Saturday, August 27, 2011

Insidious Review

Insidious, 2011
Reviewed By: Dan. S
Directed By: James Wan
Written By: Leigh Wannell
Starring: Patrick Wilson, Lin Shaye, Rose Byrne, and Darth Maul.
Lanuage: English

Plot: A little boy goes into a coma and cliches appear.

Despite having some magnificent lighting that turns every shadow of an average suburban home into unpenterable black abysses, Director James Wan could care less about sustained atmosphere or suspense, he's all about barraging the viewer with cheap thrills and jumps scares, and to his credit he's not bad at it until the film completely falls apart in a ludacris second act that borrows liberally from "The Sixth Sense", "Poltergeist", "A Nightmare On Elm Street.," and even those fun Dark Castle movies from the late 90s. It doesn't help that when the ghosts finally reveal themselves...oh boy, they look hysterically bad, especially the big bad demon who is apparently Darth Maul from the Star Wars prequels, hanging out in a boiler room, sharpening his Freddy Kreuger gloves while listening to "Tip Toe Through the Tulips"; I shit you not. Not much acting to speak of, Lin Shaye does her weird old lady thing and does it well. Patrick Wilson continues to be the most bland unlikable leading man of our generation, and the emaciated Rose Byrne is more terrifying than any ghost.

Rating: **

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger Review

Captain America, 2011
Reviewed by: Dan S.
Directed By: Joe Johnston
Written By: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely
Starring: Chris Evans, Hayley Atwell, Hugo Weaving, Stanley Tucci, and Tommy Lee Jones.
Language: English

The Plot: Vertically challenged patriot undergoes a risky experiment to join the war effort against the Nazis.

Smooth and glossy, Captain America has a dreamy nostalgic look with an effective mixture of subtle realistic CGI effects and obvious cheesy ones. The score sets the serial throwback mood with delicious heroic cheese. Set during one giant unbroken flashback, the film excels as a touching period drama and sincere low key romance. The athletic Evans brings vulnerability and sympathy to the title character while the warm Atwell steals the film with a convincing heart breaking performance that may just leave you in tears. Surprisingly, the movie completely fails as an action film during its rushed blur of a final act, struggling to produce any kind of suspense or sustained excitement. As the villian, Weaving spends most of his limited screen time grinning madly and reciting laughably over the top evil monologues with a crappy German accent; such a waste. The ancient Tommy Lee Jones gets some laughs with his usual grumpy old badass routine, and Stanley Tucci brings some real heart to his small role. This movie may be the very defintion of flawed masterpiece.

Rating: ***

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Limitless Review

Limitless, 2011
Reviewed By: Dan S.
Directed By: Neil Burger
Written By: Leslie Dixon
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Abbie Cornish, Andrew Howard, and Robert De Niro.

Plot: A struggling writer becomes addicted to an experimetnal drug that unlocks the full potential of the human brain.

Review: Despite being high concept with a fairly complex plot, the highly original "Limitless" is an incredibly easy movie to digest with its purposeful narration and focused well rounded storytelling. The most successful aspect of the movie is the way director Neil Burger uses creative digital effects and kinetic pacing to take the viewer on the same mind blowing journey as the protagonist; effectively imposing his emotions and thoughts upon you as he travels from jubliant highs to uncomfortable lows and even a trippy time skipping freak out. The film takes an unexpected gritty violent turn during its final act with some smart low key action and cringy suspense. Unforunately, the film's all too neat wrap up is not nearly as profound as you would expect. Not letting the visuals carry the story, the acting is solid all around with the charismatic Cooper dominating the movie as an empathetic and likable lead you can't help but root for despite a fairly immoral character. De Niro is thankfully kept in check and Howard steals his every scene as a brutal Russian gangster.

Rating: ****

Friday, March 18, 2011

Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain Review

Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain, 1983
Reviewed By; Dan S.
Directed By: Tsui Hark
Written By: Yuet Shui Chung, Szeto Cheuk-hon
Starring: Adam Cheng, Sammo Hung, Yuen Biao, Hoi Mang, Moon Lee, and Brigitte Lin.
Language: Cantonese (English dubs available)

Plot: Set in medieval China, a young army scout stumbles his way into the middle of a secret war between magic kung fu weirdos and all powerful demons that look like flying sheets.

Review: As exciting as it is disorientating, the utterly bizzare "Zu Warriors" sprints through its epic plot, gigantic cast,and escalting horror/fantasy elments without ever slowing down or stopping to explain itself. Needless to say you aren't going to have an easy time following this fever dream of a movie. Thankfully, the film is very playful in tone and doesn't take itself too seriously, freely mixing physical comedy and even ironic self-aware humor into the increasingly surreal action. The highly creative and unsual kung fu fights are frequent and complex with weird cartoonish special effects and wire work. The effects are somewhat dated in places and you can even see "wires" occasionally, however this is all part of the movie's campy appeal. All the performers appear to be having a ton of fun, providing the movie with boundless energy and charm. And while the film does show its age and budget, the ideas and visuals are so wild and imaginative, you are still going to have your mind blown.

Rating: ****

Valhalla Rising Review

Valhalla Rising, 2009
Reviewed By: Dan S.
Directed By: Nicolas Winding Refn
Written By: Nicolas Winding Refn, Roy Jacobsen
Starring: Mads Mikkelsen
Language: English

The Plot: A mute psychic viking and a little boy go sailing with some really dumb Christian warriors who get lost, drink some pyschotropic brew, and are randomly shot by arrows.

The Review: "Valhalla Rising" successfully generates a most unnerving atmosphere with its creepy desolate scenery and harsh droning musical score. Unfortunately, the dark quasi-spiritual imagery and unique music are the only things this movie has going for it. Thanks to director Nicolas Winding Refn's tedious pacing and frustrating editing, this visually intriguing film becomes an increasingly painful experience to even tolerate, let alone enjoy. Featuring very little in the way of dialogue, character development, and action; the primitive narrative snails through its modest running time with little of note occuring. Save the distinct looking Mikkelsen who has nothing to do except stare out of his one good eye and a likable young boy who acts his voice, the rest of the cast are a faceless and forgettable lot. There are also some distracting CGI animated chapter cards that kill the mood every few minutes, weak animated gore effects, and some goofy "future vision" that isn't elaborated upon. Also, there's a lot of mud.

Rating: **

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Viy Review

Viy, 1967
Reviewed By: Dan S
Directed By: Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov
Written By: Aleksandr Lukich Ptushko, Konstantin Yershov, and Georgi Kropachyov
Starring: Leonid Kuravlyov, Natalya Varley
Launguage: Russian

Filmed in rich cool colors with creepy sets and real European countryside locations, the Russian period piece Viy is a very unique looking film. At a brisk 78 minutes, the tight narrative is mostly whimsical in tone but dread slowly rises as the mind blowing climax approaches. Lacking any real violence, a constant spooky atmosphere and jaw dropping supernatural visuals generate most of the terror. However, the style is always slapstick in nature, often giving the impression of a live action cartoon. It wouldn’t be until Sam Raimi’s considerably more violent Evil Dead Trilogy that surreal horror and comedy walked hand in hand so effortlessly and most importantly, so exciting and creatively.

Directors Konstantin Yershov and Georgi Kropachyov have a wild modern style that incorporates expressive camera work and sporadic hallucinogenic elements. The convincing but weird special effects are most interesting; a combination of wire work, cut film, ghoulish make up, theatrical puppetry, and freaky camera tricks that give life to an undead witch, her flying casket, and ultimately an army of disembodied hands, malformed demons, skeletons, and everything else that goes bump in the night. As a drunken cowardly monk in training, Leonid Kuravlyov gives a wide eyed energetic performance. His bumbling physical humor and cartoonish facial expressions are a blast to watch but he’s also sympathetic and convincing as a man losing his mind under the pressure of constant other worldly threat. As the witch, gothic beauty Natalya Varley has the right combination of allure, comedy, and menace…much like the movie itself.


Saturday, February 5, 2011

Full Contact Review

Full Contact, 1992
Reviewed By: Dan S.
Directed By; Ringo Lam
Written By: Nam Yin.
Starring: Chow Yun-Fat, Anthony Wong, Simon Yam, Anne Bridgewater, Bonnie Fu.
Language: Cantonese

Director Ringo Lam skillfully utilizes dramatic camera work that evokes the work of his contemporary John Woo. However, his emphasis on surreal colors, bloody exit wounds, and jaw dropping early bullet time effects set him apart as a far more "over the top" visionary. Highlighted by exaggerated performances, goofy dialogue/one liners, and a rocking 80s metal soundtrack this is some deliciously cheesy fun. The non-stop action is fairly large scale and diverse with strip club shoot outs, freeway chases in muscle cars, exploding cars, bank heists, and brawls. In the rare event the film does slow down, the character and story development is limited to goofy but entertaining melodrama that is certainly anything but dull.

Sporting sleeveless vests and a ridiculous hair cut, the soft looking Fat has never looked more uncomfortable in his own skin as the motorcycle riding anti-hero, but his physical presence and natural likability overcome his awkwardness. Cast against type, Anthony Wong hilariously overacts as a cowardly geek turned badass turned crybaby. As the memorable gay villain an outrageously dressed Simon Yam, produces weapons from thin air with magic tricks, cuddles young boys, and makes amusing offensive taunts. Evil babe Bonnie Fu provides some serious sleaze as an apparent nympho who is constantly moaning and grinding on every guy in the movie except Yam of course. Cute good babe Anne Bridgewater doesn’t have much to do except some weird arty striptease performances that curiously recall Flashdance.