September 27, 2010

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2009)

(AKA Män som hatar kvinnor - "Men Who Hate Women")

"A journalist is aided in his search for a woman who has been missing - or dead - for forty years by a young female hacker."

Since I'm in a defending Swedish movies mood, I decided to watch all three of the "Millennium Trilogy" DVDs, based on the novels by Stieg Larsson, back to back. Sadly, just like "Let the Right One In", there are remakes on the horizon which nobody sane should ever want to watch so I advise you to pick these titles up now before all the confusion and online fighting sets in.

I know I'm a bit late reviewing "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", but to be perfectly honest (as I always am), from the description on the IMDb, it didn't sound like something I would be interested in. The funny thing was that every time I went to post an Amazon link to this blog, "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" kept popping up first in the affiliate link iframe so eventually it wore me down enough to give it a try. I added it to my Netflix queue, fell asleep watching it online, and then decided to get the DVD because it was actually very good. I just couldn't be bothered with all that "buffering" nonsense from the Netflix stream and wanted to watch this on the big telly anyway.

I also acquired the two "made for TV" sequels starring the same actors but with a change of director and screenwriter. The less said about them the better really as, although they were entertaining enough in their own way, they lacked the freshness and brutality of the first film.

So who is the "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"? Her name is Lisbeth Salander and she is played by a very skinny/athletic looking actress called Noomi Rapace. Never heard of her? No, nor me either. Her character is a hacker who has recently been released from a mental asylum for reasons which will become more obvious and important as the story progresses and she has a massive dragon tattoo on her back for no reason which is ever explained. It's interesting to note that the dragon tattoo is only a little one on her shoulder on the book covers but a massive big beast all over her back for the film even though it has no significance whatsoever to the story. I have a feeling that it was going to be explained sooner or later but the author died before completing the ten volumes he was planning to write so the trilogy leaves a lot of things unanswered.

Anyway, the film begins with a middle-aged reporter named Blomkvist getting convicted of libel and facing a jail sentence for a piece he wrote about a crooked businessman. None of that is overly important as it just provides a convenient way for him to leave the Millennium magazine which he writes for to do some freelance private detective work for an old rich guy whose daughter went missing forty years ago. This is the main story but because of how badass Lisbeth Salander is introduced it becomes far less interesting than her life. It's like having two main stories running at the same time which throw up hints and clues to the other story. Yes, it's hard to explain but pretty easy to follow even though the missing girl story becomes little more than a cipher to get Blomkvist and Lisbeth bonded together.

All three films have the same structure so I would hazard a guess, having never read the books, that the main story is only ever used to focus on the two leads. The second film brings up "human trafficking" and then doesn't really go anywhere with it once Lisbeth's story comes to the fore again. I don't see this as a flaw though. It's just a different way of doing things and can really only work when you have interesting characters like her in the first place.

The acting in all three films, though particularly "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo", is really good and has to be since everything in them dispels the myths that Sweden is full of tall, beautiful blondes. The actors are ordinary looking to say the least and wouldn't be out of place in a British soap opera such as "Eastenders". It's all about pimples, skin pores, acne scars and wrinkles rather than the plastic beauty of Hollywood. These people have lived-in faces and it makes the whole thing a lot more realistic even if some of the coincidences in the plot strain credibility to the maximum along the way.

Of course the most memorable moments from "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" either involve sex scenes, brutal violence, or a mixture of the two. If you've seen "Eastern Promises" then think along those lines. When something happens, it's so not what you are expecting considering the almost "CSI" nature of the rest of it. One thing is for certain, you won't see this uncut on American television any time soon. To say any more would give too much away but suffice it to say that what happens in the first film continues into the second and third parts as well.

The missing girl story of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" actually becomes a quite convoluted tale about a serial killer with a bit of a twist at the end. I've been trying to think if I'd ever seen anything like it before and I have to admit that it seems to be original. I'm sure it has been done before somewhere especially as all these films have an element of Greek mythology about them which is even mentioned, but I can't remember where. Again, to start trying to make parallels to similar plots in other films would ruin it for you so I won't.

Things you will notice because they are glaringly obvious is the amount of product placement for lots of Apple, Sony and Nokia electronic equipment along the way. Maybe I'm nit-picking a bit but would a hacker really use an Apple computer rather than a PC? I've always thought of them as being computers for people who can't really use a computer, but I may be wrong. Since I'm one of those people who uses Ubuntu for everything, I'm in no position to criticize their choice of operating systems anyway even if they do seem to be easily hackable.

But I digressed. "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" is an amazing, classy, iconic and quite powerful film in places let down by a made for TV feel and a few plotholes that were better left unfilled by its definitely made for TV sequels. You don't have to watch the sequels, "The Girl Who Played with Fire" and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest", if you don't want to because "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" works as a complete standalone movie in itself. I watched all three and was a little bit disappointed, but I got addicted and had to see how the story turned out. After watching the "Bourne" and "Matrix" trilogies, I should have known better really.

I'm going to give "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" an 8 out of 10. I haven't given a numerical score to a film for ages so think of it as a novelty. The only reason it loses marks is because it didn't really go far enough with the serial killing angle and went too far in other ways without a satisfying conclusion. I rate both the sequels as 6 out of 10 because they felt like the first and second parts of a miniseries rather than separate films and were certainly long enough to be so.

September 21, 2010

Let Me In (2010)

"A bullied young boy befriends a young female vampire who lives in secrecy with her guardian."

No, I haven't seen this. It isn't even released until October 1st. I'm not ever going to watch it either.

When I first heard that there was going to be a remake of "Let the Right One In", I honestly thought it was a joke. Unfortunately, it has now become a reality and it disgusts me.

Why would anyone feel the need to remake one of the most perfect Swedish vampire movies ever apart from the slightly dodgy CGI cat scene? And now it seems that Eli really will be a girl rather than a castrato just to completely dumb things down for the masses.

Honestly, if subtitles are that much of an effort to read then do yourselves a huge favour and learn how to read and write in the first place rather than whining about it until some other moron has to remake every foreign movie for the hard of understanding. What next? Remakes of the entire collection of Jean-Luc Godard or Ingmar Bergman classics?

For those of you who loved "Let the Right One In", just watch the trailer and weep over the terrible casting and piss poor hack job that the director of the equally crappy "Cloverfield" has made. I wonder how many hundreds of times the characters will shriek and cry, "Oh My God!" in this travesty?

I suggest you boycott this film at the movie theatres and then let it rot in the bargain DVD bins in 6 months time alongside all those copies of "The Fog" and "Psycho" remakes that nobody in their right mind will ever buy.

Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010)

"While still out to destroy the evil Umbrella Corporation, Alice joins a group of survivors who want to relocate to the mysterious but supposedly unharmed safe haven known only as Arcadia."

I love Milla Jovovich, but she really has to stop making these crappy "Resident Evil" sequels. "Resident Evil: Afterlife" looks good, but it has no real plot worth mentioning, and will just make you wonder why you wasted another hour and a half on this rubbish.

There is no attempt at characterisation whatsoever in this sequel and, unless you've watched the first three films, you'll be completely lost as to what is going on. Even if you have watched the first three films, you'll probably still be left clueless because this film has only a passing resemblance to anything "Resident Evil" related in the first place. Yes, it all looks the same, has far too many "Matrix"-style, slow-motion action scenes, some weird creatures created by the T-virus, and all the other stuff, but it just doesn't have the "survival horror" feel of the previous movies or any of the games. I'm sure even devoted "Resident Evil" fans are disappointed too.

Before this I actually enjoyed "Resident Evil: Extinction" even though it was just another zombie film. I even bought it on DVD. I won't be buying "Resident Evil: Afterlife" when it comes out though as it had nothing in it worth watching again. Ali Larter looked amazingly sexy and really put Milla Jovovich in the shade this time round, but that isn't a good enough reason to want this film in my collection.

I suppose I enjoyed the action scenes and the 3D shenanigans, but they were all just set pieces which didn't have a real story behind them. There's lots of "Equilibrium"-style gun play and creatures which could not possibly exist being shot, blown-up and hacked to pieces, but it all felt empty and soulless. I really wanted this to be the best "Resident Evil" film so far so I was very disappointed that it turned out to be one of the worst.

As much as I want to write a really long review tearing everything apart and explaining how derivative it all was of every other sci-fi/zombie "survival horror" story out there, I really don't want to waste any more time on "Resident Evil: Afterlife" than I already have. I still think Milla Jovovich is gorgeous, but she's never really been able to act much. These big-budget, computer-generated farces won't do anything to change that one way or another.

Devil (2010)

"A group of people trapped in an elevator realize that the devil is among them."

I'm not much of an M. Night Shyamalan fan and, even though he only wrote "Devil" and left the directing to John Erick Dowdle, I wasn't expecting much of this film at all.

At 80 minutes long, it was a nice quick ride through some strangely familiar territory. I felt that I'd seen most of it before and done better especially the opening suicide falling from a tall building. I suppose if it worked for "The Happening" then there was no reason not to do it again. Such is the lack of imagination in anything from Hollywood lately.

Many years ago there was a much better German film set in an elevator called "Abwärts" which I have also reviewed. There was no devil or supernatural element at all to that story but it was much more entertaining. Maybe it was that I didn't know enough about the characters in "Devil" to care about them or maybe it was just too quickly paced but I couldn't really get into it at all. Everything was very two dimensional and just too superficial.

The only moment that stood out for me was when the maintenance guy was chasing his hat across the roof of the skyscraper and stopped right at the edge. I thought he was going to run right off the building and go plummeting to his death. I'm scared of heights and that bit gave me the appropriate shudder. Apart from that, there was nothing scary or horrific about "Devil" but I didn't think there would be in a PG-13 rated film anyway.

The big selling point is, of course, the question of who is the devil. It's supposed to be a big twist and nothing you would expect but it just fell flat for me. I could even tell who the devil was going to be from the trailer by a simple process of elimination. I hate it when they do stuff like that. In fairness, there will be some people who will get a surprise out of it and think "Devil" was a good film but, unless you are a teenager, it probably won't be you.

I don't think it's really worth discussing the religious aspects and any questions they might throw up because, basically, this isn't a very memorable or worthwhile movie in the first place. You can't liken this to something like "Angel Heart", "Fallen" or even "Devil's Advocate" because the twist (not that it's really a twist anyway) and revelation which follows isn't enough to make anyone even care. I feel like I just watched a "Hallowe'en Special" of some throwaway TV show that I have no interest in ordinarily.

I don't recommend "Devil" to anyone. It was too short, too uninvolving and, although watchable, was just a whole load of nothing really. I didn't even fancy the girl in it.

September 18, 2010

The Aristocats (1970)

Want to know what really scares me? DISNEY! I've only ever seen a few Disney films back when I was a really little kid and didn't know any better plus a couple of episodes of "The Wonderful World of Disney" from the '70s neither of which I can remember apart from one of them starring Jaclyn Smith from "Charlie's Angels". I only remember that one because I was so surprised to see the most beautiful woman on the planet at that time in something so childish.

So with great trepidation I recently bought "The Aristocats" on VHS from a yard sale for $1 and tried to watch it. IT WAS CRAP! Even for little kids, stuff like this is insipid, tedious and boring with no entertainment value whatsoever.

I'm not a parent except of two cats (only one of which sings) and I found the whole thing to be totally unrealistic. For the love of all that's furry, do not let your children watch rubbish like this! No wonder the world is as messed up as it is if there have been generations of parents forcing their children to watch this tripe. They'd have been better off letting them watch Dario Argento movies and that's saying something.

For a start, cats do not speak English even to each other nor do any of them wear clothes on a regular basis. I've certainly never seen any of them play a musical instrument either except by accidentally walking across a piano keyboard. What lies are Disney telling your children with this? They should be ashamed.

The animation is pretty bad even for the time period. I once watched parts of Disney's "Robin Hood" and even that was better. The soundtrack was terrible too. You can't even call anything by Maurice Chevalier music and the rest of the "songs" were instantly forgettable and just horrible.

Of course, if you really want a good animated cat movie you have to get "Gay Purr-ee" from 1962. Even though it has Judy Garland in it, the story is far more satisfying and, as you can see from the trailer below, it is much more realistic.

If you really wanted to torture somebody, you don't need to use waterboarding or pulling fingernails out, just make your victim watch "The Aristocats" over and over again. This is without doubt the worst movie ever made.

Frozen (2010)

"Three skiers are stranded on a chairlift and forced to make life-or-death choices that prove more perilous than staying put and freezing to death."

Adam Green's latest offering left me cold. Although "Frozen" is really very much in the tradition of "Open Water" and other films of that ilk where people get left stranded and in danger, it wasn't really horror and it bored me.

Technically it was great, the actors were all really good and the camerawork was just how it should be. The trouble was that Adam Green isn't the best writer in the world and he really threw any attempt at realism out of the window.

For me it's all about minor quibbles based on my lack of willing suspension of disbelief. I couldn't believe in yet another movie where nobody had a cellphone, could survive two days and nights in the freezing cold or could drop 100ft down and only break a leg. Plus when did wolves ever get brave enough to attack the skiers at a resort or be able to outrun one?

I didn't like the characters all that much either. I've never been skiing (and have no desire to) so I can't say if they were typical of the kids who go to these things. If they are then I'm even more glad that I have no interest in skiing as I'd hate to meet any of these morons in real life. Why didn't they just make a rope out of their clothes and climb down? They could even have climbed along the cable with their legs wrapped round it until they reached a lower position to jump from. If I was in that situation, I would have thrown the irritating girl down first and landed on top of her!

Just like "Open Water" all the waiting for something to happen should have been used as tension but it just ended up as boredom. Even the latex-based frostbite moments did little to spice things up and you can see the best one in the trailer anyway.

The whole film just seems contrived to make the audience accept completely illogical decisions as perfectly reasonable and insult their intelligence in the process. Of course, if it wasn't for the totally unrealistic situation and the characters' responses to it then "Frozen" wouldn't exist as a movie at all. Maybe that would have been a better option.

Dead Birds (2004)

"A group of Confederate soldiers who hole up in an abandoned plantation after robbing a bank, and find themselves at the mercy of supernatural forces."

"Dead Birds" was the latest in a long line of crappy DVDs that I've rented from Netflix this month. It's not that the film itself was completely awful but the DVD itself was scuffed up so badly that it was skipping and sticking all over the place at the beginning.

From the titles "Dead Birds" looked like a quality production and the opening bank robbery scene was really very well done. A head being blown off with a shotgun was completely lush and the gunfight as the robbers made their escape was realistic and suitably exciting. A lot of attention was obviously paid to the costumes and look of the actors but somehow the characters were a little bit on the bland side. I'm not entirely sure if this was down to the casting of the actors themselves or just lacklustre writing but, either way, I started to worry that this was going to be as bad as "Fort Doom" (also from 2004) which was set in the same time period.

But then things started to get creepy. On reaching the deserted plantation which would become the robbers' hideout and setting for the rest of the events, everything changed into something that H.P. Lovecraft would have been proud of and therein lies a problem. On the one hand there were some great effects, jump scares and atmosphere but, on the other, there were also a lot of times where everything lagged and nothing made a great deal of sense.

Some reviewers have pointed out that "Dead Birds" is very derivative of "The Evil Dead". It's easy to see what they mean as both stories share the basic idea of a group of people trapped in a house where demons have been summoned previously but "Dead Birds" has a lot more of a ghost story feel to it. I wish that it had actually been a ghost story rather than going for gory effects and demons as it might have worked better. It was all a bit incoherent at times and reminded me of Japanese horror. I noticed that the backstory had to be explained three times as well which would have been unnecessary if there had been better writing to begin with.

As I said, "Dead Birds" isn't a completely awful film but it really does have a lot of flaws which are largely to do with the pacing and lack of charisma of any of the actors. Henry Thomas' performance as the leader was very weak and he was totally eclipsed by Nicki Aycox in any scene he shared with her. They've both done a lot of TV work and horror before but only Nicki Aycox seemed to be really into this and did a great job with what she had to work with. Michael Shannon was completely wasted in his role too. Really if you are going to use actors of this calibre you should at least give them something to get their teeth into and cast them appropriately.

The rating for "Dead Birds" on the IMDb is currently way too high at 5.7 out of 10. It's actually worth half of that because it had a lot of potential but ultimately failed to deliver on any level. It wasn't gory enough, wasn't scary enough, was overambitious as a "thinking man's horror" and mostly made a mess of following tried and tested formulas. I still enjoyed some of it, but it isn't a film that I'd want to watch again.

September 11, 2010

I got a couple of awards while I was away

Thanks to Jinx and Spooky Pie, I now have a couple of new awards. Click the images below to find out more.

There are still got another four weeks to go before I can get back to doing my blog regularly due to the intensive training course I am on (which I'm not allowed to talk about), having to study for an exam and a ton of other stuff that always seems to be getting in the way.

I've just watched "The Last Exorcism" and I wasn't overly impressed by it even though the acting was quite good. I really don't have any time for these fake documentary-style films (or "cinéma vérité" if you want to be pedantic) in the first place. I don't even like "The Blair Witch Project" all that much. It seems that every time somebody makes one of these films they ruin it all with motion sickness inducing camerawork and stupid endings.

The latest big release for movie bloggers seems to be "Machete" which I have absolutely no interest in watching at all. It isn't horror, sci-fi or anything along those lines but if it crops up on TV in a few years time and there's nothing else on, I might give it a go. I recently saw "Bitch Slap" (which I got from Netflix) so I'm down with the kids when it comes to fake "grindhouse" (an overused term) and exploitation movies but, again, they aren't something that I watch regularly.

"Bitch Slap" was a terrible movie but the eyecandy was good. As a very poor man's "Kill Bill" it sort of worked but I can't recommend it to anyone but the very easily pleased.

In other news, I have found nothing new in Big Lots for months now so I think that source of cheap horror DVDs has pretty much dried up. I did buy a video camera there with my 20% loyalty discount so I might have to start making my own films now. Only kidding. I couldn't do much worse that the movies on the three Echo Bridge "Horror Collector's Set" packs which I got from Wal-Mart for $5 each though. I don't recommend even paying $5 each for these titles, but, in case you haven't seen them, here are the sleeves:

Having just been down to the local "Swap Shop" (a pawn shop for those of us of a different culture), I returned with a new two-disc special edition of "300" to replace one that I lent to somebody and never got back, "The Bourne Supremacy", "The Bourne Ultimatum" and yet another Echo Bridge "Horror Collector's Set" which I can't find an image for on Amazon. It seems you have to be careful with these Echo Bridge packs because they tend to swap the movies around on them and put out 2 movie and 6 movie versions of the same thing as well. The only one I'm missing now is the "Vampires Collection" which I know Target usually carries but it was out of stock last week when I went there.

Anyway, so far I have:

Night of the Living Dead
Razor Eaters
Cruel World

Live Animals
Wages of Sin
Skeleton Man

Bloody Mary


Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep
Howling IV: The Original Nightmare
Night Shadow
Raging Sharks

It seems there's a 6 movie "Horror Collector's Set" with the original "Prom Night" and "Ghoulies IV" on it and a slightly different 4 pack with "The Nurse" on it instead of one of the other titles. Echo Bridge have also created these:

and now this:

I'm sure they do it just to confuse me. :)