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18 reviews in total 
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Nightbreed (1990)
1 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
flawed, but grand ambition!, 4 December 2014

First off, if you aren't watching the director's cut, cease and desist immediately! I can't imagine this being anything short of a crappy, incoherent mess with a half an hour of footage missing. So get it some way or another - it's on Netflix now, hope it stays...

This had all the makings of a cult classic. I guess it is one. Perhaps it came out a few years too early, and didn't hit on the goth fad upswing. Otherwise, the studios might not have butchered this into a mediocre turd and - who knows? - maybe actually spent some effort on marketing and distribution. Seriously: angst-ridden adolescent has friction with his psychiatrist and dreams of a freak- filled graveyard city called Midian (more like a town, actually) where all the ghouls, monsters, and other outcasts can come party without fear of the Norms. But of course, the world of squares and morning people is slowly encroaching, and only a very special chosen hero can save the's written in the prophecies and all. How a studio couldn't market something like that is beyond me.

But the thing is...Clive Barker is a novels guy first and foremost, and to cram a story of such epic proportions into a two hour film is a difficult task for even the most seasoned filmmakers. So even the director's cut feels loose and baggy at the seams. For instance - there seemed to be no real narrative purpose for the black detective from Calgary, other than to provide legitimacy for Dr. Dekker (played wonderfully by a very creepy Cronenberg). And the priest - what was his deal? I am sure the novel does a way better job of inflating them with shade and nuance, but they were pretty hollow here. Likewise, many scenes of dialogue felt off because of a phantom backstory seemingly glossed over - similar to the sheepish feeling one sometimes gets watching movies that expect everyone to already know certain characters and their personality traits.

But the dialogue and minor narrative problems aren't what hold this back from true greatness. Maybe it's the Elfman soundtrack, or the morose look of the male lead, or maybe it's the moon-face guy dragging down the visual dignity of the entire Midian freak crew...heck, maybe it's just the early 90s production values - whatever it is, it injects an unshakable, lingering odor of silliness throughout the entire affair. The story is a dark epic, and requires an atmosphere of minimum silliness and maximum magic to properly suspend disbelief and carry itself on its own inertia. The moon-faced guy stands in the way, his stupid moon-face resembling a long-lost member of Metallica viewed through the prism of heavy hallucinogenics...

That being said, if a magical freak city called Midian (or Clive Barker's name) appeals to any of your sensibilities in any way, you won't regret watching this. You may not come out 100% stoked, but you certainly won't be disappointed.

The Rover (2014)
Some promise, no delivery, 6 November 2014

I love slow movies. I love movies set in the desert, or any other stark, foreboding landscape. I love Aussie cinema. I love the dust-covered aftermaths of global economic collapses, societal breakdowns, pandemics, etc. I love loners looking for vengeance, lost souls looking for some sort of (secular) redemption, whatever.

But let me tell you, fellow cinephiles - this movie was a dud.

The opening is strong. No doubt about that. Beautiful interior shack-shot, the Cambodian music laid into the mix just right, good sound design and pacing... Our protagonist sitting there, looking silent, tired. What's his deal? Cut to three creeps in a car, frantically escaping some botched heist scene. The one in the back looks like he's got some pluck - mean and dangerous. The one in the front isn't doing too well with the leg. He's also p1ssed: his brother got left behind at the shoot 'em up. Drama! Tension! Story! Car crash!

That's it. You can stop the movie right there. You've seen enough.

As the film blurb lets you know, this trio of goons will end up jacking our protag's car. He will then depart after them...weaponless, in their vehicle (which is unexploded and seems to run just fine even though it flipped over several times after driving into an obstacle at like 40-60 mph - a freakin' SUV miracle). And shortly after, following a very improbable series of events, he will lose them and basically have to start from scratch.

Yes, like a killer automaton trying every door in a mirror mansion, our protag will pursue them with unrelenting, monomaniacal routine. In real-world logic, he might as well just comb the desert wastes of third-world Australia back and forth on foot. But more movie magic ensures that he finds the left-for-dead bro and they form that "uneasy bond" you've been hearing so much about - which is a weird, awkward, unstated Brokeback-y thing, visually reinforced by the film's gender dynamics (think pairs of dudes lounging around with no shirts on, looking listless and sweaty).

I mean, this particular viewer believes same-sex coupling is not only a basic human right, but actually necessary for our species at this stage in its development to balance out the overpopulation problem. So our grizzled protag (who looks like he'd be comfortable using a handful of dirt for lube) having his way with his Jesse Pinkman-lookalike companion would not have exactly been an issue. But the movie never really goes there.

It never really goes anywhere. There are a couple interesting moments. The protag's interactions with the military, for instance. Or the way he acquires his weapon, and the aftermath of all that. Or the fact that no one takes anything except USD, even though it's Australia - yoking some nice political allegory into the setting. Maybe the point of the film is that in an apathetic, self- interested world, the Pinkman kid is a nice, full-of-life kind of guy - one of the rare few left in this world who act with motives other than pure self-interest. Or that it sucks to live in such a world.

The biggest problem? The majority of the film's "meat" is the interaction between the grizzled Rover and his Pinkman-like object of attention. The camera lovingly dawdles on his lanky youthful frame, and you're not entirely sure if he's being fattened up for martyrdom or if the Rover really is about to spit in that handful of dirt and unbuckle. Or maybe it just seems that way 'cause he was in Twilight... In any case, their unfolding relationship is boring to watch. Our protag is a man of few words, so you can imagine how much awkward silence there is in between dialogue. And there isn't much else in the movie besides these two. Even the three baddies - who commanded the screen with such promise at the beginning of the film - are criminally neglected. Without any aesthetic reason to make it otherwise, the post-collapse Outback looks just a dustier, emptier, more dilapidated version of its real-world self. And the action? Sure, people get shot and die, but look elsewhere if you are seeking _that_ sort of film.

If you think I'm missing something essential here, by all means go ahead and give it a try. Maybe in a decade I'll rewatch it and change my mind, finding something essential buried in the dialogue or the plot. I mean, if the film is any indication, lots of stuff could happen in a decade...right?

For now though, 5/10 stars. Competent and perhaps even somewhat compelling if you can penetrate through - but ultimately boring and quite underwhelming.

Oculus (2013/I)
2 out of 7 people found the following review useful:
Formulaic haunting movie with a nice mirror thrown in, 14 August 2014


All the reviews around here were raving how refreshing this one was. And, since I stay well away from the usual anemic pg13 garbage that usually passes for mass-release "horror" nowadays, I bet that's true - if you've had your bar set low enough by the mass-consumer crapstream.

The premise is intriguing: Evil Mirror haunts family, causes them to go crazy...years later, sibling survivors of this supernatural bloodbath manage to get a hold of the Evil Mirror, which has apparently been terrorizing middle-class bathrooms and hotel foyers for a few hundred years now. And the Mirror really does have a nice evil presence to it on screen (so it gets to have capital letters, just like a real character).

The wisest place to objectively test out its hauntability, of course, is the same house they grew up in - an especially smart idea, given that the younger one of the two spent most of his teenage years in heavy-duty institutional facilities for crazy children, and despite being "cleared for release", is still quite out of it.

But then it becomes a rather tedious, formulaic haunt film, and we spend the next hour watching the two adolescents bumble about and argue while the Mirror has a grand old time messing with their brains and causing them to do stupid things. The two leads don't need much prodding - they do half the work themselves, losing themselves in their own memories of the fateful events of their childhood, which play out in parallel to the real-time story. (The kid actors are quite good, and not in the least bit annoying - which, unfortunately, cannot be said of their adult counterparts.)

Ultimately, this film fails because its reliance on the unhinged psyches of the characters prevents it from exploring the true potential of the Mirror. You can see where this whole thing is going to go from very early on in the film - all the setups are made fairly obvious to you by the filmmakers (think of the old "gun on the mantle" adage from theater). The decision to split the film between the (again, fairly obvious) events of the kids' childhood and the real-time haunting situation gunked up the pacing, and deprived the movie of some much-needed breathing room.

There is one other evil mirror film I can think of, and that's Mirror Mirror from 1990, with Karen Black playing the mom of some angst-ridden goth girl who develops a relationship with an awesome demonic mirror. A fairly formulaic film in its own right, it does deliver a wide variety of visual evil courtesy of its demon mirror, and this keeps the dark film pacing along to its grotesque conclusion. Watch that one instead.

Shakma (1990)
Amazing, "tear-de-face" performance by the monkey, 22 July 2014

So the only reason to watch this rather insipid and cheaply-made flick is for the monkey. What talent! What sheer presence! It's a terrifying critter, and it's quite unnerving to watch it hurl its comparatively tiny body at stupid humans - and these nerds really do deserve to get monkey-cronked in this film, because they are absolute $∑^π at dealing with the reality they are thrust into, and the acting of the people playing them is absolute ø¥$# as well. Not even the good kind, but the kind that makes you spill bongwater on your couch, as you pass out harboring a sneaky suspicion that your time could have been better spent in this horizontal state all along.

Most of the movie takes place in a university building of some sort. You get lots of those heavy wood panel doors and bland corridor creamspace. But again - some pretty spectacular monkey attacks in this film.

Really, just fast-forward through to all the monkey scenes. It's the Shakma way.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Strugglin', 4 March 2014

Like many people in the theater after its world premiere, I struggled with a way to parse and internalize what i had just seen. The director - an eccentric man by any standards - apparently was also into the idea of a struggling audience: when they failed to engage with him during the Q&A, he basically forced them to pass the mic down the line (to which many responded by leaving). Now, no one should be forced to badmouth something they don't like...but I find it hard to believe that most people were truly prepared to discuss a film such as this - especially in public - right after watching it.

In any case, this is not an easy piece of work to critique on most standard cinematic objective measures of "quality", "fun", "watchability", "art", etc. Like a furtive sex act in a dark alley with a total stranger of indeterminate gender, this one sort of has to be evaluated on its own merits.

Firstly, know that the budget for this film must have been low to nonexistent, and that the actors were probably compensated with bus fare and burritos. Know that if bad sound design and even worse mixing bothers you, you should avoid this like the plague. But also know that, despite these factors, this film seems to have taken a long time to make and it is essentially someone's cinematic vision realized from start to finish (to the best of their financial constraints). I can safely say that, if you can listen closely - or if the director touches up a few (erm, let's be honest...a lot) of the dialogue overdub issues for the DVD release - you will sorta kinda get what the intent was.

Because the other thing to realize about this film is that it's kinda oblique! As in, dangerously approaching Godard or Beckett levels of oblique. An accurate synopsis of this film is possible, but unless you are hip to a confused stew of Japanese TV, Hindu mythology, 80s sitcom tropes, self-help lingo, and dozens of other fragments of global cultural detritus, good luck figuring out the whats and the whys. There are some great ideas buried in all this stuff, and it has some moments of genuine, uncomplicated humor. (Look for the scene where the tongue fetish guy borrows a random girl's cellphone on the street.) Some weird cgi keeps things interesting visually, as well as a healthy heaping of no-budget sex and violence.

Not sure how many people will actually see this film, but honestly, this could easily be one of those weird cult debuts that people start lusting after...years later, when the director/writer/star of this film is an established figure, having finally received that lucky break in the form of a budget to make something truly mindblowing. The odds are against him - aren't they against us all, though? - but that's just part of the bargain.

2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Mandatory viewing for every single teenager on Earth, 23 January 2014

I am not sure what kind of person would give this movie a low/mixed rating, but I am pretty sure they should never be allowed to weigh in on science fiction films ever again.

The first thing to know is that this is a SCIENCE FICTION film. Not a sci-fi thriller, or a sci-fi horror, or a sci-fi action, or a sci-fi comedy, or any other genre film that just happens to have some lasers and robots thrown in. This is a film of speculative fiction, rooted in real modern science - that just happens to deliver some thrills and chills along the way. Science and its spirit are always front and center here. It's quiet, unpretentious, unencumbered by extra burdens of character over-development, hipness, accessibility, etc. Most of it takes place in the close confines of a spaceship. Some of it takes place on the surface of one of Jupiter's moons. A tiny bit of it takes place on Earth.

The plot is very simple: something goes wrong with the first voyage to Europa, and we are watching the log tapes that have finally been uncovered/unclassified, revealing the story of this seemingly ill-fated enterprise. To tell anything else is tantamount to spoilage, although you can probably guess where this is heading. If you've seen Event Horizon, this is sort of like that, but without the R-rated terrors of a haunted ship from an evil dimension. Of course, that film was a horror film in a sci-fi wrapper, whereas this is a sci-fi film through and through.

The message of this film is perhaps the most important message we have to impart to mankind in the 21st century, and the reason to not only watch it yourself, but to literally force everyone you know to watch it as well. It's an incredibly optimistic, resonant message about mankind and its interstellar aspirations, about the sheer audacity and magnificence of a vision where a race of beings that originated in a heat vat underneath the ocean can one day travel to a distant moon of a planet their ancestors spotted in the sky long ago. It's about sacrifice, discovery, and human unity that eschews all the boundaries artificially imposed on humankind by those who, in their selfishness, courted power and control instead of progress, truth, and knowledge.

So many sci-fi films presuppose a terrible future for us, where we humans screwed everything up in the worst way possible. It's refreshing to see one that does not - the film never even begins to touch upon any of our existential fears regarding this planet and our stewardship of it. Also missing from the film are Bad Guys: even the corporation that launched the mission is a neutral/benevolent entity, and not the agent of the mission's undoing - as perhaps it would have played out in someone else's hands.

If I was in charge of education policy, there would be no question: this would be required mandatory viewing for all teenagers everywhere. We need the future generations 100% on-board with the movie's main message, and the attitudes of this brave but fictitious crew must be the attitudes that the majority of all future humans hold sacred.

Otherwise, we're never getting off this rock. (Or, more to the grim point: the handful of the wealthiest human beings who control all of the world's assets will never agree to part with any of them for far-flung and unprofitable endeavors like "manned voyage to Jupiter's moon".)

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Showed so much promise!, 11 December 2013

Why would someone write a film review only to tell the reader to neither watch the film nor avoid it? If you can answer that one, perhaps you will be one step closer to figuring out the filmmaker's intent here (and in some weird meta way, the whole point of the last 15 minutes).

If you like Italian 70s horror, and if you like sound design and analog sound recording equipment - oh, and if you can watch something for these qualities alone, knowing it has no payoff and goes absolutely nowhere - then this is absolutely your oyster. Everyone did an amazing job bringing the world of the seedy 70s-era Italian sound studio to life, from the expert and loving cinematography/sound design combo to the funny and smart script to the Italian actors executing it. There is much promise here: the British sound engineer's reserve and discomfort stink of a blossoming Polanski-esque madness, while also setting him up for confrontation with the shady and exploitative Italian guys making the film. Everything drips with atmosphere, and the deliciously mysterious women seem one whisper away from letting our protagonist in on some terrifying truth that all is not as it seems - or being tortured by him for the perfect sound effect. There could have been a dozen different ways to bring all this to a dark and thrilling conclusion. What we get instead is amateur-hour confusion. (Most reviewers agree there is no discernible logic or explanation to any of it.)

In the 70s, Harlan Ellison once rejected a short story by George Martin (the Game of Thrones guy) with a letter that began, "Aside from shirking all responsibility to the material that forms the core, it's a nice story."

This is sort of the reverse of that. The filmmakers were primarily concerned with the material that forms the core, and forgot to create a nice story to go with it. I hope that the reason it turned out this way was due to the lack of time, or money, or something of that nature - and not because of some directorial myopia. Because I would be curious to see what this director does next.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Refn plops out another one, 1 December 2013

Just so we are all clear from the get-go: the first Refn-Gosling collab, the supposedly-brilliant 'Drive', is a rather dull rip-off/remake of a much better 70s film called 'The Driver'. Not that remakes can't be valid as films (the aforementioned film is actually quite similar to a French film released earlier that decade), but it infuriates me to no end when no one - including, I guess, the director - acknowledges this. Watch it and tell me I'm wrong.

This, coupled with the hollow snooze-fest that was 'Valhalla Rising', had this particular reviewer diving into the film with low expectations from the get-go. Sad to report they were more or less on target.

Refn is not good at making human beings seem interesting. Sure, they do weird and interesting things - fondle ladyboys, have weird incest issues with their mothers, beat people up, traffic heroin, seek vengeance - but ultimately, they all feel like two-dimensional cutouts, poorly cut from a cardboard template, barely passable at a distance, fooling only the fools and the blind...

Is it a problem that characters don't say much? No, not if there is actually something behind the silence, something palpable to the audience as human response. Just like any other tool in the director's palette, it can be used to great effect. Here, as in his other English-language flicks, it's used poorly. Many people found the film boring because of the lack of dialogue (and the pacing, but later on that). This is something I am actually willing to cut the guy some slack for, because I suspect that Refn is crippled by the English language in this regard, which he has to contend with if he wants the semi-mainstream Hollywood market. (Watch the original Pusher films - which are in Danish - and you will see a dramatic contrast!)

The cop - by far the most compelling and likable character in the film (which is saying volumes) - works great with the amount of dialogue he has. His karaoke scenes are a recurring source of complaints about boredom in user reviews - but they are actually an excellent, understated way to reveal the guy's inner world to the audience: no longer just a simple corrupt police chief with a penchant for cruelty, you see that he is actually a fairly sophisticated "cruel aesthete" in the grand tradition of extreme characters like Tamerlane, with his own very particular and finely calibrated sense of justice and morality. But he is not entirely silent, however: he says a few lines of Thai in most scenes, thereby ensuring that his personality is coherent and rounded enough to be compelling. So...+1 for the cop, I guess.

Contrast that with the Mother, who is by far the most unlikable, unbelievable, unappealing character here. It's as if a meta-conspiracy was hatched by the script-writer, the actress, and the character herself to make this person as wretched and cringe-worthy as possible, and to push the audience's credulity to its breaking point. Coincidentally, she probably has the most English lines in the entire film. From a mechanical perspective, she also basically ruins the plot by propelling it forward largely by her (stupid, cringeworthy, and implausible) actions.

Is it a problem that the pacing is dreamlike and slow, with lots of dark interior shots of seedy Thai locations? Is it a problem that many of these scenes are blatant Oedipal symbolism? Nah, but only movies that have the substance to back it up will get away with it. This one just doesn't. It's a story about vengeance and the seeking of it, on the most obvious level. But because of the film's slow, meditative pacing (and because the vengeance-seeking characters are such turds you don't actually care if they succeed one way or another), the vengeance thing doesn't really work by itself, which mercifully wasn't in Refn's intentions anyway. On another level, it's a character study - albeit of caricature cutouts of real human beings. I think this is what Refn probably focused on. It fails miserably on this level. The climax of Julian's character development is all at once contrived, pathetic, and utterly lacking in subtlety. (I cannot comment on this as I don't want to spoil.)

The level the film works the most on is probably a bird's eye overview of human-driven cause and effect, a dispassionate, disassociated examination of justice. Again, here the cop is instrumental - the Westerners here are in his moral world, hamfistedly and tragically intruding into a situation that had already been resolved and closed according to its specific rules. But one wonders how much of that was actually on Refn's mind, and how conscious Refn was of this interplay, as the Oedipal stuff really seems to take center stage here in terms of auteur-ship. This film has several other dimensions that need a scolding, but this review is already too long for a movie this mediocre.

What is Refn trying to say here about the human condition? Are any of these characters likable enough for us to trudge along, following these damaged losers on their revenge arc? Fine..even if all the characters are awful human beings, and even if this is shallow visual-tainment, is the storyline told in a compelling fashion? Does any of this invoke tension or suspense - or, in fact, elicit any sort of response whatsoever? What's ultimately there once you peel away the gloss and varnish? To this particular reviewer, just more Oriental wallpaper bathed in crimson, I'm afraid...

Arquette ruins it, 29 October 2013

John Boorman (the guy who brought us back to back 70s classics Deliverance and Zardoz) directs this well-shot but poorly-acted ethnodrama. This is a kind of cinema a great deal of people will, in full honesty, describe as "important". And that's fine and all, but...come on, folks, just admit it: Patricia Arquette ruins the entire thing.

The story is certainly an important one, and its Hollywoodish, romanticized treatment is a cheap price to pay for making casual western moviegoers aware - not necessarily of the actual history or anything, but of the simple fact that Burma is a place that exists in the world and that, by the way, its people live under a repressive military dictatorship.

The locations are gorgeous, and perhaps the cringeworthy moments of maudlin, hamfisted romantics and the unintentional shadow of colonialism (this is pretty much the opposite of the "subaltern speaking", and if you think about it, PatArq's character's decision to insist on "visiting the countryside" was motivated by selfish reasons and possibly resulted in at least one person needlessly losing his life) can be excused by the fact that this was made during Clintontime, pre-911 and all that.

But there's no excusing PatArq's terrible acting. Maybe I didn't see it on a big enough screen or something, or maybe it compounds with the fact that this movie feels downright dated, but she should have focused more on playing skanks who wait tables at diners until they are swept up in some criminal scheme by a poorly-shaven dude. Her "doctor" was about as believable as "lawyer" in the entire Legally Blonde franchise. I could go on and on, but who needs another paragraph lambasting PatArq?

In the end, there's just not enough crab in this Rangoon for me to recommend it off the Boorman menu. Take a bite, and you'll get a mouthful of cream cheese. You've been warned...

21 out of 26 people found the following review useful:
Unlike anything you have ever seen.., 27 September 2013

..and I am assuming you've seen a lot here.

It's telling that Errol Morris, the man who can sniff truth out from behind the image like it's a prized truffle, was left confounded after watching this.

This is not an easy movie to watch. Some people may find the subject matter overwhelming. Some may be troubled by the obvious "what if they won?" comparison with the Nazis. Two and a half million people died at the hands of the death squads the men you will be watching on screen belonged to. They razed entire villages, raped and tortured, committed ethnic cleansing (the "crush the Chinese" campaign is remembered fondly while the protagonists drive around town in their old gangster car). Now they get to make cinematic re-enactments of their days torturing and killing communists, which range from absolutely bizarre to harrowing (yet still bizarre, once full awareness of the context seeps in). The nation encourages their efforts!

(In itself, allowing the protagonists of a documentary to make their own movie about the subject of the documentary is kind of a weird gambit on any project, but downright insane when the protagonists happen to be government-sanctioned mass murderers. This took serious courage - which is why half the names are "anonymous".)

But this history - and more importantly, its effect on contemporary Indonesian society (the talk show segment is especially chilling) - are only the potent brew that affords us a window into such depths of the human soul. Here, the handful of subjects - the gangster murderers and national heroes - do most of the storytelling and provide unforgettable imagery, although they are shepherded along on this deranged journey by the deft hand of the filmmaker, who also does a masterful job of presenting this material to the audience. This is also the ultimate film within a film, because it essentially lights the fire under the brew, which activates its potency and makes it go to its protagonists' heads. Then the portal for us is open.

Did I mention that much of the film has the potential to elicit laughter? However, as it nears its conclusion, it will stupefy and seize even the most cynical, disconnected viewer into silence (provided they read the subtitles).

So yeah, easily one of the most important documentaries to come out this decade, if not this century.

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