Dario Argento’s classic Suspiria is one of the highlights from the golden age of the 1970s horror genre.
Intense in every sense of the word, Argento’s film is violent, visually vibrant and surreal with an alarmingly ear-grating soundtrack intentionally designed to set the audience’s nerves on edge. Be prepared for an experience that is both oddly immersive and abrasive to the senses.
The lighting, set design and shot composition are more the stars of this film than the doe-eyed lead, played by Jessica Harper, who merely drifts from one scene to the next as if led by an invisible hand.
The film’s vibrant visuals are just enough to counterbalance a feeble, sometimes nonsensical story and nonexistent character development. Some of its colorful dream-like qualities and childish dialogue make more sense when the viewer understands that portions of the film were inspired by the dreams of co-writer Daria Nicolodi, and that the script originally intended for the protagonist and her classmates to be no older than 12, but neither excuse a weak story.
Suspiria is a stunning film like no other, so be sure to put it in your canon of “must-sees” for cinematographers, art designers, filmmakers and horror buffs alongside other visually salient works like Roman Polanski’s Repulsion.
Rating: 3 / 5
By James Gilmore
From the director of 13 Assassins comes Ichi the Killer, a gruesome but creative narrative that challenges the senses with its pushing of sex and violence to the extreme in an orgy of gore (a “gore-gy” if you will). (Ichi is banned in several countries for its “high impact violence and graphic depictions of cruelty”[Wikipedia].)
Although listed as an action/comedy/crime film imdb.com, Ichi may feel more like torture porn than anything else to regular movie-going audiences. Its surreal, creative departure from typical gore flicks is intriguing, enhanced by a unique soundtrack, thoughtful acting, and a deceptively simple plot which takes on new depth at the midpoint.
Ichi’s tortured main character is furnished with the uncanny ability to paint any room with a smorgasbord of blood and guts. A sexual dysfunctionary, this weak-minded assassin is the victim of manipulative bullies who push him to avenge a non-existent incident from his past. And while the film plays out as a visual dissertation on sadomasochism, the story is actually about bullying and bullies who, as adults, are fighting for survival among the fiercest criminals of the Shinjuku underworld. The protagonist manages to purge the screen of its many villains in a disappointingly anti-climactic conclusion.
Although it may be the most light-hearted torture porn ever made, Ichi the Killer is not for the faint of heart. Anyone expecting innocent laughs, seat-riveting action or a good old fashioned crime story should avert their eyes and ears and move on to something else. File Ichi in the “most gruesome films of world cinema” category, right next to Salo.
Rating: 3 / 5
by James Gilmore
In an attempt to branch out in review material, Blue Gender is this blog’s first Minimalist Review of a TV series—a Japanese anime TV series at that.
Seemingly inspired by another anime series called Neon Genesis Evangelion (and occasionally approaching near plagiarism of it), this 26-episode animated series proves to be an incredibly dark, violent and gory sci-fi that is externally centered around a chosen few individuals who pilot exoskeleton suits (read: big robots) to fight off a global alien invasion. Internally, the story is about one individual trying to find his purpose in a seemingly pointless existence.
Although the series stays afloat with decent execution, it suffers from numerous logic holes, a unique but blunted concept (a directorial issue, see below), and a bloated, inefficient plot spread too thinly over 26 episodes. Even though it improves somewhat over time, the whole series still feels two episodes longer than is necessary. The plot is sometimes too predictable due to directorial shortcomings in dramatizing big reveals, even if they do occur on cue in a solid over-arching structure. The underlying emotional/relationship content remains adequate for the genre but could have been taken much further given its powerful seeds. Barely worth mentioning is the all-too-frequent laughable dialogue and occasional clips of unnecessary nudity (justified as “fan service,” which is typical of the anime supergenre).
Despite its numerous shortcomings, Blue Gender remains coherent, well structured, directed, animated and characterized, ultimately leading to a surprisingly entertaining end result, even if the commendable main character has a habit of becoming irritating a little too often. Testaments to the series’ impressive visuals are its gruesome imagery, realistic future technology, intimidating foes and intense battle sequences, most notable in the first six episodes. Most striking of all is the uniquely remarkable soundtrack which combines dirty grunge and dark choral with the experimental.
In the end, Blue Gender is worth a look for those into adult sci-fi series featuring an alien invasions, big robots and wholesale slaughter.
Rating: 2 / 5
by James Gilmore
The most remarkable feature of The Mothman Prophecies is its arrestive visual acumen and atmosphere. Not a minute goes by without haunting imagery gracing the screen.
Unfortunately, the story is weak at best, and its interlocking pieces ragged, tired, or forced. Although the supernatural entity known as “the Mothman” is supposedly the lynchpin of the story, he need not exist at all since the plot involves a number of individuals having prophetic visions, and the fact that the Mothman sometime appears in them is only incidental. Also superfluous to the plot is the main character’s relationship with his wife (the focus of the B Story), which fails to have any conclusive ending nor any reason for inclusion in the film except as a weak initial impetus to move the protagonist to the remote location of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.
Laura Linney’s acting performance is worth mentioning. Despite the minimalist approach to her character, it proves to be one of her best performances and indicative of her serious dramatic acting ability.
This psychological/supernatural thriller is also a borderline horror, and will appeal to those in the mood for an intriguing, even perplexingly illogical, filmic experience.
Rating: 2 / 5
by James Gilmore
Cloverfield (2008) is like reliving a Godzilla movie from the ground and might be more aptly named “Godzilla Takes Manhattan.” Still, it is truly a B-movie concept with A-level execution. Filmed in the style of minimalist cinéma vérité with the main action taking place over a 24-hour period, this tense adventure is delightfully immersive and filled with excitement at every twist and turn, although a satisfactory epilogue feels unfortunately absent.
At times the first-person camera work will make the viewer ill, it eventually settles to the point where one no longer notices. There are annoying eruptions of chaos and some repetitive dialogue, but these are fairly superficial in comparison to the overall emotional and visual strength of the film. The character of Beth (played by Odette Annable) stands out as glaringly weak in comparison to the remainder of the robust cast, with the exception of “Hud” (played by T. J. Miller), whose character may rank among one of the most annoying in history—nearly on par with Jar Jar Binks.
The most blatant issue Cloverfield is that it feels comprised of two separate films intercut together. The opening of film accurately captures 21st century youth in its indigenous environment, complemented by enough relationships and life problems to carry the rest of the film without any monster at all. While the monster portion of the film certainly connects the two parts of the story, they could have been separated into two equally-satisfying stories.
Cloverfield is also reminiscent of Quarantine (also 2008), only without the quarantine, or Godzilla meets The Blair Witch Project (1999).
Rating: 4 / 5