Reviews written by registered user
thither

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20 reviews in total 
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Uninvited (2003)
16 out of 19 people found the following review useful:
Good, but slow and not a horror movie, 6 July 2005
8/10

This is not really a horror film; form-wise it has more in common with a mystery or drama. The intent is not to scare or gross out the viewer, but to examine the central themes and characters.

On that level it's fairly successful. There is a lot going on in the movie, and as another reviewer has mentioned, the focus tends to wander, so it's often hard to determine exactly what the movie is trying to say. Sometimes that works to The Uninvited's advantage; I like movies to have a little ambiguity in them where I can apply my own imagination, and there are several deliberately ambiguous moments here.

At other times, it's more of a distraction, as we wait in vain for the story to return to and possibly resolve an earlier theme. Instead, the film moves on to examine other ideas, and while they are usually interesting ideas, the inevitable result is that by the film's conclusion it seems like there's a lot left unresolved. I don't mean "loose threads" in the usual sense of plot elements that are unexplained (although there are a few of those), but more like bigger themes that seemed like what the movie was about at the beginning of the film and didn't at the end of the film.

The acting is decent, overall, but the two leads both play the sort of shell-shocked, alienated characters that are hard to relate to even if we're sympathetic to begin with, and most of the other characters are not terribly fleshed out. The direction is good although the pace is slow (unnecessarily slow at times).

(Parenthetically, one shot used in The Uninvited seems so obviously ripped off from Ringu that I figure it's got to be an homage, but the movie seems like it takes itself too seriously to throw in a Ringu homage.)

Overall, a worthy but flawed effort that is much more complex and rewarding than most Asian horror movies of recent years.

3 out of 11 people found the following review useful:
Disappointing, 4 January 2006
4/10

I really wanted to like this movie. I was hoping for a classic late 70's paranoia film in the mold of The Parallax View and similar films of that era. Unfortunately, while it boasts a great premise and it's got some interesting bits here and there, it ultimately failed to satisfy on many levels.

It would take a while to catalogue all the flaws in this movie, but I'll try to hit the basic points. The characters are extremely underdeveloped, both from the script and the wooden acting (with a few exceptions). Nobody seems to have any motivation besides "I'm an astronaut," "I'm a sleazy vice-president," "I'm a nefarious NASA director," etc. That's not necessarily the worst possible flaw for a movie, but it does mean that the plot needs to carry movie instead of the characters, and sadly, that just doesn't add up either.

I won't go into specifics, but some of the things that happen in the plot just strained my incredulity too much. I don't mean the major plot point, about the mars mission, but rather an accumulation of little details that just seemed totally unrealistic even though I was able to buy the overall idea of the movie.

Add to all of that a really awful ending that seemed as though the writers just hit a deadline and tacked something on, which also features some totally egregious slow-motion shots (cut back and forth with regular-speed shots! The effect is amazingly tacky).

The only things that prevented this from getting a lower rating from me were the interesting premise and a few scenes featuring witty banter between the always reliable Elliott Gould and Karen Black(!). I'd watch this if it came on TV, but I'd be hard pressed to recommend it as a rental.

Cypher (2002)
14 out of 22 people found the following review useful:
Disappointing but not awful, 25 March 2005
4/10

I think this film has been somewhat overrated here. There are some things to admire in it; for one thing it deserves credit for being a science fiction(ish) film which relies on its story instead of special effects and action sequences to carry the day. The supporting cast is good, the set design and cinematography are good, and the ideas are interesting enough (though they are beginning to seem a little tired after the many mediocre Dark City / Memento / Fight Club clones of recent years). But the film is undone by poor characterization, wooden performances from the lead actors, and a laughably bad ending.

The main problem I had was that the protagonist was neither likable nor unlikable. I realize that part of the story dictates that he should be a bit of a (wait for it...) cipher, but I was utterly unable to work up any empathy for a character that just seemed like a boring, anonymous schlub of a man. What character transformation there is for this sad sack is artificially forced on him by the plot. Lead actor Jeremy Northam succeeds in conveying that the protagonist is confused and hapless, but fails at inspiring any sympathy for him. Opposite him, Lucy Liu does what she can with a character who has no real personality of her own, unless being the embodiment of a spy-movie cliché counts as personality.

One of the biggest disappointments of this movie is the ending. I won't give any spoilers here, but I will say that a surprise twist at the end was telegraphed pretty clearly at least 45 minutes before it occurred. Further, after being content to be a quirky, idea-oriented movie for the first hour or so, the last few scenes suddenly and terribly devolve into the worst kind of Hollywood pap, complete with big explosions and special effects. The revealing of the film's McGuffin at the end is poorly done, and at the end the characters seem even less likable than they did before some of the film's main plot threads were resolved.

The movie's not all bad, though. It does manage to maintain a certain low level of tension throughout most of it, despite the slow pacing (although I think I have a higher than average tolerance for slow-paced movies). And there are some moments when the unsettled, paranoiac feeling that director Vincenzo Natali was clearly trying to evoke rises to the surface. But in the end, these elements aren't enough to overcome the flaws in the film's acting and script. There is probably a good movie that covers these same themes and ideas, but this isn't it.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Incredibly goofy (but fun) mash-up of the Matrix, 1984, and Logan's Run, 28 July 2005
7/10

This movie is a relic of the year 2002, before the Wachowski Brothers had put an irrevocable nail in the coffin of the Matrix franchise by delivering a poor second movie and a really awful third one.

The movie lifts so many things from the Matrix that it's difficult to list them all. Furthermore, it mostly lifts them pretty badly, and the budget is obviously about 100 times less than that of the Matrix. A sense of camp goofiness suffuses the entire affair, from the overly dramatic lighting, to the citizens standing in neat rows looking at a giant video screen with a talking head on it, to the high-concept premise itself. In one way it's like the Showgirls of early-21st century science fiction movies.

Nevertheless, the film is fun. It's mostly saved by the stellar performance of Christian Bale in the lead, who has clearly been told, "OK, put on this outfit that we stole from Neo in the Matrix. Now act exactly like Keanu Reeves." Fortunately, Bale is good at doing this, and is generally a better actor than the robotic Reeves.

The supporting cast all put in some excellent work as well. Probably the most engaging part of the movie is watching them gamely play along and put in serious hard work as the story gets more and more ridiculous. I was very impressed by their professionalism.

Probably my favorite scene involves a character who kills at least eight people to save a little puppy (said puppy seems to be played in some scenes by a rather unconvincing hand puppet). What a moral statement for the ages -- along with the timeless message, "ruthlessly destroying all forms of art and literature in order to eradicate emotion from humankind... would be WRONG." Campy entertainment.

1 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Interesting but overambitious psychological thriller, 3 February 2006
7/10

This is an interesting psychological suspense film which is very much in the tradition of other Japanese films like Cure (Kyua, 1997) and Angel Dust (Enjeru Dasuto, 1994).

*** Minor, first-act SPOILERS follow ***

The movie proceeds along two main narrative lines. In one, the police hunt for the "man behind the scissors," a serial killer who kills his victim with scissors and has apparently killed three victims. In the other, we follow this killer and his female companion as they also try to solve a murder. This sort of dual cat-and-mouse game makes for an interesting variation on the usual police procedural.

*** End spoilers ***

Overall, The Man Behind the Scissors (that's the English title on the DVD I rented) is a good effort and offers a good deal more depth than the average slasher film. It's hampered by a somewhat disappointing last act, though.

Unfortunately, the film has a few too many subplots, and by the end of the movie things begin to drag and the film loses a lot of its focus. There are a lot of twists in the movie, and it could have done with a lot fewer. In addition to this, not all of the narrative threads are equally compelling (in particular, the part of the story concerning the police doesn't have nearly the same level of psychological zing as the other part).

Despite the lackluster ending, though, it's smarter than average, and worth a watch if you enjoy thrillers of this type.

The Hunt (2012)
2 out of 4 people found the following review useful:
Great acting, immaculate production, not an unpredictable bone in its body, 31 January 2014
7/10

There's a lot to admire about The Hunt, foremost of which is probably Mads Mikkelson's performance as the protagonist Lucas. The cast is all-around strong, enlivening characters who don't necessarily have all that many hidden depths from the script itself, and the direction is always at least competent and at best very good.

But despite that I just can't love this movie somehow. I've rated it a 7 because it would sort of seem insulting to the actors otherwise, but it really hovers around a 6.5 in my mind. Maybe I'm bringing some baggage to the movie myself since I'm already familiar with historic child molestation social panics, such as the rash of satanic ritual abuse accusations in the 1980s, and I have a rough idea of how something like this might get started. I certainly think this is an important topic to make a film about, and it does throw some interesting light on the way adult relationships are affected by children in various ways (specifically in small Danish rural communities, I suppose, but I'd say the themes are pretty universal).

But once The Hunt got going, there was almost nothing in it which took me remotely by surprise. After the main action begins, assuming you have read a one-sentence synopsis of the film, you can pretty much always guess what will happen at any time by asking yourself "what is the worst decision Lucas could make right now which is nonetheless fairly reasonable from his point of view?" More generally, you might ask "what plausible outcome from this scene would be the worst for Lucas's case or position?" Just like water flowing downhill, you can pretty much foretell where the entire film is going to go from the beginning right out until way in the end of the fourth act.

Now, I don't need every movie I like to be some kind of sui generis bolt from the blue that makes me see cinema in a whole new light. But I do like the occasional curveball every now and then. The Hunt, for all of its good qualities, just seemed pre-ordained to run along tracks I could already see. It's worth watching if you're a fan of Mikkelson's or haven't thought about the issues involved very closely, but otherwise there's probably a much more interesting movie about this out there somewhere.

1 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Slightly above average boxing melodrama, 18 January 2006
6/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

There was a lot to like in this movie, particularly some strong acting on the part of the two leads Ryu Seung-beom and Choi Min-suk (of Oldboy fame), and an unusually bleak tone throughout. I gave it some credit for going beyond the good boxer / bad boxer stereotype that seems to come up in a lot of boxing movies, and for making the leads somewhat human in their foibles.

Ultimately, though, it didn't really seem to add much to the genre. It was a little original in showing the two boxers as equally desperate sad sacks, but beyond that, the melodrama in the third act seemed like it could have come out of any number of boxing films over the years, and there wasn't quite enough non-melodramatic elements to interest me.

***SPOILERS***

Really, if you have to drag one character's grandmother out of the hospital and have another character's estranged son run away to watch the final match, you know something has gone badly wrong with your character arc, right? By the time the audience has sat through hours of backstory and training montages to get to the third act, they should already care enough about these characters that their emotions don't need to be manipulated by cheap tricks like these.

***END SPOILERS***

Overall, I don't think it's a bad film, and I imagine fans of the boxing genre will find it refreshing (I'm not one). For casual viewers, I don't find much in Crying Fist to recommend it over any number of other excellent films.

Pulse (2001)
5 out of 12 people found the following review useful:
Ringu Ripoffu, 26 March 2005
4/10

In general I'm a big admirer of Kiyoshi Kurosawa. I thought his films Cure and Charisma were both excellent, all the more so for leaving lots of room to the viewer for interpretation and ambiguity.

Unfortunately, this film isn't one of his better works. It seems rather like the director's personal remake of Ring(u), covering many of the same themes of technological angst and ghost stories. It even has the now archetypal figures in white with long black hair. The plot is muddled and meandering, and while the plots of Charisma and Cure were also muddled, it seemed as though those films actually had a central idea that they were aiming for. Pulse just seems like a mishmash of early 21st-century Japanese horror tropes, fused clumsily to the apocalyptic themes common in the nineties and before (as seen in copious anime from, say, Barefoot Gen onwards). Kurosawa does try to impose some structure on the movie with visual motifs and his usual excellent command of atmosphere, but it isn't enough to keep the movie interesting without a strong story to back it up.

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is definitely a director worth watching. I wouldn't say the same for this film, although if you're already interested in Kurosawa it is worth tracking down (Cure - or Kyua - would be a better movie for newbies to start with, though). It is, at least, better than the noodling Doppelganger, which blends Pulse's fuzzy purposelessness with some poorly executed light comedy.

Infection (2004)
20 out of 34 people found the following review useful:
Tepid and muddled, 25 June 2005
4/10

I was hoping for a little more out of this movie. It is set in a hospital, which is an inherently creepy setting that has been used to good effect in several good horror movies (eg, Session 9, the Eye 2). Unfortunately, though the cinematography is good, there's not much in this movie that rises above the sort of low-level creepiness inherent in all hospitals.

At times I was struck with the idea that the director had originally planned to make a fairly straight-forward hospital-slasher movie, but due to some kind of colossal blunder ended up being shipped 50 gallons of green goo instead of the 50 gallons of fake blood that he ordered. Infection was then swiftly rewritten to accommodate this mix-up, and while they were at it they tacked on some twists at the end which might have been fresh prior to the global movie-twist mania that swept the world circa 1993 or so.

It's not a terrible movie, and there is some endearing acting by the three lead doctors (who do fairly well with pretty colorless characters). Overall, though, it plays out like a Halloween episode of E.R. Many scenes that ought to frighten the viewer are just drawn out, only the most extreme of the gross-out scenes are really effective, and the movie is full of dross that doesn't enhance its story or its mood.

19 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Interesting parable, 20 July 2005
8/10

I liked this movie. It had a dreamy, parable-like quality to it that reminded me of films like Man Facing Southeast (1986) and The Rapture (1991). The focus is not really on the plot, so if you are annoyed with movies that don't explain a lot of the action, this is probably not the movie for you. Some would probably find it a little pretentious too; personally, it was well within my own threshold.

The cinematography is really good throughout, and the acting is well-done. The director is very successful in evoking a strange, off-kilter feeling, which predominates and occasionally escalates into eeriness and even a little dread. The newly returned dead are enigmas to their living relations and the audience both.

I felt somewhat let down by the ending, but not as much as I would have thought if I'd known the plot of the movie beforehand. Although some things in the movie (mostly plot elements) were not resolved to my satisfaction, I did feel like the character development was complete by the end. That focus is fairly typical of the movie as a whole.


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