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Showing posts from August, 2009

States Evidence

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Title: States Evidence
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Drama
Starring: Douglas Smith, Alexa Vega, Maljanda Delfino, Kris Lemche

Following the tragedies of Virigina Tech and Columbine Massacre we’ve seen no shortage of films attempting to tackle the difficult subject, from Gus van Sant’s “Elephant” to “Bang Bang you’re Dead,” this film bears strong resemblance to – particularly the latter of the two – such films in the manner it strives to provide a realism, not bombarded with poetry and imagery, but bluntly displaying its point in a forceful manner.

It doesn’t take long for the smart protagonist in this tale, Scott (Smith), to unveil his plan to end his own life, and capture his own final moments on film; seemingly he comes from a normal family, and knowing this tape will become states evidence to be analysed by psychologists, he delivers insights into his thoughts. It doesn’t take long for news of his plan to spread around the school, and soon his closely knit group of friends wish to join him, each…

The Antichrist

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Title: The Antichrist
Rating: 4.5/5
Genre: Drama, Horror
Starring: Willem DeFoe, Charlotte Gainsbourg
Director: Lars von Trier

“Nature is Satan’s church”

After ‘Dogville,’ I have been intrigued by this director’s ability, and with prior knowledge of his involvement with this horror I was naturally drawn in. But this is not a film for everybody. Those who are squeamish or looking for a conventional piece of grindhouse gore will not find this suited to their liking as it delves far deeper than simple shock tactics, or gratuitous use of fake blood. This is a film that defines ‘art’ films, with haunting imagery and powerful cinematography it unflinchingly forces you to confront the horror of man’s own animalistic tendencies, all the while allowing you to question, would you do anything different?

Split into four chapters, the prologue opens with some of the most powerful imagery of the entire film; forget bland introductions, within this opening sequence details all the information required to c…

Dark Rising

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Title: Dark Rising
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Horror, Comedy, Sci Fi
Starring: Landy Cannon, Brigitte Kingsley, Julia Schneider
Director: Andrew Cymek

A straight-to-DVD that came as a pleasant surprise; too often they either feel incredibly cliché or attempt comedy, filling the story with an unrelenting quest for bad puns at the expense of the genre. Not here. The script itself for the most part is serious in the manner it unfolds – despite the often comical situations – using the acting to intentionally push things a touch further than many other horrors would, removing any notion of being scary in favour for an amusing campiness at times reminding me of the witty lines from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” This isn’t a collection of bad puns held together by a bad plot, the plot itself allows the humour to emerge.

Taking the lead is the smitten Jason (Cannon), desperate to re-kindle his love with his high school sweetheart Jasmine. It is perhaps unfortunate that since leaving him she has discovered le…

The Steam Experiment

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Title: The Steam Experiment
Rating: 2/5
Genre: Mystery, Thriller
Starring: Val Kilmer, Eric Roberts

This is one of those films that had potential be better than the end result. With an unproven director and Val Kilmer starring, an actor who has demonstrated his abilities in the past, but often seems to takes difficult roles in questionable films; his willing to tackle difficult characters, resulting in at least as many near misses as anything greater, is whilst something I applaud, here results in another mediocre affair. The entire film is built on a Mystery/Thriller premise but ultimately fails to captivate, and the result is a half-hearted psychological ‘saw’ clone without the bloodshed.

It is Kilmer’s character of Jimmy that draws the focus, a scientist ridiculed for his unquestionable belief that in 2012, global warming will reach such a critical stage that the entire world will be elevated in temperature by gigantic proportions. Walking into a meeting with the editor for a newspaper,…

Hamlet

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Title: Hamlet
Rating: 4.5/5
Genre: Drama, Film-Noir
Starring: Laurence Olivier

After some fasting from reviewing, I shall continue with the grand representation of a film which was starred, directed, produced, and adapted by "Laurence Olivier". I am sure that anyone with the slightest knowledge in literature would be familiar with one of "Shakespeare's" masterpieces, if not THE masterpiece, about the Danish prince "Hamlet", and his famous battle with indecision. The way "Olivier" chose to represent this film, in the black and white style, remarkably suited the "Hamlet", as a story and as an individual. "Olivier" brought to us what might be the definitive version of this play ever to be brought on screen. He didn't change it to a melodrama, where each character would start posing around like an idiot with a long boring soliloquy, but cleverly brought us the inner and external conflict that faced the characters, especially …

Die You Zombie Bastards!

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Title: Die You Zombie Bastards!
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Horror, Comedy
Starring: Tim Gerstmar, Geoff Mosher, Pippi Zornoza
Director: Caleb Emerson

“Oh no! Is that Vlad the Impaler again?”

With tongue planted firmly in cheek this is a film that borders many genre boundaries yet remains distinctly 80s style B-movie horror. Complete with excessive fake blood, random violence and nudity, evil mad scientists, superheroes, rock ‘n’ roll legends, and more badly designed monsters - not in the least ‘manphibian’ and ‘coconut-head’ - whilst some of the jokes become excessive and fail to hit the mark, at no point does it feel like a simple mockery of the genre. Instead it points out the lighter side of the genre by pushing things one step further into ridiculousness.

It is in the wilderness of Hell Island that the evil demonic scientist Baron Nefarious (Mosher) dwells, perfecting his Zombotron, a device capable of transforming people into zombies. Testing it on three young nubile archaeopalaeontologists hi…

Ong-Bak

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Title: Ong-Bak
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Action
Starring: Tony Jaa
Language: Thai

Proudly mentioning the lack of stunt doubles, CGI and special effects they were right in doing so, for the natural feel of the action scenes starkly contrasts many action films being produced today that are filled with ever more ridiculous stunts in an attempt to better those that preceded it. Ironically, the realism that this presents feels more powerful than the greatest of special effects, harking back to the days of the martial arts masters that have long been lost in time. When viewing an action film, it is the action that takes precedence over all other factors. I don’t go in looking for a strong plot or acting capabilities, and whilst this feels like a simple vehicle for the talents of Tony Jaa it delivers where it matters.

From a small village the action soon gets under way when the evil Don steals the revered head of Ong-bak for his wheelchair-bound, mechanical voice box wielding master, and with their…

Killing Birds

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Title: Killing Birds (aka Zombie 5, Raptors)
Rating: 5/5 (mine), 2/5 (unbiased)
Genre: Horror
Starring: Leslie Cumming, Lara Wendle, Robert Vaughn
Directors: Claudio Lattanzi, Joe D'Amato (uncredited)
Duration: 90 mins

FANBOY ALERT FANBOY ALERT FANBOY ALERT FANBOY ALERT FANBOY ALERT FANBOY ALERT

Back in the 70's, Fredrick Brown comes home from the Vietnam war only to find his unfaithful wife in bed with another man. Brown kills the man and his in-laws, who have the worst timing in the world, and finally offs his wife, but spares his infant son. He then kills all the residents of his aviary and gets blinded by a pair of talons in the process. Before going into the hospital, he gives his baby son away. Flash forward 20 or so years, and we arrive at a Louisiana university where Steve and his group of friends have been awarded a grant to document the extremely endangered ivory-billed woodpecker before it is considered extinct. Also along for the ride are Anne, his former girlfriend, and …

Friend

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Title: Friend
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Crime, Drama
Starring: Oh-Seong Yu, Dong-Kun Jang, Tae-hwa Seo, Un-taek Jeong
Director: Kyung-Taek Kwak
Language: Korean

“In a race between Cho Oh-ryun (Korean gold-medalist swimmer) and a sea turtle, who would win?”

From an unknown Korean director comes a film I must admit, did not have the greatest hopes for, but proved to be a superb account of the lives of four close friends. Whilst gently meandering along we explore each of the four, learning of their tendencies and despite coming from different backgrounds they somehow find their lives twined together, through the good times and the bad they are there for one another, and this theme of this strong friendship comes through prominently in a realistic and heart-felt manner.

Chronicling the journey of their lives from children all the way to adulthood, their friendship is soon stressed to breaking point when Sang-taek (Seo), the intellectual and kind-hearted realist who is always there for those who need h…

Howl’s Moving Castle

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Title: Howl’s Moving Castle
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Language: Japanese

Following on from the masterpiece of ‘Spirited Away’ comes another endeavour from the director often described as the Godfather of animation. Unfortunately, despite his knack for working in this genre the result comes off a shadow of his previous works, failing to live up to his reputation in multiple aspects from the poorly explained plot to the comparatively simplistic sets used. The manner in which his own opinions are expressed through the piece once again make an appearance, but what made ‘Spirited Away’ so strong was their subtle usage, painfully absent for a number of scenes. Despite this, the result is still better than many other ‘family’ films I’ve been bored enough to watch and despite this disappointing work in his otherwise impressive history remains worthwhile for fans of Miyazaki.

Sofi is a teenage girl, working at a hat shop with her mother, and it is walking aroun…

Spirited Away

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Title: Spirited Away
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Animation, Adventure
Director: Hayao Miyazaki
Language: Japanese

From the acclaimed writer and director of ‘Princess Mononoke’ comes a new masterpiece that tops it. Rich and diverse landscapes are presented from the opening scenes, filled with creative creatures large and small in an immersive world of fantasy that provides a constant source of intrigue, harking back to the days of ‘Never ending Story’ and ‘Alice in Wonderland,’ and leaving the new Disney endeavours in the dust. But this isn’t a simple ‘family film’ like so many others of recent years – intended for children to drag unwilling parents to it – the characters are memorable and instantly lovable, all with their good traits and bad, and no overtly ‘evil’ character they deliver a crash course on how to face new surroundings with more than a few hidden meanings.

Taking a shortcut through the undergrowth to her new home, Chihiro – a 10 year old girl – is being reluctantly dragged along to fac…

Kagemusha

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Title: Kagemusha
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Historical Drama
Starring: Tatsuya Nakadai
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Language: Japanese
Released: 1980

Kurosawa has become known as one of the most celebrated Japanese directors amongst western audiences, most notably with “Rashomon” and “Seven Samurai,” I must confess this is my first foray into his works and the conclusion is a complete disappointment. Knowing my predisposition towards films shot in black and white for non-artistic reasons, this later work shot in colour, requiring assistance from notable directors Spielberg and Coppola to fund this epic ‘masterpiece’ sounded highly promising. Unfortunately the result felt like a triumph of cinematography over story; many of the scenes carefully worked, with lengthy and carefully planned battle sequences taking precedence over the actual plot which ultimately felt detached, and perhaps interesting if not for its overly long (3 hour) running time.

Based on historical events towards the end of the feudal Jap…

The Happiness of the Katakuri’s

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Title: The Happiness of the Katakuri’s
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Musical, Comedy
Starring: Kenji Sawada, Shinji Takeda, Naomi Nishida,
Language: Japanese
Director: Takashi Miike

The Guardian describes this as ‘The Sound of Music meets Dawn of the Dead,’ and I’m inclined to agree. Filled with low-budget clay animations, bizarre musical numbers and an array of gruesome deaths; this is a black comedy that, whilst ultimately feels a shadow of what it could have been, is nothing if not one of the most bizarre and unique films conceived.

The story centres on the Katakuri family, after losing his job, Masao (Sawada) uses his severance pay to buy a small country inn in the mountains with the promise of a major road to be constructed soon, he employs his family; his elderly parents, ex-con son Masayuki (Takeda), recent divorcée daughter Shizue (Nishida) and her daughter, but their problems are only beginning. With the lack of guests, and unfortunate demise of everyone who checks in, they agree to cover it u…

Thirteen

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Title: Thirteen
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Drama
Starring: Holly Hunter, Evan Rachel Wood, Nikki Reed

The childhood of Nikki Reed – by her own admission – could perhaps best be described as “complicated,” yet it was at the tender age of thirteen that she began to write the script for this film, with her own experiences as the blueprints. Chronicling the journey of the perils of peer-pressure with a shocking realism that transcends the normal definition; normally when we refer to realism within a film it is meant that the events could happen. But not here, for as we follow the story of Tracy as she gets caught up in a world of promiscuity and substance abuse, we realise that events such as this does happen.

It is the character of Tracy (Wood) that the film centres around, starting off as a quiet girl, studious, intelligent, and helpful. Enter Evie (Reed), the pretty and popular bad-girl of the school who quickly becomes her role-model. It isn’t long before the two are inseparable, Evie moving in wi…

The Constant Gardner

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Title: The Constant Gardner
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Romantic, Thriller
Starring: Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weisz
Director: Fernando Meirelles

From the director who brought us the sublime ‘City of God’ comes a political thriller with an integral romantic element. Filmed entirely on location – largely in Kenya – the result perhaps feels somewhat disappointing, with a lack of tension built up over the course of the film, it presents a situation that whilst could easily make for a horrific tale of the evil conspiracies of the pharmaceutical industry, fails in presenting something truly shocking or thought provoking, inevitably concluding in a somewhat lacklustre affair.

Following the story of the British diplomat Justin Quayle (Fiennes) sent to Nairobi on business, he takes his wife, Tessa Quayle (Weisz) with him. She quickly becomes entangled in local politics, uncovering a conspiracy that many in a position of power wish to be kept secret, it isn’t long until her unfortunate demise at the hands of t…

Chronicles of Riddick

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Title: Chronicles of Riddick
Rating: 2/5
Genre: Action, Sci Fi
Starring: Vin Diesel, Colm Feore, Karl Urban, Judi Dench

With the recently reviewed ‘Pitch Black,’ it only feels natural I should conclude with the wholly unsatisfying sequel. With a far larger budget under their belt they continue to explore the universe that we find our anti-hero trapped in, and whilst they do indeed succeed in exploring it we find ourselves limited to a large number of effects shots of the various planets. Rather than explain the worlds and the characters nature, we instead find that their big budget has gone on elaborate use of CGI, which whilst impressive leaves a lot to be desired.

Once more Riddick (Diesel) is thrust into a dark world he tried to distance himself from, set about a decade after the original events the world once again calls upon him, the last survivor of his alien race of ‘furyons,’ destined to overthrow the religious armies of the necromongers on their unholy crusade, converting worlds t…

Pitch Black

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Title: Pitch Black
Rating: 4/5
Genre: Action, Horror, Sci Fi
Starring: Vin Diesel, Radha Mitchell

One I expect to receive a difference of opinion upon, I have long considered this to be one of the better films in the genre, but not for delivering upon what you expect. In fact, in terms of action, it seems to deliver upon little, and the horror takes a far more psychological nature, a constant undercutting tension between the characters escalated by the situation which we face. With perhaps a fairly hefty kinship to the ‘Alien’ films, it nonetheless proves itself at the least equal to the best of the sequels the series has produced.

Things hot up quickly when a passenger convoy is damaged by a meteor shower and makes an impromptu crash landing upon a desolate desert planet much of the film takes place. With Riddick (Diesel) on board for a one way trip to the prison, being escorted by Johns (Hauser), the captain killed in the crash and ships pilot (Fry) resuming much of his responsibilities,…

Header

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Title: Header
Rating: 2.5/5
Genre: Horror
Starring: Jake Suffian, Elliot V. Kotek, Dick Mullaney
Director: Archibald Flancranstin
Duration: 89 mins

Sexual perversion in horror films is nothing new. In Buio Omega and Nekromantik we have extreme cases of necrophilia. In Emanuelle in America we have some bestiality with a horse named Pedro. And in Peter Jackson's Dead Alive (aka Braindead) we have a banging zombie priest. Nothing is sacred anymore and nothing easily disgusts an already jaded audience. I suppose the same can be said for the adaptation of Edward Lee's chapbook "Header," but it's sheer, twisted audacity alone will have people flinching again.

Hillbilly Travis Tuckton has just been released from prison and pays a surprise visit to his footless grandpappy, a shoemaker. Travis' one question to his grandpappy that has been bugging him during his stay in the big house is what a "header" is. His grandpappy explains that when two families are feudin…

Public Enemies

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Title: Public Enemies
Rating: 3.5/5
Genre: Crime/Drama
Starring: Johnny Depp, Christian Bale, Marion Cotillard, Stephen Dorff, Billy Crudup, Stephen Graham
Director: Michael Mann
Duration: 139 mins

***SPOILER ALERT***

In 1933, John Dillinger (Johnny Depp) launches a crime wave that captures the whole nation's attention, as well that of the fledgling Bureau of Investigation--not yet known as the FBI--led by Director J. Edgar Hoover (Billy Crudup). Hoover sends Special Agent Melvin "Little Mel" Purvis (Christian Bale), fresh from the elimination of Pretty Boy Floyd (a barely-there cameo by Channing Tatum) from the famous "Public Enemies" list, to put an end to Dillinger's spree. Purvis and his men are consistently outgunned by Dillinger's gang, so they turn to new (at the time) crime-fighting tactics (such as wire-tapping and cross-referencing evidence, as well as out-and-out torture of captured suspects), to run the criminals to ground.

Meanwhile, Dillinger, now…

Decampitated

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Title: Decampitated
Rating: 2.5/5
Genre: Comedy
Starring: Mike Hart, Jonathan Scott, Bethany La Voo
Director: Matt Cunningham
Duration: 90 mins

"Advil won't help you now... KA-CHANG!"

For the most part, horror comedies have been given a bad name by those that fall under the "horror spoof" category. Scary Movie was a sad attempt at bringing back the Airplane-humor we all love, as was the knock-off Shriek If You Know What I Did Last Friday the 13th. The recent torture-porn spoof, Otis, was also a let-down. Horror spoofs may have had a humble beginning with Student Bodies, but if you learn anything from me it's that 99% of them suck (exception being Sleepaway Camp 2: Unhappy Campers). When horror comedies are not satirizing sacred slasher icons, they usually fail at combining horror and comedy (exceptions here are Hatchet, Dr. Giggles, and Evil Dead II). So what are we to do? Well, luckily there are some "splatstick" comedies out there that completely elimi…

There Will Be Blood

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Title: There Will Be Blood
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Drama, Thriller
Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Paul Dano

“I have a competition in me. I want no one else to succeed. I hate most people.”

People who have been following the films I review will likely have noticed three things; I have a keen interest in ‘intelligent’ cinema; the independently produced, low-budget but thought provoking, perhaps confusing, but always built around a strength of script and story over actors (often outside of the much loathed Hollywood). I also have a keen interest in foreign – most notable Asian – cinema, and finally (but not least important) I cannot stand period drama’s, finding the accents frustrating, the plots tedious and the characters impossible to relate to in any way. The decision to watch this film was an unusual one, and I can’t entirely recall what made my decision, being not just a period drama but a Hollywood period drama at that, but it certainly was not one I regret. Where normally I find tedious medioc…

Nosferatu

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Title: Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens (Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror)
Rating: 5/5
Genre: Horror
Starring: Max Schreck
Language: German

To continue with my "F.W. Marnau" theme, I can't forget this masterpiece of a film, "Nosferatu". Although it retains the basic plot keys of "Bram Stoker's Dracula", I don't think the film makers wanted to truly adapt the novel, but got an inspiration and made something different, in a good way that is. This film is the most realistic and best vampire film I have ever seen. There's always an eerie feeling that manifests itself every time "Count Orlock" (Schreck) appears on screen. Just watching him makes us forget anything related to acting or the actor, but we are spellbinded by "It". Forget the whole captivating, attractive, and seductive vampires we see on screen, replace them with plague and disease and the ugliness of nightmares. This film proves to us, yet again, how "…

The Gift

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Title: The Gift
Rating: 3/5
Genre: Mystery, Thiller, Horror
Starring: Cate Blanchett, Giovanni Ribisi, Keanu Reaves, Katie Holmes, Greg Kinnear, Hilary Swank
Director: Sam Raimi

“You're the soul of this town, Ms Wilson, and you just need to keep doing what you are doing.”

From the man who’s early work saw the rise in the ‘Evil Dead’ trilogy, and later work the atrocities of the ‘Spiderman’ series, this sits squarely in between both in the date it was released (2000) and in quality. Hardly a low budget film with a plethora of capable cast members who – perhaps in a break of tradition – are capable of dragging what could easily have been an atrocity from the depths of mediocrity. The mystery element is too predictable; the ‘twists’ virtually revealed well before their actual unveiling, and the horror element too failed at providing anything remotely haunting. Instead it is the strength of the characters, each unique with their own problems that never fails to captivate as we explore their…