“Japanese Horror: Film vs Anime” Notes

My computer has crashed so apologies if I forget any titles. The ones with asterisks actually had a clip shown:
Gojira*
Onibaba
House*
Entrails of a Virgin
Evil Dead Trap*
Guinea Pig 4: Mermaid in a Manhole*
Tetsuo the Iron Man*
Ring*
Ju-On: The Grudge*
The Grudge*
Dark Water
Pulse
One Missed Call
Audition
Ichi the Killer
Suicide Club*
Tokyo Gore Police*
Devilman*
Legend of the Overfiend*
Mr. Arashi’s Amazing Freakshow*
Perfect Blue
Wicked City
Demon City Shinjuku
Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust
Pet Shop of Horrors
Higurasji: When They Cry
Hellsing: Ultimate
Gyo: Tokyo Fish Attack!
Ghost Hunt
Highschool of the Dead

Don’t forget to tell Anime Midwest how much you liked this panel by filling out their feedback form!
Questions, comments, or concerns? Email me at jwiderski@gmail.com
Don’t forget to like Mental Multiverse on facebook!
If you’d like me to appear at your favorite convention, let them know by linking them to my site!

Advertisements

Boyhood (2014) Review

11178476_800
Boyhood: a film shot over the course of 12 years, starting in 2002. Having been born in 1995, I’m only a year older than the protagonist, Mason. His childhood is my childhood, and to a small extent, his film is my film. There are thousands of people out there who will review this film but only a handful will be able to connect to it on this level. That’s not to say the events in the film happened to me, but rather it’s just a fundamental understanding of what a character is feeling because you felt it at the same time, with the same music, styles and, events floating around your head.

Of course this film was going to work for me. Of course I was going to like it, but as I watched it I wondered how this film appeals to everyone else. What do they get out of it? Boyhood is ultimately three stories, that of Mason Jr. (Ellar Coltrane), his father (Ethan Hawke), and his mother (Patricia Arquette). Through the eyes of Mason we see the stories of his parents (and everyone else around him) unfold. The stories of their lives weaving through his. Hawke’s Dad struggling with maturity and responsibility; Arquette’s Mom trying to find herself outside of her family, but struggling to care for them nonetheless; Coltrane’s Mason, a boy thrown from home to home, with a constantly evolving idea of family and of life.

Boyhood is less a narrative and more an experience, and a tightly constructed one at that. For being shot over 12 years, Linklater’s film manages to be even smoother than a documentary covering the same time period would be. The experience is so immersive at times that you forget you are watching fiction. As the film goes on though, what became puzzling for me was the thematic question: What is this film actually about?

Your identity? Your path in life? The people around you?

This question started to bother me about two thirds through and I finally started taking notes, probably a little too late. Appropriate, putting it in contrast with my life. Normally I wouldn’t review a film I don’t feel I have full grasp of, but in this case, as in life, I think the experience is more important than the analysis.

In case you haven’t guessed, Boyhood is ultimately about life, and because of this, it’s somewhat open-ended as to what its themes are. Everyone will (hopefully) pull something different from it, as they would any other two hours of their life.

In the final moments of the film a high teenager yells to a beautiful desert landscape that “all of time” has opened up to him. Meanwhile, Mason and a cute girl are talking about moments: how they seize us and how life is just a series of them. In there is perhaps the most important message to me: Despite the fact that Boyhood is all of time, Mason’s time, laid out in front of us, what ultimately matters are the moments.

Boyhood is not a film with some overarching plot or fight against a bad guy, but rather just that: moments that compound onto each other until they finally start coalescing into something with meaning, hence why it took me so long to realize I should be paying attention.

The best films try to teach you something about life. Boyhood is a film that asks you to teach yourself about life. There are hundreds of thousands of people who will watch this. Out of them, most will find it cute, but ultimately uneventful. Some will feel the meaning, but go to bed unaffected. A handful will be impacted, permanently and deeply. I like to think I’m the latter. Boyhood is a film that will stay with me forever. A film that encapsulates my childhood, but will hopefully still find lessons to teach me no matter what period of my life I’m in.

So there it is. What a 19 year old with the same video games, dorky clothes, and angsty attitude towards the world thought of Boyhood. Thought you ought to know.

Perfect Blue (1997) Review

517-Perfect-Blue-1998-_2
There are many stereotypical views of anime: that it’s strangely pedophilic, that it’s for kids, and/or that it’s all tentacle porn. While, yes, for the most part this is true, there are are still plenty of examples where anime transcends these trivial stereotypes and becomes something truly worth placing next to the greats of pop culture. One can of course point to Cowboy Bebop or the insanely popular Ghibli films, like Princess Mononoke or Spirited Away, but there are far more underrated works that deserve attention, particularly those of director Satoshi Kon. To be clear, it’s not that his works are without critical acclaim, rather it’s that his movies are criminally under-watched by the anime community and the movie audience at large. Perfect Blue, his first film, is a masterfully crafted psychological thriller that has been commonly compared to a Hitchcock film. While I disagree that the two are linked in any way thematically or stylistically, it’s hard to not compare how well the two directors handle the genres and mediums they operate within.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.03.56 AMPerfect Blue centers around Mima Kirigoe, the former lead singer of the pop group “CHAM!,” who decides to go into acting despite the pop idol stigma around her. Her first project, the gritty crime drama series “Double Bind,” leaves a few fans upset, particularly the mysterious stalker “Me-Mania.” Mima receives a fax reading “Traitor” and an explosive letter in the mail, but is continually assured by her manager Ruma Hidaka that she should just ignore it. Ruma urges Mima not to going along with the writer of “Double Bind,” who wants her to participate in a rape scene that will lead to her part becoming bigger. In order to help her career and not let down everyone who helped her get to where she is, Mima goes through with it, but not without hesitation as it means the sure death of that innocent pop star image she had. A website she finds that chronicles her life in an eerily accurate way doesn’t help either, as it idolizes that pop star persona of hers and soon she starts hallucinating that this very persona is criticizing her. As her career starts to spiral out of her control, her state of mind fragments and her sense of reality slips away dramatically.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.05.47 AMPerfect Blue is an interesting look at the entertainment industry and how daunting it can be to its young entrants. The dynamic and clear-cut characters that populate the sets and meetings give the film a sense of reality, but leave it a little cold (as it should). While it’s not clear what age Mima is supposed to be, the film is most certainly a tale of reaching maturity and shedding your childhood, and this is unfortunately best shown in the rape scene shoot. The similarity between the costume she’s wearing on set and the costume she wore on stage as part of CHAM! make it abundantly clear that she is “letting” her childhood be violently destroyed. What’s left of her afterwords is unclear.

Screen Shot 2014-06-19 at 1.07.22 AMSatoshi Kon does a brilliant job of messing with the audience’s sense of reality through the characters’ delusions. The dual appearances of “Idol Mima” to Mima, as a way of taunting her and degrading her actions, and Me-Mania, as a way of egging him on ever closer to violence, confuses the audience into wondering if the delusions could possibly be connected by some supernatural force. As Mima’s sense of reality completely breaks into a series of loosely connected and repeating scenes, we as the audience have no sense of what’s real and what’s not.

Satoshi Kon picDespite its discontinuous nature, Perfect Blue has a fairly simple narrative and the confused reality that the audience experiences throughout the film ultimately adds to the enjoyment of the journey to the end. Satoshi Kon could have left such confusion out, but he didn’t because, unlike most directors in anime, Kon has a sense of artistic style as well as narrative structure. Kon approaches an anime film like a film and not an anime, keeping himself separated from the Otaku culture that most anime producers are inevitably pulled into. Surpassing even great directors like Hayao Miyazaki, Kon has a fantastic sense of editing and cinematography. There are shots in Perfect Blue that will leave any cinephile stunned at their beauty, accentuated by clever editing techniques.

Perfect Blue has a slow first two acts, but its tension keeps you believing that it’s building towards something. If you wait patiently the third act will blow you away by proving that Perfect Blue is not just a fantastic anime or an exciting thriller, but an impressive film. Period. The animation isn’t the highest quality, but it gets the job done (and better than live action could). Many people brag about anime’s “mature storytelling” all the while showing those they brag to a series that arguably is no more mature than an episode of CSI, however Perfect Blue actually lives up to this claim. I highly recommend it to not only anime fans, but to anyone seeking a good mystery/thriller film and to those who scoff at anime as just pantsu-filled cartoons.

Ring (1998) Review

ring-movie-poster-1998-1020474565

Ring, or Ringu as it’s called in the US, is a 1998 japanese film that helped kick off the J-horror craze of the early 2000s. Directed by Hideo Nakata, Ring is not only the highest grossing horror film in Japan, but it’s also one of the creepiest and most atmospheric films ever made.

Ring is the chilling tale of Asakawa, a reporter, who’s investigating the mysterious urban legend of a videotape that curses you to die in seven days if you watch it. Asakawa locates the tape, but upon watching it must team up with her ex-husband Ryuji in order to save her life. As they investigate the history of the tape they discover the tragic history of a psychic named Shizuko and her even more powerful daughter Sadako.

Japanese horror differs greatly from Western horror in that it relies less on action and gore, and more on mood and tension. Thats not to say the two are mutually exclusive, but the Japanese films that have been popular in the West all share this quality. Ring is most certainly no exception. It takes its time, letting the tension and distress settle in. Even individual shots will pause to convey a lack of comfort. For example, when Ryuji visits Asakawa’s apartment to see the tape he pauses when he enters, giving us the impression that something is off without using dialogue or a dutch tilt.

Ring is also a very smart film, making sure not to over-explain to it’s audience what’s going on. Important details like Ryuji being Asakawa’s ex are not mentioned until half an hour past him being introduced and even then in a random line of dialogue. It could be said that it under-explains some things, like how Asakawa’s son Yoichi saw the tape, but the story of the film is still coherent and the ending makes sense. The core mystery of the film is an intriguing one, but accentuated by the progressive discoveries we make about the characters investigating, it becomes incredibly engaging.

Don’t expect jump scares or an action-packed climax, since Ring has neither of those things. If you do prefer those in your horror movie then check out the American remake The Ring (2002). It’ll serve you nicely. Ring on the other hand is a quiet, dwelling, and uncomfortable film that explores themes of urban legend and paranormal phenomena in modern society in a foreign, but relatable way. Like the best of J-horror, you won’t be hiding behind the couch as you watch, but you will have chills on the back of your neck for the rest of the night, especially after the film’s shocking ending.

V/H/S (2012) 50th Review

There was a point in time when I used to be the angry internet geek, one who took the Nostalgia Critic’s word as gospel and points off a film for not meeting my ridiculous expectations. I had little respect for the filmmakers and a mean spiteful opinion of many movies without having seen them. Looking back at my Legend of Sorrow Creek Review you can see that, and while that is where I got my start and where many critics operate, I’m glad I’ve grown out of it. It’s important to look at not just plot holes and bad acting, but why those things don’t work for you in a movie. To see the film as a whole and as a work of art, not just it’s individual parts and as a piece of pure entertainment. To pay mind to the intentions of the filmmakers, as well as how I respond. While to an extent I’m still like that (the mere mention of Baz Luhrmann makes me twitch) there was a time when I was much worse, and during said time I was on a podcast called Podwreck. My co-hosts and I made an effort to review a movie each episode and on one episode we watched V/H/S, which I HATED with the burning rage of a thousand suns . I started to write a script for a video review of it and I made it about 5 full pages before losing interest and giving up. So what better way to reflect on 50 reviews of growth then taking a look at that bane of my existence: V/H/S.

V/H/S is the 2012 anthology horror movie that was (surprisingly) popular enough to warrant a sequel in 2013. Since it is an anthology, it’s hard to talk about the movie without examining it’s parts. So we’ll talk about each short individually and then how they compound to form a movie as a whole.

The first short “Amateur Night” is the story of three guys who go out clubbing, secretly recording the whole thing on a set of camera glasses they bought. The cameraman catches the attention of a mysterious girl who comes along with him and the others back to the hotel where sexual frivolity, and of course horror, ensues. This short is fairly middle of the road with no characters to speak of, mediocre writing and an interesting, (though predictable) twist. The effects are pretty fairly good and the idea of recording from glasses is an intriguing one (definitely ahead of its time considering how Google Glass just came out). My problem with this is that the characters are so obnoxious and unlikeable that the first half is hard to watch. However, once shit hits the fan (which I won’t delve into due to spoilers) it’s admittedly intriguing to watch.

The second vignette, “Second Honeymoon” is written, directed, and edited by Ti West (director of The House of the Devil) and is the story (if you can call it that) of a couple who are on a road trip out west and are unknowingly being stalked by a mysterious stranger. This is definitely the worst of the bunch, because it’s soooo boring. West’s characters aren’t likeable or intriguing, and there is so little going on that there’s no escaping them. The twist is out of nowhere, despite being painfully foreshadowed by a scene with a fortune-telling machine. The acting is mediocre, with some of the better performances of the film, but there’s little in the script to work with. There is an effective scene where the man is being filmed at night and then it pans over to the girl to show she’s not operating the camera, proving that Ti West is still competent. I think that if Ti West can get past his narcissistic auteurism and direct someone else’s script maybe he can pump out another quality work.

The third short ” Tuesday the 17th” is a perfect example of wasted potential in these anthologies. It’s the tale of a group of stereotypical teens who are invited up to a lake by one of their friends, only to end up as her bait for a mysterious killer. This is a great concept and a fantastic twist on the classic slashers, essentially being what would happen after a film like The Burning. However, it’s stained by the incredibly loathsome characters and the awful and cheesy effects. I understand the homage to the 80s, but this is clearly supposed to be some kind of deconstruction and therefore it should be played straight. I would have loved to see this script turned into a feature and put into the hands of someone far more competent.

The fourth vignette is the annoyingly titled “The Sick Thing That Happened to Emily When She Was Younger.” This will be our final venture into mediocrity, and it’s the chronicle of Emily and her boyfriend, who are long distance due to college. Strange things start to happen in Emily’s apartment and as they get worse it becomes clear to the boyfriend that there’s something wrong with her. This one is just bloody weird, and while I’ve got very few reasons to dislike it, I just do. The progression of the plot is fine and the twist is interesting, despite raising a ton of questions. It just feels hollow, like the writer didn’t think any further than what we saw on screen and never truly created a world for you to get immersed in.

The last short is “10/31/1998” and it’s the only record of a group of guys who, in search of a friend’s halloween party, enter a house and get far more than they bargained for: some kind of ritual in the attic. In every story up to this there’s been a lack of realism, a sense that you’re watching a shitty horror movie instead of actual footage, but this short manages to insert slightly more realism than the others. Despite the unlikeable characters, they still act like normal humans, and because of that the events progress much like one would imagine they would in reality. The effects are pretty good considering it’s budget and thankfully so, as they’re used for some of the most interesting and fresh ideas I’ve seen in horror in a while. This one hits a lot of the right notes for me and while it’s not perfect, it sure makes me wish I had directed it.

Then of course there are the interludes, titled “Tape 56”, and they provide the framework for the film with the story of a group of filmmakers/criminals who get hired to steal a VHS tape out of an old guy’s house. While searching they get picked off one by one, mostly while watching the collection of strange footage this now deceased man has. This one bothered me a lot as the camera work and editing were the most chaotic out of the lot and the characters the least likeable. We see them molest a woman, but we don’t even get to know their names before they’re picked off by the “creature.” It’s lack of explanation of almost everything we see from motivations to plot points set the tone for the underwhelming shorts to follow.

As a whole, despite it’s retro title, V/H/S feels very modern. It abides by the STUPID modern cliche of making your characters dislikable assholes and has a very rebellious/punk feel to it. It plays more on the ideas of the past then creating it’s own, as most horror does these days. The writing as a whole wasn’t very strong and I think that if maybe a few of the weaker shorts were replaced by more original ones, the film could have really risen above the rest of the indy slog. For me the film was summed up in its ending credits, which were flashy, stylized, and nauseating. It wanted to be cool, taking up the very important title of V/H/S (In the horror community VHS is a golden age), but it didn’t exploit its title to the fullest. It instead resorts to the tropes of today and falls flat on it’s face. V/H/S is worth watching if you’re a horror fan, but it’s a low priority one at that. It’s currently on Netflix instant.

Well after all that negativity, it’s about time we move onto something a little more positive. Thanks everyone for sticking with me through 50 reviews! We’ve been through some of the worst and best films made, not to mention a ton of really mediocre ones. We’ve been depressed about the state of cinema and excited for the future. Here’s hoping for not just 50 more, but 500!


Edited by Kelly Leung. Contact/hire her at kellyleung09@gmail.com

Exorcist 2: Mini Review

Maybe one day I’ll come back to this, but for now…
This movie is sooooo boring. The pace is slow as molasses and the script decides to ignore a little thing called plot in order to concentrate on the Director’s fancies, be they locusts or metaphysics. The performances are terrible, with the exception of James Earl Jones who has little to do. The soundtrack consists of screams and chants that make you want to pull your friggin hair out. The effects so far seem non-existant as this director stoutly refuses to show anything beyond an occasional vision. Everyone acts inconsistently, even within a scene and the dialogue is just clunky and stupid. I’m turning this movie off, I’m gonna watch some anime instead.

Drag Me to Hell (2009) Review

Sam Raimi is considered a master of horror, but he’s done relatively little to contribute to that title in the past decade. He’s been busy with the Spider-man trilogy and that Oz movie, but he did return to his roots in 2009’s Drag Me to Hell. A odd mix of both modern and classic Raimi, this film stands as a unique and unusual specimen that demands to be examined.

After denying an old gypsy woman an extension on her mortgage, Christine finds herself cursed to have her soul taken to Hell after 3 days. Now in a desperate race against time, Christine must overcome the supernatural forces that are playing with her before their final deed, all the while fighting to keep the things she values most in life, being her job and her boyfriend.

Sam Raimi is most well known for the Evil Dead trilogy, where he mixed over-the-top horror with campy comedy to varying degrees and results. Now the one to really examine in contrast to this film is The Evil Dead, which managed to be over-the-top while still being creepy and a little scary. Drag Me to Hell tries to hit this same balance and while it does to an extent achieve it, there’s just something off about it. As I was watching it I tried to figure out what wasn’t working for me, and I think it’s that Drag Me to Hell is lacking charm. It doesn’t have that kind of charm that the Evil Dead trilogy has or that his other works have. Even Spider-man has a charm to the first two films, but this one, while it has a little, is just missing that. It seems too self-aware that it’s campy and silly, almost like it just got done watching the Evil Dead films. That may just be speculation on my part and not matter to anyone else, but I thought I’d try to explain why this film didn’t work particularly well for me.

Alright enough of that flitting around, lets get to the actual meat and maggots of this movie. Sam Raimi has for all intents and purposes created one of the most unique horror movies of the 2000s. His blend of horror, comedy and even just good writing was sorely lacking last decade and even nowadays. He somehow manages to take cliches that we’ve seen and present them flat-out and then shortly thereafter show something you’ve never seen before. It’s an awkward blend that will turn some people off, but will excite most horror fans.

The acting is fine in this movie, not anything to write home about, but it’s a step up from the wooden performances of many a horror production. The score is some weird blend of horror and the soundtrack to Spider-man, but it’s ultimately quite good. The effects are really good… when they’re practical. The CGI in this movie is godawful, even for it’s time. It’s probably a good thing that this is such a cheesy movie, or those scenes would be incredibly distracting.

Drag Me to Hell doesn’t strike me as mandatory watching in any way, or something even worth buying. However, it is definitely a unique watch and will serve as quite refreshing for those weighed down by the found-footage dredge. If there’s one thing I can say about Drag Me to Hell it’s that it’s fun and really that’s all that matters. It’s a reassurance that Raimi can still do horror, granting that he’s given a low enough budget. Also to anyone interested in lighting, this serves as a great pallet of very basic, but effective lighting techniques. Drag Me to Hell is available to buy/rent from iTunes, Amazon Instant, and Google Play.

Devil’s Due (2014) Review

If there’s one bit of knowledge you should pick up from the following review it’s this: NEVER GO SEE MOVIES IN JANUARY. It’s a dumping ground of all the movies the studios didn’t want to release in the previous year or have no better time to release the rest of the year. Looking at the chart on Rotten Tomatoes there are only one or two movies released this year that have a score above 50%. So far this year we’ve had the Asylum-wannabe Legend of Hercules, the horrendously unfunny Ride Along, the hispanic bore-fest Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, the Godfrey-Hoed 47 Ronin, and coming up we have the doomed I, Frankenstein (which I’m sure will follow in the footsteps of Dylan Dog and Priest as being a not too bad, but horribly cliched movie that ruins a great premise) and That Awkward Moment where men act like assholes… like every other comedy these days. So Devil’s Due already has that going against it, let alone the fact it’s yet another found-footage film and that it seems to be a remake of Rosemary’s Baby. However, does it manage to scrap it’s way to excellence despite these handicaps? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. No.

Devil’s Due is the story of a newlywed couple who finds themselves expecting after the wife is impregnated on their honeymoon by a mysterious cult. The next 9 months quickly become a nightmare as they’re plagued by the wife’s unusual violent outbursts, telekinesis and lust for blood. The conspiracy deepens as they seem to be followed everywhere and people in their lives seem to disappear, leaving the husband on a desperate search for answers (filming all the way).

Found-footage/Mockumentary is a style of filmmaking that has exploded into the horror community and very slightly into other genres, mainly through the independent movement. Found-footage is absolutely dirt-cheap to make and they turn regular horror movie profits, which is why studios love them so much. Many horror fans despise them for being slow and anti-climatic with terrible acting and effects. My argument back is that most horror movies have terrible acting, a good chunk have shitty effects, and for the first 50 years of horror the movies were slow-paced. I actually like a few found-footage movies, like The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, and to a certain extent Paranormal Activity 2 and 3. While I had great experiences viewing them for the first time they all have no re-watch value. Chronicle, which isn’t horror, but still a film I thoroughly enjoyed, is probably the only one I would go back and watch again for the purposes of actual entertainment. Mockumentary’s a film-style I can respect if a) it’s just a style and their are no in-story cameras (Chernobyl Diaries) or b) if they have cameras in the story and use them properly (Blair Witch, Paranormal Activity). Devil’s Due doesn’t fall into either of these, with a myriad of inaccuracies that on their own are the nitpicks of a film nerd, but combined create a lack of believability in the story (which is the whole point of found footage). There are tons of camera angles that shouldn’t exist, but do because the director said so. The cameras all look the same with maybe a filter thrown on, despite being radically different models. The husband even mentions that the tape is gone despite the fact the movie is clearly shot in digital HD. If you’re going to be found footage, make the effort to be found footage. There was no reason this movie needed to be found footage other then the fact that the writers couldn’t come up with anything original and scary enough for the studio to put more money into it.

Now since we can pretty much ignore acting or effects and just assume they’re shit, lets go to the scares shall we. The most important part of a found footage movie are the payoffs of all the build-up and suspense the relatively slow paced rest of the movie creates. At least thats how it’s supposed to work. Devil’s Due is slow paced alright, letting us watch the marriage and honeymoon of these fairly boring protagonists. I understand the theoretical purpose behind this as it’s intended to get us invested in these characters, however it’s completely ineffective as the only defining characteristic the guy has is that he likes to film stuff and while the girl actually has character and is interesting to watch, it doesn’t matter since she gets possessed and becomes the antagonist. Let’s contrast this with Rosemary’s Baby, where Rosemary is in a similar situation, except she has her faculties the whole time and it isn’t until the end where she loses it. The mother here goes bat-shit insane half-way through the movie and we might as well be watching The Exorcist from that point. Well except for the fact that The Exorcist was scary, and this movie is inept at building any tension or suspense to make it’s frequent jump-scares anything more then cheap tricks. The film relies almost entirely on jump-scares and the rest of it’s fear tactics involve breaking a window, eating raw meat and a hilarious scene where a bunch of kids get thrown around like a scene out of Chronicle. It’s hard to describe why there appears to be no threat here and yet there is in movies like Paranormal Activity and Blair Witch, but rest assured you have nothing to be scared of when watching this film except for when you look at your watch and discover just how little time has passed.

A colleague of mine who I frequently disagree with on movies stated that Devil’s Due is nowhere near as bad people make it out to be and that it’s actually worth a trip to the theatre if you’ve run out of December releases to see. While I think it’s true that this movie is not the worst thing ever made and that it doesn’t deserve the 17% rating on Rotten Tomatoes it has right now, it’s nowhere near worth the current $12 movie ticket price. If anything this movie is just blatantly mediocre and with a different director it could have actually been an interesting take on the devil baby storyline. As it stands though, there are plenty of movies far more worth your time if you’re interested in these themes, but if you really are curious about this movie then just wait until it hits Redbox. If you do want a devil pregnancy story then I recommend the slow but effective Rosemary’s Baby or even the first season of American Horror Story and if you want a found footage movie then check out, if you haven’t already The Blair Witch Project, the oft forgotten The Last Broadcast, and if you don’t want horror then Chronicle. Before I resign my keyboard for this review I would just like to emphasize that you should really hold off going to the theatre until February as odds are your viewing experience will be less then pleasant. Thats not to say all January releases suck but there certainly is never an Oscar winner among them.

John Dies at the End (2012) Review

With all the adaptations, remakes, and sequels flooding the Hollywood screen it’s easy to say that there’s no creativity left in movies. Even independent movies tend to be homages or remixes of the same old tropes and stories. However, occasionally one can find a truly original idea, one that relies less on the cliches of the past and more on creating the cliches of the future. It’s rare, but John Dies at the End is one such film… ironically it’s an adaptation, but aren’t all the greats? Well even if you don’t consider John Dies at the End one of the greats, it’s still true that it’s one of the weirdest, most and random, and frankly unique films to come out in a long time.

John Dies at the End is the story of… well it’s complicated. Meet Dave, just an average guy, that is until a weird encounter with a jamaican leads him to have to rescue his friend John, who’s fine except he’s high on something called Soy Sauce, which Dave gets accidentally injected with and this causes him to be able to remember things that haven’t happened yet and pull down the curtains of reality, until he’s interrupted by a stranger who puts a slug in his shirt and did I mention he’s telling this story to a reporter? Actually I guess the real question is that the same axe you used to kill the nazi with?

No I’m not bullshitting you. Yes thats all in the movie. Yes I wrote that summary intentionally confusing. If by now you’re completely turned off then odds are you wouldn’t like this movie. In fact there aren’t many people that would. John Dies at the End requires the pinnacle of belief suspension and that can only happen if you go with the flow. Either you figure out what’s going on and let slide the things that don’t make sense because they don’t make sense or you don’t. If you can accept John Dies at the End for what it is, then you’re in for a roller coaster ride of weird-ass fun. It has genuine twists and turns in the story and you get so lost in the film that you honestly have no idea where it’s going. There’s no formula or cliches to rely on and predict, just… strangeness.

The actual writing of John Dies at the End is extremely witty and the characters all feel like people despite the alienating things around them. They react quite similarly to how you do and that brings you closer to them as you are both trying to figure what the fuck is going on. The acting is fine, it’s not Oscar-worthy, but it’s never distracting and thats the important part. There’s actually a few notable actors in the film including Clancy Brown (The bad guy from Highlander and Lex Luthor in the DC animated universe), Doug Jones (Abe from Hellboy), and Paul Giamatti (A bunch of stuff, I don’t know he’s just really familiar), as well as a few notable voice actors from various shows and cartoons.

This movie clearly had a low budget, which isn’t surprising since no investor would put money into this movie. It never really shows in the camerawork or production design or anything, but it massively shows in the effects. John Dies at the End uses a mix of both CGI and practical effects, which is actually becoming a rarity these days, especially for low budget productions. These effects don’t look great and a lot of the practicals are frankly laughable, but there are still plenty of points where you don’t even notice and that means they did their job. Where the effects really falter is unfortunately the climax, where the enter the world of green-screened backgrounds. I think the theory was that there was no way they could afford to make that look good, so they decided to make their other effects look better. Which I was fine with, since by that point you’re so taken by the story you don’t give a shit anymore.

John Dies at the End is one of the most unique movies I’ve ever seen and for me it hit a lot of the notes I love to see in films or TV shows. So while I tried to remain objectionable, I clearly didn’t since this is going to become one of my favourite movies to watch. It’s most certainly not for everyone since it’s so fucking weird, but for those who can suspend their disbelief or are just intrigued by the concepts, this movie will stick in your brain forever as a fantastic film. It’s surrealistic and cult-moviey, but it’s a ton of fun. I both want to and don’t want to see more films like this. I would love to see more films take on the unique concepts in this movie, but at the same time I want John Dies at the End to stand as a purely unique and untouched jewel in the analogues of moviedom. Anyways, John Dies at the End is available on Netflix Instant, Amazon Prime, iTunes and Redbox.

ABCs of Death (2012) Review

 

MV5BMjIzNTA0OTIxNV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwMzA3MTM2Nw@@._V1_SX640_SY720_

I have a feeling this review will be short, since with the 26 part anthology ABCs of Death, inconsistency kills a good chunk of analysis without looking at each individual part. Let me make this simple then. Don’t watch this movie. This shouldn’t have been a movie. This should have been a youtube channel of 26 different videos so you could watch just the good ones and not have to sit through the 25 others.

The biggest problem with ABCs is that the time for each vignette is too short. It takes a certain skill to cram a quality story into a couple minutes and a lot of the times it’s just hit or miss. This leads to rushed exposition, nonsensical plot twists, and overall confusion. However, for every one I want to see more time given to, there is a short I don’t want to see extended because of how batshit insane or stupid they are. A lot of the shorts are so incredibly stylized and zany in their “story” that it takes a very specific taste to like it. With a lot of these, a twist is needed at the end because typical climax isn’t exactly an option. This stems back all the way to the EC horror comics. However, most of these twists are FUCKING STUPID. The lack of world building aside, some of them are just terrible ideas.

The technicals are meh most of the time. The camerawork is typically fine, but the effects are rather lacking and the CGI has that overachieving indy filmmaker look to it. Not really much to say on that front. But here’s a fun drinking game for you and your of age friends. Take a drink every time you guess the word the letter stands for at the end of the short correctly. Man, by the end of the movie you’ll be FUCKING SOBER. The title cards make no goddamn sense most of the time and there are even times that some sketches would have been better off under other letters.

A is for Asinine, B is for Bullshit and C is for Completely mediocre. Those are the 3 categories each of the 26 shorts falls under. They’re rarely effective as horror (X), uncommonly effective as comedy (N, Q), and barely ever plain interesting to watch (S, U). These few shorts are not worth the rest of the hour and a half to get through and even if you’re the biggest horror fan ever, the tone is so inconsistent that you’re guaranteed to be unentertained 50% of the time. If you want to learn how to do and not do short films, then by all means start taking notes, but other then that ABCs of Death is another waste of time in the flood of horror anthology films coming out.