Back in the day I was confident that the Japanese version of The Ring (aka Ringu) was the scariest movie I had ever seen. However in subsequent years the reputation of Jap horror and it’s uprising has been diluted by a series of inferior American remakes and over-use of some of its tropes (there’s always a dead girl with long hair over her face). So my attention waned. Yet recently I’d been craving that ‘something special’ I had originally stumbled upon, and so I found myself lured back when I saw this get the special edition treatment.
Coming from the director of the Ring movies, Hideo Nakata my hopes were high and although I’m aware of the U.S. remake of the same name I’ve never bothered to see it. Here we have a fairly familiar story of a single mother and her little girl, who move into a run down apartment building during a messy custody battle between the woman and her ex-husband. Whilst there, it becomes clear there’s a strange presence, seemingly linked to a patch of water coming through the ceiling of the apartment. Set in an eerie pastel-grey coloured building, the atmosphere is one of stillness and gently growing dread. Performances on a whole are decent but it’s the story that intrigues, helped in no small way by Nakata’s masterly direction that fills the rather slow pace with discomfort and genuine creepiness. I’ve said it before but something that is sorely lost when such movies get remade, is a sense of their setting, something that works particularly well here. Something about how Japanese actors portray themselves, their formalities and customs and how they interact with one another can be ‘eerie’ at times, and it’s no different here. The mystery at the heart of this is a good one and builds to an intense climax with at least one truly terrifying moment. It may not be that far removed from what Nakata did in Ring, but how he makes something as familiar as water, constant rain or an over-flowing bath unnerving, is an accomplishment in it’s self. One of the other great Jap horrors you might have missed … that’s well worth seeking out.
As expected from Arrow Video this is another packed Blu-ray release. Image quality is a little underwhelming whilst clean but very soft, seeming to lack fine detail overall but does it’s job for what is purposely a dreary looking movie. I should add that on the whole the subtitles are good but occasionally white backgrounds can cause some of them to become less clear to read. Sound is much more impressive and helps build up atmosphere with good separation to make things like running footsteps and dripping water very effective. We also get a detailed booklet in the case as well as the Blu-ray & DVD. Extras consist of several featurettes including interviews with cast, as well as a couple more pieces, one being a new interview with Hideo Nakata, discussing his work and themes. No commentary isn’t all that surprising, and along with dual sided cover art, this is another decent release.
The arrival of a mysterious Japanese hermit in a small South Korean village sparks suspicion and escalating stories amongst the townsfolk, which quickly turn to hysteria when a strange virus begins to cause the people to turn violent and kill each other. A bumbling Police Sergeant becomes involved in the investigation and soon learns his young daughter may have contracted the same virus.
This acclaimed horror / thriller is directed with no-end of visual flair by Na Hong-jin (The Chaser) and is filled with interesting, flawed but very believable characters and not-unlike-Seven atmosphere in a constantly rain-swept village. It has a very compelling mystery at it’s core and several strong performances that kept me interested. The inclusion of Korean and Christian beliefs and superstition mixed with the spreading of rumours and prejudice towards the mystery hermit was also a clever approach. Add to this some gorgeous cinematography as well as several memorable scenes and I was having a great experience with this latest Korean effort.
However as the story neared it’s conclusion, a twist turned events on their head but thankfully impressed me with how well it suddenly made everything fall into place … that was until a second twist turned that revelation on it’s head also, and then I was left confused. Up until that point I’d been gripped and the very well observed and powerful ‘father trying to save his daughter’ narrative was looking to make this an easy recommendation. But despite a dark-as-it-gets ending (which did leave it’s mark) I came way feeling rather cheated. Shame.
Another entry in my growing collection of Brian De Palma movie reviews, this time the director’s much admired thriller from 1980. This is probably the movie that borrows most from Italian Giallo, a genre of stalk and slash thrillers made famous by directors like Mario Bava and of course, Dario Argento. It also borrows heavily from Hitchcock (especially Psycho), another of De Palma’s regular influences.
A house wife (Angie Dickinson) trapped in a sexually unfulfilling marriage, finds herself yearning for an affair and confesses as much to her psychiatrist (Michael Caine). However following a chance encounter at an art gallery that leads to a one night stand, the housewife is brutally murdered. A hooker (Nancy Allen) turns out to be the only witness.
A very of-it’s-time experience initially, with some explicit nudity and rather awkwardly handled sex making early scenes resemble a porn film. However once the killer strikes things shift into gear dramatically and De Palma’s cinematic flair spreads it’s wings. This is another movie that is visually captivating and often ingenious … a stand out art gallery sequence and a tense subway scene both showcasing a director at the top of his game. Add to this a murder-mystery plot that twists and turns wonderfully and even when you discover who the killer is, re-watching certain scenes reveal clever little details and clues. The acting is mostly adequate with even Michael Cain proving limited and at times a bit wooden … although Nancy Allen proves much more enjoyable. However like the Giallo the movie tips it’s hat to; acting and performances aren’t the big draw, more so tension and style and well, the occasional bloody murder. The movie lacks the body-count of a fully fledged Italian thriller, and retains it’s own quirks, with the inclusion of a geeky science student (Keith Gordon) and a stereotypical Police chief (Dennis Franz). As a package though this delivers a gripping narrative with some genuinely impressive sequences, worthy of it’s legacy.
The Blu-ray from Arrow Video boasts a rather soft-focus but otherwise clean image. Colours are rather muted and overall it’s simply acceptable with no real ‘wow’ factor. More note-worthy is the sound, with a dramatic, perfectly implemented orchestral score and crisp dialogue, both in stereo and a punchy 5.1 HD Master Audio. I should add that the movie is uncut for the first time in the UK. Extras are plentiful with several featurettes, including a detailed making of as well as a photo gallery. There’s also a detailed booklet included that covers the director’s influences and an analysis of the movie by critic Maitland McDonagh. Again no commentary from De Palma which would have been great but as it stands this is decent treatment for a somewhat forgotten classic.
There’s certainly been a number of quality movies coming out of Korea in recent years … from the acclaimed films of Park-chan Wook (‘Old Boy’, ‘Sympathy for Mr Vengeance’) to quality horror like ‘I Saw The Devil’. So I thought after enjoying such movies, I’d better seek out some more Korean cinema. So we come to this much talked about take on the 28 Days Later formula of a virus outbreak and a hoard of ‘infected’. This time during a routine train journey.
We’re introduced to a businessman (Yoo Gong) going through a messy divorce and trying to retain some sort of relationship with his daughter. However on a train journey to take her back to her mother, said business man and a group of interesting characters soon discover that a virus has broken out and is spreading like wildfire. This is classic stuff, not dissimilar to a disaster movie where the viewer is introduced to a range of personalities each with their own agendas and back stories. However with the threat of a growing number of infected on the train and not knowing if the destination is safe, a battle for survival quickly ensures with tension cranked up to 11. I felt this brought back genuine thrills and intensity to horror that seems to have been missing for a while. It favours heart-in-mouth moments (whenever a window shatters) over gore and has impressive CGI and slick production values throughout.
The setting was claustrophobic and made for some genuinely chilling moments and the range of different characters (all well acted, particularly the young girl) made me care for not just the principle leads but almost everyone (bar a particularly selfish guy who you’ll be booing towards the end). It’s the sort of movie that keeps you guessing about who will survive and how things will turn out and for me, made for probably the best movie of the year so far.
Despite my liking of director Kevin Smith as a pop-culture icon and as a director, my expectations of this low budget indie comedy were considerably dialled back following Smith’s own admission of the movie’s less than stellar reception from critics. However I was still willing to give it a chance and what I’d seen and heard still appealed.
Two convenience store clerks (a Kevin Smith regular theme) both named Colleen (Lily-Rose Depp and Harley Quinn Smith) hate their jobs, wish they were singers in a band (and sort of are with their drummer Adam Brody) and long for something else in life, other than practicing Yoga and staring at their phones. Then one night the store comes under attack from a race of miniature Nazis and the girls find themselves the only two people who can save the world from a Nazi uprising … in Canada at least.
This isn’t a movie you go and see for the plot, as it’s bizarre and stupid and really just an excuse for Smith to throw in a lot of Canadian satire of Mounties, hockey, beavers and people saying ‘sorry aboot that’ all the time. It’s mildly-amusing but also a bit of an oddity not helped by mostly poor, cartoonish acting. Smith’s daughter is watchable but lacking and the same can be said of Johnny Depp’s daughter, and well neither of them can sing but I’m guessing that was intentional. Also Johnny Depp himself has an extended, near-unrecognisable appearance that’s typically caricature for the actor these days and certainly one of his least memorable. Much of the entertainment here comes from the Canadian in-jokes so if you’re not familiar with any of that a great deal of this will go over your head. The combination of Canadian and Nazi imagery certainly proved curiously intriguing and well, the Bratzi’s are so ridiculous they’re actually fun … and the climax involving a big monster is a lot of fun too. Yet it remains a movie that feels stitched together from ideas that should have either been fleshed out or left alone entirely, because really – who comes up with this material and were they smoking something at the time? However, this wasn’t as awful as I was lead to believe but certainly wasn’t that great either. Smith can and has done a lot better. One for the curious or die-hard Smith fans only.