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thither

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20 reviews in total 
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The Hunt (2012)
0 out of 1 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.

10 out of 18 people found the following review useful:
Underground legend Keith Li's dark masterpiece, 3 October 2007
10/10

Keith Li is still not a familiar name to many except gore hounds specializing in SE Asian horror, but those in the know will agree that he reached his pinnacle with this disturbing, uncompromising gem of cinema; his only extant subsequent films seem pale and incomplete when compared to the bleak vision of Centipede Sorcerer.

Other commenters here have already noted many of the unforgettable features of this film: Darma Yang's startling cinematography, the strong religious and existential subtext, and of course the sheer barking madness of what actually occurs during the film. To this I'll only add that Li displays an absolute mastery of tone here; apart from a slow section in the first part of the movie, it stays extremely, horribly consistent throughout, with a mood that builds like the slow realization of some terrible idea from a suspicion to full-blown awareness.

As another poster noted, seeing this will be a real shocker for fans of Din Long Lee. It's truly a one-of-a-kind performance, but I can't help but think that the very fact that she was involved in a production like Centipede Sorcerer had something to do with her career never really taking off with more mainstream audiences.

It's a testament to Li's weird genius that he ends his film with a tip of the cap to Truffaut's 400 Blows. Days after I've seen it, the haunting final score still lingers in my memory. This is certainly not a movie I can recommend to everyone, but it left an indelible mark on me for sure.

Lockout (2006)
6 out of 9 people found the following review useful:
Better than I expected low-budget psychological horror, 9 September 2007
7/10

I didn't have high expectations going into this movie, having seen more than my fair share of awful direct-to-video horror films, but I ended up being pleasantly surprised by Lockout. It's clearly a low-budget movie, but the director and actors prove to be fairly adept at working within those parameters and still coming out with an intriguing, competent little film. In that way and several others it reminded me of the little-seen German serial-killer movie Schramm (1993).

There were some flaws here that prevented Lockout from falling into that "great but unknown" category. While the acting is far above par for this kind of movie, a few scenes did fall a little flat. The pacing could be a little tighter overall. And at the end of the movie there's a sort of big reveal which isn't particularly compelling (or unexpected, by the time it happens).

Overall the dialog is much better than I would have expected, though, from the naturalistic-sounding phone call in the first scene to rest of the character's conversations. The focus of the movie tends to be on the characters and their emotional state, rather than the larger plot, and as such it tends more towards evoking unsettled moods over outright shocks and scares, which is fine with me. It also has a few thematic subtexts that are more complex, and better executed, than is common in the genre, although some of these seem a bit muddled up by the end of the film.

I'm not much of a gore-hound myself, but there is one fairly graphic gore scene. I think the director was wise to concentrate his effects budget in a few places instead of just hurling red paint everywhere, but the level of violence is probably not enough for voracious gore-hounds and a little extreme for the more typical horror fan.

Overall this one is definitely worth a look, especially if you are a fan of more cerebral, low-key horror. It's certainly much better than the 3.2 rating it's currently hovering at.

3 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
Not very good, 5 August 2006
3/10

This is a very low-budget horror movie, so you can't really judge it on the same level as Citizen Kane or anything. Nonetheless, it's not a good movie. Like many of its ilk, it suffers from poor acting, but the combination of bad acting and an unoriginal script does it in. A big part of the problem is that there is basically no characterization of any of the main characters, and they aren't very interesting on their own merits. The plot as a whole is nothing we haven't seen hundreds of times before, and the movie spends a lot of time building up to a big reveal which is obvious from the first several minutes of the movie.

Genre fans will likely be disappointed by the level of the special effects here, which largely consist of a few stabs to the abdomen and a dash of bargain-basement CGI.

It did have some bright points, though. I thought the cinematography showed a good deal of talent, and the film overall was more visually imaginative than I expected it to be. One scene (involving a pillow in the hospital) was mildly creepy, and if the movie had stuck more closely to these lines it probably would have been a better movie.

The Toybox (2005)
7 out of 24 people found the following review useful:
Unusual, but weakly plotted and incoherent, 14 April 2006
4/10

I really wanted to like this movie, because it is refreshingly different from the hordes of everyday horror movie clones, and I appreciate that the filmmakers are trying for something original. Unfortunately, the plot just didn't hold together and none of the characters were likable enough for me to really care about them or their fates.

Visually, The Toybox was pretty interesting. The director took a lot of somewhat risky moves, like adding in little bits of (Flash-looking) animation in parts and really cheesing up some of the special effects (such as the light from a certain amulet). Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn't, but he deserves kudos for the attempt, and the cinematography was generally of high quality.

Unfortunately, when this same approach of throwing lots of things at the wall to see what sticks was applied to the plot, the results were not very good. The film never really finds a tone that it likes, moving schizophrenically from black comedy to family soap opera to 80's witchcraft flick to childhood nostalgia to embattled-family slasher. Taken on their own, bits and pieces of each of these elements work fairly well, but nothing ever coheres into a satisfying whole. Besides that, large bits of the plot are never really explained. I'm not one who likes to have everything spoon-fed to me, and I like movies that leave things up to the audience to decide, but the parts that are left out from The Toybox just seem like they either ran out of money before they could explain them or they didn't really think things through to begin with.

I look forward to the director's next project, since I think there is a lot of talent lurking under the surface here, but I can't really recommend The Toybox on its own merits.

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.

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.

3 out of 10 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.

Nothing (2003)
12 out of 25 people found the following review useful:
Self-indulgent dreck, 17 August 2005
2/10

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This movie was awful. It is possible to make a good movie with very minimalistic setting and characters; see, for instance, Tape, My Dinner With Andre, or any number of theatrical adaptations. The trick to doing it is that the audience needs to be interested in the characters. In Nothing, the characters were just not very interesting. What little conflict there was between them seemed totally forced, and the whole "old pals are splitting up, then reconcile" plot is a hoary old chestnut which director Natali does nothing at all to enliven.

I had trouble staying awake during the long, boring stretches of badly done slapstick comedy. Nothing is a film that aspires to be an unremarkable episode of the Outer Limits but winds up being more like a bad kid's cartoon.

The only reason I rated this a two is that no movie which ends with a shot of disembodied heads bouncing off to the horizon can possibly earn less than two.

5 out of 10 people found the following review useful:
Seemed a little overrated, 15 August 2005
5/10

Being a dumb yank, I'd never even heard of the book this movie was based on, so I saw it based on a blurb describing it as similar to Office Space and Lost in Translation. With that in mind, I was somewhat disappointed by Fear and Trembling (no relationship to the Kierkegaard book of the same name).

I think my main problem was that the protagonist seemed like a blank slate, just as inscrutable in her own way as the Western stereotype of Japanese and other Asian people. She endures a variety of awful humiliations, but we get barely any insight at all into why she does so, apart from a vague longing to be Japanese. There is a little bit of flowery language about the city of Nara at the beginning, and we learn that she lived there as a child, but there is very little indication of what is driving her, in the present day, to integrate herself into a business culture which she obviously finds deeply unpleasant.

Compounding this is that the protagonist is never seen outside of the environment of the office. It's fine to keep the focus there, but a little indication with how she interacts with the part of Japan that is outside the office building could have greatly increased our understanding of the character.

At its worst, Fear and Trembling is a dour indictment of petty office politics which can doubtless be found in any large corporate headquarters. Things like backstabbing colleagues, autocratic and incompetent bosses, and spiteful busywork being assigned to hapless underlings are certainly not things that are unique to Japanese culture. While some episodes do cast a little illumination on (the writer's take on) that culture, for the most part they could take place anywhere. This fact makes the protagonist's persistence seem all the more puzzling.

The movie does have its moments, though. When it lets its hair down a little bit (as in an early scene involving calendars, or in a repeated one featuring the protagonist flying above the city) there is a good amount of humor and levity to be found, and the performances are all fairly good. Overall it's a worthy, but flawed, effort.


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