Stephen reviews: Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999)

Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade [人狼, Jinrō] (1999)
AKA Man-Wolf (Literal translation of the Japanese title)

Starring Yoshikatsu Fujiki, Sumi Muto, Hiroyuki Kinoshita, Yoshisada Sakaguchi

Directed by Hiroyuki Okiura

This is actually the third film of a trilogy, but before you start walking out on me, you ought to know that the trilogy actually goes in backwards order with the first film taking place after the other two. I had no idea this film was part of a series until I started writing up this review. The first two films, The Red Spectacles in 1987 and Stray Dog: Kerberos Panzer Cops in 1991, were live action, making Jin-Roh the only anime film in the series. It is also the only film not directed by Mamoru Oshii, the creator of the series, though he is best known for directing the 1995 Ghost in the Shell film.

A grim and terrible mood fills this anime. It can’t be called a dystopian future, mainly because it’s not in the future. It does feature an oppressive government regime ruling with its fists over a disenfranchised populace, so I suppose we should call it a dystopian past. Mamoru Oshii, who still wrote the script even if he didn’t direct this time, was politically active in his youth, and this film seems to portray the future he was afraid Japan would turn into. After entering the film industry, Oshii used that feared future as the setting for his series, nevermind that it’s now in the past.

Continue reading Stephen reviews: Jin-Roh: The Wolf Brigade (1999) →

Mother’s Day (2012)

Editor’s Note: The film was completed in 2010 and shown at various events, but was never able to secure distribution. It received a theatrical release in the UK in 2011, before finally being released in the states on May 4, 2o12 (in limited theatrical markets) and May 8, 2012 (on DVD/Blu-Ray). IMDB lists it as a 2010 film, but I went with the official US release date of 2012.

Starring Rebecca De Mornay, Jaime King, Patrick John Flueger, Warren Kole, Deborah Ann Woll, Briana Evigan, Shawn Ashmore, Frank Grillo, Lisa Marcos, Matt O’Leary, Lyriq Bent, Tony Nappo, Kandyse McClure, Jessie Rusu, Jason Wishnowski

Directed by Darren Lynn Bousman

Expectations: None. I hate remakes, but this one might be interesting.

I never expected this Mother’s Day to be as good as the original. I also never expected this Mother’s Day to completely dispose of the original’s plot. This film is the definition of a loose remake, using only a few characters and situations from the original and then going hog-wild with home invasion tension and torture from there. Really wasn’t expecting that. It actually works out for me, because watching two versions of the same movie back-to-back could get a bit draining. But expectations and comparisons to the original aside, I can’t say that this film is anything I’d classify as quality entertainment, or quality horror, in that it follows the modern path of the Saw films by making the horror come from what you might be forced to do to survive. It should then come as no surprise to find out that the director of this remake is Darren Lynn Bousman, previously responsible for directing Saw IIIV.

As I hinted at, the story here is a very simple, home invasion hostage situational with dashes of Saw sprinkled in here and there. Two girls interrupt the villains at the ATM? They’re given a knife and thirty seconds to decide who will kill the other to survive. Similar situations happen several times throughout the movie, and while they are never as premeditated and wild as the ones in Saw, they are awfully contrived, especially if you’re aware of the director’s earlier work going into the film (like I was). Apparently this is what passes for horror nowadays, although I refuse to accept it. These types of films and situations come directly out of the reality show obsessed culture, where each week millions watch as friend becomes enemy. In the 80s we were scared of the dark. Now we’re scared of what my friend will do to me if given the chance. Is it just me, or is American culture getting too goddamned paranoid?

Continue reading Mother’s Day (2012) →

Black Christmas (1974)

AKA “Silent Night, Evil Night”, “Stranger in the House”

Starring Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Marian Waldman, Andrea Martin, James Edmond Jr., Doug McGrath, Art Hindle, Lynne Griffin, Michael Rapport

Directed by Bob Clark

Expectations: Pretty high. This is a genre classic that I’ve heard nothing but good things about.

Like the ending of Black Christmas, my feelings about the film are ambiguous and require some thought. Usually I can assign a rating to a film within a few moments of finishing it, and some I can predict a rating while watching. With Black Christmas, I’m unsure whether I saw one of the best 70s horror films or one of the most boring and obvious. Watching Black Christmas, one of the earliest recognizable slasher films, for the first time in 2011 definitely isn’t doing the film any favors as its plot twists are pretty apparent to anyone who’s seen any major slasher film. Well fuck, let’s be real here, the plot twists would be obvious to anyone paying attention to the movie, even if they’ve never seen a slasher film.

The story is pretty basic: a sorority house receives strange, sexually aggressive phone calls while a weirdo murderer lurks about in their attic. That’s pretty much it. The film is built upon the premise that you identify with the girls of the sorority, most notably star Olivia Hussey, as she slowly confronts the evil that stalks her. For this to work, the audience must be able to place themselves in her shoes and in her mind; we must live within her fears. This is where Black Christmas fails because right from the first scene we’re also privy to the mind of the crazed killer. We follow him from outside the large sorority house as he climbs the trellis and slides his way into attic. As the film moves along we jump perspectives between the girls and the killer, further allowing the audience to know more than the characters they should be identifying with, and therefore many of the scenes that should be tense and full of scares are pointless and drawn-out because we know exactly where the guy is! Continue reading Black Christmas (1974) →

Mini-Review: WarGames (1983)

Starring Matthew Broderick, Dabney Coleman, John Wood, Ally Sheedy, Barry Corbin, Juanin Clay, Kent Williams, Dennis Lipscomb, Joe Dorsey, Irving Metzman, Eddie Deezen

Directed by John Badham

Expectations: High, this is one of those catch-up films from the 80s.

WarGames is one of those 80s movies I never saw as a kid. I’ve been told I saw it, but it must have been before my brain was laying down permanent pathways for memories to set up shop, as I don’t remember a thing. It turns out all the hype and the general love thrown towards this film is actually warranted as it’s fun, exciting and still damn entertaining even today. It’s not without its faults though, after the first false alarm does no one ask the computer guy to see if it’s another game? This seems like the first question I’d ask, and I can’t imagine that the people in power would be that clueless. (Insert your anti-establishment jokes here.)

I finally watched this film because of Ernest Cline’s novel Ready Player One. That book is a fucking thrill ride of awesome for anyone that grew up in the 70s/80s and WarGames figures into it pretty heavily, so naturally I wanted to watch it after finishing the book. The book actually follows a good number of the plot points of the film, ripping off details both small and large. The nature of the novel makes this dissection and reassembly of pop culture vital to its success, so I can’t complain about it at all without completely ripping the book apart. And I wouldn’t want to do that to what is easily the most enjoyable book I’ve read in the last couple of years.

In any case, I absolutely loved the first half of WarGames when Broderick’s teen hacker is at center-stage, hacking passwords and systematically dialing phone numbers phishing for a data line. When the film’s stakes get raised, it all starts to get a little too hard to believe for me to fully commit to it. As I said above, did everyone forget about the computer until the end? These are issues I never would have had as a kid and it makes me somewhat sad to realize this. I can’t imagine how they’ll make the story plausible enough for modern audiences in the inevitable remake. The film also starts to drag after the halfway mark as the general nature of the conclusion is fairly obvious to careful viewers, so a lot of the tension that should be there just isn’t.

Regardless of any issues, I had a blast watching WarGames and I think it’s a true gem of the 1980s. Despite its Cold War themes and lime-green computer displays, it maintains a level of modernity and relevance to make the film absolutely worth watching. Matthew Broderick pulls off the cocky whiz kid routine to perfection and Barry Corbin plays military honcho better than most could in their dreams. Director John Badham shoots the film with a gorgeous eye for color and balance, with especially great uses of steadicam to evoke the military efficiency of the opening scene. If you’re like me and you somehow avoided catching this one, definitely give it a go.

The Skin I Live In (2011)

The Skin I Live In [La piel que habito] (2011)

Starring Antonio Banderas, Elena Anaya, Marisa Paredes, Jan Cornet, Roberto Álamo, Eduard Fernández, José Luis Gómez, Blanca Suárez

Directed by Pedro Almodóvar

Expectations: High. A new Almodóvar is cause for celebration.

Pedro Almodóvar’s The Skin I Live In is easily my most anticipated film of the year, and now that I’ve seen it I simply stare at the blank computer screen and wonder what to write about it. There are times when writing about film is fun, and then there are others when it seems like work. And then there are times like this, when I find myself unable to pull together enough coherent thoughts to constitute a proper review. It’s not because I don’t know how I feel about the film, it’s more of a general feeling of impressed awe at how much command Almodóvar has over film and his audiences. I don’t care to discuss specifics or to dissect the scenes, and this is where I have a problem trying to write about movies like this. Almodóvar creates films that embody everything I feel is vital for a quality film, perfectly balancing artfulness and heady ideals with a deeply intoxicating, entertaining nature. This is the fourth film I’ve seen of his, and it is the fourth film of his that I’ve loved.

To describe any of the plot would betray much too much about the story. If you’ve never seen any Almodóvar, I’m unsure that this is the place to jump on, but I suppose it would be as good as any other. For the record, the first film I saw was Volver, a truly magical piece of cinema. The Skin I Live In is unique in its feel and its look among the Almodóvar films I’ve seen, and while you could say that about all of them, this one stands out completely. Antonio Banderas returns to work with Almodóvar after a twenty-one year gap and he plays his role flawlessly. This is perhaps the best I’ve ever seen him, encompassing the cold, suave nature of his character and the range of emotions necessary to carry every plot twist the film contains.

Continue reading The Skin I Live In (2011) →

Hanna (2011)

Starring Saoirse Ronan, Cate Blanchett, Eric Bana, Jessica Barden, Tom Hollander, Olivia Williams, Jason Flemyng, Michelle Dockery, Vicky Krieps, Martin Wuttke

Directed by Joe Wright

Expectations: The lowest of the low.

I never had any interest in watching Hanna. I saw the trailer a few times in the theater and thought it looked dumb. One of my co-workers wore me down and talked me into watching it, promising nothing more than a fun film. Note to self: trust your instincts. Hanna was pretty much awful right from the beginning, an absolute mess of inconsequential drama and ridiculous, unbelievable, poorly shot action. I thought director Joe Wright’s Atonement was a poor, overly praised film, but Hanna makes Atonement look like a genuine masterpiece.

Saoirse Ronan plays Hanna, a girl living with her father (Eric Bana) in a snowy forest. Bana teaches her survival tactics and reads her entries from an encyclopedia to beef up her intellect. She desires something more than the cabin in the woods can provide though (More INPUT!), so Bana makes that option available to her by digging up a beacon buried deep in the snow and giving Hanna the option to flip it on whenever she feels ready. He warns her though that as soon as she does, the evil Cate Blanchett will be after her! Oh nos!

While this isn’t a bad setup for a thrilling chase film, the film’s trailer covered every plot point I mentioned above, in addition to the following fifteen minutes as well. So the first half hour just rehashed everything I already knew about the movie from watching the trailer which I thought looked dumb. Great. After we move out of trailer country, the film picks up right? Right?

Continue reading Hanna (2011) →

Point Blank (2011)

Point Blank [À bout portant] (2011)

Starring Gilles Lellouche, Roschdy Zem, Gérard Lanvin, Elena Anaya, Mireille Perrier, Claire Perot, Moussa Maaskri, Pierre Benoist, Valérie Dashwood, Virgile Bramly, Nicky Naude

Directed by Fred Cavayé

Expectations: Pretty high, I’ve heard great things.

Point Blank sets out to make a high-octane, high-stakes thriller where an innocent man gets dragged into the middle of a web of corrupt cops and hardened criminals when his pregant wife is kidnapped. A film like this, with a slim eighty-four minute runtime, should fly by in a flash of excitement and gritty violence. Unfortunately, while Point Blank has its share of great moments, it’s more characterized by its inability to string these together flawlessly. With a story this simple and clichéd, the execution has to be perfect, but instead I found myself watching a cascade of moderately impressive action/chase sequences that I was emotionally disconnected from and I’m having a hard time remembering now, only a few days later.

So yeah, storywise this is remarkably simple, although it’s told in such a way that the viewer must unravel some of the more intricate plot points. The only thing is, when these are unraveled they are so incredibly clichéd and telegraphed that it’s neither a shock or very interesting. While watching Point Blank, I couldn’t escape the fact that I had seen this all done before and in films both better and more interesting. Look at Taken, for instance, a movie that shares many plot points and a very similar, short runtime. Taken never lets up the suspense and the dire situation of getting to Liam Neeson’s daughter as quick as possible is ever-present. In Point Blank, the husband is at the mercy of the people he’s with at the moment and there are large sections of the film where he must deal with the situation at hand, with both the character and the audience knowing that he’s getting no closer to his wife. Yeah… not so exciting.

Continue reading Point Blank (2011) →

Subscribe via Email!

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,591 other subscribers

Ongoing Series

Top Posts & Pages