Sphere (1998)

Sphere (1998)

sphere

What is it you fear? Do you fear your nightmares? Do you fear alien life? Michael Crichton is a terrific author. He has treated readers worldwide with stories that provoke the mind with thrilling entertainment. Stories such as Jurassic Park, Timeline, and Andromeda Strain shows us Crichton has quite a knack for storytelling. However I myself have not read a few of these including Sphere itself. I understand it was a mind bending thriller, no doubt, but did the movie live up to the expectations of Michael Crichton’s handy writing? I’m afraid not. Sphere starts out really well, then somehow rolls down hill. Then up again, then levels out, then down again. It’s a twirl down from a great hook then all is left is pressurized frustration on what is going on and where the story has gone.

This review would be more knowledgeable if I had read the book myself, one day I will. Because after this, I felt my time was wasted. Everything that lead up to it’s end point fizzled flat. I give huge credit to start, though. About the first half its a perfect popcorn flick. You are laughing at the jokes, asking same questions as the main characters were asking, and feeling drawn in on the suspenseful moments. It’s a perfect set up because you have a mix of The Abyss and Alien where a team is assembled and they must venture somewhere into the unknown, facing something foreign; alien. Sphere, for a moment, even feels like a horror. But the weird begins to happen and you start having withdrawals. What am I getting myself into? I certainly was not expecting that to happen. One action leaves to another. Questions seem to skip the answers and you forget totally about them. This creates plot holes galore.Like key subjects that I believed were crucial to the story manifesting a truly thought provoking thriller. Including loop holes that don’t make sense despite the bizarre circumstances. Instead, Sphere dives deep into the weird leaving nothing but vast pockets of nothingness floating abundantly. I think the movie could have made a 90 degree turn, perhaps even a 180, creating something special.

This was something truly unique. It had potential to be an underrated masterpiece or a down right classic reminiscent of Jurassic Park’s success. I’ll give it that, Sphere will keep you totally engaged. Something was always happening. The dialogue was never dumb, I actually paid attention to each characters’ contribution. I thoroughly enjoyed some of the discussions the main protagonists were having and fit the movie perfectly. Acting was even decent to say the least. The budget is there to support the film giving a glipse of a scientist’s expedition underwater would be like. 

The movie moves so fast forward though to the next event, you almost forget some key plot points that previously happened. I love movies that make me think and even ones that are open ended for discussion among the viewers, but this my friends, is no table talk. You will be as baffled as the next person. Scratching your head, trying to undo the knot in your mind that’s bent three quarters to nowhere. Leaving you at the end with no value, as if you have wasted your time. With a perfect set up and cast we hope all the chaotic wierdness will come together in the end. Too bad we’re not gifted with an imagination to forget the potential here that has gone awry. 

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The Thing (1982)

The Thing (1982) – IMDb

The thing

Briefly I would like to explain my absence and apologize for it. For the past three months I have been in Basic Military Training for the Air Force (hua!) and have been missing my currently small but meaningful followers. To pay tribute to my return I have decided to review an all time favorite of mine: John Carpenter’s The Thing. Recently, I purchased this movie for my third time off of Amazon. A long awaited Mondo’s Steelbook Collector’s edition that I have fallen in love with. With a haunting bleak cover of snow and blackness, and a ghostly mutated figure screeching upwards on the left side of the case – the words THE THING etched across it’s chest. And subtle, hidden words lie beneath this beautiful box: Man is the warmest place to hide. I gladly unwrap the movie and recall my favorite moments, and times I introduced this bad boy to fresh eyes. Much like when I told my friend he HAD to watch this movie upon it’s arrival a week after basic, hence, he does not like horror. And I told him if there were ever a horror to watch before you die it must be The Thing  (and given, a few others). He was quite hesitant until this day, today, I had the pleasure of finally showing him after weeks of anticipation. He’s a hard nut to crack, my friend, but has said it contained a good, enjoyable plot and good characters. Seeing 25 years is around the corner of it’s release, that it has stood the test of time and is a worthy addition for your shelf. However, he said, it seemed drawn out and some of the characters were not well developed. Is he right? Meh, to my degree of thinking HE IS WRONG. But I will explain later, ladies and gentlemen.

If you are reading and have witnessed this bloody awesome movie then I hope you have enjoyed it as much as I have. If not, then you’re on the wrong ship. Those of you who still need to pop that cherry, I suggest, as a movie lover, watch it. Experience it. Take in the cold and bleak wasteland that is of Antarctica. Where everywhere you go is isolation. Where you thought the below 40 degree weather was the worst of your fears. Until you find out there’s a 100,000 year old UFO beneath the ice. A neighboring outpost is left burned and destroyed, inhabiting nothing but ice and dead bodies. What do you do? The radios are down. You have acquired a stray dog who appears to be normal. Then things happen. Abnormal things. Things you can’t explain. One thing leads to another thing. The characters begin to question each other. Without noticing, you start questioning them. Soon enough you question yourself, Are You Crazy? The thing creeps up on you, slithering it’s way to your brain, becoming absorbed, clouding your judgement. You start building a shanty spaceship out of scraps thinking escape is the answer, I’m telling you that’s not it. You’re infected. Take your last shot of J&B Scotch and burn yourself.

The thing about The Thing is that you begin asking questions from the start. Who are the Norwegians and what are they saying? What is the dog doing? Then more questions begin to form. I think what makes a good movie, specifically this one, is to keep the audience engaged. Have a setting that they become familiar with so they  have the feeling of isolation. Introduce characters we can relate to who can also represent the daily human being. Keep them diversified. Make their personalities stand out and make it seem they have been working with each other for months to the point they appear close. Now throw them in a situation that they need to survive within a stationary location. Where they are faced with unknown, terrifying threat and need to survive with little resources. Where their wits are their best weapon by a foe who takes over it’s host. But they become challenged, divided – their trust tested. This alone, is my favorite part of the movie. The psychological fear can be witnessed on each characters faces. Like the scene when the blood is tested to see who is really who. This scene is what sold director John Carpenter to be a part of it. It was really well done. I feel for the guy because his movies are great but at the time, if any of you know, critics and audience alike did not swarm to his movies let alone Halloween. This made most of his movies a box office flop, only to be picked up by fans in the later years. Carpenter was hit hard by the critics as well. Saying “He’s better suited to direct traffic accidents, train wrecks and public floggings.” Ouch. If it’s any compensation, Mr. Carpenter, we love your movies now. the growing popularity even grew another limb in 2011 entitled by the same name The Thing. Which was a prequel and was to say the least OK. It tried to explain some questions from the first but left out the amazing special effects from the original (1982, not 1951).

I’d like to go out on a separate limb here and comment on the simple but haunting score. Done by Ennio Morricone, using a deep three note bass cord. I thought what was more impressive is that it sounded like John Carpenter did it himself since he has scored for many of his own movies. It fit perfectly, giving Antarctica that lonely, ominous feeling.

Let’s not forget the hard working special makeup effects creator Rob Bottin, who worked himself to exhaustion. Stan Winston (Aliens special effects) stepped in to lend a hand for the dog kennel scene. What’s cool about the effects is it’s actually made and not computer generated like modern movies (i.e. The Thing (2011)). This is where most of the terror, I believe, s produced. The imagery is grotesque. Like pulling guts out from two deformed bodies entangled together creating this twisted freak of a monstrosity. Or when a body’s chest opens up and clamps down on the victim’s arms and tears. And the head dislocates itself from it’s body and forms into it’s own nightmarish creation. You truly believe every part of this thing wants to survive.

Now, to comment on something my friend said earlier. The Thing can feel slow but something is happening and it adds to the storyline if not the characters. It’s a quiet progression, like the cold environment it is set in. The slowness, like other films I have reviewed and said, draws you in and makes the shock value increase. And these moments here are bloody, holding nothing back. As for the characters, you get to know how each individual reacts under pressure and in the face of peril. You see who stands out as the leader, the follower, the strong and the weak. I found myself questioning who to trust and having to change my belief, as did my friend.

The Thing and Alien are among my most beloved films in cinema. They both follow similar criteria; isolation and a small crew against an impossible foe. The Thing is even watched annually June 21 in Antarctica by researchers and the like. Its becoming a forgotten film by the younger generation but I will spread it like an infection. Without it we wouldn’t have the many imitators it has today. It even spawned a chilling videogame in 2002 that elaborated on the ending with a rescue team arriving to the outpost to search for survivors. I played it many years ago and due to it being difficult and being frightened I never finished it. If there were ever going to another installment, I feel this would do justice. (Even though I think sequels/prequels have potential to lessen the value of it’s predecessor.) Since the ending leaves you in the cold to ponder did something survive? It’s the ending that completes this masterpiece. Whether or not a direct sequel will be touched upon only time will tell. Would it be worth the admission?

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Bargain Bin 1

With so many movies releasing every year it’s hard to keep up. A lot of time is spent on which one to watch?  Hoping you wouldn’t regret your decision after the two hours are up. You may choose one through networking because a friend told you to watch it. Or this other flick was hailed by a bunch of critics. Or perhaps you decided not to listen to anyone and watch some random movie out of the mainstream or whatever the case may be. Well, here’s someone else not to listen to: me.

I have compiled a small list that shouldn’t take up much of your time to skim through; a random selection of movies on different budgets, languages, genres, and other rubbish you may find amusing. Whether whatever weather outside, you sit on fur or leather, this is your chance to be pickey-choosey for your pleasure.

Here you go:

Hunter Prey (2010)

This small film caught me off guard. Whilst i was binge surfing on Netflix I decided to give this movie a try. I knew nothing about it and was rather impressed. A small squad is traveling with a cloaked prisoner on a distant planet when he gets loose and they must find him. Simple right? Hunter Prey is really well done for what it sets out to accomplish. Even though the soldiers’ costumes look like they were borrowed from the Clone Trooper sweat shop, it’s easy to write off for it’s still believable and the make up is also well done. Just please, do not watch the trailer. You are better off not knowing anything since the trailer somewhat ruins the twist and makes it seem more like an action movie.

PS: If you liked Enemy Mine you’d like this.

13 Assassins (2010)

I love Japanese culture and their art style. I love samurai movies even more. Takashi Miike gives himself a break from his outrageous horror/gangster films and brings us a story about thirteen samurai who are set on taking down a corrupt, evil leader. And he is evil. The film is set up in two parts basically, the first is build up. This is when Shinzaemon Shimada collects the twelve other samurai on a suicide mission and in contrary, the evil lord shows us just how evil he is. For some, the first hour may seem slow as it really lets us get to know a little bit about each character. Those who are patient, however, will be rewarded. The last hour is nothing but blood shed as the thirteen face off the many in epic fashion.

PS: I love the wide range of colors presented in every frame. Most notably when Japan’s landscape is shown. 

Session 9 (2001)

A little known horror film that came across my way through a friend. This wasn’t a movie i thought he would even like in the first place so when i watched it I was surprised that HE was the one who found it. Session 9 doesn’t need jump scares, no need for gore, just the real Danvers Mental Hospital to film in. At first, everything seems easy enough for our asbestos cleaning crew in an eerie, haunting asylum. But not everything is what it seems in this psychological horror. Hiding secrets can result in brutal fatalitie. Brad Anderson’s editing, shots, and music is what really creeps up your nerves. As well as the session tapes. There’s something about this place that will leave you feeling mental.

PS: Even though the movie isn’t widely known, those who have seen the ending and were left scratching their skull were not satisfied for it’s rather ambiguous. This is a movie worth watching with some people who are open for conversation. I, myself, loved this film for it will have you thinking for days to come.

The Fisher King (1991)

What to say about this delightful movie? I blessed myself when i purchased this without giving it a first look and  it was the one of the best decisions i ever made. It’s a story about fate and moving on from the past. When a radio DJ (Jeff Bridges) who lost his fame due to assisting a woman’s suicide, crosses paths with a looney hobo (Robin Williams) with a tragic past, becomes a comedic tale of redemption and love. Jack (Jeff) befriends the bum hoping he can help him find his true love and aid his past. All performances  are top-notch giving Robin enough room to be weird and heart warming, and letting Jeff be the down-beat cool guy. A favorite of mine from Terry Gilliam.

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (2005)

I’m a little butt hurt this movie isn’t more well known, or to my knowledge it is not. You have a kick a** cast and amazing one liners. Scrap that, the whole script must be heard. Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr are perfect together, seeing that Val nearly steals the show in every scene.  Their chemistry and delivery couldn’t be any more pluperfect. The story line is a little everywhere which will take you a couple times to re-watch this. That’s not a complaint though, do yourself a favor and have fun solving this jazzed up mystery. I couldn’t recommend it enough.

PS: Still reading? Stop, i found your movie. 

Honeymoon (2014)

Honeymoon (2014) – IMDb

This movie is quite unnerving, especially if you stick around until the end. Honeymoon starts slow, showing you how these two newly wed love birds, Paul and Bea, are affectionate towards one another. You watch their relationship and can’t help but care about their blissful existence. Movies usually start after development about twenty some odd minutes in, and it’s somewhere after these twenty minutes things begin to change. You feel this change in relationship, in the atmosphere. It goes from happy to eerie and to downright creepy. Honeymoon isn’t a horror that’s all in your face and relies on bloodshed and heavy special effects. Although, where there is in small doses, it makes all that much more effective. The movie is more psychological since you watch this mystery unravel through Paul’s eyes, watching his new wife act so oddly, like a stranger, and like him, neither of us really know what’s going on.

The movie begins with Paul and Bea discuss their wedding and proposal to the camera. It’s light, funny, and maybe some could relate. Next, they arrive at their honeymoon cabin mountain side next to a lake in a small community with almost no one present. They are a happy couple and we’re happy for them. The writing seems genuine and handles the events that unfold with care. It is slow but not boring. Something is going to happen and you almost don’t want it to, however, one night changes their lives forever. That’s when things become really interesting and creepy. The slow pace helps us ease in to the mood and the shock value is increased.  Honeymoon is a slow burn mystery that becomes increasingly unnerving and leaves you feeling anchored at the bottom of the lake’s bed.  Rare finds like this makes movie viewing worth while if you don’t want a film to attack your senses every five minutes. It’s a worthy find if you catch it before it catches you.

Identity (2003) – IMDb

via Identity (2003) – IMDb.

It was around my 4th-5th grade year when Identity came out. Once it was released on home video my dad rented it and one night I really wanted to watch it. This was during the time when I was exploring all sorts of movies, expanding my knowledge on such great films. After watching Ghost Ship (not so great) and found it a little scary I thought I could watch anything. So late one night my father placed the movie in and before pressing play he says: “If you have any questions, save it for after the movie”. Unfortunately he fell asleep and I was left mesmerized, scared, and contemplating the whole story with questions raining in my head. I went to school the next day and heard a friend say she watched it the night before as well, I sprang into action and proclaimed “wasn’t it awesome?! What did you think?” She didn’t understand it and so she didn’t like it which baffled me. Never have I seen a movie or experienced one like this at that time in my life; this movie marked my love for psychological movies.

The story starts with one small act of an event that causes a chain reaction for several strangers to confront each other in a small, deserted motel in the middle of a storm out in the middle of nowhere. But the weird starts happening, people start dying, one by one. Tension rises with clues and twists that makes everyone a suspect making your head tumble like in the drier just to figure it out. Identity even points the finger for you, playing with your head. You will keep guessing until the very end and questioning what really is going on. Is it supernatural? A dream? Or just some trick? Some will probably figure it out beforehand but it’s fun ride none the less, since something is always going on.

John Cusack did an okay job as the limo driver, it isn’t his best work by far. Although, I’d enjoy to see him in a horror flick; he has a dark, curious presence that fits. Ray Liotta did a fine job as the cop, as well as John Hawkes as the manger of the motel from *southern accent* Mulberry.Gary Busey was convincing as the con-man and Amanda Peet’s acting felt a little forced but was good. The motel itself, though, is a dark, suspicious place. A place that you would dream about and wouldn’t want to get lost in, in it’s cold and wet, creepy atmosphere. The motel is shot beautifully by James Mangold who was enthusiastic about this moody, mystery project.

Identity is a great psychological thriller with elements of horror. It’s fun the second time round watching it, but after that the experience wears down, unless you watch it with someone with fresh eyes just to see how they take it in.

The Babadook (2014) – IMDb

via The Babadook (2014) – IMDb.

What do you do when your kid asks you if you want to die? Especially if it’s coming from your son who no one wants to be around with. Even you start wishing your boy was normal. The Babadook is a very well written boogeyman tale that delves into your psyche and hits the dark corners of your mind and emotions you wouldn’t expect it to do at first sight. Firstly, you have a single mother, Amelia, played wonderfully by Essie Davis (where’s the nomination?) who works at a retirement home and takes good care of her seven year old son. She is in need of help, mostly due to the absence of the affectionate touch from a man in her life and sleep depravity. Someone give this woman some chocolate and a day off. Amelia lost her husband on the day of the birth of her child, Samuel. Samuel is a troubled kid who fancies magic and plays with his imagination. But when is it ever imagination? He takes up arms in defense from this dark force and, like his father, speaks his mind, talking about the monster where ever he goes, even scaring kids his age. The crazy talk is heightened to a new level when Amelia says Samuel can choose a story to read before bedtime, of all stories he chooses The Babadook. The words and the pop-up pictures are no less than unsettling and peculiar. Where did this book come from? Like the film itself, the book is draped in black and grey, paling colors making it feel ghostly and depressing. She says to choose another book but Samuel wants to keep reading the story he has chosen. From here, the weird begins to escalate. Amelia even rips up the book and tosses it. But after three heavy knocks at the door, the book returns at her door step. She turns for help from her sister, Claire, but she wants nothing to do with her, especially Amelia’s son who talks about a monster and unintentionally hurts Claire’s daughter. Good going. More sleepless nights occur, more encounters with the boogeyman. Amelia looks to the police to report someone stalking her and her son, but she knows they would write her off as crazy. The stress level starts to wear down on Amelia and you see it, you even start to experience it. My head felt toyed. Is this real or is she just experiencing a nightmare? She begins to mistreat the boy (oops, I said it) like her psyche takes a sinister turn. It’s something you wouldn’t hear her say or see her do, it’s just not her, not what a mother would do.

The story is similar to the likes of Insidious and many other scary movies involving a troubled kid and a dark spirit who wants to house your body. What makes this different though is it’s approach. Even though there are some good creepified moments, this movie isn’t all that terrifying. It was more psychological than expected and focused on family values. There’s a lot of build up, too, which made it more of a drama. The ending leaves you a bit unsatisfied seeing that the first 3/4 of the movie promised a strong conclusion. You will be scratching your head. Have you figured it out?
I plan on adding this film to my collection. The Babadook will hook you in to it’s dark atmospheric tale. The build up helps you understand Amelia and Samuel’s situation which is why you care and makes moments more stressful. The mother even becomes scary at a point, but I recommend you watch this just to see how The Babadook stands out from other horror gems. By the way, if you hear three knocks, don’t let it in.

Till Human Voices Wake Us (2002) – IMDb

via Till Human Voices Wake Us (2002) – IMDb.

Till Human Voices Wake Us I found while binge looking on Netflix for movies to watch in the future. I knew nothing about it except Guy Pearce’s character, Sam Franks, meets a woman who reminds him of a lost lover from the past. Having Helena Bonham Carter and Pearce attached to the feature I was interested in watching it.
A small Australian film that’s sad but sweet. Movie kicks off with Sam visiting his father in the hospital who passes away while during a game of chess. His father’s wish was to be buried in Genoa, Australia. Sam is not comfortable with the idea because it’s where he lost his girlfriend and buried the thought of it since, but it’s dug up. On the way to Genoa via train, he drops his book and loses his place. A woman picks it up, Ruby (Carter), and finds the place where he left off and hands it back to him. You don’t see Ruby again until later that night when Sam is driving through a storm and sees a woman standing on a bridge about to commit suicide. She jumps in the water and Sam is quick to react and saves her. Upon taking her in his care, she doesn’t remember a thing. Thankfully she’s not crazy or else this could have easily been a horror, having said that, this is hardly an R rated film. This is more PG, anyways, Ruby decides to take a walk outside. Mostly shot during one night, Ruby and Sam embark on a journey that covers the footsteps of the same night the tragedy occurred. From a dance hall to finding a dead bird under a rock seems something like witchcraft and we watch Sam stunned at the turns of the night. Especially when they decide to play a word game like Sam and Silvy, deceased girlfriend, would and repeat the same words. Coincidence? You can’t help but feel for Sam. He’s a man who decided to not have reaction and hold back his feelings for he some what blames the death on himself. We want him to love again, we want him to break out of the unemotional deadlock he carries.
Guy Pearce and Helena Bonham Carter have great chemistry together. Helena is very lively and talkative, while Guy is more restraint and cold. There are some nice conversations to listen to that are accompanied by some good chuckles. The flashback sequences to Sam’s younger days flow nicely with the movie and help explain the story as it unfolds. There are definitely deep themes flowing through the film and are not hard to miss. Ultimately, it’s about a man who must dare to relive his past and only then he is set free. A beautiful movie but something melancholy lingers over the whole thing. Recommended for a slow day or for something to think about.
 “If moths are attracted to the light, why don’t they come out in the day?”
” …guess in the day, light comes to them.”