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I have been a movie afficionado since I learned how to work my dad's VCR (I am THAT old).
People think I am crazy for going to the cinema and bying dvds instead of downloading. But I love movies and I simply prefer the real thing in its intended quality!
Often to my embarressment, I have the strange defect of loving most movies, even films others generally regard as 'crap'; but I can be somewhat critical of movies and directors that I regard as overly glorified (sorry, Tarantino-fans).
I am a broad-spectrum cinephile and enjoy movies of any genre or nationality. But I do have a preference for action/sci-fi.
My philosophy is to simply review and judge every movie for what it is and not for what it should have been. I do not pan sequels, prequels or remakes on principle, and I no not sanctify movies (which is rare for a Star Wars fan).
Tom Hanks is my favorite actor, with George Clooney and Will Smith as runner-ups. For actresses, it's Jenna Elfman and Charlize Theron, and I am following Jennifer Lawrence's rising star with great interest.
There are no actors I hate (although I think David Arquette seriously lacks talent). I tend to believe that every actor simply has a style of acting which agrees or disagrees with me, and sometimes they are simply miscast. I even enjoy Mark Wahlberg, now that he has finally developed some charisma.
Aliens (generally everything from James Cameron, he's my hero)
2001: A Space Odyssey
Saving Private Ryan
Star Wars (yes, ALL of them)
Silence of the Lambs
All time worsts:
A lot of direct-to-video stuff most people never heard of. Some familiars:
Universal Soldier: the Return
I am also an avid fan of Star Trek, South Park, the Simpsons, Married with Children and The Big Bang theory.
Bio Hazard (1996)
Would have been a bad B-movie if it had not been such a great game
Judging by the many 10 star reviews here on the review page, a lot of gamers still have warm feelings for this classic survival game. I have a suspicious feeling that much of the love comes from copious amounts of nostalgia, since Resident Evil was easily the first and best horror game with a cinematic experience to reach a large audience at the time.
I was introduced to the phenomenon by a friend who tirelessly tried to get me at the same level of appreciation as he did. Unfortunately, I couldn't get past the crappy controls that have plagued the series ever since. Just walking down a corridor was easy enough, but any close encounter with a raving zombie got me in a state of panic which quickly killed any adequate reaction and led to an undeserved death by poor maneuverability.
The opposite of a guilty pleasure is a guilty pain, and as much as everyone seemed to love it, I had to decide that Resident Evil just wasn't my thing. However, I kept having this nagging feeling that I was missing out on something great. So when the first game got a fresh new overhaul on the GameCube, I gave it a well-deserved second chance. Several more years of gaming experience had surely paid off; what used to be an impossible combination of buttons was now mastered within a few hours, and I currently rank REmake as one of my all-time favorite games, having already lost count of all the replays.
But let it be said that the firm building blocks upon which the REmake rests still belong to the original. So when I got Resident Evil: Deadly Silence, a slightly expanded GameBoy DS version of the original, I decided to go back to the place where it all began. Of course, I had to look past the graphic limitations and lack of detail as compared to the remake, but it struck me how much of the setting, plot and monsters were already in the original game. The intriguing setup of plunging players into a personal hell and have them find out what happened and how to get out for themselves is still the best way to draw the player into the narrative, and there is nice balance between the zombie threat and ammunition, which means there is no room for a gung-ho gun battle and every shot must count.
What quality is present in the plot and atmosphere, however, is almost undone by the sheer horror that passes for a script and performances. The game is as famous for its scares as it is for its heroically bad dialogs. Hilarious quotes like "You were almost a Jill sandwich" and "I found this weapon. It's really powerful, especially against living things!" would be the stuff of bad legends on its own, but it has to compete with the way the actors deliver their lines. It is hard to describe here, but those who know how the line "WHOOOOAAAAAA! This hall is DANGEROUS!" was pronounced in-game know what I'm talking about.
You might think that both quality and lack thereof in a single work would make for a very bipolar game, but the opposite is true. Upon playing, I found this game to be like an amusingly bad horror movie where the tense parts are periodically interrupted by unintentional comic relief. Because the script is cheesy all the way through, it really adds to the overall B- movie quality of the game, but at the end, you'll still be satisfied by the decent plot, gameplay and puzzles that challenged you.
I'll admit that I still prefer the REmake: it had a more serious tone, better scares, expanded plot, better actors and an improved script to match, making it a excellent B-movie where I would rate the original as a 'good' B- movie, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the original game is still the definition of interactive horror that changed the way of gaming for the next couple of decades.
Mariken van Nieumeghen (1974)
Worst movie that you've probably never heard of.
I am usually a person of many words, who frequently has to shorten his review here on IMDb because it exceeds the 1,000-word maximum, and although this movie isn't actually worth talking about, it still managed to anger me to the point that I somehow got a 537-word review out of it.
I had to watch this piece of wreckage during one of my school classes, since it is actually an adaptation of a well-known Dutch medieval story. By 'well-known', I mean that the chauvinistic Dutch school system significantly inflated its significance, since few people in the Netherlands probably know it, and very few outside have ever heard of it.
This perversion of a movie has little to do with the actual story because first and foremost, it is incomprehensible. The main reason for this is that it has one of the most atrocious audiotracks in the history of film. Dutch movies, especially the ones from the 70s and 80s, had notoriously bad audio, but this waste of celluloid was probably recorded with a microphone covered in mud, urine and animal excrement. You see the characters' mouths make sound, but nothing vaguely intelligible comes out, which makes for a weird experience. Sadly, the makers didn't think subtitles were necessary. What little coherence could have come from dialog is thereby lost, since most of the film seems to consist of loose scenes that were edited together. We only see medieval people walking, roaring, drinking, eating, raping and urinating amidst filth and dirt, and, in one point, engaging in a bizarre group sex frenzy, without any explanation, making it seem as if a lot of footage was lost, or deemed unusable.
And I know there must have been more, because I read the original story, which was actually a morality tale with a nice dramatic arc. Honestly, how the makers were able to screw up such good source material is beyond forgiveness. The story was all there, so there really was no reason whatsoever to only film the sensational stuff with utter disregard for a little thing called a narrative, or to completely omit the actual ending, which kind of made the point of the story. It probably was lack of money to shoot the rest of the script.
This is probably the most long-winded and dullest experience one could ever squeeze out of an 80-minute movie. Seriously, the stories I read beforehand from the director about how the movie was made in very primitive circumstances were infinitely more entertaining than watching this abomination.
Claiming that this movie is based on a famous piece of literature and thereby implying it has literal aspirations is, frankly, the deepest insult imaginable. How this flotsam actually made the Cannes Film Festival is beyond my comprehension, even more since Paul Verhoeven's masterpiece 'Turks Fruit' (Turkish Delight) had been angrily rejected as pornography by the festival's directors only one year before.
Like 0 degrees Kelvin, this movie is really the lowest absolute measuring point conceivable, the point to which all other movies compared are relatively better. I actually wanted to give it a 0, but since this is impossible and the art direction looked kind of good and realistic, the 1 is for effort.
Great chronicle of the passing of defining years
It is good to see how a movie so simple in set-up and execution works out so fine, and gets so much deserved attention and accolades from both press and public. Although I seem to be a bit more reserved in my rating then most, I too acknowledge what a fine-crafted piece of cinema Richard Linklater has made, one of those rare pieces of art that truly make the viewer experience the passage of time.
'Boyhood' is basically a movie without a clear plot, which is not to say that a dramatic arc is missing. We follow a small family, consisting of mother, son and daughter, and occasionally the mostly-absent father, throughout 12 years of their lives, with focus on the two children and the boy Mason in particular. He is 7 years old at the start, parents divorced, mother has problems to make ends meet. Mason enjoys all the things that boys like at that age, like playing computer games, fighting with his older sister, being mischievous with friends, and enjoying time with his dad if he ever shows up. Mason gets progressively older throughout the movie, and we get fragments of those 12 years, with everything that changes, or stays the same: getting to know people, good ones and bad; learning valuable things, but also making mistakes; experiencing joy, sorrow, and also disappointment. And we witness how all those moments make us who we are.
The same actors were filmed throughout a 12-year period which makes for a marvelous experience: we really see the same characters grow and mature on the screen, and not simply the next actor taking on the role. Making such a chronicle of a phase in someone's life could easily lead to a string of clichés, but Linklater is very careful to avoid that. There is no specific focus on the 'highlights' in this boy's life, more often we see very mundane moments, as if to say that life isn't merely a sum of important moments, and that the relatively uneventful ones are just as important as the more memorable events. It is a subtle approach which has some limitations. I sometimes got the feeling some drama was missing, as if watching some real-life soap and hoping that finally two characters get in a fight and things get stirred-up. There is one segment in the movie that is guaranteed to cause shivers, but other dramatic moments are nowhere near that intense.
No years or dates are mentioned, so we have to find out for ourselves how much time has passed, and what has happened, or stayed the same (the haircuts help, though). What makes this movie enjoyable all through the 165 minutes is the amount of sharp observation and capturing of those moments which we also recognize in our own lives. It is in the small details, such as the coming and going of technology, important historic events and music; it is in the people that affect us, such as the people that enter Mason's life, and sometimes go again, with or without explanation. We all have relationships that are more meaningful than others, and sometimes people disappear from our lives without us hardly noticing. There are moments of sheer brilliance, where young boys discover a Victoria's Secret catalog, and later discover on-line porn. This is a movie that says as much about living as it does about the times we are living in now.
The movie is probably best summarized by the observation that we do not seize the moments, the moments seize us, and that we are always living in the 'now'. This movie allows us to see a life in a succession of moments with every moment as part of a whole, with the definition of past, present and future having little meaning. A true work of art.
The Descent: Part 2 (2009)
Not totally useless: a guide for avoiding common sequel-mistakes
Well, first thing I'll say is that this is the kind of movie that gives sequels in general such a bad name. But what I WON'T say is that this is the kind of sequel that ruins its perfect predecessor. Because if Descent 2 did something, it was to make me appreciate the original more, showing me how well it was made (not that I necessarily needed that reminder).
I am not opposed to sequels, far from it. I do not dislike sequels that follow their own narrative or stylistic path (like Hannibal or Alien: Resurrection) by principle. Nor do I hate sequels that 'change the rules' by ignoring something important from a predecessor (like Alien 3). My philosophy is that a bad, disappointing or even lousy sequel can still be quite a good stand-alone movie in its own right. But some movies really stretch my tolerance.
The Descent was one of the finest horror movies of the 00's because a) it was scary as hell, b) it was thoroughly suspenseful, c) it didn't lose itself in an abundance of genre clichés and conventions, and d) it made excellent use of the growing psychological tension between its characters. Now, in Descent 2, a) the scares are scarce, b) the suspense is often lacking, c) clichés and errors abound, and d) very few of the character motivations and interactions make much sense, since they are only in service of a script that hasn't been thought through.
Concerning a) and b), sequels (especially horror sequels) are of course at an disadvantage because it is easy to get repetitious, especially when they take place in the same location. So what every conscious sequel maker should do first is trying to find a way to make scenes reminiscent of the original, yet different enough to not become predictable. Unfortunately, almost every scene that is supposed to be scary or suspenseful feels like an uninspired copy from a better scene in the first movie, without the masterful timing. Whether this is due to uninspired recycling or poor talent isn't fully clear, but it's probably a combination of both.
It is often said that it is a measure of success when you're so absorbed in a movie, that only afterward you start questioning things like logic or plot holes. This is called suspension of disbelief. The Descent was, despite the fantasy elements, a gritty, unpredictable and believable movie. But D2 doesn't score points here. A buddy of mine actually started mailing me all the bad points he spotted before even finishing the movie, so that kinda backs up my point. The characters keep doing illogical things that immediately elicit nagging questions, while the script piles up one coincidence after the other. Just a short compilation: miraculously finding a completely new way into the cave (wasn't there only supposed to be one way in?); taking a hospitalized, amnesiac murder suspect into a cave; so-called 'experts' that seem completely clueless when things turn dire; a pitch-dark tunnel that still seems miraculously illuminated; and having Juno survive two days in that cave against just about all odds (that is, wounded and surrounded by monsters). A lot of scripted events are tried to build a surprising story, but they disregard most sense of logic without a proper explanation.
But the final kiss of death is making Juno and Sara reconcile. The first film worked so well because these two women had serious unfinished business with each other; it made the dark turn that the story took in the third act all the more believable. D2 just makes them friends again for the plot's sake, but it just feels completely out of character in light of everything that happened before. As James Cameron once put it, movies don't have to be logical, they only have to be plausible; as long as there is a visceral cinematic thing going on, the audience won't care about improbabilities. Sadly, the script of D2 fails to properly motivate this twist.
Is everything really that bad? Well, no, there are a few small highlights that kept me watching: the discovery of two corpses from the first movie provides a pleasantly unpleasant flashback to the first movie; David Julyan provides another great and moody musical score, as he did for the original movie; there are some nice gory scenes; two spectacular (and unexpected) character exits at the climax provide some of the few shocks, and there is a grim surprise twist at the very end, which gives some food for thought. It is also one of the few instances where the movie expands on the original instead of (badly) copying it. If the entire movie were just as good...
De Poel (2014)
Descent goes Dutch!
Well, there's a surprise; another Dutch movie that only receives a mediocre rating on IMDb (5.8 on the day this review was posted). It is quite a fact that everything which is Dutch and not directed by Paul Verhoeven has a tough time in the cinemas. 'De Poel' (The Pool) received quite some positive reviews and was hailed as proof that Dutch horror movies can work; however, advertising for the movie was predictably lacking, so this movie probably only saw the inside of a few cinemas for no more than 2 weeks, with only a handful of moviegoers and some copy pirates as its sparse public. But you would at least hope that a good movie, even a commercially failed one, ultimately gets its due credit here, like The Shawshank Redemption. Alas, no such luck.
Did most people who rated this movie take the time to actually watch it? I kind of doubt it. There has to be an audience for this movie, a rare type of Dutch film that takes its matters seriously, and doesn't feel like a low-budget, low-scale imitation of a better American original. It is not that Dutch cinema has a rich tradition of horror movies. 'De Lift' (The Elevator', remade as 'Down') is a rare example from the 80s. Not much worth mentioning was made in the 90s, and in the zeroes, a few attempts were made to revive the genre with 'Doodeind' and 'Slachtnacht'. However, these two, although enjoyable, were obviously made from the archetypical American example, the slasher horror (or 'Dead Teenager Horror' as the great Roger Ebert liked to call it). The Pool, however, seems to take its inspiration from (IMO) one of the best British horror movies of the last decade: The Descent.
The Pool has the same basic premise: a couple of friends venture into a forbidden area, but a succession of adversities slowly turn them against each other. And while the psychological tension rises, a hidden evil that dwells in the surroundings starts to pick its victims, one after another. In this case, experienced camper Lennaert (one of Netherlands' finest character actors, Gijs Scholten van Aschat, who also co-wrote the screenplay) goes on a camping trip with his wife, sons, his good friend and the friend's daughter. He convinces the rest to stray from the beaten path and enter a forbidden area to camp in, next to a giant pond. It doesn't take long before a succession of events, ranging from strange, unnerving to downright disturbing, convince them that there is something terribly wrong with the place. Of course, Lennaert gets the blame for this, which causes his relation with his family and friend to take some turns for the worst, with dire consequences.
The great difference with 'The Descent' is that the outside threat does not come from a few cave-dwelling monsters, it has a more supernatural origin. However, the biggest strength of the movie is that it doesn't lose itself in exposition. No time is wasted on endless explanation; it is almost like the makers rely on the audience's familiarity with supernatural movies like The Grudge, The Ring and The Shining; we only see glimpses and images of what may be visions, hallucinations, memories, feverish dreams, or reality, and the audience has to fill in the blanks for itself. I saw a few deleted scenes on the BluRay disc that explain way too much and kill much of the mystery, so the creators were right to cut them out. It also helps the movie to pick up a pace unusually fast for the genre. Within 30 minutes, we are in the second act, and after one hour, it turns into the highest gear, so the mere 85 minutes of run-time certainly don't feel short.
The absence of monsters doesn't mean a lack of gore. The visual horror scenes come sparingly, but are all the more effective and visceral for it. The special effects look really great, given the low budget of the production. Still, the movie remains evenly balanced between character scenes and gore, right to the end. I would have hoped for a climax that had me gasping for air, but unfortunately, the ending is quite tame compared to the rest of the movie. The actors, with leading man Scholten van Aschat up front, have no problems being convincing without being flashy or going into hysterics, which adds perfectly to the tension. I've heard people say that the dialog is bad, but I think that is because Dutch simply doesn't sound as cool as English (both our words and sentences are longer, which makes it hard to make cool-sounding quotes).
You could say that the movie is assembled from parts snatched out of other (sometimes better) movies, but I feel that you can make a fresh new dish from old ingredients, as long as you don't snatch it from one recipe and flavor it enough. The stew created for The Pool is good for my taste, so I certainly am hungry for more. I wouldn't be surprised if it starts to make money when Hollywood is eager to buy the remake rights.
Greatly transcends the average sci-fi movie about cyberspace
Judging by the polarized user reviews seen here on IMDb, this is another of those 'hard-core science fiction concept movies' (as I would like to call it) like Solaris (2002), Knowing and Sphere that firmly divide the audience into either lovers or haters. Most of the critics were not impressed with the film, but I'm afraid that once again, many people mistook the movie's elaborate exposition, relatively sound scientific base and thought-provoking philosophical ideas for a boring narrative and illogical nonsense.
We have seen premises like this years ago, like in 1992's Lawnmower Man. That movie is remembered more for its visuals than its realism; one of the hallmarks of Transcendance is that the makers take the matter seriously, and don't attempt to sell us the idea that transferring a consciousness into a computer is a simple matter of plug-in and uploading. We get to see that an artificial intelligence requires an entire room full of hardware and not just a 10 terabyte harddisc, and that capturing neuronal patterns is a painstaking process that isn't hastily crammed into a 2-second "copy brain to harddisc" procedure, like in The Sixth Day. Throughout the film, we are reminded of several important philosophical dilemmas: what would happen if the human mind is freed from its biological confines, and allowed to transcend into an almost limitless state? Can such an AI expand and still retain its humanity? Are human concepts like love and compassion still present without the biological components? It is rare to see a summer blockbuster asking such fundamental questions until the very end, without making too many compromises. Most other successful science fiction movies, such as the Matrix, Terminator, Inception and Alien, were married to other genres like action or horror, but Transcendance largely resists this urge, which probably contributed to its under-appreciation.
The movie has its shortcomings. You could argue that Johnny Depp is much more interesting when he plays a silly character. The second half of the movie takes increasing creative liberties with its science part, such as the appearance of floating nanoparticles with nearly limitless medical and military applications. Dr. Carter's mental expansion into other people suspiciously resembles the Borg from Star Trek. Unfortunately, this takes away from the initial realism, but it does effectively underline the inherent danger of the premise. Though I would have appreciated it if they had kept the ending a bit more ambiguous, instead of forcing a sort-of happy ending by making Dr. Carter a good guy again.
This movie is therefore not for the thrill-seekers, but those seeking an intelligent approach to the abilities of cyberspace and the dangers of technology should appreciate the effort put in by the makers to create something beyond the science-fiction pulp that normally dominates this sub-genre.
Event Horizon (1997)
This movie went to Hell and back, and left a piece of it inside me!
Event Horizon is one of those underrated science fiction movies from the nineties with a legendary troubled production, but the finished product, despite some obvious flaws, still had a solid core that deserved to be seen. Nevertheless, it took an undeserved beating from critics, and the praises from admirers were drown out by cries of derision from detractors. Then a surprising thing happened: it became a cult-phenomenon. Fans congregated on websites, exchanged experiences and learned that they were not alone in their admiration, while behind-the-scenes footage showed the intention of the filmmakers, deleted material, and sometimes a glimpse of what could have been.
'Hollow', 'boring', 'overly depending on special effects' and 'not scary' were some of the complaints heard on the initial release. Well, 'not scary' is something I didn't believe from the start. I vividly remember the first time I saw the scene where Sam Neill plays the last audio recording from the lost ship; that's where my brother and I turned the lights in the room back on. I have never been able to finish it with lights out since. The idea that a ship returns with a presence that can turn even the most rational person into a ravingly aggressive, mutilating psycho scares me beyond anything that I can imagine. A glimpse of the potential beast inside us as the ultimate scare. Although I am not an overly religious person, the notion that something resembling 'Hell' is somewhere within physical reach, is more than I want to contemplate. Monsters in movies are only men in suits, but a suggestion is hard to shake off. With such a solid-gold premise, EH is one of the scariest movies of all time to me. However, it is not necessarily one of my BEST scary movies ever.
Paul W. Anderson made a lot of not-too-memorable movies, but this one guarantees him some cult-status (perhaps because he didn't write it?). It is to the credit of the makers of this 'Shining in space' that it is not completely obvious which characters are going to die, which may have been the idea behind the wise casting of not-too-familiar character actors. The script is greatly helped by sturdy performances from Lawrence Fishburn as the plagued but determined captain, and Sam Neill, whose turn into the bad guy in the second half is both surprising and believable. The ships' interiors designs and props seemed a bit clunky and unrealistic to me at first, but the future isn't necessarily Star Trek perfect; EH shows us a state-of-the-art ship still very much limited by human imperfections. By giving the ship the look and feel of a church, the connection with Hell as a place where the sinners are to be judged is aptly made, showing that the makers tried to put in a subtext beyond the ordinary slasher movie. Cinematographer Adrian Biddle uses sweeping camera shots to capture the dark beauty, but knows to keep it steady during the action scenes. Usually, horror works best off-screen, but some of the shock effects, ranging from empty eye sockets to a horribly twisted sado-masochistic home video, are the stuff nightmares are made of, and deserve to be shown in full g(l)ory. The nerve-wrecking sound design makes these scenes perfectly timed heart-pounding moments. But the biggest impact comes from the 'Visions from Hell', which show glimpses of some of the most gruesome images of mangling and torture ever committed to film outside of a snuff movie. Of course, I couldn't resist going through those scenes frame by frame. I really shouldn't have. If Hell exists, I have a pretty good idea now of what it looks like.
EH has plenty of sick and twisted greatness, but it also has its flaws. Some of the (computer-generated) special effects look unfinished. Extensive documentaries showed that due to a looming release date, the movie had a unfortunately rushed production and editing phase. Negative test screenings necessitated additional revisions, leaving no time for fine-tuning. Sadly, this has become the way movie blockbusters are made these days, and often it shows: the first act of the movie adequately builds up tension and anticipation, the second act delivers quite well with all the increasing shocks and terror, but the third act is unnecessarily rushed and predictable. The straightforward climax is mostly to blame, as many of the genre-conventions take over: the guilt-stricken hero making his final sacrifice, the bad guy returning for the final showdown, and a big explosion to wrap things up. Many opportunities for important character moments were missed. While some of the crew's torments take center stage, it would have helped greatly to see how the other are affected; their characters would have gotten involved in the story much more than is the case now. Sean Pertwee gets away with some of the best moments as the character who instinctively knew they should not have gone there in the first place, but Joely Richardson deserved a more active part in the narrative, while Richard T. Jones' comic relief feels a bit forced.
EH is nowadays praised as quite daring, and influential in both movies (torture-porn?) and games. Although it may not be a masterpiece, this movie has had its long-lasting effects on me. Art isn't necessary beautiful or in good taste, and if quality can be measured in how something moves us, then EH certainly has some. Every time I watch it, I cannot help being drawn to those scenes that truly disturb me, like a ship out of Hell that is beckoning me to surrender to Evil. Every time I have seen it, I lose at least an hour of sleep over it. God knows why we mortals keep putting ourselves through this kind of mental auto-mutilation. Damn this movie!! Can't wait to see it again
Der siebente Kontinent (1989)
Great debut about a shocking exit
Michael Haneke is the man for movies that document humanity and human relations (but mostly lack thereof) with disturbing precision, and make the viewers increasingly uncomfortable as he takes them through the darkest parts of the human psyche. His movies like Caché (Hidden) and Das Weisse Band (The White Ribbon) have been called 'psychological horror' due to their unrelenting talent to unearth the worst characteristics of humanity and evoke a maximum of psychological unease with a minimum of tricks and gimmicks. A self-proclaimed opponent of movies that are merely entertainment, Haneke is very critical of Hollywood films which, he feels, force their truth upon the viewer. Now you don't have to agree with the artist to enjoy his work (I don't think it's coincidence that about 2/3 of the IMDb top 250 consists of Hollywood movies), but Haneke's movies sure lack an absolute truth that we as a viewer have to find ourselves. His movies make us think, disturb, repulse and otherwise engage us, provide no easy answers and leave room for multiple interpretations, which is one hallmark of great cinema (nothing wrong with good entertainment, though).
Haneke's cinematic debut already contains the building blocks that are the foundation of much of his later work: people seemingly normal on the surface, but largely dysfunctional on the inside; tensions between family members; long, static camera shots without music, which register events rather than manipulate them. He introduces us to an average family in a rich Western country (which happens to be Austria). The father, mother and daughter seem to lead a perfectly normal life, although we get the feeling from the start that most of this life exists of tedious and joyless repetition of mundane acts, such as dressing, making coffee, working and cooking. There is not much that gives their life a little more color, even watching television or taking the daughter to bed seems like a chore in an endless routine. Haneke uses voice-overs from the parents to illustrate that they have no material shortages or other reason to be unhappy, but the images superimposed on it tell a different story. It is in the subtlety of these scenes that Haneke shows his craftsmanship; he does not manipulate, nothing is said aloud, but we connect with these people anyway, understanding why the daughter fakes blindness because she is lonely and craves attention, or why the mother suddenly starts crying for no apparent reason, and the husband doesn't bother to find out because he knows the source of the pain all too well. When the family finally witnesses an accident with fatal outcome, the audience is being prepared for the solution they have found.
Also infamous are the sudden emotional outbursts between all the serene calmness. The second half is a prime example of this effective contradiction. The family has finally decided how to escape their personal hell, so they calmly arrange all their affairs and have one last copious meal. It is particularly gut-wrenching to see how they then start tearing down their place and destroying almost everything they collected throughout their lives, as if to say that their lives have been so meaningless that they simply want nothing to remain of it. Rarely was there a more visceral and effective way to show a character's self-chosen descent into oblivion. Haneke manages to leave the mother and child with a shred of humanity, though: the daughter crying in agony over the death of her beloved fish, and the mother tearfully preparing to take a fatal overdose, but resolutely forcing the pills in her mouth anyway are profoundly heart-breaking. However, the uncompromising horror of a completely vanished will to live becomes apparent as the father calmly listens to his wife gasping and choking to death, and, in what almost seems a mockery of his daily professional routine, makes a calm and systematic note of his wife's and daughter's death on the wall, before dying himself. The final text that reveals this story to be based on actual events delivers a final blow by showing that this story is no mere product of a writer's imagination, but a grim reality.
Haneke's distant way of filming has become his trademark. Most of the time he reduces scenes to the bare essence, letting the calm determination and efficiency of the characters tell the story or unfold the horror while the audience observes; at other times he draws attention to things by purposely NOT showing them, or merely suggesting them. It is amazing how he manages to have images and scenes stick with us without showing anything actually explicit or shocking. It is his way to force the audience to think, identify and draw its own conclusions. I myself had mixed feelings about the characters, feeling both sympathy for their situation, yet at the same time I couldn't help wondering why they didn't try to actively make something of their unhappy life, instead of waiting for life to happen. He leaves it up to us to decide whether these characters are victims of a hollowed-out Western lifestyle that forces its people into an empty existence of consumerism, or whether they are pathetic people that simply miss some basic human talent to be happy. Haneke is not the one for easy answers, only tough questions.
Great build-up, less great tear-down
In a time where remakes and reboots cause increasing rolling of eyes from moviegoers, I think that lots of people weren't sorry to hear that Godzilla would get a make-over. The last incarnation from 16 years ago didn't please too many people, although I have to admit that I had a good time with the pulpy B-movie-type creature-feature that Roland Emmerich delivered. Sure, the script was substandard and most of the actors were out-performed by the beast, but there was plenty of action and random destruction to have a good time.
This reboot, however, takes its subject matter much more seriously, which is good, because Godzilla is a beloved character with a long history, an iconic presence, and an entire mythology that is just waiting to be explored, something the 1998 version infamously didn't. Godzilla isn't a mutated lizard here, but a mythical primordial creature that has been here since the beginning. The opening scenes, where Ken Watanabe and Sally Hawkins make a startling discovery, which has devastating consequences for Brian Cranston and his family, are great and suspenseful. They set the tone for the first half of the movie, which has a pleasant what-the-hell-is- going-on-here mood. The big budget is used for some spectacular vistas of deserted cities, mass scenes and random destruction, but it does not distract from the plot. Brian Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson take the viewer on a journey to make sense of all their discoveries, and I must say that there are some surprises along the way that the trailers had carefully hidden. Godzilla gets a few enemies in the form of vicious mega-parasites, which makes him the hero for a change, and builds up a lot of anticipation for their confrontation.
It is in the second half where, sadly, those expectations are not all met. Brian Cranston's character meets his unfortunate and unexpected demise, so that Taylor-Johnson gets promoted to the lead. However, he can't match Cranston's rugged charisma and authority, and the dramatic story arc that gave the first half such an impulse gets a bit muddled in the conventional weaknesses inherent to the genre, such as predictability (the monsters just 'happen' to converge where Taylor-Johnson's loved ones are) and excessive disregard for logic ("Let's give the parasites an EMP!" "Does that make any sense at all?" "No, but it looks cool and makes are heroes vulnerable!"). Elizabeth Olsen is definitely the more talented sibling of the Olsen family, but she is underused in a typical damsel-in-distress role.
Still, I'll gladly look past such weaknesses in an otherwise decent script, but we watch creature features for all the rampaging, mayhem and mass destruction as well. That's where the movie is a bit lacking: Godzilla enters quite late; we see him very sparingly, pushing away some ships and taking some fire; the parasites squash a few people and tear down one or two buildings, but most of the carnage occurs off-screen or through a monitor. There is lots of collateral damage, but too often we only see the aftermath or just a trail of destruction; when Godzilla and the parasites are about to face-off, the camera quickly cuts away. I understand that they were probably saving it for the finale, which was satisfactory, but the climax felt a bit rushed and underwhelming in light of all the waiting. I did not expect to ever say this, but with a little more focus on action than on story, I would have been more thrilled and on the edge of my seat. I had several things to say against Pacific Rim, but that movie DID show a whole range of death matches between large creatures beating the hell out of each other, that made up for all the silliness and plot holes in the script. On the plus side, the special effects look great and very realistic, and the disaster scenes that we get to see are convincing.
So, to sum up, I think that this is the story treatment that Godzilla deserves, but not necessarily the movie. He seems to be playing a supporting role in his own movie, and although this may have been done as to not take away the mystery, I hope that he can claim his rightful leading role in the inescapable sequel.
Evil Dead (2013)
With all the liquid bodily fluids, a solid remake!
When word got out that Evil Dead, one of the most beloved horror/gorefests of the previous century, would get the remake treatment, most people were less than enthusiastic. Every decent horror movie from those decades had probably already been remade, and not even classics like Halloween proved untouchable enough for studios to stay away from. Most of the time, these 'reimaginations' (as they are euphemistically called) lacked the skill, bravado or craftsmanship of the originals, and even if they managed to match their quality, they often lacked creativity, originality or daring vision.
I love the original Evil Dead films for their energetic pacing and humorously icky approach to horror, so I wasn't convinced either that an Evil Dead remake was something the world needed. On the other hand, I was too young to watch the Evil Dead films when they came out, so they are not sacred to me, and I like to keep an open mind to all developments in the horror genre. Unexpectedly, the new Evil Dead was released with high praise from many critics and fans, and as far as I'm concerned, Evil Dead can take its place among The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) and Dawn of the Dead (2004) as horror remakes that can peacefully coexist with their respective originals. Why? Because they take what was good from the original, yet also add something new. They start on the same road, yet don't walk it all the way to the end, taking the occasional sidetrack that brings a few surprises.
Both Sam Raimi and Bruce Campbell co-produced the movie, stating a desire to revisit their beloved first project, and do things with it they had not done yet. Usually, when the original creators say something like that, it seems to mean that they were notified about the remake, and received a sum of money in exchange for taking an executive producer's credit and providing active support for the new movie. But Evil Dead Reborn is different. The original film had such a massively inventive display of special effects and in-your-face energy that it was easy to look beyond the holes in the screenplay and the technical shortcomings; audiences these days won't fall for that so easily, but the writers came up with a great screenplay that allows for plenty of scares and physical horror, without resorting to a lazily-written re-thread. We start out on comfortably familiar grounds, in a cabin in the woods, where a group of young people inadvertently awaken an old evil that takes possession of them, one by one. One of the nice touches is that when the terror starts affecting the ex-drug addict, the rest initially explains it away as on of her drug withdrawal hallucinations. Needless to say, when they finally get smart and want to leave, the bridge is gone and there is no escape.
One big departure this movie takes from the original is the tone. Where the original movies were violent and gruesome, yet appropriately slapstick due to the anarchistic photography and excessive amounts of gore, the remake is more serious, sincerely terrifying, nerve-wrecking, and has some well-timed shocks. Two aspects of the originals were kept: the frenetic pacing, and the copious amounts of bodily fluids. Where most horror movies muddle through introductions and set-up, and don't pick up speed until well after an hour (leaving only thirty minutes until the end), this movie shifts into high gear after 25 minutes, and keeps speeding up until the end. And in a day and age where studios try to contain the amount of splatter in order to not scare off the general public and keep the movie financially profitable, we get showered with amounts of gore quite unheard of since the eighties. I found it disturbingly pleasant to see such an old-school amount of blood, rotting flesh and severed appendages flying around, which could have easily become ridiculous, yet nowhere does it completely undermine the creepy punch the movie delivers.
Although not overtly goofy as its predecessors, this movie isn't without its subtle yet crude humor, for instance when Eric slips over a piece of skin that Olivia has just cut from her face; the improvised amputation with an electric knife, the nail gun antics, and the final appearance of the true star of each Evil Dead movie: the chainsaw, which makes for good old-fashioned mayhem. It is fun to see how the creators have added new elements, such as the Abomination, and found ways to present big and small elements from the originals with inventive twists.
Of course, many people will think the original was perfect, and the remake is useless by default; they complain that it is too much of the same, or straying too far from the source. Some say it is ridiculous with dumb characters. Well, what horror movies doesn't contain characters doing unwise things? Most horror plots are actually moving forward due to people doing ill-advised stuff. What can we say? Times change. The original movies had their shortcomings as well, but they were a perfect product of their time, and work exceptionally well within that context. The makers of the remake acknowledged that modern audiences have different perspectives of horror movies, and I think they did a fine job translating Evil Dead to a new era. Bruce Campbell himself helped to get it made, and he concludes the movie in a post-credits scene with his signature 'Groovy!' Who am I to argue with Ash?