Friday, November 22, 2013

Bestseller Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: An author accused of plagiarism attempts to write a new novel seemingly dictated by her daughter's imaginary friend only to discover it may be true.

Review: With a cool premise, an eerie setting, and incredible cinematography, you'd think this film would turn out to be a slam dunk, right? Wrong. I had been meaning to watch this film for the longest time, but the anticipation has become almost half-expected disappointment; my most repeated complaint continues to be regarding wasted potential. There are so many good ideas presented that it's actually kind of startling that they would blow it this badly with terrible endgame choices, nonsensical plot decisions, and laughable overacting. Honestly, it's like someone wanted to have every horror movie cliche and plotline wrapped up in one movie while never accurately pulling off a single idea. There were so many pointless setups I thought they might have been intended to be red herrings, but I think that gives the writer too much credit.

I guess we can start off with what was good first this time around. The excellent cinematography will catch your eye immediately as it not only makes the film appear to be working with a larger budget, but it shows off the elegant beauty of the Korean landscape. A lot of shots are interesting and serve to create tension well enough even if there is rarely a payoff; to be fair, this certainly isn't the first time a mediocre film appears better than it really is at the hands of a capable cinematographer. The basic premise to the film is, in fact, interesting, creative, and sprinkled with bouts of originality. The notion that the lead, Hee-soo, is trying to write a comeback novel and becomes entranced by a creepy tale her daughter says her imaginary friend continually repeats sounds, admittedly, badass; if only the film presented things to that degree and with as much clarity as I'm providing. As an extension of this, making the setting an old orphanage opened up a lot of possibilities that definitely were not exploited to their zenith...or at all for that matter.

So with this much going for you, how do you screw it all up? Apparently, quite easily. Okay, first and foremost, the movie is way too long (two full and long hours!) when it does not have nearly enough material or a sophisticated enough mystery to drag out the suspense. The mystery as to what is going on does keep you intrigued for a good amount of the film, but it slowly fizzles as you become bored with the intentional stalling to pointlessly pad the film out unnecessarily. You eventually reach a point where the story has become so convoluted you stop caring about why things are happening. The writer/director tried to tackle too much all at once without factoring in how it would all come together. The orphanage as a setting is wasted because it never once becomes relevant to the plot or is even implied to be connected to the story. Yes, the house is pivotal to everything, but it didn't need to be an orphanage except for the sheer red herring factor which comes off as a huge ass waste. The drama with Hee-soo and the plagiarism is stupid and draws out the film longer when it should have been altered to fit the film more concisely. Essentially, Hee-soo is accused of plagiarism, tries to write a new book to forget about it, only to be accused of plagiarizing again with this ghost story she hears from her daughter, Yeun-hee. This would have played out significantly better if we skip the first incident of plagiarizing altogether, have Hee-soo attempting to write the book, as is, with the ghost story, and then when Hee-soo is accused of plagiarizing she's taken aback because she thought her daughter was making it all up. Then her drive to prove she didn't plagiarize would make more sense as she is both scared that maybe there really was a ghost. I mean, you'd change the entire dynamics of the film, but it would work more efficiently and become audience friendly instead of rage-inducing. Oh but then we'd spoil the idea that Yeun-hee is already dead and in the mind of Hee-soo! Oh nooooo! This plotline comes out of left field (yet somehow predictable in its stupidity), is beyond unnecessary, and, most unforgiving of all, somehow manages to not effect the plot except to further drag things out. Oh great, now we have a guilty mom plotline on top of an already needlessly complicated story that has no fucking clue where it's heading!

You know, they don't even fully explain to you whether or not Hee-soo did plagiarize or was there really a ghost involved. What, you thought this movie would have scares and take advantage of its own ideas? Of course not! So let me get this straight: Hee-soo wasn't taking care of Yeun-hee because she was so wrapped up in this plagiarism scandal, and she died in an accident like a moron. Hee-soo feels guilty for it so she imagines Yeun-hee helping her write her next book supposedly regaled by an imaginary friend/ghost. So a crazy woman imagines a ghost, who talks to a ghost, to collaborate on a book that was already written by someone else--and that other writer, surprise surprise, serves to no connection to the plot? The fuck? Ughhhh. Grrrr. But the whole point of the mystery is that the supposedly plagiarized book is there a fucking ghost or not?! When we finally meet the killers who conveniently show up in the last torturous half hour, one of them appears to see a ghost and one of them apparently was hearing whispers before he died so what the hell? Oh yeah, keep it vague--have to be artistic and all! The film attempts to provide a few twists and turns, but they're either painfully obvious or would have made more sense in another movie. Why couldn't they simply present this film as a conventional horror or even focus on the thriller aspects? If all this weren't bad enough, you have to deal with 120 minutes of shitty overacting from most characters, especially Hee-soo, with the exception of Yeun-hee, who is acceptable, and the husband who is probably the only decent actor. You don't even want to know how many times I was screaming for Hee-soo to calm the fuck down! Should have known she was nuts the moment I saw that crazed hair and eyeliner.

I felt like I was watching ten different movies here which is kind of ironic coming from a film that centers around plagiarism; there were glimmers of shit like "Secret Window" and "What Lies Beneath" while appearing to be greatly influenced by something like "Stir of Echoes." Under all the bullshit I feel there is a good movie trying to get out, but it tried to accomplish and be more than it was capable of. In different hands or with a more clear direction, this could have been one of the legends, but, unfortunately, that will never be. Real scares would have made this film a hundred times better no matter how played out they were or even if they were jump scares. Overall, this film isn't all bad even though the story is a mess; it has its moments and looks good while having them. However, I simply can't recommend this film because it makes me mad thinking about all the poor decisions and idiotic handling of what should have been a great premise. So the next time you pass this title on Netflix, just keep going.

Notable Moment: When we see a ghostly Yeun-hee emerge out of the shadows. It's probably the only scary moment and a sort of foreshadowing of revelations to come. In retrospect it makes no sense whatsoever, but that's beside the point.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

No One Lives Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A group of professional thieves seek to rekindle their losses from a botched job by kidnapping a seemingly wealthy couple only to discover much more than they bargained for.

Review: Don't let the fact that this film was produced by the WWE deter you from seeing this even though its distribution was handled horribly. I wasn't expecting anything when I watched this little film and was pleasantly surprised by how entertaining it turned out to be. I should have known there was a lot of potential here due to the director involved, Ryuhei Kitamura (you certainly feel his artistic flair), who had directed "Azumi," which I love, and fan favorite, "Versus;" this isn't his first foray into Hollywood, however, as some may be familiar with the film, "The Midnight Meat Train" with an up and coming Bradley Cooper. While this film does provide a certain vibe of borrowing multiple ideas from numerous other sources, the concepts are brought together in such a way to feel unique. Essentially you have every element you would want from an action/thriller: guns, gore, babes, and a likable killer.

The film begins with a girl trying to flee from the killer who is simply referred to as the "Driver." We are then introduced to a couple traveling across country who appear to be having some personal issues, but it's pretty damn obvious the guy is the Driver, played admirably by Luke Evans; I definitely love his sadistic approach to the character and the pure enjoyment he displays when killing people. To finish setting the stage, we are introduced to an organized group of thieves who are caught in the middle of a job as the family they are robbing arrives home early. One of their more reckless members, Flynn, shoots the family leading the group to abandon the heist and retreat; annoyingly, Flynn takes forever to be killed as if they were dragging out the anticipation since he is such a little bitch of a character. The thieves head to a local bar to blow off steam when they cross the path of the Driver and his squeeze, Betty. Flynn, wanting to make up for the blown heist, believes he can recoup the losses by taking it from the Driver and Betty, convinced they are rich. After running the couple off the road and keeping them captive at the thieves' headquarters of sorts, Flynn begins to raid the Driver's possessions when he stumbles upon the girl from the beginning, named Emma, tied up in the trunk of his car. It's at this same moment when Betty inexplicably kills herself by plunging her throat upon a knife held by one of the thieves pushing the Driver into a berserk rage. Emma, cleaned up by the thieves, reveals to them that the Driver is a devious killer, and they have no idea what they have got themselves caught up in.

Besides being a more than capable fighter, the Driver possesses an array of weapons and traps that he uses to ensnare and kill the thieves one at a time. Emma is no push over either as she has been learning to be a killer/survivalist at the hands of the Driver. It is implied that the Driver carefully and methodically brainwashes his victims to be like him and perhaps learn to love him such as with Betty. However, Emma only wishes to kill the Driver at all costs and is even willing to save him if it would mean she would be denied the pleasure of killing the Driver herself; this was an interesting relationship dynamic I don't believe is explored often enough in film: a hate so strong you'd save someone from being killed just so you can be the one to kill that individual. Eventually everyone is picked off until there is a final showdown between the Driver, Flynn, and Emma. Thankfully, Flynn is killed gruesomely, and the Driver takes Emma down revealing he had a GPS tracker in her body, which he rips out, implying she is very much on the same path as Betty before her. The final scene involves the Driver killing the last thief, that managed to survive, at a hospital as the Driver states the title line.

Parts of this film do feel like a cross between the likes of "Saw" and "The Collector," among many others, but the Driver is amusing enough to make a name for himself. For the most part, this is a fun film that tried to appease the audience it was focused toward by throwing in lots of action and fan service. It's not without its flaws by any means as there are a fair number of contrivances, we don't learn enough about the Driver, I didn't like the order in which the characters were killed, and a lot of moments did feel like a ripoff of other movies. I definitely recommend giving this one a try since it will more than likely fade into obscurity due to the lack of promotion, and I don't feel it deserves such a fate; this film is significantly better than it would appear. But if you're not the type that likes to cheer on the villain, give this a pass.

Notable Moment: When the Driver reveals he had hollowed out the body of Ethan and used it like a blanket to help him find the location of the other thieves. It's a cool reveal and completely bloody.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Purge Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: In a futuristic USA, most societal problems have been alleviated by allowing all crime to be legal one day a year.

Review: By now you're probably just about done scarfing down all that Halloween candy and maybe regretting it. Don't tell me I'm the only one still eating Halloween candy by Christmas? Admit it. Well, I have the perfect movie to help you rid yourself of all that excess sugar: "The Purge!" It's about losing weight and working out and it's really awesome--oh, wait, what? It's about a stupid family in the future terrorized by rejects from "The Strangers" on a made up holiday?! That can't be right. Okay, it's like the year 2100 or something, right? 2022?! So not even a decade away? Perfect. Alright, fine, then it must be an amazing morality tale and reveal some insight about human nature, correct? All that happens is some rich family unwillingly protects a random guy from said flunkies from "The Strangers?!!" Are you fucking kidding me? I have watched so many shitty movies in my life, but few have made me as angry as this instance. I guess it's my own fault, because I believed reviews and others saying this was a good film. I should have stuck with my gut feeling which is why I never rushed out to see this garbage before, but I would have never imagined this movie to be as stupid and aggravating as it turned out to be (I'm seriously clenching my fists in frustration while trying to type).

So what do we really have here? Basically, we have a bullshit holiday where you can commit crime without consequence which apparently led to wannabe "The Strangers" losers (called purgers) trying to kill anyone that gets in their way. I cannot emphasize how much these so-called purgers ripoff the already shitty "The Strangers" in their look, presentation, and pretentiously "creepy" mannerisms. The main cast is some rich family, called the Sandins, whose son tries to help a guy the purgers are trying to kill. If this weren't stupid enough, the daughter's boyfriend tries to kill the dad amidst this idiocy. Eventually the Sandins decide they will help this random guy and there is a brief transition into an action film as most of these rejects die. After the dad dies, the neighbors of the Sandins kill all the remaining purgers so that they can have the pleasure of killing the Sandins themselves. The random guy they had been protecting eventually saves them, even though they were assholes to him, and the movie ends with them releasing the remaining neighbors as the purge is over...till next time! There is never even a reason why the purgers were trying to kill this particular guy other than the fact that he fought back; so don't expect any big twists. We never even get to see what's really going on in the rest of the country which was lame as hell.

I hardly know how to approach all that is wrong here, but I suppose the thing that bothered me most was the absolute implausibility of the situation. "But Ryan, look at all the farfetched movies you've reviewed?" Those had a certain presentation that allowed your mind to be at ease and accept the situation at hand. For example, this movie, for some reason, made me think of "Killer Klowns From Outer Space" since that is one of the most outlandish movies there ever was, and I kept thinking, it was more plausible for aliens that look like clowns and turn people into cotton candy to be real than this movies' premise! It's mostly the year that is the problem as nine years is hardly enough time to establish this much bullshit. Just think for a moment, would it be possible in the next nine years for a new government to come into power, society not to immediately crumble as a sideffect, a holiday that violates every law introduced and accepted into society to the point that it already has traditions, and at no point is there any resistance? And I need to emphasize that there are traditions! Seriously, who thought up this "holiday?" Coke and Hallmark? There's something so immature to the thinking of the plot which could have actually worked under different circumstances.

I could not suspend my disbelief long enough to stop thinking up reasons why this would never work. They pitch this notion that society has miraculously become idyllic due to allowing crime legal for a day, yet never address all the problems of cleaning up after the day. Imagine how much of a pain in the ass it is to clean up after a party and this would be a nationwide trashing. Hospitals, the police, etc. would be busy for weeks trying to deal with the aftermath. Then you have to deal with the casualties and how they may affect society due to their deaths. For example, I'm sure many would love to kill their bosses, so you'd have tons of businesses down their leaders. Plus, how do you cope with families that may have been destroyed along the way? Also, what is there to stop me from seeking revenge other times of the year? And why the fuck would I stop killing because some little bell rings? Who would be able to prove I didn't kill someone beforehand? There are like a million loopholes--I've never even heard of such a flawed plot. But screw that...the thing that irked me most was the only people who cannot be killed by the fucking purge are government leaders?! There is the obvious implication that a government collapse occurred in this future creating this dystopian reality, and yet I cannot kill the people most likely behind the cause for its creation? Pst, I scoff at that notion...I'd be after their heads first. And where does the rest of the world play into this stupid dreamworld? Are you honestly saying, movie, that the USA could collapse and not have collateral damage? And where is the damned resistance that would be trying to stop all of this? Not many people would put up with this bullshit even as zombified as the public has become. This is why I don't want to review movies like this because they force me to address my hatred for modern society and utter disdain for my already corrupt government! Ahhh, I need to relax. It's just a shitty movie, Ryan. Think of Rika--calm yourself.

Okay, so back to the whole immaturity of it all. Being able to commit any crime once a year would create more crime than it would prevent. For one, it establishes a lot of vengeful individuals who would want payback for whatever happened to them. But besides that, the movie has nooooo fucking clue what causes crime--in this country at least. Very briefly is there a radio host, in the background, discussing that the purge protects the rich and leaves the poor to fend for themselves in the onslaught. While that is a decent point, this movie fails to understand that the worst crimes are committed at the top rung of society through corporations and the government who can hide behind laws they create. On top of that, because they act through organizations, there isn't a single individual to blame per se. The imbalances in societal structure creates crime followed by the idiotic policies like drug laws that are funded by the government who are also the main importers of said drugs creating the so-called revolving door with the prisons. Oh forget it, I can ramble on all day about the senselessness of it all. Suffice to say, there was not a lot of thought going into the finer details of the plot, and it doesn't matter because this film did not demand any kind of deeper introspection. I'll give this film some credit in that respect--they never tried to be pretentious because they were too stupid to even try to propose some insight.

Needless to say, I hate this movie. Every single aspect of the plot is retarded and implausible without a clearer understanding of the inception. It's not far enough in the future to come off as possible considering the drastic change that is presented. While it may have been a cool concept at the heart of it all, it was put in the hands of an incompetent writer with an immature understanding of crime, society, and human nature. The worst aspect was the inclusion of the purgers who end up stealing the show in the worst of ways. Background plotlines are equally stupid and serve to pad out the film when that could have been replaced with shots of the whole country facing the purge. The only good points were that the production values were respectable, and I do think Ethan Hawke is a good actor in pretty much everything no matter how bad it is. Obviously avoid this hot mess unless you lack the capability to clearly see the abundantly visible flaws inherent to the plot. It wasn't called "The Purge" for nothing--I'd rather be purging all night than watch this shit ever again.

Notable Moment: When James rampages and kills a ton of purgers. If only this kind of action was what this movie were all about.

Final Rating: 4/10