Tag Archives: Review

Review: Ringu

Theatrical Release Poster

To celebrate the end of Halloween and my 2019 Movie Marathon, I decided to close off with one of the most important horror movies to me, on a more personal and nostalgic level. When I saw that Arrow was releasing a Blu-ray restoration of this 1998 classic, I had to buy it and after watching it, I can say that it was worth each every penny. Everything looks crisp and serene and only made the impact of each and every scene more evocative.

Hideo Nakata’s direction and Hiroshi Takahashi’s screenplay serve to make their adaptation of Koji Suzuki’s original book, Ring, more mysterious and eerie. For those of you not familiar with the general plot, the movie follow a Reiko, a reporter researching a story about a cursed videotape that kills anyone who watches it within 7 days. As her investigation continues, she uncovers some disturbing facts, and has to race against time to figure out how to stop the curse.

This film is a great slow burn. The first scene drops the audience in the moment, immediately drawing them into the lore. The lighting in the scene sets the tone- an eerie one at that. As the scene progress, the tension grows, and even upon the end, the lack of resolution and presence of ambiguity kept me on edge. That’s something that’s true of most of the movie. It stays creepy. There’s something that doesn’t feel right as you watch it and on more than one occasion I turned around to look behind my shoulder.

The use of sound makes the journey to certain realizations more dramatic and unsettling. Large portions of the film are in silence, so it feels like anything can drop out. But then when there’s a fearful affect around, the music turns to match that. It never feels cheesy or over the top.

On top of this, the film never uses sound for jump scares. Every scare is “natural”. You see something unnerving on the screen and that’s that. You’re forced to process the phenomena and make sense of it. This helped keep the movie realistic, which is it’s strongest selling point. The characters act urgently because they only have so long to resolve the curse. It’s like a bomb scene in an action movie- but scarier because it’s unknown which neutralizes the normal certainty we have that the problem will actually get resolved. This in conjunction with how nuanced and fleshed out the character interactions are makes us actually care for what’s going on to everyone so their race becomes that much more tense.

One of my favorite parts about the movie is how subtle it is. A lot of dialogue scenes are shot with all relevant characters in frame. I’m used to the over the shoulder dialogue shot or the screen cutting between two characters and the film does do that, but it does so more sparingly. The focus is always on showing the characters interacting with each other. The way they position or respond to each other. A lot of the relationships between characters are never explicitly stated until past the half-way mark of the movie, but, because of excellent direction and writing, they feel rich and reveal a lot. As the film kept going on, I felt like I kept having an epiphany about how something else had just made sense- like a series of light-bulbs were going off – and it made the whole experience thematically more resonant to me.

I only have a few minor complaints about the movie. Because the movie doesn’t adapt the backstory of the book, there’s a ton of mystery and ambiguity regarding the reason for why things are happening. This is fine, and as evidenced by my reviews (ex: The Lighthouse) , I actually love that. However, in the case of this movie, the unresolved issues feel more important to resolve certain thematic points. There are hints at them throughout the film, but they don’t add up enough for my liking. There’s also a lot of exposition in the movie from Ryuji. I know there’s a lot that needs to be explained, but later scenes in the film proved that Nakata had creative ways to do the same, so I wish he did more of that.

Rating

TLDR: Ringu is provocative, beautiful, and eerie. Even after having seen the movie multiple times, I’m scared of my T.V. after a late night viewing.

Final Rating: 9.7/10. One of the best horror movies. If you like psychological films or like horror movies that use subtle well-crafted scares, this film is the best.

This review is also part of the Ring series- spoiler analysis will be posted in a longer article at a later point.


Review: One Piece: Stampede

Theatrical Release Poster

I’m going to preface this: If you’ve never watched One Piece or are not fully caught up with at least the Dressrosa Arc, you will either not comprehend the movie or risk spoiling character reveals/powers for yourself. On the other hand, if you’re a fan of the franchise and are fully caught up you’re in for an amazing, fan-service filled roller coaster packed to the brim with tons of characters from all over the 20 year franchise. Takashi Otsuka’s film doesn’t take the franchise to brand new directions, but rather serves as a love letter and a celebration of everything great about the story.

The plot doesn’t do anything special story-wise, but is filled with a ton of fun and theatrics. The crew are invited by the pirate Buena Festa (Yusuke Santamaria) to a secret Pirate festival at Delta Island to celebrate and decompress. Upon arriving, they learn that the island is connected to Gol D. Roger and a secret item of his is up for grabs to whomever finds it. With the pirate king himself being connected to the prize, every pirate at the island is energized and the bout begins.

From the moment the Straw Hats entered the island I couldn’t stop laughing. Every member of the Worst Generation is here and the ensuing race between them and the Straw Hats to the prize is incredibly fun and emblematic of the over-the-top and exciting feeling One Piece is known for. This is something that doesn’t stop for the entire 101 minute runtime. There’s always a new fan favorite approaching the screen and having the interactions we, as fans, have always wanted to see. Imagine a character pool a bit smaller than the one during the Marineford Arc, replace the sadness of that arc with goofy fun and interactions, and you should have a pretty good idea of what the movie is going for. The final group of “heroes” at the end had me screaming like a fanboy at how interesting and epic its composition was.

While there aren’t as many fighting scenes as I would’ve wanted, most of the ones in the movie were dynamic and vibrant. There are quite a few cool set pieces and watching characters casually (or in some cases with great effort) demonstrate their power against them was not only cool, but in some cases, breath-taking. There’s one scene at the ending that had me almost tear up, at how emotionally resonant and beautiful it looked.

The new characters aren’t the most interesting or nuanced. Douglas Bullet (Tsutomu Isobe) is a generic walking power level who’s motivations are just as boring. Thankfully, his devil fruit power is entertaining and his tentative connection to Gol D. Roger is interesting, even if it feels underdeveloped. There were some cool things that were being attempted to flesh Bullet out more, but they came a bit too late in the movie to feel as meaningful as they should have been. Buena Festa feels intriguing at the beginning, but his motivations don’t go anywhere too interesting by the time they’re actually revealed. Thankfully, the villains are not the focus and are used primarily as a tool to showcase different characters/interactions.

There is a post credits scene so DO NOT get up and leave before it plays. It’s genuinely the spirit of One Piece on display and you’d be remiss if you missed it. It definitely brought a smile to my face.

Rating

TLDR: One Piece: Stampede is a beautiful love letter to fans of the 20 year running mammoth of a franchise. It doesn’t do anything revolutionary, but it has a ton of fun, cute, and emotionally resonant moments for fans of the series.

Final Rating: 8.8/10.If you enjoy One Piece watch the movie

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Lighthouse

Theatrical Release Poster

Wow.

I’ve been excited for The Lighthouse since it’s release at the Cannes Film Festival in 2019. Robert Egger’s previous 2015 work, The Witch, is one of my favorite horror movies of the past decade so describing my state of mind as excited might actually be putting it a tad lightly. After watching the movie, I’m happy to say the movie not only delivered, but exceeded expectations. Bravo.

The plot follows Epharim Winslow (Robert Pattinson) , a young man who’s sent out to join and work under Thomas Wake (Willem Dafoe) as a wickie. From the start of the movie we can see friction between our two main leads. Pattinson is reserved and wants to keep to himself. Dafoe on the other hand is a authoritative, talkative, alcoholic who constantly seeks to get Pattinson to open up and join along. The rest of the plot is just the ensuing dialogue and the results of staying on an isolated island. Despite this, there was not a single moment I was bored or uninterested with what was going on. Every interaction, every visual, every little outburst kept my attention glued to the screen.

The movie constantly plays with your emotions . One moment might be ripe with violence and cause you to feel tense about what’s going to happen. Immediately, a humorous scene will follow creating a perverse laughter. There’s no way to predict what’s going to happen next which makes every moment feel like an experimental must watch. This is fueled by both the respective leads phenomenal acting. Pattinson goes through a wide range of emotion and watching his development from an aloft and quite wickie, to a man losing his sense of self and sanity is a treat. Dafoe is a perfect compliment to Pattinson and conveys a mythical authoritative figure while simultaneously taking pleasure in farting/fart jokes. Yes you read that right- the film even has fart jokes. I’ll take “Setups I’d never see in a horror movie” for 500, Alex. Once certain twists and reveals are set up, the film becomes even more nuanced and allows for different and nuanced takes from the audience. You could watch this with a group of friends and everyone could take something different from the plot.

Aesthetically the movie shoots everything out of the ballpark. Camera movement is fluid and never draws outward attention. Instead, it almost feels like it operates seamlessly in the background. Pan and tilt shots move geographically through the lighthouse, but based on twists in the movie might indicate something else entirely. The black and white nature of the movie makes the extreme shadows and radiance of the actual lighthouse that much more bright. It helps amplify the difference between them but also makes the film feel like it was filmed in the late 1890’s early 1900’s. Mark Korven’s score is also precise- it’s bombastic and loud when it needs to be, but it also plays a subtle calming role in other scenes. It only ever accentuates and never feels out of place.

Rating

TLDR: The Lighthouse is a beautiful, wholly original piece that’ll have you asking what’s real and what’s going on for a lot of it’s run time. It has fun with itself and it’s ambiguous and mystical nature lends it to multiple interpretations post viewing.

Final Rating: 10/10. This is the best movie I’ve seen so far in 2019. Eggers beautifully merges horror, comedy, and psychological introspection and delivers it in an aesthetically rich package. If you want to see one of the years best, or enjoy psychological movies that play with reality/religious mythos this movie is right up your alley.

There’s no spoiler section- I’ll be posting a more full analysis and a discussion of the movie with friends at later times.

Review: Hell House LLC

Theatrical Release Poster

I’m going to be honest- I’ve wanted to do a review for this movie the moment I watched it the first time 3 years ago, but I didn’t have this outlet yet. When I realized I had to do a bonus movie, I thought might as well re-watch and review this gem of a find. Stephen Cognetti’s found footage flick, Hell House LLC, is a well acted, tense, and genuinely eerie story.

The film is presented as a fake documentary and feels incredibly real. The news clip and YouTube videos both feel like the medium they’re attempting to emulate which creates an immersive “real life” feeling to everything that’s going on. The cuts between old footage and interviews foreshadows events but also creates this sense of tension because you know awful things are going to happen. The film takes advantage of this by delaying the points of discovery so when they do happen you’re still not quite ready for them.

Every member of the main cast feels real and well grounded. Their decisions make sense and their skepticism is justified given the way certain events play out. You can feel the tension between the group members and watching the schisms form and develop all while feeling natural. The group’s desperation feels almost palpable. In particular Gore Abrams performance as Paul creates a lot of moments of levity and makes the descent of the group into the awful situation more pronounced.

I enjoyed that the film presents a lot of subtle clues about certain character motivations and the nature of the supernatural elements of the movie. The looser “rules” and general associations with satanism are more than enough to create a creepy aesthetic I loved that there were no stupid jump scares. We see scary things from the corner of our eyes and that in end of itself is the scare. Thinking about what’s actually going on. I found myself constantly scanning the screen for changes from the previous scene to see if a new scare had presented itself.

Unfortunately, the end of the movie leaves some critical questions unanswered which stands out more than a normal movie because the sense of realism in editing and decision making had made a lot of sense before. Some of these decisions create cool scares, but I think they ruin some narrative integrity and make the movie feel less intelligent than it had been up till that point. Also the constant usage of the “glitch” effect got really annoying by the end of the movie and felt like unnecessary visual flair that distracted from what was actually going on.

Rating

TLDR: Hell House LLC is a deceptively fun found footage horror film, that stays believable and creepy for the majority of it’s run time. The scares feel natural and despite the bumpy ending, I was left satisfied at the end of the movie.

Final Rating: 8.2/10. If you like found footage movies or want to see a horror movie without an overuse of bad and false jump scares check this movie out.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: Jaws

Theatrical Release Poster

The moment Jaws starts and we’re treated to John Williams dramatic and tension laced theme music, I knew I was in for a suspenseful ride. Steven Spielberg’s deceptively simple creature-feature, follows Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), Quint (Robert Shaw), and Matt (Richard Dreyfuss) as they go on a journey to capture a ravenous great white terrorizing Amity island.

Like I said earlier, the music in the movie is immaculate. Whenever the theme starts and we’re treated to the underwater camera shots of people dangling in the water, I felt a sense of dread. The music keeps the tension up and constantly kept me on edge. The best part however, was how varied the sound was during the entire film. The scary parts are filled with tension but there are adventurous and joyous sections that introduce some much needed levity in the movie. This helps keep each scary moment fresh and surprising.

Spielberg went through great lengths to build up each of the characters. Chief Brody is a man of the law who wants to do the right thing but is tied down by the bureaucratic rules of Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton). He’s beholden to the executive’s control and as such innocent people end up suffering. Matt is like the technocratic elite. He’s rich, fully reliant on brand new technology, and is sure of his own thoughts. Quint is a working class man- eccentric and stuck in his ways. The characters and their motivations are written in a complex and nuanced way and allow for multiple readings. As their interactions play out, we can see how their ideological views impact their solutions to the situation. However, the biggest impact of this well written character development, is that it makes the horrifying scenes more emotionally resonant, because I grew to actually enjoy the characters and wanted them to survive.

I was scared for most of the movie. The moment I saw the first gruesome shark kill and the remains of the body, I felt scared every time I saw a character enter the water. Nobody ever feels safe and anytime someone was in the water I immediately started shaking as the all too familiar theme started playing in the background. Because the shark isn’t shown that often it never feels fake. Even though this movie is over 4 decades old it feels realistic and believable. The blood and gore is gruesome and made my stomach churn as I saw it. It’s used sparingly and to great effect.

Rating

TLDR: Jaws is a great multi-genre horror film that tackles deep and complex issues through wonderfully written characters and well timed suspenseful scares. Though the movie was over 2 hours long I didn’t feel it’s length and was enthralled for the entirety of the run time.

Final Rating: 10/10. I’m scared of going into the ocean now which means the movie did more than a good job of terrifying me. If you like adventures, thrillers, or creature features then you need to watch this movie.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Others

Theatrical Release Poster

From the opening shot of The Others, I could tell that Alejandro Amenabar had a very specific aesthetic and motif he wanted to play around with. The religious exposition is directly followed by a blood curling scream from Nicole Kidman as Grace and the mood is set. The story follows Grace as she hires a new set of servants to help taker care of her house and her children who suffer from a deathly photo-sensitivity affliction. As the curtains start closing the tension starts rising as the supernatural mystery plays out.

The film nails it’s aesthetic in every single scene. The lighting creates an murky feeling. There’s always a sense that something unknown is lingering with Grace and the other residents. The scenery outside is constantly filled with fog. Everyone feels cut off and the residents feel isolated from the outside world. The trapped feeling highlights the paranoid feeling that comes from constant feeling that intruders are present and about. This helps the movie feel scary without ever relying on gimmicks that plague a lot of the horror movies coming out now. There’s no gore. There’s no false jump scares. There’s just tension that’s created from the eerie and unknown atmosphere.

Kidman’s acting is on point and she transitions perfectly from manic and paranoid to a religious disciplinarian. Never once do her actions feel out of place and her expressions of pain keep an emotional weight in the movie that help give it very much needed substance. The child actors are also decent in the movie. Their performances never feel too out of place and make more sense as we learn more about how they’ve been raised and lived their lives.

This leads to the main problem with the movie- some of the bigger twists are certainly surprising and are subtly built up in terms of clues, but others feel out of place and disjointed. The film is aesthetically beautiful which helps mask the hollowness of certain story points. At times it feels like the beauty of the film is done to distract us from those flaws and it works for the most part, but by the end of the movie I was left unsatisfied with the way certain key questions were left.

Rating

TLDR: The Others is an aesthetically pleasing, suspenseful, ghost mystery. While it’s provocative in it’s Gothic presentation, certain story beats feel hollow and rushed.

Final Rating: 8.4/10. If you enjoy moody horror pieces that focus more on suspense and feeling, this movie should be right up your alley.

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Review: The Devil’s Backbone

Spanish Poster

Guillermo del Toro’s supernatural piece, The Devil’s Backbone, is a beautiful humanist tale set during the Spanish Civil War. Familiarity with the factions during the war isn’t a prerequisite to watching the movie, but is something a viewer should understand if they want to get more from the experience. The story follows a newly orphaned child, Carlos (Fernando Tielve) as he’s forced to integrate and deal with the supernatural aspects of a orphanage for the children of those associated with the Republicans.

This movie is less scary and more eerie in an aesthetic sense. The first shot is a wonderful indication of this, as it starts as an introspection on ghosts to a missile being dropped into the ground. The real horror of the movie is the violence that people are willing to inflict upon one another for capital gains. In the war, a huge revolution was read by the authoritarians and fascists against the leftists Republicans and anarchists- a battle that served as a precursor to World War II and whose contents are still being fought about in the status quo. The characters proximity to the war helps provide a nuanced commentary on the same, while highlighting the heavy costs of warfare. As such, nothing feels heavy-handed, and thematic victories feel more earned.

Throughout the film, pan shots are utilized to great effect. The distance and layout of the orphanage feels well-realized, and I felt like I had a grasp of the basic floor plan because of how well the space is visualized and traversed. Furthermore, they create this constant sense of dramatic irony. Multiple characters have secrets that get revealed in this way, which helps flesh out the characters and explain their motivations. The transition is never overused, so it feels fresh every-time that it happens.

The movie constantly highlights agency and understanding. Characters stay less powerful when they know less. The children are constantly forced into action and feel like they can’t do anything. The adults feel forced into a situation and war that they hope ends well for them but has slowly taken everything away from them. Even though no character takes Earth-shattering actions, their personal journeys and attempts at regaining control in their lives is interesting and serves as a kind of microcosm of the Civil War going on in the background.

Certain character choices and decisions feel less justified in the third act. Some characters make bad choices, but there are definitely some events that happen that feel like the story needs them to happen as opposed to feeling like an organic response to what went on. Thankfully, these issues mainly show up regarding more of the side characters, but they do impact the story.

Rating

TLDR: The Devil’s Backbone, is a well-shot and gorgeous story about the depths of human solidarity . It tackles it’s themes in a poetic way that really take advantage of the story’s setting.

Final Rating: 8.8/10. History buffs who know more about the Spanish Civil War would love this. Fans of humanism or empowerment stories would also like this. Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!

Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!