Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Akira (1988)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

It’s been said that you can do a lot more with animation than you can do in real life because animation has a leveling effect on the special effects.. This is evident in films such as Akira. Let’s face it; the movie starts out with a nuclear explosion in Tokyo. The result is Neo Tokyo. 30 years have passed since the explosion. (The bulk of the movie takes place in 2019.)

Biker gangs are everywhere. The police go after them, but there are always more. In the beginning of the movie, one gang is chasing after another. As soon as the police show up, they scatter. Still, one gang member wants to chase down another. One thing leads to another, which in turn leads to an accident. Tetsuo (the one doing the chasing) is taken away in a helicopter. None of his fellow gang members can figure out where he’s been taken or what happened to him.

Tetsuo is taken to a secret research facility where experiments are done on him. (These experiments are related to what happened in Tokyo in 1989, but you don’t find out how until much later in the movie.) The experiments have very serious consequences, including hallucinations and the development of incredible powers. Tetsuo doesn’t understand what’s happening to him or what kind of power he has.

It’s really hard to go into the plot from there for two reasons. First, it’s way too complicated to explain. Second, I’d also have to give out a lot of the plot twists. It’s better to just watch the movie. I have to warn you that it’s a very violent movie with disturbing visuals. I should point out that this is not a movie for children unless they like having nightmares. In one scene, you get to see a giant teddy bear with liquid pouring out of it and Tetsuo is terrified of it for good reason. I’d say the movie is more appropriate for those of high-school age or older.

The movie is a good movie for several different reasons. First, the animation is great despite the fact that the movie was made in 1988. (I was going into middle school the summer this movie was released in Japan.) Also, it’s a great story. Yes, you’re thinking that animation is kids’ stuff. Might I remind you of the last paragraph? This is not a kids’ movie. It’s a story about someone who starts out as someone the gang leader protects to someone the gang leader (and everyone else) fears.

From what I understand, there are several translations. Even on the same DVD, sub and dub are different. I’ve usually gone for dub, even though most people go for subtitles. I find that having to read subtitles is too distracting. I’d rather be able to see the animation than have to look down every few seconds. (One of these days, though, I’m going to learn Japanese.)

The movie gets five stars. I would recommend this, but to older audiences. I couldn’t see a small child watching this and coming out ok. Even for an adult, you have to be used to disturbing stuff.

Official Site {Japan]

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

The Gate (1987)

There are some movies that can withstand the test of time.  They have a quality that allows them to be understood and enjoyed equally by any generation.  Such movies can be watched and rewatched and never lose their appeal.  The Gate is not such a movie.

The movie starts with a boy named Glen returning home to find it abandoned.  It looks like his family left mid meal.  He goes to his tree house, which is promptly hit by lightening.  He awakens to find it was just a nightmare.  When he looks out of his window, he sees said tree being cut down, leaving a geode exposed.  Glen and his friend, Terry, manage to dig it back up after the workers burry it.  Glen’s parents are going out of town for the weekend.  In their absence, Glen’s sister, Alexandra, will be in charge.  (This basically means that Alexandra will be inviting her obnoxious friends over.)

If you’ve seen a lot of mid-budget horror movies, you’re probably wondering by now what could possibly go wrong.  Well, the hole that’s been reopened by the boys happens to be a portal to a netherworld.  Inside the geode is a set of instructions meant to let a demon and its minions through to our plane.  It just so happens that Glen and Terry manage to set off a series of bizarre and horrifying events.

When I say horrifying, remember that this is a 1987 movie.  It’s not for small children, but it’s not particularly nightmare inducing, either.  (Teens on up should be fine.)  Those that grew up on more modern movies will probably find the effects and the scary parts laughable.  The scariest thing is a large demon coming out of the floor.

There are also some things that would be either cliché or lost on today’s audiences, such as playing a vinyl record backwards for a satanic/subliminal message.  You don’t really hear about that much any more.  (I guess it wouldn’t be hard to play an MP3 backwards, but still…)  I also find it odd that there’s always exactly one character that knows exactly what do to.  It just so happens that Terry knows all about the portal.  This is because he has a record made by a band that had previous dealings with the portal.  This one and only album has liner notes with very helpful instructions.

Also, despite the characters’ best efforts, various requisite acts, such as offering blood, occur either accidentally or without the main characters’ knowledge.  I don’t want to give away too much, in case you want to experience the movie for yourself, but when you have instructions on how to open a portal to hell, you have to know that every step will eventually be followed.  (How is it that Glen is even able to read the instructions, anyway?)

I vaguely remember seeing this movie when I was in middle school.  I also remember a friend referencing the movie’s sequel, which I may look in to.  I don’t remember if I overlooked the movie’s shortcomings at the time because it was on par with other stuff of the era or if it was because I was 11 when the movie came out.  I’m not saying that it’s a total waste of 85 minutes. I suppose if you have just over an hour to kill, there are worse things you could watch.  I’m just saying that there are probably better horror movies if that’s what you’re looking for.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Santa Claus Conquers the Martians (1964) full movie

I finally decided to upload a public-domain movie to my YouTube channel.  It's one that I've already reviewed before. I figured I'd give everyone an easy way to view it.  If I can get enough subscriberws and viewers, I may consider posting more.  I'll have to see how it goes.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Beyond Suspicion/Appointment for a Killing (1993)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.  A few modifications have been made.

When you say that a movie was made for TV, it‘s not usually meant to boost people’s expectations about it.  I’m not saying that it’s fair, but it’s often right.  Take Appointment for a Murder, a.k.a. Beyond Suspicion.  The movie is about a dentist, Stan, who has a thing for killing people for money.  Shortly after divorcing his wife, Joyce, he admits to killing someone, but in such a vague manner that she can’t really pin anything on him.  The next morning, Stan threatens that if she tells anyone, he’ll kill her or arrange to have her killed.

She does go to the police, but they don’t take her seriously.  Stan didn’t give out any details like names, locations or motives.  She does catch the attention of a Federal Agent Ron McNally, who thinks that he can link Stan to several murders.  What really makes Stan  a suspect and makes the whole operation possible is that Stan killed someone that he owed money to, which looked very suspicious.  (There was no proof, of course, but it was very convenient for Stan.)   Joyce agrees to have her house bugged so that the authorities can hopefully get some evidence.

Of course, it’s not that easy.  Stan is a cold, calculating person and would never admit to doing anything so quickly.  Yes, Stan does go over to Joyce’s new place a lot, but he’s not the kind of person that usually makes mistakes.  Plus, you’ve got Joyce’s meddling cat, who starts playing with one of the microphones, drawing Stan’s attention.  (I’ve always thought that this sort of thing is cliché and used only to add some drama, but I digress.)  Joyce does eventually get Stan to confess to murder on tape, thus sending Stan to jail for a long time.

Now, in this case, the movie does reek of being made for TV.  First, you’ve got those fadeouts every fifteen or twenty minutes.  Second, the video quality looks like it was made for the small screen.  Add to that the fact that there’s not much of a detailed story or character development.  (It’s based on a true story.)  There are three big names involved in the movie:  Corbin Bernsen as Stan, Markie Post as Joyce and Kelsey Grammer as Agent McNally.  (Don Swayze is the only other person I recognized.)

The movie takes place in St. Louis.  There are a few establishing shots of St. Louis, like the Gateway Arch, but the rest of the film could have been filmed anywhere.  The houses look like any other houses in any suburban area.  The streets look like they could be anywhere.  I guess one of the advantages of it being so far inland is that you don’t have to worry about coastlines.  (I guess it is kind of hard to put that sort of stuff in inconspicuously.)

I got this as part of a two-pack of movies a long, long time ago with the intention of writing reviews.  (The other movie was To Love, Honor And Deceive.)  Both movies were decent, but I really think I should have skipped these.  I don’t even remember how much I paid for them, but I think it was too much.  If you’re going to watch this movie, I’d recommend waiting for it to come on TV again.

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Charlotte Sometimes (2002)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

Michael lives alone in the upstairs part of a duplex. Downstairs is Lori, a friend of his. Justin is her boyfriend, who stays over every night. The routine goes that after having sex, Justin falls asleep and Lori goes upstairs to be with Michael. Because of thin walls, Michael hears a lot of it, so he often goes out.

Lori visits Michael one day at work. (He’s an auto mechanic. He also happens to read a lot, but I won’t get into that now.) Lori wants to set Michael up with someone, but Michael won’t even let her say it. Not to long after, Michael meets an attractive woman in a bar that he frequents. She introduces herself as Charlotte.

Now, Michael is in an interesting situation. He’s interested in Lori, but Charlotte is interested in him. Michael and Lori see each other. However, she travels a lot and will be in town for a few days. Whenever she’s back in town, they hook up again. (At least, that’s the impression that I got.) The trouble is that there’s more to Charlotte than Michael is led to believe. I’m not going to say more because it would ruin the movie. I don’t really think that it’s necessary to discuss the movie as a whole.

The only major complaint I had was that there was no sense of time in the movie. I believe that it took place over the course of at least a month, but there was nothing that would indicate the passage of time between scenes. Usually, this wasn’t a problem, but there were times when it got confusing.

There’s a camcorder feel to a lot of the scenes, especially with the lighting. I’m not complaining, though. It was done well. I just don’t know if this would be a turnoff for anyone. A lot of the people I know have strange hang-ups about movies. I think it only adds to the feel of the movie.

As for the extras, there were two tracks for audio commentary as well as a behind-the-scenes/commentary video and another video with Roger Ebert. I found the behind-the-scenes video to be interesting, but I don’t usually go for audio commentary and the video with Ebert didn’t seem that interesting, either. It looked like the video was actually taken from someone’s camcorder.

Overall, the DVD gets five stars.

Airplane II: The Sequel (1982)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

One of the advantages of renting movies is the ability to see a movie and its sequel within a few weeks of each other. With Airplane 2 – The Sequel!, I felt like I was watching the same movie again. Robert Hays returns as Ted Striker, who, in this movie, was a test pilot for the Mayflower I. The Mayflower I is about to go on its maiden voyage to the moon, but Striker doesn’t think that it will make it. The shuttle is riddled with problems, such as faulty circuitry, but the mission is going ahead anyway.

Those in charge of the program had Striker committed to a mental institution, but he escapes in time to make it to the spaceport and purchase a ticket for the flight. (It was sold out months ago, but he finds a scalper willing to sell him a ticket.) Elaine, played again by Julie Hagerty, is on the flight, but she’s engaged to Simon Kurtz, played by Chad Everett. Captain Clarence Oveur is back as the pilot, but he has a new flight crew. The navigator is named Unger and the first officer is Dunn, giving us a great scene where the three of them recall the chain of command during the war. (“Well, technically, Dunn was over Unger and I was over Dunn.”)

The plot is very similar to the first movie. As I mentioned, Striker finds his way onto the flight and has to win the heart of Elaine while saving the day. He has the help of the control tower, but he winds up the hero. The movie seems to have been made simply to string the jokes together. Some of them are obvious, such as Sonny Bono going to the spaceport gift shop and actually buying a bomb. Some of them are a little more obscure. During the scene with Sonny Bono, you’ll notice a poster for Rocky XXXVIII. There’s another scene on the plane where you will probably miss a sign that reads, “UNAUTHORIZED PERSONNEL ONLY”. William Shatner also appears in the movie as a sort of parody of his role as Captain Kirk. (There’s even a shot of the U.S.S. Enterprise flying by.)

There were no DVD extras in the version that I got from NetFlix. (It’s possible that there are other versions out there.) This means that you may be buying just the movie. If that’s the case, avoid it. It was almost like I was watching the first movie a second time. The only thing that was new was the set of jokes and gags. It’s good, but not that good. The movie gets three stars.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Frequencies/OXV: The Manual (2013)

Sometimes quirky works.  Not always, but it sometimes makes for a better movie.  Frequencies is about a reality very similar to ours, except that people have frequencies.  It seems to work like an IQ in that 100 is considered average or neutral.  Lower numbers indicate negative aspects like awkwardness and bad luck. Those with lower numbers also tend to be more emotional.  Those with higher numbers tend to lead a more privileged life, finding that good things just happen to them.  Those with higher numbers tend to be more logical.  Bring together two people on opposing sides of 100 and you get strange, dangerous results.  It’s also seemingly impossible to change your frequency.

The movie centers around Zak and Marie.  Zak has a lower frequency, but is placed in a school for those with higher frequencies.  There, he meets Marie.  Her frequency is so high that she can’t feel emotion at all.  Zak also has a friend, Theo, who is more moderate in frequency.  Zak has a thing for Marie, but their union can never be, as there’s a one-minute time limit per year imposed by the physics of this universe.  That’s when the bizarre and dangerous stuff starts to happen.

Zak is able to find a way to borrow energy from other people, which allows him to increase his time with Marie to the point that they can start dating.  Zak and Theo find that by using some two-syllable nonsense words, Zak can control people.  This catches the attention of an organization that kidnaps Marie and Zak, as well as a few others, and has them do further research and study.  It turns out that they’ve known about this for a while.  The details been lost and rediscovered over the years, with 1066 and 1760 being important years.

I’m not sure what to make of this film.  It’s one of those movies that is just obvious enough about its message (privilege and class structure) that we get it but not so forward with it that we feel like we’re being beaten over the head with it.  It’s a world where high- and low-frequency people literally can’t exist together.  There’s also the issue of fate.  Theo wants to build a machine that will let him know how the universe will unfold.  What would it mean to build such a machine?  Does it even matter?

A lot of these things aren’t really explored in the movie.  For instance, many of the characters are named for important people in our universe.  Zak’s full name is Isaac-Newton Midgeley; Marie is Marie-Curie Fortune.   No one speaks about their namesake, so we don‘t know any historical details about these people.  Certain things seemed contrived, like the use of an irony particle and music as an inoculation.

It’s one of those movies that I can’t really not recommend, but I’m not sure who I would recommend it to.  I was able to get it streaming from Netflix.  If you have Netflix and are able to stream, you could give it a try.  It’s not much of a loss at 105 minutes.  I don’t know that I would have gotten it if I had to wait for it to be mailed to me.  Would it be too cliché to say that watching it was my destiny?

A Tale of Two Sisters/Janghwa, Hongryeon (2003)

Note:  This review was originally posted to my Epinions account.

There are certain movies that beg to be watched a second time. This is one of those movies. For that reason, I can’t really go too much into the plot, as it would actually ruin the movie several times over. I can give you a basic rundown of the movie.

It starts with two girls being released from a mental hospital after a traumatic event, which is not initially specified. They arrive home to find that they have a stepmother to get used to. Neither girl seems to like her much, as is to be expected with a stepparent. Things take a turn for the bizarre about halfway through.

Even having seen the movie, I still don’t completely understand it. I’m going to have to sit on it for a while and watch it again. This isn’t one of those mindless movies that you rent after a hard day of work. You really have to pay attention to what’s going on. Even most of the characters don’t seem to know everything.

I definitely recommend the two-disc set. I believe that there’s another set that’s only 1:30 in length. This release is 1:55. (I got as far as 1:49; I’m assuming that the credits round it out.) Not having seen the original release, I can’t be certain what the new material is.

It’s really the second disc that I recommend. There were deleted scenes with commentary as to what the context of the scenes were as well as why they were deleted. I found this to be very interesting. Also interesting was the feature on the making of the poster. The person who photographed it was speaking as to what went into taking the picture and what various aspects meant.

There was a certain hyper-real quality to some of the scenes in the movie. The images seemed very sharp in contrast with the rest of the movie and even with other movies. I don’t know if this was intended or if it has something to do with my computer. However, the entire movie does beg the question: What is real?

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Edge of Tomorrow (2014)

Groundhog Day was an interesting movie.  In it, Bill Murray played a weatherman doomed to repeat the same day.  It was a comedy, so I doubt that much technical thought was put into it, but I always wondered if each day went on without him being aware of it.  A similar concept was used in Edge of Tomorrow.  Tom Cruise plays Major William Cage.  Earth has been overrun by an alien that seems to know what we’re going to do.  It’s impossible to defeat them until we start inexplicably winning.

Cage isn’t big on seeing actual battle, but he threatens the wrong guy and gets sent into battle where he’s killed.  He awakens to find himself in the staging area before he’s sent into battle.  With no way out, he has to repeat the following day or two.  He realizes that he can use this to his avoid getting killed.  This is huge because this is supposed to be the battle that ends the war, except humanity is getting slaughtered.

Any comparisons to Groundhog Day are totally understandable.  Each has a main character that is able to repeat a specific time period and use it to his advantage, despite being in a situation that they‘d rather avoid altogether.  The details differ a little, but the underlying motive each character has is to get it right.  One big difference is that Cage has Rita Vrataski, who was able to do the same thing until she had a blood transfusion.  (She has an amazing win streak that’s attributed to a new suit, but you kind of know that it’s not really the suit.)  She understands what Cage is going through and is able to help.

There’s very little repetition in Edge of Tomorrow.  Whatever repetition there is exists only to let us know what’s going on.  There are a few clichés that manage to work their way in.  It seems that whenever someone is doomed to repeat time, they always start at a bad time.  If it’s not waking up to a song they hate, they’re having a door opened in their face.

The character in a time loop is also given limited options to get away.  If Cage were to wake up before insulting his CO, there would have been no movie.  Here, Cage wakes up on a base to someone calling him a maggot.  He has nowhere to run.  Yes, there’s one time loop where he goes to a bar, knowing that it doesn’t really matter, but Cage realizes that he’s needed.  (Note that there’s a similar scene in Groundhog day; Phil’s epiphany also takes place at a bar.)

There was one question I had, though.  If Cage is repeating the day, how is he able to go back before the accident and still be able to repeat the day?  His power comes from absorbing the blood of an alien.  Theoretically, the alien blood shouldn’t go back with him.  I suppose that if we can accept that he’d retain the memories, the alien blood going back with him shouldn’t be a stretch.