The Wolverine (2013)

The wolverineReleased: July 26, 2013. Directed by: James Mangold. Starring: Hugh Jackman, Will Yun Lee, Tao Okamoto. Runtime: 126 min.

The Wolverine has a stronger story than Wolverine’s first solo outing in X-Men Origins: Wolverine, but still not a fully compelling one. It just doesn’t seem like a fun film can be made for the most popular character of the X-Men. A problem of this film is that it really doesn’t feel like an X-Men film until it really gets into the story – the story and the Japan location gives it such a different atmosphere than the other films. It opens with Logan having a dream of saving a man from the World War II bombing in Nagasaki. Then, he’s sort-of just a woodsman living his life out in a cave in Canada. He’s still really shaken up about what he had to do Jean in X-Men: The Last Stand. The person whose life Logan saved all those years ago, a man named Yashida, requests Logan’s company to thank him for saving his life and he also wants to give him a gift. Once there, he is embroiled in a conflict involving Japanese mafia, and must confront his own demons. 

Logan is given an extra layer of vulnerability, which is a sometimes nice aspect for other characters – but for such a badass character, he’s just boring with this layer. I think this is a more realistic and grittier attempt than the first Wolverine. At times this feels more like a swordfighting/kung-fu movie with mutants than a true X-Men film. It surely keeps the X-Men franchise on a decent path to keep the general narrative going for the franchise, but sometimes there’s so little going on that this just gets boring. A solid finale and a dazzling bullet train sequence caught my attention, but that was about it. An archer brings some fun to the film, as Mangold directs some nifty set pieces with (and without) the archer. The villain of the film, a woman whose poisonous power of a viper snake reminded me of Poison Ivy. Overall, this is an okay film with prominent themes of greed and it features a strong score. The action’s just a bit too spaced out to be anything truly compelling.

The performances are all pretty okay. I liked Janssen’s brief performance as Jean. Yukio (a well-cast Rila Fukoshima) is a cool character, as she has the power to see how people will die. I think it’s a poignant characterization, since she’ll see how all of her loved ones will die. I liked Jackman’s chemistry with Tao Okamoto as Mariko, Yashida’s granddaughter. The films have some decent aspects, as this surely has stronger visuals than the first Wolverine. 

Score: 60/100

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Drinking Buddies (2013)

Drinking BuddiesReleased: July 25, 2013. Directed by: Joe Swanberg. Starring: Olivia Wilde, Jake Johnson, Anna Kendrick. Runtime: 90 min. 

Drinking Buddies is an experimental romantic drama/light comedy directed by Joe Swanberg that follows best buddy brewery workers Luke (Jake Johnson) and Kate (Olivia Wilde) who also like each other, but they both have other romantic interests. This is a film bathed in the idea that beer taints the ability to make good decisions, and you can’t always tell if what you’re doing is right or wrong. It’s like you’re looking at the situation through a glass of beer. This is what helps this film differentiate from other generic romantic drama/comedies, even though this still isn’t good. 

The material at hand just isn’t strong. I learn that the film is entirely improvised, and there wasn’t a script written, only a vague outline of plot and order in which events might take place. This is something that does allow the acting become more believable, but it’s a film that just largely fails. There are just so many other performers who are a lot better at getting laughs from their audience. The actors in this film only get an occasional chuckle. But the cast, also including Anna Kendrick and Ron Livingston, is quite charming. 

The banter between them all is sometimes pretty good. They all have a great chemistry, which saves the film a bit. even when it’s a bit awkward at times. But heck, Kendrick could have good chemistry with a wall. The chemistry between everyone is very sweet. It’s a realistic look at relationships and how picking the person you’ll spend your life with is a hard decision. It’s a look at the confusing times of relationships, too. 

Everything’s a bit frustrating because the viewer probably just wants the two couples to swap partners. The film is sometimes frustrating (this is mostly the third act) and sporadically funny. This finds a strange balance between mildly charming (because of the cast) and mildly boring. The characters are okay, just simplistic. This is just all pretty boring and often frustrating, and it’s just intensely forgettable – and it all feels pretty empty by the end of it all.

Score: 50/100

You’re Next (2013)

You're NextReleased: August 23, 2013. Directed by: Adam Wingard. Starring: Sharni Vinson, Joe Swanberg, AJ Bowen. Runtime: 95 min.

I love horror films. It’s one of my favourite genres. A lot of them aren’t that great, but I think if there is a great one – it’s always a lot more pleasing than say, a good animated film – because that’s a consistent genre. One good horror film of 2013 comes in the form of Adam Wingard’s You’re Next, that actually premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival back in 2011. It’s the latest film to enter an indie horror sub-genre called mumblegore; so I guess that name indicates you should have a tolerant stomach for gore.

It follows a mildly simple premise that, upon hearing about it, you probably wouldn’t expect much out of it; but I couldn’t help but be excited about it because of the trailer’s effective use of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day.” The plot: The Davison family are having a wedding anniversary at their house that’s isolated and a run through the woods away from their neighbors. In some brilliance – and evident premeditated planning – the neighbours get killed off in the opening scene. During the family’s dinner, an arrow flies through the window. They are under attack. Little do the attackers expect, there is a guest in the home that has a knack for putting up a wicked fight. 

The pretty Australian Sharni Vinson portrays Erin, the true badass of the film. It’s nice that it turns the way films portray women as weaker than men right on its head. It’s also refreshing that this film gets set up like one’s average revenge horror flick, but turns out to be a really fun, lite satire, in the way that the title is self-aware (you’re next, guys!) and filmmaker Ti West portrays a character who is a filmmaker, to name a few examples. It’s just self-aware a lot of the times, too – and a lot of the kills are really fun. 

That’s the point, right? Movies like this are just very entertaining. It’s told with the thrills of The Strangers and the witticism and entertainment value in the vein of Scream. While it not be as scary as the former or as hilarious as the latter, it still has its fair share of each – and it turns out to be a film where a lot of the characters aren’t helpless. Some still make some pretty crappy decisions, but that’s expected. The only type of horror where usually the characters don’t make the worst decisions is in psychological horror. This is definitely not that sort-of film.

There’s a great amount of surprises in this film. Don’t worry, none will be spoiled. One criticism I have is a scene at the end, which I didn’t think was necessary – but it did show this film is just here to entertain the hell out of you. Simon Barrett writes the film very well. One aspect that is really cool are the animal masks the villains wear: a fox, a lamb, and a tiger. Their animal masks, and their crossbows as weapon of choice, says that they’re predators (well not so much the lamb). Also, and more importantly, that humans have animalistic instincts. I think that’s a hidden meaning in the film – and one that’s some great food for thought to be found in a horror flick. 

Score80/100

Aftershock (2013)

AftershockReleased: May 10, 2013. Directed by: Nicolás López. Starring: Eli Roth, Ariel Levy, Nicolás Martínez. Runtime: 89 min.

Aftershock is a Spanish-American film directed and co-written by Nicolás López, written with Guillermo Amoedo and Eli Roth. I’m curious to know which writers handled which aspect of the film. The movie is a disaster flick, a commentary on the ugliness of human nature, and it feels like an exploitation film at times. I’d imagine Roth handled that last aspect. Roth, also a star of the movie, gets a few laughs. Also featured are stars mostly known for foreign films. One, Nicolás Martínez, strikes me as a Chilean version of Zach Galifianakis. At least his last name is easier to say. Selena Gomez makes a short cameo as a random party girl. All the actors portray their characters well, at least well enough for a horror film.

The screenplay runs into problems early on that will bother some viewers; the problem is establishing character’s names. The character banter is actually funny (Martínez gives us the most laugh-out-loud moments), but for whatever reason not knowing the character’s names is a distraction to me. It’s sort-of like if I were to meet someone and I forgot their name mid-conversation, I wouldn’t be able to focus because I’d be so sidetracked trying to think of their name. Next time, the screenwriters should make it a habit of letting us know the characters’ names by their first or second scene, third at the latest. For those curious, not until 36 minutes in are all of the primary characters’ names established. Too often was I referring to characters as That Short-Haired Girl, Spanish Fat Alan, and Eli Roth. It turns out Roth’s character’s name is extremely generic, Gringo, a term used for English-speaking foreigners (mainly Americans) in Spanish-speaking countries.

Gringo is visiting his buddy Ariel (Ariel Levy) in Chile, taking in the sights. The two, and Ariel’s friend Pollo (Nicolás Martínez) go on the town to parties, where they meet a few pretty girls who are vacationing in Chile. It seems to me they’re all from Budapest or Hungary. One is named Monica (Andrea Osvárt) who is a controlling older half-sister of Kylie (Lorenza Izzo). Travelling with them is another pretty woman named Irina (Natasha Yarovenko). The characters are pretty okay, I like their chemistry and banter. On their second night of partying together, they’re in an underground night club when an earthquake strikes. When they reach the surface, it seems that the earthquake was only the beginning of their troubles. While trying to survive, they learn the horrors of human nature.

I like the flow of the plot. Technically speaking, it’s good – the cinematography is chaotic at times, but I think it’s used to highlight the chaos of the situation. The visual effects are cool and the sound editing is great. I think the score is well done, too. The cinematography captures some really nice Chilean landscapes. What I think is impressive about this film, is that even though the film’s not great at establishing character’s names, you care about a few of them and audience members feel some of the character’s pain. I think some parts are actually pretty sad. Other character developments aren’t the strongest; notably Roth’s Gringo, who never downplays the fact that he’s a Jew. Some of the things he says are funny at first, but it then it just becomes an irritating character trait. Enough about the characters, because there’s not much more to discuss here.

A layer of intensity is added when a group of convicts are able to escape from the local prison because of the earthquake. This keeps the story going and adds antagonists other than mother nature. The ugliness of human nature is analyzed by some character’s decisions, for example – when a random character doesn’t help a person, even though that said person helped her. That’s just a simple way to show how people can be crappy. The ways it shows how humans are ugly is only rarely so tame in Aftershock.

It seems to me, the reason why people might dislike this film is that there’s just a lot that it’s trying to juggle. It’s partly a disaster film, while expressing the ugliness of humans, as well showing each character’s will to survive. All with lots of gore. There are a lot of simplistic themes throughout, but I think they’re handled well. However, juggling all of these approaches to this kind-of filmmaking doesn’t allow it to boast full control and focus. This also takes the traditional horror route a bit too often. It seems that the viewer will have to decide whether this is a profound analysis of the ugliness of human nature or just another exploitation flick from Eli Roth’s extensive cannon. It feels like both to me, and both approaches are good.

Score63/100

The Conjuring (2013)

The_Conjuring_423.jpgReleased: July 19, 2013. Directed by: James Wan. Starring: Vera Farmiga, Patrick Wilson, Lili Taylor. Runtime: 112 min.

James Wan’s The Conjuring has something too often missing from modern horror films: real scares. I think this film is scary as hell. This film is enough to make me paranoid before bed, but not able to lose that much sleep. If I had seen this in theatres, it may have been a different story if I’d seen this in theatres because of the creepy score and great sound design, and couple that with surround sound, it might make viewers very paranoid at points. This film does start to creep me out just thinking about it. And how effective is that?

The true story follows the Perron family, an ordinary family haunted by a hateful spirit in early 1970s Rhode Island. For part of the film’s first act, focus is shifted between the Perron family and demonologists (the only two recognized by the Catholic Church) Ed and Lorraine Warren (portayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively) until the Warren’s go to help the family.

Lorraine is given an extra layer by something that happened to her in a previous case. Her husband is more protective of her because of that, and it gives them a great chemistry. This also gives the two characters a nice layer of vulnerability. The two actors are great, so they’d have a great chemistry regardless. To find both good characterization and memorable performances already seems like a rarity in today’s modern horror market. I think the family gets some pretty good characterization, too, and they’re performed well by Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor and Joey King. The family dynamic’s explored realistically. I like the idea that, when one is younger, their imaginations make them more vulnerable.

What makes the movie more interesting is a sub-plot on another one of Warren’s cases, where an inhuman spirit inhabits a truly eerie Annabelle doll. It’s what helps introduce the Warren’s into the film. I think their lectures are fascinating, and they add on to the mythology of demonology and paranormal activity; other scenes add to the mythology, as well.

The film takes the old-school horror route with old-fashioned scares and a great foreshadowing of what’s to come; like clocks stopping at a certain time each night, pets being scared of the house, and bruises on bodies. The creepy score is used well for foreshadowing, as well. The 1970s styled costume design is great, especially for Farmiga. I think it’s interesting to see how they plan to catch demonic activity before advanced technology. The scares are simplistic but endlessly effective and memorable, and the imagery and crazy spooks stick with you. A lot of this is edge-of-your-seat, sweat-on-your-palms scary. I think something that is impressive is that the film doesn’t lose its footing when the entity’s revealed, it gets even better.

James Wan is a master at creating a haunting film like this. He understands the atmosphere and creates it realistically. The always switching camera angles and points of view keep things interesting and refreshing. The cinematography is just great, and the editing just as awesome. Something that makes this film a bit more ominous is that it’s based on true events. To think that this can happen to you is really scary. Some scares are foreshadowed, and sometimes the simplest of developments (foggy breath, shadows following each family member) prove to be some of the most chilling.

This is the best horror film of 2013, just beating out Evil Dead. It all leads up to one phenomenal finale, and what’s more memorable is how the finale has a lot going on, spanning different settings, but manages to have great focus. This also has one hell of a memorable exorcism scene.

Score92/100

V/H/S/2 (2013)

VHS 2Released: June 6, 2013. Directed by: Various including Adam Wingard, Gareth Evans. Starring: Kelsey Abbott, Adam Wingard, Mindy Robinson. Runtime: 96 min.

With hearing that V/H/S/2 is stronger than its predecessor, my expectations were slightly higher. What a mistake that was! While this film improves a few aspects over its predecessor, the general quality is worse. It improves on its frame narrative by giving us a stronger and more controlled segment called “Tape 49,” that furthers the mythology of the mysterious VHS tapes. It’s a bit similar to The Ring, if you ask me. The story that ties the segments together is that these two private investigators are looking into the disappearance of a woman’s son. One private eye portrayed by Kelsey Abbott is really cute. The other is a bit of a slime who makes some extra cash by scams; he films married men sleeping with women (Mindy Robinson for her hotness, but she’s been about 107 films and TV shows since 2012… So, porn star numbers, or just random hooker roles, amirite?) and then threatening to send them to the wife of the husband. These characters in the frame narrative get more character development this time around.

I think a good thing about the film is that the runtime has been shortened by twenty minutes. This time there’s only four segments and then one frame narrative that also works as an okay segment. “Tape 49” is okay, a little scary at times, and it’s more focused than the frame narrative of the previous film, but it’s still nothing special.

I’ll talk about the segments I don’t like very much first. The second main segment in the film is called “A Ride in the Park” and concerns a man on a bike ride, and goriness follows. This film shows an interesting POV that allows to see first-hand a transformation into one of horror’s most beloved creature: a zombie. Let the film’s obsession with zombies begin. The segment offers an interesting approach, but I think it’s largely boring. It makes me think twice about having a birthday party in the forest, but it’s just all lame and not scary.

The final segment is also nothing special. It’s set at a slumber party that gets visited by aliens. The “creature” effects are well-done, perhaps all-too-traditional, but still creepy. The cinematography in this one truly takes the viewers out of the experience, as far as I’m concerned, even for found-footage standards. It just makes it difficult to see what’s going on. This also a strange mix of a boring approach to film-making, and a freaky one. The characters are completely unimpressive and it’s all a bit perverted, at times.

There’s one segment called “Phase I Clinical Trials” that is actually pretty good. There’s one short scene in it that isn’t that great, but that’s about it. I think the foreshadowing is well done and the camera angles are great. The perspective is from a man’s eye transplant, because he lost it in a car crash. The perspective is similar to that of “Amateur Night” of the first film. There’s a recording device in the character’s electronic eye. The way things pan out makes me think twice of getting a transplant. The premise reminds me of an episode of the children’s TV show Are You Afraid of the Dark? where a pair of glasses allows the user to see shadows from a different dimension. It’s not the same thing as this, and it’s certainly R-rated here, but I think it has some similarities.

My favourite segment is “Safe Haven.” Well, the first time I watched it was an on-line viewing and there weren’t any subtitles during a segment where Indonesian is the main language (it’s co-directed by director of The Raid: Redemption, Gareth Evans); so do yourselves a favour and don’t watch this on-line, because it’s difficult to find a video with subtitles. But with subtitles, it’s awesome – and I think it helps to watch this segment twice, because I’m still trying to piece together some of the film’s aspects that, at the time seems irrelevant, but ties into the story well. That’s an effective aspect to cinema, and the segment’s very smart. This one has some awesome gore and some effective scares. The basic premise is a suicide cult taken to the extremes in horror. Ti West’s The Sacrament handles a perspective on the People’s Temple aspect, and this handles some suicide cult aspects just as well. The Father loses his ever-loving mind. It seems to me it’s a suicide cult taken to the true extremes, with hinted layers of pedophilia It’s all pretty interesting and completely bat, sh*t, crazy. I won’t spoil any more. It’s just awesome cinema.

The first film, I liked four out of six segments; but here, I really only like two out of the five. The frame narrative is okay, and even though this has a more brief runtime and boasts more control, the general quality of the segments is much weaker. At least the segments that I do like are pretty great. Overall, this is a disappointingly weak sequel.

Score55/100

 

I Spit on Your Grave 2 (2013)

I Spit on Your Grave 2Released: September 24, 2013. Starring: Jemma Dallender, Yavor Baharov, Joe Absolom. Directed by: Steven R. Monroe. Runtime: 106 min.

I’ll keep this one short and sweet. This follows the exact same formula as the previous film, except the writers have developed an obsession with feces. This time, the cruelty is uninspired European cruelty. The story follows a woman who is trying to make into the cutthroat world of modeling, and she sees an advertisement for a free photoshoot because she needs more pictures for her portfolio. This puts her on one of the photographer’s radar, who takes a liking to her. A day soon after he breaks into her apartment and rapes her. This shows that he is an unlikable character, and the other characters are just helping him get out of this crappy situation. Well, once they have her captive, it shows that they are just as cruel.

The murders this time around aren’t as great, and the kills in the first one weren’t that good, so that’s saying something. This is all awfully filmed with a lot of despicable characters and an uninteresting lead who has one of the most annoying screams in recent memory. I think the only thing this film does differently from the first is the fact that it shows how the woman managed to survive being left for dead. It’s a decent convenience, but a better convenience would be this film’s disappearance from existence.

Score38/100