Tuesday, July 25, 2017
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
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
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
Disclaimer: Contains spoilers!
Plot Summary: A disgraceful "sequel" that doesn't deserve to exist.
Review: The...RAGE...so...overwhelming! 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
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 wild...it 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
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
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