Thursday, 5 May 2016

Coherence (4 Stars)

The married couple Mike and Lee invite three other couples to their house for a dinner party. Shortly after everyone arrives the lights go out. They suspect that the reason is electrical interference from a comet that's flying overhead, close to the Earth. After only a few minutes the power returns, but there's still no phone or Internet connection. They look out and see that all the other houses in their street are still dark, apart from one house in the distance. Two of the men go to the house to ask for help, but they come back with a confusing story that the house looks identical to Mike's house. They've brought back a box from the other house. When they open it they find photos of the eight people in the house with numbers written on the back.

Repeated excursions to the other house are made, and sounds outside make it clear that people from the other house are also coming to them, but not entering. When they go out as a group they see other people identical to themselves, so they retreat in fear. Back in the house, they suspect that there's a parallel universe in which everything is identical, apart from one random element that differs because of a decision made. The comet's influence has opened a path between the two realities. But how do they know that there's only one other universe? They begin to think that there's a large number of realities linked by the road outside their house, all very similar, but differing in subtle aspects.

This film has been compared with "Interstellar", which was released only three months earlier. They're both science fiction films. They both deal with mind-bending theoretical concepts. "Interstellar" was made with a budget of $165 million. "Coherence" was made with a budget of $50,000. Which film is better? "Coherence", of course. A film doesn't need famous actors and amazing special effects to be good, it just needs a well written story and a competent director.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Virgin Psychics (5 Stars)

Yoshiro Kamagawa's story began before he was born. His mother was sitting in an antenatal clinic with another woman when they were both six months pregnant. The women didn't know one another, but the babies knew they were soulmates and spoke to one another by telepathy. They promised to find one another after they were born. The mothers never saw one another again. Yoshiro was born, and he remembered the conversation he'd had in his mother's womb, but he didn't know where to look for his soulmate. He knew she would be roughly the same age as him, but he had no idea where she lived or what her name was.

Yoshiro is now 16 years old and lives in the seaside town of Toyohashi. Like every night, he's lying in bed masturbating. That's where I did it at that age. Don't teenage boys know that their mother will see the stains on the sheets? I didn't know. Anyway, Toyohashi is hit by a cosmic event. A bright light shines down from space, blanketing the whole town. Every virgin who has an orgasm while the light is shining is given supernatural powers. Yoshiro is able to read minds. His schoolmate Yosuke can teleport short distances, although he always leaves his clothes behind and arrives naked. Terumitsu has telekinetic powers, which he uses to lift girls' skirts. An expert in psychic abilities, Professor Asami (no, not Professor X), comes to the town and persuades the young people to join together to fight evil, calling themselves the ESP Force. His assistant, Miss Akiyama, also has psychic powers. She can see the future of anyone who looks at her breasts.

It isn't long before the ESP Force has to face a deadly threat. The teenage lesbian Akiko Kamiya was also masturbating at the time the cosmic ray struck, and she's decided to use her power for evil. Any girl that Akiko touches is rendered unconscious, and then Akiko can create an infinite number of identical clones of the unconscious girl as her sex slaves. She creates an army of scantily clad teenage girls to conquer first Toyohashi, then Japan, then the whole world. In an ironic way, her intentions are noble. "Make love, not war". She sends her sex slaves into the town to excite men, so that nobody can do anything because they only want sex. The sex slaves don't actually have sex with the men in the town. They just keep them in a state of constant arousal.

At this point the film has turned into a typical super-hero epic. The Fantastic Four have their Doctor Doom, and the ESP Force have their Akiko. What they don't suspect is that an even deadlier enemy is in the town, waiting patiently for the right moment to reveal herself.

When the other team members are ready to give in, it's Yoshiro who encourages them to hold fast to their mission to fight evil. This changes when he finally meets his soulmate. He realises that he has a choice: he can either be with his soulmate or save the world. He can't do both.

The film is notable for starring Ai Shinozaki, who I consider to be the world's most beautiful actress. She appears as Keiko, the owner of a small bookshop. This isn't a very big role in the film, but I have to show a few photos of her. She's worth it.

This is another brilliant film directed by Sion Sono, in which he parodies the whole super-hero genre. Nobody else can make films like he does. Nobody.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Bastille Day (4½ Stars)

This is a film that follows the well-established formula of two unequal buddies teaming up to fight together. In many cases it's two policemen from different cultures, in this case it's a policeman and a criminal. Another film that I watched recently that follows this formula is "Shanghai Noon". Am I criticising the film for following a formula? Not at all. If it works, don't break it.

Idris Elba plays Sean Briar, a CIA surveillance agent stationed in Paris. He's not good at following orders, but he gets the job done. Richard Madden plays Michael Mason, an American pick-pocket trying to steal enough to finance his medical degree. Their paths cross when Michael steals a bag from a woman he sees crying in the street. He takes the mobile phone from the bag and discards the bag at the side of the road, not realising that there's a bomb hidden in a stuffed toy. As he walks away the bomb explodes, killing four people. The CIA identify Michael in CCTV footage. Sean is sent to capture him to turn him over to the French police, but he follows his instinct and realises Michael isn't a terrorist. He teams up with Michael to hunt for the real terrorists.

All that the French authorities know is that a big attack is planned on Bastille Day, two days ahead on July 14th. As Sean and Michael work together they discover a conspiracy involving high ranking officers in the French police force. The CIA is working with the French police, so Sean is forced to go undercover and work against the CIA. The following story is full of surprises, keeping us guessing to the end what's really happening. Idris Elba is the perfect action hero, putting lesser actors like Liam Neeson to shame. He's even more impressive being paired with Richard Madden, a man of slight build who acts shiftily and insecurely in the film.

Aaaaaaaah (4 Stars)

What do we learn from 157 trillion years of evolution? You can take the monkey out of the jungle, but you can't take the monkey out of the man.

Sunday, 1 May 2016

Purple Rain (3 Stars)

I considered watching this film to remember Prince in his death 10 days ago, but I decided to watch "Batman" instead. The reason for my decision was the respect that I have for Prince. I wanted to write something good about him, but "Purple Rain" is an awful film. It depends what I'm judging the film on. If I judged the film by its music I'd have to give it five stars. The music is brilliant. The stage performances by Prince included in the film are amazing. If I judged the film by its plot and the acting, I'd give it a rock bottom rating of one star. Prince is a great musician, but he isn't an actor. He delivers his lines without emotion, and his facial expressions show no feelings. His co-star Apollonia Kotero is just as bad, and the other actors are even worse, delivering serious dialogue with stupid grins on their faces.

As for the story, it's a mash up of a love story, a family drama and a rags to riches story.

The love story: A young woman who wants to be a singer comes to Minneapolis and falls in love with a singer known only as The Kid (Prince).

The family drama: The Kid is unhappy at home because his father frequently beats his mother.

The rags to riches story: The Kid's band, Revolution, is the main act in the club, but the club's owner wants to replace them with a more popular act. The Kid struggles to find a musical style which is more acceptable to the audience.

These are too many plots vying for screen time in such a short film. There's even less time to develop the plots because of the long musical scenes. Apart from this The Kid is so unpleasant that I kept wishing Apollonia would dump him. He hit her twice during the film, which made me clench my fists in rage. Even worse, she forgave him, which made me even angrier. What's the message the film is trying to give us? "If a woman really loves a man it doesn't matter if he hits her". It's disgusting.

"Purple Rain" won an Oscar for the best original song, the title song. It also won a Golden Raspberry for the worst original song, "Sex Shooter", performed by Apollonia. Is this the only film that has ever won an Oscar and a Razzie in the same category?

I'll be generous and give "Purple Rain" a neutral three star rating. It's a bad film with good music. My advice to anyone who wants to watch the film is don't bother. Listen to the CD instead.

Evil Dead (2013 Reboot) [Guest Writer] (3 Stars)

The Story:
Five twenty-something friends become holed up in a remote cabin. When they discover a Book of the Dead, they unwittingly summon up dormant demons living in the nearby woods, which possess the youngsters in succession until only one is left intact to fight for survival.

My Two Cents:

I seem to be on a constant search for that next big horror movie that leaves chills down my spine and cringing about it days later. It feels as if this has become rare, whether due to becoming desensitized or the lack of true originality and vision, I’m not sure. This movie isn’t new and it’s more of a reboot to the original Evil Dead franchise. Unless you hate horror movies, you’ve probably seen whole or parts of the previous series. The plot doesn’t really change and it’s very simplistic. It doesn’t get bogged down in twist after twist and goes straight for gore and horror. I enjoyed this movie although that enjoyment was marred at times by the idiotic/moronic decisions of the screenwriter and characters which seem to become par the course for horror films.

Let me start with my biggest issue of the movie, how they introduced the demon in the movie. I’m not talking of the opening that gave us a bit of a tease on how vulgar and horror inducing the demon would be, but more how the main and supporting characters “unleashed” it. In the previous films there was always a recording that had the incantation on it and the characters would click it and that is how it was released. This time they decided to do something a bit different. And while it was cringe-worthy both in gore and stupidity, it made no sense to me. It lacked logic and that took me out of the story, if you can call it a story. Again, I apologize for any spoilers ahead but I will try to keep away from any main ones.

The crew finds a voodoo ritual site in the basement of the cabin, complete with bloody cats hung from the ceiling and the demonic inducing book covered in a trash bag and wrapped in barbed wire. Any logical person with a shred of self preservation would treat the book with caution, but of course, they had to use the idiocy of one of the supporting characters to push this movie alone. One of the characters, unwraps the book and starts studying it before he comes to the stellar conclusion that the only way to read is to read the words out loud to understand them. Can you feel the sarcasm? First, reading out loud is rude and secondly, what person over the age of 5 would feel the need to sound out words from a book, especially one that was found in a really creepy way?

At that point I no longer cared about this particular character. In fact, I was rooting for the demon in this particular instance and that is a problem for me. The moment I stop becoming invested in the continual survival of the characters, is the moment I feel it hits a bad turn. Now I have rooted for “bad” guys before without a qualm - Dexter being a prime example of this. But in this instance I don’t think that was the director or screenwriter’s original intention so that was a miss for me. Allow me to set the stage for a beginning that makes a bit more sense and removes this particular instance of character stupidity that would avoid avid audiences from cursing the screen and throwing their popcorn at it in disgust.

If the characters found a recording along with the book in the same state (wrapped in trash bags and barbed wire) and decided to play the recording hoping to glean some information about the gruesome scene before them and hearing the incantation spoken. Now this awakens the demon to an extent but doesn’t cause it to go full on bloody murder yet. They look at each other in confusion as they puzzle over their findings with a small sense of unease which could translate to the audience. They shake their heads and head back up stairs, the “studious and curious male” grabs the book, intending to check to see what it was all about because he just can’t help himself and the others go about their original business. We still get some build up with the characters and the original idiot gets to study the book a bit, without reading anything out loud of course. He treats it with a good balance of caution and curiosity. And this leads back to the main female character getting fed up with everything and rushing out, leaving us off where the movie took us. This, to me, makes a good deal more sense and leaves out a large amount of my frustration with the movie in general.

Now other than that glaring issue, the movie was good. I cringed and looked away in horror and disgust (guess I'm not quite as desensitized as I had thought thank God). The gore was a big out there but not so over the top as to go into the realm of cartoon-land and become a parody of a real horror movie. I wouldn’t say it scared me so much as made me squeamish without making me actually want to throw up, which I count as a plus. It didn’t stay with me days later or make me think back on it with a sense of unease as Jeepers Creepers did. I swear I couldn’t stand hearing that Jeepers Creepers song days after watching that movie without getting chills. But it was good enough that I ended up watching it a few more times since then. The acting wasn’t anything to write home about although it wasn’t horrible, just average in my opinion. The build up in the beginning and setting of the character backstory to try to get us invested in them wasn't that well done, in my opinion, and fell flat. The supporting characters felt more like fodder although I did kind of like the story between the two main characters. It didn't really give us enough of a chance to get as connected to them as I would've liked. I will say the ending was probably my favorite part of the movie with the interaction between the male and female main characters and the demon. There were a few jump scares, even one that made me actually jump as I really hadn’t been expecting it in the way that it was given. Despite my previous rant, I do not deny that this is a good movie and I still enjoyed parts of it so I do  recommend that people add this to their list if they are looking for a good horror movie marathon night and give it a 3 stars out of 5.

Saturday, 30 April 2016

Avengers: Age of Ultron (4½ Stars)

It's interesting to read recent interviews with Joss Whedon, the man who directed "Avengers: Age of Ultron". He says he's disappointed with the film. It seems that the more time passes the more critical he becomes of the film and the harsher he judges himself for his failure. That's rather amazing, considering the film's success. "Avengers: Age of Ulton" earned $1.4 billion at the box office, making it the seventh highest earning film ever.

I don't consider it to be a bad film at all. It captures the essence of the 1970's Avengers comics that I love so much. If anything, the film is in the style of the Roy Thomas Avengers comics.

The film's weaknesses are things endemic to Marvel's films, things that Joss Whedon can't be blamed for. The characters are changed from the way they appear in the original comics. They have different powers, different origins and different costumes. To take a simple example: in the comics Ultron is created by Hank Pym (Ant-Man), but in the film he's created by Tony Stark (Iron Man). If I were to describe every way this film's characters deviate from the comics I would be writing for hours.

I've heard rumours that the original version of the film was three and a half hours long, but it was shortened to make it more suitable for the cinema. That's a shame. I hoped for the release of a Director's Cut, but Joss Whedon has said there won't be one. I see that in the context of his disappointment with the film. I'm hoping that the studio will force his hand or even release the original version without his consent.

Friday, 29 April 2016

Interstellar (3 Stars)

This is Christopher Nolan's most ambitious film to date, exceeding even "Inception" in its scale. It's his first attempt to create a film that can be called an epic, depending on your definition of the word. It's also his biggest failure. In his attempt to write a film that stretches across billions of miles and dozens of years he's produced a piece of work that is painfully slow.

The film begins in the near future when the human race is in danger of extinction. Dust clouds are killing almost all the crops, leading to mass starvation. The film's hero, Cooper, is recruited to fly a mission through a wormhole to find habitable planets to relocate the human race.

The twists and turns in the plot, which I won't further discuss here, rely on a huge bootstrap paradox. Human beings from the far future are sending back information needed to save the human race. They don't seem to be very good at it. Rather than send barely comprehensible messages, couldn't they have phoned up the Earth's top scientists and told them what to do? Or better still, couldn't they have sent a big rescue pod back in time to whisk everyone away to a new home? The film doesn't make sense.

The contrast between the lazy farming community and the space exploration is deliberate, but I found the farm scenes too boring. The talks about ghosts annoyed me, and I only tolerated them because it was obvious that it would be relevant later in the film.

Stanley Kubrick left a legacy with "2001: A Space Odyssey". This is clearly what Christopher Nolan intended. Whereas Stanley Kubrick's film is a classic of cinema that will never be forgotten, Christopher Nolan's Space Odyssey fizzles out before it even starts.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

On The Road (3½ Stars)

I've noticed something over the last few years. It might have been happening longer, but it's only become apparent to me in the last five years. It's become customary for films to have the logos, usually animated, of several different studios shown at the beginning of films. This is in contrast to the good old days when only one film studio logo was shown. My assumption is that the logos advertise all the studios that contributed to the financing of a film. The smaller a film is, the more studios are displayed. For instance, "On the Road" begins with the following six logos.

Lionsgate, for 21 seconds.

Icon, for 13 seconds.

Sundance, for 8 seconds.

IFC, for 7 seconds

MK2, for 11 seconds.

Film 4, for 11 seconds.

That's a total of 71 seconds, more than a minute, that the viewer is forced to sit through the opening animated logos. I'm curious whether the length of the logos has any relationship to the percentage of the cash that each studio provided.

The book "On the Road", written by Jack Kerouac in 1957, is recognised as one of the most significant novels of the 20th Century. Considering its importance, it's amazing that the film was a failure at the box office, despite its abundance of famous actors. It tells the story of Jack Kerouac's friendship with the con man and thief Neal Cassady from 1947 to 1950. In the book the characters are given fictional names, although it's obvious who is referred to. Sal Paradise is Jack Kerouac, Dean Moriarty is Neal Cassady, Carlo Marx is Allen Ginsberg, Old Bull Lee is William Burroughs, etc.

The film shows Jack and Neal travelling across America on various occasions, usually accompanied by other friends or relatives. The main cities they visit are New York (Jack's home), San Francisco (Neal's home) and Denver (the city where Neal's father lived).

If the book has a message, it's lost in the film. I can only guess what Jack Kerouac was trying to tell his readers. Jack portrays himself as relatively reserved, carried along by the youth movement of the post-war generation rather than being a part of it. Neal Cassady is a reckless, carefree person. He's introduced as the man who stole 500 cars, which immediately makes him a hero among the New York anarchists. He's sexually promiscuous, despite his attempts to be faithful to his second wife, but he's sad to the core. His life is empty. In the end we see him clinging to Jack to find happiness, but Jack rejects him.

Chappie (4½ Stars)

Warning! This review contains spoilers!

People who only watch films on streaming services miss out. Today I watched "Chappie" on Blu-ray for the first time. The special features menu listed an alternate ending, and I had to watch it. Deleted scenes don't usually add much to the enjoyment of a film, but alternate endings fascinate me, especially if they put a different twist on a story. For instance, "Scott Pilgrim vs The World" has an ending that's better than what we see in the film. Edgar Wright made the wrong choice in what he put into the film. The film "Chloe" has several alternate endings, which all highlight the story's conclusion from a different angle, and watching them one after another adds to the enjoyment. "Joy Ride" also has several alternate endings, but these give a totally different resolution to the story.

In the case of "Chappie", I found the alternate ending on the Blu-ray so hilarious that I had to laugh out loud. In the official ending Chappie's life is saved by uploading his consciousness to the closest robot. In the alternate ending Chappie's life is saved by uploading his consciousness to every robot, resulting in hundreds of Chappies walking around Johannesburg.

I prefer the alternate ending, but I suspect that the director Neill Blomkamp wanted to end the film on a serious note. Apart from this, the official ending is a better hook to a sequel. Originally "Chappie" was intended to be the first part of a trilogy, but it received unfavourable reviews, so it's unlikely the other two parts will be made. That's unfair. I find "Chappie" brilliant.

Watching "Chappie" on Blu-ray today something seemed strange to me. The picture was somehow sharper than what I'm used to from other films. That's not meant as a criticism, it just looked unusual. It wasn't until half way through the film that I recognised what was different. Usually when a film is shown the foreground is in focus, and the background is slightly blurred. That mimics the way we see with our eyes; we focus on one point, and everything else is less clear. "Chappie" is filmed differently. When there's a city scene, everything is in focus, whether it's in the foreground or far in the background.