Thursday, November 19, 2009

The X-Files: I Want To Believe (2008)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

Now, if you told me that it's been a decade since I stopped watching The X-Files, I'd actually be inclined to believe you (whether I want to or not). Come to think of it, the first X-Files movie (Fight the Future) was released in 1998. WAIT, IS THAT EVEN POSSIBLE? I was a high school freshman in 1998. O_O


I wanted to see this, the second X-Files movie, when it came out a summer or two ago, but it spent like a week in theaters (curse you, theaters), so no go. But I just watched it. And it was pretty good. Whatever you might say about the premise, I wasn't expecting it to be classic X-Files, just on account of the time lapse alone. But, I thought it was a successful homage to classic X-Files. As a movie, it didn't have the kick and the epicness (nor the aliens) of the first X-Files movie, but I enjoyed it. And it felt like a good finale to the franchise (regardless of whether or not it will be).

Mulder and Scully have moved on - together, but on. Neither of them work at the FBI any longer. Scully has pursued her dream of being a doctor - a real doctor - and Mulder has secluded himself like a hermit in a remote house in snowy...West Virginia? Or somewhere. His work room is pasted with news clippings and actually looks pretty much like his office at the FBI looked (complete with the iconic poster). Also, he's apparently wanted by the FBI for his crackpot theories. Or something.

Well, just when you thought you were out, the FBI has a way of pulling you back in. And yes, certain themes in this movie, while they may or may not have been overtly meant as such, they did have a vague Milleniumistic flavor. It seems that in this movie, Mulder and Scully, who have finally gotten together (and I do mean together), face many of the problems Frank Black and his wife faced - the dilemma of "retirement", in Mulder's case, and whether he can truly ever escape the demons that led him into the field, and whether or not the two of them can keep the darkness that their previous lives repeatedly confronted them with at bay. Et cetera.

So, the FBI wants Mulder back (and they can only get to him through Scully) for help in one specific case, where they have a psychic (who also happens to be a priest and a convicted child molester - on top of whether or not to believe his abilities, there is the question of should we believe his visions, considering his character, and where the visions may be coming from - the attic, or the basement, so to speak) helping them track down a fellow FBI agent gone missing. Eventually, it all leads to a black market organ trade/stem cell research group operating incognito on abducted (and thus quite unwilling) human subjects.

So there's a lot going on, and there's a lot of interpersonal dynamics between Mulder and Scully, and though they may not have the pizazz of their younger selves in the same roles, they are actually quite interesting to see, in a sort of "ten years later" capacity. You don't get to see that with all of your favorite characters. And there are enough nods to classic X-Files fans, also. Mulder's introductory speech is classic Fox Mulder, and though he shaves later, I think, while different, the beard look actually suited him. And his sister does come up briefly as a topic of concern. Scully is still battling with her religious devotion, and its conflict with her skepticism. And another classic character makes a triumphant (if brief) return (and no, I'm sorry, but it's not Krycek...).

I don't think there's a whole lot of point in continuing to ramble on, so I'll stop there. I'll still need to watch the rest of the TV series at some point, as it is the best [English] television show I've ever watched; though I kind of lost interest around that point that Mulder dropped off the cast list. But I had other things going on in my life at that time as well. At any rate, this movie was a satisfactory coda to the series.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

The Fourth Kind (2009)

Note: This review was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

I want to say that The Fourth Kind is not perfect, but I found it to be both effective, and terrifying. And it is, without a doubt, essential viewing for alien abduction enthusiasts. The story focuses on psychologist Dr. Abbey Tyler's personal experiences with the paranormal in her home town of remote Nome, Alaska, where several individuals had allegedly been abducted in their sleep on multiple occasions. The film opens with a frank scene featuring Milla Jovovich, who steps out of her character (she plays Dr. Tyler) and explains the role of the film, as a dramatization of actual events (supported by some supposed actual footage), the point of which is to present the facts of this strange case - allowing you, the viewer, to come to your own conclusions as to what, ultimately, to believe.

And this is the unique approach of this film. Instead of going documentary style and presenting almost exclusively archival footage, or, on the other extreme, going complete dramatization as if to say, 'here is, essentially, what happened', this film mixes the two - going so far as to juxtapose them simultaneously at times. There are scenes where the screen is split, with archival footage being shown on one half, and the corresponding dramatization on the other. In my estimation, the goal of this approach is to drive home the point that the dramatizations are faithful reproductions of the archival footage (perhaps to build firmer trust in the dramatizations), and to constantly reinforce the audience's acknowledgement that these events are true.

We'll ignore whether or not the archival footage is truly real, or also staged, as - though certainly up for debate - the viewing of the movie depends on the assumption that that footage is indeed real. Skepticism on that subject is certainly warranted when discussing whether or not the movie is "real", but allowing that skepticism to taint your suspension of disbelief during viewing is bound to decrease the effect, and your enjoyment, of the film.

Personally, I found the constant bashing over the audience's head of "this is real, this is real" to be highly suspect, actually decreasing my belief in the veracity of the film's claims. One would think that, even despite the skepticism surrounding the issue, if it were true, they wouldn't have to try quite so hard to convince you. Even so, I thought it was a unique approach, and it was interesting to compare the depictions - archival versus dramatized.

Begin Spoilers!

A few words about the plot. Through patient interviews, Dr. Tyler comes to the realization that something strange is going on in Nome, and that it may be related to her husband's recent death - he was apparently murdered in his sleep. Multiple patients report similar symptoms involving difficulty sleeping, and recollections of a white owl watching them from a window - and sometimes inside the room - while in bed. Dr. Tyler decides to try hypnotizing one of the patients to uncover the truth about these strange incidents, and during hypnosis, the patient comes to realize that what he saw was not an owl - and he subsequently goes into a fit of extreme terror. The realization of what he's been experiencing causes him to take drastic (and irreversible) measures in order to prevent it from happening again - and to the rest of his family.

Tension mounts as the good doctor discovers that she's been having the same experiences - and suspects that her husband had them also before he died - and the local sheriff begins to suspect her of foul play, considering the hysterical results of her patients' therapy - which brings up the conflict of wanting to put a face to one's fears at the potential risk of not being able to face up to that terrifying truth. Believe me, the idea of a thing being so terrifying that a person would rather die than live with the knowledge of it is indeed profoundly disturbing (and very Lovecraftian).

The movie tries to take a more or less "realistic" approach to the story - which fits in line with its attempt to convince the audience that it's all true. As a result, even with the dramatizations, which do take some liberties, for effect - although some of the archival footage itself is downright terrifying - we don't get to see (clearly) any actual aliens, nor do we get an exciting scene aboard a spacecraft. In other words, the movie doesn't take us with the abductees, but only shows the results of their experiences from our, Earthly, perspective.

This is disappointing, to be sure, but it would be wrong to think that this film doesn't offer any goods. I was kind of perturbed by the way that they blurred the line between hypnosis and actual abduction. Hypnosis is supposed to just be a memory of the abduction, but here, it's almost portrayed as a repeat occurrence of the abduction. Which is odd because that would almost seem to support the theory that alien abduction is all in the head - which is contrary to the film's obvious purpose of putting forth the alien theory of these occurrences.

Anyway, since from a realistic perspective, it's easier to video-tape hypnosis sessions than actual abductions, it works in the context of the film, but I did find it strange that they used hypnosis almost as a call for the aliens to do their thing. The ole, "I have to talk with them, put me under!" trick. Anyway, we do get to see some terrifying stuff, including plenty of screaming, vague hints of painful medical experiments (again, more from the "see the effects, imagine the causes" angle), some levitation (though not as impressive as seeing a guy lifted up through a beam of light into a spacecraft), and we even get to hear the alien(s) voice, as it relays some very disturbing messages (initially in ancient Sumerian).

End Spoilers!

Altogether, what this adds up to is a very good movie, which nevertheless leaves me feeling a bit unfulfilled, as in, wanting more. All the more reason to pair it up with other alien fare, for an even better entertainment experience. There are a lot of films about extraterrestrial life - the search, contact, etc. - but few, that I am aware of, that deal directly with this specific style of alien abduction phenomenon. I recommend copious viewings of classic episodes of The X-Files - especially (but certainly not exclusively) Duane Barry, of which I was reminded multiple times while watching The Fourth Kind. But, ultimately, for the double feature, I would pair it up with no less than the ultimate title in alien abduction terror - Fire In The Sky.

(Recommendations for other alien abduction movies that I may not have seen are greatly appreciated. ;)

Friday, November 6, 2009

Close Encounters

Note: This compilation was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

In anticipation of the nightmares I am going to be havi--er, I mean, the impending release of The Fourth Kind (as in, Close Encounters of), I have put together a short playlist featuring a few of my favorite (rock) songs dealing with the topics of space aliens, interstellar travel, and extraterrestrial contact:

Jimi Hendrix Experience - EXP
Billy Thorpe - Children of the Sun
Steve Miller Band - Serenade (From The Stars)
Foreigner - Starrider
Fleetwood Mac - Hypnotized
Robin Trower - For Earth Below
Ten Years After - Here They Come
The Rolling Stones - 2000 Light Years From Home
Pink Floyd - Let There Be More Light
The Byrds - Mr. Spaceman
Robin Trower - Day of the Eagle
Jimi Hendrix - Third Stone From The Sun
Black Sabbath - Planet Caravan
Pink Floyd - Is There Anybody Out There?
Roy Buchanan - You're Not Alone

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Horror Movies For Halloween

Note: This collection of mini-reviews was originally posted on Bridge To Better Days. I am reposting it here for archival purposes. It has been backdated to the date of its original posting.

October 31st wasn't any different from the rest of the days in October for me, but for me, Halloween isn't a day, it's a month. And that month is Shocktober. In addition to playing a vaguely horror-related game - Pathologic - for the entire month (and I still haven't finished it yet), I spent the whole month watching horror movies, as is my custom. So now I'm going to list all the horror movies I've watched over the past month, and maybe say a brief word or two (or three hundred - cuz, you know, it's me we're talking about here) about each one:

Cannibal Holocaust (1980) - The goriest movie I've ever seen. Do not recommend it to animal lovers. If you can get past the gross-out factor, though (and while it is over the top, it does serve a purpose to the story), it does have some redeeming factors - including a commentary on journalistic exploitation (which some would argue is ironically weakened by the film's own exploitative nature). This is the ultimate "jungle savages" flick.

The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) - Good movie. For its reputation, it's surprisingly chaste compared to modern gorror standards, and yet, it still manages to be genuinely frightening. The bone room is terrifying, the final girl's ordeal at the dinner table is excruciating, and Leatherface's chain saw dance in front of the setting sun at the end of the movie is CLASSIC.

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) - I actually saw the 2006 remake of this film while it was running in theaters. I think both versions are good, and pretty creepy - the newer perhaps a bit more intense, though. I remember the rape scene being more disturbing in the newer version. Still, I like the older version and it stands on its own. "We'll be french fries - human french fries!"

Day of the Woman a.k.a. I Spit On Your Grave (1978) - A writer-ess from the city gets raped by a gang of country bumpkins and exacts murderous revenge against them. Although ostensibly a feminist's wet dream, the exploitative nature of the film arguably demeans that (what is it with everybody being against exploitation, anyway?). The lead actress in this flick is not only stunningly gorgeous, but actually quite naked for a significant portion of the film, including crawling around in the forest. You might think I'm sick for saying that, what with all the brutal rape going on, but it wasn't the rape I was admiring. It's just unfortunate that, with public morals the way they are, the only way I can get my desired dose of flesh is packaged with either hardcore sex, or violence. Best line: "suck it, bitch" (the second time you hear it ;).

The Last House on the Left (1972) - My experience of this movie was poisoned by a later realization that I probably viewed a censored version of the film. I read comments about it being incredibly intense, but I found it rather tame (likely due to the lack of cut scenes). Still, compared to the later version, it was a cakewalk. It still had its moments, though - like when they actually made the girls strip in the woods. Great '70s feel to it. "My parents work in the iron and steel industry - my mom irons and my dad steals."

The Last House on the Left (2009) - Because of the tameness of the vintage version, I decided to give the brand new remake a watch. The actress in the lead role was totally gorgeous, which made the rape scene all the more disappointing. Because they hardly even stripped her. :-( And, believe it or not, the articles of clothing they did take off had a tendency to magically reappear in the next shot. >:O Anyway, it was pretty intense, the worst parts being not the brutal murders, but the impromptu medical procedures (the dad character is a doctor). Yeah, the medical stuff always gets to me. For some reason, sewing a nose back on is a lot more disturbing to me than slicing it off in the first place...

Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986) - Great film. It's very unassuming, and not like your typical serial killer suspense thriller. It's like a behind the scenes look at the life of a serial killer - absent any kind of overbearing moral agenda (in either direction). It just presents you with this killer - who could actually be a decent guy if it weren't for his bloodlust - doing what he does. "Well, I guess I love you too..."

My Bloody Valentine (2009) - Modern remake of an older film about a miner/serial killer who wields a mean pick axe. The movie itself didn't jump out at me, but I made a point to see this version for one specific reason - the much hyped nude scene. One of the characters is fully nude for like a whole 5 minutes. Verdict? The actress was very "porno chic" (and I say that in the nicest way - though it just isn't my style), but other than that, I give the scene two thumbs up - that includes the actress for doing the scene (I read that it was actually her idea to do it completely nude), as well as the guys behind the cameras for going along with it (not because they wouldn't want to - I mean, come on - but because most people would be too much of a pussy to stand up against the censors for a scene like that). I just hope (against hope) that scenes like these become more common place in a wider variety of films. The only thing that bugged me was what the trucker said after his naked "date" followed him out of the motel room and into the parking lot - "put some clothes on before some kid sees you." *facepalm*

The Brood (1979) - Brought to my attention by some guy I forgot, The Brood is a David Cronenberg film - if that doesn't mean anything to you, then forget it. Admittedly, the actual film experience was far tamer than I was expecting based on the hype, but it was still a good movie. About some brood of murderous children incarnated into flesh by a fringe psych practice ("psychoplasmics", I believe). The birthing scene is pretty icky, but most of the rest of the creepiness factor comes from the juxtaposition of children and murderous violence.

The Fly (1986) - Thinking of David Cronenberg got me remembering that I had never seen (or at least not within memory) his remake of The Fly. I'd seen the old Vincent Price version, and the remake's sequel, but not the remake itself, which is highly (and rightly) acclaimed. Very good, and really got me thinking about the (admittedly fictional) logistics of teleportation (as well as its risks). "I'm saying, I'll hurt you if you stay..."

The Evil Dead (1981) - The extent of my familiarity with this cult classic (regarding it and its sequels as one) has been a few recycled quips (to great effect) in Duke Nukem, and a couple minutes watching a scene from Army of Darkness before switching the channel in disgust (at the slapstick, not the gore). I had read that the first movie was more serious (which indeed it is), so I decided to watch it. I liked it. It manages to be pretty scary, and the over the top gore fx are impressive.

Evil Dead II (1987) - I had read that Evil Dead's sequel was sort of an overlap to the original movie, with some stuff added in, and having watched the first one, I couldn't withhold my curiosity about the inevitable comparisons, so I watched the sequel. It was a lot campier, to my disappointment, but it still had some redeeming qualities, such as some of the fx, and certain aspects of Bruce's - er, I mean Ash's - growing caricaturization; that is, the parts that managed to be cool instead of just plain silly.

Army of Darkness (1992) - And, having come this far, I couldn't resist watching Army of Darkness, just to round the experience out. The slapstick still bothered me, but it was slightly more tolerable in the context of the whole film. Interestingly, I remembered some of the plot points, as well as certain quotes, from an Army of Darkness Doom mod I've played. I have to admit, though, that the immortal quotes (such as, "hail to the king, baby") were more entertaining in Duke Nukem, when they had already become legendary (and were spoken in such a manner), rather than here in this movie when they're still nothing more than cheesy dialogue. :p I was also surprised to find out that this movie was an inspiration for Peter Jackson's later filming of The Battle At Helm's Deep in his silver screen Lord of the Rings adaptation(s) - but the similarities are blatantly obvious, even down to some of the orc - er, skeleton - yells. It's just weird for me to draw such a connection between a silly movie like this and a serious movie like LotR...

Dead Alive a.k.a. Braindead (1992) - Speaking of Peter Jackson, he also did this film, which is notable for its ridiculous - no, make that ludicrous - overabundance of gore. The film itself was kind of so-so for me, and some of it was just grossness for the sake of gross-out. But I cannot deny the sheer brilliance of, for example, the lawnmower scene. Just watch it. Words are not necessary.

Shaun of the Dead (2004) - I had been told this was a really good movie, and supposedly one of the best zombie movies ever. And despite it being a comedic parody of the zombie genre, I decided to watch it anyway. It was indeed entertaining, and a very well accomplished film. I can see why so many people love it. I still prefer serious zombie flicks, though, despite my ensuing decision to go on a zomcom binge:

The Return of the Living Dead (1985) - Since having seen Night of the Living Dead, and reading about the split between the "Dead" and the "Return" sequels, I've been curious about both. The Return titles take themselves far less seriously, but they (well, some of them, at least) do have some things going for them. Return of the Living Dead is funny and entertaining without becoming too silly, and the style/approach of the zombies is very iconic - foggy graveyards, hands reaching out of the ground, etc. The soundtrack to this film is also great, with a lot of rocking tracks. It's very much an '80s movie, but I say that in a good way. I liked the assorted cast of stereotypically punk kids - especially Trash, the girl with an erotic obsession with death, who does not hesitate for a second to strip naked and dance on top of a tomb. "Do you ever fantasize about being killed?" Also, Tarman, the first zombie that comes out of the canister, is by far one of the coolest looking (and sounding, and moving) zombies I've seen, from a stylish (rather than strictly scary) perspective.

Return of the Living Dead Part II (1988) - Part II has that late '80s, cusp-of-the-'90s feel to it, with younger kids in one or two of the lead roles, and more of a neighborhood-wide setting compared to the more claustrophobic first. Also, some elements from the first movie are recycled here, including two of the characters (played by the same actors), who are reinvented (rather than continued) to lesser effect. It was okay, but not as good as the first - although the foggy grave-rising effect remained in top form.

Return of the Living Dead III (1993) - III is not only atrociously submerged in '90s-ism, but it also tries to take itself far too seriously - and that's coming from me - trying to be some kind of dramatic love story where one of the lovers happens to turn into a brain-feasting zombie (although she fights her urges, very hard). Riverman was an interesting character, but ultimately I'd call this one a flop - even the "kickass" sadomasochistic garb the zombie girl dons managed to miss the mark for me...

Dawn of the Dead (1978) - Night's true sequel. I have utmost respect for Romero's original zombie trilogy - now that I've actually seen it. The best part is the sense of the advance of the zombie apocalypse from one film to the next. As everybody knows (right?), in Dawn, our heroes hole themselves up inside a large indoor shopping mall. I guess it's supposed to be a social commentary about consumerism (which I sympathize with), but still, I can't help thinking that if I was in their situation, with an entire shopping mall (and all it's included goods) at my fingertips, that would be a pretty sweet way to live.

Day of the Dead (1985) - I think I liked Day even more than Dawn. Reminds me most - of the three - of 28 Days Later. The early scene in the abandoned city is great. The military guy is a real jerk, but as a character, he's great fun. Dr. "Frankenstein" and his tamed zombie Bub are excellent - the concept of tamed zombies has a strong tendency to misfire (from a serious, rather than a comedic, perspective), but here it's achieved perfectly.

Land of the Dead (2005) - Good concept, entertaining movie, but ultimately disappointing as a Romero film. It turns out I have a hard time taking a film starring John Leguizamo seriously. :shrugs: Also, I know the film hinges on blurring the line between the living and the walking dead, but I don't think the zombies were "zomby" enough. Especially the lead one, who learns faster than the others - as has been noted elsewhere, he looked more like a modern movie vampire (the monster kind, not the emo kind), than a zombie. Ah well.

Suspiria (1977) - Interestingly, I had seen Suspiria's sequel Inferno the same time I first saw Night of the Living Dead (I had picked it up on a whim), so I thought it an appropriate match to watch this after having caught up on the Romero series. Suspiria is a Dario Argento classic which makes full use of the audio and visual aspects of the film medium. Lights, colors, great spooky music, and a creepy story about a witches' coven that runs a dance school. This movie has a fantastic atmosphere, and is the kind you can just put on at Halloween and it'll set the mood perfectly.

Profondo Rosso a.k.a. Deep Red (1975) - Since I liked Suspiria so much, I decided to pick up another Dario Argento classic. Deep Red wasn't as visually stunning for me, and it drags on a bit long, but it's a good classic murder mystery, with some surprising turns, and the use of music in the suspenseful pre-murder scenes is just plain kickass.

Paranormal Activity (2007)

Zombie Strippers (2008) - Going from the title and description, I was expecting this movie to be terrible - and it pretty much was - but, it was a lot more watchable, and had a lot more redeeming qualities, than I was expecting. Okay, I find the concept of a movie that takes place in a strip club intriguing. Don't judge me. Of course, I don't find decaying flesh to be attractive (I swear), but there's a certain novelty value to the idea of stripping zombies. "That chick is cold as the dead flesh of a stripping zombie." The goth chick was pretty hot, until she began to rot. Low point: the V-Cannon...

Outbreak (1995) - More of a Hollywood action-adventure thriller (have you seen the cast list?) than a horror, per se, but there's undoubtedly a horror element to a good deadly virus outbreak plot. Plus, it relates to the theme of that game I mentioned that I'm still playing, so it's relevant to my current preoccupations. I enjoyed the movie, and it was actually quite intense at parts, like the very end.