Movie Diary 2018 by pahaK

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Ghost Stories (2018) N

A professor revealing supernatural frauds is contacted by his childhood idol who disappeared years ago. It appears that the man has reversed his stance and gives the professor three old cases that changed his mind. Is professor Goodman able to give them logical explanation?

Ghost Stories is, yet again, another movie that feels like a prolonged episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. It seems that such style has its fans but I'm not one of them. From very early stages of the film it becomes apparent that there is a twist coming and when it happens it, as usual, feels disappointing. That's Ghost Stories in a nutshell.

Other than the above Ghost Stories is also a decent example of why good horror movies are so hard to do. It spends way too much time trying to be scary (it does manage to have some creepy scenes) and fails to build the story and characters properly. Personally I want more from my horrors than someone irrelevant alone in the dark with a monster for 30 minutes or so.

I stumbled on this film when a Finnish site mentioned that it was the best horror film of the year according to IGN. I beg to disagree and call this a borderline bad movie.

Dark Water (2002) R

A divorced woman moves to an old apartment building with her 6-year-old daughter. Their new home isn't too perfect though; water drips from the roof, tap water tastes weird, footsteps can be heard from the empty apartment above their's, etc. And what happened to a little girl who vanished couple of years ago?

Dark Water is another sad and melancholic J-horror that moves at very slow pace. Like Pulse it doesn't focus on being as scary as possible but keeps the characters and atmosphere as its top priority. From the films I've watched recently it resembles The Changeling the most being something like a stripped down version of it - it has very small and simple but effective story.

Nakata does mostly good job at directing but there are some scenes that don't seem to add anything and end up just being confusing (the scenes involving young Yoshimi). He does good job at handling the pace though as it's always just a notch above becoming boring. Acting is good and especially Hitomi Kuroki as slightly unstable mother does great job.

It's not as great as Pulse but most definitely good. Back in the day this, Pulse and Ringu made me a J-horror fanboy.

The Leopard is undeniably well made, but its length and my disinterest in period pieces made it a chore to watch. I've got Outlaw King on my Netflix watchlist, but it's low on my list of priorities. I've heard a lot of mixed things on The Predator. Curious to see which side of the fence I fall on. Started watching Spaced Invaders but decided within five minutes that I wasn't in the proper mood for it. Still plan on giving it a go at some point.

I ran through the American Ninja series a couple years. I had a lot of fun with the first two entries. For me, they fit the "so-bad-they're-good" qualifications, where I find myself laughing and having a great team with the notable flaws and stupidity, like characters unsheathing swords from their backs when previous camera angles clearly revealed no such weapon, and stuntmen falling from helicopters onto obvious trampolines. Once Dudikoff takes a back seat, though, the series becomes dreadful. Any recommendations for ninja flicks? I've seen Pray for Death and the Ninja Trilogy from Canon Films. I enjoy the cheese, but it'd be interesting to see a serious ninja movie for once.

I've barely dug into J-horror. I guess the terrible American remakes keep putting me off. I just watched Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure a few days ago. Great psychological thriller. Incredibly well made. It has a slow, hypnotic quality that really got under my skin. Highly recommended if you haven't seen it. Pulse (2001) seems to be regarded as his best, so I was already excited to see it even before reading your review.

Any recommendations for ninja flicks? I've seen Pray for Death and the Ninja Trilogy from Canon Films. I enjoy the cheese, but it'd be interesting to see a serious ninja movie for once.
Serious ninja movies? Now that's a tough one as most of them seem to be "bad enough to be good" level B-movies I guess Ninja Assassin is the first that comes to mind. I've rated it 7/10 in IMDb so I liked it. If you liked Pray for Death then I'd say it's pretty safe bet to check more films starring Sho Kosugi, the big name of the 80s ninja films.

I've barely dug into J-horror. I guess the terrible American remakes keep putting me off. I just watched Kiyoshi Kurosawa's Cure a few days ago. Great psychological thriller. Incredibly well made. It has a slow, hypnotic quality that really got under my skin. Highly recommended if you haven't seen it. Pulse (2001) seems to be regarded as his best, so I was already excited to see it even before reading your review.
After mentioning Pulse on a local forum I was instantly recommended Cure and Charisma by the same director. I need to check them at some point. In general I've enjoyed Japanese (and to considerable extent Far Eastern in general) horror quite a lot in last 10 to 15 years. Obviously the novelty has worn off but its cliches seem to fit me better than current Hollywood horror cliches.

The Eye (2002) R

A woman who's been blind since the age of two gets her sight back after a succesful surgery. Along with the usual orientation issues she's troubled by seeing the dead and strange shadowy figures.

The Eye is a horror film from Hong Kong and while it's thematically similar to J-horrors I've rewatched lately it's also very different. It's more interested in its plot and it moves at much faster pace than Pulse or Dark Water. There's little sadness involved but it lacks the depressive punch of the two mentioned J-horrors. It's much less overwhelming experience.

There are some genuinely creepy scenes in The Eye (old lady in the hospital and the lift scene to mention couple) but the mood of the film takes a turn towards less scares around the middle. It's kinda shame as its drama doesn't work that well but Pang brothers do know how to create suspense. In this case I would have preferred the film being more exclusively horror.

Slightly flawed horror that doesn't completely succeed in its attempt at drama and while trying gives away the scares as well. It's still OK though.

A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) R

After spending some time in mental institution two sisters return home where their father now lives with their hated and cruel stepmother. But is there something wrong besides the dysfunctional family?

Some of you may remember that I don't usually like Korean movies but A Tale of Two Sisters is an exception. It has the high visual and technical quality that's often seen in Korean cinema but it lacks almost completely the stuff I tend to have issues with like overacting and almost slapstick level of comedy.

A Tale of Two Sisters is slow psychological horror that has its roots in loss, envy and hate. Like many J-horrors it doesn't solely focus on scares but uses them rather scarcely to build the mood and to push the characters forward in its narration. It's primarily just a movie and scares are means, not the end itself. Some of the scares are pretty effective though.

In a way the movie's biggest flaw is also is its strength. A Tale of Two Sisters is a twist movie and as such it doesn't really support repeated viewings too well (at least I tend to focus too much on the twist and possible hints when rewatching such films). When I first saw this over ten years ago I really loved it and while the second viewing didn't fully match my expectations it was still good.

Very beautifully shot and well acted horror drama that relies a tad too much on the twist. Because I'm quite self-aware person I'll adjust my rating up a notch for the reason explained above. Most likely the best Korean movie I know.

The Devil's Backbone (2001) R

During Spanish Civil War a 12-year-old boy is sent to an orphanage in the middle of nowhere. Soon he discovers that the place is haunted but who the pale ghost of a boy was and what does it want?

Guillermo del Toro is a director I really wish I'd like more. He usually has topics and concepts I like but too often there's just something that doesn't work for me. Pan's Labyrinth is his only film I can call great and The Devil's Backbone is very much its predecessor but as good as it looks on paper it, again, ends up being just OK.

I think the movie focuses too much on stealing the gold from the headmistress and Jacinto is too easy to hate (he's just evil with no redeeming qualities). Also there's not enough time to get to know the boys and, for example, Jaime's change from bully to responsible caretaker doesn't work. More focus on the boys, more focus on the ghost and less underlining of Jacinto's vileness would have improved the film, I think.

It looks good, is mostly well acted but ultimately feels like an early draft for something great (possibly Pan's Labyrinth).

Ghostwatch (1992) N

BBC's mockumentary Halloween special about the haunted house and all things related. Not so surprisingly the supernatural forces are let loose in front of the cameras.

Ghostwatch is like a mix of War of the Worlds and found footage films. It's quite hard to imagine if it had been better back in 1992 and being familiar with the BBC people but here and now I wasn't that impressed. In some ways it feels more like an unintentional parody of TV documentaries with experts saying practically nothing worthwhile and the constant avoidance of any depth.

The case used is easily identifiable after seeing The Conjuring 2 (which is way better film, by the way). Ghostwatch doesn't really try to build any suspense and it feels like it's meant to be a one time practical joke for the Brits (which I kinda respect). Acting is not that great by the actual actors (the family and neighbors, experts were kinda fine) and it's hard to judge the presenter and reporters without seeing their normal work.

Respects for the trolling and not being terribly boring. Otherwise it just doesn't have much value (to me, at least). Trolling aspect keeps it barely above bad but I can't say that I enjoyed this one.

The People's Republic of Clogher
I think you need to have been there at the time for Ghostwatch. I was and definitely got taken in for at least the first half of the show - The BBC had a lot of complaints during and after the broadcast and the show has become quite infamous.

We were a lot more nieve in the early 90s.
"Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how the Tatty 100 is done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves." - Brendan Behan

The Libertine (2004) r

A story of John Wilmot, 2nd Earl of Rochester who was a skilled poet, an intellectual and a drunken debauchee in 17th century England.

First hour or little more of The Libertine is very good. It's pure dark comedy built around sex, alcohol and general immorality. Characters are great and dialogue is hilarious (like the introduction scene of Alcock). There's just enough serious undertones to make characters interesting while still focusing on the fun.

Last 30 minutes or so aren't as good. The transition to more serious drama doesn't really work. Wilmot's speech at the parliament comes out of nowhere like there's missing scenes. Pretty much the same can be said about his religious awakening at his deathbed (it seems that this historical fact is questioned by some). I'm not saying the last act is terrible but compared to rest of the film it's just considerably worse.

I like how The Libertine looks; the grainy and dark picture (I read it was mostly shot in candlelight) makes it look positively old. Settings and costumes are splendid. Acting is good and Depp's pompous mannerisms fit Wilmot perfectly.

From great comedy to mediocre drama. Fortunately the former part was longer so I can give this one a good rating.

Grave Encounters (2011) N

A found footage horror about people making ghost themed reality show. For their 6th episode they plan to spend a night in supposedly haunted and abandoned mental hospital. Because it's found footage we already know what happens.

Back in the day I liked The Blair Witch Project (I really need to rewatch that) but I don't like its legacy. Lots of found footage films are made by starting film makers because they're cheap to do. To me it's ultimately flawed concept because it both spoils the story beforehand (practically everyone follows the same formula otherwise as well) and kind of encourages bad cinematography.

Because of the great still images from the film I had some hopes for Grave Encounters but it ended up being just an average representative of a sub-genre I don't really think that much of. Some of the ghosts are great but they're not utilized properly (there's surprisingly little suspense in the film). Acting was quite bad too and the goofy introduction lasted way too long.

I didn't like this but if you're into found footage films you might get (much?) more from it. I was mostly just bored.

Jigoku (1960) r

A university student is preparing for a happy life as he's about to marry a daughter of a professor. One night a friend of his is driving them back from the professor's and they accidentally hit a drunken man. They leave the man to die and soon the student's life starts to crumble.

Jigoku is a weird movie. It's a drama about guilt and responsibility, a horror film about temptations and demons as well as an early gore film depicting the tortures of Hell in moderately graphic detail and even an arthouse film. It surely doesn't bow to conformity and actually manages to create a mess that's mostly enjoyable to watch.

Some concepts of guilt felt really odd to me (the main character is practically blaming himself of many things that aren't exactly his fault) and there are some oddities with the story as well (mostly about Tamura). Mostly the events during the first part escalate in good, albeit little funny, way. The second part in Hell is little mixed; I hated the constant running and screaming but some of the visuals and concepts were great.

As a whole it's very difficult to say anything about Jigoku. I'm still undecided if I consider it good film but lets, for once, risk erring upwards.

The Evil Within (2017) N

A mentally handicapped young man lives with his brother. His life starts to change when the brother brings home an antique mirror and his reflection starts to speak to him. Is it all just in his head, is the reflection really his friend or is there some sinister presence lurking beyond the glass surface?

The Evil Within is a weird film in many ways. Director Andrew Getty was a businessman whose childhood nightmares inspires him to make a movie. He had no prior experience and he financed the whole thing with his own money. The on-and-off shooting took six years. Post-production took another nine and finally in 2017, two years after Getty's death, the film was released.

Lack of film education shows clearly in The Evil Within in both good and bad. There are some highly unconventional shots (like the brother's meeting with the social services lady) and one of the best dream sequence introductions ever. On the other hand there's lots of terrible dialogue, some of the weird shots just don't work and pacing is all over the place. It's really sad that the film took so long to make and Getty never had a chance to make another because he clearly had some raw talent.

As a whole the film is really uneven ranging from absolutely wonderful to annoyingly bad. Luckily the former mostly outweighs the latter and after a long consideration (watched the film two days ago) I've decided to say it's just barely good. Also Frederick Koehler is great in the leading role and effects in the final scene look really good.

The Descent (2005) R

One year after losing her husband and daughter in an accident Sarah goes to caving expedition with her friends. It's supposed to be an easy thing in a beginner friendly and safe cave but the woman responsible for the arrangements has little more ambitous goals in mind. It's not "Boredom" caves but previously uncharted one... and they're not alone.

Neil Marshall started his career with a bang. His debut, Dog Soldiers, is a good modern werewolf movie and the follow-up to that, The Descent, is one of the best claustrophobic horrors. It would be so easy to go wrong with the concept of six women lost in a pitch black cave but Marshall manages to weave legit story and enough characterization into the mix making The Descent a proper movie instead of boring display of dark and darker scenes.

I like the acting by pretty much everyone. The shift from awkward and fake reunion to battle for survival works. The crawlers look creepy and proper underground dwellers (as usual their abilities change from scene to scene and in general they have amazingly bad hearing for creatures that use sound to know their environment). Violence is rather bloody and it has certain 80s feel to it. The film also looks great and keeps the shots just above too dark.

The Descent is not a perfect horror film but it's damn good. It's a shame that Neil Marshall hasn't made more horror after it (though that's about to change in next year).

Hour of the Wolf (1968) N

An artist and his pregnant wife are spending a summer on an island. Man is suffering from insomnia and fear of the dark and strange visions that may be dreams, memories or just twisted reality. On the other side of the island lives a baron with his cohort and the couple is invited into their lives.

At least after a single viewing Hour of the Wolf is a disappointment after a brilliant The Seventh Seal. There's no coherent storyline and it's very hard to get a hold of von Sydow's dreamy decent into madness. It works as a depiction of insanity though and it's possible that at least part of my negativity comes from false expectations (yeah, for some reason I though this had something to do with werewolf mythology).

Bergman manages to build very tense atmosphere and there's sort of threat in its unpredictability (the fishing scene is a good example). Acting is superb and I like the black-and-white visuals of the film. Monologues at the start and end felt somehow unnecessary just like the written introduction.

Little odd film that lacks the stuff I usually seek from movies (story and characters) but still there's something strangely fascinating in it.

The Descent: Part 2 (2009) R

Two days has passed since the end of part one. There's a rescue operation at Boreham Caves but no trace of the missing women. Then Sarah is found far away and the rescuers realize that they've been searching from the wrong cave. Three cave explorers, two cops and amnesiac Sarah go down the old mineshaft searching the other five women.

First The Descent managed to dodge most of the issues a dark cave dwelling horror can have but Part 2 doesn't succeed nearly as well. With no effort on characters the movie becomes a long, dark and dull "scare scene" that lacks most of the cinematic values of the first film. Characters are paper-thin, there's very little story (and even that little is just borrowed from the first part) and it just makes far less sense than the first.

With slightly bigger budget the sequel manages to look worse in every regard: darkness is far less threatening, crawlers move worse, gore effects look way more fake and in general acting isn't as good either. Most importantly Jon Harris just isn't nearly as good director as Neil Marshall. In a way I still like the concept though and I didn't exactly hate the film. It's just another pointless sequel.

Day for Night (1973) N

A film about making a film. Most of the actors are borderline psychotic and the director is stressed about the schedule as well as his artistic vision. That doesn't sound too interesting concept to me but the actual movie is way, way worse.

The only funny scene in the whole film

Quite often with films I don't like (or even hate) I can still see why someone else could possibly enjoy it but with Day for Night I'm completely clueless. It's taken me nearly two weeks to wade through this and I hated every minute the film was playing. It's like a slice of life about people I don't want to see doing their job and edited to be as painfully boring and unexiting as possible.

I didn't laugh to lead actress choosing the wrong door multiple times, I wasn't moved at all by the tedious repetition of the scene leading to that "comedy" and I couldn't appreciate the film's depiction of how difficult it is to shoot a movie (I'm kinda aware of that already). If this is typical Truffaut I better stay away from his works.

Ringu (1998) R

A reporter is investigating an urban legend about a cursed videotape that kills its viewers seven days later. When she finds the tape she becomes convinced that she's cursed as well. Together with her psychic ex-husband she tries to find a way to remove the curse.

Ringu is the first modern J-horror I ever saw and back in the day it was something different. With tiny budget Hideo Nakata manages to do what most horror films fail to achieve - it's genuinely creepy and at the same time it tells a story with relatable characters. Like his later Dark Water, Ringu is again very much like a stripped down version of The Changeling (I wonder if he likes that film). There are no jump scares, there's very little special effects or even specific scary scenes but still the feeling of dread and fear is palpable. At least for me it's one of the most effective horror films.

My only complaints are the psychic husband (to me it feels like a cheap way to advance the story but characters like him seem to be quite common in Far east horrors) and few scenes that underlined their message too much (like near the end when the reporter tried to figure what she did differently from the others). Acting is very good, Nakata is great director and the soundtrack is the voice of nightmares.

Great film that competes with Pulse for being the best J-horror (it's scarier for sure). A must see for all horror fans.