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Spies, conspiracies, guns with silencers; there's something magical about it. Here's the list, for all you fellow lovers of anything covert.
Feel free to suggest, but... there's a fine line between ordinary action and the covert type, so I had to make some judgment calls. Also:
- English only.
- No Bond films. You can find those easily enough without a list.
- No sequels. You can find those easily too.
A salute to the mind-bending films we lust after.
The criteria for inclusion here is not merely weird imagery, but an intriguing, coherent storyline. Also, English titles only. If you think I missed one that fits, lemme know.
If you think I missed one that fits, lemme know.
ISRA 88 (2016)
I've posted some 60 reviews on IMDb so far, and I've never felt the need to post one that contained spoilers. I feel that too many viewers are going to miss the point of this movie though, and I feel the need to help people appreciate it.
ISRA 88 is about a mission to reach the edge of the universe. It's unclear which time period it takes place in, but the technology apparently exists to use particles collected in space, in some sort of fusion or singularity reaction that produces thrust at hundreds of millions of miles per second (apparently without suffering the consequences of special relativity).
Here comes the explanation. If you don't want to know, don't read any further. Spoilers ahead. Major ones. You have been warned.
You could think of this movie as having been inspired by a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "Parallels". In that episode, some rare space phenomenon mixed with a starship's "warp" effect causes the barriers between parallel universes to destabilize, and elements from one bleed through to another.
Quick primer on the "many-worlds" theory: All outcomes that can happen DO happen. Each decision people make results in the creation of parallel universes, wherein every possible choice plays out fully.
Early on in ISRA 88, we see the ship crash through what appears to be some sort of solid shell that encloses our universe. It causes an effect similar to what was seen in Star Trek.
Multiple versions of the same events, and one character "remembering" things that haven't happened (or haven't happened yet), are all products of the fact that in one universe, the ship did indeed succeed in its mission to reach the edge of the universe; only this had unforeseen consequences. The ship quite literally cracked the barrier between parallel universes, causing elements from multiple versions of the universe to bleed into each other. That's why we see the different sets of astronauts and other different ways events unfold.
The implosion scene we see an alternate set of astronauts suffer was due to their accidentally deactivating a ship system that was shielding the body of the ship from its engine, causing the ship's propulsion reaction to eat the ship itself (a futuristic version of a nuclear meltdown).
Much of the story is told in reverse chronology. The first half of the movie winds up feeling very slow, largely because it begins at the end of the story chronologically. At this point, the characters have been in space for a very long time. They are surrounded by nothingness, being far beyond any stars or galaxies. The relationship between the two characters has broken down, and one of them spends most of his time drinking, watching TV, and going a little mad. Very little happens, and there's very little dialog to hold your interest.
That's meant to be an exploration of the condition of isolation, but even considering that, it's a tedious prospect for the audience to sit through; especially since we're occasionally teased with scenes hinting at an exciting premise.
Things get more interesting toward the "end", when not only does the plot become more dense, but the characters are also showing actual interaction and their relationship develops.
It's due to the long monotony in much of the film that I'm forced to give it a lower rating. It's otherwise not bad. The production looks relatively glossy, the acting is good, and the plot is interesting and original.
A few strategic cuts would raise the rating drastically, if you ask me. If it had been given more of a pace to begin with, and the monotony were more hinted at rather than shown explicitly and excruciatingly for such long stretches, this could have been a lot more interesting to a lot more people.
The Automatic Hate (2015)
The best film no one has seen.
I tend to watch a lot of indie movies, but I almost skipped this one. The title and overview were too vague, and I figured this would end up being a typical coming-of-age, dramatic-yet-heartwarming story of families reconnecting.
Oh boy, was I waaaaay off.
First of all, this movie is really very well filmed. The cinematography, art direction, and pacing are spot-on and very engaging, aside from also being polished even by Hollywood standards. And the acting, oh my. Everyone is excellent, and Adelaide Clemens is... frankly, intoxicating.
The subject matter comes totally out of left field. At a time when even indie filmmakers seem to be churning out the same old genre-straddling garbage, this movie is a breath of fresh air -- despite the awkward subject matter, which is presented in such a way that it never feels deliberately provocative.
I tend to skip sex scenes in movies (when that's possible). They're all melodramatically the same, and they're boring to sit through. I feel compelled to mention that the one in this movie kept my eyes glued to the screen.
I would've liked to see more clues as to what kind of past made Alexis the way she is, but I guess you can't have everything. Overall, superb, the best movie that nobody has seen, and the kind that'll have me thinking about it for a while. It's a shame the subject matter probably prevented it from getting any semblance of distribution.
Garm Wars: The Last Druid (2014)
This seems to be an experiment in live-action-slash-CGI anime filmmaking. Visually creating that crossover in itself seems to take center stage, with the story coming in second.
At many points, the film succeeds beautifully in its proof-of-concept. The re-creation of anime-style scenes via live-action is often pretty startling.
I found the CGI integration a bit weak, probably due to the low budget. Although the 3D animations themselves were fairly impressive, their "green screen" blending with live actors and scenery was usually much too conspicuous. The authentic anime flavor was much more pronounced during scenes that used old-fashioned cinematography, lighting, and filter effects to evoke the feel of drawn Japanese animation cels. But when that did work, it really worked.
It also appears there wasn't enough left in the budget for certain transitional shots, resulting in a jerky pace.
I'm a fan of Lance Henriksen and Kevin Durand, and they do provide some substance to the characterization, but again this wasn't quite enough to make the story feel like it had real depth. This movie seems more about looks than anything else, but I think that was the intention. If this gets Mamoru Oshii some studio attention to pitch a similar but bigger-budget movie, we can probably call this a success.
All Hallows' Eve 2 (2015)
A collection of eight independently-produced Halloween-themed short films, with an overarching plot that these were left as a VHS tape on a young female horror fan's doorstep by a masked, knife-wielding stranger.
Most of the stories are extremely short, in the 5-10 minute range, the longest being about 17 minutes. They often have little plot, rather being merely campfire-style, mysterious horrific occurrences with no real beginning, climax, or resolution.
They are all, nevertheless, rather original, well-produced, and effectively gripping. The acting and effects are all quite satisfying and convincing. A couple even push the grim envelope, even by today's standards. One story takes the unusual route of being entirely in Spanish (with subtitles), whose inclusion in a primarily English-language movie was, I felt, an admirable risk.
The only true weak point for me was the very end, where the framing plot was wrapped up a little too simply.
Each short story, along with the framing plot, were independently produced by different writers, directors, and crews, and each one's credits are shown in sequence at the movie's end.
Poor script, good cinematography
An infant named June is imbued with a powerful spirit by her parents' cult of Satan worshipers. She bounces around the foster care system as the evil periodically overtakes her to mysteriously hurt people around her.
June is a risky mix of classic horror and slow artsy cinematography. The shots are often quite beautiful, and the acting is passable. The flick is nevertheless ruined by a pedestrian and predominately unoriginal script, with cheesy and obvious borrowed elements from Carrie and The Omen (among others), while falling short of providing any true scares. Dollar-store music and visual effects also clash hard with its otherwise artsy ambitions.
Fantastic Four (2015)
I liked it, but I can see why others didn't
Fantastic Four is not your average superhero movie by today's standards. It's dark, low-key, and unexpected. I almost passed on watching this, since everyone seemed to have hated it. I'm glad I gave it a shot anyway.
I'd like to borrow a quote from another reviewer here that expresses quite accurately why this movie didn't do well (even though the review was intended to be negative):
"Fantastic Four is a film very much out of time and place in today's market of superhero movies. Ten or fifteen years ago a studio might have been able to get away with it but not today. Audiences like to be entertained and with the competition offering much more excitement, I don't see audiences taking to this, at all."
That about sums it up. Superhero audiences were expecting something similar to recent superhero offerings, and they didn't get it. For myself, being generally not terribly impressed with most recent superhero movies, I had a somewhat different reaction. There have been a couple standouts, like Batman Begins and Iron Man, but on the whole most seem like forgettable, disposable eye candy.
If taken as a standalone flick, independent of any expectation, this is a decent movie. It's for the most part well-paced, well-acted, the effects are convincing without being overdone, and it's even well-written, for the most part.
What it is not, is "big". And people were expecting big, of course. Rather than its characters shown becoming celebrities with the world watching, the press eating them up, and displaying spectacles for the public that destroy city property, these kids spin a rather "small" tale that occurs primarily in secret.
I give this a seven out of ten, but threw in an extra star to offset (just a little bit) the unfair slap this movie got due to viewer tastes being, I feel, ruined by bloated Hollywood treatment of recent superhero adaptations.
Fishing Naked (2015)
Of all the bad movies you could watch, this one is the best
An attempt at a slick Hollywood comedy, which is why it comes off as amateurish, since there just wasn't enough money involved to pull that off. This is especially apparent in the soundtrack, which consists of the same punk rock sample looped over and over in every music-backed scene from beginning to end. Visual effects were just this side of acceptable. Directing and acting were almost there but not quite (Elyse Levesque was one notable exception, who aside from being beautiful also manages to craft a convincingly unique and interesting character).
Why? Well, for all its shortcomings, there is an apparent effort and care here on the parts of all involved (director, writers, actors, etc), resulting in what I suppose I would call an unexpected innocent charm; which not only kept me watching but also had me enjoying nearly every minute. I also feel the movie's current rating is unduly harsh and it deserves a little more recognition.
Bad indie movies normally leave me struggling to keep my brain from liquifying and leaking out my ear, as they pretend to be something better than they are. This is a film that knows its limits and plays within them. It helps that the story was more original than most films of this ilk, and the production values were actually a lot better than they should have been given the constraints. I should also note that the genre of "comedy" doesn't entirely fit, as there aren't many actual attempts to make the audience laugh. This is more of a lighthearted rompy adventure, and in that regard I feel it could please more than disappoint, as long as you don't go in with other expectations.
I think this writer/director could pull off some truly great work with just a little more money, and I will definitely be waiting for his next film. The actors also have great potential. In the meantime, this made for a fun little indie outing, even if it was neither slick nor artsy.
PS. Despite the probably-true claim that most of the reviews so far for this movie were posted by fake accounts or people close to the production, I'm not one of those. I've been on IMDb for 11 years, have posted 50 other reviews, and had nothing to do with the production of this movie, nor do I have any connection to anyone who did.
Outpost 37 (2014)
Good movie, if you're not expecting a genre flick
I kept having to double-check whether the IMDb rating I was seeing was for the right movie.
This movie is good. It doesn't even look low-budget, if you ask me. The production values, the sets, the props and effects, and even the acting are all pretty well up there in quality and are actually above-par for an indie flick. In fact, the only clue I can see for this even being an independent film is the lack of celebrity actors. Plop a couple famous faces in here and I think anyone would be hard-pressed to tell the difference from a Hollywood production.
The only explanation I can see for the poor ratings is that people were expecting a sci-fi flick and are judging the movie's compliance with that expectation. I've seen this phenomenon before, and it's sad, because good movies end up without the recognition they deserve.
This is actually a good movie, in nearly every way. It's basically a war movie with a touch of sci-fi, and in that regard it's actually rather exceptional. It's well-written and well-acted, with convincing combat, and an interesting and original story. It's my hope that people disregard the low ratings and give movies like this a shot anyway.
The Vicious Brothers (as the directorial team call themselves) try breaking the mold, with some mixed results.
The bulk of this is typical horror mixed with typical alien/saucer imagery. About an hour or so in, there's a Matrix-inspired sequence that at least looks authentic. The film caps off with a very X-Files routine. Cliché characters, one of whom seems to have been awkwardly transplanted from an '80s teen horror film, and all of whom play out cliché melodrama during very obvious and convenient breaks in action, didn't really help things.
With some skill, this mash-up of recycled elements could have actually worked, maybe. The visual effects were convincing, but the rest (writing, direction, acting) were frightfully amateurish.
This isn't a "found footage" film, but it seems to want to be one. It's sort of a found footage film that simply wasn't shot that way, resulting in something rather awkward.
Game of Thrones (2011)
Sex and betrayal in the time of dragons. Juicy.
The dragon mother storyline is the only one that really captures my attention.
The rest is a lavish soap opera. It ups the bar in production values and provocativeness, but is essentially a trashy, meandering romance novel that HBO successfully passed off as a pop culture phenomenon.
There is really no direction or character development to speak of. Peter Dinklage manages to inject some nuance into his performance, which appears as brilliant acting relative to all the other stone faces, of whom no director seems to make any hefty demands. Lots of great lines fall to the wayside while efforts are spent instead on costumes and sets. Evil characters are just evil, and making us truly understand them isn't remotely a priority.
I don't hate it. I sometimes hate myself for rather enjoying it, in the way humanity's less endearing qualities force us to grow addicted to juicy gossip and reality shows. I wouldn't call this a "good" show though.
On the upside, after watching an episode, everything I think and read takes on a posh British accent, which adds a touch of refinement to my American lifestyle.