Cinema-Maniac: Nekromantik (1987) Review

Banned films generate an interest in me unlike any other kind of films. By nature it is easy to assume that these banned films have content that goes past the boundary good taste, but what about how it’s made and what it has to say. Not every story can be toned down to get its message across applying the same to what it shows. If done correctly such a film can be consider art regardless of the content, but “Nekromantik” says otherwise. Why have substance to tied together a series of ugly scenes to leave a impression with the message it wants to get across.

Nekromantik follows a street sweeper who cleans up grisly accidents bringing home a full corpse for him and his wife to enjoy sexually, but is dismayed to see that his wife prefers the corpse over him. That synopsis gives away a majority of what occurs in the film. No characterization, no motifs, no metaphors, banal dialogue, no subplots, and no plot bring any meaning. Fundamentally with these story techniques broken it’s inapprehensible to obtain a reason to care for it has to say. It doesn’t matter what absent is a cohesive narrative and characters, but how it chooses to get across it point that should be criticize. How it says it message is stringed together by scenes that have little to no correlation to the preceding events. Literally opening with a women pissing in the field after providing a warning label to not show the film to minors. She gets back into a car with her husband to only to crash on the road because they weren’t paying attention. Showing the death of these characters play no importance to the film neither in their living moments or their corpses is redundant without establishing its own key ingredients. Repeating this pattern in its short duration with seemingly random stock footage of a rabbit getting his throat slit, and then see the blood drain out onto the ground as it twitches and breathing his last breath. Later the protagonist flashback again to his rabbit being hung upside down, skinned, eyes are torn out of the remains of his head, and has the rabbit inside pulled out. At first this flashback has no semblance with what occurring in the scene. It isn’t until the ending that it’s vaguely (in the thinnest possible way) explained it triggered the protagonist desire of the dead. When it chooses to provide background on the protagonist whatever the plot point may be is meaningless when introduce. Since the protagonist is a walking, singular purpose plot device there’s no significance to be immediately found on his journey.

It has scenes where there is some meaning to be found. For example, the protagonist goes to a movie theater and he is disgusted by the violence on screen while the rest of the viewers are empathetic. The point this scene makes is clear that exposure to fictional violence desensitizes real violence. I don’t have to agree with the film message, but if it claims responsibility to attempt to convince it should at least try to do so. Something it fails since the basic storytelling techniques are broken. Despite clocking around seventy-five minutes the film manages to make a scene where a couple has sex with a corpse boring. That’s right a film that makes corpse sex boring. Without substance to support itself it damages its own message delivery. Throughout the film it gives the viewer little to go on and even less in context. All you could do is guess which leaves you filling in the holes of lazy writing. Like the film warning said it shouldn’t be shown to minor and I agree because if it can’t execute what it’s trying to convey then why should anyone see it including minors with morbid curiosity.

Director Jorg Buttergereit spares all expenses when it came to filming. Looking very poorly shot on a bad super 8 camera with the grainy video quality. Acting is poor with actors given very little dialogue to be said. Under poor direction the conversations despite there being very little sound robotic and unnatural. Without dialogue the actors to an extent have body movement convey little. Since the characters receive non substantial development the actors aren’t sure are how to react in a given situation. Despite Bernd Daktari Lorenz portraying a character who collects human bodies parts (gore is substituted by animal organs) and a necrophiliac he shows expression of disgust when bathing in the blood of a dead cat (which he killed in a earlier scene). Editing is terrible drowning out the instances the actors do speak. Sound drop and rises in quality at seemingly random or have long stretches where music of notable production problems. The music is minimal and the track it uses is the best thing about the film. John Boy Walton’s “Menage A Trios” juxtapose the happy, upbeat music with Rob’s violent perversions. This score is the closest the film comes to disgust that is earned by effort and not imagery. Either that or the score expresses director Jorg Buttergereit excitement in seeing a man stabbing himself.

Nekromantik for all it intentions to shock has a point to get across, but getting to it will have you fight a battle against boredom. Non existent characters, no cohesive story, and poor production values leaves very little to gain. Where it fails the most how it executes its story to a get a point across without substance to what it does. Its protagonist might prefer the dead to the living, but filmgoers will prefer better films that touch on the taboo subject matter without sacrificing competent filmmaking.

2/10

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Cinema-Maniac: The Wolf of Wall Street (2013) Review

The financial status of the American class system is an grey area to discuss. Like all major political subjects I tend not have a firm stance steering away from the lesser of two evils kind of thinking. Sometimes its better to be direct with your points making the message clearer. As is the case with “The Wolf of Wall Street” which makes no effort to downplay the excessive lifestyle and amorality of the characters with no shades of grey to justified themselves for who they are.

The Wolf of Wall Street is based on the true story of Jordan Belfort rise to a wealthy stockbroker living the high life to his fall involving crime, corruption and the federal government. Cleverly disguised as a black comedy it also sneakily culminates satire. Structurally unmatched it begins with the so call “low point” of Jordan Belfort life before eventually making it big manipulating the stock market. His obsession is far subtle living in a bubble; committing itself to following the special logic on which this world is drawn into a vortex of success and admiring the brilliant strategy Belfort follows. Belfort lives and breathe to make money no matter the legality of his techniques. It’s shown as an easy endeavor rewarding with a fantastic and luxurious lifestyle through Jordan Belfort eyes who lives with no limit to his wealth. Never truly focusing on the consequences that Jordan Belfort scams had on his clients rather focusing on the bigger picture on Belfort personification of American culture legal acceptance and materialism clouding the ideals of the American Dream. Witnessing Belfort strong desires to cling to his excess nature giving a true exposure to how deeply superficial riches has taken over. Not once does it ask nor pops up to Jordan head the question of how much foreclosed houses, starving children, financially corrupt clients, and scams did it take for Belfort to obtain just one object he owns because Belfort has no fun living in the closeness of the real world he was once a part of. Scenes of excess and of criminality are not equally appealing and repulsive – they are almost totally appealing. Hiding nothing with a leading character who has no interest in redeeming himself for his actions. Depicted in a manner that’s true the essence of its character that will serve as a wake up call to reality for some where justice isn’t always served for every wrong.

Martin Scorsese’s forceful, flowing camerawork and electrifying use of music assures the film is never dull. Scorsese plays it bold in this film does not showcase any means of redemption for its lead character. His camera, which by cognitive extension functions less like a camera and more as an external window, reframes, cranes and tracks over Belfort’s equally out-of-it staff and his key executives with so much zest that it appears almost as materialistic as the people it is capturing on negative. Perhaps to counterbalance the mischievously ambivalent attitude towards a fanatically amoral protagonist, Rodrigo Prieto’s matter-of-fact cinematography eschews glossiness and flourishes and is bright without being blinding. The movie doesn’t have a single totemic image that captures the obscene wealth and privilege on display. Rather, the parade of outrageousness continues from the beginning to the end.

Leonardo DiCaprio injects manic intensity and ferociousness to Belfort that at times is simply magnetic, mesmerizing as he thunders like a lion across the screen. As a man whose wild arrogance, immorality and desperate zest for life literally charge him like a battery. In his finest physical performance to date; whether doped to his gourd on Quaaludes, or restraining his body from sexual desire, DiCaprio manipulates his body to silent comedy era levels. Meanwhile his Liotta-like narration has him spitting snake oil with each sentence. Every word is precise, every smile looking to be hiding something. Twice while detailing the intricacies of his schemes, he stops, smiles and distracts us. Jonah Hill’s performance as Donnie Azoff is another great allowing Hill to explore some of his comedic ticks and beats. In Wolf, he relies on his own instincts, and his chemistry with DiCaprio colorful chemistry is so natural that every scene they’re in together bring the best out of the two.

Margot Robbie a ravishing Australian with a Brooklyn accent, delivers a rich and nuanced special performance. Seductive and sexual yet authoritative Robbie is not just the eye candy in Wolf; and it is quite easy for such a sexually based character to be objectified in films, whereas Robbie triggers real emotion of sympathy from the audience towards the end of the movie in various Jordan related scenes. Kyle Chandler, in subtle and resonant acting as the pursuing cop, has a read-between-the-lines philosophical banter with his nemesis. In cinema-noir fashion, they have a well written, battle of wits confrontation on Jordan’s yacht. Rob Reiner as Jordan’s accountant dad, delights us with warmth and humor in some very good scenes. Matthew McConnaughey has a rambunctious, hilarious as Jordan’s cynical, first Wall Street mentor.

The Wolf of Wall Street delivers powerful commentary on American culture in a such a profound and unconventional format. Realism isn’t Scorsese’s goal, what he tries to achieve is to convey how it must feel to live inside this bubble making it feel desirable: a trap Scorsese skillfully plays with and avoids. The more the spiral spins, the more grotesque this world becomes, the more that initial fascination is replaced with unease and ultimately disgust.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: Scooby-doo! Wrestlemania Mystery (2014) Review

Scooby-Doo! despite sticking to its own formula has managed to remain culturally relevant since 1969. That’s impressive to be honest, though that should be credited to the appeal of the franchise mixing horror and comedy while also being easily accessible to any kind of audience of any age. Of course if proven by James Bond and Godzilla it’s not always going to be smooth sailing for a long running franchise. This is one of the causality with over a dozen or so incarnation of the cartoon it pretty difficult find any film more baffling in the franchise than this one.

Scooby-Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery! is about Scooby, Shaggy, Velma, Daphne and Fred working with WWE Superstars to solve a mystery in WWE City. In short this is simply a promotional tool for the WWE. A coherent plot is about as far fetched as the events that play out in the movie. So, apparently in this film the creature that haunts WWE City is officially called “Ghost Bear”. The mystery tied to “Ghost Bear” goes into some absurd territory even by WWE standards. Apparently in the film there was a Bear named Vicious (don’t know why the writers didn’t go for Grizzly, Polar, Berenstain, or Pooh even) that was an unbeatable Wrestler who went on a rampage when he lost to wrestler Sin Cara (Faceless in English) grandfather in a match. Buying the idea of “Ghost Bear” is fathomable since by the end the film it’s a given it’s going to be one of the undeveloped characters presented. However, the idea that former Bear wrestler “Vicious” potentially had a son that wants to enact revenge against the WWE is really pushing it. There’s only a certain amount of absurdity one can buy before losing the audience. Another negative mark about “Ghost Bear” is that it’s a rushed mystery. It isn’t until the halfway mark does the mystery gang do any actual investigation. By that point it had completely removed one character who despite causing a rock slide to get rid off of the mystery gang is never mentioned again. Every clue needed to solve the mystery is conveniently found in one location. Rushing out explanations that in the grand scheme of things makes you question the film own logic.

The mystery severely misses it mark in providing any resemblance of an intrigue. Everything not related to the mystery offer little to sink your teeth into. For starter its intentional jokes will make crickets laugh. Anyone who has an understanding of video games even if you just played them once will have issue with how hypnotism is tied with it. So assuming that Shaggy and Scooby-Doo are playing a WWE video game on the Kinect (though that’s bit of a stretch seeing the accuracy of the device in the film) require the player to perform a bit of break dancing and acrobatics to get a high score. Considering the explanation the culprit gives it puts into perspective how slim the possibility were for his plan to work. This among introducing some even goofier characters none more highlighted than with John Cena. His appearance in the film is a literal ego boost being able to lift a van, stop giant boulder, and hold his own against a Bear. To be fair the wrestlers do retain their quirks (evens the stupid ones like the you can’t, but clearly can see me line), although only Sin Cara and John Cena get any substantial amount of screen time. Sin Cara only speaks in luchadore (physical acrobatics basically) requiring John Cena (ego) to translate it. The rest of the wrestlers only make cameos appearances with their presence leaving something to desired. Aside from serving as references for wrestling fans they don’t do anything.

Animation is a mixed bag. Character and landscape have simple designs to them, but no degree of detail is added often looking jagged with disproportional body parts. There’s no degree of shading, lighting, or added line detail in movement. Everything looks basic with characters wearing single color clothing. No variation in color either being bright or dark and nothing else in between. It does move smoothly for the most part. It hardly does anything complicated with it scenes, but there’s a noticeable dip in quality whenever multiple characters move at the same time resulting in a lag. Requiring at times for characters to remain static while another is talking. Wrestling matches are few in number and short on duration. These wrestling matches are over the top entertainment with no kind of rules being applied to them. I’m sure the wrestling match between Scooby-Doo, Shaggy, Kane, Sin Cara, and a Bear went down in Wrestlemania history as one of the great matches in WWE history. Voice acting is another of mixed quality. The voice talent of Frank Welker, Matthew Lillard, Grey DeLisle, and Mindy Cohn are dependable as the mystery gang. They don’t bring anything new to the established personalities, but understand the their characters bringing each of their own characteristic in their line reading. WWE wrestlers on the other hand just sound bored. John Cena at least try to sound enthusiastic when you’re fighting a Bear. Come on man you were in….um actually was film credit does John Cena have on his resume; Fred: The Movie, Fred 2: Night of the Living Fred, Camp Fred, The Marine, and 12 Rounds okay so long Cena doesn’t require his mouth to move he sell himself as a credible silent action hero. Kane voice acting sounds like it was recorded when he was falling asleep. For someone who is meant to sound intimidating he sound very cranky to have been woken up. Music is forgettable with easily the most generic guitar pumping overload rock rendition of the Scooby-Doo theme song.

Scooby-Doo! Wrestlemania Mystery! is product glorification. Constantly praising the WWE brand and stroking the ego of some its wrestlers take center stage as the film main events. With story and entertainment value in the sideline hardly getting a chance in the spotlight.

3/10

Cinema-Maniac: Hwayi (2013) Review

Korean cinema is the go to for the thriller genre. As saturated as it might be no other film industry has quite nail the genre quite perfectly as Korea bringing in new twists on familiar setups and avoiding any unneeded melodrama among other reasons. Hwayi is another one of those stellar action/thriller that succeeds giving high focus on the human side of its story giving the old revenge set up a revitalizing fresh take.

Hwayi is about a boy who is kidnapped as a toddler and subsequently raised by a group of five criminals. Hwayi’s relationships with his dads should form the backbone of the story. That isn’t the case as their personalities are so hazily drawn even when reaching the hour mark. Rather the backbone is Hwayi discovering a dark truth and his transformation into a world he tries so hard to separate himself despite having been raised in it. There’s more to it than just pure revenge often considering the ramifications of such actions on both side. The kidnappers all desire a different life for Hwayi from desiring Hwayi to follow in the criminal lifestyle or making an honest living. Each of the five kidnappers each differ in how they see Hwayi, but underneath the rough shell all share love for the child they raised. As determined as Hwayi is on his goal he’s emotionally distress at the situation at hand. Morally correct he feels justifies towards his vengeance, but emotionally pulling the trigger on those who raised him is not a simple concept to convert into. It cares about the characters and their complicated relationship for one another allowing time to make it core character relationship have value to its action scenes.

Where the film loses itself is length saturation. It isn’t made evident until the overextended third act that the film could have been tighten better. A subplot that involves a detective searching for the criminals doesn’t impact the film in a meaningful way. All the subplot does is reinforce how intelligent the criminals are as a team and reiterate information characters already figured out on their own. After a series of twists and a couple dead bodies later it reaches a climax that overstays its welcome. Clumsily written I wouldn’t say as the pivotal point is effectively written bringing to nature the layers of the final confrontation. It’s subtext is underlying a nature vs. nurture view as the protagonist feelings are complex and to a degree no better than from those he wishes to avoid. However, due to its climax dragging out and understanding the protagonist the expected inevitable outcome drags. Mid way through the climax it points are clear unsure of itself when to end the scene. Pacing is not an issue and while there are few set pieces moment there’s a well written story with plenty to seek into.

Director Jang Jun-Hwan style of the film correlates with the bleakness of his material. Sporting a very gloomy and gray color palette it rarely has any vibrant color to be seen. The same applies to his filming of an action scene most of which in confined location often with occurring at night keeping minimal distances from a fist fight or gunfight. Utilizing frantic editing to intensified the action scenes and clearance when a fatal hit strikes person. This isn’t applied to the film chase scenes as it often follow the exterior of the cars from a far never showing the danger up head it drivers. Despite what occurs on screen the car chases don’t duplicate the same level of urgency. Cho Jin-Woong, Kim Seong-gyoon, Jang Hyeon-seong, and Park Hae-joon quickly establish their respective characters right from their first appearance; Cho Jin-wong is one of few sympathetic characters in the film, and Kim Seong-gyoon is always on the edge with his possibly psychopathic character. Missing is genuine chemistry between him and Yeo, even when feelings of extreme love and loathing roil in their final confrontation. As an innocent who’s sheltered, duped and pushed over the edge, Yeo sometimes overstates his character’s pain and bafflement. Lim Ji-eun is pitiful as a woman confined in her hopeless position by her men and then by herself, Nam Ji-hyeon is a plucky high school girl who happens to begin a tentative relationship with Hwayi, and her scenes with Yeo jin-goo are a few precious warm spots in the movie.

Hwayi is a very unique action/thriller with an original and exciting take on the father and son dynamic. It’s more than a film about revenge more so than it is the delicacy of parenthood and how damaging it can for both sides. Cold and gloomy as it might be it’s also a great action/thriller that offers a unique story and good set pieces.

8/10

Cinema-Maniac: Scream (1996) Review

Every genre has a formula none more repetitive than in horror films. Several films has proven if done right can still work, but as a reliance for a genre it grows repetitive and tiresome resorting to the same tricks that audiences are accustomed to spotting them whenever they appear. Scream takes established expectations and turns it around using it strongly to its advantage combining witty humor and tension.

Scream is about a killer known as Ghostface killing off teenagers, and as the body count begins rising, one girl and her friends find themselves contemplating the “Rules” of horror films as they find themselves living in a real-life one. Self aware of its own existence as a film and one in the horror genre it defies expectation with a witty deconstruction of its own formula. Characters are self aware of the rules applied to them in the film often bringing them front and centered to our attention. Whether or not the film chooses to take a route it gives to the audience is up to the writer to decide. Diverging between avoiding a pitfall cliche or embracing it raises greater possibility of shock. With options open to itself it not only follows a simple narrative, but also adds a layer complexity in its story and subtext that analyzes the gears of the working of average horror film. By playing against expectations every chance it has to mislead the audience is taken. Just about every character in the film can be suspected as being the killer each being more off putting in their timing when they appear. Misleading in confirming the identity of the killer maintaining uncertainty in trust to characters and anxiety when moving forward. Although not every dissection is done cleanly with several of the horror rules being used for cartoonish effect. While humor generally doesn’t detract from the horror element. What does subtract from the experience are some contrived murders and contrived reasoning for a particular characters survivor.

Dialogue is intentionally artificial with nearly every conversation sounding as unnatural as possible. Tossing references naturally, odd analogy, and rules how a horror film functions. Serving two great purpose in the film; one is the already established playing against expectations and the second is developing cliche characters. Not only are its characters walking and living cliches in an film knowledgeable about it functions, but also written with personality. They go beyond the standard genre trope establishing a clear background on characters, their current relationship with one another, and the part they all play in the film. Even Ghostface is also giving human traits having trouble killing his victims that equally pose the capability to escape. While none of the characters ever earn emotional attachment you will care about them in the dire situation they play a part in.

Was Craven made sure Scream was exciting with a creative deaths and tension. In particular his technique of using the camera to follow the victims and move it around his location, adding excitement and intrigue. He knows how to build suspects and he does keep you guessing framing shot in way not revealing everything in sight. Creating suspense in places where one would assume to be safe. The used of music is accompany the more horror oriented scene to create an bleak mood and not spoil the potential scare. Neve Campbell really finds the true essence of her character. Fragile emotionally to be sure, but she can also muster up great emotional and physical strength when necessary, as well as be very resourceful. Jamie Kennedy is great as a movie geek who revels in the rules of horror and even Courtney Cox does a good job of being an annoying television journalist. Matthew Lillard and David Arquette all get to provide the laughs and the differences makes it work. The rest of the cast are just great playing a different variation on familiar horror tropes.

Scream brutally dissects the conventions of its genre to hilarious success while delivering legitimate suspense by playing with expectations. Using a template and seemingly playing by it rules, but constructing it owns path add needed complexity and intelligence in a genre that wholly remains simplistic.

9/10

Cinema-Maniac: Blue Exorcist The Movie (2013) Movie Review

My previous ventures into a film adaptation based on a anime series were usually first exposures to certain properties. Blue Exorcist is a different story with me actually taking time to see the anime series. Overall I thought the show was decent and anyone wanting to know why I say that there’s a link to a blog on my thoughts on the anime series at the end of this review. However, unlike the anime series Blue Exorcist The Movie is strictly for fans with little characterization, explanation on its world, and clumsy plotting will leave newcomer in the dust.

Blue Exorcist The Movie is about Rin coming across a seemingly innocent child demon with no memories and soon realizes what the boy really is and later understands why he was sealed ages ago. Understanding the simplistic story doesn’t require any level of knowledge on the source material. By removing itself from the anime series it could be view as its own creation following no continuity. However, what isn’t as accessible is basically everything else. It doesn’t bother to tell newcomers needed information about the world. You’ll wonder why some exorcists carry guns while other don’t will seem nonsensical. In the series it’s explained there are several advantages and disadvantages to combat a demon something the film sheds no light on. Another issue are the large cast characters that go wasted. Some characters make pointless appearances in the films that chew up screw time. Aside from the protagonist Rin and the demon child he takes care off characterization is left as is. Fans will have an understanding of the familiar cast of characters, but newcomers on the other hand will be given virtually nothing on why they should care for these characters.

When it comes to story Blue Exorcist has never been an expert on that front. It’s plot formula is given in the form of a children story in the beginning if done right would have been foreshadowing events and nothing else. Unfortunately the story reiterates the children story several times eliminating any mystery and making itself predictable. This is the first time I’ve seen a movie literally spoiling the plot itself. Blue Exorcist problematic writing unfortunately is a trait that is retained too. Much like the series, the film excels in building up to a big fight by slowly escalating the stakes. Like the series, the film has a disappointing resolution to its conflict and lazy writing in pivotal moments. For example, Rin Okumura and others attempt to exorcise a phantom train. Whenever it appears on screen it is proven difficult to defeat. That is until lazy writing pops up with Rin Okumura demonic powers serving as an easy getaway when things get rough. What is done properly are the personality of the characters. They’re down to Earth and easily relatable. The relationship are earnest and so are how they interact with one another. Most of the highlights come from the cast comedic antics often deliver laughs. Comedy relief is far superior to the film dramatic elements, but gets it across it points without any emotional gain for newcomers. Ending in a way that guarantees to adds nothing for either side as the ending made sure it leaves no impact on the series or the film itself.

This is an often gorgeous looking animated film, one with incredibly detailed backgrounds (some of the urban settings are really and scenes at the festival are spectacular looking in the film), as well as well done characters. Colors are very intense at times, running the gamut from bright, vivid primaries to more subdued pastels. Line detail is very sharp and consistent throughout this presentation. Exceeding in taking you into another world. Action sequences come in short supply, but it does offer satisfy. The few action scenes sports plenty of visuals flare whenever the combatant attacks be it with guns, demonic blue flames, and a simple strike display considerable amount of damage to their surroundings. Hiroyuki Sawano score is cinematically excellent. His score sells the somber moments of the drama and the lighthearted tone of the comedy. Perfectly pacing itself with the events of the story and exceeding the film writing in strengthening the tone of scenes where the writing does no justice. Simply hearing UVERworld track “Reversi” brought greater sense of emotional closure than the film ending. Voice acting is all around solid maintaining the same charisma that could be found in the anime as well. These performances aren’t movie level, but work because they stay in line with the anime series representation of the characters.

Blue Exorcist The Movie certainly could have been better if its writing was on the same level as its technical aspects. Animation is smooth and the world design is intricate, voice acting is solid, and the soundtrack is absolutely perfect enveloping you into the mood. It’s story is easily accessible for newcomers, but it’s clearly a film just for fans of the anime series or manga. Unlike the anime, Blue Exorcist isn’t given enough time to fix any of its shortcomings leaving everything introduce as is.

5/10

Cinema-Maniac: Snowpiercer (2014) Review

In many ways Snowpiercer possess many traits that could have made it a disaster. It is a South Korean production with director Bong Joon-Ho making a film in a language he’s not accustomed too. The language barrier and in some cases studio interference can ruin what could have been a potentially great film with the director vision being tarnished. This often quite often when Hollywood wants international talent helming on their very own production with various degrees of success. However, as is the case with Bong Joon-Ho’s Snowpiercer the English language never once is an visable issue creating a film that show’s his prowess crafting an intellectual blockbuster.

Snowpiercer is set in a future where a failed global-warming experiment kills off most life on the planet, a class system evolves aboard the Snowpiercer, a train that travels around the globe via a perpetual-motion engine. Bleak from the start “Snowpiercer” holds nothing back in its narrative. Acquiring the barest of plot essentials progression is always made much like the titled train it never linger in one place. Our characters are given, their background are given, our setting is given, the function of the world is given, and the conflict to achieving a single goal drives everything forward. Mindful of its physical limitations (its all takes place in a train), the narrative of the film is linear and straightforward. Following the protagonists’ movement through the train as they proceed from one carriage to the next, encountering and defeating various adversaries along the way. It’s less a single narrative than a chain of linked connecting set pieces with a intellectual story that respects its audiences intelligent. Nothing about its subjects, themes, characters, morals, nor motivation are simplified.

There’s no romance and precious little in the way of character-development; these people don’t change, and neither, for the most part, does the world they inhabit. For the filmmaker as for the train, velocity and momentum are everything; nothing is allowed to distract from the immediate objective. In the same way our characters move forward so does the elements that were introduced. Carriages serves more than a location layered with meaning in specially how its people live, the role they serve, and history of “Snowpiercer” creation itself. Nothing about the film story feels like it’s pandering to a specific audience. It always has the audience wondering what’s going to happen next as it unexpected turn constantly surprises with twists that work. Pacing is another key element and even though it goes fast nothing is left untouched. Merely it’s reinforcing the urgency of the character endeavors to reach their goal and the dire situation at hand.

Filming an ambitious sci-fi in confined spaces is no small feat and director of photography Hong Kyung-pyo has done a magnificent job of bringing each of the train’s carriages to life with rich and eclectic cinematography. Bong’s camera stubbornly refuses to violate the claustrophobic geometry of the narrow train cars, visually reinforcing how defined and unyielding the path is from one end of Snowpiercer to the other. Combined with Ondrej Nekvasil’s excellent production design, Steve M. Choe’s layered editing and Marco Betrami’s evocative and multifaceted score, the film’s technical specs are a feast for the senses. Set pieces serve the narrative, but also provides thrill their unique take on familiar action scenes. Despite the confined and limited spacing on a train arguably the most technically accomplished is a large fight between two class faction. It’s a bloody fight and also one where the director isn’t shy on showing a weapon make impact utilizing lighting, long steady shots, and a person angle to show the brutal battle. Other set pieces far and few in between never match the large faction fight, but are just as equally creative and tense as the director never shies away killing off a character when he sees fit.

Leading man Chris Evans is secretive, noncommittal, yet ultimately a strong and resourceful leader – something the audience never honestly doubts for a second. Evan is compelling bringing to life a very complicated and difficult character. Under her false teeth, wig and pasty makeup, Tilda Swinton is uproarious as the train’s unhinged prime minister. Measured and full of delightful ticks, her memorable Yorkshire madam steals every scene she’s in. John Hurt’s performance as the elderly patriarch of the tail section is marked by raspy gravitas and a mournful gaze. Bong stalwart Song Kang-ho effortlessly keeps up with his English-speaking co-stars, strutting and shuffling about, providing comic relief and a dash of cool as the train’s incarcerated former chief of security.

Snowpiercer is a perfect sci-fi film offering everything you could possibly want; an intellectually fast pace story with subtle commentary, a dystopian future only it can offer, set pieces that thrills, an excellent cast that disappears into their roles, and plenty of entertainment. Technically impressive and narratively captivating there’s very little flaws to find being more than capable to stand proudly with the sci-fi genre best films.

10/10

Cinema-Maniac: 47 Ronin (2013) Movie Review

In films there are usually certain characteristics that help decide what seen regardless how it turns and one of those is the Samurai. In work of fictions or based around true events Samurai films have provided some of my personal favorite characters and stories. Alongside with an interest in Samurai culture in films “47 Ronin” was inevitable to be seen. Unfortunately this interpretation of the classic story butchered everything that made the original story timeless.

47 Ronin tells the story of a band of samurai set out to avenge the death and dishonor of their master at the hands of a ruthless shogun. The first and immediate problem with the film is the departure from the source material which is based on true events. It was emblematic of the loyalty, sacrifice, persistence, and honor that people should preserve in their daily lives especially during a time where the Samurai class was struggling to maintain a sense of itself – warriors with no war, a social class without a function. Important details like that turned an epic story of revenge into an influential story of the importance of self worth and honor. This adaptation is a literal trainwreck in every sense of the word. Taking an established story and giving a Western touch that severely damages it identity. Understanding of the Samurai code is nonexistent as it leaves audiences in the dust. Unless you have minimal understanding of Samurai culture and their code of honor none of what the Samurai expresses come across with any meaning. Down to the basic details such as explaining the significance behind the title of a Ronin (a masterless Samurai/someone who is without a home) aren’t touched upon. Without getting across the bare essentials it’s doom upon arrival. Since the writers don’t know how to implement Eastern culture into the film both sides are left unsatisfied. Those unfamiliar with the story will misinterpret its intention and those familiar with the story will be infuriated by not only the liberties that were taken, but how ignorant it is to what made the “47 Ronin” legendary.

If it were be taken as pure fiction it has all sign of life stripped away. Fantasy elements that were meant to be exuberant are lifeless. Dry dialogue tells us of an Japan that is home to dangerous monsters, witches, and fearless warriors. Main problem being hardly implementing fantasy elements in a story that clearly didn’t need any of it. Every time an element of fantasy is introduced they are blatant metaphors that hammered their point across. An important scene in the Tengu (a legendary creature depicted with both human and avian characteristics) Temple where the ronin go to gain swords serves as the creation of the film’s black hole. Our non-Japanese protagonist immediately tells the leader how to pass the test given to him defeating the whole purpose of testing his leader loyalty to his men. Not only that, but it’s also introduces the non-Japanese protagonist to a supernatural abilities which he uses only once later on in the film. Everything portrayed is meant to hammer a single point further establishing the one dimensionality of every single thing in its writing.

Obviously a two hour film can’t developed 47 individual characters into three dimensional characters, but without a single worthwhile character ensures emptiness. Kai, the protagonist (a work of fiction) is simply a tool in the film. He’s not a white man who leads Japanese to reclaim their honor. No, Kai is a man who’s constantly told to annoying extremes that he’s not a Samurai and a half bread. Beating the protagonist down with secondary characters has two effects; the first being it makes Kai unlikable because he’s given little reason to stick with his fellow ronin who constantly show no respect and the second being it makes our heroes as equally dislikable as the villain. Speaking of which we’re only told through the ronin words he’s a terrible man and yet never once do we see any reason to hate him. Given how poorly it establishes how deeply Japan values honor the heroes motivation is just as easily missable. Romance is severely half baked. Since most of the film is spend on the ronin preparation to avenge their master what little time it spends to establish a romance early on in the film is fades away and reappears later carrying no weight to the overall story. Detracting from Kai journey to save her seeing his love interest is simply a flat plot device.

Keanu Reeves performance is wooden. His character is written in a way that he shows little emotion as possible in which Reeves delivers on his front. Always looking broody and down on his feet when interacting with the rest of the cast. Reeves here comes into focus in action mode making him appear cool as his dialogue is among the simplest of the cast. The Japanese actors have trouble saying their lines in English. It’s made very evident (five minutes in no less) that the Japanese actors aren’t comfortable speaking in English. Their line delivery is awkward and sometimes difficult to comprehend. Only sounding natural when speaking in their native language. Action scenes are a dull affair utilizing the best in random swinging. Sword techniques are fluid requiring careful reading of your opponent movement and speed; something not made evident in the film sword fights. Our ronin simply strike without planning resulting in a stalemate of pointlessly clashing swords. More characters are killed by projectile than a slash of a blade lessening the effect of the main weapon in most of the action scenes. All of this with editing that has a tendency to exist scenes abruptly. I appreciate the editor wanting to make the film end more quickly, but doing so did more harm than good to the way the film plays out. Just about the only compliment that could be given to “47 Ronin” is it cinematography. It’s varied in location and has some good looking scenes (especially ones involving fire). Nice visuals can’t make for bad acting, unimaginative action, horrid editing, and a plot that has sign of life to be found.

47 Ronin is a misinterpretation of an Eastern story told by Westerners that don’t understand it. Combining Japanese folktale, American empty set pieces, Japan Samurai culture, and American lazy writing creates a fusion of a culturally unsatisfying film. It’s more than a bad adaptation, it’s more than a awful movie, and more than a generic blockbuster, but it’s a complete butchering representing the worst in Eastern and Western filmmaking.

1/10

Cinema-Maniac: Fireproof (2008) Movie Review

I’ve never been much of a believer in finding faith…in Christians films that is. For every great Christian film like “Jesus Christ Superstar” and “The Ten Commandments” that transcends personal beliefs to provide viewers something to enjoy there are dozens that give the wrong impressions. Films such as “C Me Dance”, “To Save A Life”, “Sunday School Musical”, “Last Ounce of Courage”, and “The Lion Judah” (three of which have earned zeroes) make up a majority of Christian films offerings that believe good morals excuses poor filmmaking. Here’s a film that yes doesn’t always successfully hides it’s Christians views and metaphors, but present its beliefs through good protagonist and a story whose message delivery is known without it being forced upon nonbelievers.

Fireproof is about a firefighter using a 40-day experiment known as “The Love Dare” in an attempt to save his marriage. Being a film based around a specific religion it’s impossible to ignore the signatures it’ll have; positive messages, bible verses, characters with strong religious beliefs, and (often) an unrealistic view of how the real world functions. For starter the positive message and bible verses are as clear as day, but not shoehorned in. Characters with Christian views don’t come across as preachy often conversing like regular people. For the most part the characters act realistically even supporting our protagonist who’s a nonbeliever. It’s for this acceptance that makes it Christian elements with corny dialogue forgivable. The protagonist is not condemned for being a nonbeliever rather is simply a man attempting to fix his marriage. By the will of the protagonist and not outside interference his transformation comes across effectively. This conflict helps supports the film as it contains several solid scenes. Including the few instances when we see the protagonist doing some actual firefighting are surprisingly exciting. Humor is also a plus while it doesn’t always click the jokes that do get a laugh prevent the messy potential divorce from becoming tedious to view.

The major pitfall of “Fireproof” is without a doubt it presentation of the world. Words such as realism don’t apply to its depiction of women. Just about all the characters who are women tend to be shallow being less like people and more as a tool to for the plot. Even the protagonist wife gets little to no development nor are we given much on her past and what made her fall in love. Every black women in the film is given stereotypical dialogue with the occasional “mmmhhhmmm” for added effect. One major conflict in the film that’s not addressed well enough is protagonist Caleb Holt porn addiction (also a metaphor for temptation). According to the film the only form Caleb can get his porn is from his computer. If more developed or presented in a form that made his porn addiction evidently problematic the presented weak resolution would have work to a degree. Since it does little in showing Caleb Holt handling his addiction the resolution doesn’t gain leeway since we often don’t see him fall victim to his addiction only scarcely viewing his attempted resistance to it. It should also be mention that the final twenty minutes are in fact very preaching, but by that point the film is merely accomplishing the needs for it genre fans with it already offering nonbelievers a satisfying story.

Production values are decent. It clearly looks like it was made on a small budget with it commercial like lighting and few actual professional actors. Kirk Cameron is easily the best of the bunch, though that’s not saying much. His performance is decent for a leading actor. There is not a noteworthy that showcases his true acting ability, but neither border beyond what he can’t do. Because of this it is easy to accept Cameron as a film character as everything he does fits with his characters. Ken Bevel performance leaves something to be desired. She is not to say bad, but in the most pivotal scenes she clearly comes across as someone reading her lines for the first time. Other actor performances are adequate and sincere. There performances don’t hurt the film significantly detract from a given scene. Direction from Alex Kendrick is decent. In the few instances (like the firefighter scenes) when Kendrick has complete understanding of his film language events can be tense, funny, and even touching. While his cinematography won’t impress it does it job. As for music it’s something that can’t be held against the film. It selection of music is fitting for the film becoming a part of it not a negative distraction.

Fireproof is a solid film that gets across its core moral values with a subtle delivery through its somewhat believable characters and a solid story that is not overly preaching. No doubt it’ll please genre fans as production values and writing is superior to what is occasionally offered to them. On the other hand it’s competent filmmaking that does not force its message down nonbelievers.

7/10

Cinema-Maniac: The Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong (2013) Review

One of the few rules I made for myself when starting to write on Rotten Tomatoes was to view every film in a given franchise no matter the quality. More or less I have committed to that rule and sadly it led to this specific film. To the series credit it has always consistently retain the level of quality for every entry.

The Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong is about Larnell and Sarah Leigh teaming up stopped a killer cookie and a evil talking bong. To dissect the film’s plot is no a brainer. By the title alone anyone will assume quality storytelling is not one of the things to look for; however, there’s nothing worse than a film that completely wasted time and fails to do anything its own ideas. Starting right off with a poor beginning it doesn’t take long for the film to completely make me lose all hope. Within the first twenty seconds director/producer Charles Band shows three topless women fanning the gingerdead because he’s hot. This opening tells us Charles Band didn’t feel his audience attention span would make it pass the film’s menu. Within twenty seconds all the film problem are made present; cheap effects, padding, non existent acting, and a whole of time spent doing nothing. It takes the film more than a half hour to basically get across the character Larnell has kept the evil talking bong. What occurred in those thirty minutes was a poor summarization of the three Evil Bong films that makes the initial film a lot harder to buy no matter how much you smoke, drink, or bleed out. You think a person who came across Evil Bong, King Bong, and Alien Bong would reconsider the logical and stop doing drugs. It also strikes a personal nerve to contain a cameo appearance and direct reference to the film “Ooga Booga” (a film that caused my soul to leave my body).

In the film short running time of eighty minutes it only contain one noteworthy scene. It’s a conversation between two character discussing how good eating this one cookie feel. The characters don’t just like how the cookie taste, but are sexuality excited about eating the cookie. One of the characters part of the scene says it makes his groin feel all tingling. No expression of words could describe the moment this scene came up. Sadly it’s the only thing that’ll leave an impression (aside from Larnell selling pitch being “It’s like farting in a SUV for the first time”). Characters despite how few there are follow cliches from the dumb friend, the adulterer, the slutty friend, evil business man, and lazy worker leaving little for imagination. Now the so call confrontation between the gingerdead man and evil bong is non existent since all it amounts to is bickery at first and than cooperation to kill the central characters. Things like plot, character, themes, and a point are non existent. Nothing ever happens in the film plot wise and perfectly aware this the writers have no problem paying the viewers with a middle finger for their time.

Director Charles Band (who’s also responsible for Ooga Booga Wooga) effort screams lazy. Every shot is stilled showing the non expressive actors lack of enthusiasm for the being in the film. Band under no circumstances attempts to crafts any diversity between his shots making poor used of his limited sets. His sets which mainly consist of a empty backlot, a bong store, and a bakery have odd designs choices. The bong store for instance reason has constant flashing lights on the display cases which only serve as an distraction. Star John Patrick Jordan never stops smiling. Patrick Jordan only knows one set of emotions treating every situation the same; co worker found dead, killer pastry attempting to kill him, discovering a wall of boobs, Patrick Jordan for some unexplained reason always smiles. Robin Sydney has learned nothing since the first Gingerdead Man film. Line delivery is causally soulless and unlike John Patrick Jordan has a variety of facial expressions which doesn’t help her much in the long run. It’s unfortunate that she plays two different characters in these two franchises yet is not offered a scene death for either. Special effects are a joke somehow even worse than the standalone features. Lip syncing of all basic is off for the non human killers and the gingerdead is hardly seen walking mostly seeing the two franchise killers just talk nonsense.

The Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong is the worst battle between two horror film killer which each have abysmal franchise to start with. Combing the laziness of the Evil Bong films and the awful writing of the The Gingerdead Dead series escalate to a film that is surprisingly dull. You would think a film where killer pastry going toe to toe with a evil talking bong would be interesting at some level, but sadly it is not.

0/10