Vartiainen

IMDb member since January 2012
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Night of the Comet
(1984)

Pure gold from the 80s
A Thom Eberhardt film about a sudden apocalypse. A rare comet event causes most of the humans to either be turned to dust or become zombies. Only the rare few survive and must now content with a very empty world. Among these lucky survivors are two sisters, both of them airheaded Valley Girls, whose father just happens to be a military man who taught his two little girls everything he knows about guns. The jokes practically write themselves.

The film was not hugely successful on its initial release, but it has since developed a cult status as a lost gem. Creators such as Neil Gaiman and Joss Whedon have expressed their love for the film, the latter basing the character of Buffy Summers on the younger sister, played by Kelli Maroney. And I can definitely see what they see in the film. It can be seen as your typical zombie exploitation flick, but it takes some central tropes and flips them upside down. The very fact that these two female leads are quite capable of looking after themselves is such a rare sight in cinema even today that the film is very much worth the price of admission for that alone.

And even if you're just looking for a generic zombie exploitation slash action flick, the film delivers. It's much more than that, but even taken on its face value, there's a lot of good stuff to uncover. The special effects are nothing terribly special, but the film is shot and acted well enough that you should be plenty entertained.

It Chapter Two
(2019)

Improves slightly upon the first film
Whereas I found the previous film, It (2017), to be something of a letdown when compared to the original TV mini series, I'd say this film is about on par with it. That being said, the child actors and the childhood of the so called Loser's Club were definitely a highlight of the mini series and the adult actors were easily its weakest point. So I'm not praising this film to high heavens here.

That being said, there are some definitive areas where this film improves upon its predecessor. It was more of an identity, it's not quite so dead serious all the time and it's not afraid to get weird from time to time. All of which are good things when your monster is an actual clown child eater from outer space.

I also think the adult actors are still pretty good in their roles, like they were in Chapter One. There's chemistry between them and while this film has flashbacks as well, so we see the child actors, they're integrated into the plot quite seamlessly. The ending is also a veritable feast of cool concepts, interesting imagery (although too often concealed by poor lighting), and good character moments.

It's not a masterpiece by any means and it's still rather reliant on jump scares, but at least its imagery has evolved to a point where I'll most likely remember it even after some time has passed.

Beetle Juice
(1988)

Tim Burton finding his style
The second film to be directed by now legendary Tim Burton. And well, seeing how his first film was Pee-wee's Big Adventure - yes, really - this could in a very real way be considered his debut film. In it a young couple living in an old house is caught in an accident, perish and become ghosts haunting their former home. And they have to learn that old ghosting business real soon because in no time at all their house is sold to some real derrieres.

While the film isn't quite as visually outstanding as some of Burton's future films, it's still pretty far up there in terms of set designs, visual effects and overall aesthetic. There are some scenes you could watch and not realize that this is a Burton film, but then they enter the ghost world, and yeah, there's no mistaking it for anything else.

As for the story, it's a lot of fun. I like how the main couple (Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis) is just so darn pleasant and good-humoured that they find it hard to be effective ghosts. I like the young wannabe emo chick (Winona Ryder) that befriends them. I like the titular character, played beautifully by Michael Keaton. Although, as for that last one, there are times when he can be a bit... much. Like an uncomfortable amount of much.

That being said, if you're going to watch this film, you should watch it for the experience. It's quirky, it's fun, it's quite a ride from start to finish. But it can also be sweet and at times even innocent in just the right way.

Burton definitely hit it out of the park almost straight away.

Hail, Caesar!
(2016)

Hit-n-miss offbeat comedy from the Coen brothers
Hail, Caesar! takes place in the 50s Hollywood. Josh Brolin plays Eddie Mannix, the head of physical production at Capital Pictures. That's a pretty job title for what amounts to a fixer. Someone the studio heads call when one of their actors is caught speeding, or doing drugs, or having the unfortunate case of preggers. And then, one day, one of their biggest stars goes missing just as they're about to finish their biggest movie yet.

The story of this film is nothing to write home about. Or rather, it's not the focus of the film. This is a very loose collection of scenes, all aimed to celebrate the Golden Age of Hollywood. The Coen Brothers clearly just wanted to film showy scenes in the style of the classics. We have a choreographed swimming scene. We have a tap dancing scene. We have cowboys. We have stiff upper lip period drama. We have film reel catching on fire. We have it all.

And whenever the film is doing that and introducing all these wacky characters along the way, it's very good. Whenever it's trying to tell its story, it's kind of bland and boring, to be honest. For example, Mannix is getting these job offers from a big company named Lockheed. It's good money and better hours, but it would mean leaving the movie business. And I don't care. I so don't care. Go back to tap dancing!

The film's humour is also somewhat questionable. But then, it often is with the Coens. They're a fan of rather absurd humour, where you're supposed to laugh because the situation is just so odd. Sometimes it works, often it doesn't, but at least it's intelligent. I'll give it that.

Hail, Caesar! is an amazing movie to check out if you're a fan of the classic era of Hollywood and its style. The Coens obviously are in awe of the era and this is a great love letter to it. But, if you don't care about that all that much, there are better comedies out there.

Paper Moon
(1973)

Sweet little road trip movie with a heist movie undertone
Paper Moon is a story taking place during the Great Depression. It follows a drifting con artist, Moses Pray, and his tack along kid sidekick, Addie Loggins. The two are played by the real-life father and daughter pairing of Ryan and Tatum O'Neal, which gives their shared chemistry that extra bit of believability and sweetness.

In the context of the plot, Moses is being paid to deliver Addie to her last living relative after her mother has passed away, but the focus of the film is the relationship they end up developing on the way. Initially hesitant to trust another, these two quickly begin to see admirable qualities in one another and end up caring for one each other.

That relationship is the best aspect of the film, no doubt, but I also really like the setting. The two drive through Midwestern states, from one little town to another, and things are tough. Not everyone has even enough money to eat and here is Moses pulling cons left and right, and it's nice to see how Addie starts to work as his conscience. All the supporting characters are colourful and memorable, leaving a clear impact, even though very few of them are in the movie for long.

If I had to nitpick, I guess I could point out that the film is rather episodic in nature. Not all little segments are as good as the others, but they're all still pretty good. And the ones that really work are fantastic.

Very nice film. Colourful despite having been shot in black-n-white, memorable and very sweet underneath all its razzle dazzle hurrying.

Paris, Texas
(1984)

It's saying a lot, but not in a way that connects
Travis Henderson (Harry Dean Stanton) walks alone in West Texas desert. He has been missing for four years, leaving behind his son to be raised by his brother. Then he is discovered, joins back with society and must confront his old ghosts and regrets in order to make it up to his son.

Stanton's performance carries this movie far. The struggle of his character feels real and when he finally comes to grips with this past sins, it is a very well put together scene.

Unfortunately, it's a lot of buildup before we get to that scene and I don't think it's quite worth it. The first act especially, when we have no idea what's going on, who these characters are or what they're all about, is agonizingly slow. And even though the film picks up the pace somewhat in the second and third act, it's still very slow. Which is not a demerit in and on itself, but there always has to be something to keep up your interest and I think that this film fails in that regard.

Not the worst movie by any means, and I do see why some people hail it as a classic, but it was very much not my cup of tea.

It
(2017)

Loses its passion
An adaptation of the Stephen King book of the same name and a remake of the 1990 TV mini series also adapting the book. The mini series told the story mixing both timelines, whereas this new movie only focuses on the childhood of its main characters. That childhood in Derry, Maine of course being full of disappearing children, indifferent adults, psychopathic bullies and one killer crown straight from your nightmares.

In some ways this remake updates just what it needs to and brings the story to a new century. The visual effects are much improved and Pennywise is legitimately scary in this one. Though there are those argue he's perhaps a tad too scary. The Pennywise in the mini series, played by the legendary Tim Curry, was scary when he it warranted, but he was also very funny when he needed to be. Like, you know, a clown.

I'm also not a huge fan of the Loser's Club in this one, to be honest. Mostly because the film is in such a hurry, despite being over two hours long, that it doesn't bother to introduce most of them. The only reason I know which of these characters is which is because I've seen the 1990 version. Had I to go with this version alone, I'd be totally lost. Contrast this with the TV version where each new character is given their own little scene that tells the viewer exactly what they were about, mixing scenes from adulthood and childhood alike. A much better way to do it.

That being said, there are some legitimately good scares in this film and it works as a standalone horror film. It's a tad janky, but it knows for the most part what it's doing.

It
(1990)

After all these years it still floats surprisingly well
Based on one of the more well-known Stephen King novels, It is a two part TV mini series, roughly split between the adulthood and childhood of its main characters, the so called Loser's Club. It takes place in Derry, Maine, where kids have a nasty habit of starting to disappear or get brutally murdered every couple of decades. Likewise once again.

The original novel is one of the few Stephen King books I have not actually read, but his work has a tendency to repeat itself, so I'm more than familiar with his tropes. Like the good for nothing adults, who never seem to catch on - albeit this time it's at least partially thanks to magic. Or the likable main characters constantly bullied by such psychotic and bloodthirsty maniacs that you have to wonder why they haven't been locked up years ago. Or the fact that it takes place in Maine like all of King's works. Or the vaguely explained nightmarish monster, who just happens to be there, because reasons.

And I must admit that these tropes work in King's books. He has a magnificent way with words and has that knack of breathing life into his characters with just a few carefully chosen details. On the silver screen these tropes seem much more like the clichés that they are.

That being said, there are a lot of good scenes in this mini series. All the child actors are surprisingly good and the first part especially is paced really well. Yes, the constant flashbacks do get a bit ridiculous towards the end, but they allow us to get to know the characters one at a time and it's interesting to see how the kids grew up.

Unfortunately, the second part focuses much more heavily on the main characters as adults, and their actors are really wooden next to their younger counterparts. The woman who plays Beverly, the only female of the Loser's Club, Annette O'Toole, is especially egregious. Though part of that is simply bad dialogue written for her.

Luckily, that is all very easy to forgive and forget whenever Tim Curry as the killer clown Pennywise is on screen. This is an iconic character for a reason. Curry is having an absolutely blast whenever he's on screen and apparently he stayed surprisingly in character even when the camera wasn't rolling, baring his teeth to the child actors and whatnot.

I also enjoyed the visual effects a lot. The computer stuff wasn't particularly good, but all practical elements were spot-on.

Not a perfect adaptation by any means, but I can see why this has stuck in people's memories for all these years.

Jack Reacher
(2012)

Action crime thriller done moderately right
Tom Cruise stars in a film directed by Christopher McQuarrie, who later on teamed up with Cruise to direct the latest Mission Impossible films. Its title character, Jack, is a former military police detective, who has an uncanny knack for details and following clues. Now he is pulled away from his voluntary exile to examine a mass shooting case concerning a former suspect of his.

The main thing to note with this film is its acting. Tom Cruise, for all his faults, is a fantastic actor and this is a good role for him. Apparently the Jack Reacher in the books the film is based on is a lot more intimidating physically, but Cruise has the weight of charisma on his side and he makes the role work for him. Rosamund Pike as a defense attorney for the shooting suspect is also very good and I'll never say a bad word about Robert Duvall, no matter the size of the role.

That being said, the film is a tad flat tonally. I get the sense that you'd get much more out of it had you read the books. For example, the main antagonist is simply put boring beyond believe. They look interesting, but we learn next to nothing about them and what we do learn has nothing to do with the plot or the crime they have committed. Those working for them are even less well defined.

The film also feels slow with its buildup and the final confrontation with the antagonist is not particularly exciting. Part of that is the tired and old damsel in distress cliché, but part of it is just the fact that I don't particularly care about what happens to these characters.

Still, it is shot and acted well. Cruise and McQuarrie simply needed better source material to work with, which they later showed with the Mission Impossible films.

Xanda
(2004)

Fails to hit those story beats
Xanda is the story of Qiang (Weilin Sang), a countryside kung fu master who moves to a big city to pursue his dreams. There he gets introduced to Xanda, or Sanda as it is more popularly known, a modern Chinese fighting style developed in the early 1900s. And of course he gets pulled in and eventually gets a shot at the crown title match.

What this film lacks is a red thread running throughout it all. Its story is hard to follow and is generally all over the place. At first we don't even know which characters are alive and which are not because the film keeps jumping back and forth in time so much. Eventually we figure out that this character is supposed to be dead and because of that this character acts the way they do, but it's much too little much too late.

It's also very... Rocky Balboa -ish. Like, this whole film is basically Rocky I in modern China. It's not quite beat for beat, but it's uncomfortably close. Sure, the Rocky film are the quintessential boxing films, but you still can't copy them quite this blatantly and not expect to be called out on it.

All that being said, this film had its moments, mostly whenever it didn't try to be a martial arts sports film.

Lung foo moon
(2006)

Ten pounds of flour in a two pound bag
Dragon Tiger Gate is based on a Chinese manhua of the same name by Wong Yuk-long. It focuses on the eponymous Dragon Tiger Gate, a martial arts academy founded to take in young kids and teach them to defend their society. At the forefront of the film are the Wong brother, played by Donnie Yen and Nicholas Yes, who are separated at a young age, one of them staying with the Gate and one of them ending up as the enforcer to a criminal overlord.

And then there's Turbo (Shawn Yue), an American-Chinese street kid who has come to the Gate to learn martial arts. Turbo is by far the best character in the film. Every scene he's in is absolutely perfect. I wish this film was all about Turbo.

The film's fight scenes were choreographed by Donnie Yen and that definitely shows. The fights are highly detailed, spatially self-aware and cool beyond believe. Whenever the endless dialogues and lamentations of woe cease and the characters are allowed to do the kung fu, the film is very good. Unfortunately that's like one third of the film.

It also doesn't help that the film relies heavily on CGI to tell its story. And let me tell you, computer visual effects are not what early 21st century Hong Kong cinema was known for. These are some atrocious effects.

Still, there is passion beneath all the jank on display. Turbo is cool, most of the fight scenes are cool, some of the locations are cool. It's just that the rest of it is pure garbage.

We Were Soldiers
(2002)

Intense battlefield re-enactment
A Randall Wallace film, starring Mel Gibson. Its plot focuses on Lieutenant Colonel Hal Moore (Gibson) and his battalion of soldiers, who were chosen to be trained as air cavalry in the Vietnam War, using helicopters to land troopers right in the midst of combat. The film focuses on their training and their first major battle.

What the film gets right is its realism. The book the film is based upon, We Were Soldiers Once... And Young by Hal Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, set out to set the record straight in terms of what happened in Vietnam. And I do believe that this film reflects that. Its battle scenes are a chaotic mess, yet there's enough storytelling magic happening that you can follow what's happening even through the silver screen. I also like the fact that the Vietnamese soldiers are given a few scenes without demonizing them in any way.

That being said, the battle scenes are a chaotic mess. That's very much the point, but they're also so long that you quickly become exhausted. The film tries to give you some breathing room by occasionally focusing on the wives of the soldiers back home, but those scenes are so depressing and oppressive that they merely enhance the exhaustion you're already experiencing.

Then again, it's war movie. A realistic war movie. Its point is not to make you feel good. There are war movies that will leave you feeling good and pumped. This is not one of them. It was never meant to be one of them. Its point is to drive in the fact that in a war people will die for absolutely arbitrary reasons. They will die because someone far above them decided that they should.

A good film. A borderline great film. But not a nice one.

Parker
(2013)

Enjoyable
A Taylor Hackford film, starring Jason Statham and Jennifer Lopez. The story revolves around Statham's character, the eponymous Parker, who's a high level thief, much sought after in the criminal underworld for his cool demeanour and ability to think on his feet. But then a job goes sideways and he's betrayed by his supposed partners in crime. He survives and vows revenge.

It's not the most complicated plot ever, but it has its basic building blocks in a neat row and knows what it's doing. A film like this is pretty much destined to the B movie pin, but there's something to be said about the charisma of Jason Statham. And J.Lo, for that matter.

What's most enjoyable about this film is its heist hijinks. Whenever Parker is smooth talking his way through red tape or conning people into doing whatever he wants, the film soars. Whenever it's doing anything else, it's pretty banal. J.Lo's character is admiringly grounded and you get her blight. But at the same time, she's perhaps too grounded for the film's style. If you catch my drift. I'd much rather see this type of character in a psychological crime drama or something like that.

Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching the film. A good film to check out if you're a fan of Statham or lighthearted heist films. And if you're not, it's still a pretty slick experience.

Pâfekuto burû
(1997)

Intense and uncomfortable fear
Acclaimed anime director Satoshi Kon's debut feature film. A story about a young pop idol named Mima Kirigoe (Junko Iwao) who tries to transition into a movie star. But when an obsessed fan starts stalking her and the movie studio wishes to use her more for her sex appeal than her acting talent, things turn sour.

The film is most often called a psychological thriller. And while that is the most obvious category, I'd argue that the film almost slips into a supernatural horror film from time to time. And it's in that genre where the plot seems to make the most sense. Satoshi Kon has always been a loose storyteller. His plots are often told through hallucinations, fever dreams and straight up nightmares. Likewise here. It is implied that Mima starts to undergo a mental breakdown, which explains how the film jumps around with very little rhyme or reason. But it's almost too much. I'm sure that there are those that don't like this film because it's so hard to keep up with it and because you're unsure as a viewer how much of what is happening on the screen is supposed to be real.

It's also a very sexually loaded film. It's not quite erotica, but it's the next best thing and in a very dark way. There are scenes in this film that are genuinely difficult to sit through. Which plays to the film's strengths, but can also be a deal breaker for some viewers.

All in all this is a very impressive debut film. Intense, creepy, unnerving and loaded with implications. A film you'll end up thinking about for days after you've seen it.

Chiisana eiyû: Kani to tamago to tômei ningen
(2018)

Bitesize animation segments to go
Studio Ponoc's second animation film ended up being a collection of three shorter films, each focusing on unlikely heroes that don't set out to do great deeds, but who achieve a small degree of greatness even still.

The first short film, Kanini & Kanino, was directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi and resembles his directorial debut, The Secret World of Arrietty, a lot. Some would argue it resembles that film a bit too much. It's also the segment most resembling what you would call Studio Ghibli style, which makes sense because Yonebayashi worked for them when he directed Arrietty. It's a visually pleasing little story about shrimp-sized kids going on an adventure to find their lost father, but it doesn't really soar as far as plot goes.

The second film, Life Ain't Gonna Lose, was directed by Yoshiyuki Momose and tells of a young boy with a severe egg allergy. Even a hint of eggs in his food will cause him to go into shock and as thus he must live his entire life walking on eggshells, if you'll pardon my terrible pun. This is the segment that I liked the most, mainly because its characters have the most personality and you quickly come to care for their struggles. It's also the most grounded story. People like this most certainly exist and it must not be easy for them. Which makes the boy's upbeat energy all the more endearing.

The third and last film, Invisible, was directed by Akihiko Yamashita and tells of a man so alone and ignored that he's in danger of becoming so impermanent that he'll literally float away. But even those ignored can have their moment if they're in the right place at the right time. Visually the most interesting of the three segments and with a poignant message.

All in all I liked the collection. It's nothing groundbreaking, but each of the segments was at least animated well, the music was nice and I was positively reminded of those short story films Disney did in the 1940s.

American Sniper
(2014)

About what war does to us
American Sniper, directed by Clint Eastwood, tells the story of Chris Kyle, one of the most decorated, talented and deadliest snipers in the history of USA. Based on a real life person, who served four tours in the Iraq War, played in this movie by Bradley Cooper, who's rapidly becoming one of the best drama actors currently working in Hollywood.

Eastwood has enjoyed a lot of success as a director, and while I don't think this is quite his best work - Gran Torino being tough to beat - I certainly do think that it's a marvelous piece of entertainment and a haunting meditation on the horrors of war and what it truly means to serve. I especially like how the film doesn't shy away from the fact that Kyle's success in Iraq is directly proportional to his suffering on the home soil. It's hard to be the perfect soldier and then be expected to turn off your killer instinct the minute you step from the plane.

It's also a very good film on the technical side of things. From Eastwood's directing to the set designs to the brilliant sound effects brought to life by Alan Robert Murray and Bub Asman, for which they won an Academy Award. When the bullets are flying and your death can come from any direction imaginable, you'll really feel like you're there.

I also have to give special mention to the ending. Such a gut punch, and in a way you don't see coming. My heart goes out to the real Kyle family and the struggles they have gone through.

Very good film. Among the best war movies ever made. Definitely worth a watch if you're a fan of the genre.

The Ninth Gate
(1999)

Blunders its great premise
Johnny Depp plays Dean Corso, a rare book dealer, who gets commissioned to hunt down three copies of an extremely rare book, said to have been written by the Devil himself. But is he the only one hunting for them and what does his employer intend to do once they get their hands of them?

The film was directed by Roman Polanski, one of the great names of the horror genre, and it definitely shows. The film has a great style, heavy atmosphere and enough gothic religious imagery to choke a nun. Whenever the Devil and his presence is spoken about or on the screen, the film works marvelously.

That being said, the story is not told all that well. The biggest issue is the lack of stakes. For most of the film, Corso is simply wandering around Europe, talking to people, examining these paintings. We don't get any sense of urgency or why it matters whether he succeeds or not. Sure, there's some tension, because, you know, the Devil was mentioned, but it's nothing concrete.

It's not until the end that something starts to happen with any speed, but by then it's too little too late. Not helping the matters is the fact that the ending doesn't make much sense and doesn't offer enough answers or resolutions to satisfy the viewer.

The Ninth Gate is a good film if you're really into religious symbolism and like the kind of atmosphere these films have. It's not a good film at all if you're just looking for a good story to experience.

Extraction
(2020)

More films need to be directed by stuntmen
Extraction stars Chris Hemsworth and was produced by the Russo brothers. It was directed by Sam Hargrave in his directorial debut. He has previously made a career as a stuntman, most notably as a stunt coordinator in several Marvel movies. And that definitely shows in the film. This film contains some of the nicest action set pieces seen in years.

Unfortunately, this comes at a price. Namely that of an interesting story. While the story of Extraction - a gun for hire (Hemsworth) shooting his way through Bangladesh in order to rescue the kidnapped son of a drug lord - is perfectly serviceable, it's also nothing to write home about. The characters are shallowly written and while they're acted well enough, the main attraction of the film are those action scenes.

That being said, those are definitely good enough on their own to justify the price of admission. Hemsworth gives an electrifying performance as a man spread too thin by all the violence he has caused, while Randeep Hooda gives an equally memorable performance as his foil and counterpart.

And it's just plain fun to watch. If you have a soft spot for those 80s action films such as Commando or Rambo, then this is definitely worth checking out.

Get Out
(2017)

You really shouldn't stay, but you cannot leave either
It has been said that comedians make surprisingly good horror actors and directors. Which makes sense when you think about it. Comedy and horror both owe a lot of their success to timing, involve buildup and crescendo, require you to understand human psyche and what makes us tick, and cannot be fulfilled purely in the script, through dialogue, requiring the nuance of body language and facial expressions.

Which is why this directorial debut from comedian Jordan Peele isn't as much of a surprise hit as it perhaps could have been. At least, not to me. Get Out is a film about Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), a black photographer, who travels upstate to meet the family of his girlfriend. The very, very, very white family of his girlfriend. But when he gets there, a sense of unease and the feeling of something not being quite right starts to build.

As you can imagine, race issues are at the heart of this film and Peele himself has dubbed it a social thriller, where the tension rises from those not-so-invisible lines between different social classes. And the film does have a lot to say about what you'd call casual racism. Not the kind where you're actively throwing around insults and insisting that Obama shouldn't become the president because of his skin colour. Rather this film focuses its social criticism against those people that insist that they're not at all racist, but nevertheless only know other white people and stop for a moment to stare when a black person happens to wander into their neighbourhood.

As for the horror aspect of the film, it's a bit more, shall we say by the book. Nothing we haven't seen in a million other films, albeit done with enough panache to tide you over. Personally I was hoping for a bit more from a film that was hailed as an instant horror classic, but I guess that most of the film's positive hype came from that aforementioned social commentary.

Nevertheless, it's not a bad film by any means. It's a well-acted social commentary teeming with uneasy atmosphere. And if you're looking for that feeling of ants crawling down your spine, then this film is well worth a watch.

House of 1000 Corpses
(2003)

Exploitation style horror fest
Rob Zombie's directorial debut. An homage to both exploitation and horror genres where nothing is in too bad taste, every whim and craving is fulfilled, and quite honestly the monsters in the closet are the least of your worries.

I'd talk about the plot, but it doesn't quite honestly matter all that much. It's there, featuring a bunch of kids getting stranded into a weird house full of weirdos because of reasons, but it's merely an excuse for Zombie to indulge in all the horror tropes.

And I mean all of them. We have the hill billy killers. We have the satanists. We have the killer clowns. We have the body horror fetishists. We have spooky mines and the lab of a mad scientist. We have something straight out of Terry Gilliam's nightmares. We have mermaids (it's better if you don't ask). We have it all.

But don't get me wrong. That's the main attraction of this film. I cannot in good conscience call it a good film, but there is something to its undiluted zest for this genre that's quite attractive. In the right mindset this would be an absolute blast to watch, from start to finish.

Alas, I watched it alone and I watched it sober. A bad combination, which kind of kept the film from reaching its full potential. Oh well, perhaps some another time. I'll keep the film in mind for the next Halloween.

Viy
(1967)

Astonishing practical effects combined with a chilling story
Viy has the honour of being the first ever Soviet-era horror film released in the USSR. Based on a story of the same name by Nikolai Gogol, it tells of a young priest student named Khoma (Leonid Kuravlyov), who gets into trouble while on break from his seminary. But then his crimes back to haunt him as he's called back to pray for the soul of the girl he met during his vacation. The rest of the movie is nothing but those three nights of vigil as he tries to keep the demons at bay through his prayers.

The plot is rather bare bones when compared to modern cinema. The first act of the film connects to the main portion rather loosely and you're not always sure what is real, what is imaginary and what's symbolic. But when you get beyond that first act, the film becomes something quite memorable.

Because those three nights in the chapel are something else. The chapel is this absolutely amazing gothic masterpiece of a set, with dark, twisted angles, spider webs and candles. It has black cats lurking in the corners, grotesque carvings and a cathedral like haunted emptiness to it. While also feeling oddly claustrophobic.

I was also blown away by the effects in this film. For 1960s these are some astonishing effects they're pulling off here. From flying coffins to floating corpses to demons crawling out of the walls. I'm frankly not sure how they even did some of those shots without resorting to computers. Or alternatively, to straight up black magic. This almost puts Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey to shame, while being a year younger.

Not a film for a casual movie fan, but definitely worth hunting down for any diehard horror buff.

Geung see sin sang
(1985)

Unsung classic of the vampire genre
Geung see sin sang ("Hold Your Breath for a Moment") or Mr. Vampire, as it is titled in the West, is vampire comedy horror. More emphasis on the comedy than the horror. It's not very gory at all, although all the makeup effects are rather impressive, and it leans more towards slightly slapsticky martial arts comedy style than true scariness.

Not helping the matters is the fact that apparently in Chinese culture vampires hop. I'm not even kidding. They're called jiangshi and their main method of getting around is to hop around while keeping as stiff as possible. It looks hilarious. But, as this is a comedy, that's one hundred percent alright.

The gist of the story is that there's this priest in charge of a town's funeral arrangements and all things spiritual. He gets a commission to dig up and rebury the late head of a wealthy family, only to find out that the body has not decomposed at all. Smelling something fishy, he has the body transferred to his workshop. If only his two apprentices were not complete morons. Hijinks ensue.

Most of the film's comedy rises from these two knuckleheads, and luckily they're played by two extremely talented physical actors, Ricky Hui and Chin Siu-ho, who can sell all the martial art and wire scenes while making it as funny as possible.

Furthermore, the film has a cool style and while the characters are rather over the top, that's all part of the fun. And it can be legitimately scary when it wants to be, although as stated before, it's a comedy first and foremost.

Definitely a vampire film you won't see every day and as thus most certainly worth a watch for all fans of the genre.

Dunkirk
(2017)

Christopher Nolan's take on a war movie
The event known as Dunkirk evacuation took place during World War Two. The Allies have been forced to retreat all the way to the sea and now they're stuck at a little French village known as Dunkirk. The German forces are closing in on all sides and they have only so many boats to evacuate over 300,000 soldiers.

Dunkirk is an interesting war movie. It doesn't focus on a single individual. There's not even much of a story arc. There's very little conventional structure to its plot. Rather it's a loosely held collection of stories that weave in and out of each other. We start with a British rifleman just arriving to the beach, then we jump to the other side of the channel, then we follow the commander for a while, only to cut to a RAF pilot for a few minutes. None of these characters have centerstage, none of them can really be called the main character. But their collective experiences form a whole.

It's also very intense film. There's always something happening, some problem or crisis that needs solving. And if nothing else happens, a German fighter plane or bomber might strike at any moment. The sound design is especially good. You're always tense, always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Gnashing your teeth. But in a good way.

That being said, while I admire the artistry and the attempt to stand apart from the crowd, I do miss the conventional structure of a story. Or at the very least I would have preferred that one or two of these characters had been dropped so that we could have had more time to spend with the remaining ones. Now it feels just a tad too disjointed.

Still, very good film. On a purely technical basis, easily one of the finest war movies I've seen in years. As for the story, that's going to be divisive. Personally, I liked it, but I can see that some people are not going to share my opinion.

Dark Phoenix
(2019)

Mediocre finale to a pretty good run
Dark Phoenix closes up the newer X-Men run of film, this time with a long-time screenwriter Simon Kinberg stepping into the shoes of a director. And once again they're tackling the Dark Phoenix Saga from the comics. Note the word 'saga'. It is thus named because it's a long story, requiring a lot of buildup. Yet these people always try to cram it all in one movie. I have no idea why.

To the film's credit, it still has an amazing cast. James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender as Dr. Xavier and Magneto, respectively, are so effortlessly charismatic and suave that you could honestly shoot a movie with just the two of them arguing ethics. Sophie Turner as Jean Grey is also not badly cast and she definitely has her moments in the film. The only one giving a lackluster performance was oddly enough Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. Perhaps she was just done with these films, perhaps the script didn't give her much to work with, but whatever it was, she was not bringing even her B game here.

As for the story, it's not great. It's the quintessential two pounds of flour in a one pound bag. Something has to give. Not helping the matter are these alien villains who come out of nowhere, are never properly introduced and don't amount to much more than cannon fodder for the final battle.

That being said, that final battle is a lot of fun, as are all of the action scenes.

Which pretty neatly summarizes the film. It's not deep, it's not particularly well thought through, but it has its charm, its moments. As far as a general superhero popcorn flicks go, I've seen a lot worse.

Dangal
(2016)

Nice biographical sports drama
Aamir Khan plays Mahavir Singh Phogat, a former amateur wrestler, who decides to train his two daughters to become world class wrestlers. Based on true events and real people, the story plays out through the girls' childhood and culminates in the Commonwealth Games of 2010.

The story is told nicely. We start with Mahavir at this prime and slowly watch him lose his edge, becoming more and more desperate for a legacy of any kind. And when he finds it in his two oldest daughters, it's a nice moment. The movie is also a great spokesperson for equality between genders and overall tolerance.

It's also nice to watch a Bollywood film without constant singing and dancing. A nice change of pace.

That being said, the film is long. It's so long. At over two and half hours long it definitely manages to overstay its welcome. Especially as a sports drama, which are usually on the shorter end of spectrum.

The movie also starts to focus more on the older of the two daughters, Greeta (Fatima Sana Shaikh), even though her younger sister, Babita (Sanya Malhotra), has just about as much claim to fame and glory as she does. They even competed in much of the same tournaments, albeit at different weight classes, which is not always apparent in the film.

Still, Dangal is definitely worth a watch if you're looking for a good sports drama and/or you've been looking for a Bollywood film that does not take its cues from a Disney musical.

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