Thursday, May 31, 2012

Video Game Assessment: Super Meat Boy (2010)


I started playing Super Meat Boy recently after I fell in love with The Binding of Isaac. Since both games have similar art styles and developers, I really hoped that I would enjoy it in the same way I enjoyed Isaac. And you know something? I did. I really did. I mean, not in the same way or anything. Isaac is a Roguelike with random rooms, random items, and random enemies for the most part. It plays completely differently than the platform and memorization hell that Meat Boy presents. But they both have the same humor, the same sorts of references to other video games and popular culture, and they both are very tongue-in-cheek at points. They are also both really fun to play.

The game, though, is something of an oddity in this day and age. It is a callback to some of the ridiculously hard platformer games that came out on old systems like the NES, SNES, etc. It is a very difficult game on top of everything else anyway. And when I say difficult, OH BOY. I MEAN DIFFICULT IF YOU CATCH MY MEANING. It's difficult, okay? It's frustratingly hard at times with actually beating a tough level being incredibly satisfying, which happens less and less in this era of simple and easy video games marketed towards a increasingly casual market who don't want challenges, don't want to get lost in the game, and who don't want to spend time actually getting good at it. Like any good video game player, I must scoff and turn my nose up at those people in a ridiculously exaggerated manner.

Nah, not really. I personally don't like the casual game market, but I don't think it's a bad thing either. Just not what I'm looking for. I like getting very skilled in a set of games or enjoying stories, worlds, characters, etc. And because of that casual games just don't appeal to me, but Super Meat Boy is certainly not a casual game. You have to master the controls if you even want to think of getting to later levels. You have to literally be pixel perfect to play the game effectively.

The game starts out simply enough with easy mechanics, simple jumps and movements, wall jumps, running, collecting items called bandages to unlock different characters to play as. Ordinary stuff. And then you realize that you are playing as a man made out of meat. And that this Meat Person, or "Meat Boy,"  has a girlfriend made out of bandages, "Bandage Girl," who's in turn been kidnapped by a fetus in a jar with a monocle and a top hat, "Dr. Fetus." Okay, it's  an odd game. Unique and really different. The story doesn't really matter much more than an early Mario game, although the story is told better in this game and some of the cutscenes are actually kind of brilliant, hilarious, and all kinds of well done.

I consider myself pretty decent at platformers. I grew up playing them on the NES and the SNES. I loved the old Super Star Wars games (I played them to death.), the early main Mario Bros. games, the Donkey Kong Country games, and the Metroid games. I'm sure there are others too. But I have to say that I've never played anything quite as difficult as Super Meat Boy, at least not that I can actively remember at the moment.

Frustrating may be a better and more appropriate term. There were times that I played the game and just wanted to heave my controller through my television, rant and scream, and then finally curl up into the fetal position and grow a top hat and monocle and murder meat... Seriously, just let the damn piece of meat burn in the fires of his own making... watch him... uh...

Um... yeah? My point is that the game starts off easy but gets hard very quickly.If you do not master the controls you will find yourself unable to complete many levels. It took me a while to be able to become good enough to get to the last world of the game. I still haven't collected everything nor have I beaten every level in the game yet, although slowly but surely I'm getting better at everything.

There is one level... it's a character unlock level, of which there is one to the normal worlds... and anybody who has played the game knows which level I'm talking about. I have found endless difficulties with that level to the point where I played a level I should be able to beat in under a minute for about four hours straight. I beat the first level, but had so much trouble on the next that I had to quit, therefore losing all of my progress. Woo-boy was I unhappy with that one.

I played the game on the Xbox 360 (Xbox Live Arcade), but it is also available on Steam at the very least. It's a great game. It has hours and hours and hours worth of gameplay. It is difficult enough to make you earn every hour you play and every victory you gain. I like the game, but the frustration cannot be summed up by a person who has never played it. It's terribly difficult, a callback to older days, and I certainly wish  more games like it would exist.

All of that being said, with its unique story and characters, great controls and gameplay, and difficult challenge, I find this game to be perfect for a video game player like myself. I love the difficulty and the challenge. It gives me something to strive for within the game, something to push myself forward to accomplish. So, I'll recommend this game to those who like an interesting and unique challenge of a video game, but don't say I didn't warn you...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Uzumaki (うずまき) (Spiral) (2000)

Well, here's an oddity of a film, one that is much more bizarre than terrifying, and much more mystifying than interesting. It's like a Tim Burton nightmare world, full of spirals and darkness, but with a lot more blood and guts as well. It's a fairly silly film altogether although it does have some wonderfully macabre ideas. I enjoyed portions of the film, but the whole thing left me wondering if there could have been a better execution... but I'm getting ahead of myself here. Let's start with...

So, I know this is based off of a manga called Uzumaki. I've read portions of it, but would rather not spoil the later bits. So, I'll only talk about the portions that are relevant to the discussion of the movie. This film is a really good adaptation of the manga. It has scenes basically taken word-for-word, shot-for-shot, from the manga. That's certainly not a bad thing. The manga certainly has its moments, but...

Let me tell you something. I know just about nothing about manga. This is the absolute very first manga-thing I've ever even read. My girlfriend coaxed me into reading it, knowing that I'm incredibly fond of body horror. And yes, there is body horror and it made me happy, but reviewing a manga or even 100% understanding it was something I wasn't even certain I could do. I mean, I sometimes feel as if I have something viscerally against the very idea of manga. So, this was different and even somewhat difficult for me o be okay with, but I did it. I read it, and I watched the movie. I have to say that it is a very good adaptation, probably even better paced than the manga itself.

That being said, in a weird way some parts of the manga seem better, whereas at other times parts of the film are better. I personally prefer the main character, Kirie, from the manga. I found her movie counterpart to be a much sillier, much more ridiculous character. She's hard to take seriously, and her actress seems to be a little over the top. Okay, really over the top at times. That being said I preferred her boyfriend, Shuichi, from the movie, finding his manga counterpart moody and annoying.  I mean, seriously, the dude says the exact same lines in most panels he's in, and he acts almost the exact same, which is like a psychotic person. In the movie he's much mellower, calmer, and genuine. I really liked his character in the film until the very end... but I'll get there. Oh boy will I get there.

As for other items between the manga and the film, I found most of the adapted portions to be pretty decent if a bit predictable. I actually wish more had been taken from the manga because the plot might have been a tad more coherent at times... although even the manga has the problem of a pretty incomprehensible plot at times. I, again, prefer the pacing of the film, seeing it as being less episodic and meshing together a great deal better, but I actually prefer the storytelling of the manga, seeing it almost like a scary tales for kids type of story.

So, I'm going to point this out right now: this movie is not scary. It is not horrific. It is not terrifying. It does not make me jitter and shake. It does not make me want to scream or run. Honestly, I found myself laughing fairly often, usually mocking the ridiculous direction and the very often strange characters. If there's anything I can compare the movie to it would be Twin Peaks. The same sort of humor as well as odd-ball characters  are present in both. I certainly don't mind that. I mean, I love the hell out of Twin Peaks, so seeing a movie with a similar feel had me kind of falling for it a bit.

The big problem is that the acting and the direction are not very good, and while Twin Peaks has at least a few fairly disturbing scenes and elements to it, Uzumaki is mostly pretty ridiculous. I can name all of one creepy scene in the entire movie, and that's more because of the thought of the thing and the gore than because of the film being effective at creeping me out. It was the scene where Shuichi's mother tears off her own fingerprints. Yeah, that was pretty crazy and disturbing, but when I saw Shuichi's father kill himself in a washing machine... well, I found myself laughing hysterically at the thought. I mean, I couldn't stop laughing at the absolute ridiculousness of the situation.

Overall for a horror movie, it isn't scary. That does not make a great horror movie. The film is interesting and sort of a fun watch, but is so damn ridiculous at times that it's easier to make fun of than be scared of.

The imagery of the movie is all about the spiral. All you see is spirals everywhere, spirals in hair, in the air, in food, in objects, on people, in smoke, in water... I can just keep on going. Would you like me to keep stating the objects that have spirals? Because I will. So many beautiful spirals everywhere.
Oh, I kind of like looking at them. They're really fascinating, aren't they? I could... well, I could just look at them all day long, staring at them, wanting them everywhere around me. I can... I can almost hear them speaking to me, telling me the secrets I've always wished to know. These secrets spirals, the brilliant vortex of both life and death, mocking me as it leans and moves, vibrating in my very mind, calling to me as I... as I...

I think I'm at peace now, with the spirals multiplying on my very being. I'm at peace that my cochlea is spiraled. I'm so happy that my fingers have spirals upon them. I am gladdened in my own very red heart that my hair curls enough to be a spiral itself.

The ending to the movie is absolutely awful. It ends both abruptly and without any fanfare. I think the rest of the movie is probably worth watching, but the ending is so cliched, abrupt, and disappointing, although the very last image of the film is absolutely breathtaking. I guess the good has to come with the bad. I wish the movie would have been better in general. If it had been I could have seen myself absolutely loving it if it had been a stronger movie, but as it stands it's pretty mediocre overall. It has some fantastic ideas, mostly coming from the manga and the imagery within it, but in general just doesn't work all that well with its odd direction style, its rough actors, and its sometimes comic dialogue. It also has some pretty bad CGI at times, but to me that isn't even surprising.

I think the movie certainly had potential, but failed ultimately as what it was trying to do. I wish it could have been creepy or scary or a horror movie, but instead it comes off as a pretty rough and well-paced adaptation of a pretty mediocre  and terribly-paced manga.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Les Diaboliques (1955)

This Henri-Georges Clouzot French film really surprised me. I never would have expected it to be anywhere near as good as it is. It takes a master director to make a film even half as effective as this. Hell, I would have said before that only Alfred Hitchcock would have been able to do it, but Clouzot not only delivers, I believe he delivers better than Hitchcock would have. That's high praise.

The film is about two women who try to kill the man they share between them. Christina, his wife (played by Véra Clouzot in an absolutely brilliant performance), and Nicole, his mistress (played by Simone Signoret in a subtle and incredible performance herself) star as the two women. They both have their reasons for killing off this awful man, who is a principal of a school he seems to hate. The man, Michel Delassalle (played by Paul Meurisse), is a terrible person, who would deserve any death that the women could give him.

Over the course of the slowly paced film, Michel is killed by the two women, drowned very carefully in a bathtub, and then dumped into the school swimming pool to be found by others later. The problem is his body disappears and this very odd tale of suspense and intrigue commences, all the time with the audience wondering what is real and what isn't, and even moreso if Michel is still alive or if he is truly dead. Theories upon theories went through my head, from supernatural to someone messing with the heads of the two women. Hell, I even once thought that it might have been some kind of awful death dream from Christine, especially with such a focus on her heart condition. And yet, the ending was still both creepy and surprising despite being... well, I'm not going to spoil the ending. The movie itself asked me not to and I'll respect it.

The acting, slow pace, and subtlety really work well in this film, building the tension from beginning to end and leading to an amazing payoff. This film is equal to some of the best Hitchcock films, being very similar in both suspense and ultimate payoff. I'd like to compare the overall film to Vertigo, but both are very different films in general. I think Les Diaboliques is an almost incomparable movie, one that works on so many more levels than it ever should. Its technical quality is sometimes suspect, but the filmography is always brilliant, and despite being black-and-white, the contrast of what you are seeing is incredibly well done, very stark and very intense. 

The film, although in French, is very much a Hitchcockian film. If you've ever enjoyed Hitchcock, you will enjoy Clouzot as well, almost definitely, and I'd recommend its interesting music, its high tension, and its wonderful build-up of both plot and characters to anybody who would enjoy a movie in general. It's fantastically well done and holds up quite well even over sixty years later. I could watch the movie again and again and enjoy it more every time despite knowing the ending. It's a rare movie that adds more to it once you've seen it once.

Anyway, this is a great film, obviously a classic, and I can't say enough great things about it.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Movie Appraisal: White Noise (2005)

I had a very mixed reaction to this movie. It, on some levels, is very competently executed, but on others is simply befuddling. I guess my ultimate thought is that it is a movie that never really needed to exist. It seemed as if it was trying to talk about EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomenon) but really became much more of a ghost or malevolent spirit film by the end. I guess the three malevolent figures could be demons as well. I mean, that right there is hard to get a conclusive thought on. I did somewhat enjoy the film, although, again, I found portions of it to be incredibly unnecessary, which is not a positive.

My biggest complaint would be the persistence of funerals. I have no idea why they kept springing up, but after a while they started to fall very flat, becoming a little too much for this hour and thirty minute movie to handle. The emotional intensity was lost on me after a while, maybe about halfway through the film, maybe a little more, and once it was gone, well, there wasn't much else to care about. Characters kept dying, funerals kept happening, and I stopped caring.

That being said, Michael Keaton is pretty good throughout the movie, and really is the best part of it. I like the idea of the EVP stuff, and the three demonic figures were interesting until the very end. I guess I still don't see the point though. It's just difficult for me to see why the movie ended the way it did or why things happened the way they did. I mean, yes, the "killer" was stopped, but ultimately nothing was solved but that. I think that makes it only a partial story, only a partial victory. So, the movie ends on a down note, which is fine, but also slaps the sacrifices in their faces by showing that no matter what they did they wouldn't stop the three shadow figures, which... okay, I can accept it, but it doesn't make a good conclusion.

So, talking about the movie itself, its plot and such, it really starts out like a weird Michael Keaton romantic comedy. I don't mind that, but it's a really odd way to start a horror movie. 1408 starts a similar way, but really gets so much more effective as the movie progresses whereas White Noise is really only effective towards the middle of the movie when few actual objective facts are known. The feeling of weird romantic comedy never really goes away until maybe the very end of the film. It's the weird bright colors of the cinematography, the slick apartment, and the camera focusing on characters in such a way as to portray a kind of weird romantic comedy effect. I can't explain it fully, but that feeling never truly went away.

White Noise is supposedly a horror movie, but it has very little actual horror. It's not shot like a horror movie as I said above, but that arguably works in its favor, especially at the end of the film when it goes into full horror movie mode. I guess if you like the ending the film is effective, but if you don't, and I fall into that boat, the film really becomes fairly ineffective at bringing across its ultimate points.

I really went into this movie with an opened mind. I had never seen this movie before, nor had I ever learned much about it. I saw a lot of negative reviews for it, but I rarely agree with other reviews, so I figured I'd give it a chance. I liked some of the ideas and some of the execution. The slow beginning was nice as was the middle of the film when everything was still pretty unexplained and spotty. My personal favorite part of the film was when Keaton's character starts reading the old transcripts that state words like "PIG" and "BASTARD" over and over again, trying to tell the EVP investigator, Raymond Price, to give it all up. I don't know why, but I really liked that part of the movie, showing the malevolent entities mixed with an investigation aspect.

My biggest problem was the amounts of deaths in the movie. It really kept me from caring about the characters or sympathizing with them. The lack of characterization in the second half of the film also shows, with most characters being defined with an adjective or two. Very one-dimensional and very flat. All the other major characters really besides Keaton's get shifted to the background and barely make appearances at all. It all feels rather awkward, never really giving enough screentime or care to anybody. I don't know, I guess the feeling that there was a concentration of plot over character didn't work for me. It might have if the characters were insignificant or if there hadn't been more of a focus on characters earlier in the film. Hell, it might have worked if the plot was better, but instead... it just fell very flat for me in general.

All of that being said Michael Keaton is fast becoming one of my favorite actors. The man is an excellent actor, but I feel very strongly that this film didn't let him show off his acting chops which is a real shame.

I also found it strange that most of the victims were women. I mean these demons seem rather woman-specific in their choices of victims. And it seems like it's always men who do the EVP as well. It's a strange kind of sexism that mystifies me. The "killer" is a man listening to the EVP stuff. Keaton's character, Jonathan, does a well, and so does Raymond. All of the other characters are basically female and never really have much or anything to do with the EVP stuff in general except to watch it. Kind of strange. I can't really say anything beyond that. I started noticing it and had no idea why it was chosen to be that way.

I didn't like the ending, not because Keaton's character dies, but because of the way he died. I don't know, mixing bad CGI, another really dumb and unnecessary death, the random killer gunned down by police, and yet another funeral... it felt really strung together and mechanical. I could have predicted it, but if I had it would have been a lot better. It didn't do it for me, hell most of this movie just felt so pointless and ridiculous. I did like parts of it, but overall it left a bad taste in my mouth. I think it's absolutely mediocre, and I also have no idea who this movie could be made for. It's not for the horror audience because it's not scary. It's not for the EVP audience because EVP doesn't work like that at all. AT ALL. So, who was this made for? I have no idea. All I know is that past the halfway point or so the movie really isn't worth watching... maybe a little for the imagery before the climax, with the broken windows of Jonathan's apartment and the three figures darting across a window or two... but mostly the movie isn't really worth it.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Video Game Assessment: The Binding of Isaac (2011)

"BLASPHEMY!" I did not yell about this game because that would be incredibly stupid. I have to roll my eyes about how people can be so sensitive about anything and everything in this age of information and knowledge. Everything can and probably is offensive in some way. Why do people have to take these things so personally. Look, I'll be offensive right now. I dislike most people and think that their opinions are more than likely wrong if they disagree with my own. Does that make me a bad person? Probably, but in my head I'm not bad at all. My friends think I'm okay. My family likes me well enough. My girlfriend doesn't abuse me that often... Look, my point here isn't that offensive material or potentially offensive material be blocked, but rather that it should be embraced. If you call me hurtful names, I'm going to brush it off, maybe even embrace those names because... why not? I'm pretty sure my taste in movies has been insulted too many times to count. I would rather watch 1408 than The Third Man, rather see 12 Monkeys  than The Matrix or Dark City. I prefer anything to Shutter Island. My point is that this rather offends some people despite that being my own personal opinion. I'm not wrong, but that doesn't make me right either. My point is that people should stop being sensitive and just shut up. If you're offended by The Binding of Isaac, don't play it. Simple as that. if you're offended by gay romances in Mass Effect 3, don't romance the gay characters. I mean... how difficult is it to avoid these things? Answer: Not very.

I start out with the controversy when I'm talking about this game because the religious or anti-religious content in this game is... well, it's barely there at all. The story is simple, barely touched upon at all. Yes, this game seems to make fun of hardcore evangelical Christianity, but why shouldn't that be allowed? It should and has to be allowed. It's a freedom of expression and speech. If a person is comfortable with their beliefs than why should this be blasphemous or dangerous or insidious or whatever else? It's a fun little game with a bunch of incredibly well done items that seem to critique the ideas of Christianity in some very silly ways. If it's taken seriously, then maybe some hardcore Christians should take a long, hard look at themselves, and if it's simply a parody of these beliefs, then why is it inflaming so many people?

I guess the fact that other "mainstream" systems that aren't Steam aren't accepting The Binding of Isaac into their game libraries peeves me off a little. It's unfair to this incredibly clever game. So should people be upset about this game? No. It's a game, people, a fun, enjoyable experience with some religious overtones. It has a not dissimilar feel to the novel Carrie by Stephen King. Why is that novel or the movie not screamed at and about? It's like people are afraid that children and other people who play this game may start to doubt beliefs... Hmmm. if a video game has the ability to steer people away from beliefs then I guess those beliefs are pretty shoddy, wouldn't you say? I kid to a point, but seriously, this game is ridiculous and strange and has no real bearing on anybody who is a normally religious person. It isn't subversive or angry about religion. It simply states a story, in my opinion, through the eyes of an extremely disturbed and abused child. His mother is "religious" and hear the voice of "God" telling her to kill her son, Isaac. That sounds like a suspiciously similar story to the actual binding of Isaac by Abraham in the Bible itself, a story that is pretty odd on its front too, trying to show that trust in God is more important than earthly anythings. Now, I'm not going to scream at the Bible or anything. It's a story. I doubt very many people hear the voice of God telling them to kill their children, and I think it's something that wouldn't happen today. A child is incredibly important, and as a parent, even if God tells you to kill that child, it is your responsibility to not do that. That would be really stupid on both God's part and the part of the parent. So, showing this religious mother attempting to kill her neglected, abused, and naked son is reprehensible and insane, and maybe a good way to show how the Bible can at times be absolutely ridiculous and unrealistic, which isn't a bad thing.

Anyway, the game itself is endless fun. Unlocking different items is always fun and different combinations of different items work differently and give each and every game a different feel. It's a game that I compare to the original Legend of Zelda, and it plays fairly similarly to that and has clear homages to it as well in terms of the item rooms and some of the bosses and enemies. You can play as six different characters in the game; all of them play differently and each (except the joke character) has a religious name like Isaac himself does: Magdalene, Judas, Cain, and Eve. Another character, Samson, is slated for the expansion The Wrath of the Lamb, which comes out at the end of the month.

The main enemy of the game seems to be Isaac's mom herself, but really, in the end, it seems to be Satan. In find that both comical and interesting. The game is incredibly fun.It's enjoyable to play at any time,but does have its own frustrations and difficulties. I've run into a few bugs, usually not terrible ones, but bugs nonetheless. Most of them have been character models disappearing or color palettes changing around at odd times. The game can be incredibly difficult at times and is often very luck based, which can be problematic for the harder to play characters like Eve and ???. If the right materials and items are not dropped, those characters will often fail to defeat the game. There are eleven different endings and the game ramps up the difficulty after you finish the game a certain amount of times. It's only available on Steam, which due to my owning an incredibly crappy computer, meant that to play it I had to install Steam. I did and the game works well, but I really would have rather not installed Steam if given the choice. I wish the game could have been on other platforms. It's rather sad that it isn't.

Anyway, this is an extremely enjoyable, almost addictive game, and should be played by everybody. I spent $4.99 on the game and it was worth every penny for the hours of gameplay and enjoyment I received from it. I also hope that I offend at least one person with this review and what I see herein. Or at least anger some people because of the assumed censorship going on. Man, I would love to have actually offended someone. That would make my day. This game isn't worth people getting up in arms about it. It's a fun experience that does not really need anybody outraged against it. Seriously, anybody outraged needs to reassess their lives and what actually really matters in those lives.

Anyhow, I recommend this game to anybody with a decent computer. It's fun, addictive, challenging, and altogether a really well put together game. It's made by Edmund McMillen, co-creator of Super Meat Boy, and it shows, with this game having a very similar art style and even some of the same characters from Super Meat Boy. Oh, I should probably mention that this game is considered in the Roguelike genre, despite the fact that I've never played Rogue.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Movie Appraisal: No Way to Treat a Lady (1968)

I saw the stage version of No Way to Treat a Lady a few years ago and fell in love with it. I mean seriously the sense of humor, the story, and the characters were all so fantastically done. The writing was fantastic, and the acting and the singing happened to be pretty good as well. It was easily one of my most enjoyed theatre watching experiences I've ever had. I loved the music (the stage version is a musical by the way, in case you didn't catch it) and the plot. Man, it was intense and funny in all the right parts. Absolutely fantastic.

Well, the movie predates the stage play, which itself is predated by a novel of the same name by William Goldman, better known as the writer of The Princess Bride  novel. Now, William Goldman can certainly write a certain kind of very well done humor, dark and fantastic in all the right ways.

Anyway, No Way to Treat a Lady is essentially a movie about a serial killer and the detective who is trying to find him. Arguably it can be seen as fairly serious in some ways, at least with the subject matter of a man killing older women across New York City. The film features the detective and the killer as the leads of the production. The detective, Morris Brummel (played by George Segal), is a Jewish cop who seems to have a very certain way of living his life. He has no girlfriend, lives with his mother, and seems altogether to be a slight be of an oaf. And yet he is extremely likable, similar to any shy man who has ever existed. He starts investigating the case and falls in love with the first witness Kate Palmer (played by Lee Remick). The love story is altogether kind of sweet. Kate is shown as a lady on her own who can take care of herself. She is often forward where Morris is embarrassed, nervous, or seems just plain terrified at the prospect at talking with a woman who isn't his mother. A good portion of the plot deals with his relationships between the two female characters in his life and how he has to learn to act around them. He falls in love with Kate over the course of the movie just as she falls for him. And it's really kind of sweet. I'm not usually a sucker for love stories because seriously, screw love stories, but this one works for me. Maybe it's because it feels realistic, or maybe it's simply because these characters remind me of actual people. I don't really know.

The rest of the story is about the serial killer proper, Christopher Gill (played spectacularly by Rod Steiger), a well-to-do Broadway theater owner who recently lost his famous actress of a mother. He kills older, often middle-aged, women by strangling them, seemingly envisioning his mother as he does so. Mr. Gill showboats his accomplishments, phoning the police after his murders. He eventually targets Morris, and they speak with one another from time to time, eventually they grow to have a strange rapport with one another. This is certainly more on Gill's side than Morris's side, but it's interesting to see the progression of open hostility at first to almost a strange friendship of sorts. I think it's portrayed spectacularly in the play version, but the movie does have some of it as well, although it is a great deal subtler, which I think is to the film's detriment even if the play came afterward.

The main premise of the film is that Gill dresses up and acts as different personae to get into these women's apartments. The whole first scene of the movie is Gill as a priest talking with and eventually strangling an ex-Catholic widow. He also plays a German plumber, a seemingly gay hairdresser, a terrified woman, and even goes as far as imitating Detective Brummel. He affects different accents and intonations when becoming these characters, and the acting from Steiger is a real treat to watch. He pulled off a fantastic performance here. The problem is that his own pride at his acting ability and accents does really give him away in the end. He almost has to be some sort of actor. And his own hubris is what finally fingers him for the crimes. He wants to be the gentleman killer, who murders only his chosen victims. When another murder is attributed to him, he flies off the deep end, almost getting himself caught because of it. Eventually the game of cat and mouse between Morris and Gill reaches a head with Gill unhappy about the dangerous games that Morris seems to be playing with him, and Gill decides to play his own game of setting a meal up for Kate so that he can kill her.

His plans don't work out as they should though, and Kate survives. He flees to his theatre and Morris meets him face-to-face, eventually deciding that this is his man after seeing a portrait of Gill's late mother with the same lipstick on her own lips that Gill placed on the victim's foreheads. Morris asks Gill for the keys to the costumes, and knowing that the costumes he used would be right there on display, Gill gives the key to Morris only to intercept him in the darkness below the theatre, trying to kill him with throwing lights at him and such. Morris eventually shoots Gill and Gill knocks Morris out. Gill staggers on stage, becoming each of the characters he had acted in turn, remembering the murders, and eventually, when confronted with his crimes, asking Morris for forgiveness, calling back an earlier scene where Gill asked for forgiveness from Morris after yelling at him over the phone. Morris does not forgive Gill, who has finally been captured.

This movie is really good in general. The pacing and the plot are incredibly well done. And this movie really seems to foreshadow some of the dark comedy murder mystery-like television shows that would come out long after this movie. Hell, there are some Psych episodes that certainly have a similar feel. My point is that this movie actually works as both a serial killer film with a certain darkness that those movies have in them and as a comedic film with almost romantic comedy elements to it. In general this is a great film for anybody to watch. The acting is superb, the story is both tense and incredibly funny, and the movie is a really fun watch in general.  It was an enjoyable experience. I'd certainly watch it again if given the chance or if I was in the mood for it. So, I have to say that I would recommend it. If my description sounds intriguing, go and check it out.

Also, and just a last remark here, I compared this movie to The Princess Bride in my head before I wrote this review,and I just find it funny that two very different movies can be compared together so easily on issues like tone, humor, and enjoyment. Honestly, if you like The Princess Bride, you'd probably like this movie too.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Possession (1981)

So, I was about to watch and review the American version of Dark Water and then, seeing as how that movie is pretty terrible, almost ridiculously painful to watch, I stopped and decided to watch Possession instead. So, I'm watching this movie, intrigued by its style and a very young Sam Neill as the male lead, and my mouth drops open, my eyes as wide as they could be, fear and bile are rising in my throat and a thought comes into my head, a thought that seems to be the driving force behind this movie: OhboywhatdidIgetmyselfintohere?

Okay, I think if the image above doesn't tell you that this review may involve some graphic images, then I'm certainly telling you now. The movie is fairly graphic at times, with some of the hardest scenes to watch that I've seen in a very long time. Slasher movies with unrealistic gore and all those gorn films that exist out there have nothing on the methodical and paranoid way that this film drives its creepiness and blurs the edges between reality and fiction. And it does it in such a subtle way, causing the watcher to be dropped down a rabbit hole from which there is no escape. With Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani in the starring roles, this movie has a brilliant cast, amazing acting, and a story that screams paranoia and distress through its every pore.

The cinematography is unsettling to the extent of making the audience itself feel unease at what is coming next. I kept thinking about the scenes that might be coming next, what could happen. And the fact is that this movie surpassed every expectation by bringing out something more disturbing than I had in my own mind every time. The fears and threats that are brought out in this movie incredible. I don't know if I've ever seen a movie that works quite like this or that even feels quite like this one. Everything makes you squirm, from the simple environment to the ways characters act. The character of Anna, the wife, is particularly hard to watch or to be involved with at all. Any person with a significant other who happens to be female will find fear in that character, the cold-bloodedness, the insanity, the beauty mixed with the absolute danger. I've never found myself frightened of small and pretty women, but with the acting here blended with the utter insanity of the character, Anna has entered my own personal nightmares as a demon herself. A man-killing demon.

In some ways I think this movie may in fact be unreviewable. I spent half of the movie (at least half) with my mouth or eyes as wide opened as they could be, both shocked and awed by what I saw. It's so unlike anything else. It's like a movie about insanity that actively involves the viewer in that insanity. I'm not comfortable enough with my own sanity to watch this movie with discomfort. I don't think anybody is.

This movie seems to be an allegory of a disintegrating marriage, separation, and the fact that some people can never work out as a couple, but the movie is damn well near impenetrable at times anyway even with that knowledge. I mean I simply think back on Anna's apartment and the scenes therein or the calm way characters deal with absolute terror, murder, and the most twisted sorts of acts imaginable, and I find this movie viscerally mind-shattering. The twisted and complicated plot, the doppelganger characters, the way that characters react to problems, and the horrific elements of the film are all very intense and are all very confusing, and create a story that literally feels more terrifying than most other movies, even without absolutely horrific images, monsters, or... My point is that there is a subtle horror here, one that hits a person in the back of the mind rather than in the front of the eyes. Focusing on this movie, I found myself needing a break from the intensity, only to find myself drawn back in for another round. Movies like this are very few and far between for me, and that makes it even harder to say that I have no idea whether I liked the movie or not.

I think a few good comparisons in films might be Mulholland Drive by David Lynch or Lost Highway by the same. Possession has a very Lynch-like feel to it despite being a much creepier and crazier ride than either of those movies. Although I will admit that I had a very similar feeling to Mulholland Drive after watching it as I did to Possession. Both films gave me a lot to think about, and both were not necessarily a film I came out loving. In some ways, to a video gaming crowd, the film also reminded me of Silent Hill 2 and its plot. I can't really explain the connection except that the feeling of the two movies somehow seemed similar to me. I really can't say why, just a brain thought I had, I guess.

Andrzej Żuławski directs this film beautifully and almost sadly. There is an intensity to every scene, and it is also very hectic even while nothing is actively going on. The filming itself is very different, evoking Lynch and also other directors who have chosen to explore the mind and its facets. The imagery is wonderful, blending mundane and absolute horror without alienating itself. It's very reminiscent of Jacob's Ladder is some very specific ways and that is probably the strongest comparative piece I know of. I have heard that Repulsion by Polanski would be a similar comparative piece, but although I own it, I've never actually watched it. So, I have a very hard time comparing it.

I had never heard of Possession before, even being the psychological horror fan that I am. I'm incredibly glad that I found it and could watch it, but at the same time it's almost as if my brain has gone through a change by watching it. I feel like I'll never be the same, never look at a relationship... or for that matter a woman... the same way again. There is such an emphasis on a lack of knowledge between two people, lack of trust as well, showing both as hypocrites looking for perfection and instead getting a normal person as a spouse or significant other. It's a very powerful message, one that I have a hard time not squirming at in one way or another.

I don't know how much I should actually say about the movie. It's heavily metaphorical, but plays as if it is a plotted out story. The problem is that although the story is not hard to follow, the captivating element is not the story or the plot, but rather the interactions between characters and those characters interacting with their environments as well. Mark, played by Sam Neill, plays an undeniably Sam Neill role, both crazy and sane, hero and villain, blending the lines as he has proven time and time again that he can do so well. This is certainly a wonderful preview of the things that would come from his career. The way he nonchalantly cuts himself on the electric steak knife, cold eyes, no wince in pain... that image will stay with me for a very long time.

To point out just how... how tough this movie is to review and watch and... and enjoy, I guess... I'll describe a scene: Anna moans at a statue of Jesus while holding a bag for a straight minute, begging or pleading perhaps. Then a scene goes by and she absolutely freaks out in a subway station for minutes as liquid pours out of her. This is the story of her miscarriage. Think about that for a minute. Those first two sentences are literally Anna telling Mark how she miscarried. Oh my... how can I even, for a minute, begin to express words that mean anything to this movie? How can I go and say I understand it as well as I should?

It's a brilliant movie, in my opinion, but difficult to follow. I assume with repeat viewings I'll get more out of it, but I'm going to find myself hardpressed to watch it again anytime soon.

Anyway, I recommend it to people who like psychological horror, but with the warning that it is a really screwed up movie, one that really might affect you in an unexpected way. I think I liked it, but I really can't promise that I did. That's weird when I can't even decide whether I liked it or not. Really weird...

Anyway, I've been doing this blog for two years today. I've had a crazy time doing it. I really wanted to get a review out today and since Dark Water sucked pretty badly (although I'll probably review it) I thought that an actually deep and interesting movie would be a good one for a two year review. Oh, and if any readers have any questions on the movie, ask in the comment section, and I'll try to answer as best as I can. It's a really cool movie to debate and talk about.