Category Archives: Reviews

Short Review: Transformers: Age of Extinction

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It’s hard to not like this movie when you consider the previous film to be Michael Bay’s valedictory address. Transformers 3D (yes, I’m still sticking to that title) is a culmination of everything Michael Bay has learned in filmmaking (for better or for worse). To suddenly go back to the franchise when it was effectively concluded in the third film just reeks of everything rotten in the current Hollywood system.

“But Evil Dr. Bok,” some of you minions would groan, “You enjoy Michael Bay movies, The Rock, Bad Boys 2, and Transformers 3D to be exact. You even told your students that watching Michael Bay movies is to expect nothing but explosions explosions explosions. Heck, you enjoyed The Expendables, a movie which is essentially a corny 80s action flick made with contemporary sensibilities. Why the hate surrounding this movie?” The answer is simple; Bay-isms can only take the film so far.

Transformers 3D had a story, and that alone saved the film. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen had absolutely no direction in the plot, character, etc. While you may accuse Transformers 3D of committing the same atrocities, its crime to story-telling isn’t anywhere  near as criminal compared to Revenge of the Fallen. Age of Extinction’s plot is Revenge of the Fallen bad. What makes its frustratingly bad is that there are slivers of brilliance in the script. The idea of humans going against their saviors is actually a stroke of genius story wise. It actually challenges the Autobots’ faith in humanity; if humans will turn against their saviors, why save them to begin with? This is where Cade’s family enters. Yeah, it’s a cliche but it can work given the proper storytelling.

And let’s not forget about Lockdown, the primary Cybertronian antagonist in the film. This is actually one Cybertronian I’m scared of. This dude is scary; he’s ruthless, he’s badass, he’s cool. He holds no loyalty for the war between Autobots and Decepticons; that makes him scary.

These nuggets actually made the film for me, but they were unfortunately drowned in the excesses Bay usually presents in his films. The explosions are there; they still look gorgeous in typically Bay fashion but they lack something which was present in the earlier Transformers films. I can’t really pinpoint what it is, but I am under the impression that this film somehow lost the charm the three previous ones had. Everything here, except for the two points I mentioned, seems so disconnected. The film somehow feels half-baked, similar to how Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter was. Sad to say, this film, I believe, is what Michael Bay makes when he is on auto-pilot. Yes, I’m saying it; despite my ultra low expectations for Transformers: Age of Extinction, this film is a bad film, even by Michael Bay standards. Do yourself a favor and wait for it once it reaches cable.

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Thoughts on “Godzilla” (2014)

godzilla 2014

This blog has always been known for its tendency to go against what most mainstream critics agree upon. Other times, it definitely agrees with them. Most times, it stumbles like an extremely indecisive dude who can’t seem to agree whether he will buy a pair of rubber shoes or a booster box of a Magic The Gathering cards. This entry feels somewhat in between because while I understand what the critics are positively saying about the latest Godzilla film, I still can’t over the fact that those critics seem to be deliberately ignoring certain problematic elements about the movie.

“Enough with the teasing, Evil Dr. Bok, you harlot you; did you like Gareth Edward’s Godzilla?” you mindless minions groaning in frustration as I make a long winded introduction to this entry. To that I reply, “If you were expecting giant monster fights ala Pacific Rim, then you will be sort off disappointed. If, however, you belong to those who have an excellent knowledge of the Godzilla lore from the original 1954 film to the more recent ones, who jizz at the very sight of Godzilla charging up for his radioactive breath attack, then yes, you will enjoy this movie IF (that’s a big if) you can forgive the fact that Godzilla has less screen time than the human characters.”

Anti-Nuclear Allegory

You see, one has to be in a certain mindset before watching this movie. Those expecting the kind of film where Godzilla fights other giant monsters might feel pretty underwhelmed when watching this movie because this film takes off from the 1954 version. And no, I’m not referring to the American re-edit title Godzilla: King of Monsters, but rather to the original Toho film starring Kurosawa veteran, Takashi Shimura. That Godzilla film was meant to be more of a sci-fi horror/disaster flick where Godzilla was indeed a monster, an unstoppable force of nature. It was meant to reflect the Japanese anxiety towards nuclear weapons and, for the time, one can only imagine the film to be extremely effective considering that it was released a mere 9 years after World War 2 ended.

Kaiju Battle Royale

So there we have it; the 1954 Godzilla was meant to address a present anxiety among the Japanese. It was with the sequels when the movie started to embrace the inherent ridiculousness of a guy in a rubber suit fighting other monsters; that was when the films supposedly became more fun. In other words, it was a film that didn’t take itself too seriously. Now, the first “true” Godzilla film I saw was the one film where Godzilla first teamed up with Mothra to defeat this alien monster. I was too young to remember precise details but I was pretty sure I was laughing my butt of with the sheer awesomeness of Godzilla drop-kicking the other monster. That’s the fun kind of Godzilla. To an extent, and I know some of you might violently disagree with this, but I actually enjoyed watching the terrible 1998 Godzilla. Yes it is the poor man’s Jurassic Park, and it was just a huge mess, but it is the kind of fun mess that I would want to watch drunk with my friends just so we can make fun of the film’s stupidity. In a sense, despite it having no relation to the Japanese Godzilla, at the film can still be enjoyed ironically with the help of a couple of beers and some boorish company.

Godzilla 2014 (SPOILER WARNING)

Which leads us now to the new Godzilla. I understand that it was meant to follow in the footsteps of the 1954 original, and for that, at least I can applaud them for echoing some of the post-nuclear anxieties of the 1954 film (the film’s prologue echoes the Fukushima disaster a few years ago). And the climactic Battle Royale with the two other monsters, was pretty satisfying (the radioactive breath’s introduction was pretty cool). However, this is where the audience’s patience will be tested for between the monster appearances and their fights, we are subjected to the human element of the story.

Now I know that I have said before that for a film to be effective, one needs the human hook; the investment towards the characters. This hook worked to an extent in Inception, The Expendables, and Captain America:  The Winter Soldier. These are summer blockbusters, but one they had which the current Godzilla didn’t are well developed characters (or at least, developed enough that they do not upstage the more brainless part of a summer blockbuster). Inception had Cobb wanting to return to his kids, The Expendables had Barney and Tool’s inner demons, and The Winter Soldier had the chemistry between Steve Rogers and Agent Romanoff. Godzilla, unfortunately only had Bryan Cranston who dies roughly 20 minutes into the film. Even if the writers’ intentions was to focus on the human element and their actions during a kaiju invasion, at least let the story have memorable characters that MAKE major and believable contributions to the plot. Other film reviews also mention Jaws and the Spielberg influence in Godzilla. I thought that the reference was invalid as Jaws had Chief Brody, Hooper, and Quint. Aside from Heisenberg, which human character stood out in Godzilla? If I were to summarize this portion in phrase, I would echo what my friends and I said about the first Transformers film, “More Godzilla, less humans.”

Closing Words

I may have been a bit harsh on the film as I enjoyed certain portions of it. The three-way climactic fight between Godzilla and the MUTOs was pretty fun. It was just unfortunate that the film had us wade through the sludge that was the boring human story elements for almost 90 minutes before we got through the kaiju fights that have been teasing us since Godzilla’ arrival at Hawaii. But heck, I enjoyed the Lord of the Rings book even as it had me go through 2 to 300 pages of walking, unpronouncable names, and scenery descriptions so who am I to condemn this film. That said, if you are indeed one of those hardcore Godzilla fans, or is simply willing to wait for 90 minutes for the giant monster extravaganza at the end, then consider this a recommendation on my part. Otherwise, stick to Pacific Rim or even the old Godzilla films if you want more no-holds barred kaiju action.

Why I Think “Frozen” Is An Overrated Film

*this entry will contain SPOILERS

I already mentioned in my previous post that I thought Frozen falls quite short in practically every aspect that Tangled did better, that is except for the songs. I maintain this idea as I’ve seen Frozen for a second time. Now, before I get lynched once more by those loudmouthed idiots over the internet who believe shouting louder makes them more correct, I’m not saying that Frozen is bad; I’m simply saying that is it an overrated film. It’s not bad by any account; it’s just not as well-made as compared to Tangled, nor does it even stand on its own next to Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, or even the non-musical Wreck-It Ralph.

An Organic Unity of Story, Song, and Spectacle

The really good Disney movies have an organic unity of story, song, and spectacle. The story is simple, but not condescending. By condescending, I mean it doesn’t treat its audience like children. Beauty and the Beast is one; it may be the most fairytale of the Disney Renaissance as well as the most girly, but its simple but intelligently written storyline is appealing for the kids and not distracting for the adults. Its script respects the intelligence of the audience, unlike Frozen. Remember Anna’s resurrection scene when Olaf mentioned something about “self-sacrifice being able to thaw a frozen heart?” Thank you for pointing out the obvious, Olaf! Thank you for ruining that scene which I thought was clichéd as hell, and which was bordering on being a deus ex machina. So there, we have one of Frozen’s problems; a distractingly written script which looks down on its audience. Another recent Disney film had that problem; it was The Princess and the Frog. If any children’s film is guilty of being too condescending, it would be that.

“But surely, Evil Dr. Bok,” you ask, “Surely the songs make up for the script’s shortcomings?” Uh, yes, in a pretty lazy way, and no that isn’t a good thing. Disney songs are good, but they contribute to the narrative drive of the film. Again, I would give the example of Beauty and the Beast as that film is the gold standard for Disney musicals in the 90s. Every song, and I mean every song, is absolutely necessary as it contributes some character development as well as help in the film’s narrative. The opening song number establishes Belle and her status in the village, how she feels that she doesn’t fit quite in, and it also establishes one of the key characters, Gaston. See the economy in that song number? See how it merges into the film’s narrative?  That’s the organic unity I’m talking about. What does the Olaf song have to do with the story? Fine, it’s cute, and the novelty of seeing a snowman in summer is fun, but what does it contribute to the entire narrative? Maybe I need a copy of the lyrics to fully appreciate it, but for now, it would seem that there’s no other purpose for the song other than, “Hey we have a talking snowman here. Let him sing.”

And for those particularly close listeners, see how every single song in Beauty and the Beast, while particularly catchy, feels organic? “What do you mean by that, Evil Dr. Bok?” you ask, and I reply, “There is a consistency in the musicality of the song numbers and the score.” We know it was Alan Menken who scored the film, and we also know that it was Alan Menken who composed the song’s music. That’s the consistency I’m talking about. The problem with Frozen was that there is a disjoint between the film’s score and its songs.

Speaking of musical consistency , there isn’t even a good consistency within the songs themselves. We’ve got the opening chant, “Do You Want to Build a Snowman”, “For the First Time in Forever”, that duet with the Gaston wannabe, the inevitable “Let It Go”, and the Troll and Olaf songs. If you have a copy of the OST, try to listen to them to see what I mean. Now try to listen to Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, Hercules, and to an extent, Tangled (except for the opening song number). Each song has a musical consistency with each other. While some songs maybe too comedic at times, it works within the film’s world itself. Some songs in Frozen are too poppy; definitely at odds with the opening chant in the film. While the chant does give an interesting sound, the succeeding pop tunes tend to diminish it, which is why when we finally hear that chant again when Elsa finally thaws Arendelle, one can’t help but feel that the motif was underdeveloped.

As for the spectacle, well, I guess I can’t complain much about Frozen’s look; the ice motifs are definitely fun to look at (the “Let it Go” sequence, I’ll admit, had me forming goosebumps. And if there’s something that Disney has perfected, it’s coming up with the appropriate “MTV” for its musical numbers (I don’t mean that as a derogatory remark, by the way). Which leads me to one minor (more of nitpicking) complaint…

Where’s the villain?

Beauty and the Beast had Gaston; Tangled, despite having way too many antagonists, both real and pseudo, had Mother Gothel; Sleeping Beauty had Malificent; Wreck-It Ralph had King Candy; and The Lion King had Scar. What did Frozen have? A snivelly old man from Weasel Town, and a Gaston wannabe who’s character reversal is not well established because we were paying too much attention to the songs. Yes, this film meant to examine the sisterhood relationship of Anna and Elsa, and I appreciate that, but I have to admit I missed seeing an actual villain in this film. Tangled, surprisingly, had one very interesting villain. Gothel wasn’t as established as Scar or Gaston, but she makes up for it for her slyness and sheer manipulation. She managed to keep that flower hidden for god knows how many years. She was able to sneak into the castle to kidnap Rapunzel as an old lady, AS AN OLD LADY! She climbed up the terrace AS AN OLD LADY! My goodness I just realized how cool that is! That and she managed to manipulate Rapunzel into singing to for the next 18 years, she manipulated the Stabbington Brothers into working for her, and she stabbed Eugene Fitzherbert at the back! And she was supposed to be one of the “weaker” villains in Disney lore! What did Frozen have? Not much.

Final Words

The really good Disney films have stand out musical numbers, and to that aspect, I will again say that Frozen’s musical numbers really stand out. They are hummable, catchy, and indeed well composed. That, however, is its “downfall”. I thought that Frozen’s musical numbers are distracting in the sense that it distracts you from the problematic script, and the (I hate using the word) cliché storyline. In the end, one remembers the songs, not the story. Is this a good thing? Not exactly. Always remember that  film is still primarily a narrative driven medium, and regardless of how good the songs and eye candy is, the story, songs, and spectacle must be unified.  In this aspect, Tangled beats Frozen in practically every other department except for the songs.

Gravity (A Review)

Gravity_Poster

I’ve seen Gravity earlier this week, but as my initial thoughts on viewing it were a bit shaky at best, I thought that I should give it a second shot. Similar to what I thought of Prometheus at first, I thought I should watch it a second time, this time as a detached observer. If the first viewing is the experience of it, the second viewing, I believe, should be the more critical viewing, as I won’t be subjected to the suspense of figuring who’ll live or die in this film and just focus on how well the film was made, how the issues and themes were handled, etc. And so, after a second round with Cuaron’s Gravity (again seen on IMAX), does this film deserve all the praise and recognition given to it by mainstream critics out there? Or is it another example of a film heavily hyped by the mainstream media?

The answer really depends on what you’re expecting with this.  If you’re looking for in-your-face 3D effects, this film isn’t for you. If you’re expecting a thriller with slow-burn paced tension, then this may be for you. If you’re looking for a by-the-numbers Hollywood thriller, then this film again MAY BE for you. Like I said, the answer as to whether this is THE FILM of 2013 depends on one’s expectations for it. As such, let us begin, as usual, with The Good followed by The Bad.

The Good

I am a huge fan of horror/thriller-type films as well as speculative fiction because, despite their unrealistic portrayal of events in the real world, speculative fiction (if done well) can say something more about the human condition than most realistic fiction out there. Even if Gravity plays around the grey area of science fiction and science fact, this film is science-fiction by virtue of being set in space. In this case, it’s a typical survival film. An accident happens during a routine repair mission in space and astronauts Stone and Kowalski must do everything they can to survive. It’s as simple as that; it’s a survival story and the characters’ resolve to live is tested through the obstacles they encounter.

“Wait a minute, Evil Dr. Bok,” I hear you lowly minions scream, “It sounds like a typical Hollywood story to me. How is that supposed to be a good thing?” Well, for one, it wasn’t distracting. It wasn’t trying to make ultra profound statements about the nature of human existence, but the story works. It’s about survival; it couldn’t get any more complex than that. Those looking for a profound philosophical treatise reminiscent of 2001 A Space Odyssey (or the more pretentious and heavy handed musings of the vastly overrated/deservedly hated Prometheus) might be a bit disappointed, but at least director and co-writer Alfonso Cuaron knew which aspect of humanity to explore on even in broad strokes. That, I believe, is an achievement in the scripting, the direction, and the editing of the film.

Speaking of direction, to be able to make a 90 minute film with only two main characters engaging is an achievement. Granted, there are some who might say that the opening (or the part after the initial action, or any part where the script gets talky) gets dragging a little bit, but considering what Cuaron is telling us about survival, I’m guessing this is a bit of a compromise. Other than that, the action sequences are masterfully done (shot in what now seems to be Cuaron’s trademark long-takes), and the scenes in space are among the most terrifyingly tense scenes I’ve seen in a while.

I’d also want to mention that score and the sound design. Aiming for a more realistic approach to depicting scenes in space, Cuaron decided to opt for a complete silence (more or less). There are no explosions in space, no Michael Bay type explosions once the space debris obliterate space stations, shuttles, and satellites, just the intense score by Steven Price, and a sound design consisting of the actor and actress’s voice through a microphone filter, beeping alarms, and decompression processes. Come Oscar Night, I wouldn’t be surprised if this film wins Best Score or Sound Design/Editing.

The Bad

Upon initial viewing, I told my friends and colleagues that one must watch Gravity in 3D, or IMAX if possible, as the 3D effects make for a pretty effective way to raise the tension due to movement. The unearthly camera movements make one feel uneasy, especially in the first 15 minutes of the film. While this isn’t a problem for me, I’m placing this here because some people might not appreciate the effect. One of the viewers exclaimed, “I feel sick”, and I can understand his feeling: the camera movements (at least for the space-walk scenes) may cause motion sickness to some viewers, and this ultimately could detract from the experience. I say “may” because, even if this didn’t affect me as much, other viewers might not appreciate it.

Additionally, while the 3D effects were interesting upon preliminary viewing, having seen it a second I realized that maybe the recommendation to see it in 3D might not be the best, but rather to see it in a LARGE screen. The 3D isn’t quite in your face (except for a few gimmicky moments of debris flying at you); at times you might not even realize it. Avatar and Transformers 3D still remain my benchmark for good 3D.

The Verdict

I’ve always mentioned when talking to other people that while there’s no such thing as a perfect movie, there are films which come pretty close. Gravity isn’t exactly one of those; I admit that there are portions that drag on a bit, and the 3D may cause motion sickness to some viewers of the audience. However, story and scriptwise, the film still works. Film-making wise, Cuaron shows that he’s really someone to look out for in the future with his  visual panaches. This film may not be for every body, but for those looking for serious science-fiction film along the veins of 2001 and MoonGravity is highly recommended.

Pacific Rim (A Review)

Pacific_Rim_FilmPoster

*This review contains some minor spoilers.

All I can say about Pacific Rim is that it seems to have been made by someone who understood what makes giant mechas fighting giant monsters fun. It’s not so much as adding as much computer generated mayhem on screen but also adding a basic human element alongside the spectacle. Granted, the storyline might be derivative from every blockbuster out there, and that the plot almost feels like an extended Saturday morning program (Neon Genesis Evangelion and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers come to mind). However, director Guillermo del Toro knew what made the genre fun and so he goes all out on the fun factor for this particular outing.

The Good

The biggest draw to this film was the idea of seeing giant monsters slugging it out with giant robots. That alone is the reason to watch the movie. In that aspect, the movie delivers well. The visual effects don’t overwhelm the story, they serve a purpose. Despite my appreciation of Michael Bay’s Transformers, these robots look and feel more real than Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Bumblebee. A jaeger’s footsteps send tremors to its surroundings, and so does a kaiju’s. Both the jaegers and the kaiju feel colossal. These creatures feel more like the CGI armies in The Lord of the Rings than the robots in Transformers; they have depth. It’s not just a CGI robot; it’s a fully functional CGI robot. And if that alone just describes the scale, wait till you reach the slugfests.

We see a jaeger using an oil tanker as a sword (I shouted “Power Sword Now!” in that sequence). A jaeger has rocket-powered fisticuffs, and upon making contact upon the kaiju, its snot, skin, and others comes flying from its face. Kaijus are sliced in half and blown to bits with an ion cannon. These descriptions should be sufficient.

As for the acting, while it’s not exactly Oscar worthy, they function well for the story. Some might complain that the characters are too cartoony or cliché, that they are more of sketches than actual characters. It doesn’t matter, it fits the story. It’s a live action Saturday morning cartoon, so it’s only fitting that everything about the movie feels like a cartoon. While it’s not bad to brood about the meaning of life (ala The Dark Knight Rises and Man of Steel), it wouldn’t fit in a movie whose single premise (robots vs. monsters) is the main reason for watching it.

The Bad (minor spoilers)

I don’t believe in perfect movies (even The Prestige, The Lord of the Rings and Leon the Professional have its issues) and Pacific Rim has its share of problems. However, while the rest are, for me, more nitpicking than actual criticisms, the biggest problem of the film would have to be the 3rd act underwater fight. Coming from the extremely exciting Hong Kong fight, the underwater fight near the dimensional rift seems a bit uncreative and, to an extent, overlong. Some argued that the 3rd act fight was meant to highlight the sacrifice and the not the slugfest, but if that’s the case, then how it was presented seemed to be a bit off. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t entirely bad. It’s just, coming from the previous fight, one expected an escalation. As presented, however, it just felt a bit anticlimactic.

The Verdict

As a whole, however, none of the more problematic parts of the film are deal breakers. Despite the anticlimactic feel of the 3rd act, the film’s presentation of the 2nd act slugfest mostly undoes every wrong thing about the film (plot holes included). The film set some expectations about what to expect and it delivered on it. My personal take on it when asked if it has a stupid story was this, “Story? What story? I came to watch giant robots fight giant monsters! That’s good enough for me!”

Rurouni Kenshin (A Review)

New Rurouni Kenshin Live Action Poster

By this time, this review would be considered as a “Really Late Impressions” considering that this film has been released in Japan since August of this year. Warner Brothers had no plans to releasing it worldwide, but a massive online campaign was launched by the fans, thus it was finally released worldwide. Or rather, at least here in the Philippines.

To begin, let me say that Rurouni Kenshin (literally Kenshin the Wanderer) was one of those very first anime that I followed back in my youth. I was never a fan of anime because I found them too strange, their English dubbing was quite overdone, and it was too popular (even then, I had hipster tendencies already, and that was before it became “cool” to be a smug bastard). Most importantly, my impression of anime was that it was cartoon porn (hentai) because I’ve heard my classmates talk in lurid detail about how hot this certain girl was and all, and so, being the conservatively raised Catholic I am in the day, stayed away from it. Imagine to my surprise when I finally got around to watching the series on AXN (because I had nothing to do back then) that 1. it was very good, 2. it had no booby shots, and 3. my goodness this is really good. So I religiously started following the series from then on, even asking permission from my mother to allow me to watch television on weekdays just so I can follow the story of the series. Later on that Christmas season I earned enough to buy the bootleg DVD release of the series and the OVA. Then in college I got to read the manga at long last. My goodness, the rest is history.

Just imagine my excitement when I heard of news concerning a live-action adaptation of Rurouni Kenshin. Well, to be honest, I wasn’t too excited, considering that some of the stills I saw struck me as a bit too corny. I mean let’s face it: adapting the manga and anime aesthetic is difficult to apply live-action as there are images which might look cool in anime, but would be downright cringe-worthy live. So needless to say, I decided to play it safe and focus on more pressing issues (namely Les Miserables and The Dark Knight Rises) and wait for the audience reaction to the film. Then when my mentor recommended it to me, saying that it was an interesting and a successful adaptation of the source material, I finally decided, “What the heck, it’s a Friday and I don’t want to go home yet.” So I watched it. Two hours later, all I can say was, “Well that was Php180.00 well spent.”

The Good

There might be some issues with hardcore fanboys regarding the changes they did to manga, (like including Saito early on in the story, making the Kurogasa arc the climactic fight scene of the film, removing Sanosuke‘s backstory, making Kanryu Takeda as the one of the main antagonists here, and making an amalgam of Hanya and Aoshi) but let me point out that these changes were done so as to smoothen the narrative of the film. I was afraid when I heard that the film will include practically ALL of the members of the Kenshin-gumi, that Kanryu, Saito, and the Kurogasa would be appearing. How on earth will they make this film? And if they’ll be making it super faithful to the manga, then we’ll have a clusterf*ck of a narrative.

Which is why I completely didn’t mind the changes they made. This film isn’t a simple fanboy jizzfest, this is a film with a story to tell. And to tell that story, one has to sacrifice the character development of the others. This is about Kenshin, and how he strives to live in the new age he helped create. This is a story about his atonement for his sins. It has never occured onto me before, but I felt goosebumps when I finally came to the realization that Kenshin is actually a very troubled individual (to say the least). He is a man whose psyche is so broken that it must really take real strength of will to restrain the cold-blooded killer lurking within him. This, I believe is one of the film’s strengths. It decided to focus on Kenshin’s character and discuss his inner turmoils. He thought he was killing to pave the way for a new age, but this new age would seem just as rotten as the old one. He was a killer, all he knew was how to kill. In the new age, he is nothing but a vagrant, a hobo (to coin my students’ terms). But for him to use his skills to protect the weak, in order to make up for his crimes, strikes a very significant chord in me which made me attracted to the series in general. And for the film to focus on this aspect was, for me, a very good move.

Additionally, you can’t have a Rurouni Kenshin film without the action sequences. And my goodness, does this film contain some well choreographed sword-fights. I was always under the impression that the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu of Kenshin involves him doing some really fast sword-draws, but this film showed that it really involves lightning-fast movements. Simply put, these are among the most exciting sword fights I’ve seen since Hero and The Last Samurai.

The Bad

The problem with adapting a whole number of manga issues would be sacrificing character moments for a more streamlined narrative. Like I said, this film sacrificed some character development for the characters of Yahiko and Sanosuke. But again, this is forgiveable, at least for me, though I’m not so sure whether the hardcore fanboys will forgive this.

Another nitpick I have is the (I’m serious over here) English translation of the script. While it wasn’t too distracting, they used the literal English translation of the various moves, faction and character names. “Hitokiri Batousai” which means “Batousai the Man-slayer” simply became “Batousai the Killer”. Plus, they gave the English name for the Hiten Mitsurugi Ryu, which is “Flying Sword of Heaven”. It would’ve been better to just stick to some of the original Japanese names, but again, this is just me geeking out too much.

The most distracting moment of the literal English translation is most apparent during the climactic Kurogasa fight. I’m sure that it wasn’t meant to be, but the translation ended up having a very heavy-handed musing of why “killing is bad.” Yes folks, this line comes verbatim from the film: “Killing is bad.” Maybe in the context of the scene, it works, considering that the character saying the line is being suffocated, but still, “Killing is bad?” It came off as preachy because of the translation.

Finally, the most glaring issue of the film is the pacing. Sure, the visuals look very pretty, but like any film, visuals can only get you so far. While I understand that these are moments which are needed for exposition, they take away so much from the pacing that I found myself looking at my watch to see how long the film has gone on. Some people might say that, “Come on, Evil Dr. Bok! It gets better during the action sequences.” That argument is invalid already. I want my films good throughout! The Prestige is a dialogue-heavy film, but practically all the scenes were engaging, most especially in the scenes where the battle of the wits between the two magicians take place. Rurouni Kenshin’s charm disappears half-way through the film when too much dialogue takes place. Things only ever become exciting during the action sequences, and the more introspective moments when Kenshin remembers an earlier hit (which most fanboys will definitely recognize the gravitas of the scene). These moments as the stand-out scenes for me, the rest was just quite slow.

The Verdict

This is not a perfect film, I never said it was. What I mentioned was that it was Php180 well spent. The film’s adaptation of the manga’s themes is spot on, plus the action sequences are definitely exciting. What killed the film was the lull in between the action sequences. While I understand the necessity of the slow scenes, the just slow the story too much.

If one can forgive the pacing issues, I recommend this film for the fanboys and casual movie-goers. It caters to the casual film-goers by focusing on Kenshin’s story, but it has enough Easter eggs to tease fanboys.

P.S. – I’ve decided to discontinue the star system for the time being (at least for this site) as one would really have difficulty systematizing a very subjective criteria. I’m still fixing my rubrics for film reviews, however, so you can expect the stars in future reviews hopefully. For now, my Rotten Tomatoes ratings on my Facebook page will suffice.

Thoughts on Horror Film Endings (a post “Sinister” reflection)

*Disclaimer: This is not a film review but an analysis. I aim to critique and analyse certain horror films, and will be mentioning details in various horror films, including the film Sinister. As such, I’ll openly be mentioning significant spoilers in this entry. If you haven’t seen the film, go read my other entries. If you have no intention of watching the film, then read ahead. I am, however, telling you now that you’re an idiot for not wanting to watch this film. Well, not really , but right now I’m telling you that this is definitely one film you will NOT want to miss in cinemas. This is easily a genuinely scary film, and a well made one too.

Verdict: 3.5 stars out of 5. (but it’s definitely a recommendation)

I’ve recently seen Sinister on cinemas. It’s not a perfect film (but then, so’s this world), but with the amount of crappy horror films out there, this significantly stands tall among most of them. Granted, it does not stand alongside The Exorcist and The Shining (which Sinister interestingly is inspired by) but the film definitely is an addition to my ever growing library of competent and genuinely scary horror films (of which includes The RiteThe Crazies, the two Dawn of the Dead films, John Carpenter’s The Thing, and the more recent The Woman in Black). While Sinister definitely is one of the more genuinely scary films to have been released this year, there are still some issues with how recently made horror films end: namely, everyone dies at the end. Well, not entirely, but it seems to be the trend nowadays to end your horror film with a downer. The one film which seems to seemingly break away from this trend would be The Woman in Black but even that film ends in a downer.

What would be the best way to end a horror film? There are endings where the protagonist is creamed by the malevolent force. Sometimes, there are films where they seemingly win, but then some genius of a filmmaker decides to yank the rug from beneath our feet and give an ending which comes out of nowhere. Finally, there is an ending where the protagonist overcomes his or her hurdle. He or she defeats or overcomes the malevolent force, but at a deep price to him/her. And of course, there’s the standard happily ever after ending (an example would be all three Scream films). Which among these endings are arguably the most ideal way to end horror movies?

I, personally, do not like endings where the protagonists lose (well, maybe back in my youth, but then I was an idiot for being emo and existentialist). Allow me to clarify that statement: I do not like films where protagonists have absolutely NO fighting chance against the antagonist. Paranormal Activity is one of those examples. Not only are the protagonists retarded ( seriously, as in mental hospital type of retarded), but they’re absolutely helpless. They’re against a demon, a disembodied manifestation of evil. How the f*ck can they stand against that?

“But Evil Dr. Bok, ” I’m already hearing the lynch mob at my doorsteps, “it’s the intention of the screenwriter and the director for the protagonists to lose. There’s nothing they can do against their enemy. It’s pointless!” If that’s the case, why bother making it then? Like I mentioned in my review of Insidious, the world’s already dark, pointless (arguably), and depressing already. Why should I even bother watching something I know to be true already? This is why the Paranormal Activity films are pointless. All we see are retarded people trying to solve something the audience already knows. All we see are people who couldn’t even raise families to save their lives, how the heck could they stand against a demonic entity?

It’s important for the audience to see those people in horror films overcome their hurdle. The Crazies, and both Dawn of the Dead films did that. Granted, the 2004 Dawn of the Dead had characters you wouldn’t care less about but that’s not the point, at least for now. The point is that they can fight the threat of the horde. They aren’t helpless, they are fighters. The Crazies featured smart characters you’d empathize with. When they’re in trouble, you’d be scared for them (especially for Radha Mitchell‘s character as she’s pregnant with Timothy Olyphant-astic’s baby), but they’re not entirely helpless.

The same goes with Insidious. You’d be scared for the situation of Rose Byrne and Patrick Wilson’s character. They’re nice people: you don’t want anything bad to happen to nice people, but unfortunately, horror films do that. They, however, weren’t too helpless either. I’m not saying this is a good thing, but thank goodness for that entirely convoluted exposition about astral projection and stuff in the film’s second half. Fine, it diminished the mystery (and the horror) of the film but at least the protagonists have a chance to save their kid who’s stuck in that world. But while Insidious stayed away from the “Bambi meets Godzilla” plotting, the film committed a fatal flaw. This flaw practically ruined three acts worth of build-up: everyone dies at the end because some other malevolent spirit which wasn’t the malevolent spirit they’ve been fighting finally gets to possess Patrick Wilson.

“But Evil Dr. Bok!” I hear you as you guys pound through my locked bedroom door, “Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead had that ‘everyone dies at the end’ ending but you rave about it! What makes Insidious any different from them?” Good question, but would you please send that lynch mob away, he was dead when I got there, I swear!

Ahem, back to the point at hand: what makes the 2004 Dawn of the Dead acceptable as compared to Insidious? Simple: Dawn of the Dead is a popcorn film. It isn’t trying to make a profound statement,  although I did pick up that what they’re trying say is, “Idiots deserve to die.” In relation to that, Dawn of the Dead’s characters are mostly cardboard cut-outs. There isn’t a decent bit of characterization for them other than they’re (but not entirely) idiotic. This might seem mean, but in a twisted sense, it doesn’t matter whether they survive or not because I really didn’t care much for them. That isn’t the case with Insidious. These are characters which you empathize with. To suddenly let go of their hands as they hold on for dear life is nothing short of a slap to the audience. “I was waiting for them to survive. They have to survive! Why didn’t you let them survive! You f*cking sadist!”

But this again reminds of another film which I enjoyed thoroughly: John Carpenter’s The Thing. The film ends with Kurt Russell killing the shape-shifting alien and preventing it from escaping into the world. However, their base in Antartica in blown to bits, and their helicopter was destroyed. Finally, a snowstorm’s coming, and they have no shelter or means of escape. The question is this: what makes this ending acceptable as compared to Insidious? By the simple fact that they prevented the alien from heading to civilation, and because of the ambiguity of the ending. They might die, but they did survive an encounter with an “unstoppable” alien. What’s a snowstorm going to do to dampen their will to survive?

The Exorcist and The Shining also ends like this. Fr. Karras and Fr. Merrin die at the end of The Exorcist but they are able to exorcise the demon from Reagan. Wendy and Danny Torrance escape the Overlook Hotel at the end of The Shining, but there are two people dead: Jack Torrance and Dick Hallorann. In a way, endings like these are probably the more artistically and aesthetically pleasing. The protagonist do not come out of their encounter unscathed, but in a sense, you may feel a bit of assurance that they’ll be alright. After all, they survived the unnatural. What’s a little worldly hurdle to them now?

Now, how does this all relate to Sinister? I mentioned earlier on that it isn’t a perfect film. The film contains an unbelievably selfish and dumb character, some cheap jumps scares, and an overlong denouement. But what makes this highly imperfect film recommended is the use of tension and sound to create a genuinely unsettling environment. Additionally, for a film which showcases snuff films, this film is not too gory. If it does gore, it does so off-screen. The imagination is put to work. And a particularly horrific scene involving jump scares, a lawnmower, and flash editing creates a truly effective horror sequence. And while the ending is terribly predictable (namely, they all die in the end), this one presents an anomaly as I didn’t truly empathize with Ethan Hawke’s character (I found myself mouthing, “You f*cking idiot” a couple of times during the screening). In other words, this is an example of a popcorn type horror film, with idiotic characters but a truly great craftsmanship. And because the characters are quite idiotic, they kinda got what’s coming to them in the end. Although I would have preferred that they did outsmart that obscure Babylonian god, it didn’t really matter whether they died or not.

To End

The best type of horror film endings would be the “bittersweet” kind as this is would seem the most plausible of the different endings discussed here. The standard fairy-tale ending may work if done properly, while the two (the “Bambi meets Godzilla” and the “twist of Shymalan proportion) should be avoided as much as possible. The everyone dies at the end type of ending is okay if we’re dealing with idiotic characters because there’s nothing more satisfying than seeing an idiot pay for his idiocy in a horror film.