Archive for Reviews

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 4: Audition (1999)

A man’s wife dies. Years later, his son says he should get re-married. The man is picky and has a list of desires for the perfect woman. His best friend concocts a plan where they will have a casting call for a movie and use it to find the man a wife.

If this were an American film from the late 1990s it would be a romantic comedy, probably starring Tom Hanks. If it was from the 1980s I’d probably be watching it on Cinemax after my parents had gone to sleep. Instead, this is a Japanese film from Takashi Miike called Audition, and it is most definitely not a rom-com or a skinemax flick.

That being the case, it isn’t surprising that the best friend immediately thinks something is wrong with the girl our hapless protagonist is attracted to. His friend warns him to stay away from her, and he does, for four days, during which time she sits waiting by the phone. He goes out with her a few times, they go away together, she admits to being abused as a child, he says he loves her and they make love. When he wakes, she’s gone.

Now he can’t find her. All the leads on her resume are dead ends and he hears from people about some crazy deaths. And then he finds her again… he’d have been better off if he hadn’t, because what had been a movie that was walking the tightrope of drama and thriller, but here is takes a wild left turn and plunges off the cliff deep into horror.

The things I have seen I cannot unsee.

I have known about this film for years, and I have avoided it. I like monster movies and slasher flicks and various kids of horror and terror, but there is something about these sorts of graphic torture films that unsettle me like nothing else. And more than the violence, more than the blood, what gets to me most is the glee with which she carries out the tasks. Even when the villain of these sorts of films gets it in the end, it never feels satisfying. There is no victory here. No winning.

I’m going to shower three times a day every day for a week. And I’m prescribing myself at least two hours a day of cat pictures on the Internet and daily visits to Cute Overload. These Brillo pads are useless as they are not scraping the images from my mind…

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Life Between Frames, Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Money and a Half, Final Girl, Thrill Me!

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 3: The Haunting of Julia (1977)

It isn’t often that you find a movie willing to open with a mother killing her own daughter in a misguided effort to save the child, but The Haunting of Julia is that rare exception. As the little girl chokes on a piece of apple, I ask myself, “Um, ever heard of the Heimlich Maneuver?” Oh, maybe not. (If you didn’t follow that link, it seems the stomach thrusting reach-around we all know and love was only first written about in 1974, so by 1976 or 1977 when they were filming, Heimlich may not yet have become a household name.) So, perhaps the amateur emergency tracheotomy was the prudent course of action.

With her daughter dead and her wanting a divorce from her husband, she moves into a nice neighborhood populated mostly be people from the League of Nations. Nope, not kidding, that’s one of the key selling points for the sales agent. Immediately, atmosphere begins to build.

And atmosphere is pretty much all this movie has. I wish I could gush about it, but it was just… well… dull.

Mostly though, I want to focus on one thing. There is a guy, who dies, in the house, where Julia lives. His body is in the basement. And after he dies, the movie keeps going. It’s at least several days, maybe longer. No one finds the body. No one seems to even be looking for him. So apparently, not only is the house haunted, but it has a very cool basement that keeps bodies from rotting and smelling. I don’t understand why the sales agent didn’t mention it.

Oh, and before I forget… terrible sound track. I’m pretty sure it’s just a guy murdering a synthesizer. You know, like a lot of late 70s and early 80s films.

In the end, totally not scary.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Life Between Frames, Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Money and a Half, Final Girl, Mermaid Heather, Thrill Me!

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 2: Let the Right One In (2008)

Let the Right One In is the heartwarming tale about a vampire that teaches a young boy how to deal with bullies.

Okay, not really. But it totally is.

In my experience, there are two major types of horror movies. On one side you have the films that are aiming directly at you. They jump and they scare. They throw things as the camera or they toss the camera into things. People are stabbed and gashed and eaten. Blood spurts in slow motion. Then on the other side there are films that tell you a story, slowing revealing details and most of the time they are trying to lure you in to believing that everything is fine or that maybe the little bits of evil you are seeing are justifiable. And then they pull the rug out and show you the monster standing next to you.

This is the point where I say that you should probably stop reading if you are averse to spoilers, because I am about to spoil the shit out of this movie.

“Forewarned is forearmed.” -Peter Vincent

Oskar is just your average kid being beat up by bullies. Chances are you either were that kid, knew that kid, or you used to beat up that kid. He’s a little sad, and a little pathetic. Eli is a strange little girl who likes to hang out at the playground in the middle of the night and has the windows in her apartment boarded up. They meet, they talk, Oskar shows her his Rubik’s Cube (and that’s not a euphemism), and she tells him he needs to hit back when the bullies pick on him.

Oh, and Eli lives with a dude who isn’t her father, who we see killing a random guy on the street and stringing him up to drain him of blood. She might be a little odd, but he’s totally a secret serial killer or something. Only, it’s her who is upset that he didn’t get the blood.

Anyway, she remains being creepy, but she’s nice to Oskar, and we like Oskar, we root for Oskar, we want him to kick some bully ass! And then she kills a guy. But Oskar is totally becoming a stronger better person, so we’ll overlook that little transgression.

Bit by bit we, the audience, gets pulled along… her protector guy gets caught, pours acid on himself and then leaps out a hospital window after she drinks his blood. But, you know, Oskar! He hits the bully with a stick and he’s started working out to get muscles and confidence. Go Oskar! Eli accidentally turns a woman into a vampire, but she explodes in flames when a nurse opens the window to let the sun in… but before that the woman is attacked by a whole mess of cats in a scene right out of Stephen King’s Sleepwalkers (written directly for the scream screen!). Anyway, Oskar finally finds out that she’s a vampire, they dance to music and then he takes a peek at her naked body while she’s getting changed.

Time out a second here… You see, I saw the remake, Let Me In, first. And it pretty much cloned the original almost shot for shot. Except for this scene, which is not in the remake at all. I’m not a perv, because my wife was totally in the room, but I had to watch that scene twice because I wasn’t sure what I saw. Earlier, in both versions, there is this scene where the vampire girl and the normal boy are hanging out in his bed and he asks her to go steady and she says, “I’m not a little girl”, which I totally took to mean “I’m a vampire” or “I’m a monster” but in this, the original… did I just get Crying Gamed? Is Eli actually a little boy who had his junk cut off? What the hell is going on here? And now I’m recalling the scene where Eli is puking after eating the candy, and she asks if he likes her and he says yeah and she asks “Would you like me if I was a boy?” and he says “Sure.” I totally just got Crying Gamed!

I just Googled it, the movie and the book. Mind. Blown. That’ll teach me to watch remakes!

Anyway… so Eli kills another guy, and this time Oskar watches. Eli leaves, like, for good. Then the bullies trick Oskar into coming back to the fitness program and they are in the process of possibly drowning him when Eli shows up and kills everyone. Cut to train, Oskar looks out the window, we hear a tapping and Oskar smiles. He taps out a reply on the large trunk that accompanies him.

So, back to where I started… two types of horror films, one where the monster leaps right out and one where the monster sneaks up on you. Let the Right One In is definitely the latter, and while I’d classify the movie as a horror film I wouldn’t call it a scary film. It’s practically a romance. Although, knowing what I know now, maybe it’s a bromance.

Peace out… I’m off to write some scorpion/frog slash-fic.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Final Girl, Life Between Frames, Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Money and a Half, Thrill Me!

SHOCKtober 2012 – Day 1: Sunshine (2007)

I first saw Sunshine in 2008 after the DVD released in the United States. I really wanted to see it in the theater, but never quite found the opportunity to do it. I mean, it was a no brainer, right? I think the conversation should have gone something like this:

Marketing: From the director of 28 Days Later…
Me: Oh?
Marketing: …starring the guy from 28 Days Later…
Me: Sold.
Marketing: …comes Sunshine, a movie about
Me: Yeah, you can stop now. I’m in.
Marketing: You don’t want to know what it’s about?
Me: No, just tell me when I can see it.

However, somewhere between knowing that I was going to see this film and when it stopped showing in local theaters, I didn’t manage to find any other people who also wanted to go see it, and since going to the movies alone isn’t something I normally do (though I am not opposed to it) and so, I didn’t. Not until about a year later.

But that’s neither here nor there, nor on the surface of the sun. The basic plot is this: for some reason, which I don’t recall even after rewatching it, the Sun is going out and the world is going to freeze, but there is a plan – to fire a giant bomb into the Sun and reignite it. I looked up some stuff on wikipedia and saw there was apparently some back story about a Q-ball or something causing the Sun to expend energy faster than it should. Anyway, there was a previous mission which after passing into the dead zone – where they can communicate back to Earth because of the radiation interference of the Sun – it didn’t appear to complete its mission. So now we are on mission two, the final mission, because it took everything the Earth had to make these two bombs. And they fly toward the Sun, and they approach Mercury, and discover the first ship, hanging in orbit around the Sun.

Of course, they decide to investigate…

I think what I love most about this movie is that there is a lot of science in it, but a bunch of it is junk science – science that makes sense in its pieces and parts but not in the manner in which the movie lumps them together. And it’s got that whole race to save humanity element. But another strong element is that I think, at least emotionally and in some ways stylistically, it parallels another movie that I love: The Black Hole.

You got ships sitting on the brink of oblivion and men who have lost their sanity and an ending that leaves open a lot to interpretation because it goes for art rather than solid facts.

When I saw it then and now as I watched it again, I know this is supposed to be a horror film, but it doesn’t scare me at all until the boogeyman shows up. Until that point, the movie is just science, logic and hard but inevitable choices clouded with a little bit of human curiosity and compassion. Seriously, until the sun scarred former captain arrives and starts stomping around the ship killing people in the last act of the film all of the horror is based on preying on the primal fears of uncertainty and helplessness in the face of nature and science we don’t fully understand – which doesn’t scare me.

I also think the movie tried to do something it didn’t succeed at. It’s a brilliant idea, to tell a scary story that normally relies on shadows and darkness but do it in full light. And if this movie had done that, it would have been awesome, but when the captain shows up the first thing he does is kill the computer and turn off the lights. We are plunged back into darkness, the very familiar darkness. It also doesn’t help that Danny Boyle went with an artistic style when showing us the captain and his skewed perspective of his environment. He’s a shaky blur rather than a solid figure, and it robs him of some of the terror he might have caused. If they’d kept the lights on, gave us a clear view of the captain and had him speaking logically and passionately about how the mission had to be stopped while relentlessly hunting the crew – perhaps using things he’d learned in the last seven years trapped on his identical ship.

And yet, despite that, I do still love the movie. It helps, I guess, that the final act is so short. Once it’s over, we spend a beautiful moment with Cillian Murphy, experiencing the strangeness of the uncertain warpings of time and reality that occur in the heart of the Sun, standing before a wall of fire for an eternity even though from the outside he probably vanished in a flash of fire nearly instantaneously.

The sacrifice is made. The Sun reignited. The Earth is saved. Humanity lives on. And Sunshine ends.

Be sure to keep an eye on Final Girl and the rest of SHOCKtober.

UPDATE: Check out other participants – Final Girl, Life Between Frames, Blog @ Rotten Cotton, Money and a Half, Into the Mirror

SHOCKtober 2012: Prelude

So, there is this blog I read, Final Girl, that is all about horror films, and for the month of October she is doing a thing she calls SHOCKtober, which is basically a movie a day. The idea is to spur discussion and thought about horror films and I intend to participate. For the next 31 days, assuming I can get access to every movie through my collection, Netflix, Amazon, Redbox, and… more nefarious means, I will be posting something each day relating to the movie in question. Many of them will probably be reviews, but perhaps not all of them. We’ll have to see what each movie inspires.

In any event, I hope it is an enjoyable ride.

In the meantime, go check out Stacie Ponder’s Final Girl blog. Read back through the archives, there are quite a few gems in there well worth reading.

UPDATE: Adding links to this post.

  1. Sunshine (2007)
  2. Let the Right One In (2008)
  3. The Haunting of Julia (1977)
  4. Audition (1999)
  5. Nosferatu (1922) / (1979)
  6. Slither (2006)
  7. Cat People (1942)
  8. Tenebre (1982)
  9. Dead Alive (1992)
  10. Possession (1981)
  11. Pulse (2001)
  12. Shivers (1975)
  13. Left Bank (2008)
  14. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
  15. A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 4 (1988)
  16. Hour of the Wolf (1968)
  17. The Tenant (1976)
  18. Santa Sangre (1989)
  19. I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
  20. And Soon the Darkness (1970)
  21. Battle Royale (2000)
  22. Who Can Kill a Child? (1976)
  23. The Mothman Prophecies (2002)
  24. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1971)
  25. Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
  26. Triangle (2009)
  27. Calvaire (2004)
  28. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
  29. The Horde (2009)
  30. Planet of the Vampires (1965)
  31. Martyrs (2008)

How I Review

Since I’ve been writing over at Shakefire, I’ve gone through several phases of reviewing style. Back when I was being given lots of music, I tried to make sure I listened to the album, in full, while driving, while doing other things around the house and while actively listening to the music. That sort of regimen takes time which is part of the reason I don’t review music for them anymore – that and 90% of what they want me to review is music I don’t like, for some reason it was heavy on the hip-hop, jazz and screamo metal, though perhaps it’s just that their other music reviewers didn’t want to do those either.

These days, I’m mostly reviewing movies and some TV for them and my approach has solidified, and as such I figured I would take a post to talk about it.

First, I watch the film. I try not to subject myself to any trailers or ads about it, and half the time I don’t even read the back of the DVD/Blu-ray case. I’d rather go in blind. I’ll look at the cover art, maybe the tag line and determine if it’s horror or not and then watch the movie. At the end, I jot down my opinion at a letter grade, which is one form the ratings for the site go into the system as. So, for instance, I might finish a movie and throw down that it was “D” effort.

Next, after having seen the movie, I’ll start in on any extras. Outtakes, deleted scenes, other featurettes. Sometimes I’ll watch these immediately after, and sometimes it’ll be on a later day – I usually have most movies in my hands 2 or 3 weeks prior to needing to turn in my review. If there is a commentary track, I’ll watch the movie again with it on, usually 2 or 3 days later, though it may be sooner if a Blu-ray has multiple commentary tracks to give myself the ability to skip a day between viewings – the only time I’ve ever not watched a commentary track was a movie (I forget which) that included 3 full length commentaries, I watched two and just couldn’t do the third because they’d all been terrible.

If the disc includes multiple cuts of the film, I’ll try to watch them all, but before doing so I’ll go online to see if I can find out how different the cuts are. I just watched a film that had the theatrical and director’s cuts on the disc, the director’s was 5 minutes shorter and supposedly bloodier, but damned if I could tell – they looked identical to me.

Lastly, I write the review. When I go to the site, there is a form I have to fill out, with names and dates and upload a cover images and Amazon product IDs and such. After I’m done with the busy work, I drop into the main text box and just start blabbering about the film. What I remember, what I liked, what I didn’t like, were the extras good, etc. Then I’ll go back through it once or twice, move some sentences around, change some wording. When I’m mostly happy with it, I’ll re-read the whole thing and try to gauge how I think “the author” feels about the movie and compare it to my initial gut reaction score. Upon reflection, most scores change. A movie I thought was a “D” effort might get upgraded to a “C” once I realize how much of the film stuck with me and there were things I enjoyed despite a movie’s flaws. And something I originally called an “A+” might get downgraded to an “A-” or into the “B” area if it turns out the flaws stuck with me far better than the good parts. Once I re-score, I’ll go back and make another pass through the review to ensure my words reflect my score. If I’ve upgraded a movie from “D” to “C” it doesn’t track that I called it “shitty” because “C” is average, so I might replace it with “middling”.

Not every movie gets a grade change though… things with an “A” or “A-” are likely to stay there since I probably recognized my reservations from the start and didn’t give it an “A+”, and something I wrote down “F” for after my initial watch is probably going to stay an “F”. In any event, now that I’m happy with the review and the grade, I have to score the grade. Yes, it sounds stupid, but the site tracks letter grades as well as a numeric. The number is a 0 to 4 (but not really, more on that in a minute) and an “F” covers from 0 to 0.79, so a movie that is terrible through and through will get an “F” and a “0”, a movie that has a terrible plot and poor production values, but has one actor who managed to be memorable in a good way will get an “F” and maybe a “0.70”. On the top end, the highest number is 4.5 (yep, that 0 to 4 scale goes to 4.5, so a movie can actually get a 4.5 out 4, which is like giving 110% … ) and through most of the ratings I used the corresponding numeric range similarly, the number gives the letter a weight – I go to the low-end of the range for something I feel just barely earned that grade, and I go to the high-end of the range for something that I felt earn the grade and were knocking on the door of an upgrade.

Once I’ve settled the numeric score, I tidy up a few last details and post the review.

On a side note, the grade I give a review also influences the amount of spoiling I’m willing to let myself do. The higher the grade, the less plot details I want to give out. Sometimes I have to force myself to write more on great movies because I’m temped to just say, “This was great. Go see it.” On low rated items, I consider it a service to spoil the film. Perhaps if you hear in exact detail how stupid the movie was, you won’t waste two hours watching it like I did.

Anyway, I enjoy reviewing, at least, I do now that I get stuff I like watching most of the time. The only thing that could make it better would be if my reviews (and Shakefire) were included in aggregate sites like Rotten Tomatoes or metacritic – not that I like aggregate site, I abhor what they’ve done to the gaming industry, but since they are likely here to stay it would be neat to be a part of it rather than just a victim reader.

I Still Write for Shakefire

Shakefire.com… such that it is.

  • Accident : A team of killers create elaborate accidents to take out their targets, but now they are falling prey to accidents of their own, or are they not accidents?
  • Falling Skies : I got to preview the first four episodes on the new season.
  • Trial & Retribution – Set 5 : The UK makes some pretty good cop shows, and this is another one.
  • Road Trip : It was funny when I originally saw it, and it’s still funny now.
  • The FP : This movie is a comedy, but it’s done in the style that the film takes its subject very seriously, leaving the comedy to be found by the audience. The subject? Gangs who battle through a Dance Dance Revolution type game.
  • Franklin & Bash – The Complete First Season : Love this show!
  • Rogue River : Some horror films make sense, and some horror films just get made.
  • A Necessary Death : This was far more interesting than I though it would be. It captured the idea of following around a person intending to kill themselves very well.
  • Destination Truth : I watched the first couple episodes of the new season and mostly concluded that these guys seek truth without science, and thus will never find truth.
  • Freakshow Apocalypse: The Unholy Sideshow : I’d ask who gives these people the money to make a movie, but clearly they spent very little on making it. Terrible.
  • Warehouse 13 – Season Three : I love this show.
  • Extraterrestrial : Simply the best romantic comedy set against an alien invasion ever. This was hilarious and fun.
  • Sanctuary – Season Four : It’s a shame they didn’t get a fifth season, but this works as a good finale.
  • Ghost Attack on Sutton Street : Is this a documentary or a horror movie?
  • Lady of the Dark, Genesis of the Serpent Vampire : This might have been a good short film or music video, but it is a terrible movie.

And there you have it.

More Reviews on Shakefire

Shakefire.comYet another round-up of things I’ve written for Shakefire.

As always, some good, some bad, but in all cases I didn’t pay a dime for it.

Podcast Playlist

Podcast Logo

Feed me.

It’s been about 9 months since I wrote about radio shows. And things have changed a little since then, so I figured I’d do a round-up and review of the podcasts I’m currently listening to. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

  • Atlanta Radio Theater Company – They do all sorts of stuff, from sci-fi to horror to comedy to … well, pretty much anything. If you pull up their feed, you can listen back to several years worth of recordings, which I have. The current format for the free podcast is monthly, so once you catch up it’s easy to stay current. And if you don’t mind paying for things, you can get a bunch of their full shows at audible. Overall it’s good, though sometimes I feel the live audience detracts from my enjoyment. But for free, I can’t complain.
  • Common Sense – Dan Carlin talks about politics and current events. It’s interesting to see the way he ties topics together, all without sounding like some sort of conspiracy loon. It helps, I suppose, that I tend to agree with his views. A little confirmation bias, but at least I’m aware of it.
  • Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History – Long, sometimes multipart, podcasts about historical topics. Some are better than others, but all of them are interesting in their own way. I wish my history teachers in school had spoken with this much passion for the subject.
  • Decoder Ring Theater – Back in my original post when I was looking for old-time radio style shows, this is what I was looking for. They have two main shows, The Red Panda Adventures and Black Jack Justice, which are a Shadow-style superhero and a pulp noir detective, respectively. They also do other items in their Showcase, and like ARTC they’ve got years of shows in their feed, and I’m still catching up – I’m in June of 2007 with over 100 episodes to go, and loving every one so far.
  • How Did This Get Made? – Listen as a few comedians talk about movies that are so bad that they are awesome, and occasionally movies that are awesome but in ways that defy the Hollywood system yet still got made. I highly recommend the episode on Punisher War Zone as an example of the latter, and they even got the director on as a guest.
  • Making It – Riki Lindhome (of Garfunkel and Oates) talks to people involved with acting and movies about how they got started, the breaks they’ve had, the troubles they’ve run into and more. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in acting as a profession.
  • Penn’s Sunday School – I just started this one, so I don’t have a real opinion on it yet, but since I pretty much love everything that Penn Jillette does I’m sure this won’t be the exception.
  • Radio Free Burrito – Wil Wheaton keeps to no particular schedule and just random puts out collections of stories and bits of music. It isn’t deep, but I enjoy it.
  • The Moth – Podcast version of their True Stories Told Live, it ranges from serious and thought-provoking to silly and thought-provoking. And they are short, so I can listen to one when I run quick errands in the car.
  • The Nerdist – Chris Hardwick, Jonah Ray and Matt Mira talk to people, usually about comedy but really about anything that comes to mind. Personally, I delete all the episodes without a guest because I just don’t find their “hostfull” episodes to be worth the hour.
  • This American Life – A podcast version of the radio show, they pick a topic, interview people and tell stories. It’s more like a news program than anything else I listen to, very highly produced rather than just talking. I think I mostly listen to this because “everybody” listens to it. Half the time I’m barely paying attention. Maybe I should drop it.
  • Thrilling Adventure Hour – Much like the Decoder Ring Theater, this is new stories in the style of old-time radio, though here they do much more comedy. In fact, I don’t think I’ve heard anything that wasn’t comedic. Beyond Belief and Tales from the Black Lagoon are my favorites.
  • We’re Alive – A serial drama set in the zombie apocalypse. This show is right up my ally, and I cannot begin to convey the amount of pure awesome that this show is. Everyone should listen to it. If you are just starting, there are two complete seasons with the third under way.

I’m always open to more, so if you have good ones to suggest, please do so. I might just add it to my trusty Zune.

The Reviews Are In

Here are some links to my latest reviews over at Shakefire.

And that’s it for the last month or so. Some gems, some turds, some in between. All movies and TV, no music and thus far more pleasurable to review, even when it isn’t particularly good.