Monthly Archives: July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger (a 6 Word Review)

“A very well made popcorn movie.”

my friend took the words right out of my mouth…

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Insidious: Really Late Impressions

For those expecting a review of Captain America, you won’t get it until a few days later as I’ve yet to see the film. That’s why, for now, I’ve decided to review a film which I should have seen in the theaters back in April. That movie is Insidious. Yes, I am 3 months delayed in my review. But like I always say, better late than never, though it would be way better if I could fix this habit of mine.

Alright, Insidious.  As usual, this review will be divided into The Good and The Bad.

The Good

My friends told me that this movie is one of the scariest films to have been released in recent history. I agree. The last films to genuinely scare the crap out of me were REC, and The Crazies. Both employed different techniques in achieving their scares. REC had the intensity and brutality of the cinema verite style to scare the audience, while The Crazies used some good-old fashion characterization: despite their relatively simple characterization, you’d feel empathy for the protagonist and his wife. You connect with them, and you’ll feel scared for them when they are subjected to the horror happening on the screen. Oh, and both films were gory too (though not to the extent of Eli Roth’s absolutely dreadful Hostel).

The film relied on tension: tension through the desaturated color scheme, off-framed composition and camera angles, the play of shadows and light, parlor tricks (similar to Poltergeist), glimpses of the ghosts (though this was one was pretty problematic in the latter half), and surreal imagery which evokes images from a David Lynch film. The film has no gore, but it has some creepy ghost make-up effects. As for the human element, we have a family whose father figure seems to be slowly drifting away from the family, a wife left alone in the house filled with not so friendly ghosts, and kids subjected to supernatural threats: particularly a baby girl being harassed by a malevolent spirit, and a boy who slips into a “coma” and is attracting spirits around him.

It is so refreshing to see a film nowadays relying on some of the oldest tricks in horror filmmaking and not to resort to shlock and splatter. It is more surprising to know that the filmmakers responsible for this are director James Wan, writer Leigh Whannell, and (not so surprisingly) producer Oren Peli (director of the recent Paranormal Activity). Wan and Whannell are known for their Saw franchise, but Peli’s influence can also be seen throughout the film. It’s the film’s subtle horror touches that stand out: doors opening by themselves (oldest trick in the book, but a great trick nonetheless), a rocking horse, and shadows. In the hands of a mediocre director, these touches would not have been as effective.

To see Wan and Whannell a practically goreless film and still scare the audience shitless shows us that these guys are actually good filmmakers. Wan’s framing of the picture is quite discomforting due to the breathing space created, thus highlighting the background. The character may be in focus, but because of the extra space, one expects something to appear in the background: the audience sees it, but the character does not. And that’s just in daytime. Once it goes dark, it’s unbearable: every shadow becomes a potential ghost just waiting to jump at you.

Acting wise, Patrick Wilson and Rose Bynre do a good job playing the couple. You’d feel sorry for Rose Byrne left all alone in a haunted house. The same goes with Patrick Wilson when he finally breaks down due to his helplessness in the situation. Horror veteran Lin Shaye, who horror fans would recognize as the literature teacher in the original Nightmare on Elm Street, does what her role demands of her: play the psychic.

You’ll realize that I’m not making any mention of the script. That’s because this film’s script is part of…

The Bad (spoilers…nah, you’ve probably seen the movie already…if not, you’ve been warned)

The material is quite weak, but not to the extent of calling it mediocre. It is weak in the sense that it was dangerously treading on a ludicrous subject matter (astral projection), the expository dialogue by the psychic ruined the mystery surrounding the film, and it had an unnecessary twist ending.

When it comes to horror, I usually prefer the Lovecraftian fear of the unknown. We fear things we do not understand. The same goes with the film in the first hour: we have no idea why the family is being harassed by ghosts. We have no idea what the kid saw in the attic. We do not know the cause of some apparent poltergeist activity in the house. Because we do not know why these are happening, we are scared of it. But then the psychic had to do some expository speech on astral projection, the “Further”, and how this attracts ghosts to the family. Wow, thanks a lot for conveniently explaining the mystery and demystifying it, lessening the impact of the scares. I noticed that their impact after the exposition lessened, and that the director had to resort to cheap scares and surrealist imagery, which admittedly was interesting, but it felt like it belonged to another movie, namely the films of David Lynch.

Things become more problematic in the 3rd Act, when Patrick Wilson’s character projects himself and tries to retrieve his son from “the Further”. Here we see the ghosts (in shadow, thank goodness), and the demon harassing the son (who looks a lot like Darth Maul…wait, what?!). That part almost ruined the film for me. In the first two-thirds, we see glimpses, I repeat, GLIMPSES of the demon through his silhouette, bloody hand marks, and half his face (thank goodness that part was just a second long). But the third act had to show the demon in its entirety. Take note that while it wasn’t shown in full lighting, the fact is that you’re seeing a guy wearing some goat leg prosthetics and make-up which reminds us too much of Darth Maul. It just ruins the illusion, and risks replacing the horror with comedy.

Finally, oh my goodness, that unnecessary twist at the end. For once, I would like to watch a contemporary horror film which has a relatively happy ending. Believe it or not, there is a way to still make a pretty heavy ending while still making it a “happy” one. Take The Shining for example; sure Jack Nicholson and the black guy dies, but at least the mother and the kid escapes from the hotel. The complication is resolved, but the ending is still quite heavy.

Instead, Insidious had to end with Patrick Wilson being possessed by a former ghost who harassed him as a kid, with the implication that he will end up killing everyone in the house at the end. For goodness sakes: I spent an hour and forty minutes hoping for this family’s problems to be resolved, only for the film to end where everybody dies in the end?! What kind of douchebaggery is this? *sigh* I know the world is going to shit nearer and nearer each day, but that all more shows the importance of things such as movies, most especially horror film. Sure, people in horror films confront forces beyond the material world. But wouldn’t it be uplifting, and inspiring, to know that despite the otherworldy attacks, us worldly beings are able to resist that threat, that despite knowing the existence of dragons, we also know that we could defeat them?

The Verdict

The film’s direction was a dual-edged sword. On one hand, we have a terrifying first half due to the tension it had established. On the other hand, the latter half just disposes of the build-up created by the first half and opted for a more standard climax. Mind you, the directing is solid, and for Wan to be able to dance around the problematic script and still make a pretty scary third act (albeit user weaker scare tactics) shows us his skill as a director. However, like I said time and time again, good direction can only do so much; the film’s mediocre script is what ultimately prevents this film from being a contemporary horror classic. This is a flawed horror film, but an interesting experiment in tension-building. If you are willing to forgive the third act’s lack of genuine scares, and that unnecessary twist ending, this film is definitely for you. Horror buffs would definitely enjoy this one.

Buy on original if possible. If not, a decent torrent copy would suffice (come on, the film made money!).

3.5 stars out of 5.

Can’t wait to watch Captain America! 🙂

The Rite: Really Late Impressions

Okay, this film is more than 5 months delayed. However, considering that this film has already been released on DVD, here’s to hoping that this review would convince you guys to get it on DVD or Blu-ray.

My impressions on the film? I believe that this is possibly one of the best exorcism films since 1973’s The Exorcist.

The Good and the Bad (combined)

Just to be fast: the film’s scares are more of a cerebral type of horror rather the typical gore-nography used in most horror films these days. Things are more implied than presented (except for the actual exorcism sequence). The film’s look is dark. The cinematography evokes a feeling of helplessness and isolation on part of the protagonist. Combined with the demon‘s presence through sound, the effect is certainly unsettling.

As for the “weak” parts, most have already mentioned that this film adds nothing new to the library of exorcism movies that have already been released. Simply put, the film is supposedly “cliched” and “generic”. Additionally, the third act descended into a  “typical” confrontation between a priest and a demon. Again, “predictable”. If, however, one takes into account the personal journey of the protagonist, one could say that the film’s climax is the most logical path for the plot. Primarily, the film is a spiritual journey on part of the protagonist: he experiences a crisis of faith, and finds his faith once more through an exorcism ritual.

The Verdict

This is definitely one of the scariest films of 2011, if you take into account the reality of demonic possession, as well as if you truly understand the nature of the Enemy. I believe that the film was able to effectively drive the point without being to heavy-handed about it. However, if you do not believe that at all, then you’re in for a *blech* generic, cliched exorcism film (*coughs*bullshit*cough).

4 stars out of 5.

Support the entertainment industry! Buy on original! 😛

Review: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2

This review will be quick and to the point, so as to lessen the risk of my forgetting certain portions of the film.

As usual, this will be divided between the Good, and the Bad. Oh, and I saw this on a standard 2D theater.

The Good

I would definitely say that the performances of the actors are the strength of this film. Considering the somewhat inferior material to begin with (*gasp!*), the actors were able to deliver performances which were emotionally truthful. Alan Rickman possibly gives THE performance of his career as the tortured Snape; Ralph Fiennes is as villainous as ever (not to mention Helena Bonham Carter as Bellatrix Lestrange); and trio of Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint show some of the best acting since the start of the film franchise. Special mention should also be given to Matthew Lewis, who plays the used to be bumbling Neville Longbottom (keyword: USED, watch the film and you’ll see why).

The second strength of the film would have to be direction. David Yates has always found ways to work around the problematic portions of the books in his previous works (though Part 1 would still be the anomaly). As for the action sequences and effects shots, this installment contains some of the best effects since the wand fight between Voldemort and Dumbledore in Order of the Phoenix. The Battle of Hogwarts is definitely the film’s set-piece.

Lastly, the decision to use John Williams’  original themes in key segments of the film is definitely a huge welcome. If there was something missing from the fourth film onwards, it was Williams’ music.

The Bad

The film was dark. And I’m not talking about the themes and the story; it’s just too dark to see anything properly. There is the possibility that some characters wouldn’t be recognized because they weren’t lighted properly. And this darkness would probably post some problems to those who saw it in 3D.

I also mentioned something earlier about the film’s inferior material. Most Harry Potter fans would probably agree that the series went downhill with Order of the Phoenix. I personally think that the books went back from the dead with Half-Blood Prince, then it started undergoing rigor-mortis with Deathly Hallows. Now I said earlier that while David Yates was able to work around the problematic portions of the books, he just couldn’t fix everything. Like the final book, the film was banking on the audiences’ sentimentality to the characters they have grown with and followed throughout the years.

This film, like the book, indiscriminately disposes of characters left and right, characters which could have been put to even better use than to just stand in the background, deliver lines, then just drop dead. Sure, we may remember their characters from previous films. But that’s just it: we remember their character then. What we receive now are characters which have stagnated, which have not been developed further. Instead, we get these additional characters which we’re supposed to empathize for, but due to the lack of decent character development, their deaths just comes off as irritating.

Now pardon me for sounding heartless, but this is one of the main problems I had with the final book, and unfortunately it kinda manifested here too. This bothers me so much because there, too, is a work which indiscriminately disposes of its characters like flies. Unlike this film, however, every second of character development was used exceedingly well that upon their death, we genuinely feel a loss. The film, also based on a book (a controversial book that is), was called Battle Royale

Oh, and for some minor griping, the much awaited kiss between Ron and Hermione kinda came out of nowhere. But then, so did from the book. Oh forget about it! :))

The Verdict

As you can see, the main problem was the source material itself. However we must give credit to David Yates for being able to work around the problem and give us a definitely satisfying conclusion to a series of films which began in 2001. For goodness sakes, if he is able to drive some poor fan to tears (sniff*sniff) with shots of those characters we love, this shows his skill in manipulating the audiences’ emotions. Additionally, the performances would have come as wooden and one-dimensional considering the problematic story. This is not the case with this film: the actors and actresses came off as believable (the ones that mattered anyway). That is a mark of a good director.

The spectacle was well done. The music was good. And the conclusion was satisfactory.

Yes, the good parts of the film definitely outweighs the bad, and for those disappointed with the first installment (ahem!) will find this film much better.

Mischief managed.

:’-(

Good bye Harry.

4.5 stars out of 5

*sniff*

Now that that’s over, time to marathon The Lord of the Rings once more! ;P

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (aka Transformers 3D) ***

*Forget the “Dark of the Moon” bullsh*t; I’m calling this movie Transformers 3D.

**Seen in 2D, will update the review once I watch this on IMAX.

***UPDATED: Watched on IMAX 3D

It seems like Michael Bay just gave us his valedictory address with this film. Having practically blown up every imaginable thing on the planet (and an asteroid), he unleashes the mother-load with Transformers 3D, a film oozing with Bay’s trademark style of explosions, stylistic camera angles, and a butchered script milked for humor.

The Good

There are only two things I’m looking for in a summer blockbuster film: a decent story, and a decent spectacle. Those are the bare minimum, and if a movie achieves that, I’m all praises for it. And in this particular movie, both have been achieved with satisfactory results.

For those who think that there’s no way for the franchise to be redeemed after the clusterf*ck that is Revenge of the Fallen, you’re mistaken. Transformers 3D actually has a plot and a story (not a life changing one though but that’s beside the point); a story which finally gives us that long awaited glimpse of the epic civil war on the planet Cybertron, and how that war got the planet earth involved through the Apollo 11 moon landings. Thus, we finally see how epic (in the loosest definition of the word) the world of the Transformers is.

I mentioned earlier that this film is Michael Bay’s valedictory address. If Michael Bay were to retire from filmmaking after this movie, my goodness what a final film this is. Explosions galore, impressive action set-pieces, nice CGI, smoother camera movements in the action scenes (gasp!), and robot gore (probably the goriest robot film in history), yep: Michael Bay could already retire after this.

On an additional note on the cinematography, the decision to film this movie on 3D may be one of the best things that ever happened to Michael Bay. Gone are the problematic camera movements from Revenge of the Fallen (action scenes which leave the audience confused due to frantic camera work, et. al.), meaning that one will be able to follow most of the robot battles here.

For the acting, I’d have to give credit to John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Alan Tudyk, Patrick Dempsey, John Turturro, and Ken Jeong. These guys just went there to have fun (most especially in the case of Malkovich and Tudyk). Patrick Dempsey gives a chilling performance as Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s boss, and Ken Jeong, well, plays himself in this film.

The Bad (spoiler alerts)

Just some minor technical complaints. I’ve heard that Bay shot the film on digital and 70mm cameras. There are portions of the film where you can spot the difference; there are moments when the image is clear then suddenly it becomes too grainy. This may be intentional but the abrupt change on image quality becomes occasionally disturbing.

Secondly, there seem to be too much villains. Sure we have Megatron and the other Decepticons, as well as the new muscle troop in the form of Shockwave. However, two other significant villains make an appearance in the middle act, with more emphasis on a traitor character, thus making Megatron and Starcream supporting villains.

Regarding the film’s length, the movie suffered from an overextended 3rd Act. Sure, the last hour is an orgy or explosions, demolished buildings, and robot gore. However, there are moments where I admit I felt quite bored as the events were just too long.

For some geek ranting (as requested by some friends of mine, so this portion isn’t entirely my thoughts), why didn’t Starscream betray Megatron once in the series? Now, my knowledge of the T.V. series is basic at best, but what I know is that Starscream is always trying his darnest to overthrown Megatron. But all three films portray him as a pathetic loyal follower. What a way to portray one of the more memorable Transformer.

3D Effects

I’m having mixed feelings about the film’s 3D effects. The effects here certainly isn’t Avatar. There you have things moving from the screen towards you (in a very non-gimmicky fashion). For this film, in particular, the screen is kinda like a diorama: we do not see things mostly coming towards us (when they do, it was pretty gimmicky) but instead we see depth. This isn’t so much of a problem, but there are moments when the 3D effects are too minimal that you hardly see the illusion at all. And when things do  jump at you, like I said earlier, it was pure gimmickry.

Some 3D scenes were pretty cool though. The Cybertron war scenes were cool, the highway chase scene was cool, the gliding sequence over Chicago was cool, and Optimus Prime killling the robots before his big fight with the main baddie was also cool. In short, majority of the action sequences looked cool in 3D.

The Verdict

As I said earlier, this is a summer blockbuster film. More specifically, this is a Michael Bay film. As such, all expectations of something profound and life-changing are non-existent here. I went there to kill a few brain cells, to be entertained, and I was. The film had a plot, the action sequences, though a bit extended, are entertaining. While there are some technical complaints regarding the abrupt changes in visual style, the distraction was not enough to kill the experience.

As for the 3D, this ain’t Avatar. However, in the midst of trashy post-conversion live-action 3D films like Thor and Green Lantern, Transformers 3D is pretty good.

4 stars out of 5.