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V/H/S Series – Review: Part 2

29 Apr

Here we are again with some more entries into the V/H/S series. The first two films that I discussed in my last review surprised me with how well made they were and the fact that the film makers pushed the boundaries of the genre to deliver some really authentic scares. This time, we’ll be looking at the third film in the series, which unfortunately seems to have killed the who series, and a spin off film that is surprisingly a lot of fun.

Let’s start off with the 2014 film, V/H/S: Viral.

Kevin (Patrick Lawrie) is a videographer who has become obsessed with one of his videos going viral on the internet, even to a point of running out on his girlfriend, Iris (Emilia Zoryan), to capture a live police chase. After doing this, his girlfriend disappears inside the ice cream truck that the police were chasing. Kevin rides after the truck in order to save Iris from the malignant force behind the wheel. Amongst this story are three shorter tales. One features a magician who uses Houdini’s cloak to perform incredible feats of magic, but only if he provides the cloak with fresh meat to feed on. In another, a scientist creates a portal to a mirror dimension, but only finds unspeakable horrors when he crosses to the other side. The final short features a group of skateboarders who travel to Tijuana to shoot a video, but are soon attacked by occultists determined to resurrect their monstrous god.

V/H/S: Viral can be broken up into two categories: garbage and mediocrity. It’s split somewhere down the middle. Let’s get the garbage out of the way first. The wrap around story titled Vicious Circles makes little to no sense. This is the story of Kevin chasing after the ice cream truck. Nothing is explained and by the end, it just comes off as pretentious. Unfortunately, its pretentious attitude isn’t backed by anything of substance, not to mention some really awful CGI. The other short that falls into the garbage category is called Dante the Great. This is the story about the magician and the cloak. This entry isn’t even scary for a second. In fact, this is where I really could see this movie wasn’t going to come close to the other two. While this entry isn’t scary, subtle, or inventive, it also breaks a key rule of the series. Everything is supposed to be found footage, but this one does away with that completely at the climax so that a silly looking magic showdown can happen. Whoever thought of that idea was so far off, it’s kind of tough to watch.

So the movie wasn’t off to a good start and I found myself losing interest real fast. Things do pick up a little bit at this point, but not by much. The best segment of the whole movie is called Parallel Monsters, which is the story of the scientist that enters the mirror dimension. This one had a good deal of suspense and a payoff that was actually worth a damn. In fact, I’d watch this if it was a feature length movie because there was more than enough material. Unfortunately, the film makers had to cram it into a 17ish minute short film that didn’t feel nearly as complete as it could have been. Give me that as a 90 minute scare fest and I’d be in. It had really cool special effects and a neat concept that I really want to see explored more. The last entry called Bonestorm may have a great name, but there’s nothing too special about it. This is the story of the skateboarders attacked by occultists, and while it’s fun to watch while it’s on, this part doesn’t leave a lasting impression. It’s shot well, but the whole thing just turns into a big fight that goes on for far too long and an ending that’s anticlimactic. There’s not too much to say about this one.

All in all, I’m very disappointed with V/H/S: Viral. This was a really strong series up until this point. This movie isn’t all bad, but it doesn’t feel satisfying in the least. The story that holds the whole movie together is so boring and convoluted, I just wish they left it out all together. Everything also feels way too digital and polished, which also goes against what this series is all about. I also really need more of Parallel Monsters, because what I saw wasn’t enough. This is a movie you can skip on completely, even if you loved the first two V/H/S movies.

Final Grade: D+

So that marks the end of the V/H/S movies, at least for now. In 2016, however, a spin off movie was created based off of the Amateur Night short from the first film. This spin off is called SiREN.

Jonah (Chase Williamson) is getting married in a week, and custom dictates that his friends take him out for a crazy night before his wedding day. Led by his obnoxious older brother, Mac (Michael Aaron Milligan), the group of friends find themselves in the lamest club in the United States. There they meet someone who promises to take them to a mansion throwing a secret party that he guarantees will be the craziest they’ve been to. They all head to the mansion and meet its owner, Mr. Nyx (Justin Welborn), who brings Jonah to his greatest attraction, a woman named Lily (Hannah Fierman), who’s voice can make you feel things you never thought possible. Jonah decides to help Lily escape the clutches of Mr. Nyx, but he soon finds out that she’s more than meets the eye. Lily is actually a siren that’s chosen Jonah to be her mate. Now, Jonah and his friends are on the run not just from the monstrous siren, but also from the vengeful Mr. Nyx who is determined to get Lily back.

The biggest thing that surprised me about this movie is that I actually really enjoyed it. SiREN isn’t going to turn into a modern day horror classic. It doesn’t reach the levels of It Follows or The Witch, but it does stand strong as a B-movie that knows exactly what it is. This film doesn’t have a big budget, so it works with what it can do, and I appreciate the ways that director Gregg Bishop brings the material to life. It was also good to see characters that actually had some depth. There was one of the friends that was wasted before he had a chance to even do anything, but the way most of the characters were written felt real and had some depth to it. Mr. Nyx was also a really cool villain, and Justin Welborn hams it up just to the degree that was necessary.

If I had any complaints about this movie, they’d be pretty minor. There are some special effects that feel cheap, and these scenes could have been cut out or touched up. Another thing is that SiREN isn’t particularly scary. I never felt on edge or tense throughout the film’s run time, so it may be better to look at this more as a monster movie. These complaints don’t really detract from the positives that this film has going for it. Where this movie had the potential to really destroy itself, like many other movies, is with the pacing. I believe that the pacing in this movie is downright excellent. It gets right to the point at building up the characters and the circumstances these characters are working with and then shoots off like a bullet. There’s no unnecessary scenes dragging this movie down, and the whole narrative flowed nicely.

Like I said, SiREN isn’t destined for a status as a classic, but it’s a small movie that surprised me with how entertaining it was. There’s some really cool supernatural elements, a good cast of characters, and a memorable creature and villain to boot. The story moves fast and efficiently, even if the scares can’t really match the energy that the pacing has. This is a movie I’d recommend for horror fans looking for something off the beaten path.

Final Grade: B

As a whole, the V/H/S series is a strong entry into the canon of modern horror. The third film, V/H/S: Viral is the only thing holding it down, and it can be totally skipped altogether and forgotten completely. It was refreshing to see the found footage style of film making done properly, and I’d love to see more from these film makers, even if it means another V/H/S movie that goes back to basics.

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The Great Wall – Review

3 Mar

I recently did a review for Zhang Yimou’s 2011 war drama, The Flowers of War. In that review, I mention that Yimou is a very respectable film maker who has an especially strong talent for filming what I believe to be some of the most beautiful looking movies I’ve ever seen. His latest film is The Great Wall, a monster movie that involves protecting the Imperial City from creatures hell bent on destroying civilization as we know it. That combined with Yimou’s colorful and sweeping directorial style kind of made this a must see for me. Well, all I can say is that this film definitely looks great. That’s pretty much where the compliments end.

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William (Matt Damon) and Pero (Pedro Pascal) are two mercenaries scouring the East looking for “black powder,” which we now know as gunpowder. During their search, they end up at the Great Wall of China and are questioned about their intentions immediately upon their arrival. The two partners soon learn why the soldiers at the wall are so concerned about their motives. During a seemingly quiet afternoon, the wall is raided by alien monsters called the Tao Tie, whose goal is to penetrate the wall and continue on to the Imperial City. It doesn’t take long for William to come to a decision as to wether he wants to escape with Pero and another Englishman, Sir Ballard (Willem Dafoe), or if he would rather stay and defend the Great Wall with the newly appointed general, Lin Mae (Jing Tian).

I was excited for this movie for multiple reasons. First off, I was pumped to see Zhang Yimou tackle a big budget monster movie and have his style painted all over the movie. I was also just pumped to see another monster movie from Legendary, which has pretty much become the monster movie company for America. In these ways, the movie does succeed. When battles start happening, I got really into it. The special effects look kind of cartoony, but for some reason, that didn’t really bother me. I was taken aback by Yimou’s use of color and framing scenes to make them look as epic as possible. One of these shots in particular happened in the very first battle where you can see most of the battle in one super wide shot. Another really cool thing are the different regiments of the soldiers and the uniforms they wear to identify themselves. Honestly, in terms of style and scope, this movie stands tall.

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Like I said before, that’s pretty much where all of the good stuff ends. The Great Wall really isn’t all that good of a movie despite having a really cool premise. My biggest problem was the characters. I haven’t seen such poor development and writing in a really long time. Any scene that didn’t involve a battle or special effect of some kind fell flat. Like completely, utterly flat. It’s incredible how an epic period piece featuring alien monsters attacking the Great Wall of China could be so boring. There are a few characters worth something, but that’s not saying to much. William’s partner Pero has a good amount of one liners and a story that at least attempts to go somewhere before that’s shut down by some idiotic decisions from the writers. Lin Mae is also a pretty cool character who feels the most human out of anyone else. The worst offender of characters not worth anything is Sir Ballard. If you were to take Willem Dafoe out of this movie, nothing would be different. He’s completely wasted here.

I was also really bothered by the acting in this movie, but part of this also has to fall on the writers. There was so much clunky and awkward dialogue in this movie which only made me more distracted during the down time that I’ve already complained was boring enough. Like I said before, the only exceptions from this are Pero and Lin Mae. They weren’t perfect, but they were better than the rest. Honestly though, I was mostly shocked at how flat and uninspired Matt Damon was. I didn’t know until the end of the movie that he was supposed to be European, and I still don’t know exactly where he’s supposed to be from. His accent is on and off throughout the whole movie, and the way he delivers his lines is cringeworthy. Aside from his weird accent, he uses this over the top tough guy voice that wore thin on me after the second line of dialogue he had.

The Great Wall is a very disappointing movie. Throughout its run time, I saw a lot of hope for potential, but nothing really came of it. I will say that this is a fantastic looking movie with cool creature design and some excellent use of lighting and costume design. Everything else from the characters and their development to the structure of the narrative is flat, recycled, or just plain boring. As a monster movie, it works at the most basic of levels. As a movie to be appreciated and viewed for something more than that, it’s a failure.

Final Grade: C-

Shin Godzilla – Review

17 Oct

It’s a very exciting day, and the reason is because I finally get to talk about a new Godzilla movie. Shin Godzilla is Toho’s first movie featuring the King of the Monsters in 12 years, which makes this all the more exciting. I’m a huge fan of this franchise, from the goofiness of Godzilla jumping around on the moon in Destroy all Monsters to the much darker entries like Godzilla vs. Destoroyah and even the 2014 America remake. Shin Godzilla does something very interesting and moves the tone into a much more realistic direction. This makes for a very interesting and surprisingly intelligent entry into the series that also happens to have some of the best scenes of destruction and mayhem in the entire franchise.

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After a boat is attacked in Tokyo Bay and the Tokyo Bay Aqua-Line is collapsed, both by some mysterious aquatic creature, the Japanese government assures everyone that this monster will not come on land. Of course, they couldn’t have been more wrong as a bipedal, gilled fish creature begins making its way through the city and destroying everything in its path. Things are made worse after the JSDF attacks the creature, which causes it to stop its war path and begin growing and evolving into a giant reptilian monster that is named Godzilla. With Godzilla moving further into Tokyo and causing rampant destruction with countless casualties, the government scrambles to rebuild itself from the initial attack and work together with foreign powers from around the world in helping them take down this behemoth before it’s too late.

Where do I even begin? There’s so much that I want to say. I guess let’s start with the monster of the hour. Godzilla looks outstanding in this movie. The first time you see him he looks like this weird salamander with legs, which is a great introduction believe it or not. You then get the pleasure of watching him evolve into the creature that we all know and love. It’s also a treat to see that this Godzilla is the biggest ever to be put on screen, even beating out the Godzilla in the 2014 American film. This is a ferocious Godzilla and certainly not the one you may remember from the earlier films where he often time played the hero. Shin Godzilla is, in many ways, a reboot of the original film from 1954, which works really well. While it’s similar to that movie, Godzilla has a lot more to do and, without spoiling anything, has received a lot of badass enhancements that you’ve never seen in a Godzilla movie before.

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One thing that the newest American remake has over any of the other Toho versions is the special effects. Save for the shock of seeing a monster destroying a city in the original movie, the effects in this franchise haven’t really been too spectacular. This made me have no real expectations for how Shin Godzilla would look. I’m shocked at how great the effects were. There’s a few kinda strange looking scenes, but as a whole it looks great. Godzilla looks massive against the backdrop of the cities and his atomic breath has never been better. The effect work for the military is also really good. The tanks and helicopters hot on Godzilla’s trail move and sound great. I also have to give a lot of credit to directors Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi for their creative abilities in shooting this movie. The camera always seems to be in motion and there are some really interesting shots that heighten the action more than I’ve ever seen in a Godzilla movie. You can tell these film makers had a vision and they executed that vision very well.

A big part of any Godzilla movie, or even any kaiju movie in general, are the people who are either trying to stop or help the monsters. Normally, those are the most boring parts of the movie, and it’s rare that there are ever any really interesting characters. Shin Godzilla follows a group of government officials and scientists who are constantly brainstorming ways to stop Godzilla from completely destroying everything. While there still really aren’t many characters in this movie that I cared for too much, I cared about their mission and it was interesting watching the process they went through. It’s a very modern take on this story that has a lot of allusions to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that still has an affect on Japan to this day. This brought the politics and the economic fallout of a disaster as fantastical as Godzilla seem real and grounded. The most exciting parts of this movie of course revolved around Godzilla and the military strikes, but the scenes that take place in offices and labs still hold up well and brought a lot to the story when all of that information could have simply been lost in the action.

I had some doubts going into Shin Godzilla despite all of my excitement. Luckily, I’m in no way disappointed. This is a great entry into the franchise and possibly one of the best one since the 1954 original. There’s great special effects, outstanding action, and a story that feels very current and smart. This is a Godzilla movie that is made for the people who know and love the franchise, but is also a great place to start for people with no experience with these movies at all. This is how a monster movie is done and I couldn’t be happier with it.

Final Grade: A

Daimajin Trilogy – Review

26 Jun

In 1954, Toho released a movie called Gojira that would completely reinvent an entire genre. Since then, Godzilla has become King of the Monsters and also a household name. In 1965, to keep up with what Toho was putting out, Daiei Films put another monster on the market, Gamera, which has become a respected kaiju, but is nothing compared to Godzilla. So while Daiei was known for its monster Gamera, it was also known as the production company that put Akira Kurosawa on the map with his 1950 samurai film Rashomon. Now, what if you take Daiei’s monster movies and COMBINE them with samurai movies. What would be the result. Well, that almost unthinkable result would be the Daimajin trilogy.

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The first film, Daimajin, tells the story of a Japanese village that is taken over by an evil chamberlain, Samanosuke (Yutaro Gomi), who forces the villagers into slave labor. After years of turmoil, the mountain god Daimjin is called upon to bring Samanosuke to justice and restore order in the land. In Return of Daimajin (or Daimjin Ikaru), Daimajin must once again be restored to life to stop a war between a violent warlord and the surrounding villages, before any more loss of life is had. In Daimajin Strikes Again (or Daimajin Gyakushu) Daimajin is brought to life by three young boys who witness their family being forced into labor camps to construct rifles for a warring faction, a problem that Daimajin can surely fix in one afternoon.

For any fan of Japanese film, there’s quite literally nothing to dislike here. It seems like a weird combination of genres, but it works out for the best. There’s so much cool stuff in all three of these movies, it’s hard to just pinpoint a few instances. The scene where a group of soldiers try to dismantle the statue before it comes to life ends with such a bang when the statue begins to bleed and a wild storm comes blowing through. That’s just the first time I laughed with excitement at the events that were to unfold. There’s also a lot of excellent religious symbolism that can be recognized no matter what faith you are, kind of like the bleeding statue. It adds a cool layer of the supernatural amongst everything else.

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All three movies have pretty much the same basic structure. There are a group of good and religious villagers just trying to live their lives and respect their mountain god (Daimajin). Of course, that would make for a boring movie, so there is always an evil samurai or lord that shows up that either wants to kill or capture the villagers. While it can get a little repetitive, there is no outstanding reason to have to watch all of these movies in a row in order. There’s no continuing plot and everything is always set up like it is in the first film. This allows you to watch whatever film you want in whatever order you want, and appreciate them as stand alone movies.

So after all of the drama of the story plays out and we really grow to hate the villain, the films switch gears and it all suddenly turns into a giant monster movie. That’s like…the best thing that could happen to any movie. Daimajin is a great giant monster, even though he’s technically a mountain god in the form of a statue. He’s a kaiju that thinks and recognizes good and evil. The actor’s eyes are seen, which never really happens in a monster movie. This gives Daimajin a healthy dose of personality and makes him stand out amongst all of the other hard hitters like Godzilla, Gamera, and Mothra.

Daimajin and its two sequels are all very solid and impressive examples of Japanese film in the mid 1960s. Between Toho and Daiei, there was just a huge flow of monster after monster, and I don’t think Daimajin gets the credit that he deserves. He’s a damn cool monster, and these movies also work great as period dramas. Anyone who is a fan of these kinds of kaiju movies, or even movies like Seven SamuraiRashomon, and the Lone Wolf and Cub film series should definitely check this trilogy out. It’s almost too much fun.

Pacific Rim – Review

2 Aug

Giant monsters. Equally giant robots. Guillermo del Toro. Ok, now we’re talkin’. From the trailer, you really know exactly what to expect with Pacific Rim, a movie that brings to mind Toho’s Godzilla movies of the past. Giant robots are really nothing new to movies. Just look at Michael Bay’s Transformers franchise (ok, on second thought maybe you shouldn’t). But, and this is important, del Toro takes this concept and makes it totally new. Instead of robots, they’re giant mech suits with people inside controlling it. I’m getting ahead of myself here. I’m just really excited about how excellent this movie was.

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In the not too distant future, an inter dimensional portal opens up at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean in which giant monsters, called Kaiju, are climbing out of and wreaking havoc on cities across the globe. In response to this, the superpowers of the world come together and create a program where giant mech suits, called Jaegers, complete with two pilots who have merged their minds can walk into the path of the Kaiju and stop them. For years, this seems to work just fine, but it appears that the Kaiju are evolving and adapting to earth and its defenses, making the jobs of the Jaeger pilots more demanding and much more dangerous. As the pilots begin failing at an alarming rate, Commander Pentecost (Idris Elba) hatches an idea that may very well be the key to closing the portal and saving the earth.

Now, this movie is absolutely outstanding. It’s certainly not much of a captivating drama, but it sure is a lot of fun. The main protagonist isn’t anything interesting and his partner, played by Rinko Kikuchi, is pretty good, but still nothing too great. Idris Elba on the other hand has a really cool character who is very interesting. He has to be since his main job is “canceling the apocalypse.” Finally, Charlie Day and Burn Gorman are exactly the kind of comic relief that this movie needs, as the two scientists who are obsessed with unlocking the secrets of the Kaiju.

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I guess that wasn’t the first talking point you would expect me to start with. The question of the hour is: How were the Jaeger vs Kaiju fights? Excellent question, and the answer is that they were mind blowing. Like the whole movie itself, these fights had the potential to be garbage, but the way they are executed makes all the difference. First of all, the sound design and visual effects make it very easy to believe that these behemoths are actually throwing down right in front of you. That, and camera angles that are interesting and make the action easy to follow. Everything feels really big about this movie, and that’s important given the subject matter. Some camera angles are shown from the ground level while others are from the view of distant buildings. Let’s just say that these fights look about as epic as anything I’ve ever seen.

I will say that there are slow parts to the movie where the lack of strong characters and dialogue really shows. The way these scenes play out are entirely too predictable and the characters are pretty stock for the most part. Like I said, most of the main characters are nothing special, even as sort of “everyman” characters. A lot of the disagreements and drama seems a little underplayed, and don’t amount to anything too special. Kikuchi’s character at least has a nice back story that helps her dramatic scenes feel a bit more interesting.

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While the human drama doesn’t really feel all that spectacular, it is adequate. On the flip side, the colossal battles between machine and beast in the oceans and cities of the world are some of the most fun you’ll have at the movies this year. Like I said, Pacific Rim had the potential to be generic drivel and nothing too special save for some pretty scenes. Instead, Guillermo del Toro has created an awesome thrill ride that, in my opinion, gives Star Trek Into Darkness some competition for my favorite film of the year.