Thursday, December 27, 2012

Movie Appraisal: John Dies at the End (2012)

John Dies at the End was one of my most anticipated films of 2012. I was looking forward to this thing almost as much as I was looking forward to The Hobbit. So, just remember that when it comes to me being critical or reviewing this sucker in any and all ways. Also realize that I wasn't expecting much from this film either... so I was not nearly as disappointed as some might be.

I also have to say that I love the book of the same name by David Wong (of Cracked.com fame). It has fast become one of my favorite novels after I read it, full of both horror and comedy, with both mixing together to create a wonderful reading experience. Because I thought so highly of the book I was really looking forward to the movie... but then I started hearing things. I generally avoid the hype or hate machines because my tastes tend to be fairly different from most other critics and reviewers. i tend to like fairly different things from either mainstream reviewers or the indie crowd. So, most of the time I reserve judgment for myself. The things I was hearing though... they were on the fairly negative side of things, with some calling it a disjointed mess and others saying it was fun but confusing. It was mostly plot-related and pacing-related criticisms. I hate to agree with most critics but... well... I'll give my opinions shortly. First I want to talk about the book and what I liked from it.

I like to think of myself as a pretty big reader. I tend to like horror, but I'll try anything that has urban fantasy or that might be kind of different. I bought the book in a Borders before they went out of business because I had heard some interesting things about it. Then I waited a year to read it because that's what I usually do. Anyway, when I finally picked it up, I fell in love with it. It told a story I loved, with great characters, great ideas, and a great execution despite not having the best writing ever and being mostly very casually written. Even so it left me wanting more and more. I just wanted to read more about these characters and their adventures. That happens pretty rarely, let me tell you, but I was absolutely sold on it. The comedy was great, if a little random at times. The horror was actually really well done in a story this goofy. And mostly, there was a perfect balance between the serious and the comedic, which appeals to me quite a bit. The book was something of a dramedy horror book, something I see very rarely, and like quite a bit.

And you know what? It worked. It found that perfect place of happiness in my head and settled there. It had great scenes- memorable scenes- a great cast of characters, and a lot to say about almost everything- weird and normal alike. The first person narration really added to the character of David (the main character), and made him seem like a big ball of randomly knowledgeable everyman... and it worked. The other characters, Dave, Molly, Amy and the rest... well, they worked too. Dave being this goofy screwed-up and drugged-up guy who was the main comic relief and David's best friend. Amy was this sick and disabled girl who really became the heart of the book... and the reason for Dave to do anything crazy or heroic at all (mostly). And then there's Molly the dog, who remains the smartest character around. Other characters were really well done as well, these ones being completely absent in the film, like "Big" Jim Sullivan and Jennifer Lopez. Both of these characters were incredibly well-written and created despite being fairly minor characters in the finished work.

"Big" Jim is kind of the crux of the entire novel, seeming to be the real reason for the soy sauce to have come into the world. (The soy sauce is the drug that makes the characters see the weird things that normal people can't see.) His characterization in the novel is one of slight antagonist or antihero even though he thinks of himself as the put upon heroic Knight Templar. He knows much more than he ever lets on, and yet we as the readers and David Wong as the narrator know almost nothing about what he did except for the conjecture on his part. Jennifer Lopez also was well done, being the initial object of desire that David wins over, this perfect woman he falls for, gets as a girlfriend, then loses through their inability to stick together. In some ways its one of the most depressingly real parts of the book. David gets the girl; he wins her over by being the best he can be, by being the hero, and by standing by her... but their relationship, which is both heavily physical as well as being emotionally draining on the two of them ultimately doesn't work out. They go their separate ways... and even though it's kind of amiable... relationships ending like that are never pretty. It makes the Dave in the second half of the novel one that is a bit more serious and a bit more depressingly real as well.

Both of those characters exist in Book I, and they are either gone or dead by the second half. Their disappearance from the narrative makes other characters (mostly Amy) have room to come into the story and be used effectively. This works really well in the novel, better than I would have ever thought. Having two distinct and very different feelings to a distinct and singular novel makes the novel feel more like a vignette of stories rather than a coherent narrative despite the fact it remains a fairly cohesive narrative throughout. It works well at establishing many moments of fun and terror between all the characters of the novel, as well as showing that a history exists between many of the same characters in the novel. Amy was not always the heart of the novel, but became it through perseverance. Hell, in the novel she is initially established as some kind of deranged and disturbed young woman, one who David went to a special school with. He even made fun of her, giving her the slightly awkward nickname of Cucumber because she threw up so much and he likened it to sea cucumbers exposing their guts when attacked. She was never meant to be his girlfriend. Again, she was set up with this confusing and somewhat disturbing past. Her brother "Big" Jim died in the first half of the novel, and David really didn't like him. There was nothing that foreshadowed their romance. He never called her hot or gorgeous or the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. Instead they fell in love because of mutual respect, some conversation, and both of them taking care of the other. It exists in the novel and is one of the most well put together romances I have ever seen in fiction. But it sadly does not exist in the movie.

I'm not here to review the book, but it disappointed the hell out of me that certain scenes didn't make it into the movie. For instance, most of the second half of the novel isn't there in the movie. Amy basically takes on a very different character than she was in the book. She becomes some strange mixture of both Jennifer and Amy without ever being either of them, and being a much blander character because of it. She also has the least amount of characterization for the main cast. Because so much of the second half of the novel is cut out (and because I prefer the second half of the novel), I found myself not enjoying the second half of the movie as much as I could have otherwise. Now, don't get me wrong I loved the first half of the movie, but the second half... Look, there were no snow scenes (some of the most atmospheric moments of the novel), no real reason for going into the mall or any explanation of what the mall was at all, no shadows, which are some of the main antagonists of the novel, no going to Amy's house and finding her missing and all the things that came with that (some of the tensest and most serious moments in the novel), no dog eating a bomb, no characterizations for many of the minor characters, and no Las Vegas bloodbath. Most importantly, there is no major plot twist like the novel has. If you've read the book, you already know the twist, if not I won't say it. It makes the entire monologue at the beginning of the movie about the ax completely worthless with that twist not being in the movie. It has nothing to do with anything... unless Justin's status as Shitload is being discussed, or Arnie status as... yeah... Without that plot twist, there is no real emotion coming from the movie, no real reason to bother with or fear Korrok, and no real reason for Amy and David to be together. It instead becomes a random collection of scenes and emotions (mostly funny ha ha) that have little to no emotional ground in them, something the book hit incredibly well.

Ultimately, with some of my favorite moments of the book excised from the movie, this is a movie I could never LOVE. I was glad I went into the movie already knowing some of the changes. And I think others who love the book should be prepared as well. I would have been very annoyed at the movie if I hadn't known what the changes were, specifically to Amy, Bark Lee, and the whole second half of the plot. The scenes between David and Amy were the biggest disappointments. I understand that with the plot of the film those scenes couldn't have been fit in without reworking the script, but those were Amy's character establishment scenes, and taking them out essentially removes a main character in the plot from being characterized. Also, the time crunch of the story bothered me in the film. The novel takes places over the course of years (I think two years, but I could be slightly off. It could be three.), and it needs that time to establish the characters and their feelings towards everything that's going on. The movie makes everything seem predestined and very quick, almost making us and the characters get used to everything long before they even have a moment to think and become established as characters. These guys have to get used to all of this in maybe two days or so rather than two years, and their characters never really reflect that. There is no real change or arc to the characters in the movie, unlike the book, and some of the most poignant and meaningful moments and character establishments are just nonexistent. David's line about John never calling Amy the girl with one arm, Amy's reaction to the twist and to Dave beating the crud out of the guy who called her a "burden," Dave helping Amy after she threw up, Amy and Dave's time in the car with the shadows chasing them and the snow slowing them down, John holding Molly to the antagonists and commanding her to defecate the bomb she had eaten... well, too many great moments are just missing, and I just don't see much good that comes from that.

I think the emotions in the novel added a lot to it and made those scenes with comedy all the more comedic. It let the steam off of a fairly serious and pretty horrific plot. The second half of the novel real upped the stakes, and made everything a lot more meaningful... but that doesn't come out in the movie at all. The movie is basically and essentially the first half of the novel with a few parts of the second half put into it, mostly Amy (if you can call her Amy), Korrok's homeworld, the other dimension basketball game, and the mall. Other than that the movie was almost a straight adaptation of the first half of the novel... which, honestly, it should have been all along. Just take away Korrok, add Jennifer and Jim (and the characters who get forgotten after they are lost to the shadows), add Las Vegas instead of Korrok's lair... and there you go. You have the first half of an incredible book made into a stellar movie, and you can hope that a second half of the book can be made into a movie later on. Maybe that's crazy... you know, with money and the chances of success... but it's so close to only being the first half of the novel... why not just make it that and add the second half later or not at all?

Anyway, I have other, granted mostly minor, gripes, but I think that last point I mentioned is the most important. I would have loved this movie if it were only a straight adaptation of the first half of the novel. And as it is now, it's pretty freaking close. The first half of this movie is nearly perfect, making sure that each important note of the novel is hit in turn. It's only when the things from the second half of the novel are added and shoehorned into the plot that the plot stops working as well, and the adaptation kind of craps out. Robert North is the first indication of this. Although I love Doug Jones, and he's playing the right part here, the character is completely unnecessary to this film for all of the two scenes he's in. Marconi is another problem, being dumb rather than well done. I hated how this character was portrayed in the movie, especially when he was a very different kind of character in both the novel and its sequel This Book is Full of Spiders. Also, why the hell is Amy's last name changed from Sullivan to Larkin? It seems like such a dumb and arbitrary change to make. I know the dog was named Bark Lee instead of Molly because they had a male dog, not a female one... and I can't complain about that change because of that... but Amy's last name change just seems insane and nonsensical.

The funny thing about this movie is that although the plot is sometimes not incredibly coherent and at other times actively confusing as both halves of the novel are crammed into the movie, the little vignettes with the meatman, the police station, and Robert Marley's trailer are incredibly well done. Hell, even the ax scene that starts the movie off is all kinds of awesome. The bratwurst phone is funny; the soy sauce looks fantastic. All of the characters (except Amy and John) look dead on to me. "Camel Holocaust" is brilliant and hilarious. The acting is really top-notch throughout as well, with Chase Williamson making the perfect David Wong. I loved his voiceovers, his dry humor, his jumping between melodrama and absolute deadness in his voice. I thought he was absolutely brilliant. Rob Mayes is also great as John Cheese... but he looks nothing like the character is described in the book, and tends to act very little like a man who has an addictive personality to booze, smoking, women, and any kind of drug available. Rob Mayes is way too ripply and well-muscled to scream out John Cheese to me. That being said, I loved his acting performance as well. He had some absolutely fantastic expressions and comedic timing.

The direction was good as well, especially in the soy tripping scenes. Don Coscarelli did an amazing job with the directing even if his screenwriting was not as amazing. I was pleasantly surprised by how good almost  everything looked (except Korrok and the wig monsters) even with a ton of CGI at times. I was less happy about how the plot and characters ended up, but an adaptation containing both halves of the novel would have been difficult for anybody to adapt. It was a really good try... even if the second half of the film mostly didn't work.

Uh... I guess I can quickly talk about the plot if you know nothing about it. David Wong, the main character, is getting interviewed by Arnie Blondestone (Paul Giamatti) about being some kind of spiritual exorcist or something like that. He tells Arnie about some kind of drug that can make him and his friend John see things that most people cannot see. As the story starts, David is at a party. Amy is there too (not in the book though; in the book it's Jennifer) looking for her dog Bark Lee. David is listening to John's terrible band Three Arm Sally playing and eventually runs into Robert Marley (not his real name), a (possibly) Jamaican man who is the "source" of the soy sauce. He tells David what he dreamed and freaks the guy out a bit.

Eventually David gets a call from John after he gets home and goes to sleep. John is telling David to come over and help him. David jumps out of sleep and rushes over to find John going crazy and seeing things that aren't there. David sighs as John runs outside. He looks around and finds a syringe full of some dark liquid that John calls soy sauce. Eventually, after they go to a restaurant to cool down, David gets a call from John while he's sitting across from him. This is the first indication that something is wrong. David takes John away, calls a priest, gets poked by the needle in his pocket, starts tripping (in one of the best scenes of the movie), and is eventually accosted by Detective Appleton. The detective takes him and John into custody to ask them some questions about the party. It is here Appleton reveals to David that a bunch of the party-goers have shown up dead or are missing, and that only he and John are known to have survived. David freaks out as the soy sauce enters his system completely, but before he can do anything John "dies," and he is left alone in the interview room with a police officer who doesn't show up in mirror. A fight ensues, he gets away, talks to a bratwurst, and ends up at Robert Marley's trailer.

In the trailer, David sees the soy sauce, ingests it accidentally, saves himself inadvertently from dying from a gunshot, and almost gets run over by Bark Lee driving his truck. He goes back home, meets Shitload, formerly one of the people at the party, and is taken captive along with a comatose John, Bark Lee who is channeling John, Fred, and Amy. (Fred dies by the way. That's what happens to minor characters...) Shitload takes them to an abandoned mall, John tries to run off, makes Shitload go outside where he gets shot by Appleton. They all are "saved" until Appleton explodes into little white worms. They then decide to go into the mall and take care of business.

Amy has only one hand. Her other is gone. She opens a ghost door with her phantom hand. And then she disappears for the rest of the movie... She kind of starts a romance with David, but it is so quick and stupid that it is actually embarrassing to watch, and it shouldn't be there at all if it's going to be that kind of low quality. Bark Lee, David, and John... the humans among them armed... enter the mall and meet Robert North, who kind of held David at slugpoint (ha ha) earlier in the film, and Dr. Marconi, who seems out of place here and is idiotically used with his twin blonde assistants for... reasons... They send the three "heroes" of our story into another world where they find a Largeman and a bunch of naked other people, all of them with their upper faces masked. Largeman talks about the history of their world, Korrok, and why John and David need to help them. There's also a really gory and well done cartoon shown. I liked that part quite a lot. Eventually they meet a badly CGIed Korrok, explode a bomb, inexplicably meet Marconi again, and survive. David is with Amy at the end. Arnie is a half-ghost, and John and Dave play basketball and go into another world, but make fun of the guys there rather than help save it.

And that's about it. Some parts of it come out of nowhere and are confusing, while others work quite well. Very little is added to the plot, with the movie mostly being an adaptation of the first half and the very last part of the novel. A lot of lines are taken directly from the novel... and subsequently they work very well... although there are some lines not in the novel that are also quite good.

I guess the ultimate conclusion I have come up with to this movie is that while it is sadly a very broken movie... it worked pretty well for me. I think very few people who haven't read the novel will like it. And I think that people who have read it will be annoyed by some of the plot choices. I have to also disagree with most people who said it needed a bigger budget. It may well have when it came to the amount of film or getting a great screenwriter to adapt... but for the most part, besides Korrok, the CGI was solid, the acting was solid, and most everything else worked. What it needed was about twenty more minutes or so to establish characters, specifically Amy and John, and to have a slightly less confusing plot. Hell, even David needed some fleshing out. And the plot is all over the place. The romance, a wonderfully written romance in the novel, is awful here, if it exists at all. The main point of the novel is completely untouched in the movie. The main antagonists of the novel are not even mentioned here. Amy is for all intent purposes a completely different character. And mostly, the movie forgot that there were both serious moments and comedy in the novel. Those are the main problems, and I doubt throwing money at the film could have fixed them.

That being said, I liked the movie, but didn't love it. I enjoyed it, but felt confused by some of the plot points and how some things were executed. I would not recommend this film for people who haven't read the book (although some very well might enjoy it, so take that as you will. I think most will find it more confusing than not, although I could be wrong.), and for those who have read the book and want to see the movie, beware of the changes the movie makes and know them before watching it. I suggest reading a few reviews (or just mine here), looking at the changes, and thinking to yourself if you really want to see a novel you like with light characterizations, inexplicably dumb changes to the plot, and some of the best scenes of the novel not even in the movie.

I will say that the scenes that are lifted straight out of the novel are really good though. So, take that as you will. I really think the movie is worth seeing for those scenes alone... but just take your head out of the plot or the coherency of the story... they really don't work. So, here's to tentative recommendations with warning labels attached to them in red ink! Check it out, but don't blame me if you're disappointed with it in the end.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Pulse (Kairo) (回路) (2001)

Pulse (or Kairo) is an incredibly melancholic Japanese horror movie released in the early 2000s. While it is not much of a technical majesty by any means, it relies on mood, atmosphere, and characters and situations that an average person can easily relate with. I cannot say that this is that scariest or most horrific film of all time, nor can I say that this film really scared me all that much at all. What I can say is that the entire film is unsettling, and that's really all one needs in a great horror movie.

And you know what? This movie, directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa, delivers on every front. It is a great horror movie, not precisely because it's scary or it made me urinate myself from fear... but because it is both unsettling and unforgettable. See, I've watched a great many horror films over the course of my life. (I have to point that out here to make my ultimate point.) I've watched horror films from all over the world, from any decade you could name. I've watched monster movies, slashers, gore films, psychological horror, drive-in horror, B-movies, space horror, and all other kinds of films besides. Very few stick out in my mind, and very few stay in my mind for years after I've forgotten even the name of the movie. But Pulse stuck in my mind. It stayed there like some kind of mental brick. I had seen this movie years ago, probably while I was still in high school, but possibly before even that. And I remembered certain scenes in it, but the ending specifically stood out... the ending and the final scenes in the abandoned factory. And for years those scenes stuck in my head without a name to attach to them. I had forgotten what this movie was called, but the story, the scenes, and the scares stayed behind. Very few movies have done that.

For instance I can look through all the movies I've reviewed over the course of two-and-some-odd-years, and I might remember a scene or two here and there. Hell, maybe I could even name them simply because I wrote about them, but before this blog existed, I was just a dude who liked horror movies. Invariably I would forget some of them. Hell, I've forgotten many more horror movies than most people have even watched. But Pulse stood in my mind. Sure, the title of the film was entirely forgotten, but the content certainly wasn't. And so now I'm revisiting this film years later, ready to talk about it, review it, and tell my impressions to any that would read them.While this movie is not perfect or wonderful or even good looking, it works as exactly what it is, and it remains memorable because of that.

I have to mention that I searched for the name of this film for years, simply wanting to see it again, but never remembering what it was called. I, completely accidentally, watched a "scariest horror movie clips" kind of video on YouTube a little while ago and recognized a scene from this film, saw the title, and whooped with joy. Then I proceeded to track this movie down by any means necessary. I still have a few movies like that, movies stuck in my head without names to them, and maybe someday I'll find them too... until then though, this is a success story for the past.

Pulse is a fine movie by the way. Its parts are better than the whole of it, and taken alone some of the scenes could be quite terrifying. But as a whole the movie kind of loses its terror. All I could see while watching it was a social commentary rather than a horror movie, and that was an absolute shame. If I could take my head out of why this movie was made and look at it on the merits of the plot and characters alone I could really see this as an effective horror movie. Try as I might though, all I could see was social commentary using ghosts. A heavy hammer seemed to pound thoughts into my head... thoughts like: "The Internet isolates and makes people lonely and terrified, ghosts within their own houses," "The culture of Japan seems to be so focused on work, school, and things that aren't people, and that relationships, friendships, and love in general are lacking to an extreme degree," and mostly ""If the world keeps moving in this direction, the world will be as good as empty, each person committing a social suicide, being stuck to a computer forever rather than with people, caring and helping and even dying as they ought to." Those are the comments I kept seeing with every scene. There were comparisons between the living and the dead, but it was saying that both the living and the dead are both dead... dead, cold, and lonely... so what does life even matter if there are no relationships, no meaningful meetings, nothing but strangers and websites without names?

While I think it's an incredibly astute commentary, it hits like a steel beam. There is no real subtlety there, and also no real point but to stick a middle finger at the technological world. It makes an interesting tech-ghost story into something with meaning, yes, but it kind of takes the fun out of the whole thing, which is a bit of a negative. The characters don't matter.... and neither do their struggles... since the commentary is first and foremost what can be, and is, seen. I find that disappointing even if it doesn't take anything away from the movie. Most people watching it probably just watch a kind of creepy apocalyptic ghost story, and good for them. I'm glad that they can enjoy the film without seeing too far into it. As for me, the film was more mediocre. It didn't really do anything I haven't seen before. The ghosts were sometimes creepy, but never scary. The music was sometimes out of place. The sounds and voices never quite worked for me. And the characters never truly felt real. I couldn't imagine most of them outside of this movie, hanging out with friends or going to a movie, playing a video game or just screwing around on scooters or something. They were too self-contained within this movie, and that is the biggest negative about this film. I wanted to see some life in the characters or the story or something... but I never felt anything. I never cared about the characters or the story. The only thing I truly cared about, thought about, was the social commentary, which, while interesting, does not a great movie make.

So, I'm contradicting myself, saying that this is a great movie and not a great movie at the same time. And that kind of sums up my thoughts of this film. I loved the creepy aspects of this film. I loved how technology (and a creepy ghost within that technology) was shown as this evil and malignant force that could easily overpower any person. I loved the ghosts and the people fading into a dark stain upon the walls. The suicides were incredibly well done, specifically the woman who jumps off of the side of a building. That looked amazing. And I loved a lot of the idea of ghosts being just as real as the living. That concept and execution worked so well it made the entire movie worth watching for that alone. The story itself was complex in its own right as well, but not precisely as confusing as many comments seem to think of it as. The whole story is there, but some things are simply not told to the audience. I think the movie not showing its entire hand is not a bad thing. In fact, I liked that about the movie as well... the fact that there were still mysteries within this universe.

This movie was made when the internet was still not quite the monster and behemoth it is today. It was still big and used for many things, but it wasn't as practical, nor was it quite as easy to find all the information you could ever want. Chat rooms were the standard for talking to people online, forums were getting off of the ground, but the internet as a whole was still this undiscovered country. Very little social media existed, and certainly nothing like Twitter or Facebook or Reddit or Tumblr. Nothing that could so easily encompass all of your social and practical needs all in one website. Isolation was what computers were for. They were for putting you further from society, not linking you up... but that's not true, is it? The internet is used to connect us all together... but not together at the same time. We are always separated by a great curtain of space, and those who frequent the internet are nothing more than the norm now. Looking at that student, the main male character, Ryosuke, who had his first experience with the internet ever... so much so that he didn't know what "bookmarks" were, well, that just doesn't happen in society today. We're born knowing more than we could ever effectively use about technology... and yet more frequently we find ourselves not understanding each other, becoming more and more isolated from the very people we think we are getting closer to by using the internet. Okay, I should stop my diatribe on today's culture. Let me just finish this paragraph by saying that if that were my first experience with the internet like it was Ryosuke's, seeing creepy people on the internet and a dude with a bag over his head before I even had my entire internet hooked up correctly, I'd need a smoke too.

Ultimately the movie succeeds at doing something. I don't know if I'll ever be able to say what. Maybe I simply love the ideas presented in the movie and that's it. But maybe it's something more. The movie looks creepy, not crisp and sharp, but muddy and always dark. The sounds are off. The music doesn't fit. Unsettling is the word of the day for this flick. The use of sound (or lack thereof) is also very well done. It both unsettles and startles without the movie itself having to do much at all but exist in the background.

This is a hard movie to review and a hard movie to rate. I have no idea if I should recommend it or not. I enjoyed watching it even though some major parts of the film are incredibly flawed. I think it is one of the creepier Japanese horror movies even though I was never scared. And I think it is incredibly effective even though it is overlong. If you like social commentary in your horror movies, this is a good one to watch. If you like a creepy ghost movie without any social commentary, you might like this film too though. Just turn your brain off. As for Japanese horror, this is one of the best I've seen, easily up there with Noroi. So, I guess check it out if you find all this 3-5AM ramble-writing-dissecting-reviewing interesting. Or not. I liked the movie well enough. It still is a great movie even if it isn't perfect.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Triangle (2009)

"Is this normal?" A man asks.
All I want to answer is, "No, it's CGI."

Triangle is a moody, melancholic, and somewhat imaginative "horror" movie directed by Christopher Smith and starring Melissa George. It was made by and in the UK and Australia with mainly Australian actors, but takes place in Florida for some reason with every one of the actors faking an American accent, probably because of the allusion to the Bermuda Triangle, which is not what this movie is about. Instead, the titular Triangle is the sailing ship the characters start the movie on.

Melissa George, the big name in this flick, plays Jess, a single mother with a special needs son. Throughout the film, but especially in the beginning of it, she seems out of it, confused, and a little lost as well. I'm not sure if it was the character that was out of her element or the actress. I'm kind of sorry for saying this, but Melissa George is not a powerhouse actress in this film. While I've seen her play some decent roles (most notably in 30 Days of Night) she doesn't seem quite ready for the emotional performance that this movie really required. She has a mighty vacant expression on her face for most of this film, with her mouth slightly agape, like it's stuck in constant surprise. I know that's a bit unfair, but it kept getting to me as the movie progressed.

The being said, this is a whale of a movie plot. Despite the limited characterizations and dialogue, the plot is incredibly complex... although equally incredibly predictable. It's kind of the nature of a plot like this to be predictable, but I seriously wish I hadn't guessed most of the movie in the first ten to fifteen minutes of the film. It made a large portion of this movie quite boring. The only thing I couldn't have even anticipated was how Jess was going to act and react rather than what was going to happen, since that seemed set in stone. And her reactions, which should have been the most interesting part of the movie, became confusing and badly put together and thought out- more frustrating for the viewer than interesting.

The problem is that I have no idea why everything was set in stone and why Jess couldn't have changed stuff at any time she wanted to. This becomes a huge problem towards the end of the movie, but I'm digressing a bit. If you know nothing about this movie you are probably lost, and I don't blame you. If you have watched this movie you may be lost as well, but no worries! It's fairly easy to understand once you realize that time travel plots and being stuck in a time loop is utterly idiotic and rarely works well in any fictional medium.

Okay, maybe not ENTIRELY idiotic, but I cannot stand movies that attempt these types of plots. Time travel and time loops are complicated and never seem to work in movies or stories in general, often falling flat long before they become compelling. I would have shut this movie off in an instant if it had not shaken anything up at all or performed intelligent moves effectively. But it did. No, it didn't do it amazingly every single time. I still have a ton of questions lingering in my mind, but I thought it told the plot satisfactorily.

So, yes, this movie is all about a time loop. It's basically your standard Sisyphus plot. They even mention it in the movie proper. It's so apparent and so telegraphed that it felt like the movie were trying to hammer it into my head. It did back off a bit eventually, and I have to thank the director for that at least. While I did appreciate some of the more intelligent designs in the plot throughout the movie, I found for the most part that the movie lacked surprise, which is a leading force when it comes to actual HORROR movies.

Anyway, the movie starts out at Jess's home. She has a special needs son and is cleaning up some paint he spilled on the floor. She hears the doorbell, goes to get it, and finds nobody there. She asks her neighbor if he saw anyone, and of course he didn't see anyone. She goes to tidy up and then we meet up with the other characters of the film. Greg is on his sailing ship, getting it ready to take some of his friends out for a nice and relaxing cruise. Victor, a young friend of Greg, is staying with him and helping him with the boat. Greg has two married friends coming along specially for the ride as well as a friend they brought along to hook him up with. Jess then makes an appearance as well, looking disheveled and awful, seeming like she needs a good sleep. Greg had invited her along, and seems particularly protective of her.

So, they go sailing, start having a good time... and THEN (because of course there's an "and then") the wind dies, a CGI storm hits, capsizes the boat, the friend of the couple is lost, and a large cruise ship from the 1930s rolls past them looking to help. Or so they think. They see a figure on board, the ship seems to let them on board, and then there's nobody there to greet them. They start looking all over the ship for other people, but all they find is Jess annoyingly saying that she thinks she's been here before. Some odd things start to happen, including Jess's keys suddenly dropping at a random place on the ship, and a figure seeming to follow them.

Jess eventually gets upset with Greg because he's being realistic and is trying to reason with her, so she runs off, and is attacked by a seriously wounded Victor who tries to choke her to death. Now, this is the kind of movie that has characters in it that have never seen a horror film before. They had split up before this all happened, so being on a creepy empty ship and splitting up is obviously the best course of action. Anyway, Jess runs back to find the others only to find Greg shot dead, claiming that she killed him, and the couple over him, blaming her for the death even as they are shot to death by a mysterious figure with a sack over its head. The masked figure continues to shoot at Jess even as she tries to escape, leading to one of the funniest scenes I've seen in a horror movie in a while, where the masked gunperson runs out of bullets and throws the gun at her. And it hits her too! I mean, I was laughing to myself even as the scene went on because it was absolutely ridiculous. It was also easily the best moment (or two- ha ha ha time travel ha ha) in the film.

So, Jess fights the gunperson with a fire-axe, and eventually backs the masked person off the ship while the masked person whispers something unintelligible to her. We think the movie must be done at this point- but it's only just started. Jess backs into the captain's quarters or the bridge or something, plays some music and hears some cries coming from the open ocean. Oh no! It's the capsized Triangle with the five characters again calling out for help from the cruise ship. And we have officially entered the plot of this movie.

It's all a loop on the cruise ship that ends when all the characters (seemingly save Jess) die. When they all die, the loop starts all over again. So, Jess starts off by doing exactly what previous versions of her had done before, jotting down a note, losing her locket, grabbing a gun... but then decides she wants to break the pattern. She finds Victor, hoping to warn him, but that just spooks him because she sounds like she's insane. She grievously wounds him completely by accident (which it seems every Jess seems to do), then changes what happened earlier in the time loop by making certain Victor didn't attack her earlier self. She confronts that earlier self, seems to think about killing her, then lets her run away. Again, she seems like she's trying to break the loop and keep everybody alive. Remember this for later.

The problem is that the masked person (who is also Jess, but a later version of her) is killing off the other characters whenever she can. So, this "good" Jess is trying to save them, and the masked "bad" one is trying to kill them. This goes on for a little while and several loops, every time having the characters die. She even sees herself die at least once, I believe. She sees a mass of Sallies (the female of the couple) and where they all died, and kind of realizes that this has been going on much longer than she's been here.

Jess, who had been trying to save the others, suddenly doesn't want to do that anymore. I mean, she seriously just changes her mind without any character development saying why. She actively starts hunting the other characters down with the sack on her head, shooting them whenever she can. Oh my God how stupid can Jess be? She goes and decides to do all the things it was decided that she would do by the loop or fate or whatnot, but SHE KNOWS HOW THAT'S GOING TO TURN OUT, with earlier Jess making certain that the final Jess jumps overboard. There is an easy solution here she hadn't thought of: why not just wait out on the landing dock, let the other Jess kill all of the others, then warn the Triangle when it gets close? Why does she start thinking it's a good idea to murder all the others? Why does she do it exactly like the earlier version of her saw her do it? She could have changed anything and everything, but she knew how it would turn out. Why not change what is going to happen rather than living it? And why be surprised when it happens the way she KNEW it was going to happen if she followed that route?

I can't get over this. I really can't. Her character changes in a single second from being a decent person trying to save the others (even if she doesn't) to being a murderer with a sack on her head for the simple reason that she wants to save them by killing them. Look, lady, there are easier ways to go about doing this than murdering them, okay? I don't like the jump of personality change here. I don't think it works, and it bothered me a ton. I don't like her justifications, and I especially don't like how she doesn't act like a person would. Look, if I find myself in some kind of weird loop and then see I can change some things sometimes, I'm going to make certain I don't do anything that I saw some masked moron do earlier. I am especially not going to put on said mask and shoot people. I mean, seriously.... damn it. This was too frustrating for me.

Anyway, I guess the rest of the movie happens after that. Jess, in a mask, jumps off the ship, hits the water, wakes up on a beach and goes home. At this point I'm wondering why the movie is still going. In my mind it should be over. But no, Jess goes home and we see that she's gone back in time, it seems, to watch herself scream and beat her special needs child. Jess decides she doesn't like the old her very much, plays ding-dong ditch with herself, grabs a hammer, and beats the everloving crud out of the earlier version of herself, killing her. The son panics, understandably, and she consoles him by saying it was all a terrible nightmare. She packs her body into the trunk of the car and gets ready to leave Florida. On her way she hits a seagull which causes her son to freak out, and we see the ultimate TWIST of the movie. There are a ton of dead seagulls which it seems like previous versions of herself had thrown over the cliff as well. She is still in the loop! She continues driving for a few seconds, but she is totally not watching the road... AND ACCIDENT.

Her son dies, and the earlier Jess is also there dead. There's a very obvious nod to the idea that she's in a loop of hell, and really died in a car accident, but she doesn't seem to think about it much, instead talking to a random creepy taxi driver. This taxi driver out of nowhere decides to drive her away from that place, and she accepts, saying she'll go to the harbor to meet Greg and the rest. And she does. And the loop starts all over again, although we have no idea how much she remembers now or how much she remembered in the first place at all.

So, one other thing I have to mention is that in the cruise ship there seemed to be a much later version of Jess for several minutes. She killed Downey (the male member of the couple) and seemed to be doing all of what she was doing to save her son, even citing that she loves her son as the reason the other have to die. This seems to be the final version of Jess we see, the one who remembers that her son died because of her... and she's still looping.

Okay, while I think that all sounds very complex, it's actually pretty simple to follow for the most part. It is a movie that requires paying a bit of attention, but most of the film is explicitly stated in dialogue. Jess is in a loop, more than likely because she died. The others may or may not exist, but that doesn't even matter. Jess is a bad mother and feels guilty about it. She dies in a car accident and cannot accept that she and her son are dead, which creates the loop in the first place. That's the more plausible explanation, and I hate movies that do that. The other explanation is that the cruise ship is a magical time dimensional traveling cruise ship from the 1930s that allows her and the others to loop constantly through time ad infinitum because she's too stupid to break the loop or convince the others that what she's saying isn't crazy. And that isn't a much better plot, is it?

Anyway, this is a really different movie. I appreciate how it's different. I really do. I like the plot, but it's not very original no matter what you think. Look at Stay, Jacob's Ladder, The Dark, or a ton of others movies I'm simply not thinking about right now. While the loop may not be done in every movie, the premise is one that is wholly predictable, and the plot is way to easy to figure out. Most of the characters are either unlikable or completely flat, and the one that seems to show any personality, Jess, simply does confusing and nonsensical things throughout the film. The acting is nothing special, with Melissa George probably putting out the best performance out of everyone even if it is mediocre. The actors are somewhat believable, but... again... it's hard to feel anything for them throughout the movie. They just don't have enough character for me to go "Oh no! I don't want him/her to die!"

As for being a horror movie... No. No, this movie is in no way scary. It may be kind of interesting and gory, but it is in no way horrific or terrifying. Calling this a horror movie is like calling spaghetti thrown onto the ceiling psychological terror. It's simply not.

I also want to say that, yes movie, I saw what you did with the references to The Shining. Don't think I didn't see the Room 237 there. I am a big Stephen King junkie. Do you think I would miss obvious references like that? Or the blood on the mirror? Or the ax? I mean, I don't even like Kubrick's The Shining, but the blatant references just made me roll my eyes. You should never make me remember a better movie while I'm watching your movie. And as I said, I don't even like The Shining very much, but it is a much better movie than this, and I shouldn't have been thinking how much more I wanted to see that than this.

Now, this movie isn't garbage. Nor is it bad. It's a mediocre plot mixed with some pretty decent time travel looping kind of stuff that makes it kind of interesting and different. The first half of the movie is not very fun to watch, but once the true plot comes out, it's a much easier movie to stomach. While I never wholly bought the movie, and found myself more frustrated than happy with it, I will say that it was a decent enough flick. I came away feeling like it was pretty average and kind of forgettable, but not bad exactly. While that's no recommendation, I can't say to avoid it fully either since there are some decent things here even if it's frustrating and nonsensical at times. If the plot sounds interesting or you think Melissa George is a great actress or great looking, maybe check it out with the warning that there are much better movies out there. Barring that, it is just not a good enough movie for me to wholeheartedly thrown my support behind.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Love Ghost (Lovesick Dead) (Undying Love) (死びとの恋わずらい) (2000)


"I love you to death."

Junji Ito movie adaptations, why do I keep coming back to you like some kind of ex-lover bent on winning you back? What is wrong with me that I keep expecting quality in these movies when all there is is... uh... Wait... just give me a moment to collect my confused and befuddled thoughts. I just finished this movie and... Love Ghost isn't bad...? Are you serious, me? Did you seriously think it was... (Dare I even say it?)... good? Did you actually LIKE it?

Okay, this movie is not precisely what I could ever call "good," but it's better than many of the other Junji Ito film adaptations I've seen. It's better than Kakashi or Marronnier without any single doubt in my mind. Hell, it may even be on par with Uzumaki, although I'm not sure how much that is worth exactly. See, Uzumaki, although a fun movie to watch is not even close to being a horror movie. The manga in that case was actually horror, but the movie was more like a comedy with a few horror overtones maybe-kind of. Love Ghost (or Lovesick Dead, Undying Love, or Shibito no koiwazurai) is a pretty interesting film when compared to Uzumaki, with incredibly different tones throughout the movie and a great deal done differently. Where Uzumaki is goofy and kind of fun to watch, Love Ghost is handled pretty seriously. I had once heard the argument that Kakashi was the serious Junji Ito movie equivalent of Uzumaki in terms of quality and story, but I'm going to disagree with that and instead say that Love Ghost should be the equivalent.

It is a fairly well made movie when all is said and done. No, it's not perfect, and no, it's not a very good adaptation of the original manga, but it works in its own convoluted and odd way. I actually enjoyed a good majority of this film, only finding the last third or so of the movie truly mediocre. The rest of it enjoys some great acting, some really decent directing, some fitting musical cues, and some great settings. While I will never give this movie an award for being amazing, it works quite well for what it is, an adaptation of a really good manga.

Now, Lovesick Dead (the manga) is probably one of my favorite Junji Ito stories. It is four volumes and works quite well at both tension and a creepy factor. The movie changes a great deal from the source material, with the plot, characters, and ultimate ending all being very different. In the manga, the main character is Ryuusuke, a sixteen year old boy who moves back to the town where he grew up ten years after he and his family left it behind. It goes into Ryuusuke trying to fit into school and eventually meeting up with an old friend of his, Midori. Midori is the main character of the movie with her character ultimately taking the place of Ryuusuke in the fish out of water plot, but not in plot importance really.

Over the course of the manga, Ryuusuke finds himself angsting over whether he should tell Midori that he believes that he was responsible for the death of her aunt by giving that aunt a bad fortune while he was in a rotten mood when he was six. Yeah, the guilt of this boy runs really deep. It runs so deep, in fact, that somehow through a bad fortune and the ill-fated death of Midori's aunt, a doppelganger of  Ryuusuke emerges from him, stalking the streets of the town they live in, giving terrible fortunes to young women, and causing them to ultimately commit suicide. This is complex, isn't it? Anyway, this doppelganger is named "Intersection Bishounen" and is wildly popular with the young women of the town, who seek him out for both love and fortune, and fear him for the same.

These young women play a game called "Intersection Fortune Telling," or Tsujiura in the film, which involves standing in an intersection, putting something over your face (like a book-bag), and telling your troubles to the first person who comes there, hoping that they'll give a happy fortune to you. This game is the focal point of the entire plot, being the reason why Midori's aunt committed suicide and the reason why the doppelganger preys so easily on the young women of the town. It is also the sticking point of the movie plot as well although it is nowhere near as important in the film.

The story progress with almost all the young high school women falling to this "Pretty Boy." A rumor goes around that Ryuusuke is the Bishounen, but since that isn't precisely true he denies it... The girls pursue him anyway, believing the rumor. Midori sticks by him through thick and thin, believing him and helping him throughout the story to figure out the mystery and make everything right in the end. This being a Junji Ito story though, the two of them fall for each other, but Ryuusuke pushes her away because he's afraid of his guilt and of his feelings for her. While he begged her not to play the game, eventually her curiosity and brokenhearted feelings at Ryuusuke (who had told her of his role in her aunt's death) gets the better of her and she plays the fortune game, meeting the Bishounen and causing both of their downfalls. Midori goes insane with rage and hatred for Ryuusuke, tormenting and torturing him both physically and mentally until she finally commits suicide, which breaks Ryuusuke, who had loved her. Ryuusuke eventually sacrifices himself to a mob of crazed young women to make everything right, ending the Bishounen's reign of terror and becoming the "White-Clothed Bishounen" who gives good fortunes instead.

Uh... yeah, this movie is not that plot though. Simply enough, while some similar plot threads run through both, the movie only goes through two girls who play the fortune game. Ryuusuke is both a ghost and the Bishounen character, even if he has no reason to be at all in this storyline. And you know why he has no reason to be the Bishounen here? He doesn't give bad advice or have guilt or a dark side. He instead dies at seven to a crazy lady who wanted the fortunes that Midori told to be true so she could be with her lover. Midori had, before meeting the woman, foretold that Ryuusuke would die the next day in a refrigerator with his tongue cut out... as a joke... because that is what seven year old children joke about. The tattooed woman, who doesn't come in until the end of the movie, carries traits from Midori's aunt from the manga as well as a crazy woman in the manga who stalks both Ryuusuke and Midori when they decide to be helpful to her. The tattooed woman in the manga eventually kills her lover's child to gain his love back... which is basically what happens in the movie as the main plot. She kills Ryuusuke to make Midori's fortune seem more true, asks for a fortune, gets Midori telling her she will never find love, then kills herself by stabbing and immolation in front of Midori. This is probably why Midori is insane, come to think of it... Oh, I'll explain that statement, just give me a few sentences.

So, Ryuusuke is dead and a ghost. Midori sees him despite the fact that he's a ghost. They're in love for some reason despite him being dead and her being... we're getting there... but there's this added plotline of a tall jockish kind of guy falling for her while all the girls around him are crazy for him and commit suicide because they can't be with him because he likes Midori despite knowing her a single day. And it gets confusing. I'm already confused. There's a body in the wall of Midori and her mother's house, and it turns out to be the mother's lost husband. There's no intersection fortune telling... it's now fortune telling around a creepy shrine. Oh, and Midori is crazy and escaped from a mental institution. Yeah. It kind of pops up out of nowhere.

Adding to this, Midori's mother is actually Ryuusuke's mother who is posing as Midori's mother, and she's also quite insane and from the same facility as Midori. They escaped together posing as mother and daughter for some reason even though Ryuusuke's mother seems to have no idea who Midori is half of the time.

The whole institution plot caught me off-guard, I have to admit. Nothing like that happens in the manga, and it seems needlessly complex for an already needlessly complex story. The last half hour is weird and nonsensical, mirroring Midori's own insanity. I didn't like the plot-twist and felt it took away from a movie with a pretty solid premise. Previous to that last half hour, I was enjoying myself immensely, liking the adapted story for the most part despite myself and itself. That last third of the movie killed a bit of my enjoyment of it, relying on cheap tricks and overdone plot points to tell its ghost story.

In the end you have to wonder if Midori is dreaming or dead as she lies upon her insane asylum bed. And you also have to wonder if the filmmakers even understood the actual point of the well put-together manga. I was more disappointed than thrilled by this adaptation, but that is seriously exactly how these Junji Ito movies always go. Always, seriously. Well, at least this wasn't Kakashi...

As for the more technical aspects of the flick, most of the film is incredibly competent. While there are times of inappropriately loud music and Foley effects that are missing or too faint to hear, most of the sounds and music are actual quite fitting. The visuals are muddy at times, but you could actually tell that the director, Kazuyuki Shibuya, knew what he was doing for the most part. The framing of most shots are quite well done, with only a few hiccups from time-to-time, mostly in regards to focusing on a particular face or expression for way longer than is needed. The actors' expressions are sometimes hard to read as well, particularly Ryuusuke's, although that might have been the idea even though it was awkward to see within the movie proper.

One of the down sides of this movie is that it relies on tropes that are seen time and time again in these Japanese horror films like a character never being able to tell anybody the way they feel if they like another character. Then there's the typical Japanese town and walk to school that seems to be in absolutely every Japanese movie, manga, or anime ever made that involves school children. There's also the fact that nobody seems to understand anything about what liking or loving people means, and this point blank refusal to accept defeat in love gracefully without committing suicide or dying in some horrible way. Also there's that unfailing trope of a ghost that doesn't seem to be a ghost until a character realizes much later that it is a ghost. This one also involves the trope of the ghost being a student and seeming absolutely real despite being a ghost. Now, I know Japanese ghosts are different than western ghosts, but this is silly. Aren't there records for these kids in the school? I know this means much less in this movie because of the crazy Midori and maybe Ryuusuke is kind of in her head and comes from her maybe, but there are plenty of other movies where this happens, and it's ridiculous.

I also want to talk to Suzue, a character in the film for one moment here. Call this a public service announcement to her and characters like her. Let me just say that, Suzue, jock-dude told you point blank he liked Midori. Don't start thinking he'll magically start liking you AFTER he revealed to you he liked her. That's ridiculous. I understand that a pretty ghost boy thing told you to think about yourself, but jock-boy TOLD YOU POINT BLANK HE LIKES MIDORI. How dumb can you be, Suzue? Oh, dumb enough to put your blood in the dude's food so that he can taste your love for him. I'm sure that's not something he's going to freak out about especially when you tell him while he's been eating it. That is... just... wonderful. No, Suzue, stop repeating "I love you" over and over again. That is not helping anybody or your love, especially when you are putting a blade up to your throat. Look, suicide is not the answer. if you wait just a few days, Midori will be insane again and dead/sleeping... and you can seriously probably have the jock dude all to yourself without anybody caring at all. It's not as if Midori was interested in him anyway. But no, you had to crazily and creepily repeat it over-and-over again and then kill yourself in front of him. That's really the best way to go about winning him over, isn't it Suzue? And now you're probably dead. What are you going to do now?

While all of that is very Junji Ito of the plot to do... I find it also very indicative of Asian horror movies in general... and I hate it oh so much. Again, this movie is not bad, just kind of mediocre and standard. While the source material is all kinds of creepy and awesome, this film is fairly bland. There were many times I was simply bored at the progression of the plot, or tired of the characters, or just kind of wishing it would all be over. While I don't dislike this movie, it really is incredibly forgettable, especially with an awful name like Love Ghost. There is no horror here, no real scares, and no real interest. While I liked it sort of a bit for where it came from, I think this movie should be avoided even by hardcore Junji Ito fans. There's simply not enough good stuff here for me to even think about recommending it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Internet: In Defense of Fans, Respect, and Content

So, I've been crazy busy for the last month or so, which is why I haven't put out any new reviews. Once midway through December hits, I should be on the review easy-street, but until then, I might have a mini-review here or there (I've been planning one fun mini-review for a while.), and I think I have a rant or two in my system for tonight.

I'm an opinionated guy, and I really don't care who knows it. I think people are ridiculous to call out other people for their opinions and act like those opinions are invalid. Look, I get that some people, for example, do like rape jokes. I get that. I get how it might upset someone who has been raped or whatever else... but there should never ever ever ever (ad infinitum) be any censorship on what you can say. Does that mean that what you can say is always in good taste or legitimate or even a good thing to say? No, absolutely not, but it does mean that you have the absolute right (at least where I'm standing) to say whatever the hell you want to say regardless of who you are, where you come from, or anything else besides. That means EVERY opinion is valid. And you have no way of disagreeing with me because that's simply the truth of the situation.


Now, I get that people want to kick white guys who have opinions in the 'nads. I get that. I feel that way sometimes too, and it's a natural response to what a lot of people see (in America) as white male privilege or whatever it is that people think these days. Now, I'm sorry to break this to everybody, but not every white male is privileged, and some have a really hard time being anything at all. Everybody has it hard. Don't look at me like that. Everybody has problems and issues and where we're born has a huge impact on who we can be and who we are... but even that isn't concrete. Look at the scumbag rich kids and the wonderful people who came from nothing... or the wonderful rich people and the scumbag poor. All types exist and generalizing does nothing good for anybody, thank you very much. There are even minorities, women, etc. who have found a ton of success as well who are quite influential. Talking about privilege takes away from all accomplishments and just pushes people further and further apart. And anybody who doesn't see that is blind. Period period period.


We need a system that looks at everybody equally not judging them by sex, race, age, gender, or whatever else... but instead judging on the ideas that people have and how much they're trying desperately to help or hurt. And that should really be the thing to look at. I think our culture is far too sensitive for its own good. People get upset at the drop of a hat. "Oh, you're persecuting me!" "Oh, you're not sensitive to my triggers!" "Oh, you're a white male, what do you know about problems?" And the thing is people really just need to take a chill pill. If a dude or gal says something that you find stupid, upsetting, or annoying, don't anonymously message them saying how terrible they are and how they need to be more sensitive or grow up or whatever. Who the hell is that helping? Seriously? I mean, ask yourself a question before you type a message or try to make a point. The question is, "Am I helping?" If the answer is no, then maybe you should just step away from the computer. If you don't understand the situation... if the situation does not directly affect you... just calm down. Sometimes people do need to put in their place for putting out harmful or stupid content... but who judges what content is harmful or stupid? Can you cast that first stone of thinking you're better than somebody else? And if you do decide that something is bad, objectively or subjectively bad, then go about ripping that person/content apart as intelligently and respectfully as possible. Constructive criticism is a must even if they don't listen to you. Parody and satire, jokes and comedy... these things work quite well at proving a point. Dry humor or sarcasm can go a long way as well.

Constructive criticism and understanding are the only ways we can grow and evolve as humans and as a species. But just bashing someone because you don't like what they've said and all you want is for them to stop talking? Well, that complete and utter bullcrap, and anybody who thinks it isn't really needs to calm down and reevaluate their lives. I'm disappointed in people being upset about words, white-knighting and trolling and being anonymous just to say things you couldn't say to someone's face in a million years. Don't say anything online you wouldn't say to that person in real life.

The internet has led us, all of us, into becoming this army of anonymous douchebags. Each one of us with our own opinions, our own thoughts on every subject, and each one of us trying to make ourselves heard. We no longer have a voice telling us to be decent people to each other because everybody on the internet is faceless. And the faceless environment makes it easy to forget that each and every person on this internet is a thinking and breathing person. They have their own lives, their own loved ones, and their own things that make them happy. Just remember that the next time you want to rip into somebody for saying that they didn't like a video game or movie you did like or whatever else.


But I have to say that sometimes I see such good people on the internet, and such great things as well. I have seen people who didn't particularly like the ending of a particular video game that came out earlier this year (*cough*MassEffect3*cough*) donate a ton of money to a charity and send cupcakes to the developer of said game just because they wanted a different ending. How can anybody say that that isn't constructive, particularly when those same people put down constructive complaints in a forum format? And then there are the people who do such great art and writing on the internet. A novel called John Dies @ the End as well as any given article on Cracked.com are some great examples of great writing on the internet. And these things wouldn't exist without the internet. There are careers that wouldn't have taken off without the internet, great careers of people who make some absolutely fantastic content.


Hell, even look at fan-art. You can find some wonderful pieces of fan-art and tributes online... which you'd never even see if not for the internet. I've see so many great and wonderful art for things such as The Binding of Isaac, Star Wars, Dishonored, any video game or book or movie you can possibly mention... and many other things besides. Hell, even series I don't particularly like can give some great fan-art like Homestuck as long as you avoid the porn.

And you want to know something? I respect every person putting out decent content on the internet, and those people have every right to say whatever the hell they want to say. I don't care about triggers or being sensitive or using the wrong choice of words. And I do use the wrong words sometimes... and you know, sometimes that screws me over a bit, and I'll apologize profusely, but I will never take it back. I can't. What's done is done and you can't regret it. You've made your decisions and you have to respect those decisions and what you've learned from those decisions. Respect what you've learned from the good moments and the bad without censoring yourself or listening to the people who tell you that your opinions or writing or art or whatever are wrong (unless they can objectively state where you have gone wrong). But even then, if you enjoy what you do, just do it... don't get bogged down by negative crowds or think that positive reactions are always good. Because sometimes the masses can be just as right or just as wrong as the wind... which is to say not at all.

And maybe this whole thing makes no sense. Maybe it never will. But a rape joke can be funny to some as long as it's a joke. And people need to stop thinking that that is never the case. Rape is never good to anybody... but you know what kinds of crackpots I see on the internet? I see people saying that only rape against a non-privileged woman from a white man is legitimate rape... and I wonder if people even understand anything anymore. Rape can be from anybody and to anybody, and it's never right. But again, making a joke out of it, however bad taste it is, is not rape nor is it saying that rape is a good thing. It's just a joke. And people have to get over themselves. Censoring is not the answer. What should I say? Should I say I think that rape should never even be said as a word? No, I won't. Do I think that some twelve year old screaming about raping his friend while playing a video game is a terrible thing? Well, I don't see how it is. The kid isn't actually raping anybody or saying rape is good in any kind of understanding way, so...

And what else can I say? I don't like censorship. I think it is completely and absolutely wrong in every form. I don't like people being douchebags about telling people to shut up or stop creating content just because their opinions don't sync up. And you want to know something? I've been guilty of this. but I've been guilty of saying it to people's faces... and I was wrong about the issue, something I can say right now easily and without complaint.

Finally, I want to tell a little story about my girlfriend. Now, I freaking hate bringing her up in this context, but she's a person I know who is sensible and creative on the internet. I've seen the way she's operated on the internet, and I use her as a shining example of how to internet... if that's a thing. She creates a ton of content online, most of it being really good in my opinion and in the opinion of many others. I'm sure she has detractors as well, but  doesn't everybody? She does some wonderful photography which I know I've linked to before on this blog, but she also does fan-art as well as her own original stuff which is mostly intensely clever and fun to look at.

She has made lasting friends online. She treats all of the people who look at her content, either the fan-stuff she does from time-to-time or her photography watchers, or just the people she chats with about common interests... she treats them all the same, with respect and as any decent person should treat another human being. Think about how rare that is to say. I actually know a person who is decent to others on the internet. Wow.

I started going out with her almost three years ago because of our time together talking online... not our time in person because despite going to the same college we barely ever saw each other in person before dating. Our discussions about the weirdest and most interesting topics imaginable is what brought us together... not only common interests, but common thoughts and wonders, dreams and goals. We spoke and I respected her, the way she spoke to me, and what we talked about. While I don't agree with her about everything (and what couple does agree on everything?) we make sure that we can compromise without insulting one another most of the time.

And I will never insult anybody who comments on this blog however dumb their comments are because I want to explain why I believe the comments are stupid or ignorant or why I disagree rather than just throwing around insults or taking down content because somebody disagrees with me. It's the same reason I never take down comments either because people are allowed to say whatever they wish, but expect a debate if I disagree. I like healthy debates. Or expect to be ignored if I'm tired of stupid comments. I do that sometimes too.

I don't really have much else to say. I see the internet as both a healthy environment and an unhealthy one depending on what you wish to get out of the internet. If you look for fights and to call people wrong and to denigrate everybody and to get people to censor themselves because you simply don't like seeing something or their thing... then you really need to reevaluate your life. I mean, seriously, just stop looking at the content if it bothers you so. And if you see problems arising with their content give constructive criticism, not hatred spews. And mostly don't comment on things you know absolutely nothing about acting like you have a PhD in internet commenting. You don't and you never will. Allow the internet to be a fun place where people can vent and enjoy themselves and write or draw whatever it is they so desire. Don't look at it if you don't like it. Don't read it if you're not interested. But don't throw a hissy fit if it doesn't fit into what you think the world is or should be. Just let people be people and let everybody respect each other, okay?

And mostly, don't tell me when I should be uninterested in something. Look, I happen to find the Star Wars: Battlefront III cancellation details interesting because I loved those games. So, don't tell me that it should all just stop because you're not interested in it or think it shouldn't be discussed because you don't like discussing what should have been. That's your opinion (obviously in an editorial format, it has to be)... and you are completely within your rights to think that, but why speak for everybody when it is clearly your opinion and not hurting you, the industry, or anybody else in any discernible manner? It's just talking and discussing and being interesting all at the same time. I dislike when people who have a decently good readership give nonsense opinions that they think everybody should follow. Oh, you think I'm being hypocritical? Maybe. All I'm saying is that people should be more decent to one another though and have more patience and not get angry. And all that editorial is saying is "I don't want to hear about Battlefront III because it might upset my mind to think about what could have been or could be rather than what is. I don't like dreaming or wondering about good content because the only thing that matters are my crappy shooters that actually exist, not thinking creatively at what could be done. Because what actually exists is the MOST IMPORTANT THING IN THE WORLD OBVIOUSLY!"

And I disagree with that kind of thought.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Emotion Critique: Fear

What is fear?

It is the unknown, the unknowable. It is death, pain, suffering. It is that paranoid feeling you get when you stay up a little too late with no one else around. It is the darkness, the deep of the ocean, the depths of space. It is an abandoned mental institution... closed for years, full of the souls of those who died there. It's a nightmare you cannot awaken from. It's the nighttime, a little bridge in the starless sky. It's a hurricane hitting your home. It's what you feel when the one you love decides they want to leave you or when you start suspecting they're cheating on you. It's what everybody feels sometimes. Fear is one of the main themes that I've explored while I've written this blog. I love fear as much as I love the horror genre. I like the ability to become afraid of certain types of movies or video games, books or real life stories. I have my favorites and my least favorites and, of course, some are much better than others. But mostly I love finding myself afraid. I love the tension, the rising and falling of the hairs on my arms and the back of my neck. I love wondering if there's something there just out of sight watching me. Waiting for the right moment...

...to strike.

I think the unknown is one of the most intensely scary things I can think of or... uh... rather not think of, right? Books like House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski bring out the idea of what true fear really is, mostly through blending reality and fiction into some terrible amalgamation of the two. There is something about taking this kind of paranoid fiction and blending it with an all too real reality that makes everything that much more terrifying. There is a paranoia there, a feeling that makes one feel ever so lost within the crazy ideas presented. I find this blend of reality and fiction much more terrifying than anything that is purely fictional. Being able to wonder if scary things that are unexplained can happen in the real world is something that is all too terrifying. It is the only scary thought that will keep me up. And that is a great deal of what House of Leaves is.

"To get a better idea try this: focus on these words, and whatever you do don't let your eyes wander past the perimeter of this page. Now imagine just beyond your peripheral vision, maybe behind you, maybe to the side of you, maybe even in front of you, but right where you can't see it, something is quietly closing in on you, so quiet in fact you can only hear it as silence. Find those pockets without sound. That's where it is. Right at this moment. But don't look. Keep your eyes here. Now take a deep breath. Go ahead, take an even deeper one. Only this time as you exhale try to imagine how fast it will happen, how hard it's gonna hit you, how many times it will stab your jugular with its teeth or are they nails?, don't worry, that particular detail doesn't matter, because before you have time to process that you should be moving, you should be running, you should at the very least be flinging up your arms-you sure as hell should be getting rid of this book-you won't have time to even scream.
Don't look.
I didn't.
Of course I looked.
I looked so fucking fast I should of ended up wearing one of those neck braces for whiplash."

 Of course that's only a single quotation from House of Leaves. Think about an entire book based off of the paranoia induced by fiction bleeding into reality. I find that passage that I copied above as scary as something can be. Go ahead, read that at night when you're alone and think about what you'd think, what kind of creepiness you'd be feeling. It's intense. It's terrifying. The first time I read it, I was younger than I am now, a teenager who thought he was the master of horror. I read that and then went to take out the trash. It was late. It was dark. I thought I could hear something breathing heavily in the bushes.

I freaked out. Ran inside, and fell in love with the horror all over again. To think that a cynic like me could be scared- And scared by a book at that! A book that seemed so ridiculous in premise but perfect in execution.


I've done some crazier things besides, things that I can't spell out here lest people believe what I say. I've seen some terrifying images, breaths of air that shouldn't be following me where I have tread. I don't really believe in ghosts or true terror... or many other things, but at the same time I believe in nothing but horror, but fear, as if they are the only things that matter, the only things that drive me. I've been in places I probably shouldn't have been and heard creaking and rattling and noises that I couldn't explain even in my most cognizant moments. And there's something terrifying in knowing that right next to you RIGHT NEXT TO YOU just centimeters away in the darkest night is something staring back at you that you cannot see. Yes, there are many places that are scary on purpose- abandoned buildings, graveyards that remind us that we will die... Memento te esse mortalum... but even more than that are the places that shouldn't be scary. A water pump shaped like a well, forever spilling out water for no other reason than because it can. Or maybe a bush, a gnarled tree, a twisting and turning sky... or even something as simple as an unexplained ravine, or even a house you once lived in.


Or maybe just a simple room, like an attic...


Or a doorway long since dilapidated...


Or a simple thing. Maybe it's something we could even see anywhere...


...like a hole in a wall.


In the background I'm watching Ghost Hunters. It's a good show if you take it for what it is. If you don't believe in ghosts, that's fine. I understand. I have no opinions on them myself, but there are certainly images and videos from that show that have at least planted the seed of... hmmm, maybe this could be true. There was one episode in a lighthouse that caused me to go, "WHAT THE HECK!?" where an eerie shadowy apparition appeared on the stairs going to the top of the lighthouse then moved quickly out the frame. Creepy as hell. Again, it was something unknown happening there, something that had a confusing substance to it. It was both weird and awesome... maybe a little scary too...


And then there are the video games. Silent Hill 2 and Silent Hill 4 stick out to me as terrifying games, each in their own way. Silent Hill 2 has such a melancholic feel to it. It hits the mind in all the right ways. Yes, it's a fantastic story, but what's really great about it is taking the ordinary and making it terrifying. The apartments section is easily one of the scariest. Hell, even the town itself is creepy. It's abandoned, but isn't supposed to be. The apartments look like they were just abandoned themselves, days or even hours before... or maybe months... letting the place people once called home fall into disrepair, the memories in those apartments stuck there as if they could never leave, changing the very fabric of the walls, changing the reality of the place they once were. The nightmare feelings of the game that twist the reality of the unreality make the games, all of the Silent Hill games, even more horrifying as you play them. Silent Hill 4 might not have the nightmarish sections of the second game, but the feeling of no control is certainly one that makes you feel odd. Unbeatable ghost enemies, running from a psycho, and twisted lengthened areas of such mundane places like an apartment building, a subway station, and much more add to the level of terror. And of course how could I forget Silent Hill: Downpour, which builds the tension up so slowly that you barely notice it? Walking into a movie theatre on a whim and finding yourself in a forgotten house... or walking through a theatre and finding yourself in a forest and a small house, all the while it's pouring outside, and you have no way to go but forward. It's all well done, all scary, all terrifying, and all needed.

But I don't think any of that properly explains the state, the emotion, the feeling... of fear. Look, go outside, alone, in the dark, and think of something else out there, watching your every move, not a person because people are only scary when they're trying to kill you or when they're yelling, I suppose. Ideas can be scary. Thoughts and dreams an be full of terror. Music can scare you, as can books, movies, video games, or people. Fear is an emotion of the lack of control, the lack of knowing.


Think about something totally inhuman watching you in the dead of night, in the darkness of early morning.. well, anytime at all. One thing that used to scare the hell out of me was Bigfoot staring at me through my second story window in the dead of night when nobody but myself would be awake to see him staring. I know... I know it can't happen (because Bigfoot is probably not real... and also he is not as tall as my second story window if he is real), but it scared the hell out of me at the tie, enough for me to want to have the curtains drawn across my windows for years... just so I wouldn't see that face staring back at me. Heh, it stills gives me a bit of a chill even now. Dead animals buried in the back yard were creepy too, especially if you're wondering if they'll come back to life and haunt you... or something. I don't know. I was stupid when I was afraid of these things, but that doesn't mean it didn't make sense to my mind back then.

Also freaking cellars, especially an old one with a dirt floor like I have... and I have to go down and do laundry late at night sometimes... I expect Slender Man or a homeless drunken man to come out of the darkness while I'm washing my pants and murder me. Wonderful thought to be having in my own house, huh? Nobody likes cellars though... or attics for that matter. Creepy old places nobody ever goes. Never feels lived in or anything. Just feels all empty, all forgotten...

Oh, and I'm also... uh... slightly... only very slightly... afraid of gnomes too.


Creepy bastards.

I guess there are other things to fear, but I think I'm talking about the genre of fear in regards to the unknown. Ah, this might be a bit silly in the end, but it's my last review for October Nights, and I felt like writing something appropriate to end it on what you might think of as a high note.

(So, just as a note, the artsy looking pictures you see of abandoned places and such in this review? Well, my girlfriend took those pictures (which comprise of most of the pictures in this review). She likes taking photographs of old or abandoned things almost as much as I love looking at them and creeping myself out. Her photo blog can be found here. Seriously check it out if you find her photos interesting. I'm sure she'd appreciate it. And since I'm incredibly proud of her photo work, I'd appreciate you looking at her photos too. You could also just leave a comment here about them if you'd like as well though. I'll be sure to pass along any messages to her if you decide on that. Thanks for reading and looking at my blog and this review! If you haven't checked out my other reviews and such you really should! You might find something really obscure or really cool on this blog! Anyway, another Halloween has come and gone! See you for October Nights next year (with a ton of reviews in between too... but that's besides the point)!)

Movie Appraisal: Trick 'r Treat (2007)

I don't have much to say about this movie except that if you haven't seen in and are reading this review: Stop.

STOP RIGHT NOW.





STOP, and go and watch this film. Do it for Halloween. I don't care if it's not Halloween anymore. Do it for the potential of Halloween. This just happens to be the greatest Halloween movie ever made and needs to be watched by everyone. Oh, you think I kid. You think I jest. I neither kid nor jest. It is perfect. Perfect in every discernible way for a Halloween movie.

Trick 'r Treat is an anthology film written and directed by Michael Dougherty. It was based on his animated short film from 1996 entitled Season's Greetings, which also features the character of Sam (that little dude up there on the poster). The movie is also a wonderful comedy-horror movie with blood, gore, breasts, and everything a horror movie like this should be. The comedy aspect of it is incredibly well done. It's funny at all the right spots. I found myself laughing more than once at the ridiculousness of it all or some of the wonderful lines throughout the movie. I loved the ironic deaths of many of the characters, so much so that I would generally find myself gleefully humming to myself as they died. Not sure if I've ever done that to a movie before...

The characters (and acting) in it are brilliant as well, ranging from the hilarious murderous principal Steven Wilkins (played by Dylan Baker) to the virginal Laurie (Anna Paquin) to Sam (Quinn Lord) himself. Hell, even the savant Rhonda (Samm Todd) and the witchy young girl Sara (Isabelle Deluce) are nearly brilliant. Brian Cox is also awesome as Creeg, the angry old man of the film. I can't say enough great things about all of these actors. Seriously, every last one of them creates a fantastic and memorable character. And they all seem to really love being in this movie, and making a movie that finally feels precisely like Halloween.

Anyway, the movie basically involves a bunch of Halloween parables. And they all work quite well with each  of them focusing on a different aspect of Halloween culture. You have the kids who are trying to dig up an urban legend and appeal to the ghosts of that legend. You have the woman who doesn't have any respect for Halloween and wants those decorations down ASAP. You have your girls in sexy costumes going to a party in the woods. You have a serial killer type who poisons a kid. And you have a crotchety old man who has no respect for anybody but himself. All of these plots intertwine to tell the narrative, but I'm not saying how they intertwine. Watch the flick to find that out.

It is one of the first films I've ever watched that really hits what Halloween is all about. It feels appropriate in every way. It feels like Halloween. I don't know how much more I can say about it. I've been a kid at Halloween. I've been a crazy teenager at Halloween, and now I'm basically an adult at Halloween. I've loved Halloween every year. I've gone trick-or-treating with both friends and family (and been around the blocks a few times by myself). I've been to parties, stayed up and watched horror movies with people, and generally enjoyed the holiday every year immensely. If you've taken any time to enjoy it too, you will love this film. Don't be scared off by the comedy aspect of the movie, since it does hold the appropriate level of scares as well. But don't think that the movie is too scary either. While there is a good amount of gore, it is really over-the-top, never being actually realistic in the slightest. It fits in a snug little corner between comedy and horror and works well as both of those things.

The plot with the school bus massacre, the old man, and the school principal are my favorites, but all of them work more-or-less incredibly well. It's just that those three work spectacularly well as what they are. The school bus massacre especially feels like it could be a movie all on its own. And it happens to be the absolute pinnacle of terrifying in this movie. I'm pretty sure I've done stupid things like these kids did, and though it didn't end up as... uh... messy as it did in this movie, I'm pretty sure the mood was still there. Somehow Halloween was encapsulated on film, and I love that feeling so very much.

I really can't say enough good things about this movie. I'm glad I had a chance to review it on Halloween. I'm also glad that I've gotten the chance to have a great time on Halloween watching a fantastic film. Check it out right now if you haven't this year. You will not be disappointed, I almost guarantee it.