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601 reviews in total 
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Dope (2015)
Movies like this don't come along often enough., 24 November 2015

I was very impressed with Dope. This is the kind of movie that makes me proud of "black cinema". It's warm, funny, emotionally resonant, and relatable for those of us who have grown up in an environment that we didn't quite fit into, despite our outward appearance saying otherwise.

I don't want to go into details of the story, because a lot of the fun of Dope is finding out what improbable (yet perfectly logical) situation is going to happen next in the lives of the three teenagers at the center of the story. The main character is Malcolm, a self- described geek who is as bright as he is different from most of his peers at his inner-city Los Angeles high school. Malcolm longs to get accepted to Harvard and leave his environment, but a few unexpected events (revolving around a pretty girl, of course) sets him and his two best friends on a new course that may derail his hopes or help him to get to where he needs to go.

Dope mixes a love for 90's hip-hop, intelligent kids, being yourself, and making a way for yourself in difficult situations. If you're at all interested, just see it. This is far from your typical inner-city movie, though it has the elements of the best of them.

Jessabelle (2014)
Southern Gothic is still alive and well., 24 November 2015

I enjoyed Jessabelle. If you are partial to a sweaty, swampy, bayou ghost story then it's likely that you will enjoy yourself with the movie as well.

The story benefits from unraveling slowly and leaving some mystery about what's really happening until the very end. After a terrible accident leaves her reliant on a wheelchair, a woman is forced to move back to her family home in the Louisiana swamp with her estranged father. She finds that there are more than just emotional ghosts waiting for her in that lonely house. As far as modern horror goes, this isn't an overly violent or gory film. There are a few jump scares sprinkled throughout, but most of the time Jessabelle relies on building discomfort and unease through glimpses of figures that shouldn't be there, ominous sounds, and unnatural events among the oppressive bayou gloom. That makes it more unnerving when moments of extreme violence do come.

The end of the movie was a highlight for me, especially since many horror movies tend to fall apart in the last act. The closing events actually make sense within the context of the story and bring closure. The only real problem I had with the movie was that the resolution was fairly similar to another movie in the genre. That didn't ruin Jessabelle by any means, but the ending was so familiar that I won't mention the name of the other movie that I'm thinking of because anyone who has seen it will instantly have a fairly accurate idea of how Jessabelle concludes.

I recommend Jessabelle to anyone with an affinity for this type of horror - where atmosphere, mystery, and story take the lead over lots of action and mayhem.

Phobia 2 (2009)
5 out of 5 people found the following review useful:
Uneven, but good overall., 5 October 2012

An anthology is the sum of its parts, so how does this particular set stack up?

Novice: A young man with a troubled past is left to live among monks, where karma catches up to him. Interesting idea, but lacking in execution and a bit boring until the end. (5/10)

Ward: An injured teenager spends the night in a hospital room with a brain dead old man on a respirator who is slated to be taken off life support the next day. Spooky and violent, with a twist ending. (7/10)

Backpackers: My favorite of the bunch. Two young hitchhikers are picked up by two truckers with cargo more dangerous than any of them know. I'd love to see a full movie made from this one. (9/10)

Salvage: A dishonest car saleswoman had a terrifying night when one of her vehicles is returned by an angry customer and her own son disappears. A gruesome little ghost story, once again featuring karma as a main theme. (8/10)

In the End: A funny and subversive tale about the filming of one of those "spooky long-haired ghost girl" horror films that had been coming out of the east so frequently in the last 10+ years. (8.5/10)

Phobia 2 gets off to a rocky start, but overall it's an entertaining and varied mix of Thai horror.

A better effort on the second try., 1 October 2012

I was thoroughly disappointed with the Clash of the Titans remake. It was a dull, uninteresting slog of endlessly plodding action scenes and tons of unmemorable CG effects being thrown at the viewer from every angle as a poor substitute for excitement.

Thankfully, Wrath of the Titans manages to be a better movie than Clash in nearly every area. The story is basic but serviceable, with the father of the gods threatening to escape his prison and take out his vengeance on the earth. The gods themselves, weakened by lack of worship and divided by old conflicts, are powerless to face the danger. It falls to Perseus (Sam Worthington) and a small band or warriors to set things right.

The major improvement Wrath makes is that the action scenes and set pieces are much more exciting this time around. Whether chimera attack or the shifting, crushing walls of a labyrinth and the dangerous beast inside, I was never bored by what was happening on the screen. At the very least, this is a watchable fantasy action flick, which puts it above the first film. Greek mythology is so rich and dense that so much more could be done with the gods, monster and locales that Wrath of the Titans mines for material. Even as flawed as Immortals was, it certainly wasn't generic, which even this improved sequel doesn't totally escape until near the end. Still, whether you enjoyed or loathe the Clash of the Titans reboot, this one is better.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Pretty girls + beach volleyball - most everything else = Beach Spike, 2 September 2012

There's one big reason to watch Beach Spike, and that's if you want to see some attractive Asian girls in bikinis playing volleyball, often in slow motion. It does that very well:  the rest is a mixed bag.

The movie tries to be be a romance/comedy/sports hybrid, a bit like Shaolin Soccer. Unfortunately, it's mediocre in almost all those areas. Especially the action scenes and volleyball matches, which should be the highlights of the movie. The women look great, but it's also obvious that they're not the volleyball experts that their characters are. Most of the matches look extremely staged and choreographed, though the final one is pretty intense. The story, about two girls playing to save their beach from being closed to build a resort, often strives to be sentimental, exciting or amusing, but the writing for the characters is so thin that all that tugging at our emotions just doesn't do much. 

Still, Beach Spike is mostly light, fun, and very easy on the eyes. I finally got invested in the characters a bit at the end, and the predictability and slightness of the plot just didn't matter much anymore. Or maybe I was just distracted by how pretty Chrissie Chau, Theresa Fu and Jessica C. were. Take it for what it is, and Beach Spike isn't that bad. If you're not watching for the eye candy, you won't find much to keep your interest.

Goemon (2009)
CG Ninjas, 28 August 2012

"You can't flee anymore. Not from your destiny."

Goemon is a fun, bloody martial arts epic. It's a story of betrayal and revenge, set after the death of Lord Nobunaga and (very) loosely based on the life of the real Ishikawa Goemon. Don't worry though, you don't have to be steeped in Japanese history to enjoy it.

I won't go into detail about the twisting, turning story. It's interesting enough, but many characters are introduced without much info or background. Luckily, it's easy to keep up with who's good and bad, and the central characters are fleshed out to an acceptable degree to make them matter to the audience. 

The more divisive element of Goemon is the heavy use of special effects. Most of the sets and action are all CG, very much like Sucker Punch. And not as well done. While this gives Goemon a unique look quite different from the bold colors and elegant action of many modern martial arts epics, it also makes the movie look frantic and artificial. It's really like watching a video game, at times. That didn't bother me much as Goemon went on, but cleaner, better implemented special effects would have made this an even more enjoyable film. The costumes are great, though, which is always important in flicks like these.

I liked Goemon. It felt a bit long (the last half of the movie could have lost 10-15 minutes, easily), but I was never bored. The actors and actresses are nothing less than competent, even in some of the more over-the-top roles. And there are some very pretty actresses involved, if that kind of thing interests you (it does in my case). I recommend it to anyone who is fine with a more CG-heavy spin on historical Japanese fantasy warfare.

Mirror Mirror (2012/I)
0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
Snow White is suddenly in high demand., 20 August 2012

"And the queen realized if she wanted to remain the most beautiful in all the land, Snow would have to do what snow does best. Snow would have to fall."

I just didn't have very high expectations for Mirror Mirror. Lily Collins is a pretty little thing (and a good modern Snow White, it turns out) and Tarsem Singh's movies are always worth seeing for the visuals, if nothing else. However, early previews and trailers made this seem bland and not nearly as "guy-friendly" as the darker and impressively cast Snow White and the Huntsman. I'm pleased to say, though, that I enjoyed watching this whimsical comedy/fantasy.

It's fairly light-hearted, with frequent moments of humor and a story that's family-friendly. The basics of the Snow White fairy tale are present: there's a wicked (well, selfish, vain and mean might better words) queen/step-mother, a dashing prince (Arnie Hammer in a role that shows he has a flair for comedy), a poisoned apple, seven dwarfs, a magic mirror, and the beautiful and innocent Snow herself. I thought the cast worked well together, and there's a surprise waiting for those who don't look too closely at the cast list before watching the movie

The sets and costumes are as interesting and eye-catching as you'd probably expect. Tarsem, along with Wes Anderson, are two of today's directors that absolutely know how to enhance a movie through distinctive eye candy. 

Mirror Mirror isn't a movie that takes itself too seriously. This isn't an epic, dark retelling of the classic tale, but it is a pretty and moderately fun flick to sit down and watch with the family. I wouldn't be surprised if the cast and crew had a good time making it, and there's a good chance you may feel the same way after watching it. 

I Know What You Did 2: Know Harder, 20 August 2012

"No more screaming. No more running. It's time to die."

I Know What You Did Last Summer was a pleasant (is "pleasant" the right word for a slasher?) horror flick that did nothing remarkable or really new, but was an easy watch and turned out slightly better than average. They went "bigger" for the sequel, to mixed results. 

I Still Know What You Did Last Summer feels like a different movie from its predecessor. Yes, someone is still trying to kill Julie James for what she and her friends did two summers ago. That hasn't changed. There are a few returning characters, but the new location of the killer's shenanigans (a near-deserted island in the Bahamas) and new cast (several of whom manage to be even more annoying than the first cast) give this movie a different tone. Different, but not necessarily better.

It's harder to take the plot seriously this time around. Frequently, it's almost silly. The characters make willfully preposterous decisions, separate at every possible opportunity, and there's an easy to guess plot-turn near the end that requires way too much work to take credibly. That didn't ruin my enjoyment of what I was watching and I know that stuff is common in the genre, but it happens to such an excessive degree that it bears mentioning. 

There were some memorable scenes and kills, plus it was a bit cool to see Julie get fed up with being stalked and at least try to fight back. And there's nice pg-13 eye-candy if you're interested in that sort of thing, as Jennifer looks even better than the first time around and there's plenty of situations where she and Brandy are wet and half naked. 

Once you get acclimated to the faint ridiculousness of the whole thing, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer is about the same level of quality as the first. Less tense and more haphazard, but enjoyable. Easy-to-please slasher fans and people who just can't get enough of looking at Jennifer Love Hewitt (I fit into both of those categories) will probably find this worth at least checking out on your streaming service of choice, watching on cable, or picking up out of the $5 DVD bin.

1 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Babysitting is still a dangerous job., 26 June 2012

"Try to be a nice guy and that's the thanks I get!"

Babysitter Wanted is quite similar to the movie House of the Devil in many ways (though it preceded it by about a year). Both movies have a similar premise (young woman at a small college taking a rural babysitting-type job at a spooky locale because she's desperate for money), both try to scare you by slowly building tension (at least, initially) in a large, quiet house, and both have similar sources of evil as the heart of the threat to our unsuspecting heroines. 

The main difference between the two movies, though (besides a gruesome twist or two), is that House of the Devil is just better. It's more frightening, more interesting, and more memorable. That's not to say that Babysitter Wanted is bad or not worth watching. It's a sinister movie that's shot well, and I didn't find much reason to complain about the actors (though there is a faintly ridiculous monologue almost an hour into the proceedings that would have been better left out). The story is simple and violence and gore are certainly present (though it happens off-screen as often as on). The last 45 minutes or so are quite different from what comes before, so be prepared for a shift in tone. 

The final act is where the two movies really separate themselves, and that's really where I think House of the Devil completely outshines this. 

Maybe I would have appreciated Babysitter Wanted more if I hadn't seen a superior,similar movie that I couldn't help comparing it to. Give it a try if you'd like; there are far, far worse horror movies available. 

Rogue (2007)
A hungry croc down under., 6 June 2012

Rogue is a simple but effective Australian horror flick. The story setup is basic, with a group of tourists ending up off the beaten path during a river sightseeing trip, and stranded within easy reach of the jaws of a monstrous crocodile. 

I had tried watching Rogue once a few years ago, but didn't give it more than a few minutes before I turned it off and watched another movie. Something about how it begins failed to catch my interest back then, but I've become such a big Radha Mitchell fan since then that I had to go back and give it another try. And I'm glad I did. Rogue is nothing genre-changing, but it does have some thrills to offer and will admirably serve if you're looking for this kind of a movie. The cast is decent, with a few faces you've probably seen (the aforementioned Mitchell, as well as Michael Vartan, a teenage Mia Wasikowska, and Sam Worthington), but the real star is the croc. The special effects are petty good for a movie of this budget, and as the croc is on-screen more Rogue gets more and more interesting. The finale is pretty awesome, as a result. Recommended. 

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