Friday, December 31, 2010

A Special Review for a New Year!!! Video Game Assessment: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic (KotOR) (2003)

Okay, there are some things I really hate to admit, but here's one of them: I'm a pretty big fan of Star Wars. Now, don't get me wrong, I hate a lot of Star Wars stuff. I literally cannot stand the Prequels, most of the books suck, the comics are mostly terrible, and the video games which all make me kind of want to vomit up piles of blood... that and I black out for long periods of time after partaking of any of those activities and wake up with gore all over my hands, a toy lightsaber that seems far too dented to be good, and a Jar Jar Binks mask...

...uh... moving on... I'm not proud of being a Star Wars fan in this day and age. Star Wars has gone pretty far downhill since around... oh... let's say eleven-and-a-half years ago. I wonder what could have happened then...? Well, I obviously have no clue at all.

See my problem is that there is a lot of bad Star Wars out there. I mean, besides the Original Trilogy (and not really even a good portion of Return of the Jedi), what else can a Star Wars fan do?

Well, here's the answer. This game and its sequel are the sole shining lights in an age of terrible darkness for the Star Wars franchise and its fans. I understand that sounds like quite a hefty charge to be making, but understand that I do not make this fact-based argument lightly, nor do I let nostalgia of Star Wars get in the way. I freaking HATE the Prequels. Let me say that again so that everybody can truly understand me here. Most of the games suck (although some of the early games aren't terrible), especially those games that have come out most recently. You people who like The Force Unleashed and its sequel are the garbage of society giving a man named George Lucas more money than he should have ever had on a franchise that is bloated beyond reason, a terrible fat monster... and it has needed to be put down for a long time.

Yeah, I'm talking about the death of Star Wars here. This video game and its sequel are the last good things to come out of Star Wars and they will always be. I'm not biased here either, this is the truth. Mr. Lucas doesn't seem to have a mind for anything more than money, and it's sad. It's sad to see something that I've loved ever since I was young being mutated into a terrible monster that needs to be stopped by any means.

I'm not going to rant too much longer on how terrible Star Wars has become. I'm going to be doing that when  (and yes, I do mean WHEN) I review some of the terrible things of this franchise. But in the meantime, I'm going to stop talking about the terrible things, and instead start talking about something great in a sea of crap.

Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, usually known as KotOR is something amazing to come out of this bloated franchise. It does what so many other things have failed to do. It captures the spirit of the Original Trilogy without riding its coattails and trying to make everything more COLORFUL, more INTENSE, MORE CGI-ish, and more "AWESOME". It relies on storytelling, great and memorable characters, and the universe of Star Wars really brought to a new life. This video game feels like a movie. Hell, I'd take this game as a movie over almost anything else crapped out these days.

The game was released originally in 2003 for the Xbox and PC. It was developed by Bioware and published by the behemoth LucasArts. When this game came out it was overshadowed by more hyped games, but soon maybe even in spite of those other games, gained a following. It was a great RPG (role-playing game), and it was made even better by taking place in the Star Wars universe. Hell, this game became 2003 Game of the Year almost universally. Do you know how many other Star Wars games have done that? Exactly zero. And yet, and I think this shows just how "committed" Mr. Lucas is to "art", this franchise was cancelled, despite being intensely popular, and featuring some of the best overall video games to come out in their respective years because the games didn't sell as well as the more hyped and more intense games LucasArts were publishing at the time. So, instead of hyping this legitimately good franchise up, they abandoned it. And don't even talk to me about the MMORPG of The Old Republic coming out. That is a blatant money-maker and nothing more. They call it a "sequel" or "spiritual sequel" to the KotOR games, but all it is is a cash-in on a few legitimately good games. Stupid MMORPGs...

Anyway, I guess I should review the game now and tell you why this game is one of the best I've ever played. First and foremost, even if you have little knowledge of the movies, this game is great.You don't need to know the movies to know this game because it takes place 4000 years before the movies. No, that's not a typo. I did type 4000 years right there. So, no characters ever mentioned in the movies are in these games. Yeah, you see a lot of alien species that also happen to be in the movies, but you see some alien species that are never featured in the movies at all.

The story is a basic one, but it works really well. The Jedi and the Sith are at war after the devastating conflict of the Mandalorian Wars tore them apart. The new Dark Lord of the Sith, Darth Malak, who took the title from his own master Darth Revan after he attacked and defeated the previous Dark Lord, will stop at nothing to capture a young Jedi woman, Bastila Shan, who happens to be incredibly powerful in a rare force technique called "Battle Meditation". He intends to capture her and turn her to evil to be able to use her power against the Republic so that he can take it over for himself. There, it's a basic good versus evil story, the heart of the Star Wars franchise. It gets pretty epic and works really well.

The characters are what drive the story and they are really what makes this game not only memorable, but fantastic. Bastila Shan, the young Jedi woman, Carth Onasi, a captain in the Republic's navy, Jolee Bindo, a failed Jedi, Canderous Ordo, a tough Mandalorian mercenary, and HK-47, and assassin droid with a distinct personality, comprise just some of the crew of characters you meet along the way. They also happen to be the best characters. This game is fully voice-acted and features some of the best voice acting of its time that I have ever heard. The characters are believable and feel real in their own way. They're every bit as memorable as Han Solo, C-3PO, Princess Leia, Luke Skywalker, or R2-D2. They have this feel of Star Wars realness to them. You come to like them and hate them just as you might like or hate real characters. The voice acting helps so much too. It makes the character-oriented story work beautifully.

The graphics and gameplay are good. They may not be the best of their time, but they still stand up well today. I could easily play this game and compare it to other, very recent games, and be happy playing this one over a more recent game. That probably sounds a little ridiculous. Newer games should be better, but that's often not the case. KotOR is in a class of its own for me. I love the game. I love how well it worked. I love how everything comes together and makes sense. I love the combat system and the gameplay. The graphics, story, characters... they're all believable and fantastic. The settings are wonderful, ranging from a huge ecumenoplis of Taris, to the desert world and familiar landscape of Tatooine, to a throwaway planet spoken about in A New Hope, Dantooine, to a water planet called Manaan, and the world of the Wookiees, Kashyyyk. The settings are simply fantastic. Of note are Manaan and Taris, which are absolutely gorgeous pieces of programming. They both make you feel like you're actually on the planet while you're playing. You may think I'm kidding, but I always have a hard time keeping myself from simply staring off into the distant ocean when I'm on Manaan or looking up at the huge skyscrapers of Taris. It's absolutely gorgeous, and needs to be seen to be enjoyed.

This game happens to be one of my favorites. The sequel is my absolute FAVORITE video game of ALL TIME, and only because it takes everything from this game and makes it better. The characters are better, the settings are better, the gameplay is better, and the story is better, but that doesn't take away from what this game accomplished and how well it was received by both Star Wars and video game fans alike. There are many reasons why this game is one of the best games ever made despite LucasArts and its time limitations and the cut content lurking within this game (Yes, there was even more content made for the game that was never implemented because LucasArts instituted a Christmastime deadline for this game, which means things had to be cut. This means that this game could have been even better. What the Hell, Lucas?). This game brought back the nostalgia of the Original Star Wars trilogy without compromising story for Jar Jar Binks "hilarity", overly stupid lightsaber duels, podracing, terrible acting, or needless characters, and insipid dialogue.

This game, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, is Star Wars to me. Hell, to me this game is more Star Wars than 2/3 of the movies, which is a travesty, I must say.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Movie Appraisal: The Thing From Another World (1951)

The Thing From Another World is a horror and science fiction classic film directed seemingly jointly by Howard Hawks and Christian Nyby that was remade by John Carpenter into The Thing (1982). That's all you really need to know. The opening title sequence is pretty much the same as the remake to this film, which tends to be the better known movie. The Thing happens to be one of my favorite films of that genre, so I was very interested to see how this movie holds up.

It's pretty good actually, but also very different from The Thing. I had known this before seeing the movie, but it is kind of weird seeing just how different they both are, even with many elements remaining the same. They both take place in the Arctic. They both heavily involve sled dogs. They both go to a crash site. They both fight the alien off with fire.

Now, I'm not going to say that this film is better than The Thing. It isn't. It's very good for the film it is. It's actually quite good for a science-fiction horror film made in the early 1950s, much better than I would have ever thought. I can see the kernels of good ideas all around this film, but without the technological know-how as to how to execute a lot of those thoughts, the movie comes off as sometimes awkward, and not even a little scary.

This is something to remark upon actually. This film is not exactly scary, but it can be unsettling in points, especially when the audience cannot see the alien. Once the audience gets a good look at the alien and sees he's a guy in a suit who looks a little confused, it really takes away from any horror within the film. The unsettling mood of the movie before that point really changes once that alien gets his first big appearance.

This film also has a big deal of tell, don't show, which is frankly exactly how most of these early horror movies are. They describe dead men in great detail, or the horror of the alien, and that works. They didn't have the technology or desire to show off gruesome bits and I thought it worked out well. The alien, once melted out of the ice block, is simply not as scary as they describe. I know in the theaters back then, it would have been a huge payoff, but today the alien simply does not stand up well. He looks a little silly.

The acting is okay, but it's always okay in these early sci-fi horror movies. It would not ever blow me away, and certain characters seem incredibly awkward when they're not supposed to. Margaret Sheridan (playing Nikki Nicholson) is the biggest example of an actor/actress in this film simply not seemingly knowing her lines, or not acting correctly or something. Most of her lines, especially her early lines in the film, come out awkward and hesitantly, and it really did not work in connection to who her character was supposed to be.

The story itself is quite interesting, and the film is actually worth a watch if you enjoy classic sci-fi or horror films. If you're into those films already like I am, you kind of know what to expect. It's better than most and the science parts of it are actually remarkably well-done. I liked them a lot. It was a thoroughly entertaining movie.

As for characters, most of the main characters are fantastic.They all have their own personalities and are quite well acted. The scenery is also well-done, as in the portrayal of the cold they constantly have to be aware of. I liked that when the plane came landed the few times it did. It looked awesome and felt like something epic. Also the landing site of the flying saucer was well done and a great scene as well.
All together this film is a very well done classic that should be watched by any kind of enthusiast for films such as these. If you enjoyed the remake, you'll more than likely enjoy this one too, even without Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, and Keith David. Just don't expect any body horror, although there is some amazing scenes with fire to watch out for.

"Watch the skies, everywhere, keep looking! Keep watching the skies!"

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Movie Appraisal: Below (2002)

What a strange movie. I'm not entirely certain how I should review Below. Should I review it as a World War II movie? A submarine movie? A horror movie? A psychological horror movie? A ghost movie? Or some combination of all of those? I just don't know. I don't know what genre this movie is trying to be besides regular creepy.

Below reminds me of Event Horizon in many ways, except it's not even close to as good and is a bit more psychological in some aspects. I don't think it's a bad film per se, but it isn't a great film either. The acting shouldn't even be talked about. The characters were forgettable. The plot was a bit ridiculous. The horror wasn't fantastic (although it was decent), and the best thing this movie had going for it was the claustrophobia.

As a World War II movie, this one has just enough of that era's plot to get by. Honestly though, I can see a movie like this taking place during any era. The few parts that are really World War II era specific aren't done incredibly well. I like the era talk and what I'm supposed to believe are the era's clothing, but besides that this movie really has nothing to do with the era it supposedly is in.

As a submarine movie, it's not a bad flick, showing the claustrophobia and nervousness in such tight quarters. I actually think that the claustrophobic elements in the film are the best things in the film. Most of the imagery involving the limited space is quite well done.

This movie is not really a horror movie. Oh, it has elements of horror, but it's more a thriller... and even that is being generous. It does have a jump scare from time to time and it wants you to believe it's building up the scares for the climax, but it's not. It's just playing games and pretending to be something it isn't. Sad really.

Psychological horror? Ha! This is weaksauce psychological thriller material at absolute best. This is the kind of film that would make Jacob's Ladder laugh with rage! Anybody who even compares this film with a gem like Jacob's Ladder is confused and probably insane.

I guess there are ghosts? I don't really know... It's never explained, which is fine, but it's also not done well which isn't fine at all. I do like the banging coming from outside the submarine. I thought the sounds were very well done, but the imagery really does leave something to be desired. As a horror film it falls apart, but I think it would stand up fairly well if it were a creepy radio drama. As I said, the sounds are actually fantastic.

This is not a great film and I don't have much to say about it. It's decent, but there are so many better films out there... why would somebody watch this over any other given movie? Hell, I only watched this because I was going to watch and review The Beyond by Lucio Fulci and I couldn't because my television was in use. So, I had to freaking settles for watching this on my laptop. Yeah. That's my story for watching this piece of crap movie... Anyway, it's not unwatchable, just not great. Watch it in the background while you're doing something else and you'll have much more fun than if you're watching it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Movie Appraisal: The I Inside (2003)

The I Inside is a psychological thriller. It really is. I know I've been a little careful about naming genres, but this movie is in no way a horror film, but a thriller film? Yeah. That pretty much hits it on the button. It's a good film too, full of something most movies today don't seem to have. But I'll get to that. I'll get to everything.

The movie starts off with a man waking up in a hospital. That's always a bad sign in movies, especially movies like this. It makes them easy to predict. Hospitals seem to be the place to go for these types of movies. I guess it makes sense, but still... these kinds of psychological films are so easy to predict. The story moves on from there as the main character Simon (played by Ryan Phillippe) goes forwards and backwards through time seemingly trying to figure out his own mystery.

The acting here is phenomenal. It's incredibly good, but also feels very strange. Everything feels off. The way the characters act feels strange. They don't exactly seem like real people through the way they're acting alone. But it makes it a fun ride, seeing how they act, and how it is so different from what a person in a normal movie might do.

The character of Anna (Piper Perabo) is one I think I should linger on for a few lines. Her character is incredibly mysterious and really kind of creepy. The way she acts is both off-putting and far away from what her character looks like. There is a disconnect there and it is fantastic to watch. It's understandable once the end of the film comes around, but it is fascinating to watch throughout.

Not to give any spoilers away, but this movie reminds me a lot of Stay and Sublime, both of which I reviewed in October. It reminds me of Stay because some of the plot elements almost seem copy-pasted between the two movies. It reminds me of Sublime because of the hospital setting. The I Inside is nowhere near as horrific as Sublime, but with both being in hospitals, it's hard not to see some similarities.

The film's plot is a gorgeous and anachronistic flow. It always feels subtly off, but it tells the story it's meant to tell. Everything works together and flows beautifully. Some of the things I'd like to compliment most are the gorgeous cuts through time. It's done so well and so nicely that I really did enjoy those parts.

The movie itself wasn't amazingly engrossing. Simon is a hard character to like simply because of the way he looks, like some reject from a pretty boy reality show. The main female character of Claire (Sarah Polley) is also hard to like for the same reason. The film feels like a soap opera in parts, especially when those characters share time on screen together, but it makes sense that it would, and despite the fact that both of those characters are fairly unlikable, I found both their stories fascinating nonetheless.

Then I noticed Stephen Rea. I like this guy. I think he's pretty awesome. He was in The Reaping though, so that takes down his credibility some. Even though he was in that awful film though, I still like him. He does a good job here. I enjoyed his performance, even if he did seem like he was phoning it in at points.

The filmography of this movie is all over the place. I liked the time transitions and some of the "gorier" shots (even though there really is no gore in this film) come off quite well. But when characters are simply speaking or nothing is really going on at all, the shooting style is strange and off-putting. It really took me away from the film.

The I Inside is the kind of movie I like in theory, but not usually in practice. I did happen to like this film. It's not the best film out there, but the acting is solid. The story is one I liked even if it is way overdone. I didn't love the ending because it made the whole film pointless. The ending was a bit like the ending to Stephen King's Dark Tower series, except that there was no payoff, no real reason to watch the film at all. You can watch the first ten minutes of the film, shut it off, and would have never missed anything. It's annoying when a film does that. So, yeah, this film lost some points in the clichéd ending.

Oh, one thing I don't think I've ever mentioned in a movie before, and it needs to be mentioned in this one, is the writing. The writing was singlehandedly the best feature of this film. Whomever wrote this film did a phenomenal job. The words flowed from the characters and felt real regardless of how the actors took it. Half of why I complimented the acting so much is because the writing was just so good. Two characters that seemed particularly well-written were Travis, the orderly, and Mr. Travitt (Stephen Lang), the heart transplant patient. Those two characters were funny and witty and simply awesome. I would watch a film about their adventures together, doing stuff and kicking crime in the face or something. It would be so awesome. Then Travitts has a heart attack and Travis swoops in with snarky comments easily saving his life. Yeah... oh... um... I'm supposed to be reviewing this movie, not writing fan-fiction for it...

Anyway, this is a good film, not as good as Stay for instance, but not as bad as Sublime either. It's somewhere in the middle, and it was a nice film to watch, even if it wasn't perfect.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Movie Appraisal: The Objective (2008)

The Objective is a difficult movie to categorize. It could be psychological horror, but it really isn't. It could be about aliens, but... that also doesn't really fit right with me. Is it a thriller? A soldier movie? No, it's not really either of those things... So, my difficulty in categorizing this film really left me asking a lot of questions of what exactly this film was about or why it was about it.

Not that it is a pointless film by any means. It's a decent film with some decent acting, and some very nice filmography for the most part. I guess my problem is it never really blew me away with anything. I could predict exactly what was going to happen from the very beginning of the film.

Soldiers. Fight for survival. Dying one by one. Sand replaces water. All overused ideas. All things easily predicted when the film opens. I complain about these things because it could have been done so much better. There were some VERY good ideas. One of the scenes in particular that stands out in my mind is a scene with binoculars where one character is looking through said binoculars (infrared ones, I believe, or night vision, or both. I really don't know the correct terminology here, so correct me if you see this film and I said something wrong.) and sees enemies charging at him, but he sees nothing with his naked eyes. It was very well done. Very dramatic. It was one of the few times this movie saw fit to really show some tension.

Most of the rest of the movie is... well, kind of boring. There are interesting parts, and some of the characters are quite interesting as well. The movie really wants you to care about the characters, but about half of them seem very empty. And the ones that do exhibit actual emotions and come into their own are soon killed off in radically terrible ways. The deaths in this film are terribly done. One second they're alive and the next second they're dead. It was kind of disappointing. Maybe the director was trying to show that in war things happen quick, but it really came off as sloppy filmmaking in my mind... or maybe a bad script... or not enough of a budget for good visual effects.

Speaking of the visual effects... they're pretty bad. Actually, they're very bad. It took me out of the movie when I saw some particularly jarring examples of bad CGI effects. The soldiers' bits were fairly well done though... as were the shadow effects, but the actual meat of the film, the whole "objective" is a bit of a let down. Well, it was to me. the film turned from a kind of neat, if not well-acted psychological horror film to an "UFO" film in seconds. It was pretty badly done. It would have been better to focus on the psychological horror than the UFOs, but I guess that's because I really dislike UFO films, because they mostly suck.

This film pales in comparison to other better films, but it isn't bad. I thought it was engaging and interesting. I can draw comparison to two movies in particular. The first is actually the movie that led me to watching this one: Sauna, and the other film is Dreamland (2007), which has a nonlinear and hard to follow plot, but for whatever reason reminds me of this movie. I think it's because of the way the films were both shot and the use of military stuff in both... but that's about it. The Objective reminds me of Sauna in very vague ways... mostly about the soldiers on a mission. The differences are that this movie has much worse acting, much worse visuals, and is in English, which instantaneously  makes it less classy. (Although there is an Australian, who happens to be the best character in this film in my opinion. So, that classes it up a bit.) But seriously, Sauna is a much better movie in every way and should be watched long before this movie is.

The main character in this film is a particularly good case in point of the bad acting. It's almost painful to watch his performance. But maybe that's just me.

I guess this is the point where I prattle on about the plot. Haven't I taught you already that the plot rarely matters in a movie like this? Fine, I'll do a hasty explanation. The CIA sends in an agent to get some information in a very remote region of Afghanistan. The CIA agent then recruits a few military men and they go off in the desert with only a young Afghani man helping them. They find out eventually their equipment doesn't work. And strange things seem to be following them to their OBJECTIVE. See? Did that explanation of the plot really help explain this movie at all? No. No, it did not, but I included it anyway. You're welcome.

So, in short. This is a completely average film in almost every way with exactly one memorable scene in it. It has no real category of movie to put it in, and it seems to be confused about what it wants to be. Check it out if you're really into weird films that are kind of creepy... sort of... or if you're into anything that has psychological horror at all... but otherwise stay away from this forgettable film.

I will admit one thing though: The Objective is the perfect name for this film. I've never gone out of my way to compliment a movie title before, but this one is very appropriate.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Movie Appraisal: π (Pi) (1998)

"...Press Return"

π or Pi is a movie primarily concerned with knowledge. It is a very good film, reminiscent of some of the greatest films I've ever seen. It is a great film, full of imagery and emotion. It is about a man who is crazy in the  obsessive kind of way. He probably suffers from some kind of autism. He shows his descent into something beyond madness. It is a fantastic film to watch even if it makes very little sense.

It reminds me of Jacob's Ladder sometimes, especially the scenes that take place in the subway and his room. Quite a few scenes are also heavily reminiscent of Eraserhead (1977) and Un Chien Andalou (1929). There are quite many surreal images throughout the film, and there is also plenty of body horror to go around. Another reason this film reminds me of the two latter films is because of the way the film is shot. It is in black-and-white, and tends to look like a much older film. Some of the filmography looks a bit more recent, but on the whole it is hard to see how this movie wasn't shot in the 1970s. It is very well done. I loved the imagery and the way the character is shown as going increasingly insane in his search and eventual finding of a very important number.

This film is confusing. The soundtrack sounds like some kind of hardcore science music, which is actually quite fitting, although I've never heard a soundtrack quite like it before. The narration from the main character, Max, is fitting, but also out of place in some areas of the film and a bit distracting. I've never been a person who loves narration in film. I think that the film should speak for itself, and if this film was allowed to speak for itself and would let go of its narration, it would be a better albeit more confusing film.

It's also a very disturbing film. The body horror is there. It may not be prevalent, but it does exist. Some of the ant imagery and the slime-goo stuff is kind of creepy, if not downright disturbing. The issues with migraines throughout also are very different. I have migraines, but I never get the hallucinatory and very hardcore migraines that Max has to suffer through. It can be hard to watch at points, and a lot of the more gruesome imagery does very much remind me of Jacob's Ladder. Honestly, that movie and this one seem to be almost like siblings to one another. Jacob's Ladder is the better film, but this movie is trying very hard to be as memorable, as exciting, and as bat crazy as Jacob's Ladder and it does a very good job.

It's not perfect. The shooting of the film seems a bit amateurish, much like the filmography of Eraserhead. But it does a good job showing Max's life falling apart into some kind of insanity. The other characters throughout the film do a good job of changing. They become likened to monsters at points in the films and it's a little terrifying to watch. I must say that the acting throughout the film is one of the reasons to watch it. It has some absolutely fantastic acting. The acting really does make this movie quite a good film.

I did mention that I do have a few issues with this film though. Mostly simple things that kind of bug me. Lenny, a friend character of Max, whom he meets in a diner early on in the film, is a Hasidic Jew who studies the Torah for the true name of God. He works on number theories for finding the name in the text. But he's never heard of the simple Fibonacci Sequence, something that I would think anybody working in number theory would know. I understand the filmmakers were trying to explain the sequence and the patterns seen throughout the film, but that bothered me to no end. I don't study number theory and yet I've heard of that sequence. Hell, I heard about it when I was taking Algebra II in high school. So, it seems that anybody actually studying this stuff would have much more reason than me to know and recognize the term. Some of the other simple explanations bother me as well, but again, they make sense. I was a little confused by some of this movie, and the jump-cuts didn't make it any easier to follow, but I understand. That's the kind of movie the filmmakers were trying to create and it works even though it sometimes makes no sense.

I like the ending of this film, but again, it makes no sense. The thing that leads up to the ending is actually hard to watch... and then the movie ends on a... note? I don't want to spoil it, but it is reminiscent of the beginning of the film. I liked it, but again, it was confusing. This whole movie was confusing, and yet I liked it, and I think anybody who watches this film would like it too if they don't mind being confused.

This film is surreal-horror, of the same genre a movie like Eraserhead would be. It's like a David Lynch film without the David Lynch. It's good, but I could see David Lynch making it both better and more confusing. Great film altogether though. If you enjoyed any of the films I mentioned throughout this review, you'll probably like this movie too.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Movie Appraisal: The Nameless (Los Sin Nombre) (Els Sense Nom) (1999)

The Nameless feels like a very 1990s type of horror film. It actually at first reminded me slightly of Se7en (1995). It started out like a police investigation with an odd body showing up. It was frankly kind of disturbing. The film itself has a quality to it that makes everything feel slightly off. It's a very interesting kind of film that can make even mundane things disturbing.

I don't know exactly why this movie reminds me so much of Se7en, but it does. The plot is almost nothing like it, and most things are incredibly different, but both movies feel very similar to one another. This film is all about trying to find answers much like The Ring is. Actually this movie is like a Spanish version of a mixture between Se7en and The Ring.

The reason this movie first came onto my radar was because it was compared to a psychological horror movie I looked up recently (I couldn't say which one because I don't remember.), and I wanted to see this film. It sounded interesting.

Well, this film is not psychological horror. It is far from the realm of psychological horror. Sure, it wants you to think it's psychological horror, but all it really is is a horror film. Is it a good horror film? Well, that depends. I kind of liked it. I thought some parts were decently done. The problem is nothing in this film is memorable. There are no memorable scenes, nothing that really popped out at me. The whole build up to the ending wasn't disappointing, it just happened. And I'm not entirely certain what to think about that. I kept thinking that this movie would have some awesome payoff kind of ending that would make the whole movie worth it... but it didn't. It wasn't disappointing, as I said, it just... well, was.

There are some very strange, almost nonsensical, parts throughout the film. I'm not certain why the film keeps showing the film "tearing". I've never seen that in a film like this before. It was different, but also distracting. I liked it, but it didn't make sense as to why that was happening by the movie's end.

The way the film is shot is decent, but predictable. The whole movie is predictable, but so many things come up in the movie that are never brought up again. So many plot points seem to be forgotten simply so the ending can happen in the way it happened. I wish they had redone the ending, or just filmed a different one. I would have a distinctly different opinion about the movie is the ending wasn't so... average.

The acting is mostly good, but I can't say it's great. Listening to it in Spanish is perfectly fine, but the subtitles don't always seem to match what the characters are saying. It leads me to think that the subtitles are stylized a bit, and I'm not a huge fan of that.

So, my ultimate thoughts on this movie? It's decent. I'm not angry about it. I'm not disappointed I saw it. It is a forgettable film though, and I'll probably forget the whole thing in a little while and never think of it again. I doubt this movie is anybody's favorite film. There are many better movies in this genre of Cult-Horror... and what I mean by "Cult-Horror" is a horror movie that deals with cults, not a cult film, that is more of an underground type of film that certain types of hipsters and stoners like.

Anyway, I think there are better films out there, but this one isn't terrible. It's better than Reaper or Space Thunder Kids, and, honestly, as long as a film doesn't go out of its way to piss me off, I can't say that it should never be watched.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Movie Appraisal: Sauna: Wash Your Sins (2008)

Sauna is one of the best films I've seen in a VERY LONG time. Sure, I've said good things about 1408, Jacob's Ladder, and Zombieland, but those movies respectively I've either seen before years and years ago and therefore do not count as recent films I've encountered, or count as a really fun ride kind of movie with flaws here and there, but not necessarily worthy of acting awards. There's a "subtle" difference between acting in Zombieland and acting in Sauna that can really be summed up in one phrase: Comedy vs. Horror.

Yes, while Zombieland was an absolutely fantastic film and fun throughout it had this silly curtain hanging over it called comedy. I have nothing against comedy. I'm funny all the time. Some of my best friends do comedic things. Hell, I know a ton of improv comics. My point is, I love comedy. I think comedy is often times just as hard to pull off as straight drama, maybe even harder in some ways. Having a ridiculous film is always fun. having a film that can make you smile and laugh and forget about all your troubles is fantastic and deserves much praise. My problem is that comedy films, even with horror elements, are still comedies. They don't portray things realistically (albeit very few actual films today do portray life realistically). They tend to show funny things in serious scenes therefore ruining the effects of the serious issues. A comedy is a film where the main characters usually come out all right and on top of things. The main characters usually get what they want and it's all very "entertaining". I think Zombieland is one of the best comedy-horror films I've ever seen, but it isn't as good as more serious films in my mind. The acting just isn't as strong... or maybe I'd rather see good dramatic acting than comic acting. It is harder to make someone cry or scream than laugh. That's kind of a fact.

Wow, I was really getting into that. Ahem. So, Sauna, in my mind, is such a wonderful film because it is a very dramatic horror film. Psychological horror film actually. Yeah... I know, I tend to focus on psychological horror... but they're just SO good! (Okay, most of them aren't, but the ones that are good... they are THE BEST.) This film is a bit of a cross between The Lord of the Rings trilogy (specifically the part with the Dead Marshes) and 1408. They are both fantastic films in their own ways and combining them makes this film easily one of the best movies I have ever seen.

Sauna is a foreign film. It's Finnish to be precise. I didn't even know Finland had a film industry. I've never seen a Finnish film before either, but I am going to praise Finland up and down for this underrated masterpiece. The acting throughout this film is phenomenal (although I neither understand Finnish, nor Russian, so I guess it could have been really bad. It sounded good to me though.). The visuals are AMAZING. The story, set in the late sixteenth century after a war between Sweden and Russia has concluded. The tale involves two brothers traveling with three Russians to make a new map of the borders between their two countries.

Historically, I have no idea about any of it or how good it is. I'm not well-versed in my Swedish/Russian history in the sixteenth century... but it seems good to me.

As for the imagery, it doesn't have a ton of imagery in the film, but the images it does have stick in my mind. The shots of the "sauna" itself was fantastic. It really helped to lead to the creepy tone felt throughout this fantastic film. There is very little gore throughout this thoroughly horrific film, and I feel that's a good thing since I thoroughly despise excessive uses of gore by anybody who isn't Sam Raimi. That being said, I think the film is much better without a ton of gore or some villain to take the limelight. There's a real focus on atmosphere. This movie does atmosphere better than most other psychological horror movies, and most psychological horror movies are strictly atmospheric pieces!

If you've ever heard of the phrase "Nothing Is Scarier" than you'll understand what I mean when I say that this movie takes that and runs with it. It uses atmosphere to create dread, but there is very little reason or substance to the dread. It's being built up, but the payoff doesn't come until the film's ending.

And what an ending. I think the last five minutes really sold this film to me. I don't think I'll be able to shut my eyes without seeing... I pretty much doubt I'll be able to sleep without having nightmares is what I mean to say.

I would suggest this film to anybody. It's a wonderful bit of psychological horror with a heavy atmosphere and great characters. Everything seems very cohesive and very well done. In my opinion this is one of the very best films I have ever seen, and I have seen a LOT of films in my time.