Reel Overseas A Community Built Around Foreign Films <![CDATA[ Can't Live at All....Without Paying the Full Price]]> Serial Experiments Lain”, director Hiroshi Hamasaki’s cyberpunk anime series “Texhnolyze” is a surreal, alienating anime series that seeks to push its limits and can prove to be taxing to the casual anime viewer.

Many years ago, humankind had fled underground and has created a new society. The descendants of those who founded this world is now ruled by the Yakuza alliance called the Organo and kept alive for the purpose of mining Raffia, a miraculous moss that grows beneath the city of Lux. This city is a barely controlled society with the Racan, the Salvation Union and the Organo seeking supremacy. Life in Lux is harsh, but for those who are able to afford it, it isn’t so bad. People can replace lost body parts with the use of a mystic science called “Texhnolozation”.


The focus of the series of the series is an orphan turned pit fighter named Ichise (Satoshi Haga) loses his right arm and left leg, who through the stroke of fate is saved by a woman (Shizumi Miki) through the use of a new form of ‘texhnolyze’ science. With his new limbs, Ichise is taken under the wing of the leader of the Organo, Onishi (Takashi Inoue) as he is drawn to a battle for territory in the city. But things get even more scary as a young girl who can see the future, Ran (Shizuka Ito) guides him through the darkest shadows of a future. Now with the emergence of war, Ichise must learn the secret of the city of Lux and the world above.

Chiaki Konaka’s screenplay sets such a strong brooding and moody tone that proved fitting to this premise. The first episode had almost no dialogue, as Ichise and Ran were introduced; the writing creates a powerful sense of mystery as to the world that surrounds them. Episodes 1-6 keeps details to a minimum, as the viewer becomes privy to the characters that would play a huge part in its story. By episode 7, the viewer is left with no solid answers, but rather is presented with more things to ponder. Questions presents more questions, as the direction creates a sleepy yet magnetic tension. Admittedly, the series’ pacing is very slow and only until it reaches episode 8, does the pace pick up a little, as the blood and violence begin to show its ugly face. From episode 12 and on, the story begins to unwrap and what was seen before reaches its climactic finale.


The series can indeed be alienating and the pacing rather testing. It has an abundance of themes that is relevant to how we see our lives. Technology can indeed be humanity’s friend, but it is also a way to lose sight of what truly is, and it can lead to doom. Humanity requires a form of order to try and hide the possibilities of chaos, even the illusion of order and control may be enough or be important for one to live? There were also several subtle symbolisms that could be seen in the visual imagery. This may aid with the series’ comprehension in many ways. “Texhnolyze” is a series that requires attention, since it has a lot of things to read into, rather than simply watch. It is also quite graphic and even has some things that proved disturbing; incest, rape, and mutilations are rich in the series. However, the writing and the direction makes such things necessary parts in its story. They did not feel cheap or set only to provoke a reaction, but rather the brutality and mature themes were essential parts of its characterization.

There is quite a number of characters in the series, and while the focus was on Ichise, Ran, Onishi and “Doc”, secondary players such as Shinji (Shinya Kitade), Yoshii (Takashi Tsuchida), Toyama and Sage (Takahiro Koyama) proved just as essential to the development of its story. The direction and the script made a successful gamble; while some may see it as being unfocused and rather incoherent, I saw the way the plot was developed through characters’ experiences, just how it created a mystery, and how their motivations were masked, the viewer was given a chance to ponder and be involved with what the characters were going through. The characters were small pieces of what was coming into play, as if a universe governed what was being seen. It is a unique gamble that paid off, as I was made to feel the emotions that could be going through each sequence. Hey, I do have to admit that there were times that I became a little frustrated, and really, this is not the type of anime one should watch after a tiresome day.


The animation of the series had a gloomy aura and it aided with the delivery of its more depressing mood. Colors were muted and there were times that some frames were more grainy than the others. The character designs by Yoshitoshi Abe looked rather photo-realistic, and did not have the over-expressive eyes that has become a familiar staple to anime. Narratively and physically, the direction made a flow as if there is no joy in the world; there is a haunting atmosphere to its cinematography, as he maneuvers his camerawork with a form of reluctance. The story is told with an almost mechanical style, as if the direction was trying to communicate with a foreboding feeling of dread and ruin. The set pieces were very good, they are dirty and depressing, and yet, the artfully stylized atrocities speak a lot of a form of celestial inescapability.

“Texhnolyze” can be rather testing to one who is an inexperienced anime watcher, since it is a form of cinema. It feels as if a gloom had come over its viewer and yet, somehow, the series is magnetic. There is something really smart around the corners of its story, and it does communicate the price of human flesh and just how extinction can come in the form of a whimper even when it comes in a bang. The creators were able to communicate a grand intellectual vision of extinction and its disturbing implications. I mean, with the surface dwellers abandoning their need of flesh, to become technological phantoms in an almost perfect world, while the bottom-dwellers cling to their needs of the flesh has a very mean statement of nihilism. It is a vision of a future that is poignant, intelligent and should not be missed. No, the series is not for everyone, and it is more haunting than entertaining, but having minds provoked is a monumental achievement, whether you agree to this vision or not. Highly Recommended. [4 ½ Out of 5 Stars]

 ]]> Thu, 12 Sep 2013 05:36:22 +0000
<![CDATA[Wicked City Quick Tip by FM_ALEX]]> Thu, 29 Aug 2013 07:00:01 +0000 <![CDATA[ THIS IS A WICKED CITY]]>


Many things have been said about this film based on a book and directed by "Ninja Scroll" director Yoshiaki Kawajiri. Things like "disgusting", "classic", "dark", "horrible", "great" and so on, many different opinions. Well I am somewhere in between all of that although I think anyone would agree with the dark thing, because it is. This is one of those films that will shock you if you don't know what type of flick you are getting into. You could throw it in there with the hentai type of Anime but that is only half of what the film is.

The people of Erath have been sharing their world with that of the "Black World" which the realm of demons. To help keep things peaceful between the two there is a group called the "Black Guard" and a new treaty needs to be signed. So a member from each realm [Taki {male human} & Mackie{female demon}] must come together to protect a negotiator until he can make the treaty happen. But radicals from the "Dark World" will stop at nothing to make sure that does not happen.

This film is full of atmosphere and style and of course all of it is dark. The horror element here is probably the strongest thing the film has going for it. The occult like story helps maintain your interest in the film even when things seem out of place. Now I am sure that when I say that most people will assume I am speaking of the sex related moments in the film. That is not true and while I think the film would have been fine without them the tone and nature of the film lend to the scenes. I am speaking of the comedic moments, which at times are funny but do not fit. This of course comes mostly from Giuseppi Mayart who is the guy the "Black Guard" must protect. I must say that he would be right at home on "Dragon Ball Z" alongside Master Roshi. Trust me if you have seen both then you will know what I am talking about.

Then of course we get the action which is good as is the animation, I kinda miss these older drawn ones. There is a nice twist towards the end that leads to a good battle but you will see for yourself. Still regardless this film just seems average to me which is good, it is not horrible. The demons are cool and the look of the film is just as good. There is one female demon here that would have been a big fan of the film "Teeth". Of course there are moments when you will be saying to yourself "why does this not make sense" and all I have to say is wait for the end, it becomes clear. Also on a side note Taki and Mackie were voiced in the dud by a mother and son acting team.

This isn't a bad film and for some people might be a great film. For me it is just a cool Anime, a good if average flick. If you don't mind rape and violent scenes in your Anime then this is for you indeed. But if you like the kid friendlier stuff then stay away. This has some cool stuff in it that make me want to recommend it to anyone who has yet to see it. But like I said it may not be for everyone, decide for yourself.

]]> Thu, 29 Aug 2013 06:59:40 +0000
<![CDATA[Serial Experiments Lain Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]>
This anime has it all, tonal and artistic consistency (consistently serious), solid story and character development, great animation and art direction, solid background music, and brain-twisting concepts for the serious anime fan who craves anime that lives up to its "thought-provoking" bill.

This anime covers a lot of ground in its 325 minute runtime, and despite so much content in a relatively short time, nothing feels rushed or forced.  Inversely, there's been several anime titles with much longer running lengths that feel horribly rushed and incomplete due to abysmal writing and directing.

If you love cyberpunk and brain-twisting anime that's totally serious throughout the whole running length, then Serial Experiments Lain is essential viewing.]]> Thu, 13 Jun 2013 17:06:21 +0000
<![CDATA[The Girl Who Played with Fire (2010 movie) Quick Tip by TheJohn]]> Thu, 6 Jun 2013 17:58:35 +0000 <![CDATA[ An amazing film!]]> Simon Pegg plays a London police officer who is too good at his job. After making the other London police officers look bad, his boss decides to send him to a small town in the country side, where he joins the local police force. However, after some mysterious 'accidents' he find that his new life won't be as boring as he thought.

Full of action and gore, this comedy is definitely one for the horror/mystery fans out there. To get the most out of your viewing experience I recommend playing close attention to the film- as like all Simon Pegg's films the humour is subtle, but brilliant.]]> Wed, 5 Jun 2013 14:48:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ Sweeden's bright skies wiped away the sickening green night. How does that make you feel?]]>
I won't completely retread the story as I've talked about it in the 2011 version but for the story centers on Swedish magazine publisher Mikael Blomkvist who has just gotten a jail sentence and fines for libel against a shifty company-this does little to dissuade Henrik Vagner, a wealthy businessman up North who admires Mikael's tenacity for finding the truth and wants him to uncover the death of his niece 40 years ago, which has troubled him ever since.  If Mikael can find the answer before going to jail, he is promised a huge financial reward.

Meanwhile, Lisbeth Salander a punk girl with supreme hacking talents is a ward of the state for past mental problems and other troubles and when her caretaker becomes ill, another enters the picture to ruin her life and abuse her.  Lisbeth fights back though and is able to get her life back on track before Mikael enters her life.  He found her out since she investigated Mikael during his trial and since she has already on his case with the missing niece, the two agree to work together and become friends.

Now on paper both movies follow a pretty similar path but where the American one went for tingling atmosphere and creeps under a sick filter, the Swedish one has a more breezy feel.  Scenes of endless pouring over the same photos and living in the cabin are not nearly as big in this original version.  Mikael and Lisbeth make many trips together to investigate related murders which gets them out and moving around more.  More of the Vagner family is opened up and we see more of them.  A subplot involving Mikael's libel and how he lost the case gets touched on, but I can understand why it's left out of the American film.  This movie seems to give you a lot more with different scenes instead of the same ones over and over again.

NOW having said that, the best thing about the story is strangely not as prevalent as it is in the American film, and thats the eponymous girl herself.  Lisbeth in this movie doesn't seem to have as large a role, she gets her character establishing moments early on but once she and Mikael team up, the story does continue on with Mikael in the spotlight with Lisbeth in tow.  Yes we can still pick up on her ticks and attitude and in some changed scenes we pick up more on who she is and where she comes from so we are treated to that at least but in the American film, we see more of her, doing more and we still get the taste of her character.

Both films keep the same flow of the film, and that does include the violence.  Both films torture and rape scenes are present and while the American film will make you squirm more, neither are pleasant.

In the end, it's hard to say which one is truly better but I would say the original film does edge out the American one but ONLY by a smidge. 

The American one has much more of Lisbeth (an awesome character) a stronger mood and atmosphere, and I personally liked the ending more in that one. 

This version, the original foreign film has a story that is simply told better making some better use of scenes to tell more story points and our heroes don't feel so bottled up as they move about more freely and doesn't sit still as long.  It all depends on you're tastes in the end.]]> Tue, 4 Jun 2013 07:29:08 +0000
<![CDATA[ All that is Ghibli is not gold]]>
The story starts out with a very impressive sweeping scene of a ship at sea floundering in a storm as their captain tries desperately to keep it afloat. On board is a wizard who's job it is to calm the seas, but for some reason never really explained he can't remember the words to the right spell. Whether this is because the man is just an idiot, or the captain bought a bargain price wizard, we don't know. But then suddenly a pair of dragons swoop down from the sky and scare the living daylights out of the crew. Cut to the King of this land, as he meets with a counsel of his closest advisers and wise men to consult with them over the dire situation of the country. A plague is spreading, killing sheep and young children, a plague we will never see and that plays no role whatsoever in the movie. Dragons have reentered the world and threaten the future of Earthsea as we know it! Dragons who, again, will not show up again (well, mostly) and play almost no role in the movie. In fact, the entire first part of the film is a waste and seems more a way to please fans of the books instead of for the sake of good story telling. The entire opening could be cut , and should have been, and the movie would haven stronger for it. Really, what good is it? It gives us numerous false conflicts that will play no role in the story, introduces us to characters that won't show up again, ever, and gives to us one of the most half hearted, uninspired, idiotic introductions to a main I've ever seen.

Our hero, Princes Arren, who has been given absolutely no introduction or back story at this point, just runs up to his father, stabs him in the chest, steals his sword, and runs away. All in about a fifteen second scene. No set up, no reason (come to think of it, why he does this is NEVER explained), no build up in tension, nothing. He just runs up, stabs his dad, and steals his sword, supposedly while sticking his tong out and teasing "nanananana" while he ran. Our hero everybody.

I've never read the books, but I've heard a lot of good things about them. It seems at times like Miyazaki tried too hard to throw in the mythology of the world where it didn't belong, and skimmed over more important aspects of it that might have made for a more interesting movie. For instance, slavery is a big part of this world, and directly effects most of the main characters, yet after the first act it plays little to no role in the rest of the story. Why? That would have been WAY better then what they ended up doing. Adaptions can be tricky beasts if you don't have the budget or running time to tell the full story (ala Lord of the Rings) but I never felt a sense of wonder or curiosity about the world or setting, which is absolutely vital when adapting a fantasy series. The mythology of the world, and the rules under which it operates (if indeed there are any at all) are left entirely unexplained which left me confused and dumbfounded at many key moments. Magic, dragons, wizardry, all this is fine so long as they are given rules to follow. Without such rules they are reduced to simply deus ex machina which detract from the world and the story rather then enhance them. To add to this, the idea of The Balance, which apparently holds the world together ala "The One Power" in The Wheel of Time series, is never fleshed out or explained. The characters are constantly talking about how The Balance is being threatened, and must be restored, but we are never given privy to what exactly will happen if it ISN'T restored. This would be fine (though not desired) if the story and characters were strong, but since they are as weak as they are we are left with little to no tension throughout. I didn't care about the characters, the plot took FOREVER to get anywhere, and the stakes were never adequately explained. So tell me, what was there for me to get invested in?

Now to this movies defense it isn't all bad. There is a lot to like though not nearly enough to make up for the flaws. The designs and animation were amazing, bringing back memories of Nausicaa and Princes Mononoke. These films look a lot alike; characters wear similar clothing, the settings are very similar, and the character designs share the same charm and contrast. I absolutely loved this aspect of the film. In addition what few fantasy settings we are shown, such as the town of Hort, are beautifully rendered and imagined. If the entire movie were set there, I might have liked it a lot better. Unfortunately its in only a short portion of the film as the main characters are whisked away to... a farm. Yup, a farm. They had this big huge amazing city right there, and they decide to spend most of the movies time on a farm. AH!

Some of the supporting characters are also pretty good, though non of them to me ever felt like fully realized three dimensional characters. They play their respective roles pretty well, from wise old wizard, to whimsical villain, to caring mother type and emotionally troubled girl. Again though they hardly ever step out of these roles to become real people. Hell even Arren is stuck in one dimensional land, and he's the hero!

Overall Tales from Earthsea is a staggering disappointment. It isn't without its merits, as I've stated above, but no amount of interesting settings or wonderful animation can make up for weak characters and a weak story. Sorry to say, Ghibli has finally made a bad movie.

Replay value; moderate.]]> Sun, 31 Mar 2013 16:55:16 +0000
<![CDATA[ Steampunk goodness, and bipolar characters.]]>
The premise is quite simple, deceptively so even. There are few animes out there which have managed to grab my attention so early, yet lose it so quickly. Dusis and Anatore, two powerful superpowers who dominate what little land is left inhabitable on the planets surface, are at war. To open the series viewers are treated to a gripping opening scene of two fleets of enormous flying battle ships "sailing" side by side, as teams of worthless riflemen fire at one another from ship to ship. Right off the bat the idiocy of the politics in this world are brought to light (and I mean that as a compliment); the riflemen on board serve no useful purpose, they can't sink the enemy ship, they are never used for boarding either, are simply forgotten about after their numbers start to dwindle. They really are not good for anything except catching bullets, yet the captains of these enormous battleships insist on sacrificing them by the hundreds in order to fulfill a sense of chivalry, and "obey the rules of war" as it were. We are thrust into the boots of one lonely foot soldier, huddling afraid in the bowls of the ship as they prepare to open the doors and march out into the line of fire. It is a truly harrowing setting that reminded me not only of the battle formations made famous by Napoleon, but also of the charges across no man's land in WWI. The riflemen fighting all know that their chances of survival are slim, and they know how pointless their sacrifice really is, but they march into the line of fire anyway prepared to give their lives away. It presents a very antiwar message, while also treating audiences to a very beautiful battle scene. Of all the things Last Exile got right, the opening is high amongst them.

Then there are our two main characters, Clause and Lavi who are two orphaned children who've taken up Vanship piloting as a means to support themselves (a Vanship being a sort of airplane with anti-gravity technology of the same kind the battleships use). Of all the characters in the show, early Lavi is my favorite (and there's a big difference between early Lavi and late Lavi). She's a confident, strong, take charge type of characters with a very close relationship to her best friend, Clause. The reason I liked her most I guess is because out of all of them she seemed the most believable. Whereas other characters go around doing stupid things to save girls in distress Lavi early on makes it clear she wants nothing to do with the dangerous missions Clause gets them into. This may seem selfish to some, but it's also the most realistic portrayal in the series. Why should she want to risk her life for a mission she cares nothing about, or people she's never met? No one else seems to have a problem with doing just that, so Lavi's reluctance stood out in stark contrast to the sometimes baffling illogical decisions some of the characters make. But more on that later.

While taking part of a race in their home town Lavi and Clause unwittingly rescue a young girl name Ai (at least that was her name in the sub I watched) and become mixed in with a plot to destroy The Guild, an almost supernaturally powerful organization which controls the technology to all flight. After an all too brief battle with a Guild starship (literally planes that look like stars) they end up on the legendary Battleship Sylivanna captioned by the personality less Captain Alex, his love struck second in command Sophia, and his head fighter pilot the emotionally unbalanced Tatiana and her (supposedly) lesbian lover. Okay, that last part isn't really said outright, but it did give me that vibe. When Clause and Lavi deliver Ai to the Sylivanna, which was their mission from the start, Clause for some reason suddenly distrusts the crew and decides Ai needs rescuing.

And this, in my opinion, is where the show starts to fall apart. See, Clause from the very beginning has no reason to think Ai is in any danger, or that she needs rescuing. In fact the Sylivanna crew just saved Ai from being killed, and were taking her on board their ship for protection. Sure, one of the men handles her kind of roughly, but he's quickly scolded by the Captain for doing so. Despite doing exactly it was he was supposed to do, IE delivering this girl to the Sylivanna, Clause now thinks it a good idea to risk his life, and the life of his best friend, to rescue a girl he hardly knows from the very people he'd risked his life to deliver her to. For no reason.

It's these kinds of lapses in logic that really hold the show back. Characters have little to no motivation to do half of what they do (especially Clause). What's more, their goals and what little motivations they do have are in a state of constant flux, changing from episode to episode. For instance Moran, the rifle man from the beginning of the show, decides after the opening battle to quit his job as a rifleman. This makes sense considering the dire circumstances under which we were introduced to this character. However when they make him a mechanic on the Sylivanna all he does is reminisce about the "good old days" when he served as a rifleman before actually going back to the job he'd made such a big deal about leaving. Why does he want to go back? What is so terrible about being a mechanic on a ship where his captain doesn't useless sacrifice his men? The people he works with are all really cool people, his commanders are descent, and there's very little danger compared to his previous job. So what's the problem, Moran?

Now let's use Clause as another example. First he wants to bring Ai to the Sylivanna, but then he wants to rescue her from it. Then he doesn't want to rescue her, he wants to keep her safe. But then it's not about keeping her safe anymore, it's about "seeing what's in these skies" or some other nonsense like that. What's the end result of all this? Characters who have no idea what they are doing, why they are doing it, or what they wish to accomplish. This is the main problem with the show.

Now to touch on what the show does well. The lore and backstory to Last Exile is really quite interesting. It does a really good job in creating a mystery for the viewers to try to piece together with what little info is given us. What is Exile? What does it do? Hoe does Ai play into all this? How is it that the Guild manages to hold such a stranglehold on the world? Last Exile does not reveal too much too early, which gives us the satisfaction of piecing the mystery together as we go along. But the real treats are the battle scenes. Fleets of huge floating battleships flying through the clouds as they fire their enormous cannons at one another. The battles in this series are some of the best I've seen. If only the show had more battle scenes and less bipolar characters I might be able to justify a higher rating. I also found the tech to be extremely fun. It's a steampunk show, so you already know the general idea, but they use it in such inventive ways (such as a giant listening device that acts like a sonar).

The animation, though passible, is nothing to write home about. It's really quite dull and colorless. A lot of browns, blacks, grey's, more grey, dark grey, white, greyish brown, you get the idea. A little more color might have helped to liven things up a little bit. The music as well I found underwhelming. There are times I found the music to be quite inappropriate for the scene, in fact, and in other cases it was simply too loud. It's not very often that the music actually manages to detract from the overall experience, but I found this the case for Last Exile.

So what's the final verdict? Though I can fully understand why people love this show so much, personally I didn't find it to be all that impressive. The world was interesting, the battles were awesome, and the tech was inventive, but the most important aspect of any story, the characters, just didn't resonate with me. They were too bipolar, too wishy washy, too prone to doing dangerous things for unexplained reasons. The pacing was also quite dull; I honestly think they could have made this into a 13 episode series and it would have been the better for it. There weren't 26 episodes worth of story to tell, so it just seemed to drag at times.

Will I recommend you see it? You betcha. It's a classic anime series which I think most fans of the genra owe it to themselves to see at least once. Will I recommend that you buy it? Well for that the answer is no, especially at the inflated prices anime DVD's go for. It's a good show with many high points and positives that many people will find enjoyable. I personally didn't, but that does not mean you will not.

Replay value; medium.]]> Mon, 4 Mar 2013 14:22:38 +0000
<![CDATA[ Still The Best Movie Based on the "Street Fighter" Video Game Franchise! But....]]>

I was told  that the uncut version has more blood and it included a naked Chun Li in the shower. But let’s talk about that later, since I expect my copy to arrive next week and this copy will fall into the hands of my friend's brother. I guess I need to focus on what made this animated movie so much more entertaining, successful than any of the “Street Fighter” animated series is the fact that it stayed very close to the groundwork/storyline established in the beloved video game. I will credit the English voice cast since this is what was available in this DVD that I am reviewing.




The film begins with Ryu (Hank Smith) and Sagat (David Conrad) duking it out under the cover of night with lightning the only source of illumination. The two fighters trade blows while someone is obviously gathering data from their fight. The fight ends when Ryu plants a huge blow that scars Sagat (oh, there is a lot of blood) on the chest and dispatches him with a blast of chi energy called Haddoken. Years later, Ryu drops off the grid as he wanders Asia looking for fights and to try to help out. Now a criminal organization called Shadowloo led by Bison (Phil Matthews) has surfaced and they have caused unrest after British agent Cammy (S.J. Charvin) kills an important political figure. They are also actively looking for Ryu so that they could enlist them in their evil cause. Hot on the tail of Bison are Guile (Donald Lee) and Chun-Li (Mary Briscoe), who wish to bring him to justice and have vengeance for Bison’s past sins. But Bison is no easy prey as he now has Sagat, Vega (Steve Davis), and a brainwashed Ken Masters (Ted Richards), also Ryu’s closest friend and co-student under his command.

If you are a fan of the video game, then this film would be close to heaven. It was wise for the screenplay by Kenichi Imai to focus on Ryu, Ken, Guile and Chun-Li to develop the core of its premise. It does several things right, it manages to flesh out the roots of Ken and Ryu’s relationship, it was nice to see their rivalry developed in the script. Chun-Li is out to avenge her father while Guile stays true to his original motivation against Bison. Bison is also no slouch in this flick, he is ruthless, powerful and very dangerous. He is indeed the ‘top’ bad guy in this flick. The script keeps its momentum with the development of its named central characters going forward to the final encounter.




What really made me feel that the script wasn’t as smooth or focused was the fact that it tried to do so many things. I know, this is an animated flick about “Street Fighter” and so it was to be expected that characters from the game would make appearances. Some appearances made sense, Fei Long (Philip Williams), Honda (Patrick Gilbert) and Dhalsim (Don Carey) actually build up to its script. Zangief, Blanka, Deejay and T. Hawk also made appearances but they felt more like ‘fodder’ to feed the “Street Fighter” fan. Their appearances felt a little too cheap and really irrelevant. The film could’ve done just as well without them. I also wasn’t too happy with the way Sagat seemed to have been forgotten in the script later on.

Now I am also a sucker for hard-hitting fights and “Street Fighter II” has a lot to spare. The animation work may feel a little dated to today’s standards, it had some perspective issues and seemed choppy when it wasn't moving that fast. But the fight choreograph had enough behind them to make them shine. Ryu vs. Sagat in the beginning of the film defined exactly what this was all about. The Bruce Lee clone, Fei Long also had a one-on-one with the hero Ryu; while the fight was short, it was fun to watch. Chun-Li even had a good battle with Vega. Now I wasn’t too happy with the battle between Balrog and Honda, or Honda’s run-in with Dhalsim, but they all added to the build up. The Ryu vs. Ken, and then the Ryu and Ken vs. Bison is the film’s bread and butter. The fight was exciting with all the use of their powers and skills. The film made Bison exactly how I imagined him to be; tough, dangerous and relentless that it took both Ryu and Ken to fight him. Also, as an added treat for fans, the characters get to use their 'signature moves' from the video games. The music was also engaging as it reflected the mood and tempo of the sequences.



Yes, this film was flawed and the script while competent had a lot of rough areas. To its credit, it did a lot of things right to cover up its weaknesses in plotting. The spirit of KARATE was competently portrayed, Chun-Li had her moment to show her stuff, and while Guile was underwritten, he made up for it with his brief clash with Bison. What I really liked about the film was the animated fight choreography and it was good to see Ryu and Ken in all their glory. Bison was a great bad guy too and it helped define the Ken-Ryu dynamic. Yes, this film is strictly for fans of the franchise, as they have the will to truly appreciate what was done here. Come to see the action, don’t expect anything intricate or cerebral and you’ll enjoy this show. It is the best movie made based on the franchise, but unfortunately that is not saying much.

Recommended For Fans [3 ½ Out of 5 Stars]                  


              Street Fighter II: The Animated Movie




           ]]> Mon, 25 Feb 2013 06:52:28 +0000
<![CDATA[ That Obscure Object of One Man's Vision]]>

Oh, you devilish French people!  What with all of your obsession with, well, obsession!  Men and women constantly throwing themselves at one another!  Sex, sultry sex, and more sensational sensual sex!  How refreshing it is to come across a slightly older classic that shows not all of you – young or old – are constantly happily copulating with one another twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week!  How delightful it is to discover that those rare few of you are doing little more than emotionally torturing the one you presumably love, once and for all proving that the rest of us may very well have a chance to stand toe-to-toe with you in matters of carnal conquest and rejection!
(Not that there’s anything wrong with it …)
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters.  If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment.  If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE is the story of an older man named Mathieu (played by Fernando Rey) who becomes smitten with his new maid-servant, Conchita (played in alternating appearances by two actresses: Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina).  Initially, she spurns his advances – even runs from his affections – only causing the man to be increasingly captivated by her.  As their relationship grows (or does it?), the two continue a bizarre mating game, one that borders the lands of faithlessness and self-destruction, until there’s nothing left for a possible happy union.
After watching the film, I had to do some research as, for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out just what Spanish director Luis Bunuel (who also co-wrote this adaptation with Jean-Claude Carriere) was trying to say artistically in casting two separate women to play the same role.  Over the course of the story, Bouquet and Molina appear interchangeably as Conchita for no particular rhyme or reason I could fathom.  The best I’ve been able to ascertain is that Bunuel was a surrealist (an art form characterized by “subconscious or nonrational significance of imagery arrived at by … the exploitation of … unexpected juxtapositions”), the goal of which would appear to invoke a ‘dream state’ under which one’s conscious mind has no influence.
Well …
The best this unschooled mind has been able to put together is that, by casting two different women, Bunuel hoped to keep the audience (and his characters) in a persistent state of flux where illogical emotion could wreck havoc on these people.  Conchita – regardless of who’s playing her – frequently uses her feminine charms to arouse Mathieu; but she – regardless of who’s playing her – never gives in to him sexually.  In fact, the close she comes – so far as the film implies – is that he allows him to lie partially naked with her in bed.  When he proposes alternative ways of gratification, she spurns him further, shutting him out of his bedroom or even locking him out of the house.
Also, the two actresses are of different heritage – Bouquet is as French as a woman can possibly be, while Molina is the more sultry Spanish beauty.  This could imply that Mathieu’s attraction either might or might not be related to cultural normalcy (i.e. dating or marrying within one’s nationality).  Certainly, the women are both attractive but possess markedly differing physical traits, also suggesting that perhaps there is no universal body type provoking man’s desire.
The thrust of DESIRE would be to suggest that satisfaction isn’t possibly attainable – at least not for any measureable duration – because there are no constants that can be added up in any magic formula to display sexual fulfillment.  There are only variables – variables which change from place to place, from person to person, even from time to time – and, as such, lasting happiness will always be close enough to touch but never quite within man’s reach.
Lastly, there’s an odd juxtaposition of scenes in the film’s climax that bear further exploration, as I believe they underscore whatever idea Bunuel was reaching to say with his final film.  Mathieu and Conchita appear to have reconciled, and they’re shown in an alley perusing windows of some small French shops.  Together, they’re drawn to one display where a delicate woman patiently mends a tear in an elaborate woven dress.  Bunuel focuses on this scene for quite some time, and then we’re shown our two leads – up in the corner of the frame – speaking with one another, but the audience no longer hears what they’re saying (they’re on the outside of the glass window pane).  Are they speaking about the dress?  Are they reflecting on their relationship?  Are they debating stitching choices?  Conchita frowns and walks away, then Mathieu frowns and follows, but – in the last image – we’re shown an explosion (a radio report playing in the background discussed mounting terrorist attacks in the city only moments before) … and that’s the end.
What I suspect – I could be wrong – Bunuel was saying is that even when the process of mending is under way, there will always be elements that pull us apart, that force us in other directions.  This would imply that we’re never truly under control of ourselves or our existence – that we’re always subject to the randomness of life – and perhaps this would imply that the pursuit of fleeting happiness is nothing more than the pursuit of fools.
The film isn’t as depressing as it sounds, though it certainly teeters close.  Psychologically, it’s an interesting study of a very complex idea, though I would have to say it certainly isn’t an idea for everyone.  Scholars might find plenty to get excited over here, but Mathieu sure didn’t.  (Pun intended.)
THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE is produced by Greenwich Film Productions, Les Films Galaxie, and In-Cine Compañía Industrial Cinematográfica.  DVD distribution is being handled by Lionsgate.  As for the technical specifications, this Blu-ray release looks and sounds very good, though I experienced one sequence late in the film the seemed a bit out-of-sync (for a few brief seconds); I have to wonder if that wasn’t a production issue back to the original film.  This is a French spoken language release (with English subtitles), but there is an English-dubbed track available.  Lastly, the disk includes a nice assortment of special features: “Arbitrary Desire” (an interview with screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrier); an interview with Carlos Saura; “Double Dames” (interviews with actresses Carole Bouquet and Angela Molina); and “A Portrait of Luis Bunuel” which is an in-depth discussion of the director and his films.  It’s certainly an impressive collection for a film of such distinction.
RECOMMENDED.  As I indicated above, this one isn’t for everyone.  While there’s a clear narrative at work here, so much of THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE is the study of an idea.  It’s a surreal investigation into the art of seduction and repulsion – of how love leads to hate and vice versa.  All of the players do a solid job, but I suspect the ending will leave more folks conflicted than they are happy, which is probably just what the director wanted.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Lionsgate provided me with a DVD screener of THAT OBSCURE OBJECT OF DESIRE for the expressed purposes of completing this review.]]> Thu, 7 Feb 2013 21:56:40 +0000
<![CDATA[ One of the biggest braintwisters I've ever seen. 94%]]>
Serial Experiments Lain has been one of those anime titles I've heard of ever since I got into anime back in July of 2002, but never checked out since from the surface, didn't look all that appealing to me at the time. I made a gamble when Funimation was reissuing this anime by pre-ordering it on Amazon a few months back, got it on release date, and just finished watching it. I guess after suffering a few months back from that puke-inducing animated swill known as High School of the Dead, a cerebral anime like this was just what I needed. As you can see by my rating, I was really glad to have seen this.

Before I kick off the review, I should suggest to potential viewers that before watching it (if you want to see it), that you get yourself a lot of coffee and M&Ms (or whatever caffeinated and sugary food/beverages you like) when you watch Serial Experiments Lain, not because it's boring (quite the opposite), but because this is an anime that will give your brain a good workout.


Serial Experiments Lain is about a young girl named Lain Iwakura, who at first appears to be a shy, lukewarm junior high school student. After receiving a Navi (a computer connected to the Wired, the anime's version of the internet) from her dad, she soon finds herself engrossed in the Wired and embarks on a journey where the virtual world and reality are blurred. In this journey, many mind-bending things will happen and her personality will alter in so many ways. Along the way, she finds out of a power struggle between a mysterious group of hackers known as the Knights of Eastern Calculus and the Tachibana corporation.


I though the way the characters were handled in this anime was well done. The focus is mostly on Lain, and at first, she seems like a shy girl devoid of any personality. However, as her immersion in the Wired gets deeper, many bolder personalities of Lain are embodied. I was pleased with how Lain's school friends (Alice, Julie, and Reika) were handled, since they felt like teenage girls, but at the same time, this anime didn't bombard you with a bunch of sappy teenage school drama coming from these girls' mouths, which would have been a huge distraction from the central parts of the story.

Other characters, like Lain's family, have believable, well-established personalities that get altered when the real world and the Wired are altered with, and these changes work out really well in the context of the story.


Since Serial Experiments Lain is an anime that's heavily entrenched in philosophy and the rapid evolution of computer and electronic networking technology.

I'll be honest here and say that so many things have happened in this anime, that I'll need to watch it again at least once to get a full grasp of this, but I was able to comprehend this well enough to know what happened and what some things mean.

This anime's most prominent theme is that it's almost like a warning to people about over-reliance on computerized electronic communications. I thought this type of “warning” was tastefully-done since it's not shoved in your face and isn't sanctimonious about it. I guess you could say the core message with this theme is that over-reliance on the Wired (or internet) will diminish one's humanity. I think it's crazy that this was made in 1998 yet the themes of technology are still relevant today.

Religion is another theme tackled in this anime, and without spoiling anything, some of the discussion between Lain and Eiri (who calls himself “God”) will make ponderous folks happy.

There was also real history about the first computers and electronic networks that would tie into the foundation for the Wired, and I thought this combination was ace since these meshed perfectly and shows it has some proper learning of important history.


While not being an outright horror anime, there are some horror elements used in it to illustrate the psychological deterioration Lain and others go through in this anime. One of the creepiest was on Layer 09: Protocol, where an alien in a red and green sweater peaks into Lain's room and creeps her out.

Another horror scene that creeped me out a lot was when Mika (Lain's older sister) starts hallucinating in a fast food joint, and when in the bathroom, is forced into seeing “Fulfill your destiny!” scribed on the stall door.

What I find funny about the scant horror scenes in it is that there's horrible anime like Elfen Lied that constantly bombard you with gore, trying to pass it off as scary, and while the horror scenes in Serial Experiments Lain had very little to no blood in them, were far more unnerving than anything the likes of Elfen Lied, Gantz, or High School of the Dead could throw at you.


The animation and artwork for this is stunning. With this being an anime from the late 90's, this was one of the last pieces of anime that would have had traditional cel animation in it, and incorporated a lot of fusion with CGI and real photographs and film passed through various filters. The combination of these visual elements help reinforce the strong themes of technological takeover and of the overall cerebral nature of the show.

While the looks of the computers and other electronics look a little dated by today's world of thin supercomputers and smartphones, they almost seem like the foundation of the technology we take for granted. Lain's Navi can view video from the Wired without excessive buffer times and even has voice recognition for the password and cellphones have email capacity, which I thought was pretty visionary for its time. Also, Lain's Navi is hooked to a series of other computers and cooling machines to make it look like a menacing entity taking over Lain's life.

I have to give props to Yoshitoshi ABe's (yes, the “b” in his last name is capitalized) character designs since they largely lean more towards “realistic” human looks while still have a strong “anime” air to them.


The soundtrack here is a little of a mixed bag, but thankfully leans more towards the good side. I found the intro and outro music to be pretty unremarkable, but the background music in the episodes is quite good. There's heavy use of ambient electronic music and even some more aggressive tones in this niche, that perfectly match the setting of this anime. There's some other styles of music in some episodes, such as in the last Layer, that featured a good deal of instrumental psychedelic rock pretty reminiscent to Jimi Hendrix.


One of the things that really made me happy about Serial Experiments Lain is that the creators took this show really seriously and didn't try to inject scenes of redundant humor with exaggerated, goofy faces and chibi deformations. There's also no terminally-unfunny moments revolving around the female body trying to be funny. The totally serious, mature presentation of this anime made it extremely enjoyable.


While I'd recommend this anime to adults for its cognitive content, the visual content is essentially suitable to anyone 14 or older. The most “extreme” bits in this anime was when there is a shootout at the Cyberia nightclub, with a little bit of blood flowing on the floor, and some tastefully-done nudity in another where Lain is seen naked in the sky, but no private areas were illustrated on her.


This was one of the best and most rewarding anime titles I've seen in at least three years, and would even rank it as one of the best anime titles you can find. If you're in the market for an anime that's totally serious in execution and will really get your brain juices flowing, then Serial Experiments Lain is essential to your collection.

]]> Sat, 12 Jan 2013 07:26:30 +0000
<![CDATA[ A South Korean Horror Film That Loses Little "Face"....]]>
Lee Hyun-Min (Shin Hyeon Jun) is a sculptor but not your usual artist. He is the kind who assists the police to reconstruct skulls in order to recreate a "face". Hyun-Min's daughter is just recovering from a heart transplant and Hyun-Min needs to take a sabbatical. Unfortunately, a serial killer is on the loose and he has a very distinct way of eliminating the bodies that will require his expertise. Aided by a beautiful aspiring facial reconstructive sculptor; Jun Sun-Young (Sung Yu-ah), what he stumbles upon is something more sinister than he could have imagined--that involves human organs and the supernatural.

The film is full of atmosphere and it exudes creepiness. Of course, the long-haired ghost makes an appearance, and those scenes are quite creepy in its own way. The usual formulas are present as the ghost gives the main character the feeling of dread. The appearances of the ghost were puzzling and at the same time it arouses my curiosity enough to see just where everything is headed. However, this is not your typical ghost movie and the film does attempt to find its "heart". The film is also a murder mystery and it focuses more on this premise rather than the ghost itself. Most of its proceedings involve investigation and the scares are there only to provide some reminder of the supernatural's presence.

The problems with "FACE" is that it seemed to have pitched too many ideas with potential but it ended up not developing each one with credibility. The visions experienced by Hyun-Min's child has so severely underdeveloped that it seemed like a cheap way to induce the usual scares. True, it may make some sense in the climax but it somehow didn't add anything more to the film's pace. Also, the film may have showed its hand too soon. I would have preferred its `shock value' to be revealed perhaps after everything has slowed down. The direction was competent enough but it just didn't play its `aces' well.

The film is also decently acted as Shin Hyeon-Jun is by no means a slouch in his performance. The man has done comedies (Guns and Talks) and action epics (Bichunmoo); now he tries his hand at horror. He does a decent performance despite that he has so little to work with, he was rather convincing as the single father of an ailing child. Pretty Song Yu-Ah is the most intriguing character in the film. She is lovely, smart and exudes that "girl next door look". The blossoming feelings that start to surface between the two isn't surprising; this is a Korean film so expect the a "bittersweet" resolution to all of this.

"Face" is a decent horror movie from South Korea. The plot does have some holes when you nit-pick each one and its direction needed to be more coherent and solid. There were times that I felt that the script was just running all over the place. The supposed `shocking' revelation lost some of its effect because it showed its hand too soon that it felt like a throw-away detail. I was rather disappointed that the direction didn't play all its cards right. On a film like this, timing is everything. On the plus side, the film is quite touching in its own way and plays its theme of love and devotion successfully. The film isn't really that bad but thankfully it wasn't a lot worse.

Recommended with caution, Rent it first. [3 Out of 5 Stars]
This review was originally posted in amazon on July, 2008

]]> Tue, 16 Oct 2012 22:32:38 +0000
What is a nightmare but a string of unexplainable, sometimes unrelated events that awaken the most negative of emotions from within us whilst we are not actually, in fact, awake? Nightmares are often scary because they are overwhelming to the senses when we recall them; unexplainable, illogical, and wholly unpredictable. If this is what a nightmare truly is, then Dario Argento's "Suspiria" is a nightmare caught on celluloid. But then again, so were most of the better films that defined the Italian "Giallo" genre; a horror sub-genre devoted to colorful, hyper-violent and stylized pictures that had an appeal with those movie-goers seeking complete sensory overload. Argento's film is not only one of the most influential and important of its genre, but also one of the most frightening. It utilizes the dream logic that distinguishes most Giallos from contemporary horror fare to full effect.

Suzy Banyon (Jessica Harper), a ballet student, has recently been accepted into the prestigious Black Forrest Academy for Dance in Munich, Germany. She takes the taxi from the airport to the academy building but a woman inside shoos her away after another girl, obviously hysteric and muttering to herself nonsensical words, runs far into the woods, into the night. Suzy spends the night in town. The girl who ran off does likewise. On that same night, she is attacked by a force that goes unseen accept for a very hairy arm, which is used to drive a knife into her chest repeatedly, until finally she comes crashing through a glass ceiling hanging by a noose, which chokes her to death. The girl's friend is also killed.

Suzy receives word of this when she finally gets into the academy the following morning. It's then that she meets Madame Blanc (Joan Bennett) and Miss Tanner (Alida Valli) as well as some fellow students of dance, one of whom - a girl named Sarah - Suzy shall be staying with until her room inside the main building is ready. Night and day, strange things begin to happen; although mostly exclusive to the cold, cold night. During the day, the academy's cook (who looks strangely like Timothy Spall in drag) gives off strange and creepy vibes; whilst come night, there's a maggot infestation and odd noises are heard faintly in the dark. Suzy, along with a friend that she has recently acquired named Sarah, is just curiously crazy enough to want to see if everything is quite alright with these people who run the place.

Footsteps are heard at night going in the opposite direction of the school's entry (which would also be its exit). It's no secret what the big reveal is, so I might as well just go ahead (cover your ears, "Suspiria" virgins); the teachers at the school are in a coven of witches headed by the ugly-as-all-fuck Helena Markos. I won't spoil their intentions, because even those aren't entirely clear at first glance, but it's pretty obvious that they'll stop at nothing to get what they want, even if that means killing anyone who dares go down the rabbit hole that leads to the school's worst-kept-secret. It all ends with one of the most bat-shit insane finales...probably ever.

Critics of the Giallo sub-genre have noted that pretty much all of the films involved in it - even the most important ones - are classic cases of style over substance. As always, I really can't argue against that; "Suspiria", like the rest, abandons most logic and deep characterization in favor of its mood, atmosphere, and absolute unease. But that really does contribute to the nightmarish nature of the film; it doesn't really make complete sense half of the time, but it's more frightening that way. I'm generally more scared of those things that I can't explain; of which there just aren't enough in horror films these days. "Suspiria" can be viewed as an adult fairy tale; it's grotesque and violent enough to make the squeamish, well, squeamish - but it's also so colorful and vibrant. Suzy is basically on her own; these weird and terrible things are happening all around her, yet there are no authority figures to make her job easier. She must resort to her own wits like a good many Argento female characters before and after her.

I'm in love with the artistic design of the film. It's arguably the best part about it aside from the fairy tale like quality that I mentioned earlier, which I also adore. "Suspiria" has the single best use of elaborate lighting and colors I've seen out of any horror film ever made. Nearly every scene has something visually interesting going for it; be it the architecture, the unnatural shades of red in the blood, or the way that Argento makes something look with his crazy camera angles. This is horror as art. No other film, save for the thematic sequel, also directed by Argento, titled "Inferno", has come close to matching this one in sheer artistry. It's a cinematic experience meant to be shared and cherished, just not by the squeamish. I guess that makes it kind of unconventional in the eyes of many.

"Suspiria" is one of the most distinctive, energetic, artistic, and just-plain-scary horror films I've ever seen. It's absolutely masterful in its craft, as long as one accepts it for the surrealistic slice of nightmare fuel that it intends to be; in that sense, this is what they (being nightmares) are made of. The haunting score by prog-rock masters Goblin helps to make the most creative and gruesome of kills all the more creative and gruesome, and the creepiest scenes all the more creepy. To me, this is what a horror film should be. It should exist on its own, in its own world, as a work of art; like a painting done by some fucked up child of great intellect. Argento's early films demonstrate what happens when you let a brilliantly mad mind run amuck with a film camera. This is seriously brilliant stuff. The posters don't lie. Most people will not be sleeping having just viewed "Suspiria".]]> Sun, 7 Oct 2012 01:27:41 +0000
<![CDATA[ Not bad for a kick-ass zombie action horror-thriller...]]>
If you like your zombies served fast and your action served with a side-dish of brutality; then the French zombie-action film "The Horde" is likely to be your wet dream. Probably not one of your fondest, but a fond one nevertheless. I admire it for just going fucking berserk for long periods of time and thoroughly entertaining my thirst for blood, guts, and the undead while leaving all deep characterization and narrative credibility at the door. As a film for its genre, it is relentless and fast-paced; exciting and hyperactively violent. As a film in general, it is perhaps far too simplistic and forgettable for its own good. But if one is to judge it on the grounds that they should - in this case its own - then one will also discover that it's not all so bad. If you've got at least one quarter of an entire film brimming with at least some artistic inspiration, you've got more than most films these days as it is.

A quartet of French policeman (and one woman) raid an abandoned apartment complex in an act of vengeance against some depraved drug dealers who killed a close friend (whose body is seen dead at the end of the film; or at least we presume it is his). They are overpowered and held captive by the dealers, who are armed with guns, knives, and drugs; but not for long. Just as things are about to heat up, hordes of the undead come crashing through the doors and flooding the hallways. One is enough to kill several of the previously "living"; these are powerful beings that, like most zombies today, have outlived the convention that George Romero popularized of zombies being slow and clumsy. The groups are split up and the remaining cops must team up with the thugs to get out alive.

I think the style, carefully yet recklessly executed by directors Benjamin Rocher and Yannick Dahan, more than makes up for most of the flaws, which include, but are not limited to, the lack of character development and the rapid pacing sometimes getting ahead of itself. The film does stop for a moment in an attempt to conjure up some sort of suspense but it doesn't quite succeed in doing so; the directors think that the style that they possess alone can create tension, but they are wrong. Still, it's a hell of a lot more tense than most Hollywood pictures and I have to commend it for that. Good, bad; it's still worth its weight in blood.

In addition to the weak characters, one of the film's other main weaknesses is its inability to explain the origin of the undead. We see a little excerpt from television but that's about it. Outside on the horizon we see a city exploding right in front of our eyes. Could the zombies themselves be doing this much damage, or is it our attempt to stop them? "The Horde" doesn't have all the answers and doesn't necessarily need some of them, but would have benefitted greatly if it had at least a few. But rational explanations aside, the zombies are nice looking and they can certainly die real good. The gore effects are really great here. There are a number of badass moments that make the film worth checking out on its own: such as a somewhat climactic showdown in a garage and various hallway shootouts. There's also a quirky old man who fights with an axe and can't seem to stop using the word "chink".

But the honest truth is that this isn't a great zombie movie. It isn't even really a good one. But I can't ignore that some considerable craft went into making it; it's just as if the filmmakers were more interested in the effects, the actors (all of whom seem very professional and give good performances), and the camerawork that they had access to over the more important things such as the story and the characters. Nothing but the set-up and the locations are very well drawn out, but that's OK. "The Horde" is gruesome and crazy enough without being particularly interesting or intellectually stimulating. In spite of it being a foreign zombie flick, you'd best leave logic and your criticisms behind. For what it is, I didn't find it boring and it distracted me for a good hour and a half. I know there's a better film to be seen from these filmmakers and I hope it surfaces soon, because "The Horde" indicates a bright future for the both of them so long as next time they develop the substantial elements rather than disregard them all-together.]]> Fri, 17 Aug 2012 17:30:23 +0000
<![CDATA[ Gonzo entertainment! So very very fun.]]>
I love blood. I love guts. I love gore. I love anything (artificial) that flows in large amounts, even if we aren't speaking of bodily fluids. But if we are, then movie blood is what I always crave. The more the merrier is my motto when it comes to such a thing. I'm not easily offended or shocked by movie violence; and in the case of features like "The Evil Dead" and its sequel, the grotesque becomes the darkly comic and absurd. Peter Jackson apparently loves blood, guts, gore, and fake red bodily fluids as much as I do. His early effort "Dead Alive" (known as "Braindead" some places) is an ode or homage to the mere existence of over-the-top movie violence and gore. The whole thing has this real low budget aesthetic to it throughout the first half and that's charming, but what's even more-so is the transition from that to all-out gruesome carnage in the third act.

This is probably one of the most bat-shit insane and violent movies I have ever seen, period. It's such a lively, spontaneous, comic horror farce; it embraces special effects for blood and gore like few films before or after it truly have. And by blood and gore, we're talking organs coming back to life, faces being ripped open and necks suffering from a similar fate, flesh exploding into a frenzy of green goo, and a in a famous scene, a lawnmower meeting with mortal flesh and causing certain disfigurement and mutilation. Was there a line that Jackson ever considered? Because if there was; he not only crosses but disregards it all-together. With "Dead Alive", there simply is no line. And Jackson couldn't give less of a fuck about it.

It starts out with a sequence involving a couple of misguided explorers on the fictional Skull Island who intend to escape with a caged "Rat Monkey", which has a rather nasty bite. Not everyone makes it back alive. Cut to the town of Wellington, New Zealand; where the rat monkey now lives, confined in its cage with the other monkeys at a zoo. It's 1957; and the likably docile Lionel (Timonthy Balme) is living with his elderly mother (Elizabeth Moody) and is being pursued by a helpless romantic foreigner named Paquita (Diana Penalver). The two go to the zoo one day on a date and Lionel's over-protective mother tags along, only to be bitten by the crazed rat monkey. Lionel must take care of her while she is still sane, which won't be for long. She starts losing her skin (an ear, parts of her face, soon her whole body) and eventually goes completely mad, or so it seems. Perhaps she's just a zombie.

Her behavior gets increasingly violent and Lionel must purchase a syringe in order to fight back against his mother and the ill-fated house guests that she has killed and turned into zombies just like her. When mother leaves the house, she starts attacking townsfolk and turning them into zombies as well. Soon she'll have an entire army behind her. Lionel must contain what she's started in his house. But it's not easy. Two of the zombies have sex and produce a disgusting little zombie baby who Lionel attempts to father by taking it to the park and then subsequently beating the shit out of it. Then Lionel's obnoxious cousin arrives, discovers the zombies in the guest room, and invites all his friends and family to the house for a party. You know what happens next.

I'm a sucker for movies like this. Movies that are made according to a director's original and daring vision regardless of what the general public might think. Even the most mainstream of film critics have warmed up to this one by now; and it's considered a masterpiece in the field of marrying the humorous with the macabre by horror fans and movie critics specializing in or who enjoy the genre in particular. I can understand why. Here, you've got a director (Jackson) who is known for bigger and supposedly better things such as the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy and the spectacular re-imagining of "King Kong" (which also features Skull Island). But the truth is that the earlier end of the director's career was populated by absurdist comedies of an extremely over-the-top nature; and this is one of them as well as one of the best. If you're half as crazy as me when it comes to your taste in cinema; you're going to have the movie-going experience of your life with this one.

Kung Fu priests that "kick ass for the Lord", diabolical yet playful zombie newborns, silly dialogue, silly accents, yet effective satire on 50's New Zealand society; "Dead Alive" has just about everything I've been looking for in a movie but never expected I would get. As far as sheer entertainment goes, it's a marvel and I haven't had this much pure fun watching a movie in a long time, but I love it when the occasion pops up at random. Every self-respecting sicko should see this. Any self-respecting human being should see this. It's such a good, hilarious, ridiculous bloodbath that I can't stand seeing it being overlooked by ANYONE. It is good cinema. Because as a special effects extravaganza, it really does understand itself. It's completely self-aware of its absurdity. But it was also influential for the new wave of American horror film; particularly films like "Shaun of the Dead". It's a classic on its own right. A flesh-crawling, head-ripping, toilet-absorbing, blade-cutting good time.]]> Fri, 17 Aug 2012 17:16:45 +0000
<![CDATA[ Totally lives up to the hype. 94%]]>

A journalist named Mikael Blomkvist loses a libel case involving allegations he published against tycoon Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. While this happens, a surveillance agent named Lisbeth Salander is contracted to investigate Blomkvist. After her investigation, Lisbeth sends her findings to lawyer Dirch Frode, who's only client is an 82 year-old man named Henrik Vanger. Vanger hires Blomkvist to investigate the disappearance of Harriet, his great niece, who vanished in 1966.


One of the best aspects to this film is that its characters are well-developed, believable, and have great chemistry. Of course, the stars of this show are Blomkvist and Salander. The latter is especially engaging since we see her as someone tough yet vulnerable (this makes for a realistic character). Near the beginning, we see Salander as a girl who's not one to be a pushover when a bunch of drunk male hooligans start scuffling with her and she beats them back. However, when her guardian has a stroke and is assigned a new guardian that forces her to perform sexual acts on him for her own money, she's forced to take it at first. Without spoiling much, you'll be glad to see when the tables are turned on her new guardian. Blomkvist is a good protagonist since you see him as a guy who just trying to do his job as a journalist, but gets shafted by a seedy tycoon and sees Vanger's offer as a way to get himself something good before he has to go to jail.

The supporting characters are solid as well. Henrik Vanger's family is confined to living on an island that's only accessible via bridge and without fitting into any cardboard cutouts, feel and act like people who live in a small place and keep themselves away from the rest of society. Without spoiling anything, let's just say that like any mystery-thriller worth its salt, some characters are totally unpredictable. Nils Bjurman, Salander's sexually-sadistic guardian, is excellent as a slimy character. I can keep going, but I think you get the picture.


Despite that the extended cut of this movie is 186 minutes long, it felt more like it was around 120 minutes because of how engaging the story and characters are. Also, much like the well-developed characters in a mystery-thriller film, the plotting of the story was so well-written that I was on the edge of my seat, hardly expecting anything that would happen to happenn. Because of how engaging everything else was, there were some scenes of legitimate tension going on near the end of the film. Also without spoiling much, I was a little worried around the 80% point of the film that some issues wouldn't be resolved in the end, but much to my surprise, these issues were resolved and done so in a way that didn't feel very rushed or incomplete.


Since I'm not a native speaker of the Swedish language, I can't really say what constitutes as "good acting" in Swedish, but I'll say that the actors did so well with their roles that the last thing on my mind was the acting. In particular, Michael Nyqvist (Blomkvist), Noomi Rapace (Salander), and Sven-Bertil Taube (Henrik Vanger) delivered some of the best performances in this film.


The cinematography in this movie is totally stunning. The shots of the streets in Stockholm and of the island where the Vanger family resides simultaneously drip with beauty and of griminess. The beauty in that there's lush shots of the Swedish countryside and winter, and the griminess when you learn about the ugly events that occur in some places.


The score for this film is really good. Like the plotting of the film, the score is slow and creeps up on you for an excellent build-up that dives into an excellent payoff when something truly exciting jumps out at you. The music perfectly fits the tone of the movie.


The theme I caught on most to this movie is that of anti-misogyny. I thought this theme was handled well because at first, I thought this would degenerate into baseless man-bashing, but that's not the case. The misogynistic male characters in this movie are all portrayed in believable strokes, which really helped the delivery of this theme.  It also helps that the protagonist, Blomkvist, isn't portrayed as an ideal "neutered" male that's made to be acceptable among feminists.

Also, corruption seems like a big theme since Blomkvist is convicted of libel even though he was on to a factual story for his magazine, Millenium. The corruption can even tie in a little with the anti-misogyny theme since a sadistic man like Bjurman is allowed to be a guardian on the government payroll, despite how awful he is.


This is NOT a movie for the kids to see. There's some scenes of strong violence, nudity, sex, and rape. There's scenes of mutilated corpses, shots of bare female chests and butts (and of male butts, too), and a hard to watch rape scene with Salander handcuffed and gagged while Bjurman rapes her. There's even a scene where a male gets tied up, gagged, and sodomized.


I honestly can't say if this movie follows the books well since I haven't read any of them, but just judging the movie strictly on its own terms, it's marvelous. I'll soon be checking out the two sequels, and do yourself a favor and seek out the extended cut of this movie since the extra time seems to be used perfectly. If you're an Amazon Prime user, there's no excuse to watch this now if you have some free time, since you can watch it for free. Otherwise, track down a physical or digital copy ASAP.]]> Thu, 2 Aug 2012 17:06:35 +0000
<![CDATA[ Murder as art; mystery as romance. Deep Red is the pinnacle of Dario Argento's directing career.]]>
This is the quintessential Dario Argento thriller. Examine the director's entire career - down to every last film he's ever made before and after this - and you'll see that each one contains just a hint of "Deep Red" in its DNA. Argento has been around (in cinematic terms) for a while, since his debut feature in 1970, and if you know his name and have seen a few of his movies; then you're already partially familiar with the name he's made for himself. It's a tie between this and the phantasmagoric "Suspiria" for most widely acclaimed and recognized Argento film, but if I had to take a pick - and that's no easy thing to do when you adore the early works of the director - a personal favorite, this would be it. "Deep Red" explodes right from the screen and assaults the senses with a cleaver, a knife, a hatchet, and just about anything else Argento can find at his disposal. It is a beautiful, poetic horror film that reveals the Italians as the defining artists of their era in the medium of horror cinema.

A British pianist named Marc (David Hemmings) who is currently living in Italy witnesses the brutal murder of psychic Helga Ulman (Macha Meril) in her apartment from the streets. What he sees from where he's standing is her body smash through the apartment window; and what he sees once he's up there picking up the mess is a shady figure in a fedora and raincoat leaving the scene. What we saw earlier was an unidentified person - quite possibly the perpetrator of the crime - watching Mrs. Ulman as she performed her routine in front of an audience. Afterwards, the figure went to the bathroom of the theater where she was performing and put on some suave leather gloves. But of course, Marc didn't see all this. He didn't know that whoever killed Mrs. Ulman was stalking her that very night. All the same, he's now a part of a police investigation.

Marc is joined by spunky female journalist Gianna (Daria Nicollodi), who hasn't found the big break she's been hoping for all her life quite yet, although this might just be it. Together, they seek to solve the puzzle; find the killer, try to understand his/her pattern and who is on the list next if there is a list at all, and put an end to this madness. As they sleuth about, the two forge a very strong romantic bond; the two identify with one another, although at the same time they realize that the killer is still out and about, ready to strike, and that they must act fast if they are to save any more lives.

This is one of those movies where the police are of no help to the heroes whatsoever. A common story element in Argento's films is characters having to find their own ways out of the labyrinth that they've gotten themselves lost in from the beginning all the way to the end; and "Deep Red" has quite the labyrinth indeed. There are a few side characters of note: such as Marc's drunkard friend (who is later revealed to be gay) named Carlo, his eccentric mother who keeps confusing Marc for an engineer, and even Gianna's car (which is a piece of shit that is in need of some serious repairs), which has defunct doors. The killer, leather-clad, has his/her peculiarities; such as a tape recording of a children's nursery rhyme that plays whenever he/she is near. When you hear this song, you know shit's about to go down. Eventually you start to get familiar with the tune, and it becomes as important as say the "Jaws" theme. Too bad it's not nearly as world-renown.

But...who cares whether today's movie-going public isn't down with Argento or Italian horror cinema as a whole? Who cares about popularity? That didn't matter to Argento when he made this film and it doesn't matter to him now. There are plenty of people who appreciate this brilliant and thoroughly engaging film; including myself. In fact, I'd go as far as calling it one of my personal favorites. Yes, that's right. If I said there are few films that give me such satisfaction - such great pleasure - as this one, I would not be exaggerating. "Deep Red" is a flawless marriage of sound and sight; a mad concoction of elaborate murder set pieces (a gruesome bathroom death sequence is worthy a shout out), a screeching prog rock score, and impeccable cinematography. This is probably the best shot horror movie I've seen, considering that there isn't a dull frame in sight and the colors really get a chance to stand out. Argento's lighting techniques are as innovative as his loopy, if not imperfect storytelling.

However, this is not a film about storytelling or characters. Both of these things are indeed present, but they are put on the backburner to make way for things of more importance to Argento and fans of Italian horror dream logic: such as grisly but creatively over-the-top violence, quirky humor, and top notch suspense (Hitchcock, a few years before his death, praised Argento as the possible heir to his throne). Argento, in his early years, was a poetic of the macabre who by abandoning conventional storytelling brought to life nightmarish cinematic visions, and this is one of the great ones. Here, the images and sound tell the story. Music, I think, has the most impact on "Deep Red" and its overall quality. Goblin's original music score is absolutely unreal; and I love these guys, I really do, because they make music for horror movies that wouldn't typically be found in horror movies at all. And the music commands every scene that it appears in. Accompanied by the stunning imagery - such as the killer's grotesque drawings that are revealed in the walls of old buildings and baby dolls hung from a rope noose - the score is simply flawless. It's one of my favorite film scores ever.

I fear I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm giving this film - which I love to death and always will - my highest recommendation possible, gushing over the darn thing and showering it with praise that can seldom be matched. I might as well stop here. But I believe an element of the story sums up the film in a nutshell. In the beginning, when Marc was rushing to the dead body of the psychic, he briefly saw a painting hanging on the wall of the hallway that lead to her room that looked suspicious. Until the end, he questions whether what he saw was something authentic or something imagined. It looked like a face in the picture; a human face, but he can't be too sure. That's how I feel whenever I watch this film. It's a work of art that is just far too sublime to take in upon a single viewing. Every time I watch it, I find that I need to watch it once more just to absorb the essential details. You watch it and then you look within yourself for some rational explanation to it all. What I do now is stop thinking so hard and accept that the surrealistic artistry of Argento is - or at least used to be - his ability to manipulate our minds in such ways that we are overwhelmed and ever-so-vulnerable.]]> Thu, 26 Jul 2012 01:38:56 +0000
<![CDATA[Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas Quick Tip by RabidChihuahua]]>
Some may think there's not much story in this film, but I think that's a fairly moot point since I think the film does a good job at illustrating the actions of two druggies out to write an article.

If you love dark comedy and surreal imagery, then you should see this Terry Gilliam gem.]]> Wed, 16 May 2012 16:47:47 +0000
<![CDATA[ Dark deeds on the French border.]]>
Horror directors are a peculiar breed. With "Frontier(s)", director Xavier Gens has taken the Paris riots and envisioned the cruel aftermath through heads exploding, tendons being cut, parts of the neck being bitten clean off, and terrible death by gas chamber. In a sense, Gens might just be blowing off a lot of steam with the amount of carnage that he chooses to show; but at the same time, there's a greater craft at work underneath all the horrible acts committed in this strange but oddly fascinating horror feature from France. It may seem like Gens is cashing in on the basic premise of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre" on the surface, but he has the qualities of a stylistically gifted filmmaker, and it's these qualities that allow him to make a run-of-the-mill plot interesting yet again. One could say that he breathes new life into the slasher conventions and horror clichés that he himself employs for the story. It's nothing so outlandishly new that you'll want to shower it with the highest amount of praise possible, but it's good enough. Take a look at the kind of slasher pictures that America is making at the moment and tell me I'm wrong.

The film begins with the riots that inspired it. The streets of Paris are in chaos, and immediately after they are introduced, our central characters must do their best to flee the scene. They are Alex, Tom, Farid, Sami, and his pregnant sister Yasmine. Sami and Yasmine have just attempted a robbery; with Sami being shot soon thereafter. The group must split up into two separate cars and get their dying friend to the nearest hospital. Farid and Tom take one car; Yasmine, Sami, and Alex take the other. When they do get to the hospital, it's too late; and the surviving members of the party must be on the road yet again. Meanwhile, Farid and Tom have found a resting place for the night; a hostel located very close to the border. Upon arriving, they notice that it's a very strange place; although it's homely, and two very beautiful women are right there for the taking. The place seems to be run by a burly man named Goetz. He is fairly "off" - if you know what I mean - but the boys aren't looking for any trouble, so they don't question the off-kilter looks that he flashes them.

An absolutely gross dinner scene with those who operate the hostel and the boys provokes one to ask a few questions in regards to the normality of the family. Before the men can ask the girls and Goetz themselves, they're already doing battle with the latter. He chases them and their car into a ditch that leads to a nearby coal mine. And that's the end of that. Not too long after this, the others arrive; unaware of the sadistic intentions of the family. It is then that we meet the REAL man of the house, the aging neo Nazi Von Geisler. So I guess that explains the gas chamber scene.

I have a love-hate relationship with ultra-violence. I respect that it can serve a purpose in the context of a story, but it can also be abused and become excessive or disturbing. The violence in "Frontier(s)" is both of those things, but also sort of provocative. Not only are the make-up effects by Nicolas Herlin and Laetitia Hillion insane and effective; but also evocative of Gens' state of mind. He must have been so angry with the world to want to do this kind of film in the style that he chose (which is, if I might add, somewhat imperfect). The film is a personal vision, but not one that cannot be appreciated whatsoever by the understanding horror fans of the world. That is perhaps the most forgiving crowd. More casual or misunderstanding viewers might hate the decision on Gens part to make violence a central focus. But I wouldn't praise a film if it was just violence without any artistic substance. "Frontier(s)", while relentlessly brutal and ferocious throughout, is also genuinely creepy and moody. The suspense scenes are where it really scores big time. The cinematography is pretty much master-class, and I adored the color tinting job that Gens gave the picture. Pretty much every scene feels at least somewhat lively and eccentric.

Nazis, Holocaust references galore, political undertones, and enough hardcore extremist violence to warrant an NC-17 rating; "Frontier(s)" delivers the bloody goods stylishly enough for me to recommend it, if only to a crowd accepting of its level of blood and gore spillage. Still, I think the story - for what it is - works to the best effect, even if the characters aren't particularly well-developed or given dramatic weight. This is not a film of great depth - even the political messages come off as a tad heavy-handed and overly simplistic - but it's still a wild, wild ride. It's one of those rare full-frontal assault pictures that I wish more people had the guts and free-will to make nowadays; very reminiscent of a film from, say, the ever-so-brave 70's. If you see what I'm getting at, then you're probably ready for the film.]]> Sat, 12 May 2012 21:47:05 +0000
<![CDATA[ Rich contemplation on violence and faith flows from The Virgin Spring]]>

Smoke rises from the fire in a hearth until it reaches the window that's been opened for it. Before it escapes into the vast airy freedom that it will enjoy, it seems to tremble with fear. It is drawn outside anyway and then it finds itself in a better place.

It is like that for people also, says the character in The Virgin Spring (1960, written by Ulla Isaksson, directed by Ingmar Bergman) who sees in the smoke's example the salvation offered to all who believe in Christianity's Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He shares the unyielding faith of another character who says, in what will become harsh irony, "God is more forgiving than you think."

Belief drives the family in The Virgin Spring and so it drives the story of a father exacting revenge after his daughter is raped and killed. The film is a moving meditation on how religious faith can be tested by brutality and still be strong enough to save a man pushed to committing violence from revelling in it as others do. Ingmar Bergman's assured direction and forceful performances by Max von Sydow and other actors power a compelling film that offers no easy answers but masterfully illuminates important questions in ways that are memorable and, perhaps, inspiring. Some viewers might find the movie's Christian preaching heavy-handed but it reflects the characters. They believe strongly, sometimes desperately.

Based on a 14th-century Swedish legend, The Virgin Spring starts with a young woman who was a foundling taken in by a Christian family. Now that she is grown, the family treats her with disdain because she is unmarried but pregnant. Jealous of the family's spoiled younger daughter, the woman prays to her god, Odin, to punish the family that has raised her. Eventually she will regret her prayer and will plead to be punished, even killed.

Her anguish is fueled by guilt that she is unable to stop the violence that leaves the family's daughter brutalized and dead. They were separated on their way to church and the woman finds the girl again only after two vicious strangers find her first. The daughter senses no danger and shares her food with them. She prays over the meal, but the men do not share her faith and are not touched by her devotion to it. They attack her.

The assault is protracted and harrowing to watch, the discomfort heightened by unnerving silence. The girl weeps noiselessly, the men say nothing to her and there is no music in the background. The killers' sick grins make the scene even more chilling and it is a relief when -- finally -- it ends. A terrified boy of about 8 or 10 tries to bury the girl's body and his inadequate act of mercy is both heartfelt and heartbreaking.

The killers make their way to the home of the parents of the girl they have killed, where they take hospitality from the parents without knowing who they are. The mother and father are anxious that their daughter has not returned and they are unaware of her fate. They offer the men shelter against the harsh winter night that is falling. It is only when the strangers unwittingly show that they now possess some of the daughter's intricate handmade clothes that the parents know what has befallen them.

The father takes vengeance. He humbles himself before God before he does so and then prays for forgiveness after. Water appears suddenly where there was none. A hydrologist could explain it, but the family needs it to be a miracle. And so it is a miracle, proof that God accepts the father's penance.

There are other miracles in Bergman's movie, the kind that last in memory and might linger in the soul as well.]]> Mon, 30 Apr 2012 16:55:40 +0000
<![CDATA[ A great whodunnit thriller that comes at a time where whodunnit thrillers seem almost extinct.]]>
In 2002, a case involving the disappearance of a young woman from nearly sixty years ago is re-opened by the girl's great granduncle, Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube), who believes not only that his niece was murdered, but by a family member too. In the year of 1966, when she first disappeared, very thorough searches were conducted and nothing - nor no one - was found. Henrik has not been able to give up. He himself admits to sort of looking for his lost niece whenever he so much as takes a walk around the premises of his mansion. He cannot cope with life without knowing the truth - he must reach a conclusion - and so he revives the case by hiring the infamous journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist), who is to be imprisoned in about six months for losing a libel case concerning the billionaire Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. Henrik sets Mikael up in a small cottage still located on the Vanger estate, and it is there that he conducts most of his research.

Enter Lisbeth Salander (Noomi Rapace), the woman who acquired the information on Blomkvist for Henrik in the first place. Lisbeth is characterized by her appearance and her occupation; she could be easily labeled as a punk/Goth girl with obvious but unidentifiable emotional burdens, the kind of chick who is attractive but incredibly secretive. She also drives a motorcycle, and happens to be very talented in the field of computer hacking. For the first hour or so of the film, she doesn't meet up with Mikael, although we know that eventually she'll have to. That's how these stories go. And so when Lisbeth meets Mikael; it becomes clear that these are two great minds, and great minds think alike - and on the most fascinating of occasions, differently.

In a complicated whodunit narrative with absolutely brilliant structure and flawless pacing, Blomkvist snoops around and meets the extended Vanger family, while Lisbeth deals with the more juicy stuff. Over time, the two bond a little, although Mikael finds Lisbeth unpredictable, which both angers and fascinates him at the same time. Needless to say, the two make an effective pair; their progress is stunt-like in its rapid succession over time, and the conversations held between the two of them are always very intellectually stimulating. If you've seen murder mystery-thrillers of both the past and present, then you'll know that one of the key elements to any story within that genre is going in knowing as little as possible. You'll also know some of what to expect, as this is not the kind of film that intends to be a game changer. But then again, sometimes, it doesn't take a game changer at all to blow you away.

"The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is a fierce and relentless movie. I did not know that films of its kind could be made anymore, but then again, it is a Swedish import (if you live anywhere other than Sweden, that is). It is also uncompromising, intoxicating, disarming, and absolutely brilliant. There are many who could claim the worldwide success that the film has since enjoyed, although two names are primarily responsible. First, the author of the "Millenium" book trilogy, Stieg Larson; and second, the director of the first film adaptation, Niels Arden Oplev. The former is responsible for the material; the latter is credited for respectively bringing it to the big screen unmarred.

Aside from abiding by the ground rules of the mystery thriller, the story is perhaps most memorable for its characters rather than its twists and turns. On paper, Lisbeth Salander was a heroine that an inspired female reader could perhaps look up to, and in the film, she is portrayed as a wounded woman living a violent life in which she commits at least 50% of that violence, which is sometimes directed towards others and sometimes towards herself. Once we have seen the flashbacks depicting a very dark childhood for the character, we get the sense that she is deep and complex; and having never read the source novel(s), I hope the depths of her very dark and very human soul are explored in great detail in the two sequels (both of which I have yet to see, and Hollywood has yet to touch). And as for Mikael Blomkvist, well, he's a decent enough guy; he might have a troubled past as well, but oh, who wants to hear about that. The popular opinion is that the Lisbeth character is what makes the material so compelling, and after witnessing Rapace's performance in that particular role, I must agree with such an opinion.

Oplev directs with an eye for detail. He doesn't simply stick to one style, and instead chooses to employ a few along the way. He decides to have fun with how he chooses to depict and film specific sequences. For instance, there are many scenes that feel simplistic in their purely technical aspects; and then there are those which are unrelenting in their tension, and others in which the camera might as well be going completely bat-shit in comparison to how it's been used for what makes up the rest of the film. The cinematographers were Eric Kress and Jens Fischer. Both did an exceptional job at helping Oplev to achieve his master vision. The score by Jacob Groth is sinister and foreboding; at one moment, in the moment, and at another, not in the moment at all. While the story itself may take on a structure that will come off to many as familiar (and therefore "unoriginal"), the style of the film itself is hard to predict. It's never quite what you want it to be.

Most American viewers will find the content difficult to swallow. If you don't want to see a movie that goes where most people would never want to go at all - the dark corners of the human soul - then you probably should do your best to avoid this one. However, if you want a deep, challenging character study with impeccable directorial flare; then you'll want to see "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" as soon as possible. While the high-quality suspense and performances aim to entertain, the on-screen violence and sexual perversion depicted towards women does not; but this material should not be labeled as misogynistic. If anything, there are undertones of raw feminism. So don't you dare imply otherwise. Because by the end of the film, you'll have seen first-hand what the girl with the titular tattoos is willing to do to those who have done her wrong. And you don't want to be getting involved with that.]]> Sun, 29 Apr 2012 23:33:43 +0000
<![CDATA[ OCEAN HEAVEN Is Righteous]]> In the past several years, there’s been a tremendous increase of awareness surrounding the nature of autism.  To be correct, autism is medically known as, either, Autism or Autism Spectral Disorder (ASD); both terms define a group of disorders associated to the development of the human brain.  Typically, persons suffering autism display difficulty in interacting socially; in fact, they may experience difficulty with any form of communication.  They may engage in repetitive behaviors – repeating sounds or phrases, arranging and re-arranging objects and furniture, flapping or waving of the hands and/or fingers, etc.  Of course, there are other vastly more serious and complicated medical symptoms and realities; but the end result is that – when dealing with the traditional parent-child relationship – it becomes increasingly difficult to responsibly raise a sufferer who neither completely grasps the direction or advice offered nor possesses the skills to adequately define any cause for alarm to the parent.  Still, the parent continues on – out of love – and that’s the central theme behind writer/director Xue Xiaolu’s latest film, OCEAN HEAVEN.
To his surprise, widowed handyman Sam Wong (played by Jet Li) discovers that he’s entering the final stages of an advanced terminal illness.  In normal circumstances, Wong would simply go about spending some quality time of shoring up his own personal affairs; however, he must put the desire to square up his relationships aside in order to place all of his effort into securing some reasonable future for his 22-year-old son, David (Lunmei Kwai), a victim of autism so severe that he lacks anything resembling a normal existence and quite possibly won’t survive independently.  With no other family or institution available to assist with this highly personal challenge, Wong fights an uphill struggle to connect once-and-for-all with the boy in a way that can give him half-a-chance to live in a world he’s always at odds with.
The film opens with a sequence – I won’t go into any specifics here so that I don’t spoil it for any viewers – that I found a bit off-putting.  It isn’t the sequence itself that I found a bit problematic – it’s a fact that, in the scope of time, I was at a loss to understand what had legitimately ‘happened’ at the opening until a bit later in the film.  (Trust me: once you see the film, I have no doubt you’ll probably understand what I’m referencing.)  It’s a small quibble, but I think it should’ve been either handled a bit differently or given a better explanation earlier than it does; there are hints, but it’s never fully explained until later than I believed was helpful to the narrative.  What it did (for me) was throw me for a loop: I am watching these events in their proper chronology or is the picture ‘as a flashback’?  To my delight, it worked out the way I hoped – no harm, no foul – but, as I stated, I believe it could’ve been handled better.  Who knows?  It may even have been something lost in the film’s translation (subtitles).
That small quibble aside, OCEAN HEAVEN is nothing short of pure cinematic brilliance.
In his hands as David, Kwai embodies so much of the picture with an infectiously youthful innocence.  Director Xiaolu clearly goes to great lengths to capture how David’s perspective on the larger world outside flavors so much of the young man’s perceptions.  To be precise, Xiaolu even tries – to great effect – to display “how” David sees the world, positioning the camera to record what the young man’s exact visual impressions would be.  In the hands of a lesser director, it could have all ended up more than a bit maudlin – an aggressive film-school narrative trick unintentionally demeaning the ‘affliction du jour’ – but it works here, winningly, and that’s because of respectful attention given to the material.  As David’s counterpoint – presenting the point-of-view which most movie watchers will identify with – Li gives an exceptionally convincing performance as the troubled father.  Clearly, this aquarium worker has lived a humble life – one entirely dedicated to raising his boy after the death of the mother.  This grounding in reality – in the hands of man who accomplishes ‘fixing’ things but yet can’t even begin to understand how to ‘fix’ his child – gives OCEAN HEAVEN the chance to not so much be an advocacy picture in support of treating autism so much as it sticks to a central theme no one can find controversy in: at all times, be a good parent.  So much of the father/son relationship works here because the two characters remain ‘committed’ to one another in this crippled reality – both are shown struggling to find their respective voices instead of securing a grand solution suitable for a motion picture audience.  It’s always poignant.  It’s always relevant.  It’s always reverential to that central struggle, not the players, and that’s why it excels on so many levels.
The production is impressive.  The director put a tremendous amount of work in securing not only a certain look but, as well, a certain environment for the story, and it’s photography beautifully.  Colors are rich and vibrant when needed, and they’re necessarily muted when the story calls for it.  Sound presentation is equally important, and no expense has been shared.  It’s a top notch production given a top notch pressing here.  There’s a brief ‘making of’ featurette – essentially a series of intercut interviews – and trailers, but nothing else.
HIGHEST POSSIBLE RECOMMENDATION.  I went into this one with, seriously, very little expectations.  I mean … Jet Li?  In a dramatic role … as a single father suffering a terminal illness?  It’s nothing short of wonderful – if not heart-wrenchingly so at times – a brilliant story of one man’s acceptance of the fact that connecting with his autistic son may not only mean bringing the son into his world but also having the courage and conviction to live forever in the boy’s world.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Well Go USA provided me with a DVD screener copy of OCEAN HEAVEN for the expressed purposes of writing this review.]]> Mon, 16 Apr 2012 03:44:54 +0000
<![CDATA[ Emotional horrors.]]>
"Martyrs" is a true - and great - horror movie in the sense that it's not the kind that is best enjoyed with popcorn and soda. Today, the higher paying audience for this genre seems to be teenagers; so horror movies made for adults are essentially scarce, but Pascal Laugier has reminded me of what it is like to both see and feel the pain that is being inflicted to the various characters on-screen. You can't care about the wound if you don't understand it, and here, the camera captures everything from the penetration of the knife to the withdrawal. One look, and one can tell that this is a sickening, cruel, nihilistic, and violent film; and it never stops being all four of those things. From the establishing shot to the moment of closure, never is there a good omen or a single ray of sunshine. Not even seeping through the cracks; no, everything about the movie is dark, dark, dark. Sometimes I have a problem with that, and other times I don't. "Martyrs" is such a relentless, full-frontal assault to the senses and my personal beliefs as a movie-goer that I don't even know what to think of it other than: wow. I am officially, undeniably in awe at the moment.

The first image that graces the screen with its unpleasant presence is that of a little, beaten-up girl running from a darkly lit room and a series of tall, desolate buildings. We are told that it was within the walls of those buildings that she was physically abused, that her name is Lucie, and that her long-time assailants can neither be identified nor located. Lucie's body was discovered by members of a local orphanage, who took her in and nursed her back to health as best as they could for a long period of time. In that time, Lucie met her one and old friend; another black-haired girl (around her age) named Anna. They share a bedroom, thoughts, lifestyles; never telling anyone else their secrets or their plans for the future. It is heavily implied that they will stick together until death, and oh, they'll certainly try.

Fast forward fifteen years, and the two are still very close; but they've since left their home at the orphanage and attempted to start life anew. From the looks of things (they've devised a clever revenge plot against people who they believe to be the perpetrators of Lucie's childhood torture), that didn't quite work out. Lucie walks in on the family (again, that she believes to be the perpetrators) with a loaded shotgun and murders every last one of them, even the two teenage children. These acts of violence are heartless and inhuman, but then again so were those committed against the poor girl very early in her unfortunate life. And so, the first half of the film must go on; with Anna trying to find a way to dispose of the bodies, and Lucie being subjected to extreme psychological torture (in the form of a trauma-induced hallucination of a scarred, anorexic girl who is truly the stuff of nightmares) to the point where she questions her own sanity. Once she does, it's time for the second half.

And I'm not going to give away any of it. This is one of those films where I would prefer you walk in - if you walk in at all - with as little knowledge of the film and its story as possible. This will make the experience all the more surprising, rewarding, and memorable, in my opinion. Although as far as that last one goes, it could very much go either way. Nevertheless, the second half deals with the back-story behind the torture that Lucy endured. There must always be a motive; and the one in display here is intriguing and provocative. In the second half of its story, "Martyrs" becomes a keen and intellectually stimulating existential tale that will certainly appeal to the thinking man/horror fan rather than the simple-minded fellow who happens to tag along for the extreme violence on display. And indeed there's a lot of it; graphic depictions of stabbing, mutilation, metallic objects being ripped straight from the skull, and finally, the after-effects of a body that has been skinned alive. From those descriptions alone, you can decide on whether you actually want to see the film or not.

I understand that many of you won't, and I'm not going to single out those who do as brave or courageous. This is easily one of the most violent films I have seen, but at the same time, it's also one of the most moving and intelligent horror films I've seen in years. The 2000's were a disappointing decade for horror, but there were a few gems; and this was definitely one of them. It draws you in with its characters, the ultra-violence (none of which, if I might add, is played for your entertainment), and the emotional impact that it has on just about everyone that lays eyes upon it. The gore effects are so realistic, and the performances so utterly convincing (Morjana Alaoui as Anna and Mylene Jampanoi as Lucie are both superb); this is the making of a disturbing thrill-ride, but indeed it's so much more than that. Hell, I would not be praising it so highly if it wasn't.

If you like horror movies that are terrifying, unforgivingly violent, yet sophisticated; this one promotes thought and conversation after the initial viewing. Then you'll (probably) want to watch it a few more times to absorb the message and the experience itself. It's so much to take in all at once; one time is simply not enough. Most of the time, a film must be entertaining and "fun" to earn multiple viewings; but this one is rich, engaging, and yes, vile. But consider this: Laugier achieves a certain dimension of human sorrow through the violence that he depicts. He's mature about how people see his creation - he apologizes to those who hate it and thanks those who like and/or love it - but above all, he demonstrates an understanding for mankind's physical and emotional pain. You honestly don't get that out of most horror movies, but then again, when you do; it's almost unfitting to categorize the final product.]]> Wed, 11 Apr 2012 21:24:15 +0000
<![CDATA[ Hey...that weren't me.]]>
Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) finds himself the victim of "for-the-hell-of-it" logic. An intelligent, fast-talking police officer in London's Metropolitan Police Service; he is one day called into the office of his superiors, where they proceed to give him a lecture on how good he is at what he does, and how his thorough and consistent goodness has led them to make the very tough decision of transferring him to a smaller town, supposedly to spare the embarrassment of the other far inferior officers. Nicholas is to be transferred to the quiet village of Sandford, located somewhere in Gloucestershire. He makes the journey by train and never with a smile on his face. He takes with him only his clothes and his Japanese peace lily. Everything else - including his girlfriend, who he has become increasingly distant from over time - can stay behind. He's ready to start life anew.

Sandford is known for its particularly low crime rate. The officers stationed there have been practically brainwashed over the years to the point where they believe nothing bad can possibly happen in their nice little town. The central office is headed by Inspector Frank Butterman (Jim Broadbent), and the day after he arrives, Nicholas is introduced to the fellow officers. I'll run off some names: Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) - son of Frank and now Nicholas's partner when on duty -, Andy Wainwright (Paddy Considine) and Andy Cartwright (Rafe Spall), Tony Fisher (Kevin Eldon), "policewoman" Doris Thatcher (Olivia Colman), PC Bob Walker (Bill Bailey), and his dog Saxon. Then there is the Neighborhood Watch Alliance; made up of many people, but in particular, a Mr. Tom Weaver (Edward Woodward) and a Mr. Simon Skinner (a fantastically creepy Timothy Dalton).

Nicholas and Danny could not be more different. The former is forever grounded in the reality that a privileged amount of field experience has created, while the latter wishes his life/job were more reminiscent of the action movies that he religiously watches. All the same, the two start to bond over long periods of time; eventually having to spring into action when a series of brutal murders threaten to ruin the reputation and well-being of Sandford. There are a few prime suspects - in particular, Mr. Skinner - but the identity of the killer could be anyone. Clues and red herrings pop up at any given moments, often at the strangest of times. Meanwhile, a swan is on the loose; the Sandford officers are assholes; and both Nicholas and Danny get drunk and watch "Bad Boys 2" late at night.

I could go on and on about a movie like this all day. I've seen it a record number of times, and truth be told, it never gets old. Of course, one might need space after a few go-rounds (and I certainly found this to be the case), but revisiting Edgar Wright's "Hot Fuzz" is a very rich and peculiar experience indeed. There are few like it. I refuse to give too much away in regards to the plot, or the smaller characters that populate it, because I fear this will spoil the film for those who have yet to see it. What I can say is that if you loved "Shaun of the Dead" (Wright's first feature); you'll probably love "Hot Fuzz" just as much. Technically speaking, it's a pretty big step up from the said earlier film, but bigger doesn't always mean better. Nevertheless, here, it just might.

What I love about Wright's screenplays are that (1.) they show his nigh impeccable love for cinema and (2.) they make great use of Frost and Pegg's combined talents as a dynamic comic duo. Here, as in "Shaun", they have great on-screen chemistry; it's to the point where seeing them in individual movies - without each-other - becomes a rather odd experience. Anyways, coming back to the first part; "Hot Fuzz" is like a love letter to not only action movies - but also slashers, horror films (a very gory death scene mimics "The Omen"), and British historical cinema. For instance, it was shot in the same town that Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" was all those years ago. Also, the story is like the bastard love child of "The Wicker Man" and "The Naked Gun". The proceedings are satisfactory. Since his comic timing is so ingenious, every joke goes down easy; even the crude and profane ones consisting of four-letter words, none of which are too harsh for one to stomach. The in-references to other films are smartly placed, and to notice them all, repeated viewings are absolutely essential. It doesn't get much better than this.

Another thing I adore about Wright; his productions aren't cheap. They're real, authentic, high-quality productions. "Hot Fuzz" is an action-comedy written in over-the-top blood and gore (it's the second installment in Wright's so-called "Blood and Ice Cream Trilogy") and an absolutely bat-shit insane final shootout that takes place in the last twenty minutes. There isn't a dull moment to spare; and I couldn't stop laughing. It was off-the-wall, it was fearless, it was hyper-violent, and it was like an ADD-riddled kid with a good hand at the pen had crafted the thing. That might just be the case. Many shots seem to distantly echo the lost era of cheesy 80's action; and I loved the vibe. The cinematography - which is both moody and stylistic at times - certainly helps to perfect this aspect of the film. Also, the soundtrack - consisting mostly of classic (British) rock) - assists in immersing the viewer in Wright's twisted word of non-stop hilarity.

One last thing; in a film of ironic and undeniably funny names, which one do I like the most? Well, there's a wide variety to choose from. There's...Simon Skinner (wink, wink), Tom Weaver, Nicholas Angel, Rev. Philip Shooter, Martin Blower, Eve Draper, George Merchant, Tim Messenger, Leslie Tiller, and Peter Cocker. That's a lot of ironic and funny names to choose from. After much thought, I decided it might be best to go with Rev. Philip Shooter; since the character generates a hell of a laugh near the end. But Martin Blower was very, very close.]]> Wed, 11 Apr 2012 21:15:10 +0000
<![CDATA[ I like - no, I love - Hitchcock, and Argento; but I do not necessarily like - or love - this movie.]]>
As a devote fan of director Dario Argento's work in the horror genre, ranging exclusively from the 70's to the 80's into the early 90's, I have this odd, unexplainable belief that if there is no nostalgia to a modern Argento effort; there is also no effort, or style, and no entertainment value. This belief hasn't been proven invalid since I first proposed it (Argento's "Phantom of the Opera" was truly awful, and most of what followed wasn't much better either); but there's always the possibility of an exception. In this case, that exception is "Do You Like Hitchcock"; a 2005 made-for-television feature from the master of horror himself. Watching it, I recognized a few things: there was no style, but there was effort, entertainment value, and nostalgia in healthy doses. These are things that quite a few of the more recent Dario Argento movies have lacked; and as far as those go, this one isn't half bad.

Well alright, maybe it is, kind of. This un-stylish but never uninteresting thriller follows young film student Julio as he attempts to take part in the solving of what appears to be a series of brutal murders that have been committed in the apartments surrounding his own. The murders share a similar thing: they seem to be inspired, in part, by the films of Alfred Hitchcock. There's irony in the situation; given that Julio and his girlfriend constantly rent out the director's films from their local video store, with Julio closely observing every last scene. So he might be of great service when it comes to finding out who the killer really is.

That's the gist of it, anyways. The first murder is committed in the apartment across the street, where a beautiful woman and her elderly mother live - that is until the elderly mother is the victim of the sadistic killer committing the crimes. Julio is paranoid that he might be the next victim; and we believe in his claims, due to the fact that it's made a known fact that somebody is following the protagonist, just as he is closely following others. It eventually untangles and then tangles itself right back up again; with about as many unneeded complications as intriguing mysteries to be solved. The story is uneven, but the characters are surprisingly well-played by their respective actors, and the movie certainly kept me engaged, no matter how ridiculous or slightly underwhelming it became by the finale.

With a movie like this, I'm simply trying my hardest not to complain. "Do You Like Hitchcock" has its pleasures - a minimalist style that Argento manages to work around in order to deliver some genuine thrills and chills, and a hilarious character that takes the form of a homeless old lady who collects trash from the bins outside random apartments and buildings nearby Julio's - even if they can't make up for its rusty plotting. Nevertheless, here's what I've theorized: people have indulged in cinematically messy stories and overall films for much less, and Argento is simply trying to do something new. What I assume is that a great portion of his fan base will be disappointed by the lack of gore, beauty, and artistry in the final product; but there's also a chance that a few compassionate souls will forgive and forget, and allow themselves to enjoy the ride while it lasts.

Being a cinephile, the references to the works of Hitchcock scattered throughout were enjoyable; and all scenes taking place at the video store that Julio and his girl rent from are energetic and brimming with Argento's non-signature, but non-subtle cinematic fanboyism. Sure, given these plot elements, I acknowledge that Argento probably could have done something amazing; but he crafts a simple yet somehow satisfying murder mystery in the tradition of his early Giallo pictures, minus the exquisite direction that had put him on the map in the first place. Look at Argento's older films, and you'll see that this is far from his best; but look at his newer ones, and you'll notice that it's far from the worst this filmmaker can do. He was once great; and "Do You Like Hitchcock" almost signifies a sort of return-to-form, stylistically, as long as you take out the flowing of the liquid red.

Way better than I could have ever anticipated, and worth seeing if you're an avid fan; I may not particularly like "Do You Like Hitchcock", but I certainly can at least appreciate it for what it is. Argento has tried to achieve something new and fresh for years; and I'll have to say that this is probably it. The film's an uneven mess for sure, but I enjoyed the feeling that I had while watching it. Certain plot elements and visual trickeries reminded me of why I admire Argento as much as I do in the first place; and while I loathe the absence of Argento's signature grotesque artistry by way of the bizarre blood and gore, I like what took its place enough to recommend the film to the Argento-faithful. For those who see it and don't like it; I feel as if I had warned you, and if you think differently...well then, too bad.]]> Thu, 23 Feb 2012 04:07:12 +0000
<![CDATA[ Fun, engaging giallo thriller from the master himself: Dario Argento.]]>
As the opening credits for "Opera" begin to roll, we get a glimpse of a black bird, a Raven; perched somewhere in an Opera House. We learn that they serve somewhat of a purpose in the production that is at work down below - Shakespeare's "Macbeth" - although if we learned anything from Edgar Allen Poe, we learned that Ravens are instantaneously a sign of danger, or even death. Both are the case in the context of the film; which is one of the last good, watchable movies from the famed, beloved Italian-born master of horror, Dario Argento.

The lead of the in-film Macbeth production is a shy - but talented - young woman named Betty (Christina Marsillach). She is given the role when the original leading lady is unexpectedly injured at random when she's hit by a car; forcing her to become hospitalized since it is mainly her leg that has been fractured. The production director and all those who work alongside him are initially somewhat skeptical of how Betty will do as the replacement actress - and she's crossing her fingers along with them - but much to their surprise, she does quite well, wows the audience, and by the end has herself some adoring fans.

Too bad her biggest fan turns out to be a deranged serial killer! One-by-one, the villain assaults and murders Betty's friends and co-workers. Since this is normally a boring plot element, Argento adds a twist; in the form several needles that are stuck to a piece of tape and placed under Betty's eye when the killer ties her up, thus forcing her to watch as her friends are slaughtered alive. The killer explains that if she closes her eyes, then she can wave goodbye to both of them.

However, the killer seems to derive pleasure from Betty's fear and emotional deterioration. There are several scenes in which he ties her up and puts the tape on; but every time, he never makes an attempt to kill her. It's implied that perhaps the killer is targeting Betty for reasons at first unknown; which means that all shall be revealed in one of Argento's classy twist endings. And while it's hardly one of the best endings Argento has pulled out of the hat; "Opera" is still a wild, deceptive ride. In my opinion, it has all the bare essentials of a good mystery; a plot that keeps the open-minded viewers involved, characters that - while somewhat under-developed and difficult to remember after the movie has been experienced - come off as decent regardless, with the only real twist being the pleasures of Argento's signature visual stylistics.

Through the pitch-perfect combination of what we hear (music) and what we see (the visuals of the film); Argento is able to work with the story and use it as a vehicle for his artistic ventilation. Thematically, Argento doesn't try anything terribly new here; but it's just so goddamn beautiful to look at, to hear, and to experience that you lose the ability to care very quickly indeed. "Opera" demanded my attention and I gladly gave it just that; an early Argento feature, after all, is almost always worth it.

But of course, the film has its minor - and major - drawbacks. In spite of being a delightfully bloody and grotesque visual feast of artistry in a genre that often lacks just that; the plot doesn't always hold up as well as we might want it to, and the film sort of goes over-the-top and beyond within the last ten minutes, which were, in my opinion, just plain unnecessary. Entertaining, just like the rest of the movie; but unnecessary. Also, the acting isn't anything particularly special either; although I'm thankful that it was at least competent and watchable. As usual, attention to detail takes center stage over any real human beings; but I've come to expect that from Argento, so I was not surprised.

The kills are fantastic, the cinematography is beautiful, the gore effects are remarkable, the blood is plentiful, the suspense and build-up is genuinely impressive, Claudio Simonetti's score is energetic and off-kilter, the mystery at the center of the story is thought-out with much skill and consideration, and overall; this is another 80's Argento offering that isn't great; but is nonetheless quite good. If you aren't the director's biggest fan, then you'll probably think differently; but I stick to what entertains me, and among other things, I find Italian horror films with gore and style to boot especially attractive. They may not be critical favorites, but they are often creepy and satisfactory to those who like them the most. If you're like me and you consider yourself to be a part of the Argento-faithful; then you might just want to see "Opera". Good, bad; it's got a voice, and there's no denying that.]]> Sat, 28 Jan 2012 21:46:26 +0000
<![CDATA[ A really fine specimen of a "cerebral" anime. 84%]]> Before I kick off this review, I'd like to say that I really haven't had much enjoyment watching most anime titles that go beyond a 4-5 hour running length because so many of them have bad plotting and repetition, but Ergo Proxy is one of the really few full-length anime series that I've seen that doesn't fall into most of the traps that so many longer anime series fall into.




In the domed city of Romdo, a creature known as a “Proxy” escapes at the same time an immigrant named Vincent Law becomes a citizen of the city. In the wake of the Proxy's escape, Re-l Mayer, a detective and granddaughter of Romdo's leader, is sent to investigate the matter. In the wake of the Proxy's escape unleashes a journey for Re-l, Vincent, and a child cyborg named Pino around the mystery of the Proxy and of the outside world that Romdo has told its citizens is totally inhabitable.




The characters in Ergo Proxy are for the most part, really well-done. Each has their own distinct personality and they don't feel contrived, and it's a really nice feature that characters don't really fit in cookie-cutter molds of good or evil. I'll be glad to say that with the character Pino, she acts like a little kid without being too far on the sides of being either annoying or sweet (too many anime titles with little kids characterize them far into one of these sides), and she's cute without being saccharine. Re-l is my favorite of the bunch, since she's cynical without being too cynical, and has a good deal of emotional depth to her that isn't at all forced, though I must ask why she looks like she's been hanging around the goth kids too much. Vincent is perfect as a conflicted character, since he finds out that there's another side to him that he doesn't want, and his “inner-monster” dilemma is handled much better than Clair’s in the terribly-overrated series Claymore. There's other characters like Re-l's cyborg entourage, Iggy, that have well-rounded personalities that really add a lot to the show.




While there's a review on the back of the DVD case describing Ergo Proxy as an anime version of “Blade Runner meets the X-Files,” that's only really applicable to the first few episodes, since this series goes beyond mysteries and a cyberpunk setting. Ergo Proxy instead takes an alternate route by using its 23 episode running-length to explore the characters and themes attached to the story. This actually works out in favor of the series since it explores the characters and themes without giving a badly rushed ending. In fact, without spoiling it to you, I'll say the ending for this is rather strong, so for those of you who hate a full-length anime series for having such incomplete endings, you won't be disappointed with how Ergo Proxy handles the plotting.




Ergo Proxy offers its viewers a smorgasbord of thought-provoking themes that fit in well within the series. There's a good sense of inner-conflict with Vincent's character, and it handles the theme of “inner-monsters” really well. Aside from that, it explores themes of non-living entities (in this case, cyborgs called “Auto-reivs”) becoming sentient, what it really means to be free, the role of humans on earth, and what it's like to be a god. There's probably some more, but I really need to watch this series again to get a full scope of it (and unlike most longer anime, I actually want to re-watch this).




The animation and artwork for Ergo Proxy is really smooth. Ergo Proxy goes beyond the typical cyberpunk visual mold by integrating visual elements of steampunk and even some Victorian (I believe it's Victorian, correct me if I'm wrong) dress-styles and architecture. These visual elements don't clash since the steampunk and Victorian visual elements complement the cyberpunk visual base rather than overtaking it. Also, there's other domed cities beyond Romdo with their own distinct visual flare, since they were created by different groups of people. There's even one empty domed city with modern architecture, but the robots have a bit of an Art-Deco visual flare to them. Not to mention that the empty feeling in this city feels reminiscent to Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining.




The instrumental background music really complements the tones and scenes of the series. The opening and closing songs are nice as well, even though I'm not a huge listener of Radiohead (I think the closing song is the Radiohead track “Paranoid Android.”).




The reason why Ergo Proxy isn't 5-star material is because for all that it does well, there's two episodes of filler. The first one being episode 15, which is supposed to be a trip in Vincent's mind that's like a gameshow with dark humor, and the other being episode 19, that's a trip in Pino's mind where she finds herself in an amusement park with lots of humor in it. Honestly, these episodes can be skipped and you can still follow along the rest of the series. Thankfully, out of the 23 episodes here, two filler episodes isn't terribly bad. I can't say the same for titles like Bleach, Naruto, and Gantz, where fights are either drawn out way too long or there's numerous episodes that don't contribute anything to the series.


The tone of the series is largely consistent on the serious side, and the only “funny” parts are largely restricted to the filler episodes. So you can skip the filler episodes and get an anime that doesn't pull any significant nonsense, which is something I really cherish since there's nothing that irritates me more than an anime that's tonally inconsistent.




Sadly, it seems like the DVDs are out-of-print, but Amazon offers the whole series with their Video-on-Demand service, so you can watch it through there. If you're craving a full-length anime series that really bends the mind and stimulates your brain, then Ergo Proxy will be a really good treat.

]]> Wed, 11 Jan 2012 22:52:57 +0000
<![CDATA[ Dog Days.]]>
Sam Peckinpah's "Straw Dogs" is a stirring, often times riveting thriller; a film about violence, emotional destruction, social discrimination, and the limits of man. We've all seen movies like this for sure; there have been as many copycats as there have been predecessors. But who can put much blame on a filmmaker for having a keen eye for the violent acts committed in this world; the dark, dark side of humanity; and the sins of the human spirit. Peckinpah is intelligent in the way he explores these themes, and his approach is kind of scholarly, in a way. There are two sides when it comes to "Straw Dogs" and criticism; the negative side calls it needless, hypocritical exploitation - with the other claiming it to be a cinematic landmark that covers distressing topics with the largest amount of respect that a single visionary artist could possibly contain. Guess which side I'm on?

Before watching the film, I had never quite noticed just how much I love films set in villages that tend to carry a disturbing aura with them. One of my favorite films is "The Wicker Man"; a thriller often mistaken for a horror movie, but nonetheless I think it's a masterpiece of both genres, unless it decides to choose one over the other. I thought it was such a good movie that it could not possibly choose just one genre; it shares elements of those two and many others - my favorite kind of movie. "Straw Dogs" is a film done in that tradition; with tension and build-up that certainly matches the said personal favorite in quality and memorability. Perhaps it also helps that Peckinpah's film is - much like "The Wicker Man" - set in a village where everything from the homes to their inhabitants don't seem terribly "right".

English mathematician David (Dustin Hoffman) and his British wife Amy (Susan George) have just moved back to the latter's hometown. They settle for an old farmhouse; which needs repairing, and the local townsfolk are more than happy to oblige, or so it seems. While the workers are trying their hardest to please; the relationship of the two lovers seems to be slowly deteriorating. There are differing viewpoints on the relationship itself from both partners; David believes that women should fulfill their respective and expected roles in a romantic partnership, while Amy feels the same about men.

However, these disagreements are the least of their problems. The men working on fixing the couple's farmhouse are forever the source of many problems to come. They make fun of David behind his back and sometimes when he's present; they ogle Amy's beauty; and they are inconsistent in their labor. However, David proves to be a man of strong-will; and he tries to get along with the members of the community that will accept him for the Englishman that he is; among those who do are the town Major (T.P. McKenna) and the reverend.

We now come to the most challenging bit of this review; since this is a write-up of a controversial film that was widely talked about for one scene in particular (amidst the brutal, bloody violence that comes along in due time). The scene which I speak of is, yes, the infamous rape scene. One afternoon, the workers invite David to go hunting with them somewhere in a forest no too far from home; in fact, he could very well walk to the house from there. In a tragic turn of events, it is revealed that the men have tricked David; and they escape to his home, where two of them savagely rape Amy. It's a prolonged, disturbing, graphic scene; which is easily why it is still loathed to this day; and with great passion. There are divided opinions when it comes to the scene; there's an instance where Amy almost begins to invite the rape to go on for even longer; although my interpretation of her actions are simple - she was looking for an easy escape. She wanted the horror to end.

The final act also attracted much attention for its violent content. It involves the village outcast (David Warner) - shunned for his implied pedophilia and arrogance. He leaves a church dinner-and-celebration early; and brings with him a young beauty. Her father discovers this and brings the workers with him to retrieve her and bring the outcast to justice; but David and Amy get to him first and agree to hide the poor bastard in their home until all this clears up. Unfortunately, it does not, and the villagers will stop at nothing to get their hands on the guy. They are driven by revenge; David is driven by his good nature to protect a man who is, morally, sort of innocent. This is a long scene; and it's absolutely essential to the film. You could say that, in a sense, it is the heart and soul of "Straw Dogs". It completes Peckinpah's artistic vision.

Hoffman is absolutely brilliant as a man who simply does not want any trouble; and those who portray any of the local hooligans are well-deserving of considerable praise as well. The performances are, all around, spectacular; although I think it's the direction that takes center stage. Among other things, I was intoxicated by the flawless camera placement, the moody locations (Edgar Wright's hilarious "Hot Fuzz" was shot around the same parts and contains some clever in-references to this film), and of course, the statements that the film makes on the nature of violence. It's a deep, insightful piece of cinema. I enjoyed the way in which Peckinpah gave my imagination a much-needed workout with his slow-building tension; which is, in theory, some of the best I've seen in any thriller. Hey, that's what I call greatness; I can't say that the film is for everyone, but if you find yourself seldom inspired by today's attempts at suspense and thematic brilliance; here is a movie that will, for better or worse, shake you until you're dizzy - minus or plus the vomit.]]> Sat, 24 Dec 2011 03:12:09 +0000
<![CDATA[ A lance arcs down and hits an eyeball; gobs of blood arc out. Wow!]]> Centurion, a Roman empire epic set in Britain in 117 AD, has many of those qualities we see in the best of this genre: A plot line as empty as Gladiator’s; self-polishing abs breast plates for all officers; The Life of Brian’s historical attention to accuracy. It adds blood arcing for some distance into the sky when a lance meets an eyeball. And there are two feral lady barbarians, one blond with what looks like bad teeth (Aeron, played by Axelle Carolyn) and one brunette, whose teeth look just fine, as do her breasts (Etain, played silently by Olga Kurylenko). The brunette fancies skins when she goes out hunting Romans in the deep winter forest; scanty skins when in a tent.
Centurion, in other words, is as silly as they come. Briefly, it’s about an attempt by the Ninth Legion, led by General Titus Flavius Virilus (Dominic West), to march north into what is now Scotland and eliminate the Pict threat. Evidently Virilus never read up on the fate of Publius Quinctilius Varus, no general but a good administrator. Marching deep into the Teutoburg Forest in what is now Germany, he and his three legions were attacked by combined Germanic tribes. Varus committed suicide in the middle of the battle. His three legions disintegrated. Probably 20,000 or more Roman soldiers died compared to a handful of barbarians.
General Virilus, virile and confidant, who didn’t read his history, marches his men into the thick forests of Pictland.  Flash forward to the next day. Virilus is in chains in the squalid camp of the Pict king. Most of his men have been slaughtered. Later, a handful of survivors led by Centurion Quintus Dias (Michael Fassbender) try to rescue him. No luck. The Pict king’s young son is killed and the general dies in a forced fight with Etain. The seven Romans escape and head south with a handful of Pict hunters (led by Etain and Aeron) hot on their trail. Pict hunters die one by one; the Roman seven almost die one by one.
What’s good about Centurion? The make-up and the set-designer. Picts look as dirty and flea-bitten as their filthy encampments. Most of the Romans look as filthy as the Picts. There are stunning, craggy, shivering cold scenes of the Highlands.
What lacks in Centurion? Characters we can give even a small hoot for. Most of the time we can’t remember one from another. Fassbender seems to be a rising star, but all he’s called upon to do in this movie is fight, run monotonously and look tired. Only one actor in the cast stands out as tough and smart, and that is that fine actor Liam Cunningham. He’s made a lot of drek, but look for him in Shooting the Past, Dog Soldiers and The Wind That Shakes the Barley. The movie's battle scenes, particularly Virilus’ march north, is shot only to show slashing swords and more spurts of blood. There’s no way to follow the battles. A plot also is lacking. The first third is an excuse for gore. The last two-thirds is an excuse for gore and long-distance running. The roles of Etain and Aeron are a sop to the 18-29-year-old audience the director seems to care most for.
Centurion is not a movie. It’s a mediocre comic book for all those who love abs enhancing armor, horsehair helmet crests and those inspiring National Geographic maps showing the Roman Empire at its greatest extent.]]> Fri, 23 Dec 2011 06:19:27 +0000
<![CDATA[ Disgusting, revolting, and absolutely essential.]]>
Some films make you happy, some make you sad; quite a few leave you sappy, others leave you glad. Film is a visual medium meant to entertain. I'd say it's filled with artists, but nowadays, that cannot quite be said. An artist of cinema, in my opinion, is a man or woman who challenges our perception of the medium. They make a film that really, really aims to puzzle us with either its complexity or its content. Sure, at times, a filmmaker can come off as over-indulgent and pretentious; it happens. But I'm open to filmmakers who explore forbidden realms of cinematic art and show us things we would never have seen elsewhere. Not everyone is as open-minded; but I certainly am.

"Salo" is the kind of film that can be called art, and for a variety of reasons. It is not what most movies aspire to be; there is not a single entertaining or enjoyable moment to be found here. It is often cited as one of the most disturbing, violent, down-right sadistic films ever committed to celluloid, and hell, I agree with that all the way. I had an extremely difficult time watching it for the most part, as it is truly unrelenting and unforgiving in what it shows. It uses techniques and philosophies that have since been copied; and there are still highly disturbing films being made today, although I don't come close to believing that they could possibly ever achieve the level of depth and sheer reputation that this one has. I believe that, in spite of its constant struggle against the tides, the film can be admired and respected as long as one can put aside the imagery and the disgust. All of these things are expected, and in the end, I got absolutely no indication that the film's director - Pier Paolo Pasolini - was aiming for shock value alone; or at all. I feel he has crafted a powerful, metaphorical and unforgettable (if for all the wrong, yet right, reasons) experience. To me, this is what cinema is about; even if it is not what most films should be in the first place.

The story, and all you need to know about it, goes as followed. In fascist-occupied Italy (in the republic of Salo), four powerful, higher men kidnap eighteen men and women (9 for each sex) in order to choose a life partner for each of them to wed. This begins the "120 Days of Sodom" (this name serves as the film's alternative title), in which these eighteen innocents are forced to perform unspeakable acts of the violent, sadistic, and sexually depraved variety. Such things take up most of the film; with many extended scenes involving the fascist-supporting prostitutes in the occupied building recounting their sexual pasts in disgustingly graphic detail, all for the pleasure of the four powerful men.

Since I am sympathetic for those who might only THINK they are intrigued by the set-up and that they want to watch "Salo", I shall now describe some of the key "disturbing scenes" to you. Here are just a few good examples: rape, torture, the consumption of feces, the consumption of nails hidden in bread, the slicing of tongues, castration, and nipple-burning. Yet, that's just a taste of what you'll be in store for if you choose to see this film. Most won't want to take even a single step closer. This is understandable; "Salo" was not made for everyone - or most people, for the matter - and by no means do I recommend you watch it. That would be so, so wrong of me to do. However, if you are adventurous and can stomach even the most graphic, lewd depictions of sadistic sexual acts; then you might saw what I saw, and that is destructive artistry.

I know some people who claim they were so disturbed by the film that they chose to disregard any craft, any message, any moral, or any artistry that others might see in it. Again, this is something I can understand and sympathize with; but I still found redeeming factors, and enough of them to save "Salo" from being pure trash. This is something that it could have easily become. However, the writer of the novel that this film is based upon - Marquis de Sada - understands the dark corners of sexual existence, and his story explores it. I believe that the film adaptation was relevant for its time, and is still relevant now, when regarding the darkness of the human soul; and the violence, sexuality, and graphic nature of the media that we often view. It puts us in the voyeur's chair; now it's just up to us whether we can stay seated throughout the entire two-hour ride.

There are maybe two types of audiences that will appreciate "Salo". For one, there's the audience that enjoys "sick flicks" and shock cinema. They will not be disappointed by the film, as most of the graphic, disturbing depictions of each sexual and violent act are explicitly shown; yet they are still not watching it for any of the right reasons. Those who will see "Salo" for what it is are amongst the art film crowd; those who live and breathe art throughout every day in which they live. And yes, "Salo" is, whether you can see yourself admiring it or not, art; it's also a masterpiece. It is important, even if some will denounce such claims, and it is undeniably difficult to erase from one's memory. It will indeed be difficult sitting through it again, if I ever do, but at least now I will know of the impeccable reward that shall be offered in the end; a great film. My final words: if you want a "fun", "entertaining" work of art, perhaps you should look elsewhere (most definitely). If you want something that really makes you think on a variety of different levels, and in a surplus of different ways, then watch "Salo". I will say it again -that this does not count as a recommendation -as I only wish to pique the interest of those who care about art and what the word openly suggests. And when it comes to cinema as an art form, "Salo" is one of the most powerful ever made.]]> Sun, 13 Nov 2011 20:13:37 +0000
<![CDATA[ Fulci's one-and-only true masterpiece of surreal terror.]]>
How can something as violent, gruesome, disgusting, and relentlessly grotesque as "The Beyond" also be so mysteriously beautiful? As a film directed by Lucio Fulci - one of the Godfathers of Gore - whimsical qualities are what we least expect. But you may know, I've enjoyed a few Lucio Fulci films before this one. I liked "Zombie". I liked "City of the Living Dead". I even liked "Don't Torture a Duckling". There were moments when the director had his time to shine; he was creative without-a-doubt, but sometimes, his typical style (which included surrealism, plots that refused to conform to traditional narrative structures, and complex make-up/gore effects) worked; while other times it didn't. Some of you might not like any of Fulci's films at all; which is perfectly understandable, since most of his films qualify for trash - if not entertaining and dream-like trash. Either way, there's no denying that there are few films out there like the ones I have listed; especially this one, which has quite the cult following. The critics are divided, some hate it, some love it; I embraced it with an open mind and found myself happily lost in its depths. It's absurd, disturbing, bloody, silly, but surprisingly, it works.

Fulci wanted to make a film that was pure imagery and well, that's the movie that he's made. He attempts to string together events with what many - including myself - would perceive as a sorry excuse for a plot. Of course, it's possible to ignore such flaws as the lack of deep characters or storytelling, especially when so much spectacle is on display. It takes a certain person and a certain state-of-mind to watch "The Beyond" and truly appreciate it; and I find it highly respectable if one can see why I - along with a good number of other devoted horror fanatics - obsess over this film as if it were an object of cultish worship. In my honest opinion, it's that good.

Let's get this over with. We open on a 1927 Louisiana village; where the Seven Doors Hotel lies. There has been talk of disturbances and diabolical activity going on within the hotel walls; and some angry villagers are ready to put an end to such suspicions. The target of their primitive rage is an artist named Schweick, whom they believe to be a warlock, if only for his bizarre paintings that he claims to be portraits of Hell's landscape. In what makes up the film's entire opening sequence - which is very retro in style and surreal in atmosphere indeed - Schweick is whipped by chains, crucified on the basement wall, and doused with hot, boiling quicklime. He dies a slow, painful death; and his corpse is left to rot.

Several decades later, the same hotel has been inherited by a woman named Liza (Catriona MacColl). She begins to repair and renovate the building, although in doing so, she disturbs the supernatural forces that haunt it; the ghost of Schweick included, who has returned from the dead as an indestructible corpse after one of the seven doors of death - which was in the basement where the has-been artist was murdered - is opened yet again by an unsuspecting plumber named Joe.

And when the doors are opened, the dead shall walk the earth. But Fulci makes a difficult decision; he sacrifices a lot of screen-time for his undead buddies, and instead dedicates most of the film to the events leading up to the grand finale in which they all rise and have a very grand feast indeed. The film doesn't seem to be a traditional zombie flick in itself, but more-so a film that tackles all things evil, as a whole. As someone who has seen many of Fulci's films - both good and bad - I appreciated this approach, and while the filmmaker had something slightly different in mind when he wrote the original script, I'm very pleased with the film he has made; and so are many of his die-hard fans.

Liza sees a creepy blind ghost girl and her helper dog. People start to die in unexpected places, at times equally as unpredictable. It's all connected; unlike the movie itself, which defies the concoction of events and scenarios as if such a concept was a cliché. We all know it's not; but this is an artist trying to show us something new, and he goes against the rules of horror movies without recreating them. Those who go to horror films to have a good time, get inspired, be entertained, and absorb talent in the way of surrealism will walk out of "The Beyond" with smiles on their faces. Those who look at it in a more logical way will look at it as a film that is literally nothing more than bunch of random, but admirably repulsive and gory set-pieces put together in a film that just doesn't work. I respect these people, and I openly accept that this film is not for everyone, but I can't deny that I loved every minute of it. It contains some of the most highly respected and memorable scenes of horror in the history of the genre; and all who like horror movies should see it just to see it. There will never be another quite like it.

Library-browsers fall from ladders and get eaten by conveniently-placed spiders. Little girls are possessed by evil spirits. Women are given acid baths. "The Beyond" isn't a film that one can merely make sense of. It doesn't care much about whether you like it or not, but that's what I loved about it. It's a showcase of what Fulci liked to do; he was very much capable of grossing you out, but there was artistry to his craft, and even though it is very much interested in its gore and its kill scenes over its plot and its characters, this is what I would call art. Nobody makes classic gore scenes quite like Fulci did; and since it was his passion to disgust through hidden beauty (at times), I have to respect his intent. This was his best film. And it's also one of the best horror films that I've seen. The feeling of experiencing it is one that is simply put, unforgettable. It takes us to a place beyond where most films - horror or not - will ever be capable of taking us. Lucio Fulci has made a one-of-a-kind feature. Watch it uncut; watch it late at night. I don't really care. Just see it to say that you saw it and then make your verdict; whether "The Beyond" rises from the dead, or just stays there in the coffin, is entirely up to you. But...uninspired acting, dialogue, and plotting aside; it does exactly what it wants to do, but in particularly Fulci-esque fashion. How else could I have possibly wanted it?]]> Tue, 25 Oct 2011 20:30:15 +0000
<![CDATA[ One of Argento's weakest - and most disappointing - features.]]>
It's awfully difficult to see passion in a film project when the filmmaker behind it wrongs more than he rights. Such is the case with Dario Argento's adaptation of the classic Gothic Romance/Horror novel "The Phantom of the Opera". It is a film that Argento was obviously committed to throughout its entire production, but man, never has dedication been this boring, bland, disjointed, and silly. Well, maybe I'm wrong in saying that; there have been worse movies attached to directors who care. It's just that Argento - whose older films earned him the title as a "Master of Horror" - should always impress in some way, shape, or form; and that is the opposite of what he does here. His "Phantom of the Opera" sucks. It can't measure up to the 1925 classic, hell, it can't even match the Joel Schumacher adaptation; which was more based on the Broadway production inspired by the novel than on the novel itself.

Can I say I was surprised? Argento has been disappointing his fans and his audience for years now. Most consider "Opera" to be his last good/watchable feature, although I somewhat disagree; "Trauma" and "The Stendhal Syndrome" are ones to look into if you wish to prove yourself wrong. This, however, is just repulsive and unimaginative trash. It looks like it was made-for-television, which it probably was, and it plays out more like an awkward taboo fantasy rather than a film. So much was put into the film, yet we bring out so little. "Phantom of the Opera" offers up no reward in exchange for sitting through it in its entirety.

I guess I can pay a short compliment to Argento; at least he tried to be creative, and if you look closely, you can even see some of the plot elements he has used in the past being re-used yet again here (such as ballet, a general fear of the dark, sexual desires, etc). Argento's first new idea involves the Phantom himself; who was, in this version, supposedly abandoned as an infant by his parents and left for dead the sewers, where the rats eventually took him under their united-and-therefore-massive wing, raising him until he escapes from childhood and into a more adult life.

The Phantom wanders around the Opera House, which lies above the sewer that he calls home, for a lot of the time; watching the performers, sometimes stalking them. He is particularly intrigued by a beautiful young actress named Christine (Asia Argento), who has a voice as beautiful as her appearance. The Phantom is smitten; he has fallen for her, and he will get her, whatever the costs may be. He fears that she will not willingly love him back; and he might be right in such assumptions. The Phantom is a social outcast, a reject, sometimes a killer; he craves both blood and sex over the more tame desires of man. But even then, maybe he isn't as different as the story wants him to be.

You'll notice something important here; the Phantom is not disfigured whatsoever, as he was in previous versions. He wears no mask because he needn't own one in the first place, although he is equally as troubled inside. In Argento's film, he is played rather effectively by Julian Sands, who wears an awful lot of make-up for the part. This new visual look for the Phantom wasn't to my taste, but some might admire and enjoy what Dario was trying to do here. For every film, there's an audience, and even though I had a hard time merely enduring the experience of watching this embarrassing failure of a horror movie, there will be those who even enjoy a film this messy and unfocused.

Meh. "Phantom of the Opera" is not a film that I care about whatsoever, since Argento does nothing to grab my attention. It doesn't contain enough of the filmmaker's stylistic trademarks to be decent; and the production is just mediocre on a visual scale. I also felt increasingly uncomfortable whenever Asia Argento had a sex scene; it's like daddy - and yes, I speak of Argento - is a demented voyeur who will not restrain himself even for the sake of securing artistry in a film. I don't know about you, but I'd feel pretty damn uncomfortable if my father was filming me nude; with the camera caressing my very being. Or maybe I'm the only one who feels this way; perhaps it's best just not to mind any of it. But the bottom line is this: "Phantom of the Opera" is an almost unwatchable example of what happens when a good director tries something completely different and takes a detour down campy, all-out ridiculous Lane. There was little to like about the film. There were some good scenes, yes, and many decent ones too; but the bad overweighs the good, and it just doesn't work. Not even for a good moment. To call it unique would be to abuse a word that applies to all that is artful, whimsical, beautiful, and even somewhat special; whilst "Phantom of the Opera" is not any of those things.]]> Tue, 25 Oct 2011 20:20:13 +0000
<![CDATA[ The spawn of Japanese arthouse film and grindhouse is a masterful one. 90%]]>
The plot is that in Japan circa 1629, during the rule of Tokugawa Tadanaga, a tournament is held where two scarred warriors fight to the death. The two warriors are Gennosuke Fujiki and Seigen Irako. Their pasts are unraveled as so you can see why things happened that led them into this fight.


One of the things that makes Shigurui stand out is how interesting they are. Since this is set in the years when the samurai populated the Japanese landscape, it shows the really unpleasant yet often overlooked realism in their lives. What I mean is that unlike most anime focusing on the lives of samurai, there's no tale about becoming a hero and triumphing over their inner demons. Shigurui instead focuses on how a rivalry was forged between the two main characters and how it spiraled into a visceral bloodbath. There's also no clear-cut good or bad guy in this anime, practically everyone (save most of the female characters) has shades of evil in them. Fujiki may seem the most sympathetic main character because he has an unbending loyalty to his master, the ultra-demented Kogan Iwamato, who'se in charge of the Kogan-Ryuu school. I personally like Irako more simply because he was simply a man who wanted to raise his status and thought he could do so by becoming a pupil at Kogan-Ryuu, but ended up having a falling out with Kogan and became blind. Kogan is easily the most detestable character because of his ultra-violent and maniacal behavior to everyone. Two of the most notable acts that shows how sick Kogan is are a scene where he goes up to Lady Iku, his concubine, and cuts off her nipple. The other is when he sticks his sword in Gonzaemon Ushimata's mouth, which cuts the edges of his lips and makes his oral cavity look much larger.


My only gripes with this anime is that the plot can be a little slow at times, and that the ending seems a little unfinished (though not quite like the detestable "completely sudden cliffhanger" featured in horrid anime like Elfen Lied), though the final battle towards the end is one of the best I've seen in a martial arts anime. On the upside, though, it seems like everything that happens in Shigurui actually adds to the story and thus, not really much pointless filler to detract from the viewing experience. I felt that the events were well structured in a way that wouldn't make you bored since I was on the edge of my seat nearly the whole time watching this, anxiously anticipating what would happen as each event occurred. What I also find really refreshing is that Shigurui has next to zero comedy in it. The only part I could say that even comes close to being "funny" is when there's an arranged marriage between Seigen and Mei and Kogan keeps saying "Conceive!", which I think was put in only to show his demented behavior and not for any intentional comic relief. Comedy for an anime like this would only hurt this anime drastically, and I'd be the first to throw giant rocks at it because I have ZERO tolerance for that.


As stated before, Shigurui is one of the most gruesome anime titles out there. I'd even say that if compared to an anime of similar ilk, such as Ninja Scroll, it would make the former title look like an episode of Sesame Street in comparison. Heck, in the opening scene, you see a fellow whose cut himself to demonstrate the consequences of using swords in duals by yanking out his entrails, and the gore in said scene looks quite real for an animated series. The violence even had me, a pretty seasoned gore hound, wincing at some scenes. There's also a good helping of nudity. I felt that the nudity was pretty well used in Shigurui because despite its pretty abundant quantity, they felt like they belonged in nearly all of the scenes they were used in. The nudity isn't all pretty, either, there's a pretty weird scene where Lady Iku sees herself nude, with large bugs crawling on her. Another scene towards the end of the series shows how the many acts of cruelty inflicted upon Mie Iwamoto literally eats away at her body and is starved, and she doesn't look pretty in this stage. There's also male nudity in Shigurui as well, since it lightly shows the encouraged homosexual relationships shared between samurai in that period, which was also further explained in the booklet that came with the series.


Shigurui's soundtrack is really superb. It consists entirely of ethnic Japanese music that fits perfectly with its setting and thankfully, is also used in the opening and closing scenes. The music itself is also well incorporated by not overpowering the scenes they're played in and distracting the audience from the action. This is a really warm welcome for those who are sick of J-pop and J-rock constantly being regurgitated in anime. The cherry on the sundae is that it's consistent, a quality that's missing as well since the "in thing" in most anime is to mash different and unfitting styles of music in its soundtrack.


Once again, Madhouse Studio has made another great anime, and it shows in the production values. This is some of the most beautiful (albeit disgusting) imagery I've scene in anime. The animation itself is also really well done since everything seems to move rather smoothly and the incorporation of CGI into this 2D anime is tastefully done by only complementing it rather than overtaking it.


If you're looking for an ultra-nihilistic, martial arts-themed anime with one of the most realistic atmospheres to it, then Shigurui will reward you pretty handsomely.]]> Sun, 23 Oct 2011 00:58:26 +0000
<![CDATA[ The 5 Samurai (with a crazy guy and a cock blocked kid).]]> "What's the use of worrying about your beard when your head's about to be taken?" 
Is it just me or 
does Akira Kurosawa always managed to have some blundering loud mouth fool? Don't get me wrong I love the guy, I've grown quite fond of his character in the limited films I have seen of him - two (Rashomon and now The Seven Samurai). Oh wait, thanks to the lovely invention of the internet I found out he's the same guy, well in that case what an extraordinary actor. Sure, Toshiro is no emotionally deep Gregory Peck, but he certainly has mastered the laughing outcast. Anyway, not straining too far away, I watched highly acclaimed, The Seven Samurai, and before I watched this so-called Japanese masterpiece, I learnt a new plural! And yes, my second film of Kurosawa lives to its legend, I know this because it kept me glued to the screen till 2am - and inspired a late night review. 

Our story is of a rural Japanese village, one villager conveniently hears the plans of local bandits, and cries fear to the villagers. Their decided option is to travel to what I assume is a city or large town, and try to hire samurai for a pittance. Eventually after the impressively detailed section hiring the samurai, they return to the helpless village and prepare for a huge amount of bandits, out numbering the seven greatly - although I'd class only five, since one was our colourful Toshiro, again playing the crazy buffoon, who in this case just follows them, and a younger samurai who is effectively 'cock blocked', because of his lack of action... 
Now to get this clear and off the tip of your tongues', I would not class this as the best action film. Yes, this movie has a considerable amount of 'action' - specifically meaning one hurting another, which most films feel most inclined to exaggerate. I guess as far as classics go, The Seven Samurai has quite a lot of violence, which is brilliantly directed, yet I just don't see the connection, since the vast majority is void
 of any 'action'. With this said, I'm not sure exactly which genre I could cast this film into, I'd like to say adventure, but all the adventure is effectively cut-out of the story, skipping the travel itself to the destination. Therefore, I guess the best place for this grand gem is a mix of action, drama and some sly comedy, or I may even be class this in the 'epic' genre, terminology I'm not so fond of, but alas that's all I can clearly place The Seven Samurai

The performances are rather strong. Characters never really have what a modern film would constitute
 strong emotional development; many are more of an icon than the deep philosopher. However, I think this works to an advantage, this film had me convinced. There were times when a samurai would simply join the men, and immediately seem comfortable of the new men, and ask very little questions of his life-threatening mission, and I loved it because it feels real. Many of the easily accustomed characters just feels organic for its time, and it's rather nice to see a time when we weren't full of whinging Prozac addicts, the only complaining I saw was from the villagers about to lose their lives! In addition, that Toshiro Milfune is a delicious absurdity, brilliance in his ridiculously enjoyable performances, definitely one of my favourite actors. 

I think what benefits our tale most is Kurosawa's genius. Often the direction uses different narratives and symbols; I could fill an essay with the little subtleties. One of the most notable forms of story telling was the parchment, which willingly compelled me. As the bandits were slowly killed, circles representing each man would be crossed out to symbolise the death - almost like a death clock. Kurosawa constantly uses little perspectives as a timer, for the survival angst throughout the film. 
One of the most beautiful aspects is how simple and easily understandable the hectic battles can be, in fact, they can be often clearer then the stretches of dialogue. It is for these reasons (among others) I found myself absolutel
y in awe of the whole production. Although the white saturation is shocking, whites are really white, that in itself is probably a good thing for a black and white film, yet it's unfortunate the subtitles had to be bright white as well. It wasn't long before my eyes in pain from straining to see what these people were saying; too bad, I'm restricted to the English language. 
Overall, I'm dribbling at The Seven Samurai's feet. Everything about this movie is powerful and brilliant, and I can't seem to find an issue beyond superficial ones (being an ignorant English speaking person and having invisible subtitiles). Not only are we told a story, but also we are told a story of a nation, Japan and all its culture is picked upon, including honour, traditions and even sexual freedom. As any great movie is so often labelled, The Seven Samurai portrays the folly of man, not on a broad spectrum as 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the confines of Japanese (and similar cultures) society. My best summary is of the famous Godard, 'Japan in 207 minutes'. 

Comments/votes preferred on RT, but My Blog:
]]> Thu, 13 Oct 2011 12:48:33 +0000
<![CDATA[ Kevin Smith's best.]]>
Kevin Smith is not a filmmaker. He isn't even a director; yet, he's always been labeled as one. Perhaps this is because he's the one behind the camera, "directing" his crew to fit his vision, and learning from the experience; eventually taking references to one film into another. His signature style is the element of crass humor; which I can admire, as long as it's done right. And if you know Kevin Smith's style, then you'll know that most of the time, he finds a way to make it work. The secret ingredient is this: Kevin Smith, not as a "director", but as a writer. Now this is something that he is. He's able to take his life and even some new inspiration and transform it into something amusing and perhaps even genuine. He swears a lot, sure, but don't we all? He can successfully take a 2-hour-long Q&A Session and turn it into a stand-up comedy routine. Yet, Smith doesn't do stand-up. But he's come pretty close, or at least, close enough.

I like Kevin Smith. I'm a big fan of "Clerks", I really liked "Dogma", and "Clerks II" was pretty satisfactory is nothing more than a mere comedic morsel. The film that I'm reviewing here is indeed another one of Kevin Smith's features; and it's called "Chasing Amy". I felt the need to identify Smith and what I think of him because knowing this; you might actually consider my review, well, relevant. I can't guarantee anything, but if you can believe in what I say, then you might be the right person for a Kevin Smith movie. His movies are not to be judged by the close-minded; and "Chasing Amy" is no exception. Me, I thought it was a wonderful film; as good as "Clerks", and possibly even better. It's definitely the deepest thing Smith has ever wrote-and-directed; as the combination is gold almost every time it shows up, attached to one of the big man's movies. Smith needs to write his own films; and here, he does indeed write. And that's why it works. He gives the script all his effort and makes something truly special, and his personal admiration for all things crude and raunchy gives the film its own style and feel. This is a Kevin Smith film; just not the kind you may expect it to be.

Holden (Ben Affleck) and Banky (Jason Lee) are two Comic Book artists. We first see them at a New York Comic-Con; being visited by fans of both the passionate and douchey variety. They seem happy even if their current project, Bluntman and Chronic, has not reached the heights that they may have hoped. Still, they have their friends; one of them being Hooper (Dwight Ewell), who also has connections of his own. One such connection would be Alyssa (Joey Lauren Adams), a beautiful young woman whom Holden falls in love with on sight. He gives it some time on that one night in which they meet to decide what his final verdict on the lady is, although just when it seems that he's planning on making a move, he discovers that his love interest is a lesbian. In most comedies, this would be a red flag, but as I said, Kevin Smith makes it something much more than it probably needs to be. So just you watch...

Holden, upon discovering the lady's sexual preferences, still remains smitten with Alyssa. He wants her badly, and deep down inside, she may want him too. He still agrees to be "just friends" for a little while, which is enough to anger the possibly jealous Banky. The relationship soon becomes something far more serious, as Alyssa is open to just about anything, as her dark past to effortlessly reveals.

I imagine that most comedies would have spiraled into realms of melodrama, to the point where they just don't feel realistic whatsoever, but Smith's screenplay is smart, his characters are endearing, and the drama was, in all honesty, the real thing. This is probably one of the best dramedies in recent memory; a masterfully fun time that takes the audience through the highs-and-lows of both relationship and life itself. There's a good deal of philosophy and intelligence to be found here, as long as you can get past the film's sense of humor. Most Kevin Smith devotees will have no trouble enjoying this effort, in fact, I think most of them will admire it for Smith's choice to go down different paths and choose different directions. I know that I enjoyed myself. It's an appealing film that I would definitely recommend to most people, but as I said, they have to be OK with crass, crude, often explicit dialogue and humoristic elements.

I loved "Chasing Amy". It has all that it needs; depth, relatable situations, lovable individuals, and note-worthy performances. Affleck is charming in one of his best performances to date, Adams is quirky and likable as her...peculiar character, and Smith, as the writer, nails this screenplay to the (figurative) board. It's a film that hits all the right notes; it makes you laugh, and at moments, it hits you with almost overwhelming tenderness and honesty. Why can't more dramedies be like this? Ah yes...because they aren't written and directed by Kevin Smith. I'm sure there are many other reasons why this is, but that's possibly the best one I can think of.]]> Sun, 25 Sep 2011 19:37:08 +0000
<![CDATA[ One of the most inspiring films of all time.]]>
Cinema begins with a childlike fascination and only ends when all lights turn out and all dark corners have been explored. Film is an everlasting, inspiring art; one which I've enjoyed studying and will continue to enjoy studying until the day I happen to expire. I can only hope that such a thing never happens to the movies. They deserve much better. Throughout my life, I've seen motion pictures that have inspired me and intrigued me in different ways. Once in a while, they tend to challenge me and my personal philosophies; but that is great filmmaking. There are no two great movies that are truly the same, and there is a reason for this. Great movies do not have identical twins, or clones, if you will. They may have imitators, and they may have follow-ups, but there will never quite be a perfect match for the perfect original.

"Cinema Paradiso", an Italian film released in the late 1980's, is a reflection on why cinema exists and why people love it. It's about as relatable as it is unforgettable; not only a film meant as an experience, but one meant as a story that all cinephiles can enjoy and even cherish. I watched the original, 2-hour cut; which, in my opinion, is a pretty darned good edition of the film. There is a longer cut available; but I heard mixed things about it, and while I do intend to watch it one day; that is not the version I am reviewing.

It's very hard to review the film. It was just too darned good. As good as films get, in fact. I like movies about the movies; especially ones that look deep into filmmaking and why it captures the hearts and even the minds of so many people. Here is a film that deals with the challenge and misunderstanding of the artistic visual medium; using humor, drama, and pure emotion to get the best out of the experience.

The premise itself had me sold. It chronicles the life of Salvatore (played by Salvatore Cascio as a child, Marco Leonardi as a teen, and Jacques Perrin as an adult). The story begins with him as a young child; who sneaks into picture shows just so he can experience a new thrill-a-day. He eventually confronts the man behind the magic, the projectionist by the name of Alfredo (played by the wonderful Philippe Noiret), and the man takes a liking to Salvatore's sense of wonder. He gives him some film, which eventually gets the child into trouble with his judgmental, misunderstanding, and perhaps emotionally broken widow mother.

Salvatore eventually gets a job as an assistant to Alfredo, and he learns the ropes easily, to the surprise of the local adults of Sicily (where the film takes place). This passion carries on into young adulthood all the way until the end of a lifetime. Salvatore begins making his own films in his teenage years, which is after a terrible tragedy strikes, rendering poor old Alfredo unable to do his job any longer. Salvatore still manages to take over Cinema Paradiso, which is the name of the local theater in which Salvatore found work.

Oh, the theater attracts many human beings of many personalities. There's the priest, who comes to censor the films for any suggestive or sexual content (violence doesn't seem to be in the picture quite yet, mind you). Then, there's the usual audience; including a man who tends to let loose spit-balls onto the fellow audience-members below him, as well as the one very sleepy man who finds himself snoring obnoxiously during the film, prompting his onlookers to take pleasure in waking him. I enjoyed these minor characters. But I was more-so attached, emotionally, to the relationship between mentor and student; Alfredo and Salvatore. The elder man gives Salvatore, the child, a sense of life and beauty he would never have discovered on his own. He shows him the cinema and allows him the chance to work alongside it before he has to make his own choices in life. We're all a bit like this. Or at least quite a few of us are. And if you aren't, then perhaps "Cinema Paradiso" is not for you. However, I found it beautiful.

The performances here are gold. The film is never mean, always heartwarming and endlessly entertaining; thus, it's an easy, fun, but complex watch. I loved it because it went beyond what I expected, and delivered a surprisingly addictive and relatable story. I loved these characters and whatever situation they were involved in. There's a charm to the film, but it does not come without the gruesome bite of reality. When dealing with stories like these, you need realism; there's no way around it. Avoiding it is a sin; as is delving deep into pretention. But "Cinema Paradiso" is not pretentious. How could it be? It isn't overly indulgent, or ambitious; it's a simple story of a child who grew up on film reels and the inspiration of an aging projectionist. It's the kind of film that might inspire you to make films, not because it contains the most interesting or memorable of images, but because it's so simplistic, yet so great.

I loved, loved, loved, LOVED this film. I loved everything about it; from its attitude, to its cinematography, to its screenplay, to its performances, to its emotional payoff. I was nearly in tears by the end; which will hit most people hard, as long as they felt engaged in these characters and in the story. Not everyone will love "Cinema Paradiso", but it can be said that its fascination is a rather appealing one. This is pure entertainment, with a bit of depth on the side, for adventurous movie-goers. Just like the art that it explores narratively, this film will never die. It has aged well, if not quite as long as most classics. But art doesn't always need to be old. It just needs to be unforgettable and indeed, inspiring. This film is satisfying on all fronts.]]> Sat, 17 Sep 2011 12:00:32 +0000
<![CDATA[ Tense, entertaining British thriller.]]>
"Eden Lake", like "Saw", "Deliverance", and many others before it; is marketed and consistently labeled as a horror film, but feels more like a thriller than a film of that one genre. While it does deal with things genuinely horrific, and the presence of bloodshed, it thrills appropriately and dishes out the brutality that you've come to expect. Horror sites reviewed it, praised it, and eventually lead this movie-goer to see it; and it's about time that I did so.

I enjoy thrillers, as long as they're done right and don't try to force a message onto the viewer. There seems to be plenty of commentary when it comes to "Eden Lake", yet none of it feels unnecessary or pretentious; it actually WORKS, which is somewhat of a rarity. I appreciated and enjoyed the film because it does what it does very well. The least I can do is review it positively and do it some justice; I hope I'm doing so right now.

You've got a simple idea to use for a premise: a couple (Michael Fassbender and Kelly Reilly) take a vacation to a lake area, hoping to enjoy themselves in a romantic sense, and find themselves fighting for their lives when they learn of the inhabitants of the place. In this case, those who live around the lake are a group of hoodies; violent, savage, and abusive from the moment they first come into view. The couple minds their own business; but the hoodies, they do not. Eventually, the villainous kids take their reckless acts to the next level; forcing the heroes to turn to the only choice they have left, which is fighting back.

The film doesn't do much to inspire what I'd call "sympathy" for the characters, although we still follow their desperate struggle 'till the end, for some odd reason. These aren't richly written, drawn-out characters; these are just two normal people, and this realization actually adds to the film's quality. In order for horror to work half of the time, we must imagine ourselves in the situation and think about the moral questioning that would go on during such events. "Eden Lake" will strike its target audience as appealing just for that alone, and possibly even more.

I felt the film was well-acted and convincingly written enough for me to admire it, at least from a distant. There is disturbing violence towards animals, adults, and youths present; but the film's decision to focus more on atmosphere than just the sheer brutality of the situation makes the experience endurable. The film is visually interesting, and the direction is most certainly first-rate; while the script is just second-rate, but that's better than most thrillers can manage nowadays, isn't it?

So yes, "Eden Lake" is some scary, thrilling, exciting stuff. It's most definitely worth your time, contrary to all that other genre crap that plagues the movie screens of America. This is a British film; with British actors and sensibilities. If you can distance yourself from the unsettling violent content, then perhaps there are some things to like here. If you are a fan of the genre, this movie is for you. It may take other non-genre-fans a little more time and effort to warm up to it, but it's most certainly a film that will be enjoyed by others outside of the typical genre fan-base, which is good. Like I said; it's arguable that this is a straight-up horror movie, even though it has its scary moments, but whether I'm right about it or not doesn't seem to matter. What matters, in this situation, is the fact that it's a good film. Now I'll leave all this genre confusion alone, as I've run it into the ground a bit excessively for one review.]]> Sat, 10 Sep 2011 17:42:57 +0000
<![CDATA[ Disappointing early effort from Italian master-of-horror Dario Argento.]]>
There are moments where I love Dario Argento ("Deep Red", "Suspiria", and "Phenomena") and then there are also these little moments where I just don't ("Inferno"). He's a divisive fellow, and to my surprise, there are some people who seriously hate this guy. I could never do such a thing, for "Deep Red" is one of my all-time favorite films, and "Suspiria" is a great film when I need some simple surrealistic pleasures. But not all of Argento's films are reminiscent of his best, and this is why he was only, for an instant, a great filmmaker; although he may come back to us one day.

However, maybe it's just a matter of finding the right script, the right twists, and the right team of movie-makers to match his style. I like Argento when he's allowed to stretch his creative limbs. One of his earlier efforts, "Four Flies on Grey Velvet", has all the imagination and inspiration the world; but little of the ambition and the goodness that we've come to expect out of Argento. Of course, this was before "Deep Red" and "Suspiria", but it was also after "The Bird With the Crystal Plumage". Therefore, something this bland, and this mediocre, just isn't acceptable.

The film starts out on an entertaining note; with an opening credits sequence involving radical rock-and-roll and plenty of interesting camera angles to set the mood. We meet Roberto Tobias (Michael Brandon), the drummer in the rock band that produced the said radical rock-and-roll, who sees a creepy man peeking in on him and his band-mates during rehearsal. I guess this isn't the first time he's seen the man, because Roberto eventually gets pissed off enough to follow the guy into an abandoned theater and accidentally stab him with his own switchblade.

Now here's the problem; there was a witness to the accidental killing of this strange man, who we never hear of or care about again, and for (possibly) good reason. The witness of the incident donned a silly and creepy puppet mask, and took pictures of the crime. Instead of going to the police with the evidence, it becomes clear that the villainous puppet-man would rather torture the hell out of our hero and drive him to the edge of insanity, although the question remains: why? Why is the villain doing this? What is his/her motive? We learn about that more through the film's twist ending, which is maddeningly derivative and lame.

The movie has some suspenseful scenes; the kind that I like to see out of Argento. He plays with our "fear of the dark" a little, but never to the extent that the film is actually scary, but what's that word mean to anyone these days anyways? This might as well be more of a thriller than a horror film, thus, it does not need to be particularly frightening; just thrilling. But even then, it doesn't meet the standards. It doesn't completely fail, and I wouldn't call the film bad, but for a movie that thinks this much and tries so hard, there wasn't enough to like. Argento didn't embed enough scenes with his stylistic flare into it, and when he did, it was fun; entertaining, even. However, these scenes are so scarce, so brief, and so forgettable. This leaves "Four Flies on Grey Velvet" to be a full-on bore with a few impressively staged scenes, an engaging and stylish soundtrack (courtesy of Ennio Morricone, a collaborator of Argento in his earliest - and I mean earliest - days), and many other qualities that may appeal to some hard-core fans of the filmmaker, but not to me. By all means, I don't recommend it, but some seem to find it engaging and rather great, so maybe you shouldn't take my advice. By no means would I tell you to distance yourself from the film; I just found it aggressively disappointing.]]> Tue, 30 Aug 2011 19:38:27 +0000
<![CDATA[ A tense, true tale about a group of skilled Jewish counterfeiters and corrupt German self-interest]]> The Counterfeiters tells the story of Salomon Sorowitsch (Karl Markovics), a professional criminal, a master counterfeiter and a Jew. He winds up in a brutal Nazi labor camp because of all three.

Sally also is a survivor. He's not idealistic about Judaism, he knows how prisons work and how to survive. His goal is simple: Do whatever it takes to stay alive and try to use every bit of guile and opportunism he has to get more food and to escape the work designed to kill the inmates. He winds up being jeered as a Jew but painting heroic portraits of SS officers and their families.
One night you might say his luck changes. He's transported to Sachsenhausen concentration camp and encounters Sturmbannfuhrer Freidrich Herzog (Devid Striesow), the man who arrested him. Now Herzog is in charge of Operation Bernhard, a top-secret project endorsed by Himmler: Find a way to counterfeit British pounds that are so perfect they won't be detected. These counterfeits will be used by the Nazis to flood Britain and destroy its economy. Sorowitsch and a group of Jewish prisoners -- skilled typographers, printers, artists, paper experts -- are taken to a top-secret, walled section of Sachsenhausen and put to work. If they succeed, they live, for a while. If they fail, they die. They succeed so well with the pound that the Nazis decide to use the stuff to buy their own war needs. But now the prisoners also have the task of counterfeiting American $100 bills. Same deal: Succeed, live; fail, die. One prisoner, Adolph Burger (August Diehl), says he will sabotage the project by deliberately showing it down. It makes for a tense moral dilemma. Burger is prepared to be shot. He's also prepared to take the others with him. The others, naturally enough, don't agree.
For Sally the pragmatist, all he knows is that they are alive while others just beyond the wall are dead. They all can hear the pleading and the gunshots. By working, Sally and the others have better food, showers once a week, softer beds and some shaky security as long as their project is needed. They still endure brutal treatment by their SS guards, but at least they're alive. Sally intends to survive, but he probably surprises himself as he finds ways to help some of the other prisoners and to delay the project enough to matter but not enough to see people shot. And it should be said that Sally the expert is in a position to have the material and presses he needs to finally produce a perfect counterfeit, something he was never able to accomplish before. His British pounds are so good they're accepted by the Swiss and verified by the Bank of England.
The Counterfeiters is an intriguing mixture of tense thriller and Nazi brutality. It is a story permeated with the fear of death, arbitrary and pointless. You're suspected of having tuberculosis because you cough? An SS guard simply takes you out to the courtyard, makes you kneel and fires a bullet in your brain. No matter how useful you might be, you're still just a Jew.
The movie is based on Adolph Burger's memoirs, but was significantly tweaked, with Burger's approval, by the director/screenwriter Stefan Ruzowitzky. Karl Markovics as Salomon "Sally" Sorowitsch gives an excellent performance. Markovics is a tough-looking actor who probably has had the best role of his career. Sorowitsch is based on Salomon Smolianoff, a wily Russian career criminal and master forger.
Right after the war says Burger, "I told my friend Salomon, `Please promise me you will never counterfeit again.' He promised me he wouldn't do it any more. So we shook hands, and I have never seen him again." As of four years ago, Burger, then 91, still gave talks to schoolchildren about the horrors the German's wreaked and, sometimes, about counterfeiting.]]> Wed, 17 Aug 2011 21:16:32 +0000
<![CDATA[ A movie that deserves no respect, no stars, no points, no nothing. Spit upon it every chance you get]]>
Violence is not anything remotely new when it comes to Lucio Fulci flicks, or me. I'm used to the concept of violence itself; and most of the time I don't mind it in cinema. This is because most filmmakers have the capacity to put substance and moral redemption over content; but then there are some people who just don't know when to stop and how to make a good movie out of uneasy, disturbing people. With "The New York Ripper", Fulci has proved himself to be nothing more than a pig.

I mean, what else are you when you make movies as stupid, unnecessary, disturbing, and derivative as this? "The New York Ripper" is not only unoriginal and unexciting, but it's also disgusting. I wanted to look away from the screen a few times, and I almost did. I thought that Fulci intended to entertain with his fascination in the gore-effects department, but here he wants nothing more than for his audience to squirm in their seats. He will get his wish. I advise the squeamish to steer far away from this cruel, sleazy, perverted "horror film". They say that the "hardcore" horror fans, AKA the people who are as much of pigs as Lucio Fulci is for making this horrendous piece of shit, will enjoy the flick. Maybe they will. Maybe they'll get off to it. It's not my business what they to do with "The New York Ripper". All I know is that it made me feel like a rather dirty, mindless boy.

Why am I even reviewing it? When it's over, you feel like you have to clean all the sludge from each corner of your being. I'm still cleaning. The story here involves an ominous killer of women who stalks his prey in the shadows. He makes weird duck sounds whenever he closes in on his victims. He's a pervert; a voyeur, if you will. Oh, and better yet, he's also a sadist. Oh, joy!

And it seems he's been exercising his craft for a long time, and all this time, under the noses of the authorities. It first comes to the attention of the police that there's a killer in New York when, in the film's admittedly affective opening sequence, a man is playing fetch with his dog and the pooch brings back a decaying human hand in his mouth instead of a bit of wood.

The police attempt, many times, to find out just who this disgusting criminal is. He frequently calls the characters and makes the same ol' duck noises that we all know and love, and at one point, he even lets the police take part in the hearing of a torture session. So basically, they get to listen while he mutilates a woman's entire body with a razor blade. Oh, how fun.

The film is basically one bloody-disturbing set piece after another, with outlandishly gruesome scenes such as the one involving female-genital mutilation by broken bottle. Do I want to watch this kind of thing? Do I go to movies to ENJOY stuff like this? No, I do not. I suppose I was somewhat warned of the dark, dark depths that this film rests within, but I did not heed them; I kept going until I saw the film for myself. It is an official "video nasty", which is the only reason why anyone would want to seek it out. I don't know why they would anyways. This isn't entertainment. It's pure misogyny. Say what you want about movies such as "Antichrist"; this is filmmaking without the intent of art or entertainment. Thus, it has no purpose, it was pointless in its making, and it remains just as so.

It doesn't help that Lucio Fulci hires poor screenwriters (including himself) either. The dialogue here, dubbed or not, it just plain bad. And yes: that's VERY bad, if you must have specifics. So yeah, you basically get to throw up and seek out two sources of the vomit; one being the disturbing images, the other being the complete lack of coherence or substance. There's no commentary to be made here about serial killers, psychotics, or perverted voyeurs. Instead, we just get a movie all about rape, sex, violence, blood, gore, and ugliness from the darkest corners of the earth. It's not often that I give any film the ol' "zero", but this is a special occasion. And I will celebrate it by forgetting this film, and if I ever get so extreme about my hatred for it, I'll make sure it can no longer be accessed. You say that's excessive? Well, so is liking, or making, this film. And there's no stopping either, now that it is made, and it has been watched. Let's bury it together.]]> Sat, 6 Aug 2011 19:30:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ Quite possibly as great as "Psycho" when it comes to psychological thriller-character-studies.]]>
When Michael Powell's "Peeping Tom" first released in 1960, it was the unfortunate and melancholy end of a great filmmaker's career. But if there was ever a great movie to end a man's profession, this would be it. If you ask me, "Peeping Tom" only offended those who just weren't ready for it. But then again, it was 1960, so nobody was. It wasn't violence that had people feeling uneasy; it was the atmosphere, the filmmaking techniques, and the realism of "Peeping Tom". People were simply trying to deny that it was not only a masterpiece of the voyeurism cinema, but also a masterfully told and crafted psychological study of a killer. We don't want to think thoughts of violence and murder; so this is why we might not like "Peeping Tom". I can't say it's for everyone, not even now, as it can be seen on Criterion Collection DVD, where it is most appreciated. People are more excepting of this material nowadays; although I would have always been all-for this movie. That I can tell you up front.

Some people put the camera to good use and make great films out of both their material and their equipment. The central character of "Peeping Tom" is Mark Lewis (Karlheinz Bohm), and he is a man that uses the camera for some particularly different and disturbing things. For instance, we first see him filming his encounter with a prostitute on the streets. He follows the woman into her house, and only stops filming when he kills her and films the poor lady's reaction. Later, Mark watches his nightly outing on a projector screen in his home.

Mark has a job as the member of a film crew. He often photographs whores and prostitutes because that is the kind of things he is assigned; and it's clear that he needs to move up on the food chain. Mark is a social reject; he lives in a building where there are other people, yet he is only just talking to one of the woman who happens to be a tenant of his (as he owns the building). I suppose his fetish for filming the deaths of feminine victims contributes to his isolation, but that's for another day.

We follow the "peeping tom" as he struggles to perhaps make one healthy connection with that very woman who lives in the same building. She's not sure of his secret, but she's concerned for him; especially when he reveals to her a tape of Mark's father conducting psychological studies on him like a test subject. Maybe Mark's childhood is the reason why he's a voyeur. Or maybe he's always been that way.

I'm a sucker for movies that study the psychology and complexity of the human mind. I love "Psycho". I loved "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer", which came out a few decades after this film, but still counts as a damn good example. There are people out there like Norman Bates, Henry, and even Mark; although some still protest that films don't need to be made about them.

Oh, but they do. That's like saying that there should be no films that cover challenging and different material at all. "Peeping Tom", like the other two films I referenced, does not exploit its subjects, but it rather does them justice as plot elements. The film is disturbing both for what it doesn't show, and also for what it has on its mind. I'm fascinated with this movie, and can't see why anyone, today, would despise it. People who, perhaps, lived in the time of its release will probably still find its negative impact still living forevermore, but that's the point; this film has not aged. It is still great, it is still challenging, and it is still a frightening work of realistic thriller-fiction.

Karlheinze Bohm was perfectly cast as Mark. The best movies voyeurs, stalkers, and killers are played exquisitely and interestingly by their performers. And I reference "Psycho" yet again, now; Norman Bates was played by Anthony Perkins, and nobody else could have done a finer job. Both Bates and Mark Lewis are played with social innocence; the kind that makes both characters so intellectually and internally frightening. If "Peeping Tom" scared me, it was because it was so darned smart.

If there is a dark ally of cinema known as "voyeurism cinema", I suppose each entry must be treated with special, different criticism. Thus, if "Psycho" is a masterpiece of "voyeurism cinema", then so is "Peeping Tom"; and if "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" is a smart, disturbing vision of a killer, then hell, so is this film. "Peeping Tom" is uneasy and unnerving enough to turn some people off, but who gives a damn. You either see this film, love it, or you don't. I see it as a masterpiece that demands repeated viewings to flawlessly decipher. There are few films like it, and for good reasons. I say smell the disturbingly mellow flowers, and let the uneasiness come in without controversy or negative excitement. It will do you good if you do this.]]> Mon, 18 Jul 2011 15:51:06 +0000
<![CDATA[ On the Wane]]>
I never had an opportunity to see this in the theater upon its initial release. I assumed that the result would be an adaptation of Kikuchi's work colored by the rapid, severe action sequences and brisk pace typical of other Yoshiaki Kawajiri features like Wicked City and Ninja Scroll. My guess was accurate only in regard to the former element; while the violence of this movie is as stylized and impressive in its execution as that of Kawajiri's other directorial efforts, this is surely as measured as it was in print, a story that develops slowly and for good reason.

The visuals of this film cannot be faulted. CGI is implemented seamlessly with cel animation to great effect. But the finest accomplishments of this movie's production are an array of magnificent backgrounds that depict vivid pastoral settings of numerous environments and extraordinary, sprawling interiors in which Gothic and Victorian design are rendered with impossibly ornate detail. I've seen a lot of animated features, and this is probably the most beautiful among them. Character designer Yutaka Minowa must be credited for his efforts: while his D is quite similar in appearance to the magnificent illustrations by Yoshitaka Amano found in the novels, the other characters are not dissimilar to those seen in other Kawajiri films. In particular, Borgoff Marcus bears more than a passing resemblance to Himuro Gemma of Ninja Scroll. The elaborateness of the characters almost equals that of their surroundings.

Bloodlust is unique among anime in that its original language track was English (the Japanese-language track was actually recorded third, after a Cantonese-language version!). The quality of the vocal performances are very mixed. Andrew Philpot's D is comparable to Kaneto Shiozawa's voicing of the 1985 film: subdued, with an undercurrent of intensity. It's praiseworthy, though it really doesn't compare to the authoritative baritone that Michael McConnohie used to reinforce D's commanding presence in the first movie. Michael McShane provides the sentient parasite of D's left hand with a nervous swagger that compliments the character's comic relief. Most of the other voice actors are certainly competent. In fact, John Rafter Lee voices Meier Link with an imperial menace that's subtly impressive. But much of the dialogue sounds rushed and clumsy, which may have more to do with the difficulties common to English translations than the failings of the performers. It's often difficult to translate, paraphrase and speak an English phrase properly in the same amount of time as a Japanese equivalent, something that longtime viewers of English-dubbed anime or jidaigeki are well aware of. Put simply: for common speech, English is usually the more verbose and Japanese the more efficient of the two languages.

While Bloodlust is surely as attractive and exciting as could be expected, it isn't as fun as I expected it to be. The moral ambiguity of the film is refreshing. There is only one protagonist and one antagonist, and the integrity of the other characters is not easily delineated. The film's conclusion is aptly sober, and surely not to all tastes. Technically, this feature is as fine a technical accomplishment as any that Kawajiri's produced and as downcast as many of his other movies. While I came away from this satisfied, it's ultimately one of the more depressing fantasies that I've seen in a while.

As DVDs come, this one is just fine. Its picture is rendered with excellent clarity, thankfully presented in 1.85:1. I'm not a videophile, so I can't reliably comment on the peculiar merits of this disc's imaging, but it looks great to me. However, the sound mix is definitely lacking. Dialogue is sometimes almost rendered inaudible by the louder score and (excellent) sound effects, something that often frustrates me about Dolby 5.1 mixes. Menus and introduction alike are as attractive as the film requires.

An included featurette is better than most in that it's watchable; its most interesting portions consist of commentary on the film's story and production by Kawajiri and Minowa. Another feature compares rough storyboards to their corresponding finished scenes, which is of mild interest. Least among the extra materials is a "Top Ten" compilation of favorite scenes resulting from an online vote; if you didn't participate in this exercise years ago, I can't imagine that this would interest you.

Several of the film's trailers and TV spots are also included. Most efficacious of this lot is Bloodlust's slickly edited Korean theatrical trailer, which oddly features English narration accompanied by Hangul subtitles! Trailers for other Urban Vision releases can also be perused; those who've seen the Golgo 13 and Wicked City trailers on Streamline Pictures' VHS releases will note that Urban Vision acquired the defunct company's advertisement content in supplement to its features!]]> Wed, 13 Jul 2011 16:38:46 +0000
<![CDATA[ Silent night, holy night.]]>
Who says all Christmas movies need to be sentimental and sweet? "Black Christmas" is a rather tasteless holiday outing that is perhaps only tasteless because of its genre; horror. How many Christmas horror movies have you seen? There are a few, but this is the best out of all of them. It was directed by Bob Clark, who if you saw his soon-to-come "A Christmas Story", you'd know is very fond of the Christmas holiday, yet he's not afraid to be daring and make a film that satirizes or exploits the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects of the times.

"A Christmas Story" is a film as hilarious as this one is scary. It's not exactly as true to the Christmas spirit as Clark's more successful film is, but that doesn't make it any less interesting. In fact, "Black Christmas" is more than likely one of the best slasher films around. It is known to have "started it all". It set some pretty good standards for slasher films such as "Halloween" and "Friday the 13th" by taking influence from the earlier film, "Psycho", and putting a unique spin on its tale of psychopathic murder. And like some of the greater horror films, "Black Christmas" is not a gore-fest; and it merely implies most of its violent material. Also, this movie is scary; unlike so many of its imitators. Naturally, I had a good time with it. It was a fun, smart horror movie that deserves all the recognition it can get, although I don't think it's QUITE a perfect movie.

A sorority house is terrorized by an odd, deranged killer throughout the film. The crazy bastard begins his reign of terror through vulgar phone-calls. Whenever the girls pick up one of his "calls", they're quick to put the phone right back down. Their initial reaction, as forever-drunk college kids, is to call the guy on the other line a "pervert". I'm sure this both angers and pleasures the caller, and he doesn't stop terrorizing through the phone-lines.

The killer begins to murder sorority girls one-by-one. He starts with a particularly pretty girl, and makes good use of plastic sheeting. You'll know what I mean when you see the film. There are some solid characters involved here, but what Clark and his movie are interested in the most is whether the film actually works for its genre. And guess what; it does work.

The best scenes involve the killer stalking his prey. Its shot in first-person view; and for some reason, I found the feel of these scenes and sequences quite hypnotic. This technique has been used before, and it has been re-used just as well. But it works exceptionally well here; just like everything else. "Black Christmas" is a well-made and perhaps even well-written slasher film that ranks amongst one of the finer, if not finest entries for its little sub-genre.

Oh, and then there's the nail-biting suspense. I love when a film chooses atmosphere and tension over gore, and there was once a day, "back-in-the-day", when there were many films that chose wisely. This is one of them. As I already mentioned, it's not a particularly gruesome movie; but it's not a silent night, nor is it a holy night. It's a wild one; and a worthy one. "Black Christmas" is an easy must-see for any hardcore horror fan; and it deserves its label as a classic. The only minor problem I have with it is that it kind of stalls a little during the third act, which is still entertaining, but not nearly as much as the first two. Nevertheless, "Black Christmas" is high on both scares and holiday anti-spirit. Distasteful, yes, but also a very good example of what to expect from its genre.]]> Wed, 13 Jul 2011 15:02:40 +0000
<![CDATA[Lady Vengeance Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy, this is my least favorite entry. The film is full of the expected twists and turns that are common in his films, but somehow this one didn't have the dark, gritty realism of the first two installments. Part of the issue is that much of the film is overly stylized and features slightly surreal visual flares that give it a more fantastical quality making it a little hard to discern what is reality, what is memory, and what is dream. Another issue, although certainly not a flaw, was that this film relies more heavily on humor and melodrama, which distracts one from the actual taking of vengeance. The film depicts less violence than the previous entries and instead shows how the main character plans her vengeance and the steps along the way into making that a reality.

The story follows Lee Geum-ja, a woman who was falsely accused of murdering a young boy, and then imprisoned for thirteen years. It's revealed that all the while in prison, Geum-ja made plans to carry out revenge on the real killer of the boy, Mr. Baek, a former teacher of hers who blackmailed her into helping him while her own daughter was held hostage. Geum-ja's daugther, renamed Jenny, was then adopted by an Australian couple while she was in prison. It is in prison where Geum-ja begins to take her plan into action by winning favors from other inmates by helping them with their problems in the prison facility.
After thirteen long years she is released and begins collecting on these favors, visiting the former prisoners, who were released before she was, and having them help her carry out her complex goal. But as to be expected, things aren't so easy and when Geum-ja visits her long-lost daughter, Jenny, in Australia, she doesn't count on Jenny forcing Geum-ja to take her back with her to Korea. The two bond, slowly and reluctantly at first, and see each other as damaged people, but Geum-ja understands that she has a dark past full of sins and regrets which she cannot escape and Jenny has the chance for redemption and a hope for the future which Geum-ja will never be able to share with her.

Lady Vengeance is a more character-driven film than one might expect and it features very little action instead emphasizing the emotional states of the many victims in the story. The one real act of vengeance in the film is indeed gruesome as it is revealed that the parents of all the children Mr. Baek has killed have been gathered by Geum-ja to take their fatal revenge. The proceeding murder and the lengthy discussion scene that comes before are so over-the-top and unrealistic that they take on an almost morbidly farcical nature, like some absurd ceremony of judgment and mutilation. What's interesting is that from this point onward Geum-ja's revenge is virtually all but an act of voyeurism as she watches the parents murder Mr. Baek using a variety of blunt and bladed weapons.

All in all, I wasn't sure how to react to Lady Vengeance. It wasn't an adrenaline-fueled thriller with cleverly choreographed action scenes like Oldboy, nor was it a gritty urban revenge drama like Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance. It did however have carry-over elements. Like in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance there is a kidney transplant and a kidnapping (some of the dialogue regarding the kinds of kidnappings and the effects they have on parents is almost identical). Like in Oldboy the main character has been imprisoned for years and years, though in this case Geum-ja hasn't been in complete solitude like the Oh Dae-su character. There are other similarities such as the twist ending and the relationships between parents and their children and how good paternal figures can be driven by rage and the desire for revenge until they are twisted into creatures of brutal, sadistic violence, who bear little resemblance to the loving parents they once were.
As a finale, Lady Vengeance seems a little too polished and commercial when compared to the previous films, and in some ways it's anticlimactic. Still, the performances are strong and the imagery has a poetic, even ironic, quality to it that gives it a unique flavor.]]> Tue, 5 Jul 2011 15:52:58 +0000
<![CDATA[ A rather strange but welcome addition to my anime collection. 84%]]> I first read about Rin back in late January/February of 2010, shortly after spending a handsome amount of money on other anime titles. After reading about the plot and its content, I was really mad at myself for wasting my funds on other titles since I really wanted it badly. I felt much like Dewey in the Malcolm in the Middle episode “Cheerleader” when Dewey resorts to spinning on the floor screaming “I want it!! I want it!! I want it!!” when he wanted some expensive toy. I waited until I got the appropriate funds and as soon as that was satiated, I got Rin in a snap and watched it, and boy was I happy to have seen it!!


Rin's story takes place in a sixty-five year time period, starting in 1990 and ending in 2055. The story is about a sexy and immortal private detective named Rin Asogi, and her partner, Mimi. They have their own business where they take up a variety of odd jobs ranging from finding lost cats or researching ancient stamps. However, their existences become threatened when an eternal being named Apos, targets Rin to sacrifice her to Yggdrasil, the tree of all life. It's not everyday that you see an anime where you see the protagonists face sadomasochistic female scientists, sex cyborgs, and winged male immortals (named angels) just to name a few.


One of Rin's strongest qualities is the plotting of the series since as stated before, the whole story spans over a sixty-five year time period, yet each of the six episodes in the series all seems to mesh smoothly with each other. In other words, the time periods transition very well and don't feel clunky or tacked-on. While the series isn't plotted to be a Satoshi Kon-styled brain twister, there's enough twists and surprises to kill off any shreds of predictability, enhancing the viewing experience. Also, key characters and some themes are introduced in the first half of the series and at first, you may think “What's the significance of the characters?”, but as the series gets close to the end, you begin to realize that they all fit into the story perfectly as certain points unravel.


Your glass is either half-full or half-empty in this category. Personally, my glass is half-full. While we get to know Rin and Mimi pretty well, there's still an aura of mystery surrounding them, which works very well in their favor since Rin and Mimi are possibly around a millennium old, so most (if not all) of their history can't be immediately known to the viewer. Some characters like Rin and Mimi's eventual partner, Koki Maeno, seem like nothing more than plot devices, but you'll eventually learn the significance of his character and of his family line in general. However, unfortunately, some characters seem fairly hollow. Examples would be the main villain Apos and side villain Sayara Yamanobe, with the former starting off as an interesting character but descends into stock villain territory in the latter half of the series, and the latter whose in there only to demonstrate some really sick torture acts against Rin on the first and third episodes of the series. All in all, the characters are decent, and certainly many levels higher than the cheap and bland characterization of trendy swill like Bleach and Naruto.


Rin has fairly strong elements of Norse mythology and even some reversal of well known elements in Christianity within the story, along with themes of immortality and lesbianism. The best example of the Norse mythology angle is that Yggdrasil is central to the story. Rin establishes a theme of immortality and plays within its own rules. Yggdrasil spreads out orbs called “time fruits” throughout the Earth and only a handful of people will absorb them. When women absorb them, they become immortal, and the only way they can die is if someone tears into their bodies and rips the “time fruit” out of them, and destroys it. However, if men absorb the time fruit, their only immortal for a short period of time and mutate into hideous beings called “angels” (hence the “reversal” of a main Christian element), and can only stay alive if they devour immortal women. This is where the lesbianism kicks in since immortal women obviously can't form relationships with immortal men due to previous statements, it makes more sense for them to love each other.


The artwork is very nice and finely detailed in this anime, and the characters are very well drawn. Of course, with this being an anime geared for the male demographic, the female characters are fabulous eye candy, especially Rin (I have a thing for ladies who love vodka and wear glasses). The animation is very well done most of the time, but I noticed some scenes where characters in the background wouldn't move. There's elements of 3D animation incorporated into the 2D animated environment and the 3D elements thankfully don't overpower the visuals and don't look tacked-on.


Rin is an anime I certainly wouldn't let the kids see since there's a good amount of brutal violence and plenty of nudity and fan service. I felt the violence was very well used to make the anime feel disturbing, especially in the first episode where Sayara cuts, pierces, and beats Rin in one of her labs when her break-in fails. While I certainly don't mind female nudity, fan service, and lesbianism one bit, I feel some of it was put in there just for the sake of having it. Some examples are in episode one, we see Rin taking a shower and for no reason, she fondles her own breasts and in episode five, we see a bunch of immortal women engage in a lesbian orgy for no reason. Also, there's some unnamed female informants who help out Rin and Mimi by providing information and the only form of payment they accept is lesbian sex. Seeing Rin copulate with the informant doesn't bother me at all, but seeing Mimi copulate with the informant gives me a weird feeling since Mimi looks like she's 10-12 years-old (even though she's roughly 1000 years-old). Again, being a male in his early 20's, I personally don't mind the excessive nudity and sex.


The opening and closing songs are a pretty big change from the usual opening anime songs since they're traditional heavy metal. I was initially disappointed with the songs since they were described as “neo-classical metal” and expected something along the lines of early Coroner, but now I think the songs are pretty cool and fit in with this type of anime. The background music is a mixed bag because while the music itself sounds good, I feel that they're sometimes used for the wrong emotional effects in some scenes and some may be turned off by the fact that the music sounds like cheap synth-jazz lifted out of a hardcore hentai title (I don't mind this, either).


Rin, thankfully, maintains a serious and dark tone throughout its whole running time. For those who loathe an anime labeled as “serious” but then bombards you with cheap slapstick and over-exaggerated facial expressions, then Rin won't be a problem for you whatsoever. Infact, the only part I could recall that could possibly be considered “funny” is a scene in episode two (which takes place in 1991), where Mimi brags about how “top of the line” her computer is, but will make computer geeks like myself crack up due to how outdated computers from the early 90's are compared to current models.


Rin is certainly one of the better anime titles to come out in the last 3-4 years, and is a title you'd want if you're into mystery anime with horror elements. However, if you want straight-up horror, I suggest you watch Doomed Megalopolis first.


]]> Mon, 4 Jul 2011 23:57:16 +0000
<![CDATA[ A sad, thoughtful and redemptive film]]>
The Lives of Others (Das Leben der Anderen) is one of the best films I've seen in a long, long time. It's sad, thoughtful and redemptive. It deals with major themes. We're in East Germany a few years before the fall of the Berlin wall. The Stasi are everywhere, watching everyone and punishing in brutal or subtle ways anyone who might be even an implied threat to the government. Their greatest tool is the system of informers that reaches everywhere, people who may relay indiscretions to the Stasi because they believe in what they are doing, but more often are compromised into doing so. People are given terrible choices to either work with the Stasi as informers or see their careers or their children's futures destroyed. One-third of the East German population is kept under Stasi surveillance. Everyone, it seems, is being watched by someone.
Georg Dreyman (Sebastian Koch) is a playwright who has made his accommodations with the regime, has won awards and has learned not to go too far. The mere fact that he is seen as reliable makes him a subject of Stasi interest. That, and because his lover, the actress Christa-Maria Sieland (Martina Gedeck), is coveted by a powerful official who wants Dreyman ruined. Hauptmann Gerd Wiesler (Ulrich Muhe), a dedicated, colorless Stasi officer, noted for his reliability and interrogation skills, is assigned the job of monitoring Dreyman. This means installing bugs in Dreyman's apartment where Dreyman lives with Sieland, setting up 24 hour monitoring, recording everything and preparing reports. Wiesler takes his share of listening in. Weisler seems to have no purpose but his dedication to the ideals of the East German system, but even he can see the corruption of those ideals. He has no friends to speak of except his boss, who knows which way the wind can shift. Dreyman, on the other hand, is a handsome man of talent who loves Christa and who has seen a close friend and talented director banned from the theater for speaking too clearly.
Dreyman gradually finds the conscience he had put on hold in order to be successful. Wiesler gradually finds himself, through listening in, drawn to an awareness of the compromises and corruption he knows has seeped into a system he once believed in. Even more subtly, he finds himself drawn into the lives of Dreyman and Christa-Maria. Slowly, cautiously and anonymously, Wiesler begins to protect Dreyman. All the while we are witness to the pervasive spying on people, the pettiness, the corruption of authority, the use of subtle threats to keep people in line, the almost comic meticulousness of the Stasi and their obsessive record keeping on everyone.
The conclusion of the film brings us well past the fall of the Berlin wall, when the full evidence of Stasi spying and the corruption of so many to be informers became evident. We see what happened to both Dreyman and Wiesler. I found the ending to be very, very emotional.
This was director von Donnersmarck's first feature film. He also was the writer. The acting is just as good as the film, particularly Muhe, Koch and Gedeck. Muhe has perhaps the toughest job. He has to show us this dedicated functionary first relentlessly breaking a suspect through calm, psychological questioning, then gradually, gradually letting us see Wiesler's doubts and humanity as he listens into to the lives of Dreyman and Sieland. Muhe makes us aware of Wiesler's changing outlook no faster than Weisler becomes aware of it himself. It's a subtle, strong performance.]]> Fri, 1 Jul 2011 20:48:33 +0000
<![CDATA[Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance Quick Tip by Count_Orlok_22]]> Park Chan-wook's Vengeance Trilogy. I've liked Park's dark take on the thematic material he works with as best exemplified in the second film of the trilogy Oldboy, but at the same time I wasn't as impressed with his vampire film Thirst. However, being open to new filmmakers and being a lover of foreign cinema, I decided to give this a try and was rather pleasantly surprised.
Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance in many ways is the best of the three films I've seen by Park Chan-wook, despite an ending that left me a little disappointed.

The film follows Ryu, a young deaf/mute artist who works at a factory to support his sister who is dying of a bad kidney. Ryu attempts to give his kidney to his sister to save her, but as it turns out their blood type isn't a match. To make matters worse Ryu is laid off from his job at the factory, so out of desperation he goes to an organ seller on the black market and gives her his entire life savings and trades his own kidney in order to get one for his sister. But Ryu is deceived and awakes from the operation to find himself naked and alone, his money gone, his kidney stolen, and with no way to save his sister. But then his girlfriend, an anarchist and revolutionary named Yeoung-Mi, comes up with a plan to help Ryu and save his sister. They will kidnap the young daugther of  Ryu's boss and hold her for ransom. But again, things don't go as planned when they realize that Ryu's boss is a selfish man who cares only for his money. With time running out for Ryu's sister, Ryu and Yeoung-Mi decide to kidnap the young daughter of Ryu's boss' best friend, Dong-jin, and ransom her instead. Things seem to work out as Ryu and Yeoung-Mi manage to get the sweet little girl and enjoy her company, meanwhile they also manage to get the money, but then tragedy strikes and Ryu's sister is lost and subsequently so is Dong-jin's dauther. These horrible deaths leave both Ryu and Dong-jin cold and bitter and hungry for revenge. While Ryu tracks down the black market organ sellers with plans to kill them, Dong-jin tracks down Ryu which leads him to Yeoung-Mi, whom he tortures to death but not before Yeoung-Mi swears that her anarchist allies will avenge her. Ryu gets his bloody revenge on the organ sellers who swindled him and cost him everything, but is himself attacked by Dong-jin. Unable to apologize for the death of Dong-jin's daughter and unable to beg for his life, which has become unbearable anyway, Ryu is killed. But Dong-jin's own life becomes forfeit when Yeoung-Mi's anarchist allies show up and keep her promise.

The film is undoubtedly as disturbing and emotionally harrowing as Oldboy and it has a grittier, more realistic nature which I enjoyed, but the ending felt like one act of vengeance too many and it was difficult to watch all of these relatively good people get caught up in a web of intrigue and self-annihilation as they hungrily seek out their retribution. Obviously, the shocking ending and the merciless killing were necessary to get the point across that the cycle of violence and revenge is unending and can only be stopped by forgiveness, but it was still a challenging film to sit through when you see these characters make the same mistakes over and over.]]> Mon, 27 Jun 2011 12:34:11 +0000
<![CDATA[ Unforgettable, twisted, brilliant, and nostalgic. An unsettling night at the movies.]]>
What you expect to go into a horror film is to be terrified. Sometimes horrified. Sometimes amused. Sometimes disgusted. I don't go for all of those reasons, but I certainly watch horror films for some of them. I like horror cinema, and I've already explained why in past reviews for horror films that I either loved or despised, so I feel no solid reason to repeat myself. After all, repetition is the lead killer in this world, and it's also what puts me to sleep in half of the world's horror flicks.

Some horror movies, such as "Hostel" and " Wolf Creek", lash out with such anti-conformism and anti-repetition to the point where I'm disgusted. Those are both films that impacted me out of disturbance. Horror is not supposed to be a completely good feeling, like comedy. It's supposed to be both fun and perhaps hard on one's nerves. But now that we have this term, which is "torture porn", can we still make movies as brutal and bloody as, say, "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre"? And can they still be good? My answer is yes.

Oh, yes, I'm supposed to be talking about a movie. The film I am reviewing is, as you can see, the French horror-thriller "Inside". If you are a devote horror fan, then you may have either seen it or (most likely) heard about it. It is known for its violence, which probably lead to its obscurity amongst most U.S. audiences. But that's not what matters. What matters is whether the horror film that a lot of horror fans claim is "one of the best of the past decade" is actually as good as they say. I would have to say: yes. Yes it is.

This is a home-invasion horror film like no other. It begins with a car-crash, in which a woman loses her baby. The woman and the child are saved, although the lady's husband is not as fortunate; he dies in the crash. There were no other survivors.

The woman (played by Alysson Paradis) returns home after visiting the hospital, grief-stricken, and preparing for the delivery of the child which is to take place the next day. Shortly after arriving home, safe and sound, our leading lady hears another woman's voice outside her home; asking to come in. Naturally she refuses, as it is late, and "late" is when the sick bastards are amuck. The woman leaves when she is rejected, and things go back to normal.

That is until she turns up again, tries to break in, which provokes our heroine to call the police. They arrive, they cannot find anything, and then they leave. The creepy woman (Beatrice Dalle) comes back. She gets in the house. What she wants to do tonight, I would normally not tell you, but it's said on just about every plot synopsis you will find. The crazy lady wants to cut open the character's stomach and take her unborn child out for her own. Her motives are unknown until the climax, although what ensues before-hand is all bloody build-up.

"Inside" is nostalgic. It reminds me of some fine (horror) movie memories; ones from "Halloween", ones from "The Exorcist". But mostly "Halloween". That was a film that "played the audience like a piano", as Hitchcock would like to say. We succumbed to that feeling of fear, which poured down on our poor heads like heavy rain. "Halloween" is a great horror film, and so is "Inside". While this is a brutal, often sickly violent film; it's also a powerful, well-made, and unforgettable one. It's not just the images that don't leave your head; it is also the experience. The fear here is real, and for once, we are not allowed a single breath. This film builds suspense the old fashion way; never escaping into torture porn territories, no matter how violent the ride gets. This is easily one of the scariest horror films I've seen in a long time. It was relentless, frightening, and I shall never shake the feeling that I got from watching it. It's not a horror film meant for enjoyment, but rather for admiration and observation, and if you are capable of both things together, then you may be ready for "Inside". It is surely a bloodbath to remember.]]> Mon, 20 Jun 2011 21:02:07 +0000
<![CDATA[ Unstopable excitement in a well-told tale]]> Mon, 20 Jun 2011 11:03:20 +0000