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A salute to the mind-bending films we lust after.
--- The criteria for inclusion here is not merely weird imagery, but an intriguing, coherent storyline. Also, English titles only.
If you think I missed one that fits, lemme know.
Spies, conspiracies, guns with silencers; there's something magical about it. Here's the list, for all you fellow lovers of anything covert.
Feel free to suggest, but... there's a fine line between ordinary action and the covert type, so I had to make some judgment calls. Also:
- English only.
- No Bond films. You can find those easily enough without a list.
- No sequels. You can find those easily too.
2036 Origin Unknown (2018)
I'm glad I watched this til the end, as this unexpectedly became something of a mind-expanding experience. It's very 2001/2010/Contact, with several updated twists and unique ideas.
I wasn't expecting much from yet another visual effects guy trying his hand at writing/directing (Hasraf Dulull). Those tend to be cheap excuses for cool effects and a shallow little obligatory story to bind the FX scenes together.
It takes a while to realize that this film is actually something special. It's based on an idea whose uniqueness and complexity doesn't become fully apparent until the fourth quarter, and before that, it can be difficult to appreciate.
The visuals, while not grandiose, are realistic and believable; which is all they need to be, for this particular story. Although that's still unfortunate, only because it garners ratings and reviews from 14 year-old boys who expect any film with a sci-fi premise to also excite the senses with visual candy. They're disappointed, the online ratings suffer, and fewer people end up watching the movie.
I really hope this film reaches more eyeballs, and that it and the filmmakers get the appreciation and adulation they deserve. I'd love to see a remake someday too, something that delivers this big story in a more cinema-friendly way.
ISRA 88 (2016)
I've posted some 60 reviews on IMDb so far, and I've never felt the need to post one that contained spoilers. I feel that too many viewers are going to miss the point of this movie though, and I feel the need to help people appreciate it.
ISRA 88 is about a mission to reach the edge of the universe. It's unclear which time period it takes place in, but the technology apparently exists to use particles collected in space, in some sort of fusion or singularity reaction that produces thrust at hundreds of millions of miles per second (apparently without suffering the consequences of special relativity).
Here comes the explanation. If you don't want to know, don't read any further. Spoilers ahead. Major ones. You have been warned.
You could think of this movie as having been inspired by a Star Trek: The Next Generation episode called "Parallels". In that episode, some rare space phenomenon mixed with a starship's "warp" effect causes the barriers between parallel universes to destabilize, and elements from one bleed through to another.
Quick primer on the "many-worlds" theory: All outcomes that can happen DO happen. Each decision people make results in the creation of parallel universes, wherein every possible choice plays out fully.
Early on in ISRA 88, we see the ship crash through what appears to be some sort of solid shell that encloses our universe. It causes an effect similar to what was seen in Star Trek.
Multiple versions of the same events, and one character "remembering" things that haven't happened (or haven't happened yet), are all products of the fact that in one universe, the ship did indeed succeed in its mission to reach the edge of the universe; only this had unforeseen consequences. The ship quite literally cracked the barrier between parallel universes, causing elements from multiple versions of the universe to bleed into each other. That's why we see the different sets of astronauts and other different ways events unfold.
The implosion scene we see an alternate set of astronauts suffer was due to their accidentally deactivating a ship system that was shielding the body of the ship from its engine, causing the ship's propulsion reaction to eat the ship itself (a futuristic version of a nuclear meltdown).
Much of the story is told in reverse chronology. The first half of the movie winds up feeling very slow, largely because it begins at the end of the story chronologically. At this point, the characters have been in space for a very long time. They are surrounded by nothingness, being far beyond any stars or galaxies. The relationship between the two characters has broken down, and one of them spends most of his time drinking, watching TV, and going a little mad. Very little happens, and there's very little dialog to hold your interest.
That's meant to be an exploration of the condition of isolation, but even considering that, it's a tedious prospect for the audience to sit through; especially since we're occasionally teased with scenes hinting at an exciting premise.
Things get more interesting toward the "end", when not only does the plot become more dense, but the characters are also showing actual interaction and their relationship develops.
It's due to the long monotony in much of the film that I'm forced to give it a lower rating. It's otherwise not bad. The production looks relatively glossy, the acting is good, and the plot is interesting and original.
A few strategic cuts would raise the rating drastically, if you ask me. If it had been given more of a pace to begin with, and the monotony were more hinted at rather than shown explicitly and excruciatingly for such long stretches, this could have been a lot more interesting to a lot more people.
The Automatic Hate (2015)
The best film no one has seen.
I tend to watch a lot of indie movies, but I almost skipped this one. The title and overview were too vague, and I figured this would end up being a typical coming-of-age, dramatic-yet-heartwarming story of families reconnecting.
Oh boy, was I waaaaay off.
First of all, this movie is really very well filmed. The cinematography, art direction, and pacing are spot-on and very engaging, aside from also being polished even by Hollywood standards. And the acting, oh my. Everyone is excellent, and Adelaide Clemens is... frankly, intoxicating.
The subject matter comes totally out of left field. At a time when even indie filmmakers seem to be churning out the same old genre-straddling garbage, this movie is a breath of fresh air -- despite the awkward subject matter, which is presented in such a way that it never feels deliberately provocative.
I tend to skip sex scenes in movies (when that's possible). They're all melodramatically the same, and they're boring to sit through. I feel compelled to mention that the one in this movie kept my eyes glued to the screen.
I would've liked to see more clues as to what kind of past made Alexis the way she is, but I guess you can't have everything. Overall, superb, the best movie that nobody has seen, and the kind that'll have me thinking about it for a while. It's a shame the subject matter probably prevented it from getting any semblance of distribution.
Garm Wars: The Last Druid (2014)
This seems to be an experiment in live-action-slash-CGI anime filmmaking. Visually creating that crossover in itself seems to take center stage, with the story coming in second.
At many points, the film succeeds beautifully in its proof-of-concept. The re-creation of anime-style scenes via live-action is often pretty startling.
I found the CGI integration a bit weak, probably due to the low budget. Although the 3D animations themselves were fairly impressive, their "green screen" blending with live actors and scenery was usually much too conspicuous. The authentic anime flavor was much more pronounced during scenes that used old-fashioned cinematography, lighting, and filter effects to evoke the feel of drawn Japanese animation cels. But when that did work, it really worked.
It also appears there wasn't enough left in the budget for certain transitional shots, resulting in a jerky pace.
I'm a fan of Lance Henriksen and Kevin Durand, and they do provide some substance to the characterization, but again this wasn't quite enough to make the story feel like it had real depth. This movie seems more about looks than anything else, but I think that was the intention. If this gets Mamoru Oshii some studio attention to pitch a similar but bigger-budget movie, we can probably call this a success.
All Hallows' Eve 2 (2015)
A collection of eight independently-produced Halloween-themed short films, with an overarching plot that these were left as a VHS tape on a young female horror fan's doorstep by a masked, knife-wielding stranger.
Most of the stories are extremely short, in the 5-10 minute range, the longest being about 17 minutes. They often have little plot, rather being merely campfire-style, mysterious horrific occurrences with no real beginning, climax, or resolution.
They are all, nevertheless, rather original, well-produced, and effectively gripping. The acting and effects are all quite satisfying and convincing. A couple even push the grim envelope, even by today's standards. One story takes the unusual route of being entirely in Spanish (with subtitles), whose inclusion in a primarily English-language movie was, I felt, an admirable risk.
The only true weak point for me was the very end, where the framing plot was wrapped up a little too simply.
Each short story, along with the framing plot, were independently produced by different writers, directors, and crews, and each one's credits are shown in sequence at the movie's end.
Poor script, good cinematography
An infant named June is imbued with a powerful spirit by her parents' cult of Satan worshipers. She bounces around the foster care system as the evil periodically overtakes her to mysteriously hurt people around her.
June is a risky mix of classic horror and slow artsy cinematography. The shots are often quite beautiful, and the acting is passable. The flick is nevertheless ruined by a pedestrian and predominately unoriginal script, with cheesy and obvious borrowed elements from Carrie and The Omen (among others), while falling short of providing any true scares. Dollar-store music and visual effects also clash hard with its otherwise artsy ambitions.
Fantastic Four (2015)
I liked it, but I can see why others didn't
Fantastic Four is not your average superhero movie by today's standards. It's dark, low-key, and unexpected. I almost passed on watching this, since everyone seemed to have hated it. I'm glad I gave it a shot anyway.
I'd like to borrow a quote from another reviewer here that expresses quite accurately why this movie didn't do well (even though the review was intended to be negative):
"Fantastic Four is a film very much out of time and place in today's market of superhero movies. Ten or fifteen years ago a studio might have been able to get away with it but not today. Audiences like to be entertained and with the competition offering much more excitement, I don't see audiences taking to this, at all."
That about sums it up. Superhero audiences were expecting something similar to recent superhero offerings, and they didn't get it. For myself, being generally not terribly impressed with most recent superhero movies, I had a somewhat different reaction. There have been a couple standouts, like Batman Begins and Iron Man, but on the whole most seem like forgettable, disposable eye candy.
If taken as a standalone flick, independent of any expectation, this is a decent movie. It's for the most part well-paced, well-acted, the effects are convincing without being overdone, and it's even well-written, for the most part.
What it is not, is "big". And people were expecting big, of course. Rather than its characters shown becoming celebrities with the world watching, the press eating them up, and displaying spectacles for the public that destroy city property, these kids spin a rather "small" tale that occurs primarily in secret.
I give this a seven out of ten, but threw in an extra star to offset (just a little bit) the unfair slap this movie got due to viewer tastes being, I feel, ruined by bloated Hollywood treatment of recent superhero adaptations.
Fishing Naked (2015)
Of all the bad movies you could watch, this one is the best
An attempt at a slick Hollywood comedy, which is why it comes off as amateurish, since there just wasn't enough money involved to pull that off. This is especially apparent in the soundtrack, which consists of the same punk rock sample looped over and over in every music-backed scene from beginning to end. Visual effects were just this side of acceptable. Directing and acting were almost there but not quite (Elyse Levesque was one notable exception, who aside from being beautiful also manages to craft a convincingly unique and interesting character).
Why? Well, for all its shortcomings, there is an apparent effort and care here on the parts of all involved (director, writers, actors, etc), resulting in what I suppose I would call an unexpected innocent charm; which not only kept me watching but also had me enjoying nearly every minute. I also feel the movie's current rating is unduly harsh and it deserves a little more recognition.
Bad indie movies normally leave me struggling to keep my brain from liquifying and leaking out my ear, as they pretend to be something better than they are. This is a film that knows its limits and plays within them. It helps that the story was more original than most films of this ilk, and the production values were actually a lot better than they should have been given the constraints. I should also note that the genre of "comedy" doesn't entirely fit, as there aren't many actual attempts to make the audience laugh. This is more of a lighthearted rompy adventure, and in that regard I feel it could please more than disappoint, as long as you don't go in with other expectations.
I think this writer/director could pull off some truly great work with just a little more money, and I will definitely be waiting for his next film. The actors also have great potential. In the meantime, this made for a fun little indie outing, even if it was neither slick nor artsy.
PS. Despite the probably-true claim that most of the reviews so far for this movie were posted by fake accounts or people close to the production, I'm not one of those. I've been on IMDb for 11 years, have posted 50 other reviews, and had nothing to do with the production of this movie, nor do I have any connection to anyone who did.
Outpost 37 (2014)
Good movie, if you're not expecting a genre flick
I kept having to double-check whether the IMDb rating I was seeing was for the right movie.
This movie is good. It doesn't even look low-budget, if you ask me. The production values, the sets, the props and effects, and even the acting are all pretty well up there in quality and are actually above-par for an indie flick. In fact, the only clue I can see for this even being an independent film is the lack of celebrity actors. Plop a couple famous faces in here and I think anyone would be hard-pressed to tell the difference from a Hollywood production.
The only explanation I can see for the poor ratings is that people were expecting a sci-fi flick and are judging the movie's compliance with that expectation. I've seen this phenomenon before, and it's sad, because good movies end up without the recognition they deserve.
This is actually a good movie, in nearly every way. It's basically a war movie with a touch of sci-fi, and in that regard it's actually rather exceptional. It's well-written and well-acted, with convincing combat, and an interesting and original story. It's my hope that people disregard the low ratings and give movies like this a shot anyway.
The Vicious Brothers (as the directorial team call themselves) try breaking the mold, with some mixed results.
The bulk of this is typical horror mixed with typical alien/saucer imagery. About an hour or so in, there's a Matrix-inspired sequence that at least looks authentic. The film caps off with a very X-Files routine. Cliché characters, one of whom seems to have been awkwardly transplanted from an '80s teen horror film, and all of whom play out cliché melodrama during very obvious and convenient breaks in action, didn't really help things.
With some skill, this mash-up of recycled elements could have actually worked, maybe. The visual effects were convincing, but the rest (writing, direction, acting) were frightfully amateurish.
This isn't a "found footage" film, but it seems to want to be one. It's sort of a found footage film that simply wasn't shot that way, resulting in something rather awkward.
Game of Thrones (2011)
Sex and betrayal in the time of dragons. Juicy.
The dragon mother storyline is the only one that really captures my attention.
The rest is a lavish soap opera. It ups the bar in production values and provocativeness, but is essentially a trashy, meandering romance novel that HBO successfully passed off as a pop culture phenomenon.
There is really no direction or character development to speak of. Peter Dinklage manages to inject some nuance into his performance, which appears as brilliant acting relative to all the other stone faces, of whom no director seems to make any hefty demands. Lots of great lines fall to the wayside while efforts are spent instead on costumes and sets. Evil characters are just evil, and making us truly understand them isn't remotely a priority.
I don't hate it. I sometimes hate myself for rather enjoying it, in the way humanity's less endearing qualities force us to grow addicted to juicy gossip and reality shows. I wouldn't call this a "good" show though.
On the upside, after watching an episode, everything I think and read takes on a posh British accent, which adds a touch of refinement to my American lifestyle.
The After (2014)
Clichès don't bother me as much as melodrama, and I think that's what most people really mean to complain about.
The X-Files was solid largely because each scene advanced the plot. This pilot suffers from what most TV sci-fi suffers from these days, and the reason most of them end up getting canceled: They try to cast a broader net of appeal than they think sci-fi alone can achieve, by spreading out revealing scenes in a pool filled primarily with melodramatic opera.
I was excited to find out Carter was doing this via Amazon, as perhaps then, skittish TV execs wouldn't be in the way to demand more "non-hardcore" material that (they think) will raise the ratings over a broad demographic. To see it make all the same mistakes anyway is very disappointing.
If this gets picked up, I hope Carter can start remembering what makes a show good, and direct the writers there, rather than shooting for broad appeal.
Good looking, good premise, mediocre story
Some kind of weird meteor hits the ground and causes an otherworldly electrical disturbance in the vicinity of a big college party. Suddenly there's two of everyone, which apparently causes violence to ensue. In the midst of it all, the main character is trying to win back his girlfriend.
Is it sci-fi? Horror? Drama? Sexy college comedy? It appears to try for them all, but doesn't achieve any with particularly flying colors.
A lot of people will probably like this just for the awesome party depiction; and that's cool. It does look like one hell of a party, and I kinda wish I'd been there. This movie has a lot of other things going for it, including a good premise, decent acting, glossy big-budget-looking production values, and some nudity (yay!). The effects were also quite convincing.
The story, however, leaves something to be desired. It's hard to tell whether the relationship drama or the weirdo cosmic event was supposed to be the main storyline, but I didn't much care about either one. A bunch of one-dimensional characters try to say deep things once in a while, and their reactions to the strange situation are a little contrived, as if the writers chose to force a horror/thriller show from a premise that should've taken a more intriguing route. I also kept wondering why everyone didn't just LEAVE when it became apparent that things weren't right. I guess the party was just that good.
It turned out fun, somewhat entertaining, and a bit disturbing, but could've been more. I'd recommend this for a streaming rainy day view.
The Forbidden Girl (2013)
I'm not really sure what I just watched. I did enjoy myself though.
As the first reviewer said quite accurately, the cinematography alone is worth it. There's a superbly eerie quality to many of the shots, and ditto for the set, prop, and makeup designs. Some elements are downright visionary. The main actors do a great job, especially Klaus Tange, who hits some authentically demonic high notes, and Roger Tebb's fanatic priest is also great. Jytte-Merle Böhrnsen (there's a mouthful) is devilishly delightful as the fair young maiden, and the cinematographer did some wonderful things with closeups of her beautiful facial expressions.
The realism falls a little flat in certain areas, most noticeably in the few "night" shots that are much too plainly day shots with a blue filter (it's not even a terribly dark blue). Some other visual effects are also a little cartoonish.
It's easy for a person like me to forgive those issues because I love watching a cryptic and unpredictable story unfold; and that, if anything, describes this movie. A dense myriad of clues are presented and it's not easy to figure out what might actually be going on. The point of the whole thing is spelled out in the end, sort of, but it's still not quite clear how it all fit together. This is one of those movies where you Google afterwards for possible explanations.
If you like to be intrigued this is worth your time.
Short brain twister
Fractalus is an intriguingly weird little 25-minute short about a near future where humanity seems to be aware of God's location in the universe. Scientific and religious teams try to reach it constantly, but none have succeeded due to a breakdown of time-space during the approach.
It's not exactly a big-budget production, but makes excellent use of what it has, presenting quite a delicious little riddle that you can have lots of fun interpreting.
It's a brain twister, though of the type where you can feel there's a more coherent intended plot, rather than a jumble of artsy symbolism (think "Donnie Darko", as opposed to "Blue Velvet"). There are also some interesting explanations to be found around online.
Europa Report (2013)
Attention Directors: I Hate Found Footage.
Even in the best cases, found footage is an obstacle to my enjoyment of a film, and I feel every single found footage film could've been better with traditional filming. Found footage films need to be at least three times more exciting just to compensate for their annoying film style. To think a story could've been "realistically filmed" is pointless and adds nothing. These films just end up contriving camera situations based on the story they want to tell anyway, and it's not like anyone is actually being fooled, so Found Footage should have died with Blair Witch Project. If only we could just let it go.
The bulk of Europa Report does not adequately compensate for its film style, but that aside, the acting, writing, and production values are actually quite impressive. There is a real budget at work here. It seems like a shame to me, as although an advanced spaceship does provide a somewhat rational scenario for providing plentiful "found footage" from multiple cameras, this movie could've been ten times better the other way.
Europa Report is a little too slow and a lot too long, one probably resulting from the other. Someone could and probably should have edited this down to about 45 minutes and come out with a film with a much better chance at notoriety. The desire to produce something feature-length ends up hurting this one, as is the case for so many indie film situations. There's some mixed chronology that was probably intended to show us "some of the good stuff" earlier on, but that really just ends up deflating the first half of the story.
So, why a 7 rating? Basically for the final 30 minutes, in which the movie more or less redeems itself. This is where things pick up with a competent sequence of plot points: action, suspense, and mystery. We see what we came to see.
That's not to say the rest of it sucks entirely -- I'm not sorry I sat through the entire movie, as it was decent. It just could've been better.
Poor man's Fight Club nod
We first sit through five minutes of a broadcast interview over city scenery. Waiting for something to happen here is an immediate disappointment, especially after reading the exciting plot description.
Finally, a girl wakes up in a trashed apartment, with no memory and an iPhone glued to her hand. It has a mysterious countdown on its screen. We learn that she's one of a cadre of computer hackers, one of whom is an unhinged revolutionary.
Due to some unnecessary side stories, we're given the impression that there's something complex going on, but there isn't. Some blatant Fight Club references later, the conclusion is about as obvious as you'd hoped against.
To those of us who know a little something about the technology, several plot holes are evident. For example, at one point, our heroine attempts to hack the program, and in the process of doing so "kills" it with a simple command, then re-starts it; which would seem to defeat the purpose. If you CAN kill it, AND are willing to suffer the unknowable consequences, you might as well just leave it deactivated.
Considering the low budget, the camera work is good enough to impress. Nevertheless, the story isn't interesting, and much of it is filler. Some sort of vague philosophical question regarding the state of technology is presented, but is not explored beyond certain characters stating their general disdain for it. It looks like someone wanted to say something short but also wanted to make a feature-length film, and decided to mangle the two together.
IMDb's plot description makes reference to a "shadow world between life and death." This had me go in thinking we were about to be treated to a journey through an imagining of what lies beyond, disturbing dreamscapes and such. But this is not that.
What this is, is a horror movie. It starts out with standard Japanese horror fare that we saw migrate to America about ten years ago, ala "The Ring" and "The Grudge", ghosts comprised of people with creepy contact lenses clawing at legs.
It then turns into something less subtle and more Sam Raimi: Travel to distant lands where only the natives retain the ancient knowledge required to defeat the evil. It gets rather silly, without being charming. Raimi's sense of ironic detachment isn't there, nor is any feeling of adventure or intensity, at least one of which you'd hope would be there.
The acting is all well and good, with William Hurt and Cary Elwes performing as expected. Other aspects of the production are also nicely done, but the second-time director doesn't seem sure what he wants to evoke in the audience. I can't call it "bad" per se, but I still can't see this being worth anyone's time.
Excellent, if you can accept the fact that it's NOT a slasher.
Ashley (Caitlin Gerard) is finally off to college after apparently getting over some serious psychological issues. Her roommate (Melanie Papalia) introduces her to a strange party scene where anonymous Internet posters gather in person to talk about their exploits, and there she learns of "Smiley", an urban legend regarding a stitch-faced maniac who kills webcam chatters, maybe.
But describing the plot of Smiley goes beyond not doing this movie justice. It's far from a typical urban legend-based horror. Think of it more like this: What if you moved to a new town, where you soon discovered a group of Internet trolls had gathered? What if it turned out that they all acted and spoke, in real life, the same exact way they do online? What if you weren't the most sane person to begin with? Smiley transposes Internet trolling into reality with disturbingly accurate thoroughness, along with examining the philosophy behind the trolling phenomenon.
Coupled with a simply mindblowing performance by Caitlin Gerard that might start off seeming mediocre but gets more incredible as the movie progresses, Smiley is... well, it's something. Roger Bart is also superb as a quirky philosophy professor with questionable intentions, and I must also mention that Keith David (who refuses to age, despite pushing 60) gives a standout cameo performance as a police detective.
I spent much of this movie's first half trying to decide whether or not I liked it. The dialog is eccentrically delivered in a kind of bobble-head everybody's-drunk Gilmore Girls style, but the reasoning behind that choice becomes clearer as the movie progresses. Some very early jump-scares also had me discouraged, as I'm not generally a fan of that particular horror tactic: they're cheap and easy, and these days they're usually indicative of a lack of any real ideas. This movie has a lot of them, but they turn out to serve a relevant purpose, rather than being thrown in for mere sporadic scares.
The writing, sets, effects (including moderate gore), and especially the pacing and camera work are superb. This movie deserves a wide release and probably won't get one.
I'll now respond to some bad reviews, because after reading the onslaught, I had to double-check whether I was on the right IMDb page:
Some who dislike this movie might point to a lack of knife chases and appearances of the main antagonist. Yes, if you wanted a Halloween slasher, this will surely disappoint, so put your expectations on hold. In fact, if you want a better label, I'd go with "psychological thriller".
One might also mistake the Internet references for a lame attempt to be contemporary, but that would indeed be a mistake. This movie is ABOUT the Internet, so if you find those references extraneous, you've missed the point entirely.
This is furthermore aimed at those who've experienced at least a taste of hardcore Internet trolldom: those inexplicable people who find some sort of satisfaction in repeatedly poking random bears with sharp objects. This movie's true meaning will likely fly over the heads of many who've never had cause to wonder about that particular phenomenon.
Werewolf: The Beast Among Us (2012)
The story takes place in a town where werewolves are a common hazard. Now, some sort of super-werewolf has apparently arrived. A notorious werewolf hunter (Ed Quinn) swaggers in promising to kill it, while a poor young resident (Guy Wilson), a doctor's apprentice who treats the hordes of werewolf victims, develops an interest in joining the hunt. This to the dismay of his secret love (Rachel DiPillo), the wealthy sheriff's daughter from the other side of the tracks.
Some good twists are eventually revealed, but you have to sit through an hour of cliché filler before being treated to them.
The story definitely suffers from its writers' desire to follow the twist trend. Our straight-to-video production spends its first two-thirds biding its time in cliché limbo, then offers up a frenzy of twists as its climax. Offering some early indication that this is actually an interesting story might even have elevated the film to a theater release.
"Somewhat decent" is really how I would describe most of this. It's a decently glossy looking production with decent camera work, music, and effects, and what becomes a decently original story. Decent acting, too, though it escapes me why the most inexperienced actor was chosen as the lead (Guy Wilson, who definitely has potential, but just isn't a leading man yet).
Bland school project
Philip Gardiner is a documentary film maker specializing in the weird and mystical, so he probably figured that expertise had prepared him to pull off a scripted documentary-style thriller ala Paranormal Activity. That seems to have been a premature assumption.
The shots that make up this film are filtered and tweaked to look like documentary-style shots, but the multitude of available angles and some apparently hand-held cameras with no explanation of who's doing the filming would seem to ruin that illusion.
We see the intimate lives of three female roommates who experience alien-related things. Sometimes that involves gratuitous underwear shots (cool if you're into average cockney girls), and weird visitations from the excessively-robotic "men in black" accompanied by fog that appears for no apparent reason other than an unsuccessful attempt at ambiance. PS. That fog machine was probably the most expensive effect in this production.
If some performances were good (quite possible, at least for the lead girls), it was hard to tell through the poor production, and due to the fact that everyone probably had to improvise their way through accommodating the film maker's vision of stretching this into a feature-length movie at all costs. But even the mere 1-hour 15-minute run time was way too much. This should've been a short, though I'm not certain that would've saved it.
Contrary to some claims, there actually is a story here, with an original concept no less. If you can bring yourself to sit through this school project, or at least skip around to grab the scenes that advance the plot, you might even go, "Hey, at least the guy had an idea after all."
Solid horror effort
A bunch of people sign on for a clinical drug trial at a sealed facility. The test has some strange rules, and still stranger things happen as the test subjects begin to learn what the drug does.
The story relies fundamentally on what anyone who knows anything about anthropology will tell you is some pretty pretentious (ie. flawed) science, but this is only in your face for a short monologue towards the middle of the film.
I felt inclined to forgive that and other sub-par dramatic moments in favor of the quality sets, props, and cinematography, along with a multitude of nicely executed action/horror scenes sporting convincing gore and other effects that clearly were the focus of this endeavor (save for one decapitation scene that was very difficult to take seriously).
Eric Roberts just provides a prop cameo. Also note the IMDb cast list (as of this review) is missing some entries, notably Tamara Feldman.
Not too bad, but also not worth sitting through
Regular people get themselves into trouble by making poor decisions that snowball, with tragic consequences. Think "Go" without the fun, or a somewhat less intense "Requiem for a Dream"; though not nearly as inspired as either of those.
Relative unknown Tyler Johnston is effectively brooding as a troubled teen whose bad luck intersects with that of seasoned lead Luke Goss, who does an adequate enough job as the adult counterpart. Michael Eklund deserves the most credit for his small but expertly-detailed part as the catalyst (I can't wait to see him in something bigger).
The premise is somewhat original, with well-written dialog, but the story ends up less compelling than the slight potential felt in the beginning. Unlike the good examples from this genre, there's little to no great memorable truth, lesson, or even a poignant moment, really, to emerge from the characters' messes that might give you a reason to be glad you watched. Some editing missteps also cause the movie to drag too often.
They were going for pure tragedy, but didn't realize that a good tragic story still needs entertaining hooks. This movie maintains a rather homogeneous tension level from beginning to end, which gets old and ends up feeling more like a flatline.
You've already seen it
Men are forced to fight to the death for an eager internet audience, but the game's most recent recruit may pose a threat to the system with his unyielding spirit.
It's a cliché to even say this sounds familiar, so I won't do that ;)
This might've had a chance at being good if it had been made prior to Gladiator, Running Man, Gamer, Rollerball, etc. etc. etc. (as then, at least, the idea behind the whole thing would've been something new). This doesn't seem to make much of an attempt at serving up anything significantly fresh though, except perhaps the effects technology to up the bar slightly on gore.
The topic is the public's tendency to get hooked on sadistic voyeurism, and the people who use that tendency to make money/power. Samuel L. Jackson plays the man taking advantage, and although Samuel is usually great, and I would SO like to say "even Samuel's awesomeness couldn't save this film," I actually can't even say that. I found his performance here to be somewhat sub-Samuel. His heart just didn't seem in it, and for that I can not blame him too much, as the material just isn't worthy of his efforts.
I'm not sure what exactly got Mr. Jackson stuck with this job, but I have a feeling it was a reluctant favor to first-time director Jonah Loop, who handled visual effects on a couple of Sam's other films.
The film progresses somewhat as one would expect, albeit with a little window dressing. I found myself wanting to fast-forward often, which I took as a bad sign. Cinematography, effects, sound, etc. were on Hollywood par though, and everyone else's acting was actually pretty good (perhaps the rookie director was too intimidated by Jackson to offer him much direction, in comparison). Hopefully, with some better ideas that everyone can actually care about, this director can pull off some good films in the future.
Son of Morning (2011)
It's about a troubled kid who bleeds from his eye in church one day and is immediately snatched up by the media and presented to the world as the Messiah.
The director seems to take his cues from Zach Braff (Garden State), with the Scrubs-like frame skips and indie-emo tracks; though he lacks the sense of artful timing to pull this off effectively as a tool to convey any sort of depth beyond merely getting characters from one scene to the next.
Son of Morning seems to be more of an experiment in the use of frenzied background music to convey the emotions normally exuded in film through writing and performances. It overshadows nearly every potentially-interesting scene with a hasty mix of tracks and sound effects layered on top of one another. It (probably) wants to convey the confusion and/or hysteria of an ordinary kid suddenly being catapulted on a wild ride through pain/tragedy/stardom, just in case the audience doesn't get the point via the pedestrian performances.
If indeed an experiment, it's a failed one, as the music is purely a distraction. A big distraction that is the final nail in a coffin already firmly glued shut.
More mess is amply provided by the parade of uninteresting performances (aside from Danny Glover, the only person worth watching in this cluster-bleep), missed opportunities, awkward pauses, and other missteps. It's a rambling collage with little idea of what it wants to be, and feels long despite being a relatively short film. It eventually attempts to spell out some message that doesn't seem terribly relevant to the brunt of what came before. Overall I found this to be a rather annoying movie.