Movie Diary 2018 by pahaK

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Viy (2014) N

A third film based on Gogol's story in three (or was it four) days.

This latest (as far as I know) filming of the story is taking much more liberties than the two older movies. The events of Gogol's story have happened approximately one year ago and only parts of that story are told to our new protagonist, a cartographer from England. Stylistically movie is closer to Van Helsing or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen than its predecessors.

Main story is a mess and there are completely unnecessary subplots (like everything that happens in London). I read there was quite a lot of problems with the filming (it took seven years to finish and it was on ice more than once due to lack of funding) and maybe that's one reason why both story and characters often don't make much sense.

VIsually Viy looks really good; settings are great, costumes are fancy and special effects are adequate (the church scene from which the picture is taken looked absolutely marvelous). Acting isn't nearly as good and it's not helped by horrendous dubbing (there are few English actors and at least in the version I saw their English dialogue is mostly dubbed in Russian but the original audio is still there so we hear a sentence starting in English and after a second or two a Russian dialogue comes over it).

It's very different from the other two filming. I don't fully agree with the stylistic choice but bad script and wonky directing are much bigger issues. I like how Russians are always willing to have fun with their own vodka drinking stereotype and the funniest parts of the film happen when most of the characters are drunk. It might not be the most sophisticated humor but I like it.

Ambitious attempt to compete with Hollywood fantasy spectacles that is visually quite impressive but fails with its narration. Kinda recommended for the visuals alone.

Great selection of movies in here. You're review makes me very interested in the Serbian Viy adaption, despite the mediocre rating. I saw the 60s one a long time ago and thought it was fun, but darker is welcome. The new one looks gorgeous too. Maybe I should power through the purported mess of a story.

Great selection of movies in here. You're review makes me very interested in the Serbian Viy adaption, despite the mediocre rating. I saw the 60s one a long time ago and thought it was fun, but darker is welcome. The new one looks gorgeous too. Maybe I should power through the purported mess of a story.
I'm known to be stingy with ratings so take them with a hefty grain of salt. If the subject interests you Sveto Mesto is worth a watch.

Pieces (1982) N

A bad Spanish slasher with some giallo influences.

Young boy chops his mother to pieces after she interrupts his naked lady puzzle building. 40 years later girls on Boston College campus start to lose parts of their bodies to chainsaw wielding murderer. A police operation (of sorts) is conducted to catch the killer.

Pieces has absurdly bad script. Film basically shows either the murders (which are actually quite good) or inept and unprofessional investigation by the police. Some character interactions are comically insane (like the girl who gets her hands chopped off at the elevator - I'm not sure how wise it is to act all casual when you meet one of the college employees in the middle of the night dressed like a rapist and trying to hide a chainsaw behind his back).

Acting is pretty horrible too with Lieutenant Bracken being the only solid performance. Extra credit comes from the worst tennis match shown in movies (winner standing in the middle between the service line and net the whole time, even when she's serving, and all close-ups of players clearly show balls bouncing out of control from their brackets). Would it be too much to asks if they'd even play by the rules? And that kung fu dude, what the hell?

Cinematography isn't too bad and some of the murders are really well made (like the stabbing on waterbed). It's not as gory as The New York Ripper but definitely above average on that regard. Soundtrack was great in the beginning but for some reason they didn't go with the piano theme the whole time so latter part was pretty meh.

I'm not a slasher fan so maybe someone will find this more interesting. Decent visuals, partly good soundtrack and nice murder scenes can't save the film from abysmal writing.

All the stories told within Rosaleen's dream are common werewolf legends I already read as a child. I don't think there's enough own personality in them to carry a film especially when the frame story itself is already a wonderless dream variation of well known Little Red Riding Hood.
I'm sure I was aware when I first saw it (what was I – ten or eleven maybe) that there was more going on than it just being a dark fairytale, with the sexual aspects especially. On the commentary Neil Jordan talks a lot about this and the film being based on Angela Carter's The Bloody Chamber.

Effects haven't aged too well (especially the transformations).
I think they're still pretty effective. Stephen Rea's Young Groom transformation is the most disturbing, and the direction helps. I've probably not seen many werewolf films so I'm comparing it in my memory to something like The Thing, with that balance between live action and animatronics. To me it holds up okay.

Acting is quite mediocre with couple of good performances on smaller roles.
That's fair enough. I like David Warner and Stephen Rea. Terence Stamp's cameo is good. Micha Bergese makes the film for me, and the first scene with the Huntsman is my favourite ever.

Great selection of movies in here. You're review makes me very interested in the Serbian Viy adaption, despite the mediocre rating. I saw the 60s one a long time ago and thought it was fun, but darker is welcome. The new one looks gorgeous too. Maybe I should power through the purported mess of a story.
I'm interested as well – it looks right up my boulevard.

Avalon (2001) r

Ever wondered what would happen if an anime legend went to shoot a live action movie to Poland? Wonder no more...

A young woman named Ash is a professional player of an illegal virtual reality game called Avalon. The game is addictive, potentially dangerous and contains secrets people are willing to risk their lives for. She learns how to reach a secret area from which none has returned and is ready to go.

Avalon is thematically close to Cronenberg's eXistenZ. It deals with questions about reality, existence and to some degree isolation. It doesn't offer fully explained answers and it seems to be open to different interpretations. I usually like when answering is left to viewer but the end of Avalon felt little anti-climatic (was the whole film just telling us that the world changes and future is unknown?).

Visually the film is weird. Most of it is shot through a heavy sepia filter and has kinda overexposed look to it (the effect is more pronounced within the game). Cinematography itself is good and there are lots of beautifully built scenes. At times the smallish budget shows but majority of effects are actually quite nice (and it helps that Polish army lent tanks and helicopters for free).

Script is little on and off. The combination of European style and Japanese story feels messy at times. The game concept has some issues but at least it's much more sensible than in Ready Player One. Characters are very simplistic (one can wonder if there was an actual reason for this). The end feels little cheap and throughout the film there's a constant feeling of getting more style than substance.

Slow and beautiful scifi where the story is just a surface but which may not be as deep as it tries. Back in the day I rated it 9/10 but after rewatch I'll lower that a bit. Still a good movie though.

Avalon is flawed, but I'm a sucker for the style. I think the Miramax release changed the color tint and screwed up the subtitles though. Like you, I'm not sure it'd hold up as well for me now, but it's an older favorite of mine.

The Thin Man (1934) N

A crime comedy that delivers solid performance on one of its genres while somewhat failing the other.

A business man / inventor disappears and becomes prime suspect for multiple murders. His daughter seeks help from a retired detective who's helped her father in the past. Reluctantly the heavy drinking ex-cop becomes involved with the case.

The crime story in the film is quite weak. There's not enough time to intelligently build it and it seems to advance by big leaps whenever there's nothing more important happening on screen. I don't think there's any chance to build proper motives for characters and guess the killer before it's revealed. Maybe they should have cut few characters from the film version.

If the crime side of the story is lackluster the comedy side works rather well and I had more laughs than the whole first 1930s HoF combined. Much of the credit goes to Powell and Loy who have amazing chemistry and especially Powell's drunkard ex-detective is genuinely funny character. There are funny moments outside the heroic couple (like some of Gilbert's almost insane ramblings) but they're the force that holds the film together.

Visually there's nothing special but it's not really that kind of film anyway. Script is half good, half bad and it's kinda shame that the crime part of the story is so lazily written that it drags the film down. Acting was solid all the way and the leading couple was excellent (even the dog was good). I hope no livers were injured during the filming.

Sloppy crime story with some great comedy. It falls little short of being good but it's definitely alright.


Mad Love (1935) N

A clumsy horror melodrama that doesn't handle its subject very gracefully.

A beautiful actress is married to a concert pianist / composer. When her husband gets into an accident the actress asks a favor from her biggest fan, mentally unstable but gifted surgeon Dr. Gogol. Gogol gives the lady a hand and fixes the husband with some spare parts from an executed murderer.

I think the story is outright stupid and for such a short film there is plenty of filler material too (like the drunken housekeeper). Gogol looks mad as a bat from the beginning and I wonder who trusts such a man with patients. The autonomous hands feel pretty far fetched for a horror that doesn't draw its terrors from the supernatural but from science (and why would Rollo's hands want to kill in any case - didn't they say his sentence was for one murder only so he clearly wasn't a serial killer or anything).

I remember really liking Lorre in M but he's overdoing the crazy with Gogol (maybe Freund wanted that but still). Otherwise acting is quite mediocre at best and terribly wooden at worst. There are visually good scenes (especially the ending in Gogol's apartment) but they're not enough to draw attention away from other flaws.

I much prefer hands possessed by demons (like Demonoid) over this pseudo-scientific mangling of muscle memory. Silly concept, flawed writing and forgettable characters result in quite lackluster movie experience.

Fair complaints, but I think it's an entertaining movie, and the story was around beforehand. Charlie Chaplin apparently called Lorre the best actor alive after seeing it.

Setsuko Hara is my co-pilot
Pieces is freakin' metal. Get your stuff straight.

Ball-grabbin' goodness I mean, PHEW
In the strictest sense lesbians can't have sex at all period.

Avengers: Infinity War (2018) N

Whole MCU crammed into one movie that works better than I expected.

So Thanos keeps collecting the Infinity Stones on his quest to save the universe. All (literally all) Marvel heroes are doing their best to prevent him. This means 2.5 hours of almost non-stop combat and jokes. And it works surprisingly well.

Like most recent MCU movies Avengers: Infinity War is at its best when it doesn't take itself too seriously. The drama doesn't work because there are too many characters, too many jokes and very little emotional investment to anyone. The action, while kind of great looking, is suffering from inflation - power level of everyone is pumped so high that it becomes more ridiculous than majestic. But humor, especially the interaction of Guardians with other heroes, is genuinely funny.

Other good thing in the film was Thanos. He's not the usual villain whose main motive is just being evil. In some sense he's even the good guy of the movie who sacrifices everything to make universe a better place. His scenes with Gamora are the only ones arousing any kind of emotion.

The film shows in many ways why bringing all MCU characters together is a bad idea. First is the fact that there's just too many characters and most of them feel more like extras than great heroes. Second issue is that many of the characters should operate on completely different power levels but with godlike opponent everyone needs to be able to fight against cosmic threats. Third issue is that combined force of all the heroes forces the villain to be absurdly powerful and this combined with the issue number two creates an infinite loop.

I had problems figuring whether to give this the rating below or half popcorn less. I decided to go with the higher because that reflects better how well I was entertained. The reason why I wanted to go with lower rating is my fear (or certainty) that the sequel will somehow reverse the events at the end of this film. But there's no sequel yet and it would have been unjust to lower the rating for something that hasn't happened yet.

Better superhero film than I expected. Great comedy, good villain but flawed drama and little boring action.

Maniac (1980) R

One of the few slashers I like but it I still can't stop being disappointed.

Frank is emotionally scarred man with severe mother issues. He kills women (and accompanying men) and uses their scalps as wigs for his mannequin dolls. There's no real plot beyond that but in this case I don't consider that an issue.

First half or so of the film is great. It's mostly about Franks deteriorating sanity and his inability to control himself. Spinell does great portrayal of a man with completely broken mind (it's been ages since I saw M but at least now he reminds me of Lorre in that). The murders are somewhat random and Frank just follows his twisted urges.

After Frank meets the photographer played by Munro the film takes rather deep dive. Suddenly Frank is charming gentleman able to fool everyone around him. Murders turn to standard slasher stuff with intelligent planning, premeditation and even some sort of one liners.

Right before the end there's a turn to better but still it fragments the film even more. Starting from the cemetery Maniac becomes a full fledged Fulci or Bava wannabe. I kinda like the ending though and it's surely much better than the half an hour before it.

Acting is good and Spinell as Frank is great. Visually the film is really grimy which fits it really well. Effects are good and the notorious exploding head is marvelous. Without the weird change near half-way point I'd give it at least half popcorn more.

I Am a Fugitive from a Chain Gang (1932) N

Probably daring and controversial in its time but for modern viewer it seems like a repetition of all the standard prison film cliches.

An innocent (or at least not completely guilty) man is convicted for ten years of hard labor in a chain gang. He's not happy about the situation and manages to escape after several months. He winds up in Chicago, builds a new life as an engineer, is blackmailed to marry an evil and selfish woman and eventually his past catches up.

I can't experience films as a contemporary viewer. From my point of view the sadistic prison wardens, corrupt and petty politicians, sympathetic and almost noble prisoners, etc. are familiar from countless films already. The story isn't precisely bad but very familiar. I think the best non-standard thing in it is its questions about morality of punishment vs the value of an individual to society (is his new societal status good enough reason to annul his sentence).

First half of the film works pretty well. After James meets Marie the movie starts to move on a fast forward towards very unsurprising final act (though the exact ending was a positive surprise). I suppose the film loses some of its emotional power to James being (at least to me) somewhat unlikable and definitely more responsible for his situation than he was willing to admit.

I think acting is mostly fine; Muni is really good in the lead but some of the minor characters (like the guy accompanying him on the second escape) are way too theatrical. Most of the prison scenes look pretty realistic (assumption, I've never been in a chain gang myself) and there's no huge exaggeration or dehumanization of the guards.

It's alright version of a good old story but offers nothing new for someone who's seen plenty of prison films already.

Angel Heart (1987) R

A bleak neo-noir with supernatural horror elements and very beautiful camera work.

Harry angel is a private investigator from New York. He's hired to find a man who made a career as a singer over a decade ago but met some misfortune in WWII and is supposed to be in coma on some hospital. When he's not there Harry follows his trail to New Orleans. Encouraged by the large fee offered by his employer, weird gentleman named Louis Cyphre, Harry continues his search while bodies start to pile up.

Angel Heart is visually brilliant. It's bleak, moist and there are more shadows than law permits. Dirty and little colorless neo-noir imagery is occasionally broken by deep colors straight from Italian giallo. The mix works really well and makes the movie stunningly beautiful.

This was the third time I saw the film (first time being when I was just a kid) so it's hard to say how predictable the story exactly is but other than that it still hold up pretty well. Cyphre is maybe little banal but other characters are solid. I suppose knowing what's going to happen makes you to watch characters differently but I really like how Harry unknowingly drags himself deeper and deeper into a deep black hole.

I'm not a huge Rourke fan but here he does a solid job. De Niro is more lame but it might just be the fact that I didn't like how his character was written. Bonet was good and very, very sexy (I still remember the stir she caused with the role). I don't think anyone was especially bad. Most of the soundtrack was good but there was one song that didn't seem to fit (around one hour mark).

I'm little bitter that some of the death scenes were deleted before release (I remember reading Fangoria in local library and watching the pictures of decapitated dude). I think violent death scenes would fit the film and it would certainly be better than just have de Niro tell that the person is dead.

Very good looking neo-noir horror with great cast and pretty good script (and topless Lisa Bonet).

Prince of Darkness (1987) r

Another pleasant surprise from rewatching a film I didn't like as a kid.

A strange container is found from the basement of an abandoned church after a priest who's been guarding it dies. The priest who made the discovery is deeply disturbed by his find and contacts a university professor of theoretical physics for consultation. Afterwards professor gathers a group from his own students plus few people from other branches of science to find out what's really inside the container.

Prince of Darkness reminded me of Fulci's The Beyond. They both are seemingly small stories that end up having quite far reaching conclusions. They're born from the same biblical imagery which they twist to their needs. Most of the horrors faced by the characters are (on a horror film scale) rather mundane but there's something far more sinister lurking behind the scenes. It also looks a lot like Fulci's movie (in other words really damn good).

I like the script too. The quantum physics explanations are correct enough to work in a film and I guess I have to forgive some stupid discussions about it by the characters as they are clearly meant for the viewer. The concept is quite unique and interesting enough to carry a film. There isn't much character development but majority of the people do have a clear personality.

The slowly moving story is very well supported by its visual style. Shots are often quite dark or at least shadowy, there are long corridors with heavily emphasized perspective and an eerie threat surrounding everything. The atmosphere is magnified by good soundtrack which is somewhere between Goblin and Tangerine Dream.

I really need to rewatch more Carpenter. I kinda understand why I didn't like this when I was 13 or so but now it was very good. My rating might even be a little too conservative.

It Happened One Night (1934) N

I have never read Harlequin books but It Happened One Night is very close to how I imagine them to be.

Who in their right mind doesn't like raw carrots?

A rich man's daughter is on the run from Miami to New York, or from her possessive father to her husband through marriage her father attempts to annul. She bumps into a pompous and drunken journalist who decides to help her evade all the forces sent by her father in exchange for exclusive story. Everything after that is surprisingly unsurprising.

I watched the clock for the first time after only 20 minutes and was horrified. Fortunately the film did pick some momentum during the road trip. With the ending being obvious very early it was the journey that mattered but it only sparkled for too few and too short periods. Middle of the film was far more pleasant but the last 20 minutes were again just waiting for the obvious to happen.

For the most time both leads were good but I didn't feel much chemistry between them (Peter being so full of himself probably didn't help nor did Ellie being helpless and clueless like a little child). I can't really fault their performances but the writing made it really hard to be interested in their relationship.

A predictable romance with somewhat dull characters but some good moments and good acting.


School of Rock (2003) N

How not to make a movie about rock and rebellion.

Sorry for spoiling the best joke of the film.

Let's start with the positive. I liked the idea of bringing some rebellion to this stiff upper class private school and having this walking rock cliche turn the kids into a band. Jack Black was kinda OK and some of the kids were good (Summer and Zack were probably the best but I always tend to like the nerdy ones).

The main issue of the film for me was that it's way too timid. As a movie it's everything Dewey is rebelling against: totally harmless and tasteless thing that's main objective is to not offend anyone. How can you make a rebellious rock comedy without foul language, without alcohol or drugs, without sexual references? You just can't (and yes, I know it was about 10-year-old kids but that didn't hinder Hit-Girl).

I think you could make a really good film from this story if you'd throw caution to the wind. It would have to be R rated and it would probably offend many people but it could be so funny. Or am I just sick in the head for wanting these kids to swear like sailors, drink booze, smoke weed and go crazy?

Prince of Darkness (1987) r

Another pleasant surprise from rewatching a film I didn't like as a kid.

I really need to rewatch more Carpenter. I kinda understand why I didn't like this when I was 13 or so but now it was very good. My rating might even be a little too conservative.

This is a film that I too did not care for when I was younger but now, seeing it as an adult, can really appreciate the slow burn and score work by Carpenter. Love the photography. Anamorphic squeezed lenses always look bitchin' with candle light!

Glad I found another reappraisal on this film here.