Archive | May, 2014

A Tale of Two Sisters – Review

31 May

Fairy tales make good horror stories. In fact, they make great horror stories. Just think of most fairy tales that you know and then think of just how disturbing they really are, even though we have no problem telling them to children to teach them all sorts of lessons. In 2003, South Korean film maker Kim Ji-woon decided to make a psychological horror film based off the South Korean fairy tale Janghwa Hongryeon jeon, and since then it has been often labeled as one of the most unsettling films of our time and I can completely agree with that statement.

A-Tale-of-Two-Sisters-poster

Su-mi (Im Soo-jung) and her sister Su-yeon (Moon Geun-young) arrive at their lake house where their concerned father (Kim Kap-soo) and domineering step mother (Yeom Jeong-ah) are staying. The time spent there begins with their step mother berating them and only gets worse as time passes, despite Su-mi trying to tell her father how terrible she is to her and her sister. Su-mi and Su-yeon also become much more curious about their mother, who has since died, and this angers their step mother to the point of physical punishment. As the maternal torture continues between the two girls and the step mother, it is clear that there is something else much more sinister in the house that is making its presence known and making it clear that the two sisters have much more to think about and fear than their step mother.

What I love about A Tale of Two Sisters is the fact that this isn’t horror at it’s most traditional. There are a few times where things get spooky in a familiar way, but these aren’t the scenes that make this movie scary. What makes it so frightening is the constant feeling of confusion and dread that is felt throughout the entire movie. The situation that these girls are in is bad enough, but the fact that no one is there to help them makes it even worse. Finally, and I have to say this without spoiling anything, everything you think you know is happening is put to question as the movie reaches its mind bending climax and makes you rethink just how disturbed everyone in this family is.

A-Tale-Of-Two-Sisters-4

As with most of the South Korean movies that I’ve seen, this one keeps with the tradition of being beautiful to look at. Kim Ji-woon has earned fame with films like I Saw the DevilThe Good, the Bad, the Weird, and the American film The Last Stand. Obviously to earn international success like that, you have to have a good amount of talent and it shines completely in A Tale of Two Sisters. This is a beautiful movie to look at to the point where it would be just as entertaining to turn the sound off and just watch the images and the colors and how everything moves. Color really pop in this film and the often moving camera seems to just flow from scene to scene. Beautiful stuff, but also haunting.

Let me just use this time to rant at about how this is how horror movies should be made. It’s annoying to go into these kinds of movies now and expect jump scares that may freak you out for a second, but won’t last with you. When I see a horror movie, I want to think about why it was so terrible. I don’t want the film makers to tell me why. Audiences are smart enough to be able to watch a horror movie and have scares in it that aren’t obvious or loud, but legitimately frightening. That’s where A Tale of Two Sisters succeeds the most.

A Tale of Two Sisters is slow moving and quiet, but also one of the prettiest and most disturbing horror films that I have ever seen. What’s great about this movie isn’t quite the fear that you feel during the scariest parts, but rather it’s the uncomfortable feeling you have throughout the whole movie. Being able to create a feeling like that and hold it for an entire movie is something to commend and respect. I would easily put this film on a list of my favorite horror films, and it’s one that any horror buff shouldn’t miss out on.

8 1/2 – Review

25 May

Throughout my time at film school, there were certain movies that throughout the years and in pretty much every class were taught as canon. These were the movies that are the basis of what it means to study and appreciate film wether you liked the movie or not. One of those movies that was talked about to death was Federico Fellini’s 8 1/2. Now, even though I heard a lot about his movie in school, I never had to actually watch it while I was there. That’s really no excuse for it taking me this long to see it, but better late than never. I went in trying to tell myself how it goes with these movies that are praised in school, and was expecting either something really great or a movie that disappointed me and made me question what people see in it.

202546-1020-a

Guido Anselmi (Marcello Mastroianni) is an Italian film director who is going through the worst case of “director’s block” that he has ever experienced. Unfortunately for him, and everyone else involved in the movie, they have passed the point of no return with obnoxious sets already built for the movie and actors already hired for certain parts. The screenplay is written and the producer is anxious, but that just isn’t enough to motivate Anselmi to do anything with this movie. Instead, he begins to hide within his own thoughts and memories from when he was a kid to things that he wishes would happen to change the out come of the movie. Finally, his biggest distractions come from the women that fight and argue over him including his “loving” wife Luisa (Anouk Aimée) and his mistress Carla (Sandra Milo).

The story to 8 1/2 may be a little hard to follow for some, as it sort of was for me, because day dreams and flashback get mixed together so much that we aren’t really sure what’s real or not at some points. That’s the best part about this movie, in my opinion. We, like Guido, are feeling very disconnected from reality and losing ourselves in his many different mental barriers that he puts up to defend himself from the people around him. This makes for a very strange and often complicated movie, but now here comes the kicker that may make people get all in a fuss. 8 1/2 is a great movie, and I recognize that completely, but I feel no desire to ever watch it again.

8_and_a_half_-_WEB

In my defense, as I was watching the movie, I knew what I was watching was and is objectively remarkable. Anyone who watches this movie and isn’t impressed by everything that happens from the dreamlike atmosphere to the often witty dialogue has something wrong with them. The mood of this movie definitely feels like a director’s nightmare with him being surrounded by all of these people that he knows he can’t deal with but will inevitably have to. Right from the start, everything felt odd, and Fellini keeps that feeling throughout the movie. All of the actors, especially Mastroianni, are really great and really funny. They deliver their lines quickly and effectively. The real wonder is how the film is shot. Fellini takes full advantage of the black and white to create scenes that may be as bright as day but also be surrounded in darkness.The main reason anyone should see 8 1/2 is simply how beautiful the movie looks.

But, and this is a big but, my main motivation for watching movies is to have fun. When a movie mixes beauty and fun, it’s the perfect combination. For me, I didn’t have enough fun watching 8 1/2 to really want to watch it again, especially with a run time that goes for almost two and a half hours. There were scenes, as beautiful as they were, that went on for far too long and even when they didn’t I just found myself losing interest in the story. It just kind of wanders from scene to scene, which is more than likely how Fellini intended it to be, but that doesn’t always do it for me. I like films that have more motivation to their scene structure and this movie doesn’t really have that. I know that it isn’t supposed to due to its content, but I still can’t forget about that and say that I was completely entertained for the entirety of the movie.

The best way to put this is that I would definitely watch scenes from this again, but I don’t feel like I’d put 8 1/2 on myself for its entirety. This is a really amazing movie when you think about it, and that’s why I wasn’t disappointed by it or questioned its status as a classic that is praised by critics and audiences for over 50 years. I understand why it is and I agree, but other than my appreciating it I didn’t really have fun with it, and that’s important to me. I’m not saying that anyone who hasn’t seen this shouldn’t watch it because they definitely should due to its relevance and its beauty.

Happiness – Review

21 May

Every so often I watch a movie that shakes me to the very core of my being. The reason I got so interested in Happiness was because I kept hearing so many great things about it, but also so many warnings that it is one of the most disturbing films I’ll ever watch. I thought to myself that I’m gonna have to check it out, so that’s exactly what I did. To put it briefly, Happiness is a remarkable movie in terms of everything that exists that makes a movie good. It’s literally all here. That being said, there are many things that are disturbing about this movie other than the obvious one, but that doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t want to see this film go down as a classic in the years to come.

29 - Happiness Poster

The story in this film is a collage of different, every day people whose lives collide due to their obsessive crusades to find happiness in their lives, even though the lack of true joy is their own fault. Joy Jordan (Jane Adams) is the youngest of three sisters, and has recently been feeling lonesome and unfulfilled. Helen Jordan (Lara Flynn Boyle) is the middle sister, and even though she has made a successful career as a novelist, she still has a hard time connecting with people on a true emotional level. When her pathetic neighbor Allen (Philip Seymour Hoffman) anonymously sexually harasses her over the phone, Helen becomes desperate to find the caller and begin a relationship. The eldest sister is Trish Maplewood (Cynthia Stevenson) who is happily married to Bill (Dylan Baker), a wealthy psychiatrist with a few dark secrets of his own, most of which involve pre-pubescent boys. Finally, Mona (Louise Lasser) and Lenny (Ben Gazzara) are the parents of the three sisters, and are now going through a separation which Lenny refuses to end in a divorce.

What’s really interesting about this movie is both how unapologetic it is, but also how real it is. Life, even for average, nothing special people can be darkly comedic and deeply disturbing, just like this movie. There’s nothing in Happiness that is so over the top you wouldn’t believe it could really happen. Everything in this movie can and does happen, and that’s what makes it so hard to watch at times. I found myself cringing and shifting around uncomfortably even when I was laughing at humor that may be darker than any movie I’ve ever seen before this one. There’s a great line in this movie where Helen leans over to Joy and says, “We’re not laughing at you, we’re laughing with you.” To this Joy responds, “But I’m not laughing.”

vlcsnap-2011-02-02-00h43m44s239

That little line of dialogue sums up the movie better than I ever could. We’re watching the lives of these people suffer from enormous pressures, all in the guise of some twisted comedy. So, it’s a comedy and we’re supposed to laugh at them… Right? When I think of comedies, I normally think of films that are pretty light hearted and goofy, and sometimes I laugh at things that I feel like I shouldn’t. Even those movies where the laughing comes with guilt maintain a certain sense of silliness or an upbeat tone. Not Happiness. There is nothing upbeat here, and yet we still laugh. That may be the most disturbing part of the movie. Sure, the pedophile is disturbing enough to keep many viewers away, but this one has real world consequences. We’re laughing at these people, but you don’t see them laughing.

I’ve been told that if you’re going to write something weird, it has to be done in such a way where the writing doesn’t become aware of the strangeness. That’s where Happiness finds it’s footing. There’s nothing especially remarkable about the way this movie is shot. It could easily be a stage play, and sometimes that’s what it feels like. The writer/director of this movie, Todd Solondz, writes this in such a way that is weird, but made me believe like I was watching reality. Perhaps that’s what this movie is really about: a sad reality that we all live in.

The characters in Happiness are pathetic creatures and I’m a son of a bitch for laughing at them, but who could blame me? This movie is dark comedy and it’s darkest, but it’s also drama at it’s most dramatic. This film mostly takes place in the suburbs of New Jersey. Not some bustling city, but a quiet suburb. Much like American Beauty (although this film preceded it by a year), we get to see the suburban dream completely shattered by evils and despair. Recommending this movie is hard due to a lot of the content in it, but if you can stomach some truly disturbing stuff than Happiness may provide you with the strangest and most uncomfortable laughter you’ve ever felt.

Godzilla – Review

18 May

Godzilla is a name that any person knows, even if they’ve never seen a movie starring the King of Monsters in their entire life. This larger than life lizard has had plenty of chances in his 60 years in the film business to show just how tough he is wether he’s engaged in a monster rumble with King Ghidorah in Destroy all Monsters or running around New York City, destroying whatever is in sight in his 1998 American remake. Now we have the 2014 Godzilla, and I’d say there is a lot riding on this to be good, especially after so many people despise his 1998 run. This version hearkens back to the original 1954 Gojira in more ways than one, and even though there’s some terrible flaws in this movie, it made for some excellent monster movie madness.

GodzillaPoster2014

In the Philippines, scientists Ishiro Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and Vivienne Graham (Sally Hawkins) are investigating a collapse in a mine when they find two giant pod-like eggs that have recently hatched. In Tokyo, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) and his wife Sandra (Juliette Binoche) are working in the Janjira Nuclear Plant when unexplained seismic activity causes disaster not only for the plant, but also for Joe. Cut to 15 years later. Joe has become obsessed with exposing the cover up that was put in place after the accident at the plant, causing his son Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) to become more and more estranged from him. Ford now works for the army as a bomb specialist and has a wife (Elizabeth Olson) and a son, but all of that is put in jeopardy when he goes with his father to investigate further, only to find giant winged monsters called MUTOs begins a path of destruction for breeding purposes. Now, mankind’s only hope is lies in the actions of another awakened behemoth. One that is called “Gojira.”

To start off with, this is not a movie that is like other entries in the franchise like Mothra vs Godzilla or Godzilla vs Gigan. Sure, we get to see Godzilla fight, but that doesn’t happen right away. Think of Godzilla in the same way that you think of the 1954 original. That film is mostly about the human characters with Godzilla showing up a little bit, until the climax in Tokyo where we really get to see the destruction he is capable of. That’s how this movie is. Godzilla isn’t in this a whole hell of a lot, but when he is it is nothing short of epic. Director Gareth Edwards stated that he got inspiration from films like Jaws, where the monster isn’t always seen, but it’s unseen presence is enough to create an even greater amount of suspense.

godzilla-2014-full-monster-image-700x425

So keeping Godzilla pretty much hidden until the end isn’t necessarily a bad thing. What is a bad thing is that every time I thought I was going to see at least a little bit of action, the scene cut away. That would be fine if it happened once, but it happened at least three times. That’s just overkill. One time is enough to make me crave to see some monster action, but the amount of times the film did that just started to annoy me. Another problem I had with the movie was with Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Now, he’s a fine actor in the Kick-Ass movies, but I couldn’t really get into him too much here. He is the main character, but he was pretty one-dimensional. Cranston and Watanabe’s characters were far more interesting and into their roles, but sadly they weren’t in it nearly as much as they should have been, especially with Watanabe playing Serizawa who was a very important character in the original film.

Still, there was plenty in Godzilla that kept me more than entertained. The MUTO monsters are cool, especially their reveals and how they are differentiated between male and female. They had some really awesome scenes and powers that made them more the welcome in the Godzilla canon. Godzilla also looks and sounds great. My absolute favorite part of the movie is when he finally gets around to using his atomic breath. I was waiting patiently for it to happen, and when I finally saw that blue glow break through the fog all the way up Godzilla’s back, I knew what I was in for and I wasn’t disappointed.

Being a huge fan of Godzilla movies, I can honestly say that this one didn’t disappoint even though it was nowhere like what I thought it was going to be. It is the Christopher Nolan Batman compared to Tim Burton’s Batman. They may be very different, but that isn’t a bad thing. This is a much more realistic way to show the monster and his possible effects on the world, but I still really enjoyed it. I do wish there was a little bit more monster action and interesting characters, but that’s not enough to totally ruin the movie for me. This is still an excellent popcorn flick that should please Godzilla fans enough to make them ask for more.

Willard – Review

17 May

Back in 2003, when Willard came out, I was so set on seeing it. I just thought it looked like on of the coolest movies, but I guess it was never meant to be. Now in 2014, eleven years after the movie first came out, I have finally gotten a chance to see it. That could put a lot of pressure on me enjoying the movie. After waiting over a decade to see it and then finding out it was complete garbage would really bum me out. So, did Willard bum me out? Absolutely not. Willard is a special kind of blend of horror and dark comedy that works so well, it’s amazing this movie doesn’t get more recognition. willard-poster1

Willard Stiles (Crispin Glover) is an anti-social office worker for his dead father’s company now run by the sadistic and equally loud manager, Frank Martin (R. Lee Ermey). Home for Willard also offers no real escape with his elderly and decrepit mother (Jackie Burroughs) harassing him at all times of night. This changes when she complains about rats in the basement and demands Willard investigate. While Willard is in the basement, he finds a particularly smart rat that he names Socrates. As time goes on, Willard realizes he has a special connection with all of the rats in his basement, and soon the rats grow in number and Willard decides to use them to get revenge on anyone and everyone who has ever stepped all over him. While Willard’s plan seems perfect, he never bet on the capabilities of a large rat named Ben who grows to hate Willard and everything he plans over time.

Think of Willard sort of as a Tim Burton movie. I’m talking about before Burton got lost in his own stylistic excess. Everything down to the soundtrack of this movie felt like it could have been a movie that Tim Burton made, but it wasn’t. Glen Morgan, the actual director, isn’t that well known in the film world. His previous works have been on the show The X-Files and acted as one of the producers on some of the Final Destination movies. After reading up on him, I was surprised that Morgan was able to craft something like this. That isn’t a statement on his talent, but Willard really is a fantastic looking movie with a mood that is created in the beginning and held perfectly throughout the entirety of the movie.

MV5BMTQzNTU2MjI3N15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMDEzMjY0NA@@._V1_SX640_SY720_

Usually at this point I talk about if the actors did a good job or not. Most of the times I refer to a couple of them. This time, I only need to mention one: Crispin Glover, one of the most underrated actors I have ever seen. There really is only one person that could have played the part of Willard, and Glover does it to so perfect a degree that it just makes the movie more unsettling than it could have been if another actor was playing the role. He even looks like a rat in a way, although some of that can be credited to the make up department. Still, everything from the way his voice cracks to his slight facial ticks to his posture makes this a deep and understandable character. It’s odd watching this movie almost rooting for Willard to succeed, but that’s just the power of Crispin Glover’s acting.

Of course the writing and the style of the movie helps a lot. There’s moments of Victorian Gothic type of stuff, but then there are times where the style is much more realistic, like when Willard is in a store filled with typical fluorescent lighting and a putrid green tiled floor. There’s something cool to look at in every scene, wether it’s just how the camera is set up or there’s some weird clash of time periods that give Willard a very unique, unsettling, and funny look.

And that’s just what Willard is: unique, unsettling, and funny. It’s an excellent combination of an enormously talented actor combined with excellent set designs, cinematography, and direction. This isn’t really a horror movie as some people tend to think it is. It’s more of a creepy dark comedy that made me laugh and squirm with discomfort throughout the entire movie. I wish I saw it when it first came out, but better late than never. This isn’t a movie to miss, especially if you feel some sort of connection to rodents.

 

Marebito – Review

11 May

Takashi Shimizu us not a name that should not be unknown since his achievement with the Japanese Ju-on series and his subsequent remakes with the American Grudge has earned him international success. Between the filming of his Japanese and American entries in the franchise, Shimuzu worked on a film that has received little to now recognition. That film is Marebito. This is a very different movie from Ju-on: The Grudge even though it seemed to have been marketed as a straightforward horror film.What Marebito actually is is a  twisted sort of technologic fairy tale that gets weirder and darker as the story progresses.

marebito-movie-poster-2004-1020365874

 

Masuoka (Shinya Tsukamoto) is a freelance videographer who has recently become obsessed with capturing absolute fear. He soon becomes disappointed after he films a man committing suicide in a subway station, and since then no one has shown fear like that. In order to learn why this man was so scared, Masuoka returns to the subway station and finds that there are creatures called Deros that have been living there in a sort of mystical world with the subway station being the link between them. While exploring the area, Masuoka finds a woman chained to a cave whom he calls “F” (Tomomi Miyashita). Masuoka brings F home and observes her very carefully and learns that she has a less than sane way to feed. As Masuoka begins treating F like a beloved pet, he begins to hear warnings from mysterious beings and starts to question how much of what is happening to him is real and how much is just a twisted fantasy.

Marebito is a very strange movie, but definitely not something I was expecting. If you’re looking for a run of the mill ghost story, this isn’t really one of them and you might be disappointed. What this movie is is actually a pretty surreal ghost story that delves even deeper into the realm of psychological horror. There are ghosts and creatures in this movie, but they aren’t the main point of horror in this movie. The horror, itself, stems from the character of Masuoka and his obsessive desire to understand fear, which is creepy enough. But the means he works with to understand it and take care of F at the same time are more unsettling than any creature that is in this movie.

Marebito eat

I really did enjoy the more surrealistic things that happened in this movie. It was sort of a pleasant. It took some getting used to at first, but once I started figuring out what the movie was all about, I started to get into it a lot more. The way Takashi Shimizu uses technology in this is creepy in that sort of “found on Youtube” kind of way. There are a lot of unsettling images that are made even more creepy by the grainy look of the video that Masuoka is filming on. Shinya Tsukamoto and Tomomi Miyashita are both really good in this, equally playing off each other in one of the strangest onscreen connections I’ve seen.

While this was a good movie, there are faults to it that really  make me groan just thinking about it. First of all, I was buying all of the strangeness while Masuoka was exploring the depths of the subway. It was creepy and atmospheric, but then something happens that really made me questions just what the hell I was watching. Anyone who has seen this movie must know what I mean. The creepy atmosphere is completely abandoned for something that makes no sense at all. Also, I feel like the story would have worked better if this was a half hour short film. As a short film, Marebito would have been perfect. I could rewatch this movie and make significant notes on what could be cut or trimmed in order to make this an excellent short.

Marebito is a pretty cool horror film that deserves a bit more attention than it has actually gotten. Sure, this movie doesn’t reach the heights that Shimizu set with his other works in the Ju-on series, but this movie does raise a couple of good points and also achieves a creepy atmosphere that is maintained in most parts of the movie. Don’t go into Marebito expecting jump scares and spooky ghosts. Go into it expecting an unsettling examination of a man’s psychological breakdown. This is a good movie, but with some cuts and trims, it could have been an excellent short film.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno – Review

7 May

I’m sure that by now, a hefty amount of people have seen Zack and Miri Make a Porno, and it’s safe to say that I’m a little late to the party. This movie did very well at the box office and has since done well in sales. I’m a big fan of Kevin Smith as a director but appreciate his body of work the most as a writer. I was excited to see this movie because of the combination of Smith and the rest of the cast, but I have to say I was really disappointed by what I saw. Zack and Miri isn’t what you call a bad movie or a completely unfunny movie, but if you look at movies like Clerks and Chasing Amy, it’s pretty obvious that Smith is capable of much better work.

zack_and_miri_make_a_porno_ver4_xlg

Zack Brown (Seth Rogen) and Miri Linky (Elizabeth Banks) are two slacker best friends whose least most concern is paying their bills on time. As the unpaid bills pile up, their luck finally catches up with them and their water and electricity are turned off and an additional threat of getting locked out of their apartment also looms over them. Zack finally hatches a get rich quick plan that, in his mind, seems fool proof. That is to shoot and distribute pornography. As the two gather friends from work and around town which include an overly sensitive Delaney (Craig Robinson), they also begin hiring talent like the astoundingly oblivious Lester (Jason Mewes). Things start looking up for the make shift crew of pornographers, but it isn’t long before real human emotion starts to penetrate the lustful set of the porn movie.

As a comedy, it is pretty average when it comes to the jokes. Something that I really love about Smith’s writing is his ability to write long and drawn out conversations and speeches that seem random, but oddly intelligent and thoughtful. The writing in this movie is pretty average. There are some funny references about film thrown in that made me chuckle, but the really heavy laughter was pretty few and far between. The witty writing and dialogue that seemed to have confidence all its own is nowhere to be seen. Instead, I mostly heard a constant barrage of sex and poop jokes. Now don’t get me wrong. These can be really funny, but when that’s all a movie is I feel kind of ripped off.

zack-and-miri-make-a-porno-zack-and-miri-make-a-porno-31896128-1400-930

There is some joy to be had in this movie, however. A lot of the laughs in the movie didn’t come from the writing, but more so from the delivery of the jokes that were already written. Seth Rogen and Elizabeth Banks work very well off each other and I feel like a lot of the funnier things in this movie were improvised between the two of them. My favorite part of Zack and Miri is when the two title characters have to film their sex scene for the porno and the way the whole beginning of the scene plays out is incredibly awkward for the both of them. The quick lines of dialogue they say are really funny and just the way they play off each other is great. It was also cool to see Jason Mewes and Jeff Anderson, both of whom acted side by side in the two Clerks movies.

As much as I’m putting the writing down, I have to give it to Smith for creating two characters whose developments work very well in the context of the movie. Let’s just say, I buy everything that’s happening between the characters. No one is a cardboard cutout of other characters in comedies like these, and while this isn’t an absolutely hilarious movie, it is nice to see originality in it. For that, I can’t say that this is a bad movie, because any movie that shows honest to goodness originality and spirit put into it, I have to respect and appreciate on at least some level.

Zack and Miri Make a Porno is a pretty weak attempt by Kevin Smith, especially compared to his other movies that are so memorable and well done. This is also definitely not a comedy for people who can’t stomach things that get too raunchy or dirty, because that’s pretty much all of the comedy involved. I makes me miss the times where Smith made movies that examined a level of society and philosophies that aren’t always explored out of fear of offending people. This movie seems to want to offend just for the sake of offending. If you’re a Kevin Smith fan it’s an alright movie to see, especially for the cast and cameos (including one hilarious one of Kenny Hotz from the show Kenny vs Spenny). Don’t expect too much out of Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but it does have some heart and may be good for a chuckle.