Tonight, we’re going to do something a little unusual, and that is because I did something unusual: doing a double feature of Epic and Fast and Furious 6.
If Epic were a student, it would be an economics major: It plays it safe, and does nothing to deviate from the norm of modern kids movies. It follows Mary-Katherine (Amanda Seyfried) as she winds up in a world of tiny people in tune with nature as they are locked in a struggle to keep their world from rotting.
The animation was absolutely gorgeous, but I detected absolutely nothing original about the movie’s storyline. With that in mind though, I had a hard time disliking the movie. The movie had its cute moments that I’m sure kids would appreciate, though I did feel some of the comic relief (much of it provided by Mub, voiced by comedian Aziz Ansari) was a little ill-placed.
The biggest issue I really took with Epic was the fact that it had more characters than it could really handle in its run time, such as Nim Galuu (Steven Taylor); there clearly wasn’t enough script to go around. The movie devoted all its attention to M-K, Ronin (Colin Farrell), and to Nod (Josh Hutcherson).
The setting was very imaginative and a real treat for the eyes. However, Epic is exactly the kind of kids movie where if you have seen something that was not made by Pixar in recent memory, you’ve seen them all. It was by no means a bad movie in its own right, but it was quite forgettable.
Fast and Furious 6
I’ll put out the same disclaimer I put out for Saw VII here: I have not seen any of the previous Fast and Furious movies.
With that in mind, Fast 6 follows Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel) and Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) as they try to get one of their own (Michelle Rodriguez) back on the right side after she finds herself in league with a terrorist (Luke Evans).
While Epic was the economics major, Fast 6 was the frat boy: Loaded with money, has the occasionally good one-liner, and absolutely in-your-face obnoxious. It didn’t take me long to give up following whatever thin plot there was. At any rate, I will say the car scenes were better than what I have seen in Tokyo Drift; that movie, even for its time, featured some absolutely awful special effects.
However, everything else about the movie made it seem like Fast 6 desperately wanted its place as Skyfall‘s kid brother, particularly the chase in the London Tube station. The fight sequences in said scene were edited in a way that reminded me of last year’s Safe House so as to be absolutely disorienting.
I guess the fact that I felt hardly any emotional connection to any of the characters could be attributed to my not having seen any of the previous films. However, I was rather unimpressed by the movie’s villain; he wasn’t exactly on par with Benedict Cumberbatch in Star Trek Into Darkness. In addition, it suffered from Alpha Girls syndrome in that I felt like there were bits, like when Tej (Ludacris) convinced a showroom guy to strip down in front of him, that were there to pad the movie’s length as the writers ran out of ideas for actual plot to fill the film up.
While Fast 6 was by no means a horrible movie as it had decent enough performances from the cast and some good moments, I really had a hard time caring about anything in Fast 6. Had I seen this movie 5 years ago, as a foolish (and horny) 17-year-old, I would’ve thought it to be the greatest movie ever. It’s precisely that kind of sentiment that made it to be yet another mindless action movie.
Exam hell at Cornell University has just ended in time for The Pop Culture Historian to be able to hit summer blockbuster season!
Star Trek Into Darkness is the follow up to 2009′s reboot of the classic Star Trek franchise, and it follows Captain James T. Kirk (Chris Pine) as he is caught up in a Federation cover-up involving the genetically engineered superhuman Khan (Benedict Cumberbatch).
Almost as soon as the movie started, I was in awe of the special effects. The opening scene involved Kirk running through (CG) jungle to distract an alien race while Spock (Zachary Quinto) was attempting to trigger a device that would prevent a volcano from erupting and thus save these aliens. The jungle was created such that it would be a believable alien environment. In the meantime, the effects inside the volcano demonstrated very painstaking detail. Not only that, but that scene was just a hint as to what would come for the rest of the movie. Star Trek Into Darkness was a movie with plenty of eye candy to behold.
As somebody who actually did not see 2009′s Star Trek, I did appreciate the fact that the sequel was written so that even I could appreciate it. However, the Star Trek television series were known to be very philosophical (the ethics of ‘killing’ an android in an episode of The Next Generation comes to mind), which I found to not be the case in Star Trek Into Darkness; the movie felt like an orgy of eye candy that was much more concerned with entertaining than it was with provoking thought. Additionally, I found myself able to predict a few plot points.
Aside from that, the movie was technically top-notch where the entire cast turned in some fine performances. Benedict Cumberbatch (currently most famous for being Sherlock) was absolutely frightening as the movie’s villain, and I was equally impressed by that of Peter Weller (the titular RoboCop) as Federation Admiral Marcus. Simon Pegg’s Scotty provided ample comic relief.
Overall, I would characterize Star Trek Into Darkness as a fun, popcorn movie to see, much in the same vain as last year’s The Avengers. It’s not a particularly deep movie, at least not as deep as other movies and shows in the Star Trek franchise, but it’s fun enough to warrant checking out. I’m admittedly curious as to what more diehard Star Trek fans thought of this.
Loyal readers probably realized that I have been watching many horror movies lately. Barring Ju-on: The Curse, a direct-to-video movie, I found none of them to be scary. Now that I thought about it a little, I think Alfred Hitchcock, known for Psycho and The Birds, could shed some light on this with his doctrine of “There is no terror in the bang, only in the anticipation of it.” I think where many horror movies really went wrong was by showing too much on screen and not leaving enough to the viewer’s imagination.
Recently, I saw and reviewed Alpha Girls. I copied and pasted my review onto Alpha Girls’ IMDb page only for it to be the most epically downvoted review on the site, but that’s another issue altogether. Alpha Girls followed Morgan (Falon Joslyn), a transfer student at an unnamed Philadelphia university rushing for the Alpha Beta sorority. Alpha Beta alumni are known to have become among the world’s most influential people, but Morgan finds out this power comes with a sinister price.
The movie went wrong almost right at the beginning. The first thing to happen is a human sacrifice flashback that occurred in 1896. I was expecting the human sacrifice to be the movie’s main surprise, but it was laid out right in front of me at the beginning. As a result, there was no room for the movie to surprise me in anyway. Sure, the movie had its fair share of blood (did I mention the movie involved cannibal zombies?). However, (at least to me) blood is gross, not scary. It didn’t help that my eyes were inevitably drawn to the victim’s jiggling (and soon to be bared) breasts, thus giving the scene more the feel of a porno than that of a horror film.
As I said multiple times before on this blog, I think the best horror movies are the ones made on more modest budgets. I don’t even know if Alpha Girls can qualify as that as it had the capacity to afford all the movie’s (surprisingly good) special effects on top of Ron Jeremy’s and Schooly-D’s (don’t ask) paychecks.
Besides the opening scene, Alpha Girls fell into the same trap that many indie films do, and that is it showed a very undying love for itself. In the aftermath of Veronica’s (Nikki Bell) murder, the girls are cleaning the room up in what basically felt like a tribute to Southwork’s cover of “The House of the Rising Sun” as made famous by The Animals as opposed to something meant to advance the story. The movie’s use of a soundtrack that just wouldn’t end overwhelmed many scenes and felt absolutely nothing short of narcissistic as did scenes like the “girls day out” when the pledges were out and about in Philadelphia.
The movie’s acting talent did little to help things, though there was little they could do as the dialogue was generally very stiff and unnatural. As the release date of the movie drew near, writers/directors Tony Trov and Johnny Zito rebilled Alpha Girls as a “Horror/Comedy Film About Satanic Sorority Sisters” from “Satanic Sorority Slasher” when they watched it after editing and it became clear there was no way audiences would be able to take the movie seriously. I would’ve bought it if more of the movie’s humor was intentional a la Zombieland (2009) or Dead Snow (2009).
I will spare you comparing Alpha Girls to Ju-on: The Grudge as the latter, while I wasn’t totally in love with it, was undoubtedly a better movie in just about every way. Where The Grudge failed where The Curse succeeded was the fact that director Shimizu Takashi decided to show a lot more on screen as a result of having a lot more money to work with, as opposed to letting scenes drag on until they became really uncomfortable at which he hits the viewer with the scare.
However, The Grudge had one really good scene, and that was when Hitomi (Ito Misaki) came home, already freaked out by the events at her office. She lay in bed not having any clue what to expect. Surprisingly, Ito’s acting had improved quite a bit from You’re Under Arrest!, which was made the same year, and thus allowed for the viewer to empathize with her.
The “anticipation” doctrine was used most effectively in The Curse. The reason there was actually completely because of the (lack of) budget Shimizu Takashi had to work with. Thus, he was unable to explicitly show a lot on screen.
The main highlight of that movie was the scene in which Mizuho (Kuriyama Chiaki) was alone in the teachers’ office. That scene was very well constructed so, like the scene in The Grudge, you are every bit as uncomfortable as Mizuho is. It dragged on for just long enough to make the scene unsettling before showing the surprise.
The Curse has one thing in common with many of my favorite movies, and that is the fact that it is a movie where you are likely to notice something new every time you see it (it’s one of few movies I actually recommend seeing more than once). It was a movie that really performed the art of subtlety when creating horror.
I think with the advent of budgets and special effects technology, horror movie directors really lost sight of the idea of taking advantage of the audience’s psychology. Instead, they opt to show as much on screen as they can. In fact, this is precisely something people fault George Lucas with when he went back and added CG special effects to the original Star Wars trilogy. It almost feels like modern filmmakers are actually doubting the intelligence of modern filmgoing audiences. I almost suspect if modern people were to watch the original The Haunting (1963), they would actually get bored, despite that I thought it was the single scariest movie I have ever seen.
NOTE: This is yet another post that originally existed in the form of a Facebook note, which was written shortly before this blog was started, in spirit very similar to my post on Drift Special: Beauty Battle.
Ferat Vampire (Upir z Feratu) is a 1982 Czech horror film starring Dagmar Veskrnova, more well known as Dagmar Havlova after getting married to president Vaclav Havel.
Dr. Marek (Jiri Menzel) is an emergency response physician ferried around in an ambulance by Mima (Veskrnova). On a routine call, they run into a racing car that causes an accident. Later, Marek and Mima see the same racing car had itself gotten into an accident, killing the driver. It turns out that the car is made by the Ferat corporation and wants to hire Mima to race in it. Marek gets worried when it is suggested that the car doesn’t run on gasoline, but on human blood.
The premise was an interesting one initially, but after the introduction, things just kind of fell apart. Questions were raised, only to be answered with more questions.
The movie was too frantic for its own good. The script just jumped all over the place while barely giving Menzel a chance to keep up, and when he did arrive on the scene, it ultimately ends with him getting scared by something.
There was something almost comical in Jiri Menzel’s performance. Imagine this: a little man with huge horn-rimmed glasses running around and constantly getting scared by something, usually of varying relevance to the main plot.
Ultimately, Ferat Vampire wound up degenerating into a conspiracy theory/business allegory film when it initially set out to be a horror/mystery film. The issue with Ferat Vampire is the complete lack of focus it had. It was hinted that Marek was romantically interested in Mima. The problem was they spent so little time onscreen at the same time as each other that their relationship wound up being little more than a weak excuse for Marek to investigate this vampiric car.
So a confused plot, horrendous pacing, cheesy special effects, and an awkward sex scene being thrown in for good measure make Ferat Vampire just another B horror movie. There was one race scene in the movie, but I would scarcely recommend seeing this movie, even to the most hardcore gear heads, for that.
A couple weeks ago, my friends and I wound up watching Ju-on: The Curse, a low budget, direct-to-video horror movie that was actually surprisingly good. I decided to check out its more well known sequel, The Grudge, tonight.
I’ll let you know that I have seen The Grudge’s American remake, and it was easily one of the worst horror movies I have ever seen. It was clear in that movie that they believed American audiences are too dumb to follow something with Japanese subtleties and without white actors or softcore sex scenes that involve Sarah Michelle Gellar.
Anyway, back to the Japanese one. The Grudge follows Rika (Okina Megumi), a caretaker who is tasked with taking care of an elderly woman who has been by herself for some time. Little does Rika know that it is in fact the woman lives in the house that was central to The Curse.
Already, the movie assumes some prior knowledge of the Ju-on saga. In fact, had I not seen The Curse, I strongly suspect little, if any, of the movie would have made any sense to me since the Saeki family backstory was explained in the first movie.
Like The Curse, The Grudge tells its story through a series of substories which ultimately unite to what was going on around Rika. Among other characters, we meet office worker Hitomi (Ito Misaki of You’re Under Arrest! and Edison’s Mother) and former policeman Yuji (Tanaka Yoji, who also co-starred with Ito in Edison’s Mother).
As I said in my reviews of The Curse and Retribution, I think the best horror movies are the ones made on more modest budgets because they force the director to leave most of the scares up to the imagination, which was a doctrine established by Alfred Hitchcock. However, director Shimizu Takashi clearly had more money to play with in The Grudge. Thus he decided to show a lot more ghosts and gore onscreen, which actually seriously detracted from the horror. The Curse was a more legitimately scary movie because much of the time you had no idea what to expect.
That said, there was a bit more of a complete story in The Grudge. It didn’t seem like there was a sequel being planned (even though there was one), so it seemed like the writers tried to get everything tied up by The Grudge’s end. I will say I did detect a plothole or two.
Overall, The Grudge wasn’t a great horror movie, but I will say it was much better than most horror movies I have seen in recent memory, namely Saw VII or Alpha Girls. Needless to say, the original Japanese version is also orders of magnitudes better than the craptastic American remake, which featured American people knocking about in Japan for absolutely no reason. However, I think it’s fair to say I’ll have to continue my search until I find a horror movie that really impresses me.
I’ll be perfectly frank: I had completely lost any and all faith in Disney’s ability to make a good, non-Pixar non-Ghibli animated film. However, my friend pointed me in the direction of Paperman, winner of the 2012 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film.
Paperman is a silent romantic comedy follows a typical office worker of yesteryear and how, with the aid of paper, he falls in love.
Much like how Skyfall really embraced its James Bond roots, you can tell Disney was absolutely itching for a chance to show off its pride of having been the world’s top producer of animation once upon a time, and it did so with Paperman. Paperman was animated using a hybrid of traditional cel animation and computer graphics. The fact that the movie was (with exception) black and white and adopted a 1940s setting shows a clear nostalgia for Disney’s glory days. Not only that, but the movie’s visual look was absolutely gorgeous.
With a movie that was less than 7 minutes long, there isn’t a ton to say. However, Paperman completely mastered the art of “showing, not telling” and was exactly all I needed in order to say, “Aww”. In less than 7 minutes, Paperman has single-handedly restored my faith in Disney as an animation giant that is dependent on neither Pixar nor the fact that it owns the right to distribute Ghibli movies in America.
As I said in my review of Retribution, I think the best horror movies are actually the ones made on more modest budgets. My friends and I wanted to see Ju-On: The Grudge. Little did we know that was actually the third of four movies in the Ju-On series, and wound up on the first movie instead, the direct-to-video Ju-On: The Curse.
A theme of Japanese mythology is the haunting of a place the deceased may have had a strong connection to, which is why it is prevalent in Japanese horror cinema in movies like The Ring or Dark Water.
Ju-On is actually several shorter stories connected into one hour-long film about strange things happening in what would seem to be an ordinary Tokyo home.
Shimizu Takashi was clearly very conscious of his budgetary limitations, and thus opted to not explicitly show things onscreen, instead leaving a lot up to the imagination. Except for two notable scenes, there was hardly a drop of blood to be found in the movie. Every scene, such as when Mizuho (fans of Kill Bill may recognize her as Kuriyama Chiaki) was alone in a schoolteacher’s office, dragged on for just long enough to make it feel very uncomfortable before showing the big shocker.
That said, the biggest problem I had with the movie was its non-ending, which clearly hinted toward a sequel (and there were three of them made). While I had some legitimate scares, I wasn’t happy with the fact that the plot simply wasn’t resolved. Normally in stories, the rising action reaches a climax, after which the action falls. Ju-On just kept building, and it seemed the writers thought, “Ah, we ran out of money. Oh well, let’s save the whole middle and end of this movie for the sequel!”
While Ju-On was by no means a cinematic classic, it was very good considering it was a direct-to-video movie; it was better than many horror movies I have seen that were released in theaters (I’m looking at you, Alpha Girls and Saw 3D). It was the first movie I have seen in a long time that was legitimately scary; I just wish it actually had a complete story.