Mini-Review: The Sorcerer and the White Snake

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Sorcerer and the White Snake

Eventually this film does figure out where its going, and in essence what it wants to be, but its biggest struggle is in the build up. There are parallel story threads that have to join but also there are combative, jarring techniques, and dueling tones that never really find a harmonious balance. Juggling tone is one of the hardest things for a film to do. When a film is doing that and also juggling approaches for much of the first half it can be virtually insurmountable.

When the film settles on what its main narrative thrust will be, oddly enough, is when the pace starts to suffer. The climactic showdown is seemingly never-ending and a full-out assault of the substandard visual effects work we had just gotten the occasional taste of for the first hour of the film. Granted DVD is less forgiving than celluloid, but with many titles shot and projected digitally, films are less and less forgiving and this hits you with its effects work and it hurts.

However, as indicated above, the effects work isn’t the main issue. The fact that the narrative is based on a Chinese legend is also granted. So it’s not what happens in the film that’s the issue as how it happens. It’s the kind of story that may have been more impressive animated when you take into account how certain things were handled in live action from the stuntwork, to prosthetics, acting, dialogue and so forth.

Oddly enough while the film is still patchwork is when its most successful. When it finds its narrative focus all its deficiencies come into focus as well and there are many.

3/10

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Mini-Review: A Haunting at Silver Falls

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

A Haunting at Silver Falls

When it comes to any kind of film, especially horror films, it’s not so much about doing something new so much as it is about doing it well. Rendering a style of tale well, and if you have some new twists or a new angle to tell the story with, even better. This film fails miserably on both accounts. It’s not for lack of effort, but were it not for late-narrative reversals there’d be nothing going for it. The staging and execution of scares a terribly substandard and the performances do nothing to lend any credence to the story being attempted. The tale difficultly slogs its way through two acts then really tries in the end, but even a perfect latter third would not have redeemed it.

3/10

Mini-Review: Bad Kids Go To Hell

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Bad Kids Go to Hell

This is a film, which in a similar vein to Detention you can’t knock because it’s not trying, but rather it’s the method in which the attempt is made where its issues come to play, and there are several. Namely one persistent issue that comes to the for is that the film never truly justifies my engaging in the stories or the characters. This isn’t a generic likability complaint, the film quite firmly states it’s not going to be a warm-and-fuzzy detention tale like The Breakfast Club (Though parts definitely echo it). However, the characters do have skeletons in their closets that are discussed, and while none of them are ever likable or well-drawn, they’re mostly uninteresting too.

It’s a film that goes down a rabbit hole, and flips the script on you a few times, but each concussant shift in the story makes it a more frustrating journey. It’s built on a flimsy pretext that gets eschewed, questioned, left vague, then gives us rather ridiculous renditions for the detainees punishment and a tangled, overly-contrived web that unravels itself out of the horror genre the film seems to be taking you into the whole time.

However, it is mainly the decisions, execution, casting, performances, characters and writing that are the culprits here and not the genre it plays in. The movie starts out poorly and spirals ever downward from there; the twists only serving to frustrate you as you are still not heading back in a desirable direction.

2/10

Mini-Review: Kiss of the Damned

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Kiss of the Damned

WARNING: This review has a spoiler within, albeit one that occurs in the first 10 minutes.

If you thought the Twilight films over-played the indecision on Bella’s part with regards to her deciding to turn into a vampire (which it did), you should see the alternative and decide which is worse. This honestly isn’t a terrible spoiler. The leading man’s decision to allow himself to be turned happens quickly, without much struggle and his character is virtually without function thereafter. For much of Kiss of the Damned there are allusions to would-be plots that never get followed through. The closest thing that exists is the ongoing quasi-explicated bickering between two sisters. However, the only thing really driving the film forward is the fact that the closing credits have yet to roll and not anything organic in the story. It’s a pastiche without semblance of rhythm. The film is an occlusive facade sheltering a vapid narrative.

1/10

Mini-Review: 2 + 2 (Dos más Dos)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

2 + 2 (Dos más Dos)

It’s funny that 2 + 2 should come to me now in short succession after having seen 4some and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. The difference here is not just another cultural one this film being from Argentina as opposed to the Czech Republic and US respectively. There is a slight twist because two couples who have been longtime friends have had a secret. Betina (Carla Peterson) and Richard (Adrián Suar) tell their friends they’re swingers.

What works best here is that it not only creates conflicts as many ways as it can (tell the secret/don’t tell the secret, do it/don’t do it, Test it out/don’t test it out) but it also fully explores them without seeming to be methodical, but rather natural.

One function of a tale like this is that it really gets to the core of a relationship and puts a divide in couples and forces them to examine themselves and each other. This is usually great fodder for actors to work with, and the performances here are stellar. The tone can also go either of two ways it can be very dramatic or very comedic. This one, like 4some, is mostly comedic but it balances the dramatic intentions of the stories well, and it handles long passages of time with unusual deftness.

Comedy is one of the genres where you usually look for a standout in a given year. There have been a dearth of offerings and only on pretty good result until now. This is the first film this year I laughed pretty persistently with through lengthy sequences, and it stands up on the dramatic end in equally well. There are great touches a long the way, really funny dialogue and committed performances. It’s one to look out for.

10/10

Mini-Review: The Depraved

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The Depraved

Using the concept of urban explorers this film follows five tourists who seek to look about the tunnels underneath Berlin. It’s hard to say what’s most interesting about this film whether it be the proper execution of an extreme tourism concept that The Chernobyl Diaries failed with, or the fact that it combines in a horror film both tropes of Nazi Germany and the Cold War mindset of postbellum Germany.

The film not only has a strong sense of locale and finds one with tremendous visual appeal but there are also some brilliant practical effects work and strong performances all around, most especially by Nick Eversman and Klaus Stiglmeier.

This also compares very favorably to As Above, So Below.

8/10

Mini-Review: The ABCs of Death

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

The ABCs of Death

Most of the things that are interesting to consider about this film, sadly, have little to do with the film itself. For one, due to the fact that it is an extreme example, it forever defeated to notion of averaging out scores in an anthology. Math is no way to quantify such an experience, and I may highlight that in a separate post at some point.

Another thing that is interesting to consider, though it does not make it better or worse, is that filmmakers were assigned their letter and given a $5,000 budget. The only way either of these traits makes itself apparent is with the two shorts that decided to go the “we don’t have a decent idea for this letter” route, which is fairly lazy and uninspired. Many of them do well at least in terms of production value.

However, what it more often than not reaffirms is that telling a story in approximately five minutes is very hard. Sadly, in most of the cases neither a style or a decent narrative was firmly established. Overall it becomes a very unnerving viewing experience because of the wide array of voices and variegated quality of the shorts.

If I had to put a number on it I’d say about five work very well. Two of those on a style over substance basis. It ends nearly as badly as possible and the convention established of revealing title, letter indicated and director after the short is over rendered many predictable, a few insipid and most frustrating.

It’s not for the feint of heart or weak of stomach, that in and of itself does not make the film an excruciating experience, but the envelope being torn apart to tell mostly inane and inept tales does.

1/10

Mini-Review: California Solo

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

California Solo

To not put too fine a point on it this is a film that features a circle closing. It’s a character study, a low-key drama which isn’t going to have outlandish plot points and twists and turns. There is progression and conflict, mostly of the internal variety, but it’s more subtle than one is used to. The circle closes on this story, but some slight coming to terms has occurred.

So how does one go about assessing a tale wherein little to seemingly nothing changed? It comes down to the engaging nature of the narrative, how it builds, how the subtle construction of it works.

Carlyle’s performance is great, but in a tale such as this that tends to be a given rather than a boon. What seems to be missing here is not the change or the evolution but the crescendo. Instead the impetus for change seems to be more of the same. The inciting incident in essence repeats itself such that what our protagonist strove to avoid becomes unavoidable, it’s how he looks at it that changes and it’s very internalized.

To go on much further would be to literally spoil it. It doesn’t have to be revelatory eureka moment, but a more profound, moving, defeated – any kind of emotion really – button to this tale, even with similar structures being supported, would’ve carried more weight.

5/10

Mini-Review: Dracula 3D (2012)

Introduction

This is a post that is a repurposing of an old-school Mini-Review Round-Up post. As stated here I am essentially done with running multi-film review posts. Each film deserves its own review. Therefore I will repost, and at times add to, old reviews periodically. Enjoy!

Dracula 3D (2012)

This particular selection from Dario Argento was an official selection of last year’s Cannes Film Festival and was recently picked up by IFC Midnight here in the US. However, if you are a fan of his I would not recommend you go out of your way to acquire the film, as I did, and simply wait for it to roll around as a rental [It has rolled around on DVD and Blu for purchase and rental. Rather cheap even for a 3D version]. If you are not familiar with Argento do not start here. I’d recommend Suspiria as a jumping off point.

Much of what’s unfortunate about this film is the disconnect between certain elements: there is throughout a very uneasy relationship between the well-photographed, geometrically intricate, well-lit shots; gorgeous production design and a tendency to go for really unconvincing and unfortunate CG. This is not just a complaint about CG blood, but larger elements. Much of the CG blood usually upon opening wounds and then the close-ups use practical effects well.

An issue of a less nitpicky nature is the that there isn’t a consistent enough progression and amplification of stakes and incidents. Argento has always had a leaning to a slow-burning style but there there’s not a lot of intrigue to buffer that slight build here. Those peaks where there are spikes in the action, where we need to feel the oomph, are usually undercut by the CG work.

The scoring is great, and minus some seriously off moments by some lesser players the acting is good to passable. One thing that had me searching online after it was over was that there is a veritable bestiary of creatures that this Dracula can become. This is not inaccurate, but with the redefinition that cinema has had in various versions over the years it rather took me aback without a more overt introduction in this tale. However, it really is the stuttering pace, the disjointed nature of certain elements and fairly lifeless final third that keep this version from staying afloat.

5/10