the Tet in order to destroy it but they need Jack for this. Jack and Julia go back to the Empire State Building where it is revealed Julia is Jack's wife and that he proposed to her there as Jack recalls the scattered memories. I really loved Jack and Julia's romance since it felt timeless, and I'm a sucker for lost memory plotlines. The two return to the control tower only to be confronted with a heartbroken Victoria who alerts Sally to the complications forcing a security drone to kill Victoria. Sally wants Jack to return to the Tet with Julia, but he refuses leading to more drones being sent to recover the two. Amidst the scuffle with the drones, the couple crashes in one of the radiation zones only to discover another Jack, or a clone, repairing drones (hah rhymes). Julia is shot, which leads to Jack going to the clone's tower where he discovers another version of Victoria as well. After safely recovering, Julia finds herself at the cabin Jack built in which he disclose he must also be a clone. Julia tries to console him by explaining the real Jack had promised to build her a cabin in the woods for them to grow old together in. The two eventually return to Malcolm where he explains to them that there is no colony on Titan, the Tet is what destroyed the moon, the Tet is taking Earth's resources, and an army of Jack clones acted to exterminate humanity after the moon-related cataclysms. Learning the disturbing truth, Jack agrees to send the explosive drone back to the Tet but more security drones arrive, kill many humans, and destroy the rigged drone. Jack decides that since Sally wants them to return, he and Julia will deliver the bomb personally thus returning Julia to her life-pod with the bomb. The two fly up to the Tet, which has this whole "Independence Day" vibe going on, in which Jack listens to the Odyssey's flight recorder. Jack realizes that he and Victoria were the pilots, Julia was a member of the team, Sally worked for mission control, and they launched the life-pods when they were pulled into some kind of tractor beam. Along the way through the Tet, Jack sees more clones at the ready as well as being tested by Sally to make sure his intentions are honest; he is able to trick them by playing off the charade they've established. Finally, he comes face to face with the core of the Tet which is some kind of living computer or something. But instead of Julia having the bomb, Malcolm emerges as the audience realizes Jack took her to the cabin instead. Jack and Malcolm gladly sacrifice themselves to destroy the Tet once and for all. Three years later, Julia lives at the cabin, and has a daughter from Jack, when Malcolm's crew comes across her with the clone of Jack they previously encountered. The film ends with this Jack in the same mindset of the original desiring to be with Julia. Eh, it's a happy ending, but would have been fine without the clone bit tacked on. I mean, hell, what about all the other clones?! Does Julia start her own harem? We don't get enough info on the Tet. My personal theory was that it's just some probe either doing the bidding for aliens or is still performing a mission for aliens long since dead. Perhaps it once had a crew, killed them because it's an AI and needs new genetic material, thus the clones. I guess some things either don't add up or are completely left up to interpretation or your imagination. As much as I loved the Jack and Julia romance, it is so farfetched and contrived. I mean, two married astronauts whereby one becomes a clone with lost memories and the other conveniently survives for 60 years in cryo sleep? But if you can overlook a lot of lingering questions, this is a fantastic film. The visuals are stunning, it has one of the best soundtracks, the love story is moving, the action and pacing are entertaining, the acting was believable, and the film made for a great addition to the sci-fi genre. I didn't see a 3-D version so I can't say if that's worth it, but this was a highly enjoyable film and better than I thought it would be. Definitely check this one out for all it has to offer.

Notable Moment: When Jack pulls the old switcheroo on the aliens as he and Malcolm blow them to hell and back.

Final Rating: 7.5/10

The lovely Ms. Kurylenko!

Hansel and Gretel (Korean 2007) Review


Check out my updated review here! http://thevagrantrises.blogspot.com/2017/03/updated-review-16-hansel-and-gretel.html

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After narrowly surviving a car accident, a man finds himself in a dark forest upon which he is led to a house where not all is as it seems.

Review: Let me begin by prefacing that this is not a conventional horror movie by any means. It's really more of a fantasy with light horror elements so be well aware of this fact early on or you may be disappointed. However, you could end up like me and be pleasantly surprised, and even a little blown away, by this retelling of a timeless classic that transforms into a dark fairy tale in its own right. Although, I should say there appears to be an inspiration from the famous "It's a Good Life" episode of "The Twilight Zone," but it's more of an influence than a copy. There were a few mistakes made along the way that I realize are what held this film back and why it isn't as famous as, say, "A Tale of Two Sisters." Although, personally, I feel this might be the best Korean film I've watched. Let's start with the problems, because I want to focus more on the positive and why this film is great. As I stated, the film is mislabeled as a horror movie. In fairness, the genre of this film is difficult to define because it's based on what is typically viewed as a children's story combined with the fact that it is more focused on the fantasy and, almost, dreamlike elements. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but, because the themes are so adult, it isn't reaching whatever the target audience would typically be. Another thing that I noticed, especially considering how quickly you realize the direction the plot is going in, is this film is longer than it needs to be. At almost two hours, this could have been cut down to 90 minutes and still would have been great; the themes become redundant as the same points are brought up over and over again. Finally, we aren't given a good enough explanation for why everything has transpired or how the kids can do what they can do. I'm not even joking, but it would seem Santa Claus may be a legitimate explanation! Sorry, as much as I adore this film, that is not acceptable for me. I wanted the kids to be something abstract, like living representations of the story's characters willed into existence through the sadness of children around the world, while tragically never able to have or be what they want. Maybe I'll have to get working on the sequel! There are other small gripes, like I wanted a more moving soundtrack, but most of these are just technical issues that I don't think anyone else would notice or even care about. Overall, the flaws are minor and do not come close to deterring from the story or the film as a whole.

Onwards to why this film is so awesome. The story is creative, imaginative, and even clever with a nice role reversal that you can kind of predict but it's slight. First, we quickly meet our main character, Eun-soo, played well by Jung-myung Chun, who is a regular guy heading to his sick mom while dealing with drama with his pregnant girlfriend. I suppose there is a contrast between him possibly not ready for kids and learning to appreciate them by the end of the film. He somehow crashes his car which is a bit of a stretch, but I understand they needed this plot device to get the show on the road. Almost immediately, you become immersed in the whimsical atmosphere as Eun-soo is suddenly in an impossibly dark forest. I should note the set designs are amazing with such subtle nuances to truly immerse you in this realm. Eun-soo sees a lone light emanating from a lantern belonging to a young girl named Young-hee, played flawlessly by Eun-kyung Shim. There is such captivating imagery as Young-hee and Eun-soo first meet; it simply glows with this dreamy sense to the setting as if the shots are pictures right out of a storybook. Also, Ms. Shim is simply amazing! Her look, presence, and ability to bring her character to life easily outshines anyone else in the film. She invokes a strong emotional bond to the audience, as do all the kids, but there is a reason Eun-soo connects most with her and so did I. The other two kids were both remarkable actors as well: the boy, Man-bok, and the younger girl, Jung-soon. Even with the subtitles, I could feel their emotions, longing, pain, and moments of happiness. All the actors were very good in this film, but the kids were noticeably better. Anyway, Eun-soo is taken to their home which is meant to be reminiscent of iconic fairy tale homes although this one is not made of candy. Eun-soo sees that the house is full of endless toys and all the food is desserts all the while the parents are on edge. Big shock, they aren't the parents and the Hansel and Gretel story takes a reversal as adults are lured into the home and the kids are more like the witch. No matter how much you try to escape, you become lost in the darkened forest, and, even if it's daylight, if you go too far out it will turn to night (an awesome concept!). As we see other adults die and disappear, new ones take their place alarming Eun-soo as to what his fate may be. The kids aren't evil knowingly as they are simply acting like kids but somehow gifted with the power to have their every desire come true. They keep hoping someone will come and be their parents permanently, but they have become jaded to the way adults try to control, manipulate, and abuse them. In all honesty, I probably would have tried to or succeeded in killing the kids, but that's just me! As time passes, Eun-soo grows closer to the kids even understanding the things they do because he empathizes with how sad, alone, abandoned, and unloved they feel. Right from the beginning, Eun-soo had made a connection with Young-hee, but this is expressed best when he tells the kids a story indirectly explaining to them his predicament; however, only Young-hee realizes that their happiness is costing Eun-soo his. Eventually, the most recent adult to find his way to the house is some religious zealot who has his own nefarious plans for the kids. Eun-soo learns that the kids were born in the late '50s and early '60s and were raised at an orphanage where they were raped, neglected, abused, starved, and tortured by some guy. With it being Christmas time, they wish for things to be better until they are visited by Santa Claus (that I mentioned) who gives them the Hansel and Gretel book. Inspired by the book and newfound psychic or magic powers (it's not entirely clear) they kill their abuser, who runs the orphanage, and throw him into an oven much like the fairy tale. This same process becomes recreated as the zealot tries to kill Jung-soon but he is instead killed. Fully understanding the children, Eun-soo tries to plead to them that they should go back to the real world and let go of this false sense of happiness. Man-bok refuses to relent and that Eun-soo is meant to be the hero of their story and be with them forever. The kids stress that everyone hates them and thinks they're evil, but they just want someone to love and be with them. Eun-soo resolves that he cannot escape and weeps while calling out his girlfriend's name. Seeing the pain they are causing, Young-hee, tells Eun-soo the only way to escape is to burn the drawings they've made of him that bind him to their world. Eun-soo does this and finds himself returned to the scene of his car accident where the police are cleaning up. He is unsure if it was all a dream and continues on with his life having his child and becoming a good father. The film ends a Christmas or two later with the children leaving Eun-soo a drawing under his Christmas tree of just the children happy. This could imply multiple notions like that the kids are finally happy, or happy for Eun-soo, or that they miss him or whatever. But damn it, I just want a regular happy ending! Why can't the kids just come and live with Eun-soo? We know they want to and they obviously touched each other's lives considering how teary-eyed everyone keeps getting! Ugh, it's those longing stares! If you've read enough of my reviews you will notice I'm easily moved by the concept of longing stares. Small confession, when I'm watching characters long desperately for someone or something, the music during the final scene of the 2004 "Phantom of the Opera" plays in my head. That music just sets the tone better for me. When I become invested like this, I feel like the story still needs to keep going until everything is resolved. It doesn't have to be wrapped up in a nice bow, but I need closure! Okay, I'm losing my mind. The acting is top rate, the story is creative with many original concepts, the effects and imagery create a perfect backdrop, the attention to detail and subtle references enhances the storybook vibe, and the movie fully engages you in every respect. This is most certainly an overlooked gem that needs much more attention. I strongly recommend watching this one if you're a fan of Asian cinema, like fantasy films, or just love great stories as I do.

Notable Moment: When Young-hee first appears before Eun-soo after the accident. There is something so whimsical about her and the situation. The close-up of her face was clearly meant to resonate with the audience as if she were some fairy or guardian angel. It is such a powerful shot--no wonder they used it for the movie poster.

Final Rating: 8/10

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Hostel: Part III Review



Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The Elite Hunting Club is back with a setup in Las Vegas ready to lure in more unsuspecting tourists.

Review: I usually don't review random entries in a franchise unless I catch a sequel but have no intention of watching the other entries any time in the foreseeable future. Such was the case with "Hostel: Part III," and you know what, this may come as a surprise, but this is probably the best film in the franchise. Well, it's at least as good or better than the first one. I could not stand the idiocy of the second movie; it was like, okay, the first story worked with guys so let's change nothing except swap the genders! Nice try. Unexpectedly, this film works hard to throw the audience for a loop and it toys with their expectations effectively. Even I thought, surely, a direct to DVD part three will be the same old shit in a different location. Thankfully they approached things much differently to the point I wonder if this started out as a different script and was shoehorned into being a "Hostel" movie at some point? The story is nothing we haven't seen before with a group of four young guys going to Vegas for the main guy, Scott's, bachelor party. Think of it as the slasher version of "The Hangover." Well, before this, you think the film begins like the first two, with some lost tourist at a European hostel about to get killed, but in actuality, the American is the one working with the Elite Hunting Club capturing a touring Ukrainian couple. Hmm, can't say I blame him as Ukrainian women are extremely beautiful. It's really funny because the guy working for the EHC, Travis, keeps checking out the girl, Anka, and instead of the guy, Victor, getting mad he's all understanding. The way they play with your expectation of Victor, trying to make him look suspicious, he actually comes off as like the most laid back guy alive. Anyway, Scott and his crew, Mike, Justin, and Carter, run into two hot chicks that entice them to go to a rare party on the outskirts of the city. Even during the taxi ride, the driver appears to be beyond shady, but of course this all turns out to be more of a ruse by the writers. The girls are, in fact, escorts hired by Carter, the party is real, and the taxi driver turns out to be quite the upstanding citizen. The reason why screwing with the audience's mentality works so well is because we don't know what will come next which is hard to do by the third entry of a franchise that's whole premise is nothing but rich people paying to murder tourists. Eventually, people do start to get killed by the EHC, but we are unsure of how or why they are being chosen since Mike and one of the escorts both get taken. The EHC has also been restructured this time around to reflect the Vegas feel. For one, the victims are given cosplay-esque clothing to enhance the mood which was a nice touch. Likewise, the kills are not personalized but viewed by other members of the EHC who place various bets regarding the kills; for example, when Justin dies by some weird archer, they place bets on how many arrows he can take before dying. Furthermore, the kills have a weirder vibe to them, even if not entirely original, than the mere torturing the other two films provided. Toward the end, everyone who is left gets captured when it is revealed Carter is, in fact, a member of the EHC. This was a great twist that pulls a lot of the story together that you might have overlooked from the start. You learn that Carter had once dated Scott's fiance and, out of jealousy, has been sabotaging their relationship for awhile hoping to get back with her. At the same time, Carter is a rich bitch who is running out of things to keep his life interesting so he joined the EHC and to up the ante by killing his best friend. Carter further explains that he hadn't intended their friends to get killed so it really emphasizes how personal it was meant to be. As an added bonus, right when Scott is about to die and, Carter is trying to pander to the crowd, the EHC decides to free Scott to increase to entertainment value of the show. While all of this happening, you've got Victor going on a vengeful rampage, people dying, the police on their way, and the EHC activating the infamously comical self-destruct button. When the dust has settled, it appears Carter was the only one to make it out alive as he attempts to continue his plan to comfort Scott's fiance. The ending did suck because it was beyond predictable as Scott is very much alive and he and the fiance plan to torture Carter to death. Well, despite the lackluster ending, this was a tremendous improvement over part two. All the changes were definitely for the better and helped to keep the tired concept driving this franchise more refreshing. Obviously I loved the twists and turns the most since the direction the story took was unconventional and the writers understood this. It's not perfect as many ideas felt rushed, the production value was noticeably cheaper, and, given how unpredictable the film had been, the ending is a huge letdown. If you're a fan of the franchise you should enjoy this one considerably, and you might even like this one if you hate this franchise.

Notable Moment: When you realize that Carter is the one that set everything up as a scheme to simply kill Scott. Pretty messed up.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Stories of Apparitions Seen in Photos Review



Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: An anthology tale of five stories related to the ghost photo phenomenon.

Review: With a ridiculous name for a movie like that, I'm sure there has to be an alternate title out there somewhere or was this a direct translation? They didn't even spell the title right on the cover for god's sake! I can't find a lot of information on this film or even on the actors involved which pretty much sucks. But it's on Amazon, which is how I watched it, so you'd think there would be more to draw on than this! Anyway, this is an anthology film, and the theme is ghost photos with each story's plot being driven by the introduction of these photos. This movie probably would have benefitted from some form of a wraparound even if it were something as simple as a cold hand turning pages of a photo album in between segments. I mean, if you're going to have a major theme like this, it helps to have something driving the setups for each entry. Okay, on with the show!

Segment 1 Pictures With No Object: Three kids go mountain climbing when they stumble upon a guy who seemingly committed suicide but is clutching a photo that has "help me" written on it. This one was probably the best of the five because it offers just what you would want and expect from a horror short. There is decent intrigue from the beginning as well as a general sense of wonder to what is actually going on since the audience just jumps into the action. The ghost photo in this one looked particularly eerie even if I couldn't even tell what I was looking at--at first. This story was aiming for genuine scares, that I think it pulled off successfully, and even offered up an original idea I hadn't seen before. There is a part where two girls are sitting in a car with the hazard lights on which left the opportunity for a ghost to suddenly appear in between a flash of light and darkness. This built the tension nicely, unfortunately, they kind of wasted this scare with some CGI effect, but it was creative nonetheless; it would be awesome to see the scene executed properly. Overall, it was short, sweet, and, with some interesting scares and effective atmosphere, it left me wanting more! Definitely a good way to start an anthology tale off.

Segment 2 Watching You: A schoolgirl discovers that a photo of her choir instead shows everyone is disturbingly staring at her. The premise for this one wasn't too bad although I still felt something more should have went into the photo. My idea of a ghost photo only makes sense if there were an actual ghost in the damn photo or if everyone in the photo but the main girl died right afterward (which they don't); if anything, it would be classified merely as supernatural more than ghostly. I think this segment tried to tackle too much as it throws in some guy trying to explain the situation and how people who took the photo are dead while he is supposedly a ghost himself? I don't know. There was a cool part where someone was trying to get in the girl's window from like 25 ft. in the air. But in the end, it just didn't make sense and leaves you more annoyed than frightened.

Segment 3 Memorable Polaroid: A group of friends are having a Christmas party when they hear on the news that their last friend expected to arrive was murdered not far from them. They soon realize perhaps one of them may be the killer after the murdered girl shows up in a polaroid photo of the group. This was another one that had a lot of potential that was not entirely realized. I loved the use of the polaroid, and the reason that was given to use said camera, by the main girl, Yui, played by the cute Narumi Konno. I think I have yet another little crush! She has all my favorite traits: nice, funny, clever, petite, and a raven-haired beauty, but why are they always just a character in a show or movie! Ugh! Okay, back on track. A lot of the banter between the friends felt natural and kind of funny at times. When the group realizes the one girl is dead, they immediately blame the guy who had a crush on her, and, for some reason he goes completely nuts and confesses to it. Well that would be fine except the twist is he wasn't the killer. I get that they wanted to emphasize the twist, but it comes off stupid when a character goes that much off the deep end needlessly. The ghost photo looked pretty good, and I liked the use of the girl's ghost appearing in the TV even if it demonstrated how low the budget must have been; it did look kind of scary even if it was a photoshop job. Eh, a moderate story with moderate thrills enhanced by a likable lead and a good premise.

Ms. Konno in my own ghost photo. I tried to do a regular screen capture but Amazon uses low graphics.

Segment 4 Peeping Tom: A shy, stalker-ish guy follows the woman he loves during her day to day activities while snapping the occasional photo. When he begins to capture ghostly images, he is faced with the dilemma of how to tell the woman as antics ensue. I would say this is the worst of the bunch which was highly disappointing given how funny this might have potentially turned out. As creepy as the main guy can be, he did have a certain charm to him with his goofball approach since he was painted more as a secret admirer than a hardcore stalker. I can see a story like this becoming an awkward romance flick if done a different way. It sucked, the two don't even end up together as you'd think considering this was supposed to be a comedy/horror. I guess I'll applaud them for not giving in to cliches, but come on! And the ghost that is haunting the girl is supposed to be him or something? It made no sense at all. How the hell can he be a ghost if he's taking photos and chilling out with his little turtle buddy?! Plus, he talks to people damn it! The girl he's stalking is cute but nothing to write home about; hell, I would have rather had her friend! I'm starting to think I get too invested in these movies sometimes. So, yeah, the ghost photos were just okay, the scares were nonexistent, the comedy was funny up until the end, and, once again, this segment was hindered by wasted potential.

Segment 5 Strange Delivery: After receiving a mysterious photo in the mail of a family surrounded by dozens of ghostly hands, a woman becomes haunted. I think you already know what I'm going to say here, right? So much wasted potential! Actually, only this story and the first segment could have been full length films if they divided out the material. The premise is so cool, but the mystery of the photo and resolution are so unbelievably lame. Apparently, for some unknown reason, a guy mails the photo to people, they become haunted, try to make it go away by tracing its origin to some house only to be consumed by the spirits within. We don't know how or why this is happening, what's the goal of the man other than something to do with his mother, where the photo came from or is the man one of the people in the photo, and, finally, it leaves you further frustrated because this is the last story! I would have loved to see these ideas fleshed out better and expanded upon. A lot of the scares are things we've seen a thousand times before, but with better effects they still could have left an impression. But more so, this could have had an elaborate and interesting mystery to unravel. So disappointing.

There were most certainly a lot of good ideas incorporated in the film as a whole, but most of it was not executed to it's maximum ability for various reasons. I hate to see this much potential go to waste given how many shitty movies are out there overshadowing a film like this. But it is reassuring to know there are still new ideas being created or at least new outlooks on existing stories. I would hope this movie maybe gets more support at some point; it doesn't even have a wikipedia page! I wanted to rate this film higher, but it just didn't deliver enough for me to go any higher and most of its rating comes from creativity more than quality. With that being said, I would still highly recommend this as a decent film well worth your time.

Notable Moment: In the first segment when the camera angle is situated perfectly for something to appear in the hazard lights of the car. Grr, if only we had a little grudgey action right then!

Final Rating: 6/10