Monday, November 28, 2016

Movie Review: The Visit (2015)

The Visit (2015)
Universal Pictures, Blinding Edge Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, USA, 2015.

Mom Loretta (Kathryn Hahn) was estranged from her parents. She wants to spend some quality time with her new boyfriend so the kids Becca (Olivia DeJonge) and Tyler (Ed Oxenbould) visit grandparents who they have never met. Becca films documentaries (which explains the film's found-footage style and also some unfortunate use of shaky cam) and Tyler is a wannabe rapper T-Diamond Stylus. Yo dawg!
Ed Oxenbould and Olivia DeJonge
Tyler and Becca
Happy happy joy joy in the grandparents' house. But not for long. The grandparents seem nice but they are somehow creepy. Friendly neighbours come to visit them but the grandparents are always elsewhere. Nana (Deanna Dunagan) is surprisingly agile for being a sickly old woman and Pop Pop (Peter McRobbie) has an unhygienic surprise in his shed. At night grandma gets weird so the kids should not leave their room after 9:30 PM. What the heck is wrong with them? The kids decide to find out, if only they live so long. 
Deanna Dunagan
Peter McRobbie
Pop Pop
Celia Keenan-Bolger
Neighbour Stacey (Celia Keenan-Bolger)
After a series of flopped movies, this is Shyamalan's come back, sort of. The found footage genre has spawned some terrible so called movies, but "The Visit" is one of the better ones although it doesn't reinvent the wheel. It still breathes some fresh air to the genre with the good use of its characters. The budget seems to be a fraction of Shyamalan's usual films and the use of minimal cast works well. The actors are good and their characters are eccentric. The twists are hilariously absurd but Shyamalan seems to have developed a sense of self-irony. Black humour and slowly developing sense of dread make it an enjoyable scary flick. 
I don't feel good
Rating: Good 

Starring: Olivia DeJonge, Ed Oxenbould, Deanna Dunagan, Peter McRobbie, Kathryn Hahn, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Samuel Stricklen, Patch Darragh, Jorge Cordova, Steve Annan, Benjamin Kanes, Ocean James, Seamus Moroney, Erica Lynne Arden, Kevin Austra, Richard Barlow, John Buscemi, Evan Charles, Michelle Rose Domb, Brian Gildea, Shawn Gonzalez, Basil Kershner, Shelby Lackman, Michael Mariano, Aileen Michelle, Gabrielle Pentalow, Jon Douglas, Zachary Vazquez 
Director: M. Night Shyamalan

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Movie Review: Mirrormask

Samuel Goldwin Films, Destination Films, Jim Henson Company, United Kingdom, USA, 2005.

Again a reader suggested film.

Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) is a teen girl who enjoys drawing and whose parents run a Circus. Helena does not like Circus life and has an argument her mother Joanne (Gina McKee). Joanne suffers a sudden collapse and goes to hospital. The Circus struggles to survive and Helena moves temporarily to her grandma Nan (Dora Bryan). 
Stephanie Leonidas
At night Helena enters a strange world where evil shadows of Queen of Shadows (Gina McKee again) are spreading destruction. Juggler Valentine (Jason Barry) shows her around in the strange world where everyone wears a mask. The Princess of Shadowlands is missing and Queen of Light (Gina McKee) is in coma. Prime Minister (Rob Brydon, who plays also Helena's dad) sends Helena to find magical Charm that could save the world. 
Helena goes to strange land
Jason Barry
Gina McKee
Queen of Shadows
The world is populated by masked humans, catlike sphinxes with human faces, monkeybirds and other weird creatures. Queen of Shadows mistakes Helena as her daughter and becomes very possessive about her. However Anti-Helena has replaced Helena in the real world where she's behaving badly.
Rob Brydon
Prime Minister
Small hairy guy
Bizarre visual style has echoes from visions of Terry Gilliam, Hieronymus Bosch and Salvador Dali but the weirdness may alienate some viewers. For once the CGI-effects are used to create a fantastically imaginative world. The sepia-tone makes the picture look like silent era expressionist films. Weird creatures do whatever they are doing and books flutter around like birds. Surreal scenes that are contrasted by dilapidated suburban buildings in the real world. It is an unique looking coming of age fantasy where Helena has to find a balance about her own wishes and what her parents want her to be. Stephanie Leonidas pulls her roles well, as slowly maturing Helena and bratty Anti-Helena. The story was written by Neil Gaiman & Dave McKean and the film is a spiritual successor of "Labyrinth." As the budget was only $4 million some compromises have been made about the story and the pacing feels uneven. Storywise it doesn't reach the Jim Henson Company's older films and feels like a collage of children's fantasy films of 1980-90s such as "Neverending Story", "Return to Oz" and Jim Henson's other films. The motives of the creatures are mostly left open and the story has quite abrupt ending, but that also contributes to the dreamlike logic. Still with all the symbolism, pretty visuals and strange creatures it seems like a film that can offer new things with repeated viewings.
Evil floating face
Muppets in Space Easter egg!
Rating: Good

Starring: Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Rob Brydon, Gina McKee, Dora Bryan, Stephen Fry, Andy Hamilton, Simon Harvey, Lenny Henry, Robert Llewellyn, Eryl Maynard, Eve Pearce, Nik Robson, Victoria Williams, Rick Allen, Gina D'Angelo, Simon Schofield, Silvia Fratelli, Lina Johansson, Emma Noris, Peachi Pangea, Mark Tate, Richard Thompson, Robin Thompson, Iain Ballamy, Chris Batchelor, Stian Carstensen, Martin France, Stuart Hall, Dave Powell, Trifon Trifanov, Peter Borroughs, Rusty Goffe, Kerry Jay, Fiona Reynard, Nick Dainton, Nick Jackson, Mark Perry, Kate Robbins, Stuart St. Paul 
Director: Dave McKean

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Movie Review: Two-Lane Blacktop

Two-Lane Blacktop 
Michael Laughlin Enterprises, Universal Pictures, USA, 1971. 
title Two-Lane Blacktop

The Driver (James Taylor) and The Mechanic (Dennis Wilson) are laconic and car-obsessed chaps who basically live in their car, black custom-built Chevy '55. Road racing is their way of life. The Girl (Laurie Bird) is a hippie trying to go to San Francisco so she joins them. Her presence results in a drama triangle. That doesn't last long though, as the guys are more interested in their car than her.
Dennis Wilson and James Taylor
The Mechanic and The Driver
Laurie Bird
The Girl
The guys challenge a man of tall tales, G.T.O (Warren Oates) to a road race. Winner gets the loser's car. As contrast to the old Chevy, G.T.O's Pontiac is modern muscle car. However the race doesn't have much importance. Sometimes they stop to repair the cars, hang around and chat. Sometimes G.T.O gives a lift to hitchhikers and tells untruthful stories about himself, being a former fighter pilot, movie director and whatever. However he is a burned-out adrenaline-junkie whose motor leaks. "What do we have, thirty-forty years?" reminds a delusional hitchhiker or a messenger of death.
Warren Oates
The style is very minimalistic and existential. It has more in common with French New Wave films than with usual chase films. The cinematic time capsule preserves flashes of 1970s Americana, gas stations, race tracks and diners. Everyone is going somewhere and nowhere. Nothing much happens but there is nothing unnecessary. It has the same kind of rootlessness and disillusionment of post-Vietnam era U.S.A as in "Easy Rider" and "The Vanishing Point". The only place for freedom is on the road and even that does not matter. 
The scrolling yellow road line in the beginning looks like inspiration for the scenes in James Cameron's  "Terminator 2" and David Lynch's "Lost Highway."

Rating: Very good

Starring: James Taylor, Warren Oates, Laurie Bird, Dennis Wilson, David Drake, Richard Ruth, Rudy Wurlitzer, Jaclyn Hellman, Bill Keller, Harry Dean Stanton, Don Samuels, Charles Moore, Tom Green, W.H. Harrison, Alan Vint, Illa Ginnaven, George Mitchell, A.J. Solari, Katherine Squire, Melissa Hellman, Jay Wheatley, James Mitchum, Kreag Caffey, Tom Witenbarger, Glen Rogers, Tomas Moore, Big Willie Robinson III 
Director: Monte Hellman

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Movie Review: The Forest (2016)

The Forest (2016)
Sony Pictures Releasing, Stage 6 Films, AI Film, Lava Bear/ Phantom Four Films. USA, Japan, 2016.
The Forest 2016

Continuing with the reviews of reader-suggested films.

In Japan there is an infamous forest in Aokigahara where numerous people commit suicide every year. In ancient times old people were left to die in the forest in there was shortage of food. Japanese ghost tales tell that the place is haunted by ghosts and demons. Sara Price's (Natalie Dormer) teacher twin sister Jess (Natalie Dormer) vanishes so Sara travels to Japan to find her. The school says that Jess vanished in Aokigahara (actually the forest scenes were filmed in Serbia). The locals warn her about going to the forest as there are Yurei-ghosts who make people lose their minds. As a curious note Sara uses search engine named Tree.
Natalie Dormer
Sara meets seemingly nice freelance reporter Aiden (Taylor Kinney) who promises to show her the forest with a local guide Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa). The forest has a psychological effect on the visitors and Sara's childhood's traumas make it only worse. Creepy schoolgirls appear. Is she seeing ghosts or hallucinations? Soon Sara is alone in the dark forest with Aidan, but can she trust him? 
Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Taylor Kinney and Natalie Dormer
Michi, Aiden and Sara
Hoshiko (Rina Takasaki)
Some critics were offended by film using a white main character and being disrespectful for using subject of area where real suicides occur. As if this was the first time someone was using some tragic and creepy events from real life as a basis for a horror movie! There are also other movies made about the same forest "Forest of the Living Dead"  and "Grave Halloween" and The Sea of Trees" for example. Also Japanese have used the notoriety of the forest in their own stories, literature and rock music. For example manga "The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service" uses Aokigahara as a plot device. As Japanese pop-culture also loans from Western culture why shouldn't other countries also have their own interpretation about Japanese myths or places?

The Social Justice Warriors just decided that the film was bad and saw the film as just 'white washing' and 'disrespectful' but failed to see the surprisingly justified and tragic backstory: Sara and Jess had a childhood trauma that made the twins different personalities. Jess became more rebellious of the two. Sara was troubled that Jess had seen a tragedy and carried a form of survivor's guilt (although in the end there is a major twist and even the existence of Jess is uncertain) that made her care deeply about her sister strengthening the bond between twins. As Sara went into the forest the depressing atmosphere loaded with heavy baggage of the place's history opened old wounds that Sara was not even aware of resulting to her gradual mental deterioration. It is easy to see that visiting Aokigahara would have a disturbing effect on mentally anguished person. The plot smartly blurs the lines of reality and delusions. Sure the story could have been deeper and there are some flaws and some horror cliché decisions but for what was meant to be a relatively low budget debut horror it could have been worse or more exploitative. It will be interesting to see how Jason Zada's career will develop. 

It is a decent psychological/ghost horror with quite familiar J-horror elements. The forest is quite impressive and moody place. It is not a groundbreaking film but still a pretty good Halloween watch.

Rating: Good

Starring: Natalie, Eoin Macken, Stephanie Vogt, Osamu Tanpopo, Yasuo Tobishima, Ibuki Kaneda, Akiko Iwase, Kikuo Ichikawa, Noriko Sakura, Jozef Aoki, Yûho Yamashita, Taylor Kinney, Gen Seto, Terry Diab, Nadja Mazalica, Lidija Antonic, Takako Akashi, Yuriri Naka, Yukiyoshi Ozawa, Nemanja Naumoski, Tales Yamamoto, Meg Kubota, Mieko Wertheim, Rina Takasaki, Carni Djeric, Yoshio Hasegawa, Masashi Fujimoto, Tatsujiro Oto, James Owen, Shintaro Taketani 
Director: Jason Zada 

Recommendations by Engageya