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Well, that was something I watched
We open to a bunch of students watching a movie that wouldn't pass for a high school film class project. We'll never know why, they just watch it, and thus the film club is reformed, having shut down seven years ago when one student went insane and another died. That's it, we see them watching, than they're getting picked up to go down.
You can tell this is the greatest film club to ever exist, because not once during the course of this film do they ever talk about, well, films. I'm not asking for 90 minutes of enough cinematic references to make Tarantino blow his load, but maybe just showing a tad bit of interest. I'd even accept an off hand Kurosawa name drop. I'm not even sure why they care about making their own movie, which is apparently going to be an improv. Is it even correct to say they care about making their own movie? There's virtually no planning. A couple of the girls will get together at a time and just make a shot, or record themselves announcing their roles.
Oh, but I haven't even gotten to what's actually the focus: the drama. The film has a ton of interpersonal conflicts, from food stealing, poisoning, that go nowhere. There's no blow off or pay off to any of it. I wouldn't have minded any of this if it ever built up into anything. As it is, it just feels like the only way the writer knew how to pad out time before the movie picks up is having them hate each other.
and by when it picks up, I mostly mean when it teases us. It takes over half the movie before we get anything but cheap false jump scares (one really inept one involving a freeze frame), and then when we get down to brass tax? It feels like we were better off with the false scares.
When characters die off, it's off screen. It's not even like we cut away from the slayings, most of the time characters just walk off screen, and then eventually they're dead, like we're watching a slasher film version of L'Avventura. Lets also not forget amazing sequences like when our antagonist, searching for a hiding girl, paces back and forth across the room like a confused drunkard.
What's sad is there are touches of quality. The setting is very nice looking, and there are a few effective moments. The director is capable of setting up suspenseful sequences and unsettling imagery. A good horror movie lies within.
Though one area there is nothing good to say is the soundtrack. Note to film makers: music doesn't automatically make your scene better. The film sabotages moments that could've been suspenseful with bombastic music. One sequence that highlights this is when two of the girls are trying to find their friend, who is screaming for help. This protracted sequence could've easily been suspenseful in of itself, but instead this ridiculous music is played. Not only does it sound like something that belongs in a chase sequence, but it almost mutes the screams. How did anyone watch this scene during post production and think "I am so glad we added this soundtrack".
Also a pretty obvious Evil Dead (the original) influence, especially the roaming shot through a night time forest. If only the director could've learned more from the original Evil Dead, like sustaining an intense atmosphere.
and then, the ending.
*SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT, SPOILER ALERT*
So after three of the girls magically disappear from the upstairs and wind up outside, mostly dead (except the spiteful one whose dying act is to hold onto the surviving character's ankle while she's trying to run), we find out our antagonist, despite all implications of supernatural forces, was one of the girls. The motive? Watching the movie made her want to kill. I assume it's because she couldn't believe anyone would make something that cheap and distribute it, and it made her lose all faith in the human race. So our survivor kills her in self defense, and wakes up with their, teacher or something, who only has a bandage around the head after taking a blade right through the skull. They sit and watch the video that drove Maki insane, and suddenly she tells her she wants to be like the survivor, which were the words the killer spoke. So, basically, she's driven insane. Then we see this is being filmed, apparently, and that's the end.
So just keep throwing on the twists until the audience has given up.
*END SPOILER ALERT*
I wanted to like this movie a lot more. But no, what I'm left with is a bittersweet disappointment. A movie that had something in it, that could've been really good, but overall more fun is had making fun of it than sitting down and watching it. It certainly makes for an excellent lesson in how to take your strengths and screw them over. A film with no more than five minutes of thought put into its writing devolving into an anti climactic ending. and it just makes you think of way better movies you could be watching, like the original Evil Dead, Onibaba, Kuroneko, Under the Blossoming Cherry Trees, among others.
Ugetsu monogatari (1953)
What else can be said?
Along with Akira Kurosawa's "Rashomon", "Ugetsu" was responsible for breaking Japanese cinema out of it's native land. The story is set during a civil war, where a farmer lives happily with his wife and son, as well as a friend who dreams of leaving his impoverished state to become a samurai. After finding some success, exploiting the war to make a grand profit, their greed brings them away from their wives: one into realizing his samurai ambitions, the other to the home of a pale beauty.
Much has been said of the film's visual splendor. One can see here the beginnings of the sort of imagery that dominates your typical studio ghibli film, only much more bombastic. For my part, I prefer Mizoguchi's, in comparison, understated approach. Maybe not as impressive initially, but it lingers in the mind for much longer. There's really not any still shorts that do justice to the film's imagery, one must see the movements of the camera to appreciate what's on the screen. Even the most simple of moments seem more potent under Mizoguchi's proverbial eye. Adding to that is the music, which is almost surreal in how it conveys both sorrow and the fantastic.
If the emphasis on visual and sounds is making it seem like Ugetsu is just a pretty but vacuous spectacle, it absolutely is not. The technical prowess only underlies the beauty of the story. On paper, the story and characters are very simple. What makes the characters realized are the incredible performances. The most powerful moments in the movie are expressed through the face. Despite the short running time giving little time to establish the character's relations, there is such a genuine chemistry among them that the significance of these bonds isn't taken for granted as it may often be in these sorts of films. Make no mistake, Genjuro loves his family, even if he isn't always appreciative. One small but wonderful moment is when he's shopping for a yukata for her, and sees an image of her holding one over herself. Genjuro's journey is the main one and the heart of the movie, with Tobei's darkly comical journey as much more of a side story.
and one can't talk about Ugetsu without mention of it's ending. I won't spoil but I will say it ranks alongside another Mizoguchi masterpierce, "Sansho the Baliff", as one of the greatest, most powerful endings to a film. and it is this ending wherein one, perhaps like Genjuro himself, takes more notice of the little moments that suddenly take much more significance.
This is the only film where, upon first viewing, I watched it again within 24 hours. The first time I was sad but overwhelmed, like I wasn't sure I liked it except for the ending. But repeat viewings have convinced me that there's an elusiveness to this movie: as much as I've said, I still feel like I don't fully understand the power this film has.
One will love or loathe-I love
The film's story can be summed up as a cast and crew being stuck making a film that seems like it will never get off the ground: whether it's getting the film stock they need or getting the director to do his job instead of finding some other reason he can't shoot right then. During that time, the crew find ways to amuse and busy themselves.
This was a transitional period for Fassbinder: he was moving away from the abstract, visually interesting but ultimately empty Godard inspired works like "Love is Colder than Death" and "The American Soldier" and just starting to phase over to melodrama, where his great works reside. Thus this film falls somewhere between the two styles.
With the exception of a couple of scenes, there is no music. The performances, for the most part, are very low key. Only Sacha, the producer, and the director express any flare. This in of itself can be alienating, especially for those accustomed to more mainstream comedies, but there's also the looseness of the writing. There's no real arc or build up to anything. Scenes simply happen. Characters A and B might be having a fling in one scene, but two scenes later it's A and C, and it's as if A and B were never together. We'll have a scene of the director stating definitively he can't finish the film, but goes on making the movie with no obvious explanation. Yet there will be other moments that ARE followed up on later in the movie, even if only for a scene. Scene order is some times completely random. One scene of the director screaming at his crew he doesn't want to be near them could've been placed anywhere in the movie.
All of this together and it becomes easy to see why the movie is so polarizing: it is often emotionally flat, has a very slow pace(which is the opposite of what one expects from a comedy) and barely has a narrative. This is why you see reviews saying nothing happens, saying it's a waste of time or that it feels like improve.
So then why is it loved by others? Speaking as someone who loves the movie, I can answer.
First, the characters themselves. The director and producer are the highlights, but there's a wide cast of personalities and whether the film is going anywhere or not, it's a joy just to see all the various interactions between them. If you're willing to follow along and show patience for what's occurring, you'll grow to love watching these people, kind of like a family you wouldn't want to live in but watch from a distance. The unappreciated unit manager, the poor, abused translator, the often perplexed Eddie Constantine, they all bring something to the film and since there's such an abundance of them, none of them wear out their welcome.
Secondly, the movie is funny. It's sense of humor is somewhat dry, partially thanks to the mostly flat delivery, but it's there. The highlights of course being the director himself, whether flaunting his pretentiousness or screaming at the screw for often inane and petty reasons, the movie's laughs are earned. The randomness of the scene order also plays a part of this. The topic of the scene can be humorous or heavy, but it's all played out in the same way.
But above all else, even when it isn't funny, it's interesting. Whether just seeing what they'll do next or the ambient atmosphere, I never found myself bored with this movie. If you can get accustomed to it's style, it's a fascinating sit through.
This is certainly a film that requires a bit of work on the viewer's part, but I think it is well worth it.
Subete ga kurutteru (1960)
A golden work that could've easily have been crap
Lets look at the basic story: Jiro is a clean cut, hard working student looking to please his mother, who is having an affair with a business man. Dismissing his mother's situation as prostitution, he falls in further with a crowd of proud criminals and goes down the bad path. Also intertwining sub plots including a young woman trying to raise money for an abortion to not burden her living partner and Jiro's new girlfriend who is involved with a gangster.
Certainly at first glance of a summary like this, one envisions a life time channel movie, or something in the vain of MST3K fodder like "I Accuse My Parents". What ultimately saves this can be summed up thusly: Seijun Suzuki. I won't say this is his best movie necessarily, but it probably displays his strength best, making movies that revel in absurdity while not becoming flat out comedies.
It's to Suzuki's credit that many of these scenes come off less laughable than they should, while others are played up to such an extent you can only laugh, but all of it feels intentional and calculated. Characters will completely shift in behavior at points, and it's a testament to Suzuki we can still take anything seriously in all of this.
One particularly brilliant scene has a man trying to make a solemn, heart felt confession to someone, the kind of performance one would expect in a serious drama, while the person he's speaking to is making out with his girlfriend and talking in a snappy, Godardian fashion. A complete contrast of moods that seems like the actors are in two completely different movies, and yes it inspires a few laughs while still eliciting sympathy, and is brilliant in how it conveys the utter dissonance and break down in communication between them.
I mentioned Godard earlier, and certainly more than a few touches of "Breathless" can be seen here. There are a few jump cuts near identical to those in "Breathless", and towards the end Jiro even begins talking a little like Michel, however there's enough original flourish here. The camera work is sweeping and complimentary to this hyper paced film of only 70 minutes, weaving through plot points gracefully. There's a lot of content in this seventy minute picture but it is never rushed.
Well worth a look.
Návrat ztraceného syna (1967)
An absorbing piece-however patience is required
Sitting in a whirlpool containing the works of Carl Theodore Dreyer, Robert Bresson and John Cassavettes is this work of the Czech New Wave, "Return of the Prodigal Son".
The film begins with dialogue between a man (whose name we eventually learn is Jan) and his therapist discussing a recent suicide attempt that Jan doesn't know the cause of. During the early part of this exchange, we don't see either of the speaking characters, but instead the camera shows us a montage of shots in their outermost surroundings. Although these characters are alive, this sequence almost gives the impression of witnessing a conversation between ghosts, an effective foreshadowing for our lead's hollow existence. Although Jan is a successful engineer with a wife and child, he can't seem to function or find much satisfaction in the world around him. This lack of satisfaction is the closest thing we get to a real answer, but ultimately it feels that we've barely scratched the surface of the anxiety plaguing him.
Low key would be the best phrase to describe the performances and overall mood. There is scarcely any music except for a few scenes. The performances are almost completely drained of any theatricality, with only the occasional spurts of passion. Jan especially seems to keep the same mono tone throughout the movie, and his eyes almost always hidden behind sun glasses. Like other masters who have used this technique, the effect is utterly absorbing and sits in the mind long after viewing has completed. and make no mistake, low key does not mean wooden. Jan's performance is excellent. Not to discredit everyone else in the picture, but this rests mostly on the shoulders of Jan, and he sublimely conveys a range of emotions. Yes, we do see moments of happiness and passion as well as the angst. Nothing ever feels forced or over the top.
However, the film is also methodically paced, which in combination with the performance, will require the viewer to be prepared to focus. I don't consider this a flaw, but anyone wanting to watch this should be prepared for that.
I haven't gone into the story too much. Besides the tidbits I posted up above, there really isn't any overarching story. Events and sub plots occur that may or may not be wrapped up. This is not a film to watch with expectations of spelled out ideas of tightly knit conclusions. Instead the various threads more so paint a picture of a man amid a break down he has no grasp on, not too different from the narrative structure of a french new wave picture.
If you can find this film (and as of this review, it can be found via Hulu streaming) and are a fan of art house films and especially those akin to the film makers mentioned earlier, it is absolutely worth a watch.
I love Hideo Gosha. At his best, he mixes some of the best action sequences of any samurai film with intricate, subversive stories. However, "Death Shadow" comes off as a pale imitation of his better films.
Describing the plot is nearly impossible. We start off immediately with three men agreeing to be shadow agents before skipping ahead to see them on a raid that ends with one of them reuniting with his daughter. Then events quickly lead to said daughter becoming a shadow agent (and by quickly I mean in the first half hour), before she leaves the film for awhile as we start delving into other conflicts.
Compared with how brilliantly economical the storytelling was in films such as "Three Outlaw Samurai" and especially "Sword of the Beast", wherein a variety of interesting characters got their stories across, being fulfilling and without feeling rushed, on top of fitting in plenty of action sequences into decently short running times.
This in contrast is an absolute sprawling mess. The plot changes focus about three times within the first half of the film, and worse than that, new characters are being brought in constantly, each with their own little plot thread that seems to exist purely to pad the run time. Compared to the evolving leads in previous Gosha films, Ocho doesn't have much going for her.
One would think the increased camp factor would add some charm, but they would be sadly mistaken. It's like Gosha's trying to do the movie in the style of the Adam West Batman TV series, however he never goes far enough with it, so you just end up with a film that has a bunch of quirks sprinkled throughout in what otherwise seems to be trying to be relatively serious. I think i get the kind of tone he was going for, but it didn't work, and the film's blatant attempts to draw laughter fall flat on their face. The character of Mr Hell is particularly grating.
To give credit, the action scenes are decent for the most part, and the film has a pretty decent look to it despite some obvious cheapness, but they're not enough to make up for everything else, and even these are sorely lacking compared to the director's previous efforts.
There's not a whole lot to recommend. There's certainly worse ways to spend nearly two hours, but you can also do a lot better than this.
A strong and unique entry in the Zatoichi series
If you're not familiar with the Zatoichi series, it's the samurai equivalent of "Godzilla". From the 60's to early 70's, twenty five films were made about a blind swordsman who gives a good massage, gambles like no other, and of course, cuts down lots and lots of bad guys. Unlike the "Godzilla" films (fan as I am of them), the Zatoichi films were typically well plotted, albeit formulaic. They were generally light hearted affairs with little sprinklings of darker subject matter. "Zatoichi in Desperation" was the first time the star took the director's chair, and it was a bleak as hell, psychedelic film unlike any other in the series. With this twenty sixth film, he took the director's chair once again.
Many have commented on the, shall we say, dense plot. Rival gangs fighting over guns, over women, a rebel who becomes Zatoichi's hesitant rival, a group of children, a gambling prostitute- even at near two hours, it's a lot to take in. It's a departure from the other films which were generally very well plotted. The thing though is those films generally paired it down. This has so much going on and the way it all wrapped up seems an after thought.
For me, this isn't enough to sink this film. "Zatoichi in Desperation", the previous directorial effort of the man himself, showed a visual flare and atmosphere completely unique to the series, and he seems to be building on it here. The colors and soundtrack are for the most part, exceptionally well done and do so much for the mood.
That's exactly what this entry is: a mood film. The other Zatoichi films are all about building up bad guys for an eventual catharsis when Zatoichi either strikes down or humiliates them. In this we get the bleakness of "Desperation" mixed in with a tenderness and bittersweetness "Conspiracy" had but much more. It's more comparable to a film by Antonioni in that regard, where feeling and mood carry more weight than the plot and characters (though this comparison is superficial: this movie is nowhere near as masterful or in depth as the masterworks of Antonioni) Many seem to complain about the bleak tone and graphic violence. First off, violence and bleakness are not flaws, they are choices, and simply saying "gore, dark, bad" is not valid criticism. Secondly, why would someone watch a samurai movie if such things are a turn off to them? With that said, I can certainly see valid reasons why someone would dislike this film. If you go into this wanting an action film (and really, why wouldn't you expect that from a Zatoichi movie?), while the action scenes themselves are well done, they are very few and far in between. There's also not a whole lot of momentum in the film. Part of being this kind of mood film is a lack of such, which is somewhat at odds with an action piece. and there is no denying that the characters and plot are, well, not quite nonsensical but lacking. I found Zatoichi's political minded friend to be fairly interesting, but his plot mostly stays under the radar and it's popping up towards the end seemed random. Nothing ever quite comes fully together. It's definitely a fragmented film, which is something of a double edged sword in this context. Also strange are the cheap fade to black transitions often used. Considering this is supposed to be the high budget Zatoichi film, this is a very strange choice for me.
and as has also been mentioned, many elements are repeated from previous films. Just in terms of plot and character, it comes off as what you would get from putting a handful of other entries into a blender.
However, when all is said and done, I did enjoy this movie. It's what I call a "trip", a movie that carries me on it's mood and leaves an impression equivalent to that of a dream: near unexplainable in impact, but an impact none the less.
If you go into this with the expectations of an exciting action film, you'll get it in small doses, like a full course meal handed to you in small servings at a time. However if you go in without expectations, you might end up liking it. After twenty five Zatoichi films, most following the formula, I'm glad that we got something a bit different.
The Dead Outside (2008)
The best zombie film of the past 30 years
Those with short attention spans and no appreciation for minimalism will balk at this film, which is probably why it has a laughable 4.3 rating (as of this review). However, as a huge fan of zombie films, I think this one is criminally underrated and for those with an appreciation for something more challenging, "The Dead Outside" delivers.
The premise is dirt simple: Danielle, a man who recently lost his wife and child in this national zombie epidemic, finds an empty house on his travels. He stops in for a bit and is discovered by a teenage girl named April, who has survived their on her own for many years.
The film mostly follows them in their time living together. It's a typical dynamic on paper, with Danielle being more humane and not wanting to kill the zombies, while April has no hesitation in killing them. While Danielle is fairly calm and collected, April is volatile and paranoid. Their dialogue and interaction are realistic and nuanced. Nothing feels cliché or forced here, and even the revelation of April's back story, which could've easily been over the top, is well done.
The pacing is slow and methodical. Many smaller moments, such as Danielle taking a shower when the lights go out, or April chopping wood, adds to the feeling that we're watching life unfold rather than a traditional movie. It's helped by the camera work, almost always close in, adding to the intimacy and intensity. Combined with the beautiful but foggy and desolate setting, creates a gripping atmosphere.
The film builds into one of the most intense climaxes in a zombie film since "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie", and when it was over, I wished that the film would go on longer. Not for any kind of loose ends left, but simply to see it continue.
Highly recommended, especially if you're looking for something a bit different.
Ghosts are easy. Being a pop singer is hard.
"White" or "White: The Melody of Curse" has a fairly familiar premise: a failing pop idol group finds an old, uncredited song, and use it to rise to the top. However this tale of fame and fortune becomes mixed in with the paranormal: the song is cursed, fueled by the wrath of a vengeful ghost.
The comparisons with Ringu/The Ring are obvious, from the ghost itself down to the fact the song is discovered on a videotape. The movie does give a respectable effort in ratcheting up suspense, and to be fair there are a couple of effective scares.
However the real strength of this film lies in two areas. First, the story is pretty well done. While the paranormal stuff is prominent, there's also a strong focus on the characters, who are as much affected by their shifting fortunes as they are any bumps in the night. You would think once the ghostly stuff showed up, it would take center stage. Instead it runs parallel to the sudden pressures, ego trips, and bouts of jealousy of their new found fame, meshing together very well and creating a greater emotional and psychological depth than one might expect from such a premise. The film is even fairly touching and somewhat sad at points, aided by pretty good performances.
The second main area is the visuals. There is a certain flare here. It's not Argento or Fulci by any stretch, but the film does look really good. Whether it's a dark room/hallway or the flashiness of the dance stage, the cinematography and imagery are strong. Even without caring for the plot and characters, one could sit back and appreciate the look.
Is the movie a masterpiece? No, I wouldn't go that far, but it is very enjoyable, and if you're a horror movie fan with nothing to do on some afternoon, you could do a lot worse than this.
A Touch Unseen (2014)
The greatest ghost of this movie is that of the time wasted watching it
Like a cross between Zulwaski's "Possession" and "The Entity", but don't take that to be an endorsement-this lame duck of a movie doesn't posses any of the intensity of those two movies (and certainly nowhere near as disturbing as the Zulwaski film). Anyone expecting something on par with "A Tale of Two Sisters" or "I Saw the Devil" will be severely disappointed.
The film follows Yeon-sul, a young college bound woman whose psychotic former lover has returned to carry on their relationship, and who stalks her as she continues to refuse him. However, she's also raped by an incubus, a ghost that wants sex with women.
If you're wondering what these plot lines have to do with each other, well, nothing, really. Of course not everything in a movie has to tie in directly, but in this case all that's happening is that the stories are competing for screen time and attention, like two people fighting over the last window seat on the bus. Worse than that, neither are particularly terrifying or even interesting. The stalker is barely threatening, and nothing but cheap, stereotypical techniques are used to try and make him intimidating, which wouldn't be a problem if they were done even remotely effectively. The incubus scenes are laughable, coming off like soft core scenes, relying on the actress to try and convey the horror being brought upon her after the fact. The problem being, the actress isn't very good.
There's no real build up to anything. The plot gets going right away. The characters are paper thin. Even the stereotypical characterizations in a slasher film can at least be fun to watch until the inevitable slayings. These characters are not only paper thin, but dull as dirt, and we're spending most of the film with them bumbling around waiting for either the incubus or the stalker to underwhelm us with their presence again.
Not even worth watching just to kill eighty minutes, there's thousands of better movies that could do that. Taking an eighty minute walk around in broad day light in a friendly, low crime neighborhood will produce more terror and anxiety than this piece of cinematic dead weight.
Are there any positives? Well, it's competently made, that's about it. I'm not making the argument this is one of the worst movies you'll ever see, not by a long shot, but it is excessively difficult for me to name any legitimate redeeming values.