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Archive for the ‘Thriller’ Category

Originally, I wasn’t gonna watch this movie. However, Ebert’s review made it sound like the kind of movie I’d love: braindead writing and non-stop over-the-top action. I was sorely disappointed.

What Roger said is accurate. The plot is retarded and full of holes, and the bland dialogue really doesn’t help. Anyone looking for intelligence would find it wise to stay far away from this movie, or anything else Kurt Wimmer writes, for that matter. However, if there’s one thing Kurt does well, it’s that he’s not afraid to come completely over the top with the action, as seen in his other works such as Ultraviolet (Milla Jovovich) and Equilibrium (Christian Bale). All 3 of these movies are similar in the sense that the writing is completely nonsensical and fairly unimaginative. Salt is either a Russian spy or CIA agent, and no one knows which, so the movie just shows her taking turns fighting against the Russians and Americans in a shallow attempt to keep you guessing, but ultimately, you won’t really care due to severe lack of character development.

This was exactly what I was expecting, so so far so good. Disappointment came in the action scenes, unfortunately. While Kurt had no problem having Bale gun down hundreds of fodders by his lonesome, or Milla kicking and slicing up close to 1000 fodders by herself, he seemed quite timid to have Jolie do anything remotely similar. She had her moments, such as building a rocket launcher out of cleaning supplies, or driving a car by tazering the unconscious driver in the head, but mostly she just does physics defying jumps and an occasional very slow kick. It’s stuck in this limbo where it isn’t over the top enough most of the time that you just go “wow, what”, and yet, it’s too over the top to have it be at all believable (all credibility flies out the window the second she jumps off a high speed subway and doesn’t suffer a single scratch, or even roll due to momentum).

Sadly, what she actually does is the best part of the movie. What the movie actually shows is much worse. Like many action movies nowadays, the action scenes cut at least 5 times per second while the cameras shake spaztastically. To make things worse, they’ve hired the worst special effects crew known to man since the days of Citizen Kane. There’s a scene where Jolie jumps down an elevator shaft by jumping side to side, sort of like Jackie Chan in reverse. Apparently, they also have the worst action director in the world, because they decided to show this scene perfectly clear without quick cuts or a shaky camera. The thing is, her fall trajectory is in perfect diagonal lines. I’m not against wirework, but for fucks sake, don’t be so lazy to just attach the back of her shirt to a clothesline and have her slide down when you’re trying to make us believe that she’s jumping. I’ve seen more realistic fall trajectories in old Atari 2600 games. Though to be fair, that scene was consistent with the rest of the movie in the sense that none of the laws of known physics actually apply, so I suppose gravity not causing any acceleration is the least of your worries if you’re still trying to make sense of anything.

That still isn’t the end of the problems though. The other major problem is Jolie herself. She does her own stunts in this movie, and it really shows in a bad way. Quite frankly, I’ve seen Kathy Bates run faster than Jolie. Not even the horrible camera work can hide just how out of shape she is (contrary to what fashion magazines tell you, being incredibly skinny is NOT HEALTHY). She runs slow, punches and kicks slow, jumps slow, and the most impressive physical feat she performs in the entire movie is taking off her panties while standing without lifting her skirt. I don’t have anything against action heroines (I’m a fan of Milla Jovovich, actually), but the point of an action star is kinda for them to be action packed, and you don’t really get that sense of action from Jolie in this movie. Her running for her life in this movie looks like someone trying to beat the “don’t walk” light when crossing the street. She’s terrible.

VERDICT: 3/10

While it does have a few great moments of awesome ridiculousness, it’s essentially a watered down C-level semi-superhero movie. They may as well have named it Ultraviolet 2: Plainpurple in Modern Day Minus Physics (the fact that Jolie wears a wig and clothes that make her look surprisingly similar to Violet makes me wonder if this was the original intention). Ultimately, I don’t feel the 4 or 5 great Wimmer moments make sitting through the mundane and terribly written other 90 minutes of the movie worth your time, let alone the price of admission. Quite frankly, I’d rather watch Ultraviolet again, and that movie was terrible in most of the same ways, but at least Milla can actually kick ass. The only person Jolie can out-action is present day Steven Seagal, and at least he knows his own shortcomings enough to use a stunt double for every action scene now.

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As a completely unrelated note, I’ve removed the “Upcoming Articles” page, as I realize I never actually do what it says anyways.

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Session 9 is a low budget independent American psychological horror movie that’s often times overlooked due to the lack of monsters, action, special effects, or anything necessarily supernatural. In fact, this movie doesn’t even bother to use artificial lighting. It’s about 5 regular people in a fairly normal situation. The result, is exceptional. Easily one of my all time favorites, just for what it manages to accomplish.

PLOT: 8

Gordy is hard working recent father and leader of a small asbestos cleaning crew who’s trying to make ends meet. Out of desperation, he offers his services to clean up the Danver State Insane Asylum (actual building where it was filmed) to the city in just one week, knowing it’s at least a 2 week job.
The stress from burnout, in addition to each individual’s own problems, puts the entire team on edge. Everyone begins to work in their own best interests and become a little bit insane themselves.

I’d go insane working here too.

CHARACTERS: 5.5

One of the weaker points of this movie, lacking in both powerful A-list actors and strong developement for side characters. It follows the story of Gordy, who, fortunately, is well developed and sympathizable. A decent performance on the actor’s part too. Though certainly not Oscar material, he will move you as necessary. Adequate is the best way to describe the acting for all characters actually, perhaps with the exception of Hank, who doesn’t sound nearly as much of an asshole as his character is. Phil is the second most important character, and while he has a bit more backstory and some depth, it doesn’t really show until the final stretch of the film. Until then, he’s kinda just another guy with a forgettable personality, like Mike, who you never find much about besides that he’s surprisingly knowledgable and plans on finishing law school. Jeff is even worse, being the young inexperienced mullethead nephew of Gordy, who’s only defining traits are his relative inexperience and nyctophobia.

The wrong place to work if you have nyctophobia (fear of the dark).

The best developed and well acted character is actually Mary, who never appears onscreen. You only hear her voice on therapy session tapes. As a psychology major, I can tell you that her character and portrayal of a disassociative identity disorder patient is accurate to a tee. There’s this one line during the climax that’s a bit overacted, but that’s about her only flaw.

The room where you’ll be listening to a psycho a lot. Good choice.

SCREENPLAY: 8

Fortunately, the events of the movie and the way it’s told do not suffer from the same problems as the character developement. A lot of little things happen all at once, and the movie only chooses to show us some of them. The result is a compelling mystery, realistic character interactions (with the exception of Phil’s comedic overly dramatic zoomed in “fuck you”), and no shortage of red herrings to keep you guessing. In fact, the events of this movie are told and hinted at in such misleading ways, that it’s almost impossible to understand it fully in just one viewing, yet at the same time, it’s straightforward enough that it won’t leave you too confused to enjoy the movie. This is easily one of the most intelligent and masterfully told mystery stories ever, even if certain bits are a little cliché.

The most dramatic FU ever.

As with most movies of this type, the pacing is a little slower than most movies. If, like me, you’re terminally allergic to movies that drag on needlessly, don’t worry, because this one moves slow and steady, but never stands still or goes in circles like Paranormal Activity, Noroi, Begotten, and Hurt Locker do so much. It takes its time just enough to unnerve you and build suspense, and never wastes your time with redundant dialogue or imagery.

This dark sequence only lasts a few seconds, instead of dragging on for 10 minutes while moving 2 inches each step like typical horror movies.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: 8.8

Like I always say, this is the most important part of a horror movie. And it is this that makes it one of my all time favorites. Unlike typical horror movies, nothing supernatural is ever shown. There are no cheap shocks, no grotesque creatures/people, no gore, very little blood, only 1 instance of CG, and 1 onscreen killing. There aren’t even any artificial lights. The only tools of terror used is the natural lighting in a real abandoned insane asylum and a few stories told by the characters or through short camera shots focusing on unsettling imagery. It works wonders and is easily one of the most unnerving movies ever made.

Small wonder why psychological treatment was so ineffective just a few decades back when the asylums looked like this.

Perhaps the most impressive thing is that the building isn’t just eerie in the dark basements, but also in the brightly lit decaying seclusion rooms. I often times refer to this movie when I state why the darkness in Paranormal Activity doesn’t work, and this really drives the point home. The movie subtly suggests uneasy feelings and disturbing events through simple stories and uses that to supplement an incomplete image that let’s you fill in the blanks of how that room ended up that way, what’s happened behind the doors, or what’s lurked in the dark. It gives you just enough information so you know it’s not of fairy tale quality, and yet never paints you a complete enough picture that your mind stops wondering.

Excellent artistic camerawork makes the building eerie even in broad daylight.

Increasing the effectiveness even further is the soundtrack, or more accurately, the use of sound. The tracks are littered with inaudible whispers, sounds of structural decay, static, and gradual discordic tones. From the sound of old generators, to the slow distorted voice of Simon, to whizzing of cars driving by, the entire aural experience of this film just exudes dread, death, and evil.

I can keep posting more and more examples of this masterful camera direction all day long.

Perhaps the only flaw in the cinematography is that it never puts an exclamation mark on the atmosphere to drive the viewer from a state of unnerve to sheer terror. Rather, the climax focuses heavily on the mystery aspect of the movie instead. The entire movie peppers you with nearly constant unease and chills, but never hits you with any single unforgettable nightmare-ish sequence like the hospital scene in Jacob’s Ladder, the hospital scene in One Missed Call (J), the final scene in Carrie (1976), the climax of A Tale of Two Sisters, or the final room in [REC]. The final line of the film are words that still stay with you for most of your life, but the lack of a strong horror climax in favor of realism means you probably won’t get any intense nightmares from this.

PLOT: 8
CHARACTERS: 5.5
SCREENPLAY: 8
CINEMATOGRAPHY: 8.8

VERDICT: 8.2/10 (not an average)

Those of you looking for an intriguing mystery fed through an unnerving experience will likely never find a movie that does it better than Session 9. Although it never builds up to a point of sheer terror, few have been able to match its relentless supply of unease through the natural scenery, realistic characters, and unsettling musical score. Action junkies and fans of braindead screamfests will be heavily disappointed, as will people looking for character driven plots. However, as far as pure psychological horror goes, Session 9 is easily one of the greatest of all time. Its achievement is even greater when you consider that there’s nothing necessarily supernatural in this movie. What it is, is the perfect harmony of common real life elements working together to create real fear.

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“Hasta la vista, baby.”

In commemoration of the recent 160 Greatest Arnold Schwarzenegger Quotes video that’s been circulating around, I figured this was a good time to take a quick look back at his best works. Some say that he’s just a real life cartoon character, and I agree with them. While his main rivals, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Sylvester Stallone, can only do action/comedy and badass/action effectively, respectively, Arnold can be badass, hilarious, overly macho, and is always over the top.

Obviously, you’ll have to watch the Terminators (all 3 of them) and Predator. I don’t think I need to tell you why.

Total Recall: 9/10

“MY NAME IS NOT QUAID.”

Easily one of the greatest sci-fi movies of all time, most notable for its complete mindfuck plot. It will hit you with twist after twist. Sure, the effects haven’t weathered the test of time that well, but that’s easily made up for by Arnold’s surprisingly good acting performance, and some of his best Arnisms. A must see, whether Arnold fan or not, unless you’re terminally allergic to sci-fi movies.

True Lies: 9/10

“Can you make it quick? Because my horse is getting tired.”

An action/comedy/romance/thriller directed by the renowned James Cameron (The Abyss, Terminator 1, 2, Aliens, Titanic, Avatar, can this guy even make a bad movie anymore?!), starring Arnold and Jamie Lee Curtis. Already, you have to know this is going to be superb. Arnold plays a smooth and cool superspy akin to the likes of James Bond. However, his cool goes out the window when he suspects that his wife (Jamie) may be having an affair. He redirects his spy resources to spy on his wife instead in the middle of a mission tracking fanatical terrorists. It’s hilarious, fast paced, and of course, everything explodes. This is the macho guy movie that won’t put off the girlfriend. Another must-see for any movie goer.

Kindergarten Cop: 8/10

“THERE IS NO BATHROOM!”

A comedy/romance/crime movie involving drug dealers, prostitutes, kindergarteners, abusive fathers, birthday sex, and people getting shot. The first impression upon hearing the premise are almost always something along the lines of “only Uwe Boll could’ve thought of something so incredibly stupid.” And yet, somehow, the end result is fantastic. It was so surprisingly fantastic, I probably bumped up the score an entire point out of respect. Anyways, Arnold plays a detective obsessed with busting a certain drug dealer and ends up having to go undercover as a Kindergarten teacher, then hilarity ensues. It’s definitely not for kids, but it’s a great feel good movie for anyone over 13. It starts out like a typical dark Arnold action movie, but he softens up and the ending is just so satisfying. You have to see this for yourself. It also has some of the best Arnisms, which helps a lot.

Last Action Hero: 7.5/10

“Iced that guy, to cone a phrase.”

The best way to look at it is that it’s a toned down version of True Lies, without the romance. It’s an action/comedy where Arnold parodies himself. There’s no shortage of cameos (including Jean-Claude Van Damme, Sylvester Stallone, T1000, and MC Hammer), smoking hot women, and bad puns. Sadly, it’s held back by the terrible special effects. I know it was the director’s choice to make them purposely look bad, but it was a bad choice any way you slice it. The plot isn’t particularly interesting either. A kid gets a magic ticket which gets him trapped inside an Arnold movie and ends up having to help him stop the bad guys, who eventually escape into the real world and the chase continues from there. Easily one of his most underrated movies though. Make no mistake, it’s hilarious. But that’s all it is.

Jingle All The Way: 6.8/10

“Put that cookie down, NOW!!”

Yes, I know this comedy is retarded. It may be a Christmas movie, but I would not advise you show it to children, due to the risk of infectious retardation. This movie may be ridiculous, but it’s surprisingly funny. Arnold will fight kung fu Santas, get owned by Sinbad, turn into a superhero, and give some the best Arnisms in his career. You won’t come away with much, but just look at that screenshot quote. Definitely worth checking out for an Arnold fan.

Commando: 6.7/10

“Remember Sully when I promised to kill you last?…I LIED.”

Lastly, there’s the very best of his old no nonesense macho action movies. Bad guys kidnap his daughter, and he goes and kills them all. It’s over the top, ridiculous, and easily contains his best Arnisms ever. It’s braindead, and the action scenes mostly boil down to a lot of people randomly shooting around and magically all miss Arnold, so sadly, you’ll be watching purely for the Arnisms. Oh, and the scene where he rips a phone booth. Yeah, BOOTH.

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If that’s still not enough Arnold for you, here’s the runner ups, best first:
Eraser, The 6th Day, Red Heat, The Running Man

Actually, Eraser is a better movie than both Commando and Jingle All the Way. It’s just that there isn’t that many good Arnisms in it.

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This one is a bit more mainstream than my usual classic series reviews, but after watching the sequel, I just can’t help but compare the two. It’s hard to believe that the same people were involved in both movies. After all, they’re not even in the same genre. Whereas the sequel was a failed attempt at a slasher flick, the first movie is a tragedy told behind a thriller turned horror turned action movie. The result, as many of you already know, was brilliant.

PLOT: 8

Although fairly simple on the surface, this movie is quite open to interpretation. It starts off on a normal rafting trip with the main trio and Sarah’s family. On their way home, Sarah’s car crashes, sending her to the hospital and killing her husband and daughter right before her 5th birthday. You then get a foreboding scene of Sarah running away from the darkness in the hospital halls.

Knowing Sarah’s still suffering, the same time next year, Juno rounds up 6 girls to go on a cave diving trip to try to get their lives back to normal. There’s Holly, a tomboyish adrenaline-junkie always looking for a challenge. There’s the girly girl duo, Sam and Becca. And of course, the main trio consisting of Juno, the strong athletic leader, the emotionally distraught Sarah, and Beth, who’s always there to be a crutch for Sarah. Without telling the others, Juno takes the team to a new, undiscovered cave system, and predictably, things go wrong and a tunnel caves in behind them. This begins the thriller phase of the movie, where they’re simply trying to find another way out, crawling through claustrophobic tunnels and climbing over large chasms. As they descend deeper in the darkness, so does Sarah descend deeper into madness from the stress.

Left to right: Holly, Sam, Becca, Juno, Sarah, Beth

Eventually, the team runs into creatures known as crawlers: blind humanoids that hunt with sound. The team gets scattered from the first attack, and of course, having slipped into the slasher/horror genre now, they’re killed one by one. After a while, the girls learn how to effectively kill them back, and it slips into more of an action movie. That’s not what the movie’s really about though. The main focus is actually Sarah’s state of mind, and the cave and monsters serve as a metaphorical plot device. As Sarah interacts with the cave, the monsters, and her dying friends, a tragic subplot unfolds and her character changes. This is what makes the plot beautiful.

The writing isn’t perfect and there will be one or two stupid plot device moments, but it has its share of memorable lines, and the characters are different enough that you can always tell them apart just from the things the say and the way they say it, except for Sam and Becca, who’re pretty much best friends with each other and will be remembered as one, which is fine.

Becca (glowstick) and Sam (lamp), sticking together.

As far as horror movie plots, character developement, and dialogue goes, this movie is superb at it. Only legends such as Misery and Aliens (though that’s more action/thriller) have done better. The writers deserve a huge pat on the back for this.

ACTING: 7

Sarah and Juno easily steals the show here, but really, everyone delivers their part more than adequately. Moreso from those two, since their characters change throughout the movie, and rightfully so, the way they talk and use body language changes with it. A few parts might be slightly overacted, but overall, it’s very real.

CINEMATOGRAPHY: 7.2

The most important aspect of a horror movie, and The Descent doesn’t disappoint for the most part. From the claustrophobia inducing camera angles to the excellent use of light (and lack thereof) and fiddling with different light sources (including a glow stick and the nightvision from a digital camera), the cave will mostly look menacing and/or artistically beautiful. There are some scenes that are too dark and you really can’t actually see anything, but not enough to be a problem. This is coupled with a great soundtrack that always adds to the feel and meaning of the scene.

One of the prettier views of the cave.

Sadly, this doesn’t hold up for the whole movie. By the time it turns into an action movie, there will be lakes of blood and entire rooms littered with bones and corpses. While it works metaphorically, at face value, it’s a bit over the top. There’s also the set design. It looks superb most of the time, but some of the smaller movable rocks look pretty fake, along with the bones.

The film also isn’t above using sudden shocks, but they’re few and far in between, and are almost exclusively used in Sarah’s dream sequences. In the lieu of the fact that they’re being used to represent her state of mind, it’s forgivable. There are only 2 which occur normally. One was a joke, and the other marks the beginning of the horror section of the movie. The latter one was actually perfectly used. It will frighten you and not just surprise you.

In the end though, the biggest surprise to most people is that this movie really isn’t that scary. It’s widely regarded as one of the best recent horror movies, but the horror part of the movie is pretty short, and the change into an action movie later undermines the weakness of the crawlers, so it won’t give you any nightmares either. What it really is is a tense thriller with a beautifully crafted tragic plot. It’ll get your heart pumping, then torque it with a wrench before it’s all over.

PLOT: 8
ACTING: 7
CINEMATOGRAPHY: 7.2

VERDICT: 7.7/10 (not an average)

It’s not as scary as the internet makes it out to be, but it’s still a thrilling ride with an intelligent, multi-layered plot, told through great actresses and original cinematography. There really isn’t any reason for anyone who isn’t completely aversive to horror to not watch this film at least once. It does perfectly what so many movies of this type fail to do: it puts realistic people in semi-realistic situations.

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As a final note, my review is, of course, based on the uneditted and unrated UK version. The American version butchers and throws away the Sarah mental state subplot that turns this movie from a 5.5ish to a 7.7.

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