Friday, July 27, 2012

Series Criticism: Star Wars (Part 2): The Beginning of Expansion

As long as Star Wars has existed there has been an element of the expanded universe. Wait, no, that shouldn't be "expanded universe." I've always known it as the Expanded Universe. Capital letters for a proper title. These novels and comic books are wholly a different animal from the movies and action figures that came before. They were no longer gimmicks trying to bank off of the movies. They were legitimate stories in their own rights. Well, that's half true at least. I think at first they had to be marketed from the movies, put out to be sold as sequels to the stories seen in the movies. The first real novel, Splinter of the Mind's Eye, was certainly marketed as a sequel to Star Wars (the original movie) just in case the movie was not a success. It was basically a Plan B if things didn't go right. Splinter of the Mind's Eye is a special novel in its own right, not really adhering to the canon set out in the novels or movies that followed, but still having a certainly popularity and Star Wars feeling since it was penned by the same man who wrote the original Star Wars. The problem is that certain characters, very popular characters, don't return for the book, and Han Solo and Chewbacca were far too valuable as characters and marketing gimmicks to just thrown away to the wind.

The movies were ultimately very successful, bringing new life to both the space opera and the science fiction genres. It opened new doors that many thought could never be opened. George Lucas was a genius and his baby was the star of the moment. Of course things would change. Demographics would change. People would change. Hell, even Star Wars, both the movies and everything else, would change. But that was down the road a bit. First, we have to talk a little about the comics and some of the first Expanded Universe material.

Now, I'm not going to say I'm an expert on the comics from Star Wars. I've read some, most of the ones I've read are either very old, from my father's day, or fairly recent from a few years ago. The comics were never brilliant, never really needed to give insight into the story of Star Wars. Mostly they were little stories that expanded the Star Wars universe, giving life to different planets, different characters, villains, heroes, and many other things, to make the universe appear like an actual universe. It had depth, both emotionally and geographically, and most of all it had a soul to it. The Jedi story was expanded. The Empire's story was expanded. Everything about the main characters, even the things that ended up not being canon, were expanded. And although there were a great deal of silly ideas and executions, there was a love of the brand seen all over the products.

The things that I was really into when I was young and so full of love of Star Wars were the books. I loved the Expanded Universe books, all the little new adventures of the main cast of the movies. I loved the new characters that were introduced, and I loved the new planets, new conflicts, and new ideas that came streaming forth from those novels. Most of the books were poorly written. And I mean really poorly written. Some were written by established authors, but others were written by people trying to get their foot in the door of science fiction. My biggest gripes were the people who just wrote stories that were awful, simply awful, although that happened rarely, with only one particular series actually being close to unreadable.

The EU really started things off right though with The Thrawn Trilogy, and its books: Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command. These were novels by Timothy Zahn, an already established writer, who wanted to tell some new stories in this budding universe. He really got the ball rolling, creating these books that felt very much like the movies they emulated. The characters were five years or so older than they were at the end of Return of the Jedi, but they felt consistent to those earlier characters, but also as if those characters had grown and evolved from their earlier forms. Timothy Zahn penned these novels, focused around the titular Grand Admiral Thrawn and his new Imperial potential, and they worked incredibly well, showing an amazing sense of grey in a universe that had always focused so heavily on black and white terms. He showed both redemption in the character of Mara Jade, a former apprentice of the Emperor, and a villain who was not evil at all in Thrawn. There were important and delicate conversations in the novel concerning philosophy and the philosophy of the Force, if the Empire was evil at all or if the man of the Emperor was the rotten thing of that institution, and racism. All of these topics were discussed in the universe of Star Wars giving an insightful look at both the fictional universe and our own. It was a groundbreaking series, being the first popular novels in the series and really kicking off the EU and what would become a central backbone to the entire series.

Timothy Zahn's books are of incredible quality, really being an expansion to the movies, almost so much so that they were for a time (and still kind of are) referred to as the "Sequel Trilogy." Most of the main themes from both the prequels and the original movies came into play here in these novels despite the fact that the prequels wouldn't even be considered for years. Elements from this series would end up in the prequels, most specifically Coruscant. In general the novels were brilliant, and they introduced Star Wars as a new type of series, one that could be taken seriously in both movie and novel form. These novels paved the way for Star Wars to be the multimedia franchise it certainly is today with their success.

Now, while I could go on for a very long time about just how amazing the Thrawn Trilogy is, there was one inherently bad aspect of them, and that was the idea that Luke Skywalker had to be paired off with a woman. It wouldn't have been bad if Mara Jade had been that woman and that was it, but for some reason she simply was not good enough for Luke, and another four years or so (ten in universe) would go by before Luke would successfully settle down with the character he worked so well with. So, while this isn't a negative aspect of these novels per se, it became a negative aspect when all the next four years of novels seemed to be were pairing off Luke with different women to see which one would stick the best. The next few years of novels were painful to say the least, with very few main series novels of any worth at all because of the focus on either Luke's love life or trying to make the series as sci-fi and different as possible.

I love the Thrawn Trilogy for what it is. I would gladly read those novels again, but when we talk about the Kevin J. Anderson novels, the Vonda McIntyre novel, and heaven help me, the Barbara Hambly novels, we get into territory best left for only the most hardcore of fans... or at least the fans who can put up with simply awful things. Kevin J. Anderson's novels, specifically the Jedi Academy novels, Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice, and Champions of the Force, were incredibly difficult to enjoy. Honestly they were at times painful to read, often focusing on plots and characters that made no sense, portraying certain characters from the movies as basically being superhuman, knowing everybody in the galaxy, and generally making everybody seem awful to be around for any period of time. Han Solo comes off as the best thing in the entire galaxy when in the movies he had been portrayed as a screw-up who got hit with the wrong end of the intelligence stick. Starting in these novels and continuing in many others, Han Solo is suddenly the best there ever was: the best pilot, the best husband, the best survivor, and the best of everything. It's sickening and a large reason why I dislike the character so strongly. I won't go as far as saying Kevin J. Anderson is a hack. He does have some decent novels to his credit, specifically the Young Jedi Knight series, but the Jedi Academy series and even moreso, Darksaber, are some of the worst things that Star Wars offers.

I can create an entire diatribe out of what Vonda McIntyre was thinking in writing The Crystal Star, having that be one of the most baffling books in all of existence. I will admit it isn't badly written. It simply was not Star Wars, not even slightly.With multiple dimensions and a being of infinite power, it comes off as a jumble of ideas better left for sci-fi than the space opera of Star Wars. The portrayal as Han as a character who could easily cheat on Leia at any moment and Luke as a bumbling fool also leaves a lot to be desired. It's easy enough to avoid though, even if you are the biggest Canon junkie of them all.

The real dark part of the early Star Wars novels has to be Barbara Hambly's mess. Children of the Jedi is unreadable, with one of the worst plots I have ever seen, with some of the worst writing I have ever read. It is a novel terrible in every conceivable way. Even my ten year old self couldn't abide taking the time to read that piece of crud, and I read everything Star Wars related back then. The fact that I hated, hated, hated Callista and everything she represented, and that the entire plot was an excuse to make Luke and Callista be in love whether Luke, Canon, or anything agreed was too much for me. It was awful, painful, and terrible. I hated the Eye of Palpatine, a weird ship that did things that made no sense. I hated the contrived plot, the terrible love story... the everything. It was the first and only Star Wars novel I ever stopped reading simply because it angered and annoyed me so much. No, it disgusted me. The saddest thing about that novel is that today it is considered one of the better ones from the era of novels. What is wrong with people? If you are reading this and enjoyed that freaking novel, shame on you. Shame on your existence. I am disappointed with you, internet reader whom I've probably never met and never will. You now represent everything that is terrible in Star Wars. While Kevin J. Anderson was mediocre, Barbara Hambly started something in the EU (and even in the prequels) that never stopped: contrived romances, melodrama, a focus on getting girls and women to read the novels rather than just making it for the people who loved the series regardless of age, gender, sex, or whatever. It was selling out, pure and simple, and you'll see that the novels that are out today I have very little to say about because I have not read or bought a Star Wars novel in about five years or so. But I'll be getting to that in another review. Children of the Jedi is almost as bad... or would be if I remembered any of it. It was so rough that I basically forgot about it all. I know it was mostly about Luke looking for Callista, finding her, and then her disappearing from his life FINALLY. For all intent's this is the low point of the early EU, and it would not be matched for quite some time.

Now, yes, there were some bad novels in this era and some equally bad writers, but most of the stuff to come out of it was pretty mediocre. I mean, forgettable and just plain average in execution and intent. The Black Fleet Crisis Trilogy was just another way to try to get Luke with yet another woman, this one named Akanah. Lando features pretty prominently in that series, but largely this and many of the other series of this period I didn't mention are just there. They exist.

But, despite the terrible books, the mediocre books, and the ones that are so forgettable I didn't even mention them despite reading and owning them, there were some amazing gems to come out of the terrible stuff. Michael Stackpole and Aaron Allston both wrote the excellent side-series X-Wing, which is one of the better series of all time, focusing on the pilots and missions of the Rogue Squadron, the squadron that Luke and Wedge Antilles created between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back, and Wraith Squadron which was created during the series. The trials and tribulations of the pilots are some of the best writing in all of Star Wars fiction. Of course it had to take place for a side-series, right?

I, Jedi, also written by Stackpole, went and did something amazing, something only Zahn had been able to do before. He retconned some of stupid out of the EU, taking large chunks of the Jedi Academy Trilogy and making it make sense. It was a brilliant way of showing that even Canon with a capital C could be changed to have a greater quality than it had previously. I, Jedi stands in my head as one of the greatest literary achievements of Star Wars, not only retconning stupidity, but also having a first person perspective and really delving into a character that had never been in the movies with Corran Horn.

Zahn would come back in incredible fashion as well, giving two of the greatest novels in Star Wars with The Hand of Thrawn Duology with the books, Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future. The novels tell an amazing story certainly, but also exist to throw punches at most of the novels that came out between The Thrawn Trilogy and this series. Mara Jade, a character known for speaking her mind, seems to speak with Zahn's own voice for a time, telling Luke how stupid everything has been for so long, telling him how many bad decisions and baffling mistakes he's made, and arguably giving one of the best rants against other novelists who don't understand what they are writing in all of literature. I have to respect Zahn for what he accomplished here, writing the best Star Wars novel, hell, one of the best novels of all time, in Vision of the Future, and telling off both the Star Wars EU and the authors continually making mistakes at the same time. And somehow he got away with it and still writes Star Wars novels. The man is basically that good. And the duology stands as one of the great deconstructions of the Star Wars brand as well as being one of the most insightful, and certainly the best written.

With I, Jedi and the even more amazing Hand of Thrawn Duology, this era of Star Wars came to a close with an incredible bang. 1998 stands as the end of an era. It was a time before the prequels, a time when the original trilogy was the only movie trilogy. It was a time of innocence and trial. Many authors were still testing the waters of Star Wars, trying to get their feet wet, trying to make a universe that could be understood and emulated. It was still young, still vibrant. Twenty-one years has past since the advent of Star Wars, and only a year was left before a new trilogy would begin that would yet again shake up the Star Wars name. But in 1998 there was nothing better than being a fan of this series, believing that everything would be amazing. The books were so much better than they had ever been, the movie, Episode I of the franchise, looked incredibly promising, and so much was there to believe in...

So, there's my second part of this series. Tune in next time for a discussion of the early video games of franchise and maybe a little delving into what would become abhorrent to most pre-prequel fans of the series...

(You won't have to wait as long for the next part as you did for this one. I took way too long getting this out. The next should be fairly soon. Look for me kind of crushing out reviews for the next few weeks more than likely.)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Vanishing on 7th Street (2010)

Hayden Christensen is an actually decent actor? Say it isn't so! All that horrible, cringe-inducing, vomit-spew   that he called an acting performance from the Star Wars prequels was just George Lucas being a terrible director? Really? I would have never expected that. I would have never expected that furrowed-brow man-child could actually give a decent performance. But this movie proves it! See, it was Star Wars being horrible that made him look bad, not him being an awful actor!

Well, I partially find that true. I mean, I'm not going to go nuts here and say he's brilliant or anything. He does a solid job, but the acting here is pretty inconsistent anyway. He's the second best actor in the movie though, and does a really good job at conveying actual emotions rather than just facial movements and noises coming out of his mouth. He does a good job in this movie, but his performance is in no way stellar. I've heard a lot of people go and defend him to death about his performances in the two Star Wars films being very different from his other, better, performances in other, better, films. While I'll say that his acting here is not bad, it never blows me away. Honestly, none of the performances here are very good exactly, although I will say that John Leguizamo does a pretty good job in general. The others kind of fade into the background of the plot, really never showing off their quality of acting, and certainly ever impressing me in any way.

The whole movie is based on an interesting premise that I first "saw" executed in the Goosebumps book by R. L. Stine called Be Careful What You Wish For... where the main character wishes to be left alone or something to that effect and she finds herself all alone with nobody left in the entire world. Anyway, that's the basic idea here: People start disappearing from the world due to some kind of sentient darkness and only a few are left in the end. Roanoke Island is talked about as a precursor to this great, worldwide disappearance of people, and the word "Croatoan" (whatever that is meant to mean) seems to be used as an arc word in the film. The darkness being sentient and all-consuming is a pretty awesome idea. It is both well-executed and well-realized. It works with the creepy, almost horrific, tone that the movie tries to set, and it really makes you feel a little paranoid in general. The fact that darkness can be anywhere and can even blot out the sun... Whew... that's heavy stuff.

So, while I thought the premise of the movie was really interesting, in the same way I found Absentia's premise to be interesting, I did find some of it lacking nevertheless. The characters are never really a central piece of the movie despite them being the central piece of the movie. And the performances are sometimes not great... although none of the movie ever sinks as low as Absentia does. It works better in every way than that film. It also is somewhat reminiscent of a movie like 30 Days of Night, even if there are a lot of big differences between the films. The theme of darkness versus light is very prevalent in both, and is used very well is both. In general I really did enjoy Vanishing on 7th Street as both a horror movie, and a post-apocalyptic film. It finally reminded me of The Mist, which is never an insult. And it also had some bits of elements from a zombie horror film or something like that,which I thought was mightily effective. It had a creepiness that worked pretty well with darkness being the enemy and no consistent way of keeping a light. Hell, it's one of those movies that I think would work really well as a video game. It kind of operates with some video game logic, especially with the choice of which lights stay on and which flip off. This movie reminds me of Alan Wake to a point, but is so much less annoying than Alan Wake ever felt. Fighting against darkness as a theme is really interesting in both, but kind of silly as well. I actually thought the idea was better in Alan Wake than this film, but the execution is so much better here that I really do prefer this film to that game.

The characters in the film are very underdeveloped. None of them truly matter to the narrative anyway. The acting is perfectly fine, but that doesn't really matter much for a film like this. The visuals are really good in general though, so much so that I have to admit that the visuals are really my favorite part of the movie. Brad Anderson directed this movie, and I generally like his style of direction. Session 9 still stands as one of my favorite psychological horror films, and The Machinist is also really good, with both having great performances, but both also benefiting from amazing set-pieces. Session 9 has Danvers, one of the great mental asylums of all time, an incredibly effective setting for a horror flick, and The Machinist has Christian Bale putting in one of his best performances of all time. This movie is not as good as either of those other films since it lacks both great acting and a great setting, but it's still pretty decent. I mean, if the premise sounds interesting, you should check it out.

My only big problem is the ending. I didn't like the ending at all. It came on too quickly, without really any foreshadowing. I don't like quick deaths which makes entire character arcs meaningless. That's kind of a spoiler, but I'm not giving any names. The ending here really does make most of the rest of the movie mean very little, and that was disappointing considering I really was enjoying the movie. There is a section of the film that is very psychological... Hell, maybe large portions of it are psychological... and they were quite well despite being kind of predictable. Well done though, just not my favorite stuff I've ever seen. The Adam and Eve styled ending made me roll my eyes and never want to stop rolling them... That was rough on every single one of my senses. I wouldn't have hurled at that ending, but it was something I mentally felt like throwing up to. So everything about the ending was kind of dumb. But in general the movie is solid and works well. So, I do recommend it for what it's worth for the visuals alone. It is a creepy movie and works fairly effectively at being kind of scary. If you're alone at night, this film would be the perfect one to creep you out.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Absentia (2011)

Okay, here's an interesting film that I have mixed feelings about in so many ways. This movie is simultaneously very interesting, almost thought-provoking in some ways, and also very dull in others. It's yet another horror film without horror. It's yet another movie that should be terrifying and yet really only comes off as a boring yarn. That's not quite fair,but I certainly found myself less than interested in the entire movie. The story and execution could have been done so much better, but ultimately were done poorly because of the lack of focus on anything even remotely interesting. And that's why this movie feels schizophrenic. It feels all over the place. It feels like it's trying to do everything, succeeds in some areas, but fails in most.

It would be unfair to call Absentia a bad film though. It's certainly not a bad movie, but it never really feels like its own thing. It never really has its own identity. The closest it comes is when it's showing the tunnel, usually the inside of the tunnel, and usually Doug Jones is involved as well. That's the best part of the film. But the movie really bogs down when the story is explored. The two sisters are less than interesting people. Callie (played by Katie Parker) never has more than the most minor of character development, shown as a little wild, a little drugged up, and a Christian. But that's not three-dimensional character development, it's just a list of what she is rather than who she is. Her sister is done slightly better in general, but Tricia (played by Courtney Bell) has her own issues of being a little too intense at times, again not showing the range of emotions she almost certainly should be showing.

So, this movie was a Kickstarter project. If you haven't heard of Kickstarter, well... it's a website where people can try to crowdfund a project, in this case a movie. And I have to show that it is certainly apparent that the budget was not huge for this movie. That being said, I don't really care if the movie looks amazing or looks terrible. Well shot movies can be just as bad as terribly shot movies, but I didn't like the aesthetics of this film. They turned me off constantly, with nothing in the movie looking particularly good at all... but also nothing in the movie looking awful or horrifying either. I'm not even saying that stuff looked mundane. It just didn't look good.

It was a disappointing film for me. I had heard about it for a while and had been trying to see it for a while. The first chance I get to see it, and all I see is not so great acting, a movie that doesn't look good, and hectic direction that just doesn't work. Now, I'm usually kind of nice to these independent films, but I just had a ton of problems with this film, probably because I actually really enjoyed both the premise and the story, but was incredibly disappointed with the execution. Everything felt wrong with the execution, from the acting to the direction by Mike Flanagan. The only actors that stuck out to me as being very good were the few scenes with Doug Jones and Morgan Peter Brown as Daniel, but only towards the end of his appearance in the film.

The movie's plot is pretty much: Tricia's husband disappears for seven years. He's going to be declared dead in absentia. Callie comes to give Tricia some moral support with Daniel being declared dead and also with Tricia having a baby on the way, and then Daniel shows up. Most of the film though is really very dry, and if you have no understanding or liking of the characters it becomes very hard to watch indeed. There are scenes that are almost baffling to me why they are in the movie. for example the scenes where Daniel is describing the bug-things is pretty good, but actually showing those bug things out of the corner of the screen is much less effective. The movie is not scary except one very small scene basically at the end of the film where Callie isn't specific enough about her request and something bad happens. (If you've seen the movie you know what I'm talking about.) That right there was a well done scene, but was also one of the few very well done scenes.

I don't even know what else to say. This was not a good movie to me. Honestly it was a movie that offered me very little. It didn't look good. It didn't sound good. The acting wasn't particularly compelling. Yes, the story made the movie a little worth it, and the lines and writing were also pretty decent, but for the most part I could have never seen this movie and would not have missed a thing. I can't recommend this movie. Hell, I can barely even talk about it. It has nothing really to offer and definitely comes off more as a boring execution of an interesting idea than a total failure... but that doesn't make the movie any better. I hate ripping into an independent film like this, but I was not a fan despite thinking that I might really like this movie. There's nothing else to say. Avoid this movie if at all possible. I hate being harsh, but this was just not well done in my opinion. I am totally baffled as to why... how... it won awards for this... and why I'm not seeing the brilliance that others obviously did. Am I missing something? Did I go comatose in the scene that makes the movie good? I don't think I did.

Anyway, this is a disappointing flick and should be avoided. Its premise is great, but the execution leaves a ton to be desired.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Movie Appraisal: The Hole (2009)

I didn't know this was a Joe Dante film until after the movie was done. In retrospect I probably could have guessed. It's very much his style of film, with very similar themes to other movies that I've seen directed by him. But I'm starting off kind of strange, talking about the director of this film when I have a movie to review. So, let's jump down the bottomless hole and see what lies beyond the darkness.

I talk about Joe Dante because I tend to like his films (the very few I've actually seen), and this one is no exception. I loved (LOVED!) this film. It was great from beginning to end with excellent set-ups, a great plot, amazing characters, and a weird horror-comedy fantasy plot that actually made me both pull back from the screen at times and laugh at others. It was really a brilliant film. If you're reading this review right now and haven't seen this flick, just stop reading and go watch this film. Yeah, it has 3D in the title (because it was filmed in 3D) but don't let that throw you off watching the movie (or entice you to watch it either because 3D is generally horrible). The 3D didn't add or subtract from The Hole though. I didn't even notice it until after I started to look stuff up for this review and noticed that the movie was filmed in 3D and yeah...

The acting is amazing by the way. Yes, there are hiccups from time to time, but for the most part it works. The kids are kids. I mean, hell some of the things Dane (played by Chris Massoglia) did, I did myself when I was his age. And it all worked quite well. His performance, although a little wooden at times, really showed a character with depth and maybe some vulnerabilities and a whole lot of loneliness bottled up inside of him. He latched onto the female lead, Julie (played by Haley Bennett), and their chemistry together was fun to watch. Haley Bennett does a great job here as well, showing a range of emotion (maybe not the greatest range, but still a range) and a character that does feel well-rounded despite how little you know about her. Finally there is Lucas (played by Nathan Gamble who was the kid in The Mist.) who acts well beyond his years, having quite possibly the best comic timing and some of the best acting in the movie. The dynamics between Dane and Lucas is really the whole driving point of the movie, and kind of the take home message is that these two didn't really like one another at first, but eventually came together as brothers. It was sweet, well thought out, and well executed. Honestly, all three lead characters have great chemistry with one another, and the quality of their acting was certainly enhanced by acting against one another. I can't even say enough good things about the acting here. I felt that they were kids, and that's something I see so rarely in films like this. Usually the kids in a movie feel like anybody else, mostly like adults writing a kid, but here the kids feel like regular kids and act like regular kids, and it is absolutely a joy to behold.

The story is simple enough, a mother (played by Teri Polo) and her two sons move to a new town to get away from her abusive ex-husband, who is currently locked away in a prison in New Jersey. She gets a new job at a hospital and the boys have some free time to do anything they want to do. It's summer after all, so there are plenty of things to do, right? Well, no. Dane misses his friends and seems to really hate on his young brother, Lucas. He sees his pretty next door neighbor and starts watching her in the most socially awkward way possible, drawing her, and probably actively thinking about maybe possibly dating her. I-I... I don't know... I guess that's what I would be thinking if I had ever been in his shoes... which I haven't been... or... uh, probably haven't been... more than likely... Look, I understand what the dude's thinking, all right? Stop looking at the page like that. It's unbecoming of you.

Anyway, Lucas, being a little snot-nosed punk, goes on the warpath when Dane won't play with him and starts talking to the pretty neighbor girl, Julie, on his own, much to Dane's embarrassment and chagrin. He grabs Lucas to pull him away from talking to Julie, and starts beating the little booger up in the basement only to find...


Well, they start messing around with this latched door on the floor of their basement, finding it padlocked with, I believe, six separate locks. They find the keys hidden away, and Dane undoes the locks only for them to find a bottomless hole. Julie comes in to see if they've killed one another or not, and stares in amazement at the odd hole herself. They mess around with it even more, sending items into the abyss and filming to see if they would find anything of interest, but they don't see anything of note besides a BOTTOMLESS HOLE UNDER THE HOUSE.

They treat it like a passing interest. Hell, I would probably do the same thing if I found a bottomless hole. I'd send stuff down there, try to tape it, write a blog about it, and ultimately get bored with it and forget about it. Such is my existence, making even the outright bizarre and creepy more mundane than a plain potato. Honestly, I like this part of the movie. The kids act like kids, not like adults writing for kids, which is something I really have to point out as a positive aspect of the film. The kids play around with the hole, and scare themselves... but ultimately... well, the hole wasn't empty... and whatever it was that was down there is coming for them...

I like the claw marks on the inside of the latched door. I like the locks disappearing, the ghostly noises Julie hears at night, the uncanny valley clown puppet that scares the crud out of Lucas, and I like the aesthetics. I like how the tension rises throughout the movie, and I like both the scarier moments and the funnier ones. I like how the scary moments were actually scary and the moments meant to be funny were actually amusing. It's a rare film that can pull off completely different tones from one scene to another and do so flawlessly, and this film does it amazingly. I couldn't stop watching this movie. I couldn't pause it, and I didn't want to pause it. I was totally engrossed in everything with this movie, especially the world of the movie. It simply impressed me to no end to see something that felt like it could have been real.

Anyway, the hole lets out your greatest fears, which you either overcome... or well... don't. And it works quite well showing off itself as both a effective horror movie and as an effective comedy-horror flick. There were certainly moments when I found myself slightly creeped out by what was going and other moments where I was rolling my eyes at the absurdity of the situation. But I think that was the point, to show us just how ridiculous some fears can be. Having a fear of creepy clowns eventually will point out just how ridiculous it is to think that a clown doll can overpower even a child. Fear of an abusive father becomes a ridiculous thing, showing that his own domination over those weaker than him makes him smaller and less intimidating. Showing a little ghost girl and pointing out that she's not some terrifying bogeyman, just a scared little girl who didn't want to die and misses her life... it really works for this movie. It shows the strength of the film through deconstructing fears and what makes a person afraid... also overcoming those obstacles. It's, in some ways, a coming of age story, with each of these characters putting something aside, growing as characters and as people. The development is fantastic, bordering on some of the best character development I've ever seen in a ninety minute movie.  I loved that aspect of the film. It was probably the most appealing thing to me about it, and something I definitely won't soon forget.

 The movie looked amazing as well, not necessarily because it was in 3D either. It looked like a lot of care was put into making the sets, the trapdoor, and the trippy dream sequence kind of thing at the end. I was really impressed by the visuals throughout the film though. I think they'll have a lasting impression on me. The pool scene looked like some of my memories of hanging in a pool or near a pool with high school friends. The basement scenes looked like they were taking place in a creepy basement, but the visuals changed just as soon as the scenes shifted to outside of that basement. The little ghost girl looked like she was made with some kind of stop-animation, and it worked so well, making her seem very creepy and very out of place, like she couldn't work in the real world. It gave the movie a definite fantastic edge that I thought worked incredibly well int he movie's favor.

Anyway, this was a brilliant film that I would recommend to everybody. It works as a family film oddly enough, despite the horror. There isn't much in the way of bad language or gore, and the sexual themes, if you could call them that, are no worse than anything you could see on the Disney channel, for example. (Not that I watch that channel, mind you, just that I've seen my younger cousin watching it and know the stuff on it.) I also find it funny that, although a relationship is hinted at, nothing ever happens between Dane and Julie. Their relationship has an innocence to it that you wouldn't expect, and I really enjoyed that. It happens so rarely that a simple innocent relationship can leave a lasting memory, but it was so much stronger than relationships usually are in these kinds of movies, you know the ones I'm thinking about. The ones that are all about sex and sexual interest and having the female lead lose as much clothes as possible. I don't mind those kinds of films, but I like the innocence here. It's done so rarely, in my opinion, that it really does matter when it's done superbly.

In general I would seriously say that anybody could enjoy this film even despite it's kind of cult film feel. I think it can appeal to a very wide audience, much like Gremlins. Joe Dante did a great job making another film that should be a classic. I'm only sorry to say that I hadn't even heard of the film before I saw it, which is a real travesty. So, I'm giving a glowing recommendation of this film. I really enjoyed everything about it, even the sometimes slightly off acting. There was a charm to this movie that very, very few movies have to them outside of Terry Gilliam movies, Joe Dante movies, and some random '80s and '90s flicks that I look back on nostalgically. I was impressed by this movie so much that I can't even stop smiling about it. Check it out. Find it. Watch it.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Movie Appraisal: The Dark Side of the Moon (1990)

Recently I've been enjoying some sweet space horror movies. I've always liked the genre, especially with some spaceship floating through space and finding something waiting out in the cold darkness. It's always been fascinating to me. I mean, look at the tagline of this movie: "Something is waiting." This movie is about space, anything could be waiting. Anything at all. It's what makes space so fascinating, and it's what makes space a perfect place for all the best kinds of horror. You have to be creative when you use space as a medium for sci-fi and for horror. It's not just regular movie monsters jumping out at you, but can be anything from creepy aliens to something very different. Hell, it can even be ourselves. Sometimes we are the demons.

The Dark Side of the Moon was a direct-to-video affair from 1990, directed by D. J. Webster and starring some actors who I recognize and some whom I've never seen before. Joe Turkel is arguably the most famous of the cast (being in Blade Runner will do that for you), and besides my vague recognition of Alan Blumenfeld, Turkel is really the only actor in this movie that I've seen in other sources. I will say that for a direct-to-video movie, it's pretty high quality. There are very few effects, which is a good thing. When they do show up, they're not the best things I've ever seen. Most of the movie's charm comes from watching the actors do their thing and watching the story unfold.

Now, before I get far into this, I have to say that I have a special liking for these types of movies, and I really did enjoy this one. Again, kind of a cheaper sci-fi horror/space horror affair, but it's competent and pretty fun to watch. It has a pretty standard, almost SyFy channel-esque plot and plot twist at times, but the acting and the cinematography are MUCH MUCH better than most direct-to-video crap I've seen in the last decade or so. Hell, this is better than most of the movies I've seen in theatres. I mean, I'd much rather watch this than the travesty, the absolute abomination, that is Black Swan. That movie still makes me angry even almost two years later.

The film starts out on a maintenance spaceship going to fix a satellite only for all systems on the ship to fail. It moves quickly as the crew tries to figure out what's wrong despite all of the systems being green. The ship's computer, a robot woman... uh... thing... named Lesli, tells the crew that nothing is wrong, and yet the ship is rapidly losing both air and heat, and the systems still aren't responding. Now, I have to take a moment and talk about Lesli. Her character is utterly baffling to me. She's a robot computer thing controlling the information of the ship and such, but she's also somehow a beautiful woman for some reason. She never moves out of the chair she's sitting in, and she never truly has any real relevance to the plot beyond being used as an exposition machine. She has a beauty mark and a whole lot of cleavage, but never is shown to have any effect on any of the male crew members who treat her as a machine and nothing more... all the while the one female crew member, Alex, is hit on by basically all of the slimebag characters. Lesli also seems to have some element of artificial intelligence rather than just being a computer, but I'm still baffled. Why does she exist as an actual person? Can she move out of her seat? Can she move at all? Why was she made like that? Does she have functionality close to what a human would? Why didn't they simply make her a gynoid then? She became kind of the central question to me. She was treated as an utterly normal thing to have on a ship (maybe a little experimental with Joe Turkel's character taking care of her, but still...) and it seemed that most of the suspicion for earlier events of the movie fell onto her, but she was never really utilized. Why didn't she do anything? Why was her presence never really a thing? Why did the antagonist presumably try to take her over? And more importantly, why did he fail? I was much more interested in what the hell Lesli was and what she represented and how she was being portrayed than I was in the actual plot of the movie. I still have no idea why she existed in her form in the movie besides being good to look at, but why waste the resources and the time and money and such to have that character when a computer would have been sufficient? I mean this as a question both in the universe of the movie and to the filmmakers. I mean, Camilla More did a fine job as the character, but I'm still baffled by Lesli's presence in the film. I guess if I had the choice I would have used her in some way, used her to make a statement or as a central protagonist or ally to the antagonist. When Joe Turkel's character Paxton goes rogue, I assumed he would shut off control of Lesli's character. It was set up earlier in the film that he could do that with a swipe of his hand, just shut off certain controls to certain crewmembers. That's why I thought he was visiting her near the end of the movie. But no. He went to visit her so she could tell him to back off... and I guess he did? I'm so baffled that my head hurts. I could go on about this for a very long time. It's easily the most confusing and most interesting part of the film. It sets it apart from other films of this type, but still has no reason to be in the movie. Why is she there? What is her purpose? Why wasn't she put to better use? I mean... if I has a robot that could move and was humanesque... well, I would have sent her into the shuttle the crew finds, instead of risking the lives of the crew. Okay, I'm going to stop. I could keep harping on this for a long time.

So, anyway, the ship finds another ship, this one a lost space shuttle, drifting towards them and then eventually docking with them. Nobody is alive on board though. The shuttle does give them both air and some hope, but that doesn't last long. The shuttle has a ton of water damage for seemingly no reason and eventually they find a body in a standard sci-f horror way. The doctor, Dreyfus Steiner (played by Alan Blumenfeld), discovers that the body has a perfect triangle cut into its stomach... and that's when the plot gets a little ridiculous. It all has to do with the Bermuda Triangle and a corresponding triangle on the dark side of the moon, and all that space in between somehow. It's a really silly plot, really SyFy movie schlock, but it actually works kind of well as long as you don't think too hard about the whole thing and how it would work because the moon... you know... orbits the entire Earth and the Earth rotates itself. Also, since the FAR SIDE OF THE MOON is not always dark, there really isn't a DARK SIDE OF THE MOON. It would be like calling the where it is night on Earth "The Dark Side of the Earth." It's silly. (Yes, I know that the term references a radio blackout to and from Earth from that far side of the moon, but most people think of it as an actually dark place which is totally false.)

Yeah, the sci-fi of the movie is weird. Thinking about the movie too long in most aspects of it will make your head ache. It has a Biblical plot tied in with the Bermuda Triangle too... because why not. And let me tell you that the religious aspect is dealt with in the most awkward way possible, showing some of the crew having religious affiliations just fro the express purpose of showing parts of the crew having certain religious affiliations. It's not well handled, with the captain crossing himself at one point despite never mentioning religion the rest of the time, the doctor being Jewish suddenly and inexplicably before having it forgotten before and afterwards, and the body of Gotier having a cross around its neck. And the Devil is some kind of parasite that leeches onto a certain body and gets transmitted through the triangle in the possessed people's stomachs.

The effects for the devil are ridiculous. He's not scary, quoting Biblical passages at me and being so over-the-top evil. It's kind of silly rather than terrifying. There is a scene in this movie as well that's also kind of baffling as the Devil goes to take over his first living victim. There is a weird nude scene... but I already found the objectification of women off here with Lesli. With Alex showing her breasts its all kinds of why? What I mean is that in some of these movies the girls get naked for some reason... a reason that I guess only the filmmakers know. I don't mind it. I mean, seriously, who minds a little nudity from time-to-time? But in my opinion the nudity felt incredibly awkward and out of place in a movie that was kind of sterile and felt like a good made-for-TV movie. I mean even the gore effects are pretty tame... and yet... nudity?  I guess it goes together with the B-movie status of most of these films, but I find it kind of strange. I haven't seen too many other movies this summer (besides Possession) to have a girl show off her assets. And it's weird that it would be this movie to be the first in a while to have a girl get naked in front of the camera.

Anywho, the pacing of the movie is pretty good. I found myself interested in the movie the entire time. I was never bored, never wished for it to be over. The ending was good, although I think some people would be unhappy with it. I honestly feel that it should have ended with the Devil succeeding... but that's okay. It worked well the way they did it.

I honestly enjoyed this movie quite a bit despite certain failures of the plot and sense. I enjoyed the characters, enjoyed the situation, and found the movie acceptable in most ways. It is highly reminiscent (even though it came out before these movie) of Event Horizon and Sunshine, but much, much worse than either of those films. I still haven't reviewed Sunshine, have I? That's a movie I have to get around to watching again. Hell, I've been wanting to watch Event Horizon again too. I love that movie so much.

Well, anyway, I guess I'm moving into doing some space horror movie reviews. I was on an Asian horror binge for a while, and I do have more to watch and more will be incoming, but I need a break from those movies at times. The ones I've seen are all very similar to one another and most... although being creepy at times... are rather dry and boring at others. I recently took some time and saw Whispering Corridors and Apartment 1303, a Korean and a Japanese movie respectively, but haven't written reviews of either of them yet. They'll be coming, I just don't know when. I also saw Roger Corman's Galaxy of Terror, and I can't wait to put out a review of that.

Uh... oh no... I'm getting away from The Dark Side of the Moon! It's a decent movie, but one I would not recommend unless these types of movies are your thing. There are many better space horror movies, and this one is more average and kind of dumb when compared to others. I enjoyed it though although as you can tell I had way too many unanswered questions that I was baffled by in the end. That took away from my ultimate enjoyment of the movie.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Nightflyers (1987)

Here's a movie that deserves a review more than most movies I review. See, some of the movies I review are definitely bad or arguably quality. The quality films I never have much to say about. Mostly I reiterate why I think the movie is quality and why the movie seems to be a quality movie. Yeah, I can go on for a while about how a good film might have good effects, good acting, good directing, and good pacing, but honestly most of the good movies I watch and review are relatively boring to review. The same is obviously not true for an utterly terrible movie. I can go on and on and rant until my fingers bleed about how a bad movie is literally the worst thing ever. At the same time there are many mediocre films I review as well, with most of them presenting their own unique problems.

Most of the movies that I analyze are mediocre films. Ones that have the ability of both being much better and much worse films than they are. Each is fun to review because they all present a unique challenge for review because, to be a mediocre film you have to either succeed or fail in different categories or you have to  be an utterly cookie-cutter film with no real quality besides not being terrible and having some competence. Well, Nightflyers is a mediocre film on a whole, but has both very good and very bad qualities to it. It's based on a novella by George R. R. Martin that I've never read before, although it seems as though it was better received than the movie was at least.

I've seen reviews of this film go anywhere from saying this movie is amazing to saying it is the worst thing ever made. I like films like this simply because of all the differing opinions and because I think the truth of this movie lies somewhere in between the two extremes although I have to say that the visuals of this film really put it into the realm of more negative than positive.

There are way too many negatives aspects of this movie. The pacing is all over the place, never feeling consistent and never feeling comfortable with the pacing of its story. The characters are pretty one-dimensional despite the film having the feeling that everybody involved wanted the characters to have more meaning than that. The sets are generic. The scenes are either too light or too dark. The visuals throughout the film are such a mess that there's no way to accurately describe how much of a mess they are. And the directing of the actors is sometimes absolutely baffling. I have to point out that Robert Collector, the director of the film, did ask to have his name removed from the credits after obviously some issues during editing. He is instead credited with the pseudonym T. C. Blake. And the editing reflects the idea that no director really seems to have had a say in the final cut of the movie. It's all over the place, rarely has a consistent pacing, and works against itself constantly. Visually, this film is a trainwreck, possibly one of the biggest trainwrecks in the visual department that I have ever seen. It is ugly, drab, and never really feels comfortable with its style or visuals to the point where I had trouble believing this was a horror film or believing it was a sci-fi film. My suspension of disbelief was absolutely shattered time and time again. I also have to add that I hated the opening narration. A film that is any good doesn't need an opening narration. This one didn't need it either, but there it was.

That paragraph right there seems to be saying I didn't like any aspects of the film at all... but that's not true. I liked some parts of it, and that was some of the most disappointing aspects of the movie. The script and the dialogue were really well done, reminding me of better science fiction films all the while I was watching this one. The story is pretty solid, being an odd amalgamation of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Event Horizon with maybe some Alien mixed in for good measure. The villain is reminiscent of HAL (VERY REMINISCENT), and I kind of liked that, especially because this movie is nowhere near as pretentious as 2001 certainly is. Although I hated the psychic aspects of the movie, the psychic characters were some of my favorites, and the backstory of seeing a specific psychic as a witch was actually intriguing. I liked a great deal of the science dealt with in the film, and the premise of the people on the expedition going to find extraterrestrial life was one that I thought was both fun and interesting. The crazy computer plot was enjoyable, as they often are, and the gore was both tastefully done and well crafted. I did like some of the costumes (the ones that were not incredibly 1980s). And the middle of the film was pretty good in general.

So, here were many aspects of this movie I liked... and there were many aspects of this movie I couldn't stand at all. Overall I mostly enjoyed the film, finding it more entertaining than not even if it was incredibly derivative at times. The visuals on this thing are terrible though, reminding me more of 1950s sci-fi B-movies than late 1980s horror sci-fi. That's basically unforgivable, really taking away from any positives this movie could have offered. I think it's a slap in the face to say this about any film, but this movie would have worked better as a radio drama... at least then I wouldn't have had to stare at the rotten visuals for 89 minutes.

I can't recommend this film. In fact I'm actively going to tell people to stay away from this flick. It's not good enough to spend the time watching, and it's not bad enough to deride. This would be a prime candidate to remake with better visuals and a better cast. (Although I will admit that most of the actors were pretty decent, some moreso than others though.) It's basically an utterly mediocre film that doesn't add much to the genre and is entirely forgettable and very drab. I bet tomorrow I won't even remember I had ever watched it, and sadly... that's all for the best.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Hausu (ハウス) (House) (1977)

Horror? This is considered horror? Do people go and select what genre movies are called by picking them out of a snazzy looking top hat? Because this is much less horrific than The Lion King, for example, which is a kid's film, just as a reminder. Nudity, a man turning into bananas, and a piano eating the girl playing said piano do not make this movie into a horror movie. There is not a single moment... NOT ONE SINGLE MOMENT... that is even slightly scary. This movie is horror like the The Rocky Horror Picture Show is horror, and that movie is not horror. The description of this movie as a horror movie actually and legitimately gives me anger pains. Hell, the tone of this movie is more like a screwball comedy than a horror movie. It's actually ridiculous to have this movie be typed as a horror movie when it is so totally not a horror movie.

No, this movie reminds me of a spoof of a horror movie or possibly even a comedic play on an actually horrific premise. That being said, taking my ranting out of this review for a moment, I loved this movie, absolutely loved this movie. It is the kind of movie that feels like it is custom-made for me through-and-through. I loved the cheesy looking effects, the story, and ridiculous acting. Oh man, when Togo turns into bananas... I don't think I've ever looked so baffled into a screen before, and I loved it.

The premise of the movie is that seven girls go to visit the of of one of the girls, Gorgeous. Each of the girls has a nickname that somewhat describes their character. Gorgeous (played by Kimiko Ikegami) is set to be the main character, but never actually is. Her character is vain and cares about her appearance much more than the other girls. She is somewhat quiet and has some family issues. The reason she and the other girls go to her aunt's house is because she doesn't want to be around her father's new fiancee, her future stepmother. So after the other girls can't go for vacation at Togo's (one of their teachers) sister's house, Gorgeous mentions that they all should go to her aunt's house.

The other girls are then introduced. Fantasy makes up stories and has these weird hallucinatory types of visions at times throughout the movie. She daydreams and becomes a big source of the drama in the film. She keeps seeing the strange things happening in the aunt's mansion, and the other girls simply don't believe her at first. Then there's Kung Fu, who basically becomes the main character for most of the film, being the character who takes care of the other girls, and kicks, slaps, and punches the weird stuff in the house the hell out of her way. Every time she does anything even slightly kung fu related though, there is a ridiculous kung fu movie kind of music that comes up. It's brilliant and campy and I love it.

The rest of the girls are Mac, the heavyset girl (who's not really all that heavyset) who loves eating and disappears early in the movie, Prof, who is the smart one... kind of... Melody, who plays the piano, and is eventually eaten by the piano, and Sweet, who I don't even remember at all beside the fact that she gets ganged up on by a bunch of mattresses for some reason.

The aunt is an older woman in a wheelchair, who also seems to be set-up to be a larger character than she ends up being. She seems like she is going to be some kind of campy villain, and she kind of is, but mostly during the second half of the film she disappears. That being said, when she is onscreen, she frequently breaks the fourth wall, winking at the audience or meeting eyes with the audience. It's well done and pretty cool. I've never really seen something like this implemented in a movie like this, and I really liked it.

The last character is Blanche, who is the white cat who basically is the aunt's portrait of Dorian Gray. I guess it's kind of like a moving spirit or something that keeps her alive beyond death as long as she has unmarried women to kill and eat to be both young and vigorous, waiting for her lost fiance beyond her living limits. Now, Blanche is a white cat, but... somehow, somewhere, the people who made the next poster seemed to think that Blanche was orange.
That's Blanche. Blanche is not white in this picture. I know the movie can grow a bit screwy at points, with some really bad CGI type of stuff. It works, in my opinion, but is very fake looking in general at times. Maybe that's why Blanche is orange on the poster. I have no idea.

So, each of the girls are killed one-by-one over the course of the movie, with the bulk of the movie being Kung Fu, Fantasy, and Prof running around the mansion trying to find a way out or trying to avoid death. Mac is the first to die, her head replacing the watermelon she buys the aunt for a gift. Then Sweet is attacked by mattresses and is put into a clock or something and bled out that way. Gorgeous... uh... disappears into a mirror only to come back out of that mirror as the aunt herself... I think? There are some very weird scenes with Gorgeous... so, it's hard to tell what's going on with Gorgeous.

Melody stays with the other girls for a while, but as she plays the piano, her fingers are eaten by the piano... then she is eaten... in the most sexual way... by the piano. And that's another thing, this movie has a bit more nudity and sexuality than I would have thought. Fantasy has romantic daydreams about Togo. Kung Fu is inexplicably naked after she is eaten by a lamp. She also goes most of the movie in her underwear. Melody is basically raped by the piano... or at least that's what it looks like. Sweet's clothes disappear off of her after she is attacked by mattresses. Gorgeous is naked a few times, once in the sauna, and another time later on as she is cradling Fantasy at the end of the film as Fantasy calls her her mother. That was pretty odd as well. Prof has an underwater naked scene as she is engulfed by the bloodwater that comes out of the portrait of Blanche after Kung Fu kicks it with a rocket-launched torso and legs...

I'm going crazy here. So much of this movie is absolutely insane, and I love so much of it. The nakedness I could give or take, but I love the story, the chittering dialogue, the weird scenes that are inserted into the movie and make little to no sense in context, like when Togo turns into bananas and the man he's talking to turns into a skeleton kind of thing.

The last scene in the film is when Gorgeous (who is probably her aunt at this point) taking care of her future stepmother, and that stepmother... every scene she's in she like some kind of old movie star with wind blowing her clothes around, looking like she's the center of attention... It's weird, but Gorgeous kills her because she's unmarried too. It works.

This movie feels like it was made on a lot of drugs, but I love every single part of it. It's weird, with a happy soundtrack, a great comedy-slasher feel to it, and with a good amount of charismatic women acting pretty well despite this being most of their first and only acting roles. I can't call this movie a horror movie... and neither should anybody else. It's a horror movie like The Rocky Horror Picture Show is a horror movie... and that ain't a horror movie. I keep harping on his because the descriptions I see pin this as a horror movie and it so isn't. I mean, I guess it could be well into the B-movie feel of a horror movie, but I've seen so many B-movies from this era and some of them are pretty disturbing and kind of creepy, but this movie is so not creepy and so not scary that I cannot, in good faith, call this movie a horror movie.

Anyway, I loved this movie. It's easily my second favorite movie I've seen so far this summer, the first being Possession. Not everybody will like this movie, but if you like camp, stylized art films masquerading as horror, and weird movies, you should really check this one out.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Movie Appraisal: Tales of Terror: The Haunted Apartments (Kaidan Shin Mimibukuro: Yûrei manshon) (幽霊マンション) (2005)

Well, this movie is a whole lot better than it has any right to be. I wasn't expecting much watching it. It's just another Japanese ghost movie, I told myself. Nothing special, nothing interesting. But I have to admit that what I saw in this film was much more than a simple ghost movie. There was an actual emotional entanglement to this movie that I don't usually see. I don't usually have my mouth hanging agape while watching a movie, nor do I have emotional outbursts at the screen. This movie caused me to have/do both. Yes, it's kind of a silly movie at times, but never moves away from the premise of the film. The silliness adds to the overall strange feeling of the film, never really taking away from the story, instead adding to the "fun" of watching the movie.

It's decently well made and well shot, but hectic at times, directed by Akio Yoshida, who seems to have a lot more talent than the shots of the movie would imply. It moves between characters and stories quickly, rarely hanging on the main two characters of Aimi (played by Mei Kurokawa) and her father for very long, which makes identifying with a certain character difficult, if not impossible. It's altogether a very strange movie throughout the first two-thirds of the film or so, often seeming a little too Japanese with little horror and only small bits of any real tension. What I mean by that is that the hectic pacing and the standard "horror" pacing and practice actually makes this film feel pretty "normal" by horror movie standards. It feels very cookie cutter at first, comparable to Uzumaki and The Ring in shots and styles. It doesn't really become something different until the first arguably scary part. 

The first real bit of tension comes when Takashi, a friend and neighbor of Aimi, moves out of the cursed apartments to find himself in some kind of mental zone of death and terror. That was unexpected and highly creepy. Takashi basically found himself in Silent Hill. I don't think anybody feels really good about going there. I guess now is a good time to explain the whole cursed apartments idea too. So, this apartment building is cursed by this girl who went missing years before. If you move in and stay overnight you can't leave or you will be killed by the ghost-girl, who thinks you've betrayed her by leaving. You also have to get back by midnight or the same thing happens. Basically she's clingy and needs you there. The ghost-girl, Ai, also attracts other ghosts because she's lonely and needs company. Weird premise, but it kind of works.

Anyway, obviously, this is a ghost story, but one with a twist or two. I can say that it has a similar set-up to The Ring, but with a very different payoff, a much more disturbing payoff. There are other incidents that happen, with the bulk of the movie made up of seeing other people in the apartments deal with their own lives in having to live by the ghost's rules. It's jarring to be following around characters we don't really know, but it oddly works as a way to bring about some sympathy to all of the characters in the apartments.

The characters are never the center of the story, so I never really felt any real compassion for many of them. The story was more about their associated plight than about the individual stories. It simply took me a long time to realize this because of how the movie was set-up. I really thought I would be following a single protagonist, one that would look around for what's going on and then try to solve it. While that does happen, it's much less focused upon than a movie like The Ring.

The best part of the movie is the ending. Man. Wow. I don't even want to spoil it, but it was both unexpected and the only real bit of actual "TERROR" to the movie. Hell, with a title like Tales of Terror you would expect a shlocky horror film with screaming and a B-movie-ness to the whole feel, but instead the movie has a heart and soul to it. Sometimes the directing is a little off. Sometimes the acting is a little odd. Hell, sometimes the whole movie doesn't feel exactly right, but damned if it doesn't have a weird consistency by the end of the film. It sets the ending up well, showing a link between Aimi and Ai, as Aimi searches for the mystery of what happened to Ai.

And the payoff is... well, it's both hard to watch and incredibly satisfying. As I said, this movie is really much better than it has any right to be. I wasn't expecting anything good while watching this, but I really did get an insightful and exciting movie in the end, one that I wholly enjoyed watching. I wasn't expecting to enjoy the film, but yeah, it was really good in general, especially the ending. Boy, oh, boy...

Not sure what else to say. This review is like the movie: all over the place, not really making any real statements or following any real premise, but rather just kind of jumping around and saying words for the hell of it. I did really enjoy this movie though. I enjoyed the Silent Hill zone of death. I enjoyed the ending so much more than I ever should have enjoyed it. I felt that the movie was quality throughout... but it really shouldn't have been. The title of the film should have been something else, something that really should have showed that this movie isn't garbagebin horror. Anyway, yeah, I recommend the hell out of this movie. It's really well done, and I have no real complaints.