Movie Review – Thanatos, Drunk

301959-xxl

EXPECTATIONS: Typical art-house drivel.

REVIEW: Slow is deliberate. Beauty is substance. Silence is emotional. If you are wondering about what I mean by those statements, I am talking about art-house expressions, told in simple layman terms. Why am I mentioning this? Because the term “art-house” applies to the film, Thanatos, Drunk. Winning many awards at the 17th Taipei Film Awards and the 52nd  Golden Horse Film Awards, it did get my expectations up. But I have been fooled by critically acclaimed art-house films before. Despite all the film-making prowess that you can muster; it can result in nothing pretentious stylistic flourishes and an astounding lack of substance in getting ANY audience to care. Case in point: some of Hou Hsiao-hsien’s films like The Flowers of Shanghai. So when I started to watch Thanatos, Drunk, I was afraid it might be a chore to watch. But to my surprise, it was worse.

1069987824_x

Synopsis from FilmBizAsia: Whenever Rat (Lee Hong-chi), who works at a market stall, visits his alcoholic mother (Lü Hsueh-feng), a former actress-turned-mama-san who lives by the banks of the Tanshui River, she nags Rat to get a proper job and stop hanging out with Shuo (Chen Jen-shuo), an underworld gigolo whom he looks up to and with whom he shares a flat. Shuo’s girlfriend, a club dancer, is Rat’s cousin. Rat’s older brother, Shang-ho (Huang Shang-ho), had earlier upped and left one day for the US; now he’s returned, after losing his boyfriend there. He stays with Rat and gets a job with a film company in Hsimenting district, urging Rat to cut down on his drinking and also find a steady job. One night, Rat rescues a mute young prostitute (Chang Ning), for whom he has a soft spot, from a violent client, cutting him with a hooked knife he carries. The two gradually fall for each other. Meanwhile, Shuo finds his past catching up with him; he’s beaten up and also told that Rat will pay for the scar he caused. Back at the flat, Shuo has his wounds tended by Shang-ho, who then starts coming on to him.


1438236701_365827bfb4dc6a8eedae87269a810331

The film starts off with a long-winded prologue about Rat’s mother droning on and on about her suffering while recounting her life story before giving birth to her two sons. Which, by the way, you can tell that the microphone is being covered when you hear the actress’ dialogue being muffed. Then it jumps (I don’t know how far in time, the editing is unclear in a lot of scenes) to the main character, Rat, working, and looking outside a window of his friend’s home, seeing a rat dying outside, while his friend Shuo is banging his cousin. That’s when I knew, I was not going to like this film. Rat seeing a dying rat, while he mopes around in his drunken stupor? Could that not be any more obvious as a metaphor? It also has characters staring into the horizon or the sky as some sort of emotional reflection. It may have some effect on me if the characters were defined, but they remain annoyingly one-dimensional. Rat is meant to be  the main character, but his actions are so random in their purpose, he just looks like an complete idiot, especially in scenes where he is playing with ants or pig heads.

Other characters such as Shuo and Shang-ho are just as ill-defined. In the case of Shuo, he is a ladykiller, but when he encounters Shang-ho, it is so obvious that he is somehow attracted to Shang-ho, but the direction from Chang Tso-chi is so blatant instead of ambiguous that when the so-called crescendo of the two happens (with a strong sex scene), it comes with a finality that the audience can appreciate just so we can get on with the film. It does not help that the acting is quite mixed. Lu Hsueh-Feng is over-the-top as Rat and Shang-ho’s mother to the point that her character could be the reason that her sons are messed up. Director Chang sure as hell does not know for sure. Lee Hong-chi plays his role just fine, portraying the rebellious nature well, but he can’t add inner life to his character that makes him sympathetic or even grounded. The biggest impressions goes to Chen Jun-shuo and Chang Ning, since they either are animated or add life to their roles, especially in the case of Ning, who is basically the only source of hope in this film.

video-asiamedia-com572dd395-2887-37c8-a704-2f84cf630b7d_full

Since the acting is quite flawed, the characters should make the journey worthwhile, but it never happens. Like many films of this type, it suffers from characters who are wholly unlikable, irresponsible and downright implausible in their motives. A character in the film gets pregnant and yet they attack their partner for their faults in their position. Do not expect much of the audience to care about characters who know the ramifications of their actions, yet they do them anyway, and expect them to care. It just makes them look like total idiots, or people who have off-screen head injuries. The climax of the film concludes in gory moments, with plenty of stabbings and killings, but the result can be seen in unintentionally funny ways, since some of the execution (pun definitely intended) of the deaths is poor, particularly in a case of a suicide, which just looks really cheap. The storytelling is just as bad, since the time jumps are so out of order, I have no idea how much time has passed or know if a certain character died at that time or not.

I did expect the film to be a chore in terms of its art-house ambitions, but the characters make the film a lot worse to the point that I got a bit infuriated. Do not expect me to care if the badly-defined characters are their own faults of their incredibly stupid actions in their eventual fates. Thanatos, Drunk is just an empty shell of a film it wants to be and I’ll leave it on this note.

td1

When your film has a sex scene between two men realizing their sexuality AND a gory climax and they both elicit unintentional laughter and relief, your film has serious problems.

Quickie Review

PROS

Some of the acting, cinematography and music is good

CONS

Frustrating and pretentious storytelling

Inconsistent acting

Insistent and blatant directing

Unsympathetic, ill-defined and idiotic characters

SCORE: 2/10

Cast: Lee Hong-chi, Cheng Jen-shuo, Huang Shang-ho, Lv Hsueh-feng, Wang Ching-ting, Chang Ning, Lin Chin-yu, Chin Tsu-yen
Director: Chang Tso-chi
Screenwriter: Chang Tso-chi

Movie Review – Ghost Theater

cb41040a

EXPECTATIONS: A return to form for horror director Hideo Nakata.

REVIEW: Director Hideo Nakata has been long-anointed as a Master of Horror due to the wildly successful film, Ringu (1998). His film(s) including the latter and its sequels/prequels had started a massive wave of Asian horror films and remakes for many years to come. He also had good films post-Ringu like Chaos (2000) and Dark Water (2002). But his recent work has been very problematic and some were quite abysmal. Films like the British film Chatroom (2010) and the sequel to the remake, The Ring Two (2005) were laughably bad and even his native work like The Incite Mill (2010), L: Change the World (2008) and Monsterz (2014) were mostly seen as disappointments. But he ventured back to horror with The Complex (2013) and while it wasn’t a triumph, it was, in this reviewer’s opinion, an entertaining film that was reminiscent to 90’s horror, with a great lead performance from former AKB48/rising actress Atsuko Maeda. Now, Nakata remakes his own work, the 1996 horror film, Don’t Look Up, to create Ghost Theater. Is Ghost Theater a return to form for the man who was once known as a Master of Horror?

67e8e578ce16579b1a131a62667887cd

The film starts off with a prologue that shows two schoolgirls being scared out of their minds by a moving mannequin. Their father (Ikuji Nakamura) tries to destroy the doll, but only manages to decapitate it before the police arrest him on suspicion of murder. AKB48 member Haruka Shimazaki stars as Sara, an aspiring actress who wants her big break after working small roles like a cadaver in a TV crime show or recently, a corpses in a crime scene. She goes to an audition for a small role in a stage play of “The Whimper of Fresh Blood”, to be directed by renowned director, Gota Nishikino (Mantaro Koichi). Sara captures the attention of the cast and crew (positively and negatively) and she is cast. The lead actresses Aoi (Riho Takada) and Kaori (Rika Adachi) look down on Sara but that’s the least of Sara’s problems. One day, a female crew member is mysteriously found dead after acting possessed and Aoi is found unconscious, after seeing the mannequin supposedly winking at her. Having memorized all of Aoi’s lines, Sara is, in a serendipitous fashion, cast in one of the lead roles. It is only later in the rehearsals of the play, does things get more malicious and spooky, to the point of the possibility that the production is cursed.

Oh boy, where do I start with this film? Well, I will give the film credit for this. This film did scared me and shocked me. Of how incredibly bad it was. Seriously, this was both one of the most disappointing AND one of the most unintentionally hilarious movies I’ve seen this year. Let me start off with the acting. Every single actor in this film acts as if William Shatner was their acting teacher in teaching them how to look scared. All of the actors are hamming it up in their expressions of fear to the point that it would seem like it is their last role of their careers. This kind of acting would pay off big in kaiju/monster films but in a horror film like this, it just comes off as laughable. It’s not entirely the actors’ fault, as Haruka Shimazaki does fine as Sara. But when the characters are not developed much as all, the actors become are lifeless, particularly Riho Takada and Rika Adachi, who play Sara’s rivals. You figure that the two would ham it up at those moments of jealousy, but nope. Most of the fault goes to director Nakata. His overuse of reaction shots to supposedly offer scares only offers a 180 approach to complete and utter hilarity. Even the reaction shots are used when the actors are reacting at nothing! There’s a scene where characters are possessed and they spout out the word(s) “Gimme!” over and over. It’s supposed to be scary, but it comes off sounding like a zombie cheerleader squad. It’s as laughable as it sounds.

gekijourei3-760x506

Speaking of Hideo Nakata’s direction, everything from his talent in his use of sound, his assured storytelling, his way of wringing suspense and tension through eerie visuals and the power of suggestion are all absent in this film. Everything is just plain assaultive and cheap. The sets, the lighting and the cinematography (which tries to emulate a giallo film) never offer a minuscule amount of spooky atmosphere and the sound design, I swear, could’ve came from old film stock and it is used in the most unsubtle way. Like sounds of rain or thunder utilized in Ghost Theater could’ve only come from films in the 50’s, and that’s not a compliment.

Speaking of cheap, the main villain, which is a mannequin. You can’t say dolls cannot be scary (Chucky is a great example) but in the case of Ghost Theater, this has to be the least scary antagonist in a horror film in a long time. The look and movement of the mannequin will elicit more passive shrugs and amused loud chuckles than gasps. Maybe gasps of air before chuckling again. It moves like a malfunctioning robot with little power left in it. Hell, its movement adds to the unintentional hilarity in the climax when the characters are too damn slow to outrun the damn thing.  And the storytelling (or the script) is incredibly boring. Filmed within the same sets for the majority of the movie, and set within the same dress rehearsals, repeating the same lines over and over, alongside the droning narration, it becomes incredibly tedious. Until the hammy acting starts up again.

43480491

Now are there any positives besides the unintentionally farcical humour and Haruka Shimazaki? Not much. The music, from Mamoru Oshii collaboator, Kenji Kawai, is fine on its own merit, but does very little for the film. The story itself had tons of potential to become a great film, with elements of giallo for atmosphere and gore, the Black Swan influence for psychological trauma, or a whodunnit mystery on who is causing the murders. But unfortunately, that’s all it is. Ideas without proper execution. Instead, we get the nadir of Japanese horror.

Admittedly, this film was one unintentionally hilarious experience to witness (the reaction shots from the actors can’t be taken seriously), so for lovers of so-bad-it’s-good cinema, it can be a worthwhile experience. But on the other hand, it’s just so sad to see such a director stoop so low after knowing what promise he used to have. If you want a sure impression of the film, watch the trailer. It’s a pretty accurate impression of the film, if you ask me. As much I hate to say it, this film is pure unadulterated dogsh–

ctseorzucaax860

gekijourei-new-movies-photo-1

Quickie Review

PROS

Haruka Shimazaki gives a fine, if unimpressive, performance as Sara, the lead

Many moments of unintentional hilarity, thanks to Nakata’s blunt direction and the hammy performances of the actors

Kenji Kawai’s score is fine on its own, but not the way it is utilized in the film

CONS

Cheap production values from the sets to the lighting and the cinematography

Nakata’s direction is so assaultive, that no suspense, tension or scares can be found

The acting, for the most part, is terrible or worse, lifeless

The storytelling is boring, with droning narration and many scenes of repetition (rehearsals of the same lines happen over and over)

The antagonist is laughably stupid in appearance as well as execution

SCORE: 3/10 (The nadir of Hideo Nakata’s career.)

Cast: Haruka Shimazaki, Mantaro Koichi, Rika Adachi, Riho Takada, Keita Machida, Ikuji Nakamura

Director: Hideo Nakata

Screenwriter(s): Junya Kato, Ryuta Miyake

Movie Review – Fantastic Four (2015)

EXPECTATIONS: Not as bad as the buzz claims it to be.

REVIEW: Another day, another reboot. And this time, the reboot is for Marvel’s first superhero family, the Fantastic Four. Adapted into a film produced by Roger Corman back in the 90’s in a spectacularly campy fashion, it was then adapted into a Hollywood film (and a sequel) in 2005, starring Ioan Gruffudd, Jessica Alba, Michael Chiklis and Captain America himself, Chris Evans. While I haven’t seen the Roger Corman version, I have seen the Hollywood versions, and while I never liked them, I never really hated them like other superhero fans. Sure, it was goofy, lighthearted and downright fluffy, but at least it felt warm, inviting and I really enjoyed the chemistry between Evans and Chiklis, as the two provide many amusing moments. Which is unfortunately more than I can say for the reboot, which is by far, in my eyes, the most boring superhero film I have ever seen. At least films like Batman and Robin and Catwoman go by on a fast clip and/or are so hilariously campy, they become fun to laugh at. This reboot has none of that slapdash charm and is just a slog to get through.

Five highly intelligent people (Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell and Toby Kebbell) are hired to embark on a science project of transporting into an alternate universe, but the experiment backfires, leading one of them to their supposed death and the remaining four stricken with shocking abnormalities that make them superhuman. Learning to adapt their abnormalities and embracing them into gifts, they are thrown into a battle between a super-villain which could lead to the end of Earth.

I have never written any spoilers in my reviews before but to be honest, I have completely revealed the entire plot in the synopsis. And this is one of the many problems of the film. Nothing actually happens in the film. 80% of the film’s running time is set in a lab. That’s an approximate 80 minutes of the film. Watching this movie in the cinema a few months back, I remember wondering what was strange about this film and I realized that there is no complication in this film. Every story must have an orientation, a complication and a conclusion. In other words, three acts. But in Fantastic Four, there is no second act. The first act is 80 minutes and the final act is a middling 10 minutes. So the film is all exposition, very little to no build-up and a so-called climax. And boy, the climax is the most problematic part of the film. The green-screen is glaringly obvious, the dialogue is embarrassing, the fight is incredibly anti-climactic and there is no sense of danger or tension for anyone in this scene, despite the best efforts of the actors at hand.

Speaking of the actors, every single one of them are completely wasted. Nothing in the film helps them whatsoever and they just end up looking like they just had their souls sucked away. Miles Teller looks like he needed a drink (like in his earlier film The Spectacular Now) while making the film. Very little of his charisma (or any person, for that matter) is shown and it makes the supposed camaraderie with his supporting cast look incredibly awkward. Michael B. Jordan looks like he should be in a Fast and Furious movie whilst Kate Mara barely makes any impression and Jamie Bell is absent for long periods of time, making one think that he should have been the invisible one. He makes no impression underneath the Thing persona, that they could’ve cast anyone to play Ben Grimm. But as for Toby Kebbell, I feel sorry for him the most because the way the film-makers portray Dr Doom, it is more embarrassing than the 2005’s portrayal. He looks like a horrible version of an egghead Silver Surfer with glow-in-the-dark jizz all over him and he can apparently blow people’s heads up, but he never attempts to do that on the Fantastic Four themselves, especially at Planet Zero, where he is strongest.

Which leads me to the so-called script-writing and editing of the film. Oh boy, here we go. One of the most iconic quotes spouted by kids and adults everywhere is apparently borne out of a child abuser who happens to be Ben Grimm’s brother. Why does Reed disappear for a year that is shown in a title card? Why doesn’t Reed let Ben tag along for the earned scholarship since they BOTH worked on the teleporter together? Why would Johnny Storm’s father hire his rebellious deadbeat of a son to work on a once-in-a-lifetime science project when he could easily hire someone more equipped for the job? How does Dr Doom get a torn-up rag as a cape when he was stuck in Planet Zero for a year? How is it that Reed can change his appearance as well as his voice? If the blast that came from the teleporter made Susan earn the powers to become invisible, why doesn’t anyone in the blast radius have that power too? There’s a hell of a lot more, but clearly someone was on something when they made this film. Even worse was the dialogue, which suffers from what I call the George Lucas syndrome. Where EVERYTHING is spelt out for us. Every human emotion or action is spelt out for the audience like they are mindless idiots. This happens particularly in the third act, when Reed would explicitly spell out what the audience is seeing. Even the mood of the film is so gloomy that there is no fun to be had out of the experience.

I would’ve went more in to the infinite errors of the film (I haven’t even started on the CGI/green-screen of Miles Teller yet) but I feel like I’m bagging out the film. I really don’t want to but there aren’t that many good things in the film to really point out. Just some good ideas that are not properly explored enough like the use of body horror in portraying the abnormalities of the characters (except Susan, which was just lame) and the music from Marco Beltrami and Phillip Glass. This film was just a disaster to begin with that just goes to show that not every superhero film needs a gritty treatment, but they need an actual script. So in conclusion, I think this film is pure dog–

Quickie Review

PROS

Some good ideas (incorporation of body horror)

The musical score mildly affects

CONS

The writing is atrocious (i.e the origin of one of the comic’s catchphrases is hilariously misguided)

Dr Doom is a fucking joke (not only does he look wrong, his motivations are almost non-existent)

The green screen/CGI is laughable (Miles Teller is clearly green-screened in the forest scene)

The whole movie is a set-up, leading to nothing

The entire talented cast is wasted

SCORE: 2/10 (Doesn’t even qualify as so-bad-it’s-good entertainment)

Cast: Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara, Jamie Bell, Toby Kebbell, Reg E. Cathey, Tim Blake Nelson, Tim Heidecker
Director: Josh Trank
Screenwriters: Jeremy Slater, Simon Kinberg, Josh Trank