Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Annabelle: Creation Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A group of orphans stay at a house seemingly haunted by a demonic doll.

Review: Since I was pretty much the only person who liked the first "Annabelle," it was tough to understand why everyone all of a sudden likes this prequel. I mean, I did like this entry too, but what was really done differently? The main complaint I heard with the first movie was people expecting a female Chucky running around. Well, you still don't get that with the exception of maybe one scare; a great scene by the way. I'm assuming the relentless nature of the scares is what made the real difference since "Annabelle: Creation" simply does not let up. The audience has little time to breathe in between set pieces, and there comes a point where they just keep coming in quick succession. That was especially impressive to accomplish. As much as I was loving this film, everything comes crashing down at the end as we learn about an unbelievable series of coincidences and contrivances that will blow your mind.

Where this installment succeeds is in those engaging and unrelenting scares. There is little down time between scares as almost each scene leads into one. The filmmakers really did go balls to walls with trying to scare the viewer and it works. On top of that, many ideas felt original and were executed considerably well. Oh, sure, there are plenty of cliched frights and jumps, but, for the most part, there is a strong buildup of tension to keep you at the edge of your seat. To bring this tension to life were great child actors; though, the Jan actress is actually 16?! Typically you will want these characters to die, but they were believable in their roles. Also, I liked the subtle inclusion of the demonic nun from "The Conjuring 2." Lastly, as with the first "Annabelle," these movies always have a certain, polished look to them that I enjoy. I understand many genre fans are coming to hate this aesthetic, but I think it helps to have a quality-looking product.

As for the film's faults...the lighting isn't as effective as the previous "Annabelle;" there were times when it was difficult to even see what was happening. The characters, while likable, did plenty of stupid, walking-into-danger hijinks that appeared forced. The explanations for how the doll was possessed and how feebly it was contained are weak as hell. Yeah, okay, you just prayed to "whatever" and it turned out to be a demon that wants to go into a doll...? What? And tossing it in some closet with bible pages keeps it at bay for 12 years until one peek inside the closet is enough to awaken it again? And what's with the 12 year intervals anyway? This leads me to the preposterous ending. Soooo...the demon possesses the one little girl, is somehow adopted, lives a normal childhood, starts a cult, kills her adoptive parents, then kills herself to put the demon back into the Annabelle doll that just so happens to have been bought by the next door neighbors?! HUH?! This ending is beyond's outright absurd and makes no sense. What exactly is the goal of the demon if not to possess people? Why would it want to go back into the doll? Everything is simply too unreal and contrived for me to accept.

In many ways, I think this entry is way better than "Annabelle" due to the increased quality of scares and the sheer amount of them. The setting and characters are more interesting too and keep the audience invested in the action. Overall, this is an effective horror movie perfect for date night. Unfortunately, the ending takes contrivances to a higher plain of bullshit that should defy any person's sense of what's possible. Also, the writers have officially boxed themselves into a corner with this plot line as they cannot possibly go back further, and Annabelle's whereabouts are pretty much all accounted for at this point. Nevertheless, if you liked the first "Annabelle" then you should definitely enjoy this one as well.

Notable Moment: When Annabelle is thrown down the well and tries to get back out. I liked the line where Sister Charlotte asked what that was, and Linda says something along the lines of, "Who cares? RUN!" It's just hilarious delivery.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Spider-Man: Homecoming Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Peter Parker must juggle typical high school life with being a superhero.

Review: So we are on the third version of Spider-Man at this point, but this was, surprisingly, not bad at all. There are still some serious problems, however, I think a major part of the fun was that Spider-Man finally connected into the rest of the Marvel universe. Since Spidey was one of the main comics I grew up reading, it has annoyed me that so many of his movies are garbage. With Sony, seemingly, dead set on destroying their movie division, who knows how long any of this positivity will last. In the meantime, I guess we can celebrate this small victory for the moment.

The best aspect was finally presenting Peter Parker and Spider-Man properly. The Raimi trilogy nailed the cornball nature of the comics, but they did not understand the humorous side of Peter whatsoever. The Amazing version had a better grasp yet screwed it all up due to idiocy. Here, Peter is back to his roots of being a dweeb who jokes around. It's tough to explain since artists draw Peter in different ways, but I think this is the best representation of the character yet. As such, Spider-Man's power level is adjusted to what it should be, and he has a sleeker, smaller look that matches the comic. All around, I'm impressed with Tom Holland in the role. The other aspects that were done well include the ongoing gag of people flirting with Aunt May, solid pacing, that sexy, sexy voice of Jennifer Connelly, decent action, and the story addressing the aftermath of "The Avengers" while also explaining the whole street level hero concept to the audience. Finally, the twist regarding the Vulture and Peter's love interest was fantastic. I wish there would be more twists in these superhero movies beyond just someone turning out to be a villain.

As for the bad decisions...Sony, Sony, Sony, quit fucking with the characters! That ain't MJ, you fuckwits. It was dumb enough to change Flash and Shocker, but MJ is a notorious red head even in the general public's mind! And on top of that, you've altered her personality to be a stalker, hipster street-trash future college lesbian?! She's the goddamn girl next door type! And Kirsten Dunst already fucked up the character, but you want to make things even worse?! Oh yeaaaah, I can just picture fucking Zendaya saying, "Face it, just hit jackpot!" She looks like she hasn't bathed in a month. As I mentioned in my review for "The Amazing Spider-Man," Emma Stone should have been cast as MJ. Oh well. Besides these annoyances, Vulture just wasn't a worthy adversary. Michael Keaton is good in the role, but every encounter with Vulture would have resulted in his defeat if he just held his ground and fought Spider-Man; he's just a guy with wings for the most part. It felt like the plot was artificially extended by making Vulture never just fight to the finish. At least with past villains, they appeared more formidable.

All things considered, I'd probably rate this slightly above "The Amazing Spider-Man," but below the first Raimi entry. This, sort of, puts the franchise back on track, but we'll have to see since Sony is run by complete fucking morons who won't listen to Marvel. Basically, watch this entry for its depiction of Peter Park and a glimpse at street level superheroes. There is a lot of humor which will please casual moviegoers and those who've grown accustomed to Marvel's film structure. Be wary of the pointless race swaps and flimsy villains that, realistically, could have been beaten right away. Lastly, just stick with this Spider-Man or ditch the character altogether. I don't think anyone could take a godforsaken FOURTH incarnation!

Notable Moment: When Ned is caught by the teacher during the dance. His excuse of looking at porn was perfect.

Final Rating: 7/10

It (2017) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A group of kids must stop an evil creature that takes the form of a maniacal clown.

Review: Wow, what crack are people smoking? This was a disaster! "It" was neither a faithful adaptation of the book nor an update of the '90s version. In fact, with a 2+ hour running time, the 2017 version had less character development than the '90s version which had commercials and cuts back to the adult characters. How in the fuck do you pull that off?! And, my goodness gracious, that interpretation of Pennywise is horrendous! Holy shit, that opening scene with G-g-g-eorgie was PAINFUL to endure. It was as if I were watching Pennywise as a kid going through puberty and trying to ask out a girl for the first time. GODDAMN! Now, don't get me wrong, there are many positives, especially in the technical department but, my, oh my, did they fuck this up.

Let's tackle the good first. The '80s setting was cool to see despite not playing as big of a role as one might imagine. The continual New Kids on the Block jokes were the highlight without a doubt. The cinematography was done quite well in order to create this dreary look to the town. Likewise, this same look helped to make Pennywise appear creepier on occasion; I did like him lurking in the background a lot. I've read conflicting complaints regarding the acting of the kids, however, I felt they did a good job and were one of the main highlights. Sure, there were a few times where the line delivery was awful, but I could say that about every single line from Pennywise. I think the show-stealer is Finn Wolfhard, as Richie, with probably the best lines in the movie.

Okay, I want to take a look at just Pennywise for a bit. His execution is a complete and utter failure. Upfront, his look is moronic and impractical. He's not supposed to be overtly scary since he's supposed to lure kids to him. Besides that, his taunting is weak, and the combination of his goofy expressions and schizophrenic shakes make him look fucking retarded during every encounter. By the way, they all play out the same damn way: kid sees something creepy and runs right into danger, Pennywise jumps out, looks and/or says something stupid, and then Pennywise runs at the screen screaming and shaking like a two-buck ho going through withdraw. Fantastic. Where is the shape-shifting? Where is It's arrogance? They've dumbed the character down to the point where It is just a bumbling fool and literally say to the audience he can't eat someone who isn't afraid...which he could...but that's neither here nor there. The '90s version went a bit overboard with the cartoonish villain aspect, but it better captures the gleeful evil and arrogance of It whereby he believes himself to be invincible. I don't know what to make of this abomination.

But the problems do not simply lie with Pennywise. The entire narrative structure misses the point of the book. The meat of the story involves the kids and their friendships. Here, some of the kids get, maybe, one throwaway scene to establish them and that's it. Hell, Richie didn't even get a personal experience meeting It! Ben has no backstory, Mike's backstory is changed and explained away in two sentences, and Stan is never shown to be a skeptic and also has one scene to set him up. How the hell could you not pull this off with that long of a running time?! Oh wait, I know, it's because you gotta spend 10 minutes setting up another scene of Pennywise running at the screen like a toddler on a sugar high. What was with trying to set Bev up as "hot" when she's supposed to be like 13? And what's with trying to force a love story into the mix with Bev and Bill?! And my final gripe involving Bev is her being kidnapped by It. HAH! Oh man, that was a good one! Yeaaaah, 'cause Pennywise wouldn't just eat her? And Henry dies? Whaaaat? The entire final encounter with It makes no damn sense whatsoever. They just start hitting him with whatever is handy, he flips into a well, says something stupid, his head explodes, and they assume It died. Come again?

I like the '80s setting, but this story simply works better in the '50s setting. The dynamics of the group and their friendships make more sense in that time period. Furthermore, the fears of the kids were more simplistic and easier for It to take that form. They included a lot of background posters of '80s horror movies which made me think maybe the Wolfman, for example, would be swapped with, say, Freddy Krueger instead. Nope. You could definitely feel many hands in the pot with this film--from studio meddling, multiple writers, and the multiple director changes--it all shows.

Overall, I'm happy with the casting of the kids, their acting, and the look and design of "It" as a film. The main reason I'm even rating this as high as I am is due to these technical aspects coming together considerably well. Unfortunately, the handling of the titular character is ruined, the story of the kids is not executed efficiently, things feel rushed in order to jump to the next scare--which are all the same, and the final battle is anti-climactic and doesn't even make sense while given little contextual buildup. There really isn't much emotion in this incarnation of the story which is pathetic given that a made-for-TV film from the '90s has more depth. This "It" has the '90s version destroyed in production value, but the 2017 version doesn't even come close to matching the heart. In the end, this was made for casual audiences who never even heard of "It." For me, it's just a big disappointment with cookie-cutter thrills made for the ADHD era.

Notable Moment: When Bev finds Ben's New Kids on the Block poster. The joke edit is AWESOME! This scene doesn't come close to fitting the tonal structure of the movie, but that is some next level, tasteful shenanigans if I ever saw it!

Final Rating: 6/10

Friday, September 8, 2017

Re-cycle Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: While working on her newest book, a successful writer is inexplicably pulled into a supernatural world.

Review: After completely forgetting I had the DVD for "Re-cycle," I immediately popped it into my computer for a view. There are a few caveats to understand up front. One: this is not a horror movie. Two: do not believe almost any plot synopsis regarding this film. Yes, this was made by the same people behind "The Eye," and stars the same chick, Angelica Lee, but that doesn't magically turn this into a horror movie. Oh, sure, there is a Kayako-wannabe for no good reason, but "Re-cycle" is more "The NeverEnding Story" mixed with elements of Dante's "Inferno." There are plenty of great ideas involved with this film, however, the way in which everything comes together is a huge disappointment and failure of execution. Ultimately, the story is trying to tackle far, far more than the filmmakers can handle and this results in a nonsensical, unsatisfying stream of ideas.

What works? The single best aspect is the imaginative, supernatural world depicted. This idea that everything ever abandoned, both physical and abstract, resides in a single space opened up nearly endless potential to explore. The design of the world is creative and incorporates many impressive set designs. There is shoddy CGI all over the place, but I can overlook this due to the ambitious nature of the world displayed. Other than this, I can appreciate the attempt at pulling this story together. It doesn't work, but I can understand the vision which could have been quite remarkable if pulled together coherently.

As for the problems...oh man, where to start? There are simply too many plot tangents that either go unanswered or come out of fucking nowhere. So Ting-yin is this successful romance writer who wants to write a horror book. However, she comes to realize elements of her story are coming true. Fantastic. Roll with that. Oh, wait, don't roll with it...let's instead add drama with some boyfriend who got married and expected her to wait 8 years for him to divorce or something? Whaaaat? Uh, okaaay. Next, Ting-yin is being haunted by that Kayako-wannabe...yet...we come to learn that Kayako-clone is mad that she's a rejected character...before she was rejected. Whaaaaat?! But then Ting-yin thinks her book is coming to life...except it's not at all. Then she's pulled into this supernatural world by just going on an elevator. Again, whaaaaat?! And this world makes no damn sense. It doesn't matter...anything from discarded toys, aborted babies, ghosts, and imaginary characters can all exist together equally. And yet, this world doesn't exist in a fixed state--things vanishing without rhyme or reason. And why are there so many malevolent obstacles to be overcome if a living person is never supposed to enter this world? It's not as if it's addressed that, perhaps, these abandoned...things...could be free if they, say, latched onto a living person. BUT, plot twist, the entire premise of the damn movie is invalidated by the ending! GOOD JOB! We are led to believe that the main character is reaching some kind of catharsis for having an abortion and discovering that her daughter was "raised" in this world. Except, the main character is also not real herself! ARGH! Soooo...either nothing in the movie was ever real to begin with, or it's real and is a huge plot hole as the main character is also fictional and would never have drawn the attention of anyone in the abandoned world to begin with! Oh, fuck it, there is no use trying to rationalize the events.

I really want to like "Re-cycle" for the creativity involved, but nonsense going on with the story is impossible to ignore. This is a fantasy-adventure movie that shifts more into a dark fairy tale. A few scenes could be considered scary, but that's more of an ancillary development when presenting the supernatural world. You have lame drama with the main chick and her loverboy, drama with the main chick's daughter, a surprise appearance by her grandpa, a forced antagonist whose motivations are laughable and her inclusion is beyond tacked on to spice up a trailer, there is an attempt to include a feeble hero's journey, an attempt at a tragic decision, and a ridiculous final zinger that negates the film itself. What a debacle. I am giving "Re-cycle" a modest rating simply because I really do feel the vision was there--it just wasn't realized in any capacity. The imagery can be good, but audiences need to know this isn't a horror movie whatsoever and fails to deliver the goods.

Notable Moment: Despite the flaws, I was impressed by the section of the world where all the books resided, raining down from the sky. We needed more of this and less of that seizure-inducing editing depicted in the abortion realm...well, among other things.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Return to Sleepaway Camp Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Decades after the original film, someone is beginning to kill campers, but could it be Angela?

Review: Completely ignoring the events of parts 2-4 (not that it's hard to ignore 4), "Return to Sleepaway Camp" tries to recreate the tone and seriousness associated with the original. As such, a major component of the plot is the whodunnit aspect; though, I was able to guess the identity of the killer instantly, and I'm guessing most horror veterans will too. While I do appreciate the general attempt at making this series horror-focused once again, the film doesn't fully succeed in presenting a worthwhile entry. Oh, sure, the kills are somewhat creative, and it's amusing to see idiots get what's coming to them, but the story and characters lack that charm from part 2 and some of the material feels like a retread. Likewise, the twist, while doable, is nowhere near as startling as the original. What I would have loved to see is a blending of part 1's tone with part 2's charm and quirky characters.

One genuinely positive thing was that there were plenty of red herrings that could have worked as the killer. On the other hand, it's a bit pointless to introduce so many potential suspects when it's painfully obvious Angela is still the killer. Alternatively, someone should have been working with Angela to make the final reveal have a form of relevance. For example, why not give her an accomplice and link a connection between her in a way that brings things full circle? Maybe utilizing Angela's mom or the dad's gay lover or even the aunt. In fact, why bring back a bunch of actors from the original if they're ultimately pointless? I mean, they brought back Ricky who claimed he visits Angela every week. This would imply that Angela managed to escape a mental institute, get a disguise, convince a town she is the sheriff, insert herself into coincidental camp shenanigans, arrange to be on the camp grounds in the first place, and organize all of her kills...all in the span of a week at most?! Yeaaaaah...okaaaaaay. I'll take "Things That Could Never Happen" for $200, Alex.

Don't get me wrong, I did appreciate bringing the actors back--it made this feel like a true sequel. Also, the other nods like Big Pussy, a death right out of "1984," and Chef from "South Park" are humorous in their own way. But these kind of things don't necessarily create lovable victim fodder. The main kid everyone is picking on--retarded or not, I don't know what that was supposed to be--is made out to be an asshole half the time. It's kind of hard to feel bad for the bullied kid when he's also a bully too! This reminded me of the mean-spirited vibe of part 3. Is it so hard to give the audience characters to root for? They should have made the bullied kid likable in a dweeby way which could be used as a motive to set Angela off. Instead, it's just by chance that Angela stumbled upon a camp full of assholes in need of dying.

Overall, this is an okay entry, but it's kind of annoying that the filmmakers decided to ignore part 2. Come to think of it, I hate it when franchises will arbitrarily ignore sequels like fucking "Halloween!" The kills are decent, and there are plenty, but there's still a low-budget style. The acting does leave much to be desired, but I can get over it I suppose. There were a bunch of cute background girls, and the opening sequence did have a song about "Sleepaway Camp" so there's that too. Eh, I'd say this installment is worth a watch but only for those who want to complete the series.

Notable Moment: When that one chick is killed by a spike bed. I'm always a sucker for spike beds...they just don't get enough love!

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Sleepaway Camp IV: The Survivor Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A dark day has come...

Review: I have been dreading this moment for years but the time has come. Here goes...this is the WORST MOVIE EVER! And you bet your sweet ass that is saying something drastic! It didn't even dawn on me until after the credits began rolling. Unlike pure shit like "Howling 7," "Asian School Girls," or "Severed," I was so stunned by the overwhelming levels of idiocy that it took a few moments for the gravity of the situation to sink in. I'm still trying to suppress the insatiable, homicidal rage!

Wha--what is this?! This isn't a goddamn movie. This is nothing more than shitacular editing of scenes from the previous installments interspersed with shots of some chick in a bikini sunbathing. I mean, maybe if the girl had been of, say, Manami Hashimoto quality that would have been different...but she's not even hot! Then, at the end, there is something with a ranger...who's not really a ranger...and a random hunter that is scared. Next thing you know, bikini girl is standing around in her underwear with a knife, kills that hunter or whatever, and goes after the alleged ranger. The end? THE END?! What the fuck?! Big shock, the clips from the previous entries look like shit and make no sense at all. They set up the edits like their flashbacks but then the edits can sometimes cut back to other entries. Soooo...flashbacks within flashbacks--fashback-ception? Argh. Surprise, surprise, the audio is like two kids talking in a cup connected by string, the acting isn't even as good as the dogs in "Air Bud" part 20, and the film quality consists of a generous helping of Vaseline covering a potato.  Oh god...

At first I considered a higher score because clips of the previous installments are at least worth some points...right? Then I figured why should I reward such absolute laziness when it leads to a greater problem: the whole fucking movie is padding! Oh sure, this was unfinished footage and never intended to be a feature. However, this didn't stop someone from trying to sell this disaster. For that audacity...that unabashed shamelessness...I will not simply forgive anything! SC4 is the unquestionable and uncontested dumbest thing I have ever forced myself to watch. It lacks every single definable quality of a true motion picture. There are fucking snuff films out there with better quality. The average, amateur porn from Ethel and Arthur has more believable acting. The only--and let me stress this--the ONLY reason I didn't give this a damn 0/10 was due to the chick being at least passably attractive. That's it. What an absolute disgrace to all of cinema. I could have said so much more about this trash fire, but I'm already doing everything I can to contain myself from lashing out. To paraphrase Tommy Jarvis, "'Sleepaway Camp 4' belongs in hell...and I'm going to see that it gets there."

Notable Moment: The notable moment is that I didn't stab someone after enduring this nightmare.

Final Rating: 0.5/10

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Sleepaway Camp III: Teenage Wasteland Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Angela is back, yet again, as she pretends to be a camper for some kind of outreach program.

Review: Realistically, "Sleepaway Camp" isn't exactly the kind of film series in need of multiple installments, however, part 3 isn't terrible. Sure, it's not good either, but, as far as part 3s of 80's slasher franchises go, this is acceptable levels of cheesiness. More or less, the tone is exactly the same as SC2 except that the new characters are nowhere near as fun or likable. In fact, the characters are outright fucking annoying. I mean, c'mon, did anyone really want to see the tit patrol get killed in part 2?! Here, I just want everyone to die right away. Angela is also more annoying, stupid, and is defeated idiotically. Not sure what they were thinking at the end.

On the plus side, we do have even more topless girls including Jill Terashita who was that sexy chick in "Night of the Demons." Some of these characters did have potential to be amusing, but there isn't as much time given to showcase them. It's tough to adequately express since you could argue what exactly made, say, the "shit sisters" likable in part 2? Well, characters like the shit sisters were acceptable levels of goofiness. Part 3's lineup are too mean-spirited I guess. Maybe it was the lack of a true camp setting that screws things up. All I know is that I wanted Angela and her band of merry morons to all bite the big one which is a fail. This doesn't mean there isn't still a degree of charm and personality here and there. I simply wished they did something different to push the story line further and in a new direction. I'd say this leaned closer to a part 2.5 then a true part 3. They couldn't even utilize the one kid's dad, mentioned in part 2, properly. By the way, he should have easily been able to kill Angela given he was a cop and within, like, what, a couple feet of closing distance?! Stupid.

If you enjoyed part 2 then there's a decent chance you'll like this entry too. It's not as entertaining, the characters suck, and it lacks that true, fun factor, however, the film still has a few moments to shine. The deaths are on the lame side, yet, there are a considerable amount of them to compensate. I want to say the chicks are hotter this time around, but that's a matter of preference I suppose; almost everyone was a blonde in part 2 and part 3 has a better variety. Finally, it's probably best to envision parts 1-3 as their own trilogy since the following entries after this say the least.

Notable Moment: When Angela and a couple fodder characters find a hockey mask in the lake and talk about it being Saturday the 14th. Cute.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Monday, August 28, 2017

Sleepaway Camp II: Unhappy Campers Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After years of therapy, and a sex change, Angela returns to a killer counselor.

Review: While there is no mind-blowing twist, creepy scenes, or even decent special effects, SC2 is surprisingly just as good as part 1...but for completely different reasons. The original is kind of its own thing while part 2 takes on a more comedy-horror approach. In a way, the filmmakers fully embraced the cheesiness at hand, having fun with the material. However, the main entertainment factor is with the amusing and likable characters. There are a ton of them too yet it's easy to keep track of them due to their individualistically (what kind of fucking word am I writing?), goofy characteristics. My favorite characters are, of course, the "tit patrol!" The tit patrol consists of these two, awkwardly horny boys taking Polaroids of the skanks around camp. But they're more than just simple pervs...they feel believable and nail that, deliberately, annoying line delivery perfectly. By the time everyone has been killed, I'm actually a bit disappointed to see them all go. Dare I say, they're lovable victim fodder?

Not to be overshadowed, Angela herself is no longer a quiet weirdo. Instead, she is cracking one-liners with the best of 'em. They even spoof the other slasher icons along the way with nods to Freddy, Jason, and Leatherface. Not sure how a scrawny twig like Angela could kill everyone in camp by herself but okay. The primary story could have been thought out better as there is no clear logic to how Angela could become a camp counselor. Who cares though, right? The deaths are admittedly lame, but I can forgive a small budget. The girls are cute--not really my type--and are topless quite a bit. Can't overlook that...and my boys, the tit patrol, are on the case! There is a general air of shenanigans run amok at certain times, however, it's all in good fun. I promise. Finally, the ending is disappointing when there could have easily been a big climax. Oh well.

Honestly, with a bigger budget, and slightly better acting, SC2 could have actually been better than the original. Alas, it falls short without that twist to cinch things. I can see many not liking part 2 due to all the reasons I love it, but this is a clear distinction between early '80s and late '80s. Pick your poison. Don't get me wrong, SC2 is not a conventionally good simply has a charm and personality that makes it enjoyable. I mean, it's tough to write characters that viewers will want to see die but also want them to continue eating up scenery. For all these reasons and more, I actually highly recommend SC2 to the audiences that will appreciate the cornball nature of '80s slasher sequels.

Notable Moment: Anything and everything with the "tit patrol." Those two kids are awesome! But, come to think of it, why are they like the only actual "kids" at this camp? Why is everyone else high school age or whatever? What kind of fucking camp is this?!

Final Rating: 6/10

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Sleepaway Camp Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Years after a bizarre boating accident, a girl and her cousin stay at a camp with a mysterious killer on the loose.

Review: With summer coming to a close, I figured I'd at least tackle something befitting of the season. In this instance, I'm going to tackle the "Sleepaway Camp" series which mostly falls into the cult classic category. Although it's gaining more notoriety, the first entry is basically the one you will want to focus on. Sure, the sequels are passable--and I do actually love part 2--but part 1 is all about that surprise twist you will not see coming at all. Despite the ease to which you can guess the killer's identity, the real twist is in regards to her motive.

It's a shame that this film was initially viewed as another "Friday the 13th" ripoff. It's actually quite cleverly put together and does not fit the classic mold of '80s slashers. Yes, it does depict the whodunnit style, yet, once you know who the killer is, you can re-watch the film and gain an entirely different perspective of the story. That's quite an impressive feat. For example, certain word choices, looks, or approaches to scenes are given better context, and you realize just how much subtlety was implemented. On top of that, there are lots of cool nuances like the killer's shadow forming in the doorway or the creepy head that pops up when the one guy dies under the canoe.

As for the big's all about bringing the story full circle which I always adore. The most obvious suspect, Angela, really does turn out the be the killer. In the beginning of the film we see a brother/sister combo and their dad playing on the water right before the father is killed along with one of the siblings dying. It's implied that the sister, Angela, lived, but we come to realize it was actually the brother, Peter, who survived. All this time, Angela is really Peter dressed up to be a girl. Presumably, the sister's name wasn't really Angela either. All of this connects with Peter's crazy aunt not wanting to take care of another boy and deciding to raise Peter as a girl. Couple this mental abuse with Peter's father being gay and Peter tries to rationalize being dressed up as a girl and possibly being romantically attracted to another boy. This revelation is presented well and is intriguing. Furthermore, there is a level of depth to this plot twist that can be heavily analyzed.

Unfortunately, "Sleepaway Camp" is heavily flawed. The acting is mostly trash from everyone, the music is not edited into the scenes coherently (especially that opening title sequence!), many effects are weak, there are numerous contrivances in play to mask Angela as the killer, certain plot elements do not feasibly make sense, and, for the most part, the events of the film are bland until the finale puts everything into perspective. Just to name a few personal gripes: how did Ricky never realize Angela was a boy? Wasn't he ever in a situation where he wondered where Angela came from and what became of Peter and the rest of the family? After all, Ricky appears to be a normal kid. While on the subject of Ricky, why is Angela going to camp at all? It's explained Ricky was going to camp alone all these years yet they're bringing Angela along now...why? How has Angela maintained this deception for so long without once going into an outburst? Speaking of which, why did Angela decide to start killing now? It always bugged me that she killed those random kids sleeping when all of her other victims wronged her in some way; this makes her less sympathetic. Finally, how the fuck would there be some guy who is openly a pedophile roaming around?!

All things considered, "Sleepaway Camp" is surprisingly better than most of its cheap, slasher contemporaries. It's one of the rare instances where you will automatically feel compelled to watch a movie twice in a manner reminiscent to "The Sixth Sense." The attention to detail within the dialogue, and other plot aspects, creates a truly memorable twist and infamous identity reveal. Of course, this is still '80s cheese at its core so it's loaded with shenanigans. Some of it is amusing like the antics with the background characters or the unforgivably atrocious outfits some kids and counselors are wearing. I mean, fuck, it's tough to imagine someone would wear this shit and think it's okay. Seriously...knee-high socks, cutoff short-shorts, and a midriff-exposed, cutoff t-shirt...all on a fully grown man...really?! Yuck. As such, the flaws are heavy and aplenty, but the good outweighs the bad without a doubt. If you're a fan of '80s horror then this a must-see.

Notable Moment: The ending, of course, with "Angela" revealed and hissing mindlessly at the camera. Not sure why she was doing that, but it's a great twist that definitely blew many people away.

Final Rating: 6/10

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Slit Mouth Woman in L.A. Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: Unsuspecting victims in the USA fall prey to some of Japan's most famous urban legends.

Review: Up front, do not be misled by that title. This film is more akin to an anthology, and the slit mouth woman serves as only a segment/wraparound. As with similar instances in the past, I was intrigued by an East meets West production and this held much potential. Unfortunately, this film is ridiculously low-budget, full of idiocy, and a total waste of that aforementioned potential. Yet, at the same time, I can appreciate what the filmmakers were striving for and the core premise is creative. Furthermore, the filmmakers were having fun with the material, and I can't completely fault them when they understood this was never going to be a mainstream hit.

Slit Mouth Woman (Kuchisake-onna): So the slit mouth woman is supposed to be some kind of disfigured woman, or supernatural entity, that will ask you if she's beautiful. Depending on your answer, she will use her huge shears to slice your face up like hers. There have been many movies about her, though, I've yet to review one. In this instance, some blonde girl believes she is transforming into the titular character. Though the production is home video levels, I kind of enjoyed the premise at hand, and the makeup effects were passable. Between each of the other segments, we cut back and forth to this story with blondie here becoming increasingly disturbed. By the end, she does become the slit mouth woman, however, I did not understand how any of this was happening whatsoever. Blondie's sister was using the power of suggestion or something...? I don't know. I mean, the sister is studying Japanese urban legends, kills blondie, carves up blondie's body and dresses her to look like the slit mouth woman, and then blondie's ghosts actually comes back as the slit mouth woman....I guess. There is a third sister, who we will get to later, but I'm not sure how that was supposed to all connect. Nevertheless, this was okay for what it's worth, but, goddamn, I was about to turn into the slit mouth man if I had to hear blondie scream "MONICA!" one more time!

Kokkuri-san: More or less, Kokkuri-san is supposed to be the ghostly force within a Japanese equivalent of the ouija board. A bunch of movies have this in it--sometimes just for the shits and giggles. Plus, other Asian countries have their own equivalent. Well, Kokkuri-san contributes next to nothing in the plot as it's pretty much a lesbian love triangle with a couple dweeby guys dragged along to raise the body count. We have three chicks working in a maid cafe--mmhmm...maid cafe. Seriously, do those exist in the USA and where do I find one?! Anyway, the three girls are in love with one another or something, but someone starts to kill them off. The editing is already pretty much shit throughout the entirety of the film, however, it's especially bad in this segment. You will think there is an unknown party as the killer never explained, but this is simply due to horrendous editing accompanied by confusing storytelling. In essence, one of the girls is jealous that the other two are dating, kills one of them, and then that first victim returns as some kind of onryo/zombie hybrid. After killing a bunch of people, the ghost is defeated by the last maid pretending to not be a lesbian any longer. Right. The girls are cute, but this segment was especially stupid since it had almost nothing to do with the urban legend. Also, I don't fully understand how the slit mouth woman connected into this tale as they implied.

Furen the Evil Hunter: I tried to look this up since the only urban legends I know about are ones featured in movies. From what I can tell, there doesn't really appear to be any urban legend associated with this entry. If anybody knows, share it with me. What we do get is a spiritualist coming to the USA to supposedly deal with these Japanese, supernatural forces; somehow this involves the devil, an evil priest, and zombies. I guess the filmmakers wanted to indulge the action genre with some DBZ-esque shenanigans and the spiritualist, revealing his name to be Onmyoji, blasts the devil back to hell with a wannabe kamehameha wave. Why not, right? Would have been funnier if they had this guy fighting the slit mouth woman. Despite the overwhelming levels of cheese, I thought this segment was amusing due to the fish out of water setup.

Umeko's Friends: With the final segment, I don't really understand what was supposed to be going on. I guess Umeko is supposed to be a Sadako wannabe? Hell, was that even a Japanese girl under that wig and makeup? Regardless, the plot reminded me of the "Hagane" segment in "Kowai Onna." Some guy helps a Japanese man stranded on the road. With promises of good food and a cute sister, the guys decides to go home with the Japanese man. There, the food is rice with locusts, and the sister, Umeko, acts creepy with giant, disheveled hair. Immediately, the sister loves the guy and tries to bang him but is rejected. Later on, the guy is with his girlfriend when Umeko and her brother try to start trouble. This results in the brother using a kind of voodoo doll to hurt the main guy. Out of nowhere, the one lesbian from the maid cafe brings Onmyoji over to help fight the spell. During this spiritual battle, Umeko's brother dies and Umeko wants revenge, somehow transforming into her own Sadako/slit mouth woman hybrid. In this form, Umeko manages to kill the main guy and his girlfriend and then hangs out with their dead bodies. Finally, it's worth explaining that Umeko is supposed to be the third sister to blondie who became the slit mouth woman. Could have definitely put more effort into linking all the segments, that's for sure.

Overall, I see this film as a missed opportunity. The idea of Japanese urban legends somehow spreading to the USA was awesome, but the phenomenon is not properly explained in the story. I mean, why was any of this happening in the first place? They build up this mystery throughout yet do not deliver. Two of the best Japanese urban legends, teke teke and Hanako, should have been included in place of the spiritualist and Umeko. There needed to be a bigger budget for the production, and the red screen edits were atrocious. Just fucking transition your shots! I am going a bit easy with my rating since I appreciate the effort put forth and ideas at hand; I'll cut the filmmakers slack for their ambitious approach as well. I can't recommend this, but, then again, I watched this on Amazon Prime so if you want to kill some time on a plane ride, or whatever, there's that.

Notable Moment: When Onmyoji even makes a joke about how all they need is Sadako to complete this cast of zany creatures he's fighting. What's kind of funny is that a lot of Asians will reference Sadako as the archetype of long-haired ghosts, yet non-Asians I hear say, "she looks like 'The Grudge'."

Final Rating: 5/10

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Beyond the Gates Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After their father's disappearance, two brothers stumble across a video board game that comes to life.

Review: Here we go again..."Beyond the Gates" could--no, should--have been something extraordinary! Instead, this was an enormous waste of potential and indescribable letdown. With a story that had all the makings of a love letter to the 1980s, I can't understand what the hell happened. Yeah, the budget was peanuts, but, still, virtually everything is off--from the tone to the style to the general aesthetics. Other than a couple synth tracks and the VHS tapes, there's nothing else worthwhile. I mean, I'm picturing this shit to be like "Jumanji" meets "Night of the Demons" or something along those lines. What we get is a whole lot of bullshitting in order to eat up a ridiculously short running time. Seriously, take away the end and opening credits (which were cool by the way), and you're left with a 75 minute film comprised of mostly unrealistic yapping. Argh.

In fairness, the core premise is fucking amazing! You have a cursed, or haunted, video board game that comes to life, altering reality in deadly ways. Two brothers, kids of a father who owned a video rental store (with an affinity for the VHS medium), are dragged into this game in order to free their missing father and save their own lives. Unfortunately, we do not get some epic adventure or bizarre story reminiscent of "The Dungeonmaster." Oh no. The brothers don't start the game until the 25 minute mark and inconsistently take the game seriously for the majority of the running time. They don't even enter the game world until 70 minute mark, goddamnit!

So what are the filmmakers wasting their time dealing with? Pointless family drama that is not executed properly at all. They act like this hunt for the father and having to kill him is somehow dramatic and cathartic. I'm thinking, we don't know jackshit about this dude except that he sure loved VHS. Yeaaaah, just having a character say it was "tough" growing up ain't fucking cuttin' it in my book...not when your dealing with this kind of badass premise. There are also all manner of shenanigans that go nowhere like that dweeby store owner trying to act creepy, why the father had a picture of the chick from the game, and what was the big deal with the video store? There are so many holes in the plot that it's as if every third page of the script were ripped out.

But what really irked me was the complete debacle of paying tribute to the '80s that the filmmakers clearly wanted to depict. Sure, the characters making references to fake movies would have been nicer with real movies--I can overlook that--but where is the cheese factor? Where is the fun or the over the top? Where is the heart? "Beyond the Gates" has little soul. The acting wasn't doing any favors either.

You know what, I can't even declare this a failure...I want this shit redone. FIX THIS! Remake this movie again with a bigger budget and someone who can properly capture the tone and style of the '80s. Get the crew behind "The Void" or "Stranger Things" or just anyone who understands how to do this era justice. Here, I'll help. Skip all the "dramatic" bullshit at the beginning--start the movie off with the brothers (cool with each other and with fun, playful banter) going through the father's video store and discovering the game as your opening scene. Get rid of the girlfriend character and everyone else; they're useless and stupid. Make the brothers go into a surreal world where the video woman appears ethereal and serves as their guide/antagonist. Keep the thing with 4 keys except make each key a neon-colored VHS tape and contained inside an '80s-centric area: maybe a slasher area paying tribute to masked killers, a sci-fi world that is like "Aliens" meets "Tron," a lighthearted, treasure hunt area similarly to "The Goonies" meets "The A-Team," and, last, an action world fighting terrorists and/or ninjas. Or crank this shit up to eleven and mix and match ideas; think "Jem" fighting Jason or Indiana Jones meets DnD. The potential is endless! As the brothers fight their way through the worlds, they claim the keys, get some girls, free the dad, and, hell, save the damn world! Why not, right?

I'm giving "Beyond the Gates" a mediocre rating simply due to my profound love for the basic premise. However, that's about all she wrote for this movie. There are a few decent aspects here and there, but, fundamentally, the filmmakers dropped the ball. This movie is nothing at all as one might imagine or hope it to be. The production is pure amateur hour through and through. Typically, I can forgive this shortcoming but not when the story dicks around with unnecessary scenes, pointless bullshit, and plain meandering with the material. I don't recommend this film since it is nothing more than a disappointment waiting to happen. What a shame.

Notable Moment: When the brothers first walk into the father's video store and are surrounded by hundreds, if not thousands, of VHS tapes. What a beautiful sight.

Final Rating: 5/10

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Silver Bullet Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A small town is plagued by murders and only a paraplegic boy realizes the killer is actually a werewolf.

Review: For the most part, "Silver Bullet" is as generic as a werewolf movie can come, however, what saves the story is the amusing dynamic between Corey Haim and Gary Busey. I mean, Gary Busey is pretty much playing Gary Busey, but somehow this enhances the entertainment value rather than detracting from it. Don't get me wrong, there are good ideas spread throughout the film; for example, making the identity of the werewolf a pivotal plot point. But, come on, son, they couldn't even produce a solid werewolf costume! Sometimes the werewolf looks like a damn bear in the shadows, but, when brought into the foreground, he's looking like a scrawny twig and fake as fuck. Also, the constant cuts to the werewolf's eyes and other limbs demonstrates a lack of a proper, and complete, special effect.

Now, "Silver Bullet" is based on a story by Stephen King, but the film only loosely follows the events of the story. This is especially bizarre given that Mr. King also wrote the screenplay. Nevertheless, cooler elements like the werewolf killing people on each holiday are dropped. The main character, Marty, played by Mr. Haim, uses a motorcycle-esque wheelchair to get around which is unique. Having Marty as a paraplegic does offer a degree of originality, yet, there is, realistically, only one scene that fully plays up the potential; we see Marty watching a bunch of kids play baseball and he stares at them longingly. I'm not sure why the sister is the narrator of the events since Marty and the uncle, played by Gary Busey, are the heart of the story. It's tough to adequately express, but Marty and the uncle felt believable together--a genuine sense of love formed from an established relationship between them. This kind of depiction is hard to display in even the best of movies.

The kills are acceptable...I guess...but the gravity of the situation is never instilled properly. Like, the town sheriff, played by John fucking Locke, is just chilling out while his townspeople are being turned into wolfy chow? Or that trash-talking asshole would simply carry on as usual after a bunch of people are slaughtered in front of him? And Marty's best friend is shredded and Marty is mad about fireworks?! AND the uncle is making jokes the same day as the dead friend's funeral?! Yeaaaah, okaaaay. The whole town is supposed to be scared, angry, and paranoid, however, every scene and character reaction would imply the opposite to be true. Should have called in the damn Monster Squad to take care of this shit. "Only one way to kill a werewolf." Damn right, Rudy! Speaking of which, the reveal of the werewolf's identity is done well despite the shoddy effects I previously mentioned.

In the end, "Silver Bullet" is not going to blow your mind and lacks the '80s charm since the events are supposed to take place in the '70s. Despite this, the actors are able to create a different kind of magic through the character interactions. This felt like a real family and, thus, made the characters endearing and you want to see them survive. While the werewolf design needed improvement, and the film's tone needed major adjustments, the film gets the job done in presenting a decent werewolf tale.

Notable Moment: When Reverend Lowe dreams that everyone in town transforms into werewolves during a funeral. Cool scene...though there is a hint of over the top cheesiness.

Final Rating: 6/10

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Story of 90 Coins Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A man gives his girlfriend a coin a day for 90 days in an effort to convince her to marry him.

Review: Full disclosure: this was yet another requested review, but, as always, I will give completely honest coverage. Likewise, there are a few caveats to address. This is a short film and a romance/drama--neither of which are my usual style. However, I love to showcase Asian cinema in all its forms so I can easily make exceptions. Also, as this is free to view, I will provide a link to the source, giving anyone the opportunity to take a look and draw their own conclusions:

I'm going to tackle this film a little different than normal as a short is a different breed with unique traits to evaluate. thing that struck me off the bat that was done extremely well was jumping right into the meat of the story. Amateur shorts typically waste time with extended title screens or other unnecessary scenes. Here, the events begin rolling in a quick pace. In fact, it may have been a tad too fast and heavy on cuts. Nevertheless, this full usage of the running time is to be commended and demonstrates a solid direction. Another major positive is the high production quality to both the picture and set aesthetics; this gave the impression that the short was of feature length quality.

As for the story's mostly straightforward with your typical dorky guy trying everything under the sun to woo some unimpressed chickadee. His strategy is to offer his girl a coin every day for 90 days in the hope that she will be willing to marry him by the end or part ways. It's simple and effective but not out of the realm of similar romance plot lines. The girlfriend character is cute, but she's not worth this much effort. Sorry. However, what surprised me was the direction of the ending. It's vague whether or not the girlfriend is interested in some French guy, but, either way, the boyfriend suspects there is something going on which inevitably leads to their break up. Later on, the girlfriend is moving to France when she stumbles back across those 90 coins and realizes there were messages with each one. Upon reminiscing about their romance, the girlfriend is heartbroken. But, the change-up is that, instead of miraculously getting back together through shenanigans, the film just ends with her realizing she fucked up and threw the love of her life away over virtually nothing. Not going to lie, that is a fitting ending that is much closer to reality than the bullshit you see in mainstream movies. I'm sure this bitter ending will rub many people the wrong way, however, it saved the story for me and makes this short stand out among an ocean of cliched romances.

Overall, I wasn't expecting much, but this was really good by short standards. There is no screwing around with pretentious shots or wasting time with background exposition; we are simply brought right into the action which keeps going without breaks. I do think the editing borders on seizure-inducing, yet, I can see this working for the ADHD audience of today. Thankfully, the other technical aspects are done well enough to compensate. The story is nothing extraordinary--it gets the job done--but the ending is either going to make or break it for a viewer. For me, as a cynical bastard, it works wonders. For others, I can see it hurting the final impression. Since it's free and only running about 8 minutes (without credits) I don't think anyone would regret giving it a view.

Notable Moment: When the boyfriend arranges for a song dedication on the radio, and the girlfriend thinks it's stupid. I guess I just like that some convenient store guy was in on the scheme.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Dark Water (2005 Remake) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The completely useless remake of the original Japanese film.

Review: Other than a few decent effects, and the inclusion of Jennifer Connelly (not even looking dreamy), this remake is a complete failure and waste of time. Nothing about the original "Dark Water" really screamed Japanese-centric to begin with so I'm not sure why there needed to be a localized version to begin with. Sure, the cinematography is okay here, and a few drenched sets are cool too, but big deal. Nothing that matters was made better, and plenty of concepts were made significantly worse. For example, did we need a Samara-lite version of the ghost? She doesn't even have makeup effects either which is annoying! The original tried to give the audience one big scare with the ghost's true form and these imbeciles couldn't handle that.

My main criticisms about the original involved not being scary and not creating an emotionally moving drama. Welllll....not only are neither accomplished here too, but the filmmakers decided to play up story elements that are a total waste of time. Oh, yeah, sure, the whole time I was watching the original I was soooo wanting more action from the stupid fucking maintenance guy and building manager. Yup, that is crucial. What's that...more bullshit? Yes, please, give me a subplot with a lawyer, dumb teacher, and the husband potentially paying punk kids with pizza to cause trouble. Wait, scratch that...all joking aside, PLEASE give me more subplots about bribing people with pizza! I wasn't dreaming that part, right? They implied that the mom is either hallucinating or the dad was like buying slices of pizza and lighting the cigarette for some punks who never appear again. What is even happening in this movie?!

Blah blah blah, we get the same shtick with the ghost wanting a mom and her body being in the reservoir or whatever. Though, this time they leave it sorta vague about covering up the death. Dude, I don't know. There are so many plot tangents and useless filler it's hard to keep track of it all. At what point were the horror elements supposed to kick in? I did like how sleepy Ms. Connelly is--reminds me a bit of "Secret Window" in this regard. The ending is weaker than the original, because they try to make things happy or something when there's no way to really spin your mom's death. I already suggested how to fix the original to make it feel truly complete, yet, in this incarnation there is no way to salvage the mess.

Realistically, there is no conceivable reason to watch this remake. It's inferior in every regard. I'm pretty sure the original also had a dub so even if reading subtitles is such a huge challenge for an individual, they still have you covered. I think what could have made this remake worthwhile is if they cranked up the horror through the roof. Truly emphasize that the ghost's body was seeping into the water supply. Have a scene of the ghost emerging from the dark water in a makeup heavy effect--something impressive to remember. Keep the lighting extra dark, include a more paranoid tone, and depict the ghost potentially haunting the whole building. I mean, I could spitball ideas all day, but it's too late. This movie is weak as hell, but, I suppose, if you never saw the original, it leans more toward the mediocre side of things.

Notable Moment: When the ghost appears to the daughter at the school bathroom. I like the shot of the ghost appearing outside the glass--reminiscent of "The Ring 3"--but the lack of a makeup effect is a mindless decision.

Final Rating: 4.5/10

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Dark Water (Japanese Original) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: While going through a divorce, a mother and daughter move into a haunted apartment building.

Review: As with most of the so-called, Asian horror legends, "Dark Water" is good--great even--but it doesn't quite earn that legendary status given by critics. The cinematography is excellent, the music can be hypnotic, and the acting is commendable, however, the pacing is slow, the scares are few, and the ending is extremely lackluster. There is a classic ghost story at the heart of the film, yet, this aspect is often overshadowed by the mother/daughter drama that is also not explored to its fullest potential. Making up for these shortcomings are the beautiful, rainy scenery, the wettest of sets, and a haunting score from Kenji Kawai who provided ambient music for "Ring" and "Reincarnation" which you may recognize. Speaking of a familiar face...we have another appearance from Isao Yatsu who always plays some old man in half of J-horror.

First off, I want to acknowledge that the daughter, Ikuko, played by Rio Kanno, was surprisingly well acted. Usually I want to kill all these child actors in horror myself, but she felt believable and was likable; usually these kids are all bratty when dealing with a ghost plot line. Worth noting was that Ms. Kanno was the little girl in "Noroi: The Curse" so she has proven herself. Lastly, if the cute, grownup Ikuko looks familiar too that's because she's played by Asami Mizukawa who was in "The Locker" 1 and 2. So, yeah, it all comes full circle. I'm getting way off topic here...

What makes "Dark Water" work is that it keeps the story incredibly simple, with an intriguing mystery afoot, while simultaneously providing enough moody suspense to keep the audience fully engaged despite the slow pace. This is further reflected with a slow and deliberate buildup to the reveal with the ghost, Mitsuko. Once you realize Mitsuko's depressing fate, all the creepy events in the story come together like a camera panning back on a grotesque image. The grimy and soggy set designs truly enhance the gloomy atmosphere established and this growing sense of dread throughout the film. When the mom, Yoshimi, decides to stay with Mitsuko's ghost--going off to Kayako-land I suppose--this was especially moving with that haunting melody playing.

It's tough to adequately express, but the story is structured similarly to something you'd tell around a campfire. This is both good and bad for "Dark Water." Good in the sense that the events feel timeless and straightforward, however, the story is also hollow and lacking much needed details worthy of the medium itself. Meaning, we don't learn enough about the relationship between Yoshimi and Ikuko and why it's a strong bond in this instance. After all, Yoshimi is neglectful and clearly neurotic. Give us some specific scene that really sells the relationship. Furthermore, Mitsuko's circumstance is left annoyingly vague when there was no reason for this. Why would no one care about this poor girl?! I feel like a few throwaway lines could have gone a long way in offering up explanations. Finally, from a storyteller's perspective, having the film open from Yoshimi's perspective when she was a little girl was not handled properly. We should have had the grownup Ikuko, unbeknownst to the audience, watching a little girl waiting for her mom. Then cut to Yoshimi with the lawyers as normal. Let the audience assume the little girl was Yoshimi until the end of the film when you realize it's the adult Ikuko watching the first scene. This would have been awesome and made the ending less tacked on as a makeshift epilogue.

Overall, "Dark Water" is a nice, little ghost story that tries to provide an emotional resonance with the audience. It was among the first Asian horror films to garner international acclaim, and it's easy to see why. From the dimly lit scenes to the drenched sets, you will want to follow the bread crumbs to wherever the mystery leads you. Though the film does not fully deliver on the drama nor the scares, it does provide an entertaining tale. Had one of these facets been given better focus, whether it be the horror or drama, I think the film, as a whole, would come closer to the vision of a true Asian horror legend.

Notable Moment: When we finally see Mitsuko's ghostly form in the elevator. While it's a decent scare and makeup effect, the music at this part is especially powerful with Ikuko looking onward at this bizarre turn of events.

Final Rating: 6.5/10

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

The Sandlot: Heading Home Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After being hit by a baseball, a star player finds himself transported to the past where he reunites with the friends he made at the sandlot.

Review: Narrowly surviving the blight to cinema that was "The Sandlot 2," I had virtually zero expectations for a part 3. I mean, seriously?! However, if you can set aside the pitiful production quality, this was a surprisingly fun and charming movie. I will add the caveat that you need to stick with the story a bit--give it time to get going since the opening scenes are TERRIBLE with an embarrassing portrayal of a future Benny. Now, don't get me wrong, SL3 is far from good in a traditional sense, but it has heart and that means something to me. I'd even go as far as to say that, had they dropped everything related to the franchise and made this a stand alone kids movie, my rating would actually go up due to the removal of the franchise retcons that annoyed me.

Essentially, the premise is a combination of "Back to the Future" meets "Mr. Destiny" which, in turn, was a derivative of "It's a Wonderful Life" anyway. Luke Perry plays a cocky sellout, named Tommy, who is, admittedly, a baseball legend. When he's struck by a ball while being an asshole, his mind is inexplicably put into his childhood body back in 1976. They don't really play up the nostalgia factor in the way a serious drama would, and I'm okay with that I guess. Instead, Tommy uses his knowledge of the future to make better players out his friends who have inherited the sandlot from Benny's crew. Mercifully, everything with part 2 is completely ignored. Sure, you could try to argue its existence fitting into the timeline, somehow, but that would take a huge leap in logic. And let's be real, are there really any fans of part 2 out there?!

What I liked about this entry is that it's a return to form with emphasis, once again, returned to baseball and the love of the game. None of this Marcie from Peanuts and stupid fucking rockets. Oh hell no! We have a reappearance of Squints minus Wendy Peffercorn (womp womp), the fake Benny is tolerable I suppose, and the new characters were actually likable. The film is not subtle at all with its message about friendship and such, yet, I can understand the necessity of this level of cheese within the framework of a kids movie. Another fun aspect is that the stakes are intensified with the sandlot kids versing a little league team with the sandlot itself hanging in the balance. Many of the plot and character dynamics are significantly better than I would have imagined. Although the ending is painfully corny, with Tommy returning to his adult form except beloved and with all his friends, I am a sucker for these kind of endings. This kind of ending simply works and allows the film itself to become good, clean family fun.

Although I'm praising SL3 considerably, you must be well aware of the horrific production quality; shit, it looks like the worst episode of "Goosebumps" from the '90s. The actors are acceptable enough, but it's hard to ignore the general bouts of idiocy spread all over the story with numerous lame jokes and pathetic scenes. Then there are the retcons that annoy me with Benny seemingly washed up in the '70s despite his look at the end of part 1. Plus, Benny and Smalls had the tightest bond from what we saw. Mr. Mertle having a haunted house full of baseball traps? Uh no. Believe me, I'm going easy on the film in a lot of ways. Despite the massive shortcomings, I actually think SL3 is decent and would actually recommend checking it out for fans of the original. Obviously, avoid part 2 like the plague--(shudder) that was one of the worst movies I've ever watched which is saying something.

Notable Moment: While the entire sequence of breaking into Mr. Mertle's house was moronic in theory, I, for some reason, found it strangely amusing in its stupidity. What can I say, I'm a weirdo.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Sandlot 2 Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A disgraceful "sequel" that doesn't deserve to exist.

Review:! Can't think straight. Must...destroy...every copy of "The Sandlot 2" in the world. My goodness gracious, who came up with this absolute garbage?! Everyone--and I mean EVERYONE--involved in this production should be completely ashamed of themselves. Rarely, if ever, have I had to say this: this movie is completely soulless. No one wanted this...this grotesque tumor attaching itself to the name and legacy of "The Sandlot." ARGH! Yeah, yeah, sure, movies like "Howling 7," "Severed," and "Asian School Girls" are worse--technically--but they weren't ruining childhood classics. The existence of this film 100% confirms we are in the worst timeline!

So what the fuck is happening here?! In essence, someone was triggered by the "you play ball like a girl" line and decided to retell the original's plot but with some female characters. NOICE! Oh Rika...give me strength to describe the plot. (Long sigh) Soooo, it's 10 years after the original and Smalls pulled a little brother out of his ass...also called Smalls in the film...and makes friends of his own at the sandlot. This moronic incarnation of Smalls talks like fucking Marcie from Peanuts so I'm going to refer to him by that name instead. Apparently, Marcie is really into rockets and somehow blows up the dugout of the sandlot which is repaired by some girls or something (it's kind of a blur in my mind at this point). The boys that play on the sandlot don't even seem like kids who'd play baseball and there are only 5 of them which makes the entire starting premise nonsensical. On top of that, no one talks about baseball nor appears to be very good at it despite the film's feeble attempts to claim otherwise. Anyway...Marcie and the girls team up with these boys to form a makeshift team so they can beat some little league. I don't know! Then they have to deal with the Beast's son who is pretty much the same damn doggie except with a coat change. Marcie accidentally launches an experimental space shuttle that lands on the other side of the fence with the godforsaken doggie. Shenanigans unfold as the kids try to get the shuttle back, resulting in a climactic chase between our wannabe Benny and the doggie. The films ends exactly as the original did except dumber. Pretty much everything in this film is a derivative of part 1's material but done in a disrespectful and insulting manner.

Needless to say, "The Sandlot 2" is tonally, thematically, and stylistically inferior at mimicking the original. There is no originality or moving forward of the story that would classify this as a legitimate sequel. Instead, story beats are simply recreated with entire lines of dialogue repeated in the exact same context as the original. They even had a wannabe Wendy Peffercorn kissing scene somehow forced into the story. As stated, the film lacks any soul with laughable acting and zero character development. Instead of cheering on the kids I just wanted to kill them, slowly, with my bare hands. Oh, wow, amazing, you added some chicks...big whoop. The original quite easily established the skill level of the cast by showing them in action and demonstrating that they lived and breathed baseball. These kids are simply stated to be amazing and yet never once would that make sense given how little focus there is on baseball. Honestly, I could list a thousand things wrong with this film and still not be done, but it's incredibly hard to focus when all you can think about is smashing everything around you just to vent the anger that this travesty to cinema induces. I knew I was going to hate this piece of shit when the one chick threw a ball so fast the wannabe Porter couldn't even see it. Yeaaaaah...okaaaaay. Ugh. I need to get back to the Berenstein universe...

Notable Moment: When we are suddenly introduced to an alien-looking kid nicknamed "the retriever." Sure, they showed the kid a few times, but his appearance and immediate disappearance is so far beyond moronic that it has created an entirely new classification of shitacular.

Final Rating: 2.5/10

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Sandlot Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The summer adventure of the new kid in town, the friends he makes through learning to play baseball, and the struggle to retrieve a lost ball from a giant dog.

Review: "The Sandlot" would probably be best described as "The Goonies" for the '90s--a quintessential kids movie that creates a strong and powerful resonance with the viewer. Between the combination of memorable characters, the nostalgia, and all around wholesome fun, the story easily captivates the viewer and takes you along for the ride. The story successfully presents an amusing tale told through the eyes of the children, with a certain degree of innocence, yet never becomes corny or unbelievable. The icing on the cake is the heartfelt ending that really hits home (hehe) for the adults--with all the kids growing up and moving away; it's certainly rare for a kids movies to reach a true sense of closure and in a meaningful way to boot.

I guess the movie will have more meaning to boys since we knew kids like this growing up. As a matter of fact, I knew a kid in like 7th grade who was a dead ringer for Squints. Then again...I kind of had a Squints look too! While baseball is the force that brings the kids together in this instance, most groups of friends have some equivalent to a sandlot in their childhoods or a hobby that brought everyone together. Of course, the best parts are the banter between the characters --which can be remarkably funny--and the hijinks that ensue as the summer unfolds; I thoroughly enjoy when Smalls is pathetically trying to learn to throw and catch a ball. Though the characters aren't as developed as they could have been, they're still memorable and each have a chance to shine at various moments. What really brings it all together is the subtle manner in which we see the perspective of the kids. The film does not overtly tell you when the kids are letting their imagination run simply depicts it as if it's reality. There are some great lines like "You're killing me, Smalls" and "FOR-EV-ER" which stick with you in the weirdest of ways afterward. More to the point, "The Sandlot" is loaded with charm, and it never lets up. Speaking of which, the pacing is great as various, zany antics blend together seamlessly in a way that actually does manage to make sense. Although these side-adventures have little bearing on the overall plot, they further help to endear the characters as the audience can recall the trouble they got into during their own youth. As everything in the story comes together, the ending is both sad and satisfying at the same time. Fitting, really. You want to see more of these characters interacting together yet we must let go.

There is so much I could say about "The Sandlot," and how great of a film it is, however, I would just begin to ramble endlessly about nostalgia and how people long to regain their childhood innocence in an almost instinctual reflex to the harshness of reality. Sparing you that tangent, suffice it to say that this film is one of the best kids movies out there and arguably the definitive offering from the 1990s. Sure, modern audiences might not enjoy it as thoroughly as those who initially saw it back in '93, but the '60s setting helps to keep the story timeless and free of mindless pop culture references. While this may also have the unintended side effect of making some situations unrelatable, I am fully confident in the sense of fun "The Sandlot" instills in the viewer. Now...if only they left well enough alone and never made sequels. Yup, you heard me right...sequels! Here we go again...

Notable Moment: While there are plenty of memorable scenes like Squints making out with Wendy "pedo" Peffercorn, I think I have to go with the mere revelation that all the efforts to get the ball back would have been avoided if they ignored Squints and went right to Mr. Mertle.

Final Rating: 8.5/10

Friday, July 7, 2017

Grief (2017) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: After the death of his son, a man becomes increasingly unhinged as he attempts to commit suicide.

Review: Full disclosure: this review was requested, however, I will, of course, be totally honest in my opinion. As with "Wichita," this film is indie--so indie to the point that the lead actor, Kevin Renwick, also serves as writer and director. Now, I'll give credit where credit is due and commend Mr. Renwick's efforts. Unfortunately, I don't believe the story trying to be conveyed was achieved properly. The biggest problem is in regard to the tonal shifts that come out of nowhere. One minute there is an effort to put forth a thought-provoking look at depression, however, these scenes will suddenly shift, inexplicably, into outright zany antics. It's like making a romcom that cuts to random bouts of a gritty crime thriller without any real acknowledgement. It's a shame because I think the material could have been compelling if taken in a more philosophical direction.

Most of the cinematography is competent enough with a few decent tricks I can appreciate. Likewise, the actors turn in respectable performances. The aforementioned Mr. Renwick does carry the film, and he's believable enough in the role. When the story stays on topic, I can see it affecting some audiences in the way I believe the filmmakers intended; for me, I was stone cold the whole time--absolutely no emotional reaction, sad to report. With those positives said, it's extremely hard to ignore the negatives. Those tonal shifts completely take you out of the story and add nothing. If anything, they contradict the narrative at hand since we see a character go from low to high energy on a whim which is not how a depressed person would be moments before trying to kill themselves. More so, these scenes come off as filler to help transition between plot tangents which is not needed. Going a step further, the story fails to deliver in a satisfying way since the actual suicide is anticlimactic if you're trying to invoke a strong resonance with the audience. Those comedic scenes will end up endearing a viewer to the character and you'll want to see him recover and not die. Then we have this nonsensical subplot about a storage unit and its mysterious contents. Well keep guessing, because we never find out what that's all about. A better approach to the material would have been to create a scenario similar to "Falling Down" where these zany antics are building up to the suicide rather than making that the primary motivation for the events themselves.

All things considered, "Grief" is an okay film that is salvaged by a polished look and an admirable cast and crew. The core themes of the story are nothing original but held potential especially in regards to the nihilistic questioning of why are things the way they are. However, the tonality is a mess with sporadic, comedic scenes popping up out the blue. In turn, these scenes also become counter-intuitive to the subject matter, eating up an already short running time. A greater exploration of the themes of love, loss, depression, the meaning of life, etc. are completely overshadowed in the process and an unsatisfying conclusion does not help the final impression. I can't really recommend "Grief" for general entertainment purposes, but I could recommend it to other indie crews in how to create a solid looking film without Hollywood backing.

Notable Moment: Well, obviously, those comedic interludes stand out like a sore thumb. So...the most ridiculous would be when Kyle becomes high while trying to overdose. How am I supposed to take the material seriously--and the themes are intended to be heavy shit--when there are scenes like this?

Final Rating: 5/10

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Wichita (2016) Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: The writer for a kid's show spirals into madness after going on a secluded retreat with his coworkers.

Review: Full disclosure: the review for this film and my next one were both requested, however, that doesn't mean I'll pull any punches. So, with that said, I wasn't sure what to expect from "Wichita." To be as succinct as possible, the core premise is original and interesting, but, unfortunately, the story falls to pieces at the climax and seemingly forgets to have an ending altogether. The disappointing aspect is that there were numerous great ideas interlaced into the background to establish a truly crazy main character yet these ideas are never realized. It's funny that I reviewed "Dahmer" prior to this since I think that movie merged with "Wichita" would have created something extraordinary in depicting a visceral, serial killer experience.

Starting with what works I have to address the main character, Jeb, who also serves as the antagonist. Trevor Peterson, playing Jeb, always has this creepy, Mr. Rogers-esque, artificial smile smeared across his face that works wonders in conveying a proper psycho. I also loved the tight shots on Jeb's face. Not sure if he was naturally bloodshot all the time, but Mr. Peterson's eyes were necessary to establish his deranged state. All in all, I was pleased with the acting for this character and the cinematography implemented to highlight his descent into insanity. Now, the other strong point in the film's favor is the general plot line about a group of writers for a kid's show. Of course, this premise is not fully capitalized upon, however, I can appreciate the degree of originality at hand and it's not something we see explored elsewhere. Lastly, the ambient music was really good at times when coupled with the closeups of Jeb staring, deep in thought.

Ironically, "Wichata's" strongest point is also its weakest point as well. While I applaud the effective depiction of Jeb's character, he is completely unbelievable with traits no single person would possess. I mean, the guy is every kind of crazy combined--you have the control freak, the socially awkward introvert, the manipulator, the workaholic, tortured as a child, misunderstood artist, ex-druggie, etc. all the while Jeb has all these different talents that don't mesh. I find it impossible to believe that someone who is an amazing writer and editor can also have expert skills with film and electrical wiring while doing drugs, obsessing over a girl, and jumping from one get-rich scheme to the next as implied by his mother. Jeb simply is not a focused character nor consistent--it was like they were throwing everything and the kitchen sink into making him a composite of every serial killer ever depicted. The sad part is that the best traits to his personality are lost due to going overboard. For example, everything with the kid's show is irrelevant and its meaning to his life is never explained. If writing and bringing the TV show to life was Jeb's passion, show us scenes of him playing with memorabilia from the show and his anger at losing his baby to greedy executives and a younger writer trying to ruin his creation. You gotta have focus...pick a motivation and run with it. If this weren't a big enough issue, Jeb's plan to kill the other writers and create his own murderous documentary fails since we never get to see the finished product. What was he mailing to all the TV stations? How was it all meant to play out with that final game of Russian roulette? The story builds up to this crescendo--as if everything will come full circle and his distorted vision will be realized--but then the credits just begin rolling and that's that?! Nope. Sorry. I actually would have bumped up the rating had they given us Jeb's final masterpiece that is alluded to all movie long with him filming everyone. Oh well.

Overall, "Wichita" is above average but pretty good as far as indie movies go especially on a technical front. The basic plot line is cool and holds all manner of potential with the kid's show angle. The main character is fun to see in action and is memorably insane which is commendable. Sadly, the filmmakers do not properly develop said main character in a realistic fashion despite decent cinematography used to enhance his scenes. The secondary cast is weak and their roles are not adequately fleshed out for us to care about whether they live or die. The buildup to an epic conclusion is firmly established yet the audience is left with an abrupt and unsatisfying finish that does not deliver on what should have been shown. With more polish and a clearer focus of the narrative at hand, "Wichita" could have been an indie gem.

Notable Moment: When the camera is zoomed in close to Jeb's bloodshot eyes and he keeps clicking his pen. This is the kind of coming off the rails I want to see depicted more often. It's the tiny details that add up and create a successfully unhinged character.

Final Rating: 5.5/10

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Seventh Moon Review

Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!

Plot Summary: A couple honeymooning in China find themselves in the middle of nowhere and pursued by strange creatures.

Review: This could have been a decent, East meets West kind of production, but what we get is a dizzying nightmare. The camerawork is fucking HORRENDOUS! Imagine mixing schizophrenic-chic editing with trying to watch a movie on a roller coaster while high on meth. Yeah. Your equilibrium will be turned to Swiss cheese long before the credits roll around. What the ducky were they thinking?! Other than that huge ass, glaring flaw that makes the film almost unwatchable--ya know, the important part--"Seventh Moon" takes a cool premise and does not even come close to delivering on the goods. Oh, wow, a bunch of a naked albino guys running around in high grass...scary stuff there. For creatures called "moon demons" they sure didn't put much effort in conveying something that represents that name.

Right off the bat they screwed up the story with the dynamic of the lead characters, Mel and Yul. I love the idea of a couple honeymooning in China during Ghost Month, but the actors have no chemistry and the characters are written too poorly. I like Amy Smart, but her character is especially annoying and completely unsupportive. Bitch is seriously whining about her injured, possibly dying, husband falling asleep?! Plus, they are supposed to be deeply in love to the point that Yul would sacrifice himself yet I don't feel that kind of bond whatsoever. In fact, they struck me more as a couple getting divorced within the first year! Meh, none of this matters when you're too dizzy to think clearly. When we do meet these "moon demons" we get absolutely no backstory since they're not really jiving with the beliefs surrounding Ghost Month's lore. Why do they hang out at this one village in a cave? They must be supernatural if they can disappear and turn someone into a "moon demon" through some kind of psychic praying (hell if I know). However, if they're supernatural why are they so damn weak and cowardly? We see no impressive feats that would imply any reason why the villagers can't kill these chumps. But somehow candles can keep them at bay and there's a weird voice on the radio? And Mel and Yul need to bang before getting sacrificed? I mean, sure, why not, but...whaaaaaaat? The movie just ends out of nowhere too with no resolution except Yul has now joined the ranks of naked albino men frolicking off in Kayako-land I suppose. Yippee.

I'm giving "Seventh Moon" a shit rating, but, even then, I feel as though it's generous. Seriously, for some this may be unwatchable due to the camerawork. In fairness, I thought the core premise held potential--though squandered--and there are cool ideas sprinkled throughout. Likewise, there were some non-idiotic decisions like using respectable makeup effects for the creatures in the fleeting milliseconds when the camera was steady. However, it's virtually impossible to ignore the nausea-inducing scenes, annoying characters, and general lack of plot details. Definitely avoid this film, but, if you intend to ignore my warning, just make sure you pack your barf bag.

Notable Moment: When one of the "moon demons" is charging at Mel yet is edited out existence. I guess that's one way to resolve a conflict.

Final Rating: 4/10