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Friday, July 25, 2014

The Parasite (1997) Horror Psychic

The Parasite (1997)  This small independent film has been sitting the Soresport collections for years and it was intended to be reviewed back to back with the Parasite (1982) was reviewed but we never got to it. So here is the deal with this film, it appears to be the story of how a psychic using her strong will can project that will into others making them do as she wishes. Not everyone find this amusing particularly the people she controls so the story is one of first showing that the power is real to the audience and to the characters surrounding the psychic; then showing how powerful that control can be through the plight of the victims. Finally we watch as those affected by this power fight back to try to regain control of their lives.
  The opening is after the first victim has had enough but before our main character and second victim is enthralled. We see victim 1, Charles Sadler (David W. Akin) as he attempts to write a suicide note. We see the struggle he is having internally as his hand quivers and stops writing. We don't know what his struggle is about yet so we only see him as emotionally unstable. When he reaches for a knife and slams it through his hand we begin to believe that control of that hand was lost and his pain brings it back under his control. In a low budget film like this there are some tricks that work to avoid costly special effects while giving the impression of them. In this early scene we see Charles raise the knife poised over his disagreeable hand. Cut to the grunt and the knife blade jutting out from the bottom of the table. Then to complete the illusion his bloody hand sitting on a pool of blood on the note.
  The promise of this opening is followed with the more mundane but necessary establishing of the main character and plot. We are introduced to Professor Richard Austin (David Gaffney), scenes of establishing him as a good professor with a promising research career ay the college, a loving fiancee to the beautiful Audrey (Marissa Hall). We meet his coworker  Professor John Wilson (Robert Taminga) who is a paranormal researcher because at one time frauds could actually get jobs researching the make believe. He introduces Richard to our antagonist Helena Voyich (Julia Matias) a psychic who is pushing the notion that through her strong will she can remotely control others. We are allowed to see her establish her powers on Audrey, using her powers of suggestion to have the young woman temporarily break off her engagement to Richard. Convinced Richard and Wilson embark on immediate experiments to prove the powers Voyich has expressed can be measured and documented. Richard so impressed agrees to be the subject of the experiments.
 Soon though he is getting warning from Charles while through a sequence we see cracks forming in his life. He is being controlled by the the psychic at the expense of his relationship, job performance and his own research. This section of the film takes too long with everything that was set up in the character building in the first third of the film being meticulously pulled apart in this third of the movie. Richard misses appointments, fails to file for his grants in time, begins to have dreams about his fiance that alienate him. Maybe this would have worked better if the acting was not so unconvincing. For many of the actors this was their only film credit and the less than stellar performances make the film less believable.
  Eventually we get to the discovery and climax third of the the film. Richard realizes that he is not only the subject of Wilson's research but that Voyich has put some controls on his that he find very unacceptable. This structurally works as the casting of the attractive Marissa Hall as Audrey nicely contrasts the plain looks of Matias as Voyich. Add to it the pernounce physical impairment of the psychic and the nature of the controls with the emotional confessions of Voyich and there is a real reason for the climax. This climax leads to a twist realization in the end of the film but unfortunately the second act drags a bit too much before you get to the more exciting third act. That with the unimpressive acting and it really pulls this film away from a recommendation here at Soresport Movies.
  There was one thing that stands out to ask the writer about the script. Considering the name of the film, Parasite and a couple visually queues I wondered if this film was originally meant to be more than just a film about an unstable psychic getting her way with men. Early at the party where she is introduced she is holding a strange box of some kind. Is there a physical parasite in that box? Then when Audrey is being mesmerized Yoyich puts her fingers near Audrey's ear and there seems to be a slight blue glow. Is this the introduction of an actual parasite. One has to wonder if the original story was more about some alien organism and was later rewritten. Attempting to find an email for the writer was challenging eventually Writer Patrick Roddy was found at his LinkedIn account (at least I think it was his). It will be an odd connection request where he is asked about his first film. Either way the film works for what it is, whether you take the psychic as a literal parasite using her powers to suck physical relationships from her male victims or is there had been some sort of alien parasite in the script at one time. Either way the plain acting and mundane script do not quite give the audience enough to want to see this again. So no recommendation on this film but still it gave me something to think and write about.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Oldboy (2003) - Thriller Revenge

Oldboy (2003) - This film has been on my "I need to watch it" list for quite a long time, having heard so many wonderful, fawning, excited and opinions of wonderment about this film that it seemed for sure when the viewing finally happened only disappointment could follow.  On IMDB this film has a 8.4 user rating so to say that it has an enthusiastic following is an understatement. So when I decided to pop it in last night I was a bit weary. I started watching the film and the English dubbing was on and it was so bad that changing to Korean with English subtitles was necessary just to begin watching. Once into the film I was amazed that this film is as good as people have been bragging about. It is an amazingly twisted story that not only is well set up and filmed but also has a dynamic that raises it above other films.
  Going in this film seems like one thing but by the end has transformed into something completely different. It has a unique structure where the viewer is set up to have a set of beliefs about the main character. Set up to be the unsympathetic character Dae-su Oh (Min-sik Choi) is a bit of a shitty person, a drunk and an absentee father. We meet him in a police station after being picked up for public intoxication abusive and his behavior does not immediately make him endearing. When he is bailed out by his friend No Joo-hwan (Dae-han Ji) he is an ass. While making a drunken phone call to his daughter, No Joo-hwan takes the receiver and when he turns around his drunk friend is missing. Next we get a series of scenes that make him the sympathetic character.
  Dae-su Oh has been abducted and he is next seen in a cell begging for his release. We through a sequence of scenes watch as he is kept captive for 15 years. Through cycles of grief in his captivity, to the insanity that comes with isolation to learning his wife has been murdered he is a lost soul without answers to why this is happening to him. A television his only eye into the world outside he loses his mind. His suicide attempts make you feel for his suffering, his physical training we think he only lives to get revenge on those who did this to him, his writing in his journal about all the people he wronged does nothing to get any answers to who but shows that he is a man who learns what a bad person he is. Escape is impossible and viewers have also the knowledge that his mind is also being manipulated through hypnosis. He is regularly gassed and cared for so he is alive but captive and trained to a schedule. The one thing he does that fight this control is trying to tunnel out of his cell through a hole in the wall behind his bed. When at last he removes one brick from the outer wall of his prison, enough to stick his hand out and feel rain for the first time in 15 years, the audience expectations are he is getting close to escape. He goes to sleep as the gas fills his room this time with a smile on his face. So when he wakes on a rooftop in a new suit with all his writing and personal items intact we are all on board with him being sympathetic character. We are also surprised since the buildup was all about him finally having a chance to escape so are expectations as viewers have to re-adjust.
  The story as it unfolds is Dae-su attempting to find out who it was that imprisoned him and why. We are into his story at this point and figure all that is to come is about his revenge for his incarceration. Writer Garon Tsuchiya does an excellent job at revealing the the details across the span of the film. One piece at a time small clues from his captivity are deciphered and he learns what he needs to know. Along the way we see him find love again with a much younger women, Mi-do (Hye-jeong Kang) a chef who surprisingly finds him attractive. When he finally finds out who and why and the villain (?) of the film is revealed Woo-jin Lee (Ji-tae Yu) we the audience realize that maybe we may have been cheering for the wrong person in this film. While leading us to feel that this is a film about Dae-su's vengeance we learn really this is a film about Woo-jin's revenge. The twists and turns in the final third of this film are mind boggling, after the first viewing you can see the foreshadowing in the early part of the film but on the virgin viewing it is a wonderful set of revelations. This dichotomy of characters and the cruel turns and surprising revelations make the first viewing of this film a singular wonder.
  The tatters of the end of this story are so sad, so profoundly disturbing that this viewer was left in awe at Dae-su's final decisions. Again becoming somewhat sympathetic because of the cruel event that have occurred he makes a decision which viewers can debate for hours after viewing this film.  It is not just that though, the decisions of Woo-jin after the loss of his beloved sister Lee Soo-ah are amazing. It is his vengeance against Dae-su that is the driving force of this film. It is he that was wronged and left empty that drive the events of the film. It is such a refreshing story in that in it we get established on one person as the victim of events but then realize that we don't know shit. Ultimately we can still sypathize with Dae-su but you have to love that the story challenges the viewer to understand that his is not guilt free. Refusing to spoil any of this film is important so that all of you go watch this film as it is highly recommended by this blog.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Snowpiercer (2013) Sci-Fi

Snowpiercer (2013) - From writer / director Joon-ho Bong who is known for The Host (2006) and Mother (2009); he is a writer and director who has proved to have chops.  Watching this film at the Brattle Theater in historic Harvard Square this viewer was involved but tepid in losing himself in the film. It could be the two teen boy sitting behind me who could not help but to comment each time something stretching the bounds of logic happened on screen. It could have been the way Joon-ho Bong keeps the audience off kilter by mixing violence with bits of humor. It could have been the inevitability of the story. It gives viewers an allegory attempting a big message of class struggle with violence and humor underwhelms in the end. Snowpiercer comes four years after his last film, so plenty of time has been spent getting this film together. The futuristic fantasy of the poor rising up to fight free of their allotted station in life seems a well worn track. Working for the first time with English speaking actors, and partnering with the Harvey Weinstein Company for US distribution this was a new experience for Joon-ho Bong and he has gone out of his way in interviews to say that the cut the American audiences are seeing is the one he wants them to see.
 Ed Harris) who created a track around the world in which it takes one year to complete a loop. Seen as crazy at the time of its building this self perpetuating, self contained ecosystem would end up being the last salvation for mankind. When the nations of the world attempt to cool the atmosphere with a revolutionary chemical. A way to fight global warming not through elimination of its causes but through new science, they accidentally freeze the planet. All life becomes extinct except for the travelers on the Snowpiercer. The wealthy who could afford the ticket live in luxury in the front of the train and the last refugees of the great freeze who fought their way onto the rear live in poverty. Bashing the audience over the head with the classes could be scene as overkill or is the director just creating the contrast needed to give the audience stakes?
In a future world there exists a train Snowpiercer, the vision of Wilford (
 Starring Chris Evan as Curtis, a reluctant revolutionary with a dark past who is mentored to leadership by Gilliam (John Hurt) too old to lead himself but not too old to move a younger man forward. Living at the rear of the train, the Snowpiercer, they are the lowest of the low. A caste who survive on protein bars (What are those bars made from?) and are subjugated to humiliations by the security forces. They are told all people have their lot in life and their lot is poverty in the last couple cars of this self contained ecosystem endlessly traversing the world. They are ruthlessly dealt with if they step out of line like when their children are taken never to be seen again. They are just the people who have to rise up and overthrow the order of things. Along the way though is an amazingly violent and trippy adventure through the train. Thinking about the setup as an allegory of how the wealthiest of the world want to secure their place by perpetually keeping the rest of us down seems the obvious idea. Controlling the security forces, the media, the food and water puts the poor in a place where they feel powerless to change things. It is the need for that change in the hearts of the characters on those last cars that drive the story. The cynical twist at the end was expected considering the structure of this film but it is the journey to the front of the train where the real value of this film lies.
  It seemed that there are nods to other films in this movie. It could be that the archetype of the story brings these thoughts, but the visual similarities and class absurdity seems like more than coincidence  The class struggle has been done before and there seems to be an amazing nod to one of this writers favorite film "Brazil". Not only is the wise man Gilliam named possibly for Terry Gilliam writer/director of that film but the comical portrayal of Tilda Swinton as Mason seems to be channeling the energy of Gilliam's work. As we traverse the train through violence and mayhem we are thrown for a loop as suddenly the dirty revolutionaries come face to face with the opulence of the upper classes. Particularly noteworthy is the scene in the school car where the children of the wealthy are indoctrinated into the cult of Wilford. From the lessons to the patriotic songs lead beautifully by Teacher (Alison Pill) to the hilarious propaganda video, to the sudden stupendous turn to violence, it all seeps with the influence of Brazil.
  The juxtaposition between the scenes of violent struggle and the lavish world of the upper classes is one of the strengths of the film. Designed to have the viewer easily side with the poor and Curtis with his desire to have his revolution reach the engine car, where all other attempts have failed. It does just that with brutal opposition all the way. Complicating the picture is the need for the key master, the man who designed many of the doors and locks, Namgoong Minsoo (Kang-ho Song). He has become a drug addict and can be bribed to get the revolutionaries into each car on their way to the front. He secretly has his own agenda for himself and his companion Yona (Ah-sung Ko) that is not revealed until the climax of the film. "The Matrix" feel at times is a bit overwhelming especially when they reach the engine room and we have the all too flat Ed Harris as Wilford talking things out with Curtis. Seems just like the scene where Neo meets the Architect and is cajoled to make a deal with the devil so to speak. Sometimes the best laid plans can go wrong because of the personal desires of just one of the players. Is it a good thing or should we expect such things.
  It is a singular mission that the poor have, too reach the engine room, to change the order of things. The influence and power of the ruling class first use force and then use bribery and if that does not work will again use force is a known technique through the history of class struggle. The end of this film like Ed Harris's performance is something that I could not understand completely. Flat and affect-less it is a disappointment after sharing the struggle that came before it. The final scenes are probably the most fantastical and meaningless of the entire film. A shame to have been barreling forward, full throttle on this ride only to have it come to the screeching halt it did. Having discussed the ending with others I could not come up with what would have been a better ending, simply because the plot sort of paints itself into a corner. The last image though was pretty ridiculous and off putting. I guess that this film is a recommend. There is something interesting and inventive on the journey this film takes the viewer on. It can't be a strong recommendation with that ending but still there is some value in the trip.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Rigor Mortis (2013) - Horror Supernatural

Rigor Mortis (2013)aka "Geung si" - Hong Kong (original title) perusing of the on demand in FIOS lead to the viewing of this fine and entertaining entry into the world of supernatural horror. Low expectations going into the viewing but the quality film making and cool if expected special effects made this film a pleasant experience.  We see a smoking man in the blood stained rubble and the soot covered lead and wonder how the hell we got to this point. This opening with the after affects of the third act we are lead from there back to the beginining. The color is bleached out of this film to enhance how the life has been bleached out of the people who live in the high rise tenement. This is public housing where residents are there because there because they are low on the economic ladder. They struggle to live and eat and find meaning in a hard life. Our lead character Chin, Siu-Ho (Siu-Ho, Chin) has come to this place to live. Once a successful movie actor his life has taken a turn down and he has come to this bleak place to die. More succinctly to hang himself. What follows is an adventure into the gap between life and death. An exercise in the struggle for a soul that has given up but still has a spark of goodness glimmering inside. In an early scene we seen our lead ready to die, he sees his former family, attractive wife, young son and we sense from the scenes of horror that they are no longer with him. He is grieving the loss and wants his life to end without them.

As much as the film is about Chin it is also about his new neighbors and about death and the need to let go of the past to move on from loss. As Chin, Siu-Ho hangs from the fan in his grimy apartment we see his life leaving him, but there is also a supernatural presence that is not him. It takes control of the dying man and only the intervention of neighbor Yau (Anthony Chan) not only casts out the spirit but saves the life of the actor. We are quickly introduced to the other residents, The unstable woman Yeung Feng (Kara Hui) who wanders the halls of the complex and has a history in Chin's apartment numbered 2442. She is crazy leading her albino child around and scavenging for food. Her story is a sad back story that explains the angry spirits in Chin's apartment. Yau the former vampire hunter and provider of rice for many of the residents of the building. He practices a magic of good and protects those he lives around. Countering him is the black magician Master Gau who always wanted to have more than just the good magic. Auntie Mui (Hee Ching Paw) kind old woman who reaches out to Chin after his suicide attempt. She and her husband the gruff Uncle Tung (Richard Ng) live a quiet life that will be changed forever through circumstances of the most unfortunate manner. There is also security guard the kind Uncle Yin (Hoi-Pang Lo). All the characters are well drawn and there is a personality to the group that lets us look into the life of this struggling community that tries to take care of itself.
  Gau with the promise to bring back the dead Tung to Auntie Mui starts a process theat he says will do what he says. Unfortunately his darker secret is that he secretly wants to make Tung into a Vampire. His penalty for doing such dark magic is apparent in the suffering he must endure, While this storyline goes on in the background we also learn the back story of apartment 2442. It is a sad tale of rape and murder that leaves the angry ghosts of two sisters seeking a way to enter the living and do harm. The scenes are graphic and just a bit gory. Spirits and magic are a part of this world and Chin learns the sad story. The first and second acts do a nice job of developing this world and there are several creepy scenes set to appropriate scary music to get the viewer involved and just a bit on edge. An American audience may struggle a bit with the early pacing but it is worth it to get to the third act.
  When the third act starts an shit hits the fan we get to follow Yau as he and Gau go head to head.  Like in the film Black Magic recently reviewed in this blog one is drawn to the darks side and the other has to counter him. It is actually a strength of this film that the sides are not black and white. The spirit world is present and there are both happy and sad spirits in it. Both Gau and Yau fight the evil ones at times together, but they do not agree and the methods to do that which leads ultimately to confrontation. They are both capable in their own way but black magic is about obtaining power and counter to white magic. We get to see Chin join on the side of good as the Vampire who was Tung is possessed by the spirits of the dead girls. There is some very cool and frightening scenes of fighting this spirit. This is more the hopping Chinese vampire, a living dead creature who will feed on the living but without the glamour of western vampires. The film is so very much worth watching to get to this third act. It is action packed and powerful with cool effects and surprising outcome. When all the story is told it, even with the twist ending that was not necessarily needed, it is a tale worth recommending. The Writers Lai-yin Leung and Philip Yung should be commended for the story and Director Juno Mak and Cinematographer Man-ching Ng have created a very cool look and feel for the film. So recommendations all around for this one.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Black Magic (1975) - Black Magic

Black Magic (1975) - Originally titled "Jiang tou" this Shaw brothers story of the consequences of the use of dark magic is a straight up tale for the most part. The Shaw brothers and their studio Shanghai were some of the largest producers of Martial arts films that made their way to Western audiences. Styling their studio like the old time studio, they signed some of the best talent in Asia to exclusive contracts and from 1925-85 produced over 1000 films. Noted by this writer for making one of my favorite martial arts film "Five Fingers of Death". Black Magic is the story of a practitioner of the dark arts who helps those who are willing to pay him with love potions and injury or death spells. His practice is successful since there is always someone looking to get a person to fall in love with them or seek vengeance of some kind. He is introduced through a scene calling for the death of a cheating husband and his mistress. The Magician Shan Jianmi (Feng Ku) needs primarily blood and hair from the victim and with his enchanter skull and some other ingredients can call upon the dark forces to make the spell happen. As we see him work we are also introduced to a good magician who seem stronger than Shan Jianmi and can stop him from succeeding. This dynamic will play an important role in the final confrontation of the film. We do see though that Shan Jianmi's magic is real and powerful in the opening scene.
The plot as it is involves a very wealthy woman Luo Yin (Ni Tien aka Tanny) who has her eyes on her construction architect Xu Nuo (Lung Ti), she is pushy and used to getting what she wants. Of course, he being engaged to Quming (Lily Li), Xu Nuo only spurns Luo Yin's advances which become ever more aggressive as she tries to create problems in his relationship. She is in turn sought by Lang Jiajie a shifty lout who brings our dark sorcerer Shan Jianmi into the picture. When Lang Jiajie (Lieh Lo) can not get anything but hostility from Luo Yin he seeks out Shan Jianmi for a love potion. The shiftless man does not have the money for the fee but figures once the wealthy widow falls in love with him he can use her money to pay. When the potion only last a day it is Luo Yin who has the upper hand. She then goes to the magician for a more potent potion to use on Xu Nuo.
 The story is mostly the repercussions of those actions. The pain and confusion of Quming and Xu Nuo's family as he first cancels the wedding and then takes up with Luo Yin. Through the middle section of the film it seems as if the family and his fiance can not pull him back from the power of the spell. With the help of a good magician there is an exciting and action filled third act where he is finally freed from the spell and the dark sorcerer is defeated.
  Although not the best film for special effects there are some that are noteworthy in the final scenes. A big drawback to the film is the strange soundtrack. Thrown presumably for western audiences it is a strange mix of horror tropes and sixties television movie tunes that strike all the wrong chords. When all is said and done this film though will get the nod from this blog. Nothing spectacular but just enough to keep the viewer engaged.