Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Lo (2009)

Sometimes when you have a bad week like I just had, you need to settle down with a weird, insane, and incredibly entertaining film. Lo, directed by Travis Betz, as you might guess, is that very film this time around. I don't know how to say all that much about this film except it is a very odd ride, unexpected with a sad and poignant payoff. Movies like this intrigue me all the way through. It is because they are unique and tell a story that is incredibly unmarketable, but also simply amazing.

Lo is one of those rare films that comes along every once in a while, with a small budget, no names in the cast- an independent film that says something on a deeper level than you expect. While it doesn't start off swinging, the movie hits hard by the end, with each set-piece of the story telling the story in a very unique way. One thing that I found really cool was the way that the whole thing was set up like a stage play, a musical, a dance number, and a very poignant and ultimately ill-fated love story.

The story is pretty decent, but it takes a while to really get going. And although there is a real feeling to the story, its pacing and characters do leave something to be desired at times. It's probably mostly the acting, which is all over the place. It's one of the failings of the movie, and there's no other way to put that out there. When I started watching the movie, I was very put off, even wondering at the time if I should continue watching it. While it does get much better, the first twenty minutes or so are rough, and I would completely understand if people decided to not take a chance with it after that.

But in taking the chance you find a wonderful personal little story, with acting that is pretty decent towards the end and a plot that holds up under scrutiny, perhaps because of its simplicity. I like the demons and the main character (sort of, although his silly faces are completely idiotic at times). The whole story about a man using a crazy evil book thing to summon a demon to find his girlfriend who was dragged down to hell is something mixed between Evil Dead II and Joss Whedon's supernatural television shows.  The humor is all pervasive, although completely inappropriate for the tone at times. It works every once in a while, but most of the time it's very awkward, barely forcing a smile at all, much less a guffaw.

The make-up is one of the highlights of Lo, really showing off what inexpensive made-up demons can actually look like. I had a very Joss Whedon vibe from the costumes and demons, specifically from Jeez. He could have literally just stepped out of Angel and I wouldn't have even batted an eye. The film looks good all around, but the lack of a budget does show, with the sets being minimal at best and the filming being more closely akin to a stage play than an actual film.

The characters here, mostly a collection of demons and damned souls, are interesting but ultimately paper-thin. You see the plot, the whole plot, by the ending, which gives the demons and what Lo the demon is doing some context, making the whole thing make more sense in general. Lo really is the highlight of the film, his character and his acting are both the most believable and the most entertaining. Like the title implies, the titular character is essential for any sort of enjoyment of this movie. Jeremiah Berkitt, who plays Lo, gives off a fantastic performance in general as the crippled demon. The other actors do competent jobs, but none of them really stand out like he does. The other characters, a waiter, two damned souls, Jeez the Nazi demon thing, and the main character Justin are all a bunch of cliches and Whedon-esque pieces of this movie. And the girlfriend character is something else. Most of the "humor" of the movie stems from her, even if she has the hardest time with comedic timing.

This leads me to talk about the setting in general. Not the black room where Justin has locked himself to do the ritual, but the flashback scenes. These are done so uniquely, put on as stage plays with supporting characters just off in the wings waiting for their cues to come on. This is the bread-and-butter of the movie, and easily the most entertaining part of it as well. The tragedy and comedy faces, the breaking of the fourth wall, and the focus on stage techniques to pull of some great moments actually works in the film's advantage. So, for a threadbare production, it actually comes off quite well. I do admit that I wish it had been a theatrical production to see rather than a movie. It feels more of that ilk and would probably work much better as that. But the movie stands well on its own merits. All-in-all I can't complain all that much.

I don't know what else to say. While I enjoyed the movie quite a bit while watching it, the flaws have shown themselves since then. I see them pretty significantly, but that doesn't take my enjoyment of watching the film away. I liked it all right, but I have no idea if I could ever recommend this to anybody who didn't like small budget indie productions that are not in any way a big form movie. I guess it could be considered horror-comedy maybe? Although that doesn't quite work either. I don't know if I could rightly call this horror. It feels more like a supernatural and tragic romantic comedy. I guess? Man, that's a ton of qualifiers...

Anyway, for most this is not the movie for you. While I liked it, it gives off a bad impression from the get-go. The acting is rough at times. The comedy sometimes feels forced. And it's about a love story, which is always a reason to avoid a movie. (I jest... but seriously, I dislike most romance movies.) There's a ton working against this movie, but I actually really liked it. While it's not perfect, it succeeds at both entertaining and doing something different. I liked the story for what it was and the presentation for what it did. There are probably a ton of better movies out there, but this one I liked well enough. If you're looking for something incredibly odd and out of the ordinary, maybe you can try this one, just don't say I didn't warn you about Justin's ridiculous faces or the first twenty minutes of this film being very hard to get through.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Video Game Assessment: Bioshock Infinite DLC: Burial at Sea Episode 1

I love Bioshock Infinite but did not like Bioshock very much. So, what happens when both games are combined together for a DLC? Well... *EXPLOSION*


I've heard a bunch of stuff about this DLC. And it all seems rather overblown. People get upset over the dumbest things, something I can and will never understand. DLC comes in all different shapes and sizes. You can pay money for horse armor, story DLC, or just a bunch of enemies that you can shoot a bit. That's the nature of DLC, you never know exactly what you'll get, and many times you get something you might not expect. I don't see how people can be disappointed about a DLC, ripping it apart and hating it for no other reasons than it's DLC. And this DLC in particular, which by its nature is very much apart from its mother game. I understand that the practice of DLC and expansions is a slippery slope and something that can easily take advantage of the consumer, but if it's a fair DLC, it should be extra to the main game, something superfluous for the enjoyment of the core game, but also something that will add more to those who are willing to spend some money to buy it. And this DLC fits that definition pretty solidly.

I'm going to be a bit disjointed in my little conversation here about this DLC. I'm under the impression that most people think it is disappointing, upsetting, mediocre, or bad, and that's just plain idiotic. Okay, maybe I shouldn't be so harsh because the internet is so full of people being overblown about any and every issue, and I'm just confused by the backlash at this point. It's disheartening to me that people can't just enjoy a thing that's a good time for a while. They have to hate it just to hate it, point to it and say, "I don't want." But, I want it quite a bit and enjoyed it even more than that/

The story is simple: It takes place after the main game, some years after it more than likely. Elizabeth is offering Booker (from Rapture this time, Rapture-Booker) a chance to find his "girl," Sally, a young girl who he has taken charge of somehow for some reason. That's about it. The story is all about the two of them trying to find this girl and going to a city at the bottom of the ocean to do it.

I liked the DLC. The first episode of Burial at Sea was a superb success, blending the horror elements of Bioshock with the incredible writing and characters of Infinite. While not everything in the story made absolute sense to me, specifically the ending, the game itself was a really good time. I had fun playing it all over again, going back to Rapture and meeting back up with Elizabeth who is absolutely the headline of this game and well worth the price alone.

The combat is perfectly acceptable, but probably a bit on the difficult side with the absence of a great deal of ammo or EVE for restocking. I found myself playing with a very heavily melee game which made it that much more satisfying when I won. (I did much the same thing in the core game though. I can't get enough of the melee combat. It's satisfying.) The fights are pretty good, but nothing all that different from either of the other games. Combat is not why I'm playing the game, so I'm not sure how much more I can really say about it. It's perfectly fine, and I had fun. What more is there to say? Then again I like just about any kind of combat in games, as long as it works, I don't really care.

The music was great. Elizabeth and the new Booker are also quite good to see again. As a big spoiler I didn't quite get why Elizabeth wanted to lead Booker all the way to Sally to kill him. That didn't make much sense to me. If he were going to die anyway, why not have him die when she first met him? Why lead him along so long? Just so he can prove his ill intent by trying to grab Sally? Not sure if I buy that so much. But maybe she needed to know what kind of Booker he truly was. I'm not sure.

Seeing the Luteces again was also fun, but there is a frustration with the story the way it is. Booker is suddenly Comstock (yes, they're the same character, but they're also treated as different characters, aren't they?) and has his memories, and there is an insistence that he is a bad man and is running from something? I don't even know. It's very odd, and my answers are few and far between. The ending was the only thing that really took away from my experience and mostly because I didn't understand it or Elizabeth's motives. Is she killing all the Bookers/Comstocks? Is she searching out a very specific one who somehow found himself in another world? Again, why wait so long to kill him or grievously harm him? I don't get that. Did she not know he was Comstock until his reaction?

Man, while confusing, the lead-up to the end is very compelling, showing flashes to Booker/Comstock's former life at very inopportune times. It added some mystique and some actual creepiness to the plot. I enjoyed that quite a bit. It meant something to me, and while I don't understand it now, I assume the next part will clear some things up, but maybe not. And if it doesn't then that's fine too, just keep giving me a compelling reason to keep following the story.

It seems like everybody is down on the world of Infinite, something I neither understand or agree with. This is the best game I've played in years and the DLC is also very good for a follow-up to that. It's simple and probably a little slow, but I loved playing it and feel the desire to go back and play the main game and the DLC all over again. So, it was a success to me.

Friday, December 13, 2013

The Greatest Horror of All

Hey, everybody, I'd like to sit down and speak with all of you out there who read this blog. I usually write ranting criticisms about things I don't like or gushing praise to the things that I love and enjoy. I created this blog as a way to speak my mind, to talk about the things I love so much and decry the things I really have issues with. Mostly I like to just speak my mind about issues when I have time to do so. I haven't had much time lately with a more than full time job, a commute, a fiancee, and time to eat, sleep, and actually enjoy some of my waking hours. I do feel very bad about putting out less content, but this post is one of the reasons my content has been lesser of late.

This blog has given me a platform and a voice to speak about things. I get a good many people reading this blog or posts on this blog. I appreciate every single view and every single comment, even the absolutely hilarious ones that think I am the worst ever. Actually I adore those comments because they show me something that continues to drive me: the fact that people take things like opinions far too seriously. I have less time nowadays to post longwinded rants, and while that sucks royally, it doesn't mean I'll ever stop talking and writing. It just means that the posts will probably slow down when I'm tired and dealing with life (in a good way mind you).

Now, this post isn't about any of that. But I do want you to kind of know who I am. My name is Justin. I'm a college graduate with a degree in Biology. I am and identify as a white male (with a beard that I love) who likes the nerdy pursuits of life, enjoys all forms of horror, works a hell of a lot at a job that pays well but I'm not incredibly fond of all the time, has a supportive and amazing significant other, and cannot stand how certain groups are treated any longer. Maybe my relative silence has been more harmful than anything terrible I could have said. I don't know. But I'm finding that the horrors of the real world have eclipsed any and all horrors in fiction for me right now. And that's a sad state of affairs when the fictional world of horror has stopped giving me any kind of interest, being replaced instead by the awful ways people seem to be treating other in this day and age.

The way that women, trans, and gay people are treated in our culture is shocking. I need to get that out of the way because that is the point here. I have seen more hatred, crazed and vile words, and outright falsifications about the female gender and people's sexuality over the past year or so than I had ever noticed before. And you know what? Maybe I wasn't looking for it before. That's a fair point. Maybe I wasn't looking for it before or didn't see it because it wasn't affecting me. It wasn't in my view. And I simply didn't think it actually existed because I am naive.  

Well, whatever it is the whole thing is finally out in the open for all to see. When I browse the internet I want to see people debating and talking and doing cool things. Hopefully about things that actually need a debate or a talk. I don't want to see men thinking that they are oppressed (because we're not, and even if we are it's only in a very relative manner to all others, so shut up). Or what about those men who say that women get everything already, that being sexist isn't sexist, or that wanting to look at only popularly opined good-looking women is the only way to do things? I don't want to see the hate on geek girls anymore, by men or women because damn it, do you see how immature and stupid that is? I don't want to see women denied their equal place next to men. Yes, equal. Because we are, whether you agree or not. Stop acting like spoiled fucking children and grow up. Your little boys' club is no more. Time to include the women too. I don't really see the problem here. Men and women, believe it or not, are not very much different from one another.

Feminism, contrary to the MRAs beliefs, isn't about putting women above men. It's about equality. True equality. (And seriously, don't even sass me on this point. I will shut you down.) Not just saying we're all equal and then staring at a woman's chest for an hour, spanking a quick one out, and hating the women of the world because one denied you that one time or every time. Oh, woe is you.

And grow up, please.
The world is a sick and disgusting place full of a ton of sick and disgusting people. Seeing the comments objectifying women, putting them down, saying that they shouldn't like the things that you like, men of the world, or do the things you like... well, now... who the fuck made you in charge of what you like? You're not. Nobody is. If a woman wants to enjoy a video game maybe she shouldn't be derided and ripped apart for liking it. If she thinks that maybe a fairer representation in video games would be a good thing, maybe you should realize that it actually would be. If she makes a video game no matter how completely good or terrible you might think it is, who is it harming to not only have her make it, but also to have her put it out there for the masses who would also probably play and enjoy it? Are you telling me men can't make a bad video game? The real world doesn't just have men in it. We're not the only gender around, guys, sorry to burst that bubble, so maybe having more women in video games and fiction wouldn't be a bad thing, huh?

But then you might say, "Oh, but Saquarry, there ARE SO MANY (SO MANY) women in games! They're taking over games! Women, weak-willed and disgusting to my eyes unless they are on my computer screen having the sex, are taking over what I love!" And I'd reply, "No, they're not, you utter piece of garbage. Name more than one game that came out in the last year with a female protagonist. Who wasn't meant to be sexy eye-candy for men. Who was playable. Who was in a good game that millions bought and enjoyed. Who was also on the cover of the game. And it received both critical and public acclaim." Okay, now name the games with men in them with the same questions being asked. It's a thought experiment, you see? You probably really had to think for answers about the women in video games. But for the men, all you have to do is name a game. Would you look at that... It's like there's some sexism in our culture.

And don't argue that women don't represent the video game audience or that most of the audience is teenage male in demographics. That's been discounted many a time. Women represent a huge and growing part of gaming and geek culture. They play hardcore games just like males do. They probably even enjoy many of the same games! Fancy that! The same is obviously true for other media as well, but it's almost as if the video game world is a male club. Just like the "geek" and "nerd" world in general. Being an outcast does not give you any right to make others outcast from you. There are many girls and women I've known in my life who are socially awkward nerds, nerdier than I am even. What's to say a girl can't be a nerd? Because she may be attractive to your eyes and have female bits? Well, that doesn't make her less socially awkward. It doesn't make the world or life easier for her and shame on you if you think it does.

See, I need to show that this is unequal. And that women have it much tougher than you do, men of the world. And of course you're jealous. You're jealous of the attention a female gets over you, you who have suffered so, you who have learned every piece of information from a fictional work. And you who believes that a simple woman hasn't gone through the trials and tribulations you have, the suffering and bullying you have had to deal with your entire life simply because you aren't like all the others. You, alone, are different. And all you want is a little attention, but she gets it all. And she doesn't know anything, right? 

If you can't read sarcasm well, I'm being very snarky. By the way. I guess. How do you even presume to know what anybody else has gone through? Just because a woman is a woman doesn't mean she wasn't bullied or she wasn't alone in her interests and her likes. Who are you to presume that she doesn't know as much as you do or more? Are you simply thinking that a good-looking woman (again, to your eyes) wouldn't know that stuff? Why? That seems a little sick, doesn't it? You seem a little sick. How can't you realize that anybody can be awkward? That anybody can create good content? That anybody can enjoy the fiction that you enjoy as well without the terrible and wrathful judgment of the male nerds of the world upon them?

While a woman cosplaying another woman might get a ton of views on a blog or on a convention floor, how many people looking are simply guys looking for something cute or sexy to stare at unashamed for a moment... or longer? And don't go saying that the women asking for it. That is a simple response by a simple person. If a woman likes a character in a game, they are probably going to be a sexy character just by law of averages. Because most characters are written by heterosexual males for heterosexual males. That should be obvious. And yet nearly half of the video game playing audience is female. Huh. So, yes, men are pretty awful for judging by looks first and by not even taking a chance to "see" what's really in front of them. Hint: It's basically just a guy with some different sexual organs and a bit more of a certain hormone or two than another. Oh, and a different chromosome because that makes a different gender of the same species so very different in thoughts and abilities, LET ME TELL YOU. Look, I studied these damn hormones and chromosomes and differences between gender at the cellular level. And we're all human. We all bleed the same. I can get girl blood transfused into me and not turn into a nasty girl or feel lesser about myself or die. So, yeah, any argument that says that women are inherently different than men is literally false from the onset. And many women are raised as equals to men, certainly here in America (at least in my experience), so, again, what's the problem? That's my conclusion. So, why are women different than men again? My God, how different it is! How utterly different! They're like practically genetically identical aliens to us. Fancy that!

Why do you have to get upset or angry when a woman stands up for herself? When she mentions that something makes her feel uncomfortable? I know, I know. You have the right to say whatever you want. Fine. You also have the right to be wrong and a piece of shit on top of that. Making a rape joke could make you a funny person. It could also make you an asshole. Being in charge of a big webcomic (and a few big conventions) and making a rape joke that made some people feel uncomfortable, sticking to said rape joke, and making some very ill-conceived comments that made an entire gender and a good number of his own feel incredibly terrible for being in the same species? Well, I guess I'll let others choose what that makes you. Yes, there is freedom of speech, and I'm glad that there is. But there is also human decency. There is, I hope, a desire in all of you reading this to not want to make others uncomfortable, upset, or ashamed of being something that they had no choice in. This doubles for the LGBTQ+ crowd as well. (I hope I got the acronym correct. It's been a while since I was in the gay-straight alliance in high school and I know they've changed the acronym a few times since.)

I want to bring a comment that incensed me beyond reason into this writing. I want to talk about some of these things. I know this comment might look ridiculous to you and me, but there are many who view this as both factual and sensical. I guess I just have to say something about it.

Comment from this article on Kotaku from username theGreatZamboni

"The fact you choose to identify yourself as a "girl gamer" makes any offense you take illegitimate. Why can't you call yourself just a gamer? Why do homosexual's need their own gaming convention? The minute you segregate yourself within a sect you lose credibility. "Girl gamers" are attention seekers who think just because they played an N64 once they are experts on the technical and artist merit of gaming as a medium of entertainment and art. You are a girl who plays games? Who cares? Keep it to yourself. Why do people feel the need to parade around their "identities"? Listen to how stupid this sounds:

I'm a guy gamer. That's right girls. No, I won't go out with you. Settle down. I only play good games, like Civ IV, Gran Turismo and DOTA 2.

It is the implied sense of self entitlement that comes with labeling yourself. Just because I player video games, does not mean I go around calling myself a gamer. I do not call myself a nerd cause I read comics or enjoy science fiction. I'm not a member of the democratic party just because I have a mostly liberal outlook. Its bullshit. People like Hernandez are the kinds of people who bait others into arguments or make statements that beg questions that don't need to be answered. I'm tired of having to encounter people in life that they have to identify themselves because they have low self esteem. Its the same crap that was just found out about fanboyism. You attach yourself to a brand because you have low self esteem. When your brand is insulted or criticized you take it as a personal offense/insult.

Person 1:"I'm a GIRL gamer"

Person 2:"So what, that's dumb"

Person 1: "That's sexist! What is dumb about being a GIRL and GAMING???"

Person 2: "It is dumb you call yourself that, why even bother labeling yourself? It sets you up for being stereotyped?"

Person 1: "STUPID PIG UGH"

Person 2: "I'm just trying to play video games. Why are you rubbing your identity in my face..."

When I play games I don't care what sex you are. If you have ever played a MOBA you may have encountered the concept of character identity. When I play as Drow Ranger, Wonder Woman, Ashe, Artemis, Combat Girl; people call me she/her when talking about me to other players. I do not immediately correct people because I don't care; for all intents and purposes I am my character for the time being. I call others he/she based on who they are playing, I do this subconsciously. I never go around calling myself by my demographic label with regards to video gaming; unless I am talking the business end of gaming with friends and have to give personal input about a view point from someone who happens to be male. What I cannot stand is when I get into any game and immediately someone goes: "I'm a girl".

...good for you?"

Yes, actually, theGreatZamboni, good for them. Why shouldn't they be proud of who they are? Why can't they label themselves for all to see? Just because you have a problem with it doesn't mean that there is a problem. Sometimes the labels help. 

I didn't see that for a long time. It incensed me because I didn't understand. But the labels aren't there for you, and that's what you'll never understand. They're not there to make you angry and upset that there's YET ANOTHER GIRL saying she's a GIRL ON THE INTERNET or, heaven forfend, a GIRL GAMER. No, it's never been about you. It's never been about what you think. It's about her. It's about the desire to fit in. Have you ever felt left out? Alone? Have you ever felt like you weren't wanted? Yeah. These girls, these women, they're not wanted by entire communities. They're ridiculed and hated just for being a particular sex and daring to be on the internet or playing games. And they're brave enough, yeah, I said it, BRAVE enough to go out there and say what they are. That doesn't make them some fictitious and often vilified girl-gamer whose only goal is to grab some sweet and sweaty gamer penis and be the queen of video games... whatever that even means. Seriously, why even think this? You actually think that every woman is inherently an attention whore who just wants guys, especially the nerdy basement dwelling guys who are often the stereotypical gamers, to stare and masturbate and WANT them? Come on, dudes. Come on. Use your head and your sense.

I... I can't even understand how people could think that in a society that is supposedly advanced. The labels aren't for you. It's for the community. It's for them. Let them have it. They deserve some solidarity. And they deserve our respect and admiration, not our scorn. They deserve us to welcome them into this joint community of nerds from all different walks, races, sexualities, creeds, and, yes, genders, with open arms and a smile on our face, not asking them for pictures of their breasts or deriding them for simply being another gender.

Anyway, this video has some interesting comments on it, comments that might make you feel a little sick. This blog is a wonderful way to lose a night to unbridled anger. I'll use some comments from there eventually. And this is part of yet another controversy, where women are feeling a little bit sickened by yet another scantily clad (and silent) female character being described as "erotic" and/or "sexy" with little to no input on whether she's a good character or not first. So, yeah, I can see how some women and men might be furious about Hideo Kojima's comments about Metal Gear Solid V. I can also see why they might be upset that she's wearing so little and seems to be there to look good (and subsequently be exploited to sell more games). It kind of backtracks that whole equality argument, doesn't it? What bothers me that most is that the men defending the game and Kojima seem to not quite understand that women and men alike might be made uncomfortable by such a blatant exploitative (and barely clad) female.

Yeah, that's her. To put it mildly, she's not wearing much. As a sniper. In the Middle East. This is where I facepalm and blatantly tell the MRAs out there who like objectifying women that they are wrong. I don't care if this is the best written character in the history of the world, that makes all people openly weep at her approach, she is eyecandy, there to look good for the male audience, and I seriously won't suffer other thoughts. Come on. Does she actually have to be naked and moaning for people to see the blatant fanservice? But no, men like their fanservice, don't they? And they like to defend said fanservice to the point of decrying all people who disagree as "not understanding" or being "feminists" like it's a fucking swear word.

It's not. By the way. Get the fucking memo, you children.

But this says it all. 

See, I've found myself sickened by all of this needless and ridiculous sexism. Yes, sexism. Don't get on your high horse and tell me I'm some mewling girly boy or whatever the hell people say today. You are sexist if you think women aren't equal to men (and ignorant, oh boy are you ignorant). You are sexist if you think that you, as a man, have fewer rights than any (ANY!?) given woman ANYWHERE in the world. You are sexist if you do not support all peoples equally. You are sexist if you call out gamer girls for reasons only you seem to understand but fail to call out guys who do the same thing. You are sexist if you even notice a woman's body, talk about how good-looking she is, speak about any part of her, before actually finding out who she is. Yeah, so you people in comments or in real life, who go and judge a person based off of looks, who look at a video of a woman talking, and whose first thought is, "She's kind of good-looking." or something similar. Yeah, that's actually sexist. And don't compare yourself to women. You, as a man, have it pretty good. I can actually say that since I am a man. And while I don't have it perfect, I certainly am a white male in America. And that's better than anybody else. In the world, mind you. So, while I can complain, I am very aware of the fact that most people of the world have it much worse than me.

There has to be more tolerance. People have to treat each other right. We're all in this life together, so why can't we make it pleasant for one another? Let people enjoy what they want the way they want as long as it doesn't hurt others. How difficult is that to do? Don't objectify. Don't make people feel bad for being who they are. Don't name call. Don't be overly snarky to people who haven't actually done anything wrong. And don't think that you understand where people who aren't you are coming from. Men are not persecuted. We are the power in charge and have been forever. So, why do so many find it so difficult to realize that women should be equal. EQUAL. Not "just where they are now because we feel like calling that equal." That's idiotic and harmful for everybody. Let new games get made, even new games with female protagonists and females on the box art! Let female developers come up, make some great things, and get successful. Let the blatant objectification end, and just let everybody create great stories that don't go out of their way to make certain groups massively uncomfortable.

Mostly, let's stop and think before we write things on the internet or say things to people in real life. And let's learn to not be dicks to one another. Please?

Also, I should add that I'm just a dude on the internet, not very knowledgeable about anything other than reviewing stuff, biological sciences (mostly microbiology with chromosomes and cancer being my primary focuses in school), the stuff that I do at work, and the fact that I am absolutely smitten with a feminist who has shown me a great deal of what I've done wrong myself, something I'd like to fix, even if it all comes down to me yelling into a void. 

I've been an absolute jerk about things. I've hated Tumblr, taking way too long to understand their labels and why those labels are so important. I've disliked people who like things I don't like, and I've judged harshly (and honestly unfairly) without knowing the whole story or even a story. I've learned, little-by-little, that my behavior was unacceptable. Maybe it wasn't bad in the terrible-awful-I'm-ruining-lives kind of way, but it is still something I regret. So, this is my way to make amends, little-by-little, telling people what I've learned, and mocking the absolute shit out of men who (I'm not going to sugarcoat it) hate women, say they don't, but continue on a path that makes being a woman harder than it would ever have to be.

Anyway, I'm done standing on my soapbox for a little while. Sorry that I had to come back with a post this sad and dark. I really wanted to talk about a horror movie, I promise! I might be making some mini-posts coming up, so watch for them maybe if I get some time. I have my year end choices of things, and the next Hobbit movie to talk about. Check out those links too. They're incredibly enlightening. 

And I'll leave you with one final post.

Sorry, if I was disjointed. This is a weird subject for me to tackle, and while I am NOT AN EXPERT AT ALL, I wanted to say what was on my mind. I'm probably going to make another post about this at some point because I'm passionate about the subject and feel I cannot be silent anymore. 

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Short Horror Movie Appraisals

For this Halloween, I have a special gift for all of you. I went and saw a bunch of shorter horror movies, some very readily available and some much harder to find. Some of these movies I've seen before and always wanted to review. Others are going to be my first impressions. I've always liked the short format for movies, and I think it works particularly well with horror movies. You get to the horror, and then you get out. It works well in short stories, so why can't it work well here? None of these movies have anything else tying them together except their short nature. So, without further ado...

Our first movie is Disciples of the Crow from 1983, which is an adaptation of Stephen King's "Children of the Corn" short story in his Night Shift collection. It is also known as The Night of the Crow. This movie, directed by John Woodward, is a very solid and fast-paced adaptation. It brings its A-game in suspense and leaves you wanting more. The whole religious angle, especially that focus on the extremism of children, makes the whole thing have a very solid message, even if it's a message I won't go into on here. The focus on both corn and crows is apt and interesting. The brutal deaths are well shot and creepy. And the filming in general is something interesting at the very least. The biggest complaint that I have is that the audio isn't the best and the story is disjointed at times, over before it really has a chance to begin.

The second short is called The French Doors, a New Zealand film from 2002. Although having only a single actor for most of the film and virtually no dialogue, this is one of the best short horror films I've ever seen. It involves a man renovating his home, installing some French doors in, only to discover that in the morning the French doors seem to lead to the dark of night while the sun is in reality shining. He decides to explore it. And it doesn't go well. I don't want to spoil this one, although as an analysis of the movie, I will. So, avoid the next paragraph if you'd rather watch it.

There is something in the dark, waiting for him. While the doors are open, and he's exploring outside, the thing, the shadowy creature, comes into his house and waits. It is brilliantly handled, with first our main character seeing a person inside the house while he's out in the dark. But when he finally goes back in the house, the person is in shadow, a dark thing, and it isn't happy with him. I saw a few asking what the "thing" was, and my only response is that it is a thing from the dark. Simple as that. It's a monster creature of shadow that emerged from the dark world beyond the French doors.

This is a supremely creepy short, and watching it at night is recommended for the full scare effect.

Username: 666 is basically a creepypasta, but it's still a short and is still incredibly creepy if you can put yourself in the right mindset. Brought to us by nana825763, it's a short video about a creepy way to use the YouTube website. With some creepy accompanying music, it works quite well at doing something both very different (certainly true for the time it was released) and very spooky.It's a simple premise of finding a suspended account with some disturbing videos on it, but what happens when YouTube doesn't want you to leave? It's a great little premise and works really well. It's another one I would say to watch at night for full effect.

Another YouTube also made by the same person is a good companion piece to Username: 666. They both take a chance at grabbing the immense creepiness the internet holds, and the worlds within worlds that can be stored there, hidden away until somebody tries something...

Proxy: A Slender Man Story gives yet another take on the Slender Man mythos story directed, this time, by Mike Dahlquist in 2012. It's well shot and obviously heavily produced being on the YouTube BlackBoxTV channel with a bunch of other horror shorts. This short had been on my radar for some time since I like the whole Slender Man thing. The film is okay, with moments of psychological horror spliced into it. There is some gore as well. The biggest problem with this one is that, while well shot and with more dialogue than the other movies I featured so far combined, this one just doesn't hit that frightening spot I wished it would. While Slender Man's shadowy tentacles reaching for the main character is pretty cool, I wouldn't say I was scared at all. The point of Slender Man, in my opinion, is to show as little of him as possible and to concentrate more on a rapid decline into madness. The Marble Hornets crew, I believe, does it the absolute best. I could be biased for them though. I've met them before, talked with them, and find their videos to be the most compelling of the Slender Man mythos. Proxy is perfectly fine if you just want to eat up everything Slender Man though, but don't expect it to be the very best in horror.

Eddie Adamson's Victim, another Slender Man movie from 2013, is also very well shot. It has another very simple premise though, but this time to the film's detriment. While certain movies on this list are helped by having very short plots and a fast-pace, I really feel that this movie, like Proxy, suffers from both its pace and its reliance on its audience's foreknowledge of Slender Man. These movies need a longer build-up, a chase to find Slender Man, not being chased by Slender Man. I liked aspects of the film, specifically the way it was shot. It would have meant more to me if I could have gotten to know the main character rather than just being forced to watch him being antagonized by Slender Man. It's one of those thing where I think the long format of many short episodes works the best, again like what the Marble Hornets crew does.

I really need to stop talking about them and actually review their stuff one of these days...

The Lovecraft Syndrome is a 2013 short directed by David Schmidt. It's an odd one for me to talk about. i get the feeling that most might not like its methodical pace or somewhat trivial ending. But I, for one, found the whole thing somewhat compelling. While it's not a bombastic story and the acting is somewhat lackluster at times, I really found the visuals quite engaging even if the film itself looks like a much older film than it actually is. I liked it more than I thought I would, with the visuals of tentacles and such being the real draw for me. While not really scary, the psychological elements are also well done.

The story here is about a woman who delves too deeply into Lovecraft after a collection of tragedies befalls her. Her descent into madness or comatose response to the stimuli presented in her mind hearkens to the Lovecraftian protagonists, always being so nervous, so easily stricken down by what they've seen. I liked it in that regard as well. It's a solid short, but I get the feeling it won't blow too many people away.

Mannequin directed by Deric Nunez for 2013 is one of those short films that has a great premise, decent filming, and good acting, but never becomes memorable despite those things. Part of the problem is that the movie is shot strangely to me, not directly like a horror movie. And for some reason, despite the jump kind of scares it has, and the slow lingering fear it wants you to feel, it never has the punch that it easily could have. The end of the short is funny too- not scary- and that doesn't help much.

The premise is that a woman is going to take her trash out. She sees a mannequin just chilling near the dumpster. Then, after she leaves, the mannequin moves or is moved. Then all hell breaks loose, ending with blood dripping out of a peephole... for some reason. The best shot in the whole movie is the last second as the door opens.

While mentioning this film, I'll also mention Deric Nunez's earlier Knock from 2011, which I also found had issues, but was all right in it's own way. I probably enjoyed that short more than this one, but I also have a lot less to talk about in that one, besides the paranoia one feels at noises in a house when one is alone.

Mockingbird directed by Marichelle Daywalt in 2008. Just watch it.

Ninja Clown Monster, also 2008, directed by Drew Daywalt, is another great little horror short I've known about for a good long while. Both of these shorts are from Fewdio, which also houses a lot of other really good and effective short horror films. Films like Bedfellows (2008), again by Drew Daywalt, which is exactly what I want in a short horror film. It's clear, effective, creepy, and the story and acting are solid. I seriously couldn't ask for more.

Then we have Katasumi and 4444444444 from 1998, both directed by Takashi Shimizu, you know, the guy who directed Marebito and Rinne. Katasumi (also known as In a Corner) is incredibly odd, involving a dead girl, a ghost(?), and some iconic clicking noise that would become very well known after Shimizu's Grudge was released. The other movie is actually a phone number: (444)-444-4444. This takes a little explaining if you don't already know. The Japanese word for the number four is almost exactly like their word for death, so they are superstitious in Japan about the number four like English speakers are about the number thirteen. They omit floor number four in some buildings just as we omit floor thirteen. Anyway, this short is much funnier than scary, involving a phone ringing, a young man picking it up, and meowing ensuing. Both shorts are incredibly well put together, feeling like much longer movies in their own right despite only being a couple minutes apiece.

For the last short I'll review here, as well as the last one I'll talk about this October, here is So Dark from 2013. Directed by Al Lougher, here is the tale of a modern vampire. This short comes directly from an internet anthology series. Incredibly well directed, well acted, and well shot, this film is a solid entry into any vampire film discussion. While never exactly scary, it does leave your mind asking many questions and seeking many answers. It also makes me wish for more really good vampire movies or shows. I love Angel, the TV series by Joss Whedon, and this is a grittier and, honestly, less sugary version of that. While I like Angel a great deal, that show had one big problem: it never hit a horror high point. I don't even know if I could consider it horror at all despite the vampires. It came off to me as an emotional ride of a drama series that happened to have a vampire or two and some silly demons in it.

So Dark is what a vampire series (and I do mean series here, not short or movie) should be like. The grittiness, the grime, and the darkness of both man and beast is showcased here. It's one thing I certainly like about modern cinema, modern shows, and modern everything. There isn't that reluctance to hide the grime of society anymore. Blood, gore, dirt, and tears are all on display. And while many movies tend to either go too far or not know how to handle that kind of freedom, some pieces of fiction absolutely thrive. So Dark certainly thrives to me.

And the short to which So Dark serves as a sequel, So Pretty (2012), is also quite good. It feels like somebody's response to the love of Twilight and the sparkly and pretty vampires from that book, movie, and franchise. It directly speaks about the amount of vampire fiction out there today, and how it seems like everybody either wants to date or be a vampire despite the fact that historically vampires have been cursed monsters, feared by most, not a pretty little doll that looks cool and loves well. This short focuses on the animal nature of vampires and how they look and act when they've killed. These two shorts were incredible, although again, the horror is light. It seems to be more focused on the production than the actual horror, which is a bit of a shame, but not that much of one.

Anyway, that's another October and another Halloween down for this little series. I'll probably revisit some short horror in the future because there are a ton of things I've missed that I'd love to talk about. I, more or less, recommend the short horror genre for consumption unless they're Slender Man videos or stuff of the popular ilk. I really love The French Doors, which was my main impetus to actually doing this review. I saw it for the first time years ago and always wanted to talk about it a bit more and get the word out there that it exists. So Pretty and So Dark were pleasant surprises and I really hope more things like that can exist in this world of ours.

I'd like to thank everybody who took the ride with me this October. It's been a blast. I'm looking forward to next October already. Even though these reviews are a drain and a half, I love doing them so much. In the coming months I'm seriously going to try to get some reviews out, hopefully a couple (at the very least) each month. My R. L. Stine reviews are going to keep trucking along during the late fall and winter, and I should have a ton of new movies to keep me occupied for quite some time. I also should mention that this October Nights, I also took the plunge of engagement with my long-time girlfriend. So, there's that as well. Again, this October has been amazing. Check out my Tumblr for updates and the like. I've posted there kind of irregularly up until now, but I'm going to post much more often now that I want to talk about horror and the like on every conceivable level.

See you all soon!

Edit: Oh, I have one more video I was told I have to talk about by my fiancee. She sent it to me and likes it a lot, so I kind of feel it's a bit necessary to talk about it at least a little. I won't have any pictures or it or whatnot, just a link, which you can find here.

Cargo from 2013, directed by Ben Howling and Yolanda Ramke, is a fascinating take on the zombie. I generally don't like zombies, which is why I never review any movies with zombies in them. But this short film is actually done quite well, pushing a smart premise together with overdone cliched zombies to make something very unique.

It's the story of a father who gets into some kind of accident before the short begins. His wife is dead, but strapped to the seat belt of the car. He is bitten and sets about thinking of a brilliant and sad plan to save his infant baby child. It's very effective in the way it's shot, creating a good sense of both mood and atmosphere. I loved the plan he had, and the highlight of my first watching of the movie was actually figuring out what he had planned. It was a satisfying, if very sad, ending. I don't want to spoil too much. Check it out if you haven't already. Again, this is a serious recommendation from my fiancee, who literally told me I had to talk about this one or else she'd beat me.

(I'm kidding about that by the way. But she as a non-horror fan liked it, and me as a non-zombie fan also liked it.)

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (1992)

Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me directed by David Lynch is probably one of my favorite movies of all time. To put it out there, this movie is not for everybody. David Lynch is not for everybody. If you haven't seen an episode of the Twin Peaks television series, don't watch this until you watch that series. Despite the fact that this movie is mostly a prequel to the TV series, it also has elements of a sequel. And the spoilers provided by the movie would probably be best avoided if the television series is in your interest at all.

If you're reading this review and you like the other movies I've reviewed, Twin Peaks is probably the series for you. It is by far my favorite television series of all time. If I were to write my own series, it would end up looking a lot like that one. But this movie- this movie is where the heart and soul of Twin Peaks truly is. It has it's true capabilities, weirdness, and insanity out there for all to see before the end. It's a gory, visceral, surreal, and introspective look at what would lead up to the television series, but it stands all on its own as something brilliant and spectacular.

David Lynch made his career making movies that pushed the bounds of psychology, horror, and the nature of surreality. This movie has all those elements in it, often becoming quite terrifying if you can parse exactly what's going on. This is the reason the television series is a much watch for understanding this movie fully. It's absolutely needed to understand both the horror and the implications of exactly what's going on. I don't know how much and how often I can proselytize why this series and movie are some of the best works of fiction ever created.

I know that sounds like the ravings of the lunatic. I get that. but nothing this original exists anywhere else. It led to so many other different takes off of the same material. It was also, in my opinion, the Firefly before that show and subsequent movie existed. Cancelled before it should have been (in my opinion), leaving fans stranded with more questions than answers, and having a fanatical fanbase, Twin Peaks was a movement and an expression more than it was ever a simple television show.

The movie should have been there to answer lingering question and tie up loose ends, but when has David Lynch ever done anything of the sort? For every question answered in the movie more arose from it. And frankly, the movie brought me a whole new definition of small town horror when I first watched it quite a few years ago.

So, with introductions over, let's talk about this movie if we can. First off, the movie can be viewed as two different parts. The first part follows around a series of FBI agents (including our good friend Agent Cooper!) as they are involved in some odd investigations. I always found it odd how the FBI is basically comprised of some of the weirdest people imaginable, every one more surreal and interesting than the last. Agents Chester Desmond and Sam Stanley (played by Kiefer Sutherland) are looking into the murder of one Teresa Banks. And the investigation is hampered by an uncooperative police force in the town of Deer Meadow. Deer Meadow is also basically the opposite of the town of Twin Peaks. Anyway, they get their information from a woman named Lil, who dances for them.

And it's weird. They interpret the dancing, and I have to believe it all has something to do with how Lynch and his films (and television show) were received. Most of Lynch's films are surreal, often with the easiest way to view them being to interpret the plots and fill in what you need to from the information provided. A David Lynch film is something to watch. There's nothing else like them, not in my experience anyway. While not everything might have a hard meaning in his movies, I do believe the interpretations can still be there. He's such a deliberate filmmaker that I can't see him not having specific ideas on what he means to do in a film.

The investigation of Teresa Banks murder goes on, but nothing is really found out, besides a missing ring and a missing trailer. And eventually a missing Chester Desmond. And that's where the movie leaves Deer Meadow, going instead to Philadelphia to focus on Dale Cooper for a while, who has had a series of dreams over the course of the movie, prophetic dreams. He tells Gordon Cole (played by David Lynch) about the dreams and a man named Jeffries (played by the man and the legend David Bowie) enters the room only to disappear again. It is surreal and odd, and probably makes no sense at all. I think he's connected with Windom Earle, although I'm not sure why I think that. (Windom Earle is form the latter half of the second season of the TV series.)

Finally we get to the main part of the movie: the lead-up to Laura Palmer's death. And what a lead-up it is. We see a visceral, surreal, dark, and often very salacious as well. I don't think I've ever seen nudity made so ugly, so feral, and so hard to look at. What it looks like to me throughout the film is victimization. And it's obvious that's what it is. Laura Palmer leads a double life. On one side, she's the beautiful homecoming queen with a nice family life, a best friend, and a boyfriend (or two). But beneath it she's a drug addict, a sex addict, a person who has no idea what she wants in her life or from her life, and mostly she's a scared young woman. She admits to being raped since she was twelve, although early on she claims she doesn't know who's been doing it.

But we find out along with Laura, and what a reveal it is. it is one of the few movies brave enough to tackle an incestuous relationship in a believable way. Laura's father, Leland (Ray Wise, basically the second lead of the movie after Sheryl Lee's Larua), has been possessed by an evil creature named BOB. he's been in love with and raping Laura for years as BOB, but we're left wondering whether or not it's been Leland all along... or if BOB is really the perpetrator. The incestuous relationship is definitely an undercurrent of this entire part of the film, with a definite focus on Leland's responses to Laura's relationship, manners, and life. But there is also Laura's odd reactions to her father, so much pointing to the idea that she knows he's been raping her, but is hiding it under the surface. The awkward moments, the nearly broken home, and the appearance of normality- those are certainly themes throughout both Twin Peaks and David Lynch's works in general, but here they are on display for all to see.

In some ways, many ways, this film is the natural progression from a film like Blue Velvet. Both involve "normal" suburban or small town life, but both also involve this undercurrent of sleaze that David Lynch captures so perfectly. And that's what this movie is at times: pure, unbridled, and unadulterated sleaze. The horror is throughout this movie, maybe not in overt murderers or copious amount of blood and gore, but rather in the normal being so awful as to not be able to be accepted. It's about the degradation of Laura Palmer, about the character's final days, and about how she was falling apart because of the sexual abuse, the incest, the being used constantly- even letting herself be used, wanting to be degraded and worshiped because of that sexual abuse. It's so well-handled, not with baby gloves, but as a visceral look at it. And it is terrifying and sickening all at once.

It's meant to be. And that might be the creepiest thing about the movie. The nudity isn't meant to be sexual, it isn't mean to evoke a sexual response. It's meant to invoke a heavy feeling of sickness. I know that's how I felt watching it at least. Leland's rape, eventual capture, and murder of Laura are also sickening. it is so awful to see, but Lynch makes it so compelling to watch. You don't want to see the conclusion, but you cannot look away.

Obviously this movie has many things, little things, that have meaning. The pictures in Laura's room mean something. The angel that was with her has left her once the ring comes into her mind. And the door opening painting that brings Laura to the Black Lodge- it has layers of meaning. The Black Lodge being the worst of entities and "humanity" alike. But the whole movie has layers of meaning- throughout there are moments where you wonder if you're even watching reality anymore. There are moments in the Roadhouse that feel like that, specifically within the Pink Room, which I would say is the absolutely most surreal moment in the film.

To me, this movie is the pinnacle of what it means to be a surreal and psychological horror movie. It brings about elements that are used to evoke emotions. While we follow Laura, we see what kind of person she is. We get to intimately know her, see her struggle, and see her fall. And all the while we get odd moments of comedy, real life, and absolutely blanketed horror- all of which culminate in Laura's murder. I can't say enough good things about this movie. David Lynch is a master as well as being one of my favorite filmmakers of all time.

I've avoided Lynch for the most part in these reviews. There is so much to say about his movies that I feel slightly uncomfortable extrapolating meaning. And since most of his movies are some of my favorite films, I find it very difficult to want to review them for fear of not doing them justice. But I have to talk about them all eventually, one way or another, and this film, one of his more direct films, felt like a good place to start our journey in exploring Lynch as a director, a storyteller, and a true artist of the screen.

This is a complex film, and I don't blame others for not liking it or really any of Lynch's material. While I think David Lynch is amazing, I can see how many think his films are crazy nonsense- and that's really their loss, not mine. So, this is a full recommend for me, but really only seriously watch it if you can get through Twin Peaks. It'll also help if you like Lynch's other movies like I do.

Putting it out there, this is the absolute scariest movie I've reviewed this October, so if you're looking for sleazy and hard-to-watch horror, this is where you should start. Well, Lynch, in general, is very good about that.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Monsters (2010)

Here is yet another slow-paced film that is kind of related to horror. I mean the title is Monsters, so that must mean it's scary, right? Well, it kind of is at times. I'd call it more tense than actually frightening though. Despite that, it is an exciting and deep movie with a ton to offer. A comparison I can make would be to District 9. This film is the American commentary (by a British director, Gareth Edwards, and a British film) on the border issue between Mexico and the US. Maybe the idea isn't the absolute moving idea behind the film, but it certainly is something that the film doesn't try to hide either.

It mostly involves two characters, Sam (played by Whitney Able) and Kaulder (played by Scoot McNairy) as they try to get from Central America back to the US. Sam is the daughter of Kaulder's employer, who is some kind of big magazine or newspaper owner of some sort. Kaulder is a photographer. And Sam- Sam is engaged but somehow unhappy about it, although that's never explained.

It's an intriguing little movie on a multitude of levels. The characters are very real. The acting is very good. The directing is excellent, and I'm not surprised that Gareth Edwards was offered the Godzilla reboot as his next project. I can't stress enough how well this film was shot and how good the CGI is here. It's seriously incredible, especially for its budget. This movie is good from beginning to end, despite its deliberately slow pace and focus on anything but horror for the majority of the film.

I would call this movie an art horror alien movie thing. It has elements of horror, certainly, but that isn't the main focus except in a few select scenes. The main focus is that element of newness, discovery, and human relationships. It seems to be a movie primarily about love with the backdrop of this alien entanglement going on in the background. Like some of the better stories of this genre, it also takes place long after the aliens have become a more routine occurrence, which makes this more about the story of travel and relationship and less about the aliens, which are background for the most part.

I would say that about 90% of the movie is about Sam and Kaulder either traveling, talking, or just emerging into a relationship. I like how the movie subtly hints at things without ever outright saying much at all. The movie hints that Sam is unhappy in her relationship and with her engagement, but nothing is ever stated on that front. The way she acts says it all. And her last line about not wanting to go home cements it. We're never privy to what's going on with her, but to me that's endlessly fascinating. I don't know if she simply fell out of love or was never truly in love to begin with. Stuff like that tickles the back of my mind. I want to know why she would have ever said yes to an engagement, why the ring was so important to wear even when she clearly was having issues, and why it was so easy to just latch onto another relationship even while she told her (implied) fiance that she loves him. That's the human elements that I simply want to understand. And those human elements are a big reason why this movie works while giving you a feeling of dread throughout.

This is a beautiful and haunting movie with a lot to say about both humans and outsiders alike. But you know what worked for me the most? You know, besides how well the film was shot and how good the acting was...

I loved that the ending of the movie was really in the beginning of the movie. To really get the entire movie, you need to remember that opening. Kaulder and Sam, after finally being rescued by the army, find the convoy that they're in attacked by the alien creatures. Sam is wounded and possibly dead, we don't know for sure, and we're never told. Kaulder carries her away, be she dead or alive. There's something poignant and incredibly sad in that, especially in light of the final moments in the film with them kissing and being carried away, Sam saying that she doesn't want to go home. It can make you emotional, especially when you spend so long with these two characters, finding out who they are and really starting to care about their plight.

I haven't spoken much about the horror, but it's certainly there. Again, there is a feeling of both tension and dread permeating the movie. There are people who die, even a child who dies. These are terrifying and meaningful moments. The terror here can be likened to Jurassic Park. It's the same kind of tension that can be felt in that movie, the same kind of horror. In fact the comparisons between the two movies is probably more apt than I would have expected at first glance.

It's a good movie in all the ways people want a movie to be good. I guess it might be a little dry at times and some might even say that it could be boring. I won't fight them entirely on that. But the beautiful cinematography, the great acting, and the amazing story really give a lot to this movie. So, I can't really complain. I enjoyed it a ton and will definitely watch it again once I have some more time and a bit more of a chance to enjoy it completely. Obviously, I recommend this movie. Just don't be surprised if it's a little slow and a bit dry at times.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Apartment 1303 3D (2012)

The original Japanese Apartment 1303 was the Japanese horror movie that made me dislike Japanese horror movies for the better part of a year. Formulaic and incredibly basic in terms of plot and characters, I was more annoyed with it than anything else. It really represented the bottom of the barrel in Japanese horror films, being completely unoriginal and not trying anything new or different. I dislike the movie even to this day. And now I watch the American remake, and ask myself, "Can this be worse than the Japanese movie I already didn't like?"

No, actually, it's a much better movie. Well, let's not go that far. It's better in some ways and worse (so much worse) in others. Overall I enjoyed it much more even though it is not even close to being a recommended movie. So, upfront, I'm telling you to avoid watching this movie if you haven't seen it already. And if you have, well, uh... that certainly was a movie, wasn't it?

The acting isn't good. I can't overstate that enough. It's really not good- from anybody. The filming is mediocre and some of the make-up effects are quite good, but the acting is so bad that it makes the film hilarious rather than scary. And it's not just one actor doing a bad job here. No, it every single actor. None of them can deliver their lines. None of them seem to have any passion for doing a good job. And none of them seem to care about this movie at all. I'd have to blame the director, Michael Taverna, for this, but the directing (other than the acting) is competent. So, I don't know what to think. Maybe the actors were all just sleepwalking and looking for a paycheck. That's what it seemed like anyway.

The story here is miles more coherent and miles less creepy than the original. Calling this a horror film would be a stretch. But even saying that some of the effects (CGI and make-up effects) are quite well done. They come off as more like good ideas in a forgettable film though than as spooky things in a spooky film. And as a ghost film, you'd expect scares to be on the top of the priority list when in fact the top of the priority list here are really weird moments and nonsense character pieces. I like how there is a focus on character, sure, but none of it means anything. It's all so flat because of the acting that it's impossible to take seriously.

If you want a summary of the plot, just look at my review of the original and take out all of the mentions of groups of characters or possessions. This ghost in this movie doesn't possess. She turns into a cloud of gassy smoke stuff and pushes people a little sometimes. She's incredibly not scary even though she somehow kills three people in the course of the movie- mostly by accident it seems rather than on purpose or for any real purpose.

And the deaths are so lackluster that they're just plain stupid. The ghost must have some kind of sense of humor or something. Because seriously, the last death in the movie just made me guffaw with laughter. And that should never happen. Not in a movie billed as a horror movie.

The plot follows the same premise from the original, but tends to be a bit more focused, which I appreciate. The characters are more defined, but all the scares in the movie are literally taken out in favor of- of- I don't even know what. I found the film boring more than anything else. It made me sleepy. I kind of wished I could stop watching it. I never really felt anything for the characters and with the exception of a few well done moments, the movie is completely lackluster, although not quite the absolute mess I was expecting.

I like the homage to the original Japanese film with the Japanese store in the apartment complex. That was something that made me smile at least. And the setting of Detroit was also something I appreciated even if it was all for naught in the end.

I wish I could say more, but this little revenge(!?) ghost film fell flat for me. It gave more bores and laughs than anything else. And the acting was horrific with everybody butchering lines left and right. I didn't like the movie very much, but there's not enough there to hate. I'd call it mediocre, forgettable, bland, and unapproachable.

Don't watch it.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Moon (2009)

Moon, directed by Duncan Jones, is a film I've wanted to see for a good long while. And now that I have seen it, I must admit that it's been worth the long wait. I don't know how much I consider this a horror film, even if it does have elements of horror, including gore, tension, claustrophobia, and ultimately death. I think I could put it into that genre of space horror, so often maligned and so often incredible. I can see it in the same genre as smart space movies like Sunshine, and maybe that is where it aptly should sit forever as an idol to what space movies can and have achieved.

Again, I'm not sure how horrific this movie is or how well it would fit in a horror review month, but I think that enough elements are there that if somebody complains I can defend myself by saying, "Look, idiot, this is my review month. I thought this was tense and creepy at times. It could be pretty scary if you look at it the right way. So, deal with it, fool."

This, ultimately, is a movie about love, loss, drama, tension, clones, capitalism, the horror of losing oneself and one's mind, and psychology. There is radiation sickness, seeing what you used to be laid bare, seeing lies and knowing you're powerless, and the moon, always the moon, featured.

M-O-O-N that spells Moon, a movie about a man working on a space station on the far side of the moon, mining helium-3 and mainly being there to oversee the big machines that mine it. He is alone for three long years and starts losing it little by little. Then one day, when he is only two weeks from leaving the moon base, he gets into an accident and wakes up with no memory of what happened. Kind of.

You see, this is where the early twist comes into play. The man who wakes up is not the Sam Bell we started the movie with, but rather a clone, woken up because the other one was "lost." This new clone feels that something's wrong and goes to find what's up only to find the earlier Sam still crashed in the lunar vehicle. He saves him, brings him back, and they learn from each other and figure out a plan to do something memorable.

I don't want to say much more about the plot. It's incredible and worth the watch, even absolutely worth the watch. If there's a single film about space you should watch in your life, it should be this one, absolutely this one, even over 2001: A Space Odyssey. The movie is poignant at times, showing that love is something beyond the mortal bounds, showing that there is more petty evil that humans are capable of than there are stars in the sky. And yet there is also heroism, caring, and again, that love that so often drives us to do stupid things.

The story is meticulously pointed out and paced, so much so that it is as close to perfect as a story can possibly be. It's very tight at times, but it does what it needs to do to tell the most convincing story possible. This is a memorable film, and one I certainly will never forget. I put it up there with Ink as one of the most affecting standalone movies I can think of. It's a bit of a life-changing movie, but one without the great punch of an ending I really wish it would have.

Sam Rockwell shines in his role as Sam Bell, as does Kevin Spacey as GERTY, the AI companion to Sam that seems to know much more than he tells and is much less malicious than HAL, even though the comparisons are certainly apt. Both actors do a great job in being their characters absolutely. Sam Rockwell plays several clones of his own character. His portrayals of the two main Sams is actually incredible, showing both as physically and mentally very different and yet fundamentally the same.

I really want to mention the subtle love story this movie has in it. I don't usually like love stories all that much, but the tragic ones often hit me rather hard, even though the ones with happy endings rarely do anything to me at all. The tragedy here is palpable, nearly breaking one of the Sams, who had waited for three years to go back and be with the woman he loves. The love between Sam and  Tess is absolutely wonderful... but also tragic in every way possible. Again, another comparison to Ink, but one I'd rather not go into very much depth with since its a spoiler for both movies.

Maybe this movie hit me so hard because of its themes of isolation, of psychological torment brought on by loneliness, and by the main character truly loving and missing his partner in love. To me those moments worked so well to bring about some kind of emotion, to evoke a response in me. I like bringing personal input into these reviews, telling why this stuff affected me, why I personally love it or hate it so much. I know a ton of people expect bare bones facts, telling about what the movie is and interpreting it and saying exactly what's going on, and telling EVERYTHING FACTUALLY. Because that's important for some reason.

The thing is, I'm not like that. I meander and go off on other topics. And I don't like people telling me how to write or how to review. This movie, Moon, affects me personally, in a personal way. And maybe that's why I like this movie so much and why I can view it as psychologically horrific. You see, I'm engaged to a woman who lives 200 miles away from me, working a job that leaves me nearly completely alone for ten-twelve hours six days a week. I spend a lot of time by myself. And I spend a lot of time missing the person I love so much it numbs me. So, this movie hits me hard because it's so easy to see how Sam feels, and it's so easy to respond in kind.

I bring all this review stuff up here because I can't stand it. I hate when people expect me to give them answers to movies that are ART that don't necessarily have a singular answer to them. Especially these more psychologically minded movies. Lately I've even gotten people being rude to me, demanding answers to movies, or screaming the answers at me saying I didn't get it. The worst is when people demand I keep personal feelings to myself when reviewing citing it being unprofessional or wrong or just me specific.

Yes, that's the idea, numbnuts. I am personally reviewing and analyzing these movies for me. What I liked and what I didn't like. Seriously, there are many blogs out there to read, many reviewing similar things to what I review. Go ahead and check them out if you don't like the way I review. To me this is fun, watching great or crappy or mediocre movies and just writing about them, talking about them, and having people read them. It's relaxing to watch a movie or read a book or play a video game and then talk about it. It's nice. I like interpreting, but more than that I want to talk about how something hit me about the fiction. Did I like it? Why? Did I hate it? Why?

So, I liked Moon so much because of its story, characters, and setting, certainly. But I loved it so much because it affected me in a more personal way, like Ink or 1408 or other movies that I view as much deeper and more personally affected me than just a movie.

I'm somewhat sorry to get into this in this review, but it's a great movie and I guarantee someone would say something about how this isn't a good review because I should be focusing on the movie, not my feelings on the movie. But that's so dumb. Yes, the movie is about the moon, good old Luna in the sky, but its also about a person, a personality, love, loss, and realization, horrific and disheartening realization. I think this is one of those movies I'll rewatch every once in a while. It's way too good to not watch.

Obviously I recommend this movie. If you haven't seen it already, go find it immediately and watch it.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Europa Report (2013)

Watching this film I am reminded of Apollo 18, only Apollo 18 with a bit more science, a bit more bite, and a lot more character. Again, as I've said a million times before, I like these space horror movies. Something about them strikes the right place in my scientific mind. Maybe it's something about the unknown and the unknowable. Or maybe it's simply that love of discovery and exploration. I don't think there will ever be a moment when movies like this won't appeal to me in even the smallest of ways.

I say it reminds me of Apollo 18, but this a movie that was made to be more than a simple schlocky horror movie. It was made, definitely made, to be a thinking person's film, one about sacrifice, science, and ultimately the unknown. While it's hard to exactly call a "horror" movie per se, I do believe it has those elements to it, relying on tension, claustrophobia, and mystery to tell its doomed story.

The plot is about a group of six astronauts going into the unknown reaches of space, to Europa (as seen in the title), which is one of the largest moons in the solar system and a moon of Jupiter. It also has scientific value, being one of the few places in our own solar system that could have liquid water on it and therefore may also have life. Thus, unlike our own cold dead moon, Europa might be a more viable option in terms of extraterrestrial life. Because of this, and a few other reasons I'll get into shortly, this movie seems like an answer to Apollo 18's questionable storytelling.

First of all, unlike that other movie, this one tells how the transmissions of what happened got back to Earth. It also gives more believable creatures for the environment. Finally, the emotions and characters are certainly there, putting this above and beyond most space horror movies. This one seems to be more in league with 2001: A Space Odyssey and Moon to name a few. It is a serious movie with serious science and serious acting backing it up. The musical score is excellent throughout as well, but... there are issues. And I'll get into those shortly.

The story is nonlinear, following two basic storylines. The first is the landing of the landing module of the Europa One (the spacecraft) onto the moon. The second is the loss of the first astronaut of the mission, which also was the point in the mission that the communications' devices went offline. The second story is the first in chronological order, although its climax doesn't occur until about halfway through the movie. So, throughout the first half of the movie, we know that an astronaut has been lost and the communications are not working, but we have no idea why or what happened. Then we are told, and such a tale it is.

There was an unexpected solar flare that started the bad business and bad luck of the mission. It took out a great deal of systems, but notably took the communications to Earth offline as well. The two engineers, Andrei and James, go out to fix what needs fixing. There is an unexpected accident in which Andrei rips the hand of his spacesuit and James becomes contaminated with hydrazine, which is a toxic chemical. James saves Andrei but sacrifices himself for the mission in an unbelievable and frankly upsetting way. It was an emotional scene meant to evoke an emotional response, and you know what? It got me.

It speaks to the performances of all the actors in the movie, but specifically of Sharlto Copley, who plays James, and Michael Nyqvist, who plays Andrei. They are both amazing in this movie, even though James' time on screen is limited. That's not to downplay the other actors, but those two did such a great job that they deserve a special mention. All the acting here is good though. Very solid performances throughout.

With James' death, the mission goes on but without the enthusiasm it had once had. They land on Europa, start their science, and discover that all is not right. There are mysterious lights in the distance, more radiation than expected, and something odd under the surface of the ice...

This leads to a tense conclusion that leaves you wanting so much more. And with that there's a twist that will leave you reeling, almost like you were punched in the gut. I'm going to spoil it because I want to talk about it. Skip the rest of this paragraph if you don't want to know what it is. When it is revealed that Rosa didn't escape, and therefore didn't survive the mission, it is like a blow in the face. Throughout the movie there were cuts to several interviews, one of which was the CEO of the private group that financed the mission, one was a scientist talking about the mission, and the final was Rosa. These interviews were all implied to be taking place after the fact. And it is a blatant misdirection. Rosa gave her "interview" towards the end of the mission, as a last ditch effort to talk to Earth and tell their doomed story. That hit me hard, especially because I truly believed that she had survived the mission as so many of these characters do. Like Apollo 18 though, there are no survivors, only a record. To me that's perfect and wonderful, upsetting and perfect storytelling.

I think that's my ultimate point (as I stop with spoilers), the storytelling here is fantastic even if the technical pieces of the movie are less than stellar at times. And that brings me to a few of my gripes. The first is that at times the found footage aspect of the film wears thin. I understand why it was used, and I appreciate it in terms of the narrative. That being said, I simply did not like how many cuts there were, how fast the cameras would cut at times, and the amount of shaking and video static that would appear on screen. Honestly, it gave me a bit of a headache, something I did not appreciate all that much. Not all found footage films have quite that much interference and movement of cameras, but this one had way too much for my liking.

I also did not like the creatures. While they do not show up as a true creature, full and in frame, until the very end of the movie, I did not like that aspect of it. It was the monster shot, pure and simple, and the payoff seemed sillier than I wanted out of this mostly serious movie. The CGI was not good in that moment and the Europa monster was not believable just like certain MOON MONSTERS from Apollo 18 were also silly and unbelievable. Maybe if the CGI was better I would have appreciated the monster more, but in the end it left me with a bad taste in my mouth. I get the feeling my imagination would have been happier without a concrete answer to what the Europa creature was. Instead I see it as a glowing octopus monster, which takes away any thrills, fear, or mystery that it could have had.

Again, while these are legitimate gripes, it doesn't really take away from the brilliance that I see in this movie. It's very good, with some legitimately touching and terrifying moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat. If you like space horror movies or space thriller movies or space mystery movies or space movies, then you will probably like this one quite a bit. I know I've compared this movie quite a bit to Apollo 18, but the comparison stands up quite well. You could also compare it to Sunshine (without some of that movie's more slasher moments). But out of the found footage space horror genre, this is probably tops right now. Check it out if you can. I recommend it fully.

I'm also glad I could wash the bad taste of the terrible movie I watched yesterday out of my mouth. Blegh.