Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Review: Hannibal

Starring: Mads Mikkelsen, Hugh Dancy, Laurence Fishburne, Caroline Dhavernas,  and Hettienne Park
Genre: Psychological Thriller
Synopsis from Wikipedia: Hannibal is an American thriller television series developed by Bryan Fuller for NBC. The series is based on characters and elements appearing in the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris and focuses on the budding relationship between FBI special investigator Will Graham and Dr. Hannibal Lecter, a forensic psychiatrist destined to become Graham's most cunning enemy. 
Language: English
Status: 13 episodes – Renewed for 13 episodes more in 2014
Rating: 5/5

More than just a typical crime show dealing with the serial killers, Hannibal delves deeply into the book account -- layering and combining elements of the source material with themes found in other horror classics. Certain subplots and characters from the novels are followed more closely than others, others are completely scraped or modified in favor of giving a more modern day twist. There are also side characters and story lines introduced that never appeared in book (or movies) but I enjoyed them since they added a fresh addition to the overall narrative. One of Fuller's visions was to more thoroughly expand upon Will Grahams character and explore the idea of Graham, Jack and Hannibal maintaining a much more complicated relationship.

One of the best parts of this show is that every single character serves a dynamic purpose. The central actors, Mads Mikkelson, Hugh Dancy, and Laurence Fishburne are extremely well matched in chemistry, are cast excellently and deliver their lines convincingly. Episodes are an hour long, which allows the story unfolds at a natural pace, with calculated cut scenes and slick edits. The haunting soundtrack enhances the cinematic quality of the show and creates an atmosphere that caused the hair on my arms to raise during some of the more frightening scenes. There are silent, vaguely supernatural sequences full of visuals that never feel too heavy-handed or pretentious. Symbolism presented in these scenes make more sense after you've finished watching the series. The cat and mouse dynamics between Hannibal and Will becomes more and more fascinating as it unravels. This is where the writers get an A +. There's a uncomfortable, borderline intimate exchange between the two of them. As the show progressed, I begin to dread the inevitable outcome of their relationship.

Also, I didn't catch it the first time, but the writers intentionally designed the bathroom to look almost identical to the one used in that one crazy scene in the Shining. You know the one. And while this is an extremely dark/grisly show, it still has a stylized, dreamy feel to it with a similarly strong aesthetic. For those worried that this evening thriller would be laden with stomach turning blood splatter and nonstop gore, please rest assured that the camera never lingers on a moment of carnage for longer than necessary nor does it aim for maximum shock value through gratuitous violence. I read an amazing analysis that made me realize how often the camera would focus more extensively on a character's reaction towards a sickening crime scene, rather than the actual object of horror itself. This was more effective than zooming in on the gore – maybe because it left room for our imaginations to work as we react to the character's reactions as we try to envision what the character is observing?

Anti-hero, Hannibal is so urbane, sophisticated and polite that its unsettling whenever were reminded of whats hidden underneath his sleek, polished veneer. At one point I had to start covering my eyes during the scenes where he was in the middle of preparing the “gourmet dishes” his visitors found so delicious. The presentation is so pretty that its easy to forget you're most likely looking at human remains rather than Iberico pork loins drenched in sweet Cumberland sauce, for example. Protagonist Will is never portrayed overly sympathetically, though we can't help but feel sorry given how he's perceived by his colleagues as this twitchy, somewhat broken individual, his constantly traumatized mental state and the powerful, internal struggles he faces while dealing with his darker nature. The final scenes of the last episode are so twisted and disturbing, that they send chills down my spine whenever I recall it. This show has received critical acclaim from the most nit-picky  of reviewers, praise that's well-deserved. I'm looking forward to buying the boxset for the behind the scenes look at the show, and I'm honestly not the type that cares for such things. And for once I actually enjoy fandom with all its silly contributions of art, screen-recaps, crack videos and meme's that serve as a good way to lighten ones mood after watching such a dense, and psychologically stimulating show. Highly recommended!

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Top 5 Recommended Music Videos

So far, I've been very pleased with the direction this band has been going ever since I stumbled upon them. The music has some great transitions, irresistible energy, and good use of vocal variations. It's making me pumped for their new album coming out this month. I like the consistent visuals they've been having since "KiLLiNG ME". Little hints of color here and there within the black and white scheme, then the prominent red and blue in the appropriate places.

For some reason, I'm always afraid this band is gonna fall off the face of the earth, so when they release something I'm always overjoyed. This has a simple concept similar to their "HIGH FIVE!!" PV by still being entertaining and a window to the members' personalities. Also similar to that song is the energy and uptempo melody that makes it easier to get into. I'm really looking forward to their next CD release.

"Shuuei" by Mejibray
With every release this band has had, I've been progressively more and more impressed with the material they come up with. I never thought I would enjoy this band so much, but I'm happy that I gave them a chance despite my feelings toward VanessA. Despite my dislike for a bit of the color filter choices, I really like the simple, band centric visuals that match the mood of the music. I like the quiet tone of Tsuzuku's voice, the guitar solo is amazing, and the bass/drum combo blows my mind. I'm really hoping and praying that this band doesn't lose it's momentum and fall in the visual traps like the GazettE.

"N.O" by BTS
I am absolutely in love with this group right now. Not to cause any feuds with comparisons, but I think this group brings the initial attitude of B.A.P with an inspirational and much needed messages that were laced in H.O.T's lyrics. This video has a nice balanced visual concept without being overly hip-hop, even the music fits that. The visuals are slick and naturally switch from the story of seven students to the choreography scenes, which is well pulled together. The vocal delivery is both powerful and encouraging. Even though Block B has returned to the scene, I'm really looking forward to more of these boys, but I don't want them to overwork themselves like their predecessors B.A.P.

"False Hope" by Song Ji Eun
I'm not a Secret fan and the only solo song I've heard is "Going Crazy", which is quite good. Somehow I totally forgot that I've heard her amazing voice before, but in a way, it was a good thing because I am easily blown away by her impressive range. The visuals are quite simple. It has a balance between artistic, symbolic, and typical R&B. I really like the bold color palette and the storyline doesn't feel forced. The song is really beautiful and emotion filled, especially with the acoustics.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Unboxing: Dir en grey's In Situ Tabula Rasa Tour12-13 LTD

Forgive me for my ditzy-ness.

Horror Movies That Everyone Likes, But Miko Doesn't

A popular question that's asked in the month of October usually pertains to what horror movies to watch. There are numerous lists of favorite scary movies, the best horror movies, or something similar to that. Over the years of browsing over people's lists on various sites and YouTube videos, I usually find myself seeing the same choices that I don't understand. The reason I don't understand them is because I don't particularly like them and I feel like I'm in the minority when people rave about certain movies. So, this inspired the post I am writing now as well as using it as a bonding tool between the moderators Cult leaders. Before you read any further, please have an open mind with my choices. Everyone has different tastes.

The Uninvited (2009, USA)

I must admit that this isn't the worst of the worst of Asian horror remakes. I almost didn't put this on the list as I didn't dislike it too much. The acting and visuals were pretty good, from what I remember. Its been quite some time since I've seen it. Perhaps I'll revisit it and the original for a comparison, if anyone's interested in it. The only complaint that I can remember I had with this movie is that the twists were dumbed down compared to the original. I don't know if it's because I saw the original before I knew the twist already or the movie really did spell out everything, in case the audience is too simple-minded to get it. Out of everything listed here, I won't discourage anyone too much from seeing this unnecessary American remake.

Uzumaki (2000, Japan)

I've seen this movie on quite a few Asian horror list and I remember being very underwhelmed by it when I first saw it. It had an interesting story, but it was kinda boring and didn't do much for me. The only thing I remember actually liking is the end. Not because it was the end of an unsatisfying movie, but the imagery and weird, creep factor was pleasing to the eyes. I also remember reading a comment that suggested to read the manga instead of watching this movie. Maybe one day I will, but I'm not very motivated to do that just yet.

Arang (2006, South Korea)

I was recommended to see this movie years ago and honestly it seemed like an interesting premise. Unfortunately, I couldn't help but compare this movie to better Asian horrors it borrowed from. I know hauntings and ghosts are a staple for Asian horror, but I believe there are still ways to make it effective and creepy. Due to the execution of the story, it became borderline cliche and dull. I felt nothing for the characters and nothing felt scary or at risk. The only positives I have are that the visuals were pretty good and I enjoyed the climax.

Freddy vs. Jason (2003, USA)

I remember when this movie came out in theaters and I wish I remembered what I chose to see that night. Anyway, I did ask a friend that was coincidentally there at the theater about the movie, mostly who "won" and just being a little more annoyed. Over time, it seemed like people actually liked this movie. When I saw it, I wasn't that impressed. When I went back to watch the whole Nightmare on Elm Street series, I completely skipped this movie. I'm not even acknowledging that this is part of the franchise. It has some smart little moments, but overall the characters are just uninteresting which makes the whole movie unnecessary! I guess I can somewhat understand that the main focus is on Freddy Krueger and Jason, but that doesn't excuse lazy characters.

Cloverfield (2008, USA)

Have you ever had a friend that claimed something you consider a bad movie as their favorite? Well, this movie is one of them. It's a bit of a cop out of a choice as I've never seen this movie from beginning to end, but from middle to end. Close enough, I guess. After seeing Quarantine and [Rec], this movie falls very short when it comes to first person horror. The characters are obnoxious, the shaky camera is a little annoying, and the story is a little weak. Most of all, the big reveal of the monster and the conclusion is underwhelming, if that's even possible for such a lackluster movie.

The Ruins (2008, USA)

The concept of vacations and infections are no stranger to the horror movie genre. Of course, these concept trends come and go in waves and I believe this movie came out during that revival. Unfortunately with these waves comes these annoying, unlikeable characters that you can't attach yourself to at all. This movie definitely suffers from that as well as ridiculous logic, dull moments, and a slightly flimsy plot. It might have its fill of gore, hormones, and claustrophobia, but the execution of this movie is poor.

Wolf Creek (2005, Australia)

It's not good to forget about watching a movie until it is brought up again in a better movie. I wish I remembered why I even bothered paying to see this torture fest in theaters, but I do remember which friend I saw it with and that we bursts out laughing at a very inappropriate scene. I'm not sure how much I should say about my opinion on this movie as I have a feeling I will be bringing it up quite a few more times. To quickly list off why I didn't enjoy this movie: it feeds into the stereotypical alcohol, partying, and sex; it doesn't add to the horror genre, there's barely any plot, and the characters are so unlikeable, unrealistic that it doesn't matter what happens to them.

Paranormal Activity (2007, USA)

This was a movie I thought I would never ever see, but curiosity got the best of me and I caved in. Luckily, it was from my job, so the only thing lost was time...and barely that since my attention was waning throughout the whole movie. I understand the appeal. "Let your imagination create the suspense." But for people like myself, paranormal movies just don't cut it when it's shot like this. I didn't go into this movie with much expectation, only the thought of it being a better budget Blair Witch Project and that's what it felt like watching it. There was nothing to trigger my imagination to create any fear or suspense, therefore the movie was very boring and felt like I was just watching a normal couple living their normal lives.

The Grudge (2004, USA)

If it wasn't for a school assignment, I probably wouldn't have bothered watching this remake. I lacked interest in it otherwise, but at the time Asian horror remakes in America was the big thing and I'm surprised that the original director of Ju-on is responsible for the remake. Unfortunately, this is my least favorite Asian horror remake that I've seen so far. My biggest gripes had to deal with the characters. There were extra, unnecessary ones that took away from the original suspense and connection that the main character was suppose to go through. I'm aware that there are people that dislike it just by looking at the average score on imdb, but it has made this list because I see it in a lot of horror movie lists saying it's their favorite, it scared them, or something of that nature. In my opinion, just stick to the original.

Hostel (2005, USA)

Out of everything I listed, this was the only movie I actually looked forward to seeing when it was released in theaters. I remember almost vividly asking a former friend of mine to accompany me to see it and I had hopes that this would change the horror genre. Unfortunately, it did...for the worse. The movie had a slow start with three unlikeable main characters. It was all about scoring drugs and hooking up with prostitutes. This might've catered to guys like my former friend's boyfriend at the time, but not us. We were bored. We were ready for some sort of violent action and at the rip of a nail from flesh, we rejoiced. In that moment, we surrendered ourselves to the entertainment of "torture porn" because the beginnings and characters were so uninteresting to us. There was a lack of consistent sympathy towards the leading male, since for most of the movie we don't care about him, but when he's chased by people we dislike even more, we want him to survive. I probably will harp on some other grievances on why I do not like this movie in a later post. For now, I will point out two scenes I really like: the prostitutes getting hit by a car and the gang of children who don't receive their "payment".

Blair Witch Project (1999, USA)

Before Paranormal Activity took over the tradition of releasing a new installment every year around Halloween and sparked the whole found footage movement, this movie was the scariest thing in theater. At least, that's what advertising told me. I got to hear the lovely stories from my mom about people puking in theater due to the camera movement. Fortunately, I didn't see it in theaters, but still I saw it. That's bad enough. Advertising got the best of my curiosities and my mom and I rented it. Thinking back on it, I still feel guilty that my mom sat through one of the worst horror movies ever that came to theaters. The characters lacked depth, the camera made me nauseous, and there was way too much profanity for it to be deemed realistic. Texas Chainsaw Massacre was more realistic than this movie. Also, the ending was extremely anti-climatic. To this day, I still do not understand why people find this movie so terrifying or worth mentioning in their top ten horror movie lists.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Top 5 Recommended Music Videos

Susanne Sundfør “Silicone Veil”
This music video is multiple levels of weird – and also nsfw, but I love it. Hm, to say it simply, it seems like a song of survival and transformation by one's own means. Her music is classified as electro-folk but genre's can be tricky little boxes, can't they? I think her voice really holds all the magic, especially in this song. The vocal pirouettes near the end are really haunting against the backdrop of heavy spiraling synthesized beats.

Gdragon  "Coup D'etat"
I think its safe to assume that Gd's finally broken free of the candy coated persona that made him so popular during his controversial heartbreaker era. I get the impression that the lyrics are meant to be self-depreciating, rather than arrogant but I wish he'd stop using outdated slang to express himself. Diplo & Baauer elevate an otherwise subpar hip hop track. The juxtaposition of beat patterns, skittering hi-hat and snares did little to compensate for the awkwardness of GD's flow, but I still enjoyed the myriad of beautifully rendered visuals.

Philtre ft Younha "Fade"
Philtre is the creative genius behind some of Epik High's most memorable instrumentals so I already knew his collaboration with Younha would further demonstrate his amazing composing abilities. The lyrics are uncomplicated and quiet but I find it amazing that sadness can be conveyed so well by simply outlining their shape in small ways. I think it allows the listener to fill in the gaps. The scenes of the girl lifelessly going about her daily routine in slow motion will resonate with anyone that's ever experienced the feeling of numbness after a painful separation.

Rphabet Ft San E "Black Suit"
I'm in love with the use of projected animation in this mv. It fills me with warm fuzzies to see simple but brilliantly executed art in my music videos. Monochromatic aesthetics aside, Rphabet ft San E has successfully secured a place on my playlist. Hip hop with a gritty, experimental edge? I'm always here for that. San E packs quite the lyrical punch and there's a subtle menace to his flow that other rappers struggle to convincingly achieve. I guess skull makeup is pretty popular these days but it doesn't look as tacky on San E it did on that other hiphop artist. *coughsorryjaycough*

Kim Sarang "ICU"
ICU is the perfect blend of shoegaze and alternative. The video feels very personal and introspective, full of strange but entertaining symbolism. From what I've read of the translations it's a social commentary piece that fits the theme/title of his album, Human Complex. It's been such a long time since he's released anything outside of the occasional one track single. I was beginning to worry he'd dropped out of the music scene once and for all. It's easy to forget that these things take time to produce and Kim Sarang is essentially a one man band. An artist of pure sound, technique, brilliant lyricism and execution, he treats his music like canvas for his voice, rather than a page out of a paint by numbers book. That's a pretty hipster thing to say but I recommend you try out the rest of his EP for yourself to see what I mean.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Quick Music Reviews

Ladies Code – Bad Girl (2013, Korea) Rating: 3.5/5
Favorite Tracks: 나쁜여자 (Bad Girl)

I have very little room for girl group albums on my playlist, but every now and then one or two manages to wiggle their way into my tiny collection of favs. I'm a sucker for swing jazz/big band inspired music, so when I heard that was their concept I fed into all the hype surrounding Ladies Code. 나쁜여자 (Bad Girl) takes quite a departure from the typical kpop sound, with its chord changes from verse to verse and Broadway-esque delivery. While their voices are in no way unique, the performers still scores above average – especially since all of them can sing with varying degrees of talent. It soothes the part of me that wishes Miss A sang in their own individual style, instead of JYP's obvious vocal puppeteering. Supergirl kinda sounds like something you'd hear during the credits of a Disney special, but empowering girl anthems are such a welcome rarity in kpop that I gave it a pass. Dada La rehashes the jazz theme from earlier but freshens up with a dash of burlesque. It's worth a listen or two to if only for the amazing vocals. No mini album debut is complete without at least one forgettable ballad track right? At least 안울래 (Won't Cry) gives the girls one more opportunity to show off their chops even if the ballad isn't memorable.

Ailee – A doll house (2013, Korea) Rating: 3/5
Favorite Tracks: 이런 법이 어딨어, 열애설 (Scandal)
Ailee is renowned as one of the only songstresses to utilize the same chest vocalizing technique you'd hear from singers like Christina Aguilara or Beyonce. That requires great control and flexibility, so not just anyone can pull this off. In my opinion she brings much more variance to her voice than Hyorin or Taeyeon, along with being able to straddle the line between soprano and alto. Her last mini album was a bit bland but was still a great introduction to an underrated artist struggling to set herself apart within the female solo corner of kpop. U & I is a step up from her previous title release, setting aside the disco theme in favor of a jazzy, horn driven title track that's similar to "Madonna" by Secret and within the same genre as popular multi charter "It's Over" by Lee Hi. While I think this 'version' is a much more interesting edition to the music trend, I found myself unable to get past the overall poor production value. A balance between vocals and instrumentals was just not reached. At one point, she was practically screaming over the drum set. Ailee slightly redeems herself in No No No. The shimmery guitar effects and conventional pop hook is merely a backdrop to further emphasize her vocal expertise. Rainy Day intros with an actual rainstorm instrumental, which was way too cheesy for my tastes. The song exudes the same passion and punch as the previous track but lingers on a melancholy note. To be honest, its really not all that memorable for me, but if you enjoyed "Heaven" you'll probably enjoy this song. 이런 법이 어딨어 (How Could You Do This To Me) was the weakest track by far but certainly the most soulful and heart-wrenching. I turned it off as soon as the backup choir kicked in near the end. It just wasn't really my cup of tea. Thankfully 열애설 (Scandal) completely blew me away in all of its sinister, eerie elegance. Its a ballad - yes, but it takes on a strong tango vibe and generally overflows with sensuality from beginning to end. She explores her ability in the most mesmerizing way possible, as she seems to know exactly when to hold back and when to pull out all the stops. I'd love to see her perform this someday. A's Dollhouse ends on a lukewarm note with I'll Be Ok, a mid tempo, beat laden acoustic track featuring some unnamed male artist.

Seungri – Let's Talk about Love (2013, Korea) Rating: 4.5/5
Favorite Tracks: 할말 있어요 (Gotta Talk To U), 그딴 거 없어 (Come to My)

I was ready to forgo listening to anything outside of the scheduled title track after I'd made the mistake of reading a few interviews detailing the inspiration behind the music. It's Robin Thicke's “Blurred Lines” level infuriating, guys. I'd even go as far as to discourage watching certain performances, if only to spare you from having to witness him pretend to headbutt one of his female backup dancers. Man-child antics aside, I decided to give him a shot. As many reviewers have already said, Let’s Talk About Love is a little more than reminiscent of something Timberland/Timberlake would have released but Seungri's verses didn't really click with me. Not even GD's snarky line shooting caught my attention in this one (*gasp* ...I know). The credit actually belongs to 태양 for the clever little musical curve-ball thrown in at the end. I'm willing to ignore the usage of "biyatch" and "take us to the chorus/bridge" to listen to 태양's rap just a little longer since I've been less than impressed with his singing lately. Title track and MV 할말 있어요 (Gotta Talk To U) is just as deceptive as the controversial teaser video released a week before it's release. The song starts off with an acoustic arrangement that gradually builds momentum towards an euro-electro synth climax. The tone and timbre of his voice aren't exceptionally unique, but they're very easy on the ears so I highly recommend not to skip this. My only complaint is the constant and out of place 'hustlin, hustlin' bit strewn throughout. Piano pop GG Be (지지베) aka the headbutt song combines catchy hook and self-harmonizing while the jagged guitar work gave just the right amount of edge. Could have done without Jennie's part but she's basically a watered down Minzy. Comparisons between JT's "What Goes Around, Comes Around" and 그딴 거 없어 (Come To My) are unavoidable no matter which way you slice it, but his attempt to emulate the singer here wasn't half bad. I had to give him props for pulling something like this together. Even the cliche piano instrumental was excusable, as the arrangement eventually transitions into something a bit more complex. You Hoooo!!! offers listeners a glossy dubstep jam with the same synth-y undertones we heard in the title track. It's a little generic but breathes what little life it can into vocals that don't really take us anywhere we haven't already been before. Overall, this song is catchy enough to draw me in with its dance-able pulsing beat, which modulates and changes up its rhythm at its high points. I could have done without the shout out/call back? lyrics at the bridge. In some ways this song has the same energy as 2012's summer hit, Fantastic Baby. Remember what I said earlier about ballads? Well I have to admit that Love Box is a step above a random filler track usually thrown in at the end. The instrumentals are nothing to write home about - though they are very clean and crisp. Maybe its because he wrote the lyrics, but his voice feels it's most sincere in this one. I like something real from him.

I know I picked on Seungri incessantly and questioned his character, but overall I'm still willing to recognize the effort he put into this release. He's got a long way to go but he's headed in the right direction.

2ne1 – Falling in Love/ Do You Love Me? (2013, Korea) Rating: 3/5

The casual but elegant summer themed photoshoot teaser pics for Falling in Love sparked a little hope in me that this would be the one track that would propel 2ne1 back into the spotlight. Both the song and mv lived up to my expectations. They played it safe with a reggae tinged jam that buries itself into your subconscious without your permission. It doesn't stray too far from the familiar auto-tune entrenched mix up that we're used to hearing from them, but somehow the breezy, flirtatious melody felt like a refreshing drink on a scorching hot day. Minzy reminds us of her incredible vocal maturity in the verses and the English bits of CL's rap put a smile on my face. Even Bom's voice was worthy of a second chance as it sounds really good while she's performing this live.

Too bad my hopes were smashed in the followup track......

Do You Love Me? doesn't even register as music to me. I'm hoping it wasn't meant to be taken seriously. It's so overproduced and messy, the melody might as well be nonexistent -- might as well have skipped the singing all together, since most of it was repetitive and boring anyway. CL spells the entire title out one too many times in the most obnoxious way possible. Worst of all, the electro mix seems to be straight up lifted from previous tracks. That's just lazy, Teddy. Even the video for this song is cheap and screams “last minute comeback attempt.”  We can only conclude from this that YG is almost ready to abandon the girls, at least as a whole and most likely in favor of all the other up-and-coming talents he's hoping will save the company from the inevitable plummet in finances after Big Bang's temporary hiatus from the industry.
John Park – Inner Child (2013, Korea) Rating: 4/5
Favorite Tracks: 지워져간다,  Sipping My Life (Bonus Track)

I really appreciate the sophisticated quality of John Park's previous singles so I'd been looking forward to hearing a full-fledged album from him this year. Tempered just right for lovers of urban contemporary r&b, soul, blues and soft rock, John Park's “Inner Child” appeals to a wide variety of listeners. Electro (neo-soul) Imagine hypnotizes and draws you in with its 90s r&b tempo. Baby is the most upbeat track on this album. It employs a variety of instruments, but is noteworthy for its funky guitar solo. In,지워져간다, gentle acoustics and a piano interlude create a sentimental mood that makes this the perfect song to wind down to after a long day's work.  John Park's voice wraps around you like a warm blanket you'll never want to unroll from. 
다시 is sung the way a story is told. Strange way of describing a song but you'll see what I mean. It's very uplifting. Spirally electro effects and a cheerful sounding piano highlight the verses while the electric guitar brings it all together. Bizzy's rap meshes in nicely without interrupting the flow of the song. That could have been a disaster had he chosen the wrong feature artist. Too Late 
is something you'd hear at the end of a very emotional film or drama (think Grey's Anatomy). John's voice is different here, especially during the verses - he sounds even more mature than usual. I'm rarely a fan of falsetto but I've made an exception for him. He flexes his vocals a little more at the end of urban guitar jam, Right Here. Though I kinda felt second hand embarrassment from the little bit of Snoop Dog he tried to sneak in there.... No. 철부지 belongs in the same category as Too Late but is a little more subdued. As I listened to this song, I began to realize how much I appreciated how organic his music is. There's only so much manufactured, digitally polished auto-tune mess one can take.  Filler comes in the form of  soft piano ballad, 어디있나요. His voice is so soothing and comfortable to sleep to and I don't mean that in a negative way. Blues-y, 그만
, is short but sweet with an incredible piano accompaniment and lazy but cute sounding choir backing up John's soulful vocals. To You And Me (Outro)
 wraps up a brilliant album on that same soulful note. If at any point you wish you could sing along with John Park, try Sipping My Life. itsinenglish

Saturday, October 5, 2013

V-log: Updates & Contest Winners

I'm so so sorry for the delay of this video. I've been really busy and haven't quite balanced my time to make v-logs lately. If you are a contest winner, please contact me a.s.a.p! You have 72 hours to claim your prize.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Last House on the Left: 1972 vs. 2009

My journey began at my workplace when I saw the remake of Last House on the Left on the shelf. It got checked out fairly often, so I was curious. I’ll admit I had some low expectations and assumed that it would be the same excessive violence and unnecessary nudity seen in current horror. To my surprise, I really enjoyed what I watched. It was something different, the elements were balanced, and overall it was just satisfying. So, I ended up buying it the first chance I got and it had been a long time since I bought an American horror movie. What I didn’t know until later was that this movie was actually a remake. I wasn’t too encouraged to check out the original, until a friend began watching and expressing her disappointment toward it. Curiosity was piqued and recently I willed myself to rent it.

Mari is your typical teenage girl who wants to indulge in a little freedom with her friend. She has a good, close connection with her parents and they are moderately protective of their daughter. They're a little reluctant on letting Mari go out with her friend, but they give her permission to do so. Everything seems pretty normal between the girls and, in both versions, they are both lured away by a shy boy with a promise of marijuana. Unfortunately, their drug score gets turned into a potentially unsettling kidnapping.

The original movie was directed by one of my favorite horror movie directors, Wes Craven, and the remake was produced by him. When it comes to Wes Craven movies, I have set expectations for his work as a fan of the Scream and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises. From what I heard about the original, it was said to be controversial due to humiliating actions toward the victims. [**Spoiler** In short, rape and forced lesbianism (which is actually cut out of the movie)] Some of these controversial actions were recreated in the remake, but were modified to suit the viewers of that time. So, what can I say about both movies without giving away my conclusion too early.

Despite seeing the remake first and watching Cinema Snob’s take on the movie, I wasn’t completely sure what was going to happen. How close was the remake to the original? Did it leave out important details or add unnecessary elements to it to appeal to the new generation? Well, it did take a lot of the same scenes, characterizations, and even a bit of dialogue from the original. Unlike the remake of Nightmare on Elm Street, it kept the impact of those recycled elements while adding a little modern taste to it. There are things that are modified or removed from the remake, but I think it was for the better.

Let’s start with the things I liked from the original! For that time, I can understand the controversy surrounding the kidnappers and the girls. Even watching it now, you still feel sympathy, desperation, and humiliation for the girls. You really want them to survive and get away with minimal scars. There’s a definite attachment. The chemistry between the antagonists are convincing, entertaining, and effective. They’re definitely sick individuals who get off on humiliation and enjoy being that way. I also enjoy the sweet and satisfying bond between the parents. They have a good relationship with their daughter and their love for her shows through their actions and words in a realistic way. They also maintain a great relationship between each other when Mari is not with them and that bond stays consistent throughout the movie.

As much as I enjoyed the characters, their development, and the actions they take on, the flaws of this movie really put me off from really enjoying this movie. Ignoring the less than perfect camera work, which I can easily forgive because of the time period, I could not get over the overwhelming campiness. A good soundtrack could easily boost a movie’s effectiveness (see Bangkok Love Story), but a bad one could also easily drag a movie down. I’d rather have a forgettable soundtrack than one that distracts me from the tone of the movie. There was an overwhelming amount of campy, upbeat music in this movie. It completely ruined the mood for many scenes throughout this movie and I wish the soundtrack took things more seriously or maybe not exist at all. I know the 70s were plagued with camp, but for a movie that was considered controversial for its time, the silliness of the soundtrack was very off putting. There was also the comedic relief characters presented in cop form. I’ve seen many horror movies with dumb and incompetent officers, but this has to be the winner of dumb cops. This is a different category of dumb than the SWAT team of [Rec] ², since they made unrealistic dumb choices. No, these cops come from those 70s shows that would accidentally lock their keys in the car. Their presence was completely unnecessary. They didn’t help progress the story nor influenced the conclusion to the situation. All of their scenes completely interrupted the flow of action as they try to get ride on top of truck full of chickens [icing on the cake, the truck was driven by a country black woman with missing teeth]. When I really thought about this major flaw of camp, I had to think back on the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. From what I remember, it had some silliness to it, but it fit the deranged family and the soundtrack matched the tone of the movie.

Since I had a major complaint about the original that it lowered my score, I must have a lot to say about the remake. Surprisingly, I don’t. I had to think and think about it, even while re-watching the movie and there are no major flaws that stick out for me. There might be a little bit of unnecessary nudity, but that was present in the original as well and didn’t bother me in either version. The gore and violence might’ve been a tad bit overboard, but it felt more satisfying than annoying. In fact, my father enjoys this movie and he is far from being a horror movie fan. He stays away from it. The Walking Dead is too much for him, so hopefully that paints a better picture for you. Something I didn’t pay attention on previous viewings of the remake was the soundtrack. I have no complaints there either. There’s one song that’s pretty stereotypical of being on one of those teen dramas, but it fit the scene. What about those annoying cops? Well, they’re in the beginning of the movie and are quickly disposed of and actually add a little something to the antagonists. One thing I found amusing was their mention of a chicken. Perhaps a small nod to the original? But for what little time they were on screen, they were far from being some sort of comedic relief.

The characters are kept the same and are even more fleshed out than the original, which probably adds a little to the length of the movie. I didn’t mind that at all. Although a lot of the scenes were reused, they have a modern makeover that is just as effective as its predecessor. The parts that were taken out also don’t hurt the movie at all. Although the violent actions were intensified to fit the current times of horror, it didn’t go overboard and gave a sense of satisfaction or disapproval, depending on the character. Without any spoilers, I enjoyed the conclusion of the remake more. The original’s ending lacked steam upon reaching the climax and the end felt a bit open ended. With the remake, there was a sense of urgency and even though it was quite a cruel way to end, it felt satisfying and less open ended.

It’s a rare occurrence for a remake to be as good or even better than the original, but in this case, I enjoyed the remake more than Wes Craven’s original. I do appreciate what he did with it and the boundaries he pushed with it, but the campiness of the movie took me out of the serious and urgent situation. The remake does a great job of keeping the integrity of the original while updating it and maintaining its emotional effectiveness. It doesn’t rely too much on violence and gore or go overboard with either of those elements. If you’re curious about both versions, I would suggests going the opposite what I did and watch the original first, but if you’re not really into comparing, I recommend the 2009 remake.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Rant on Unnecessary Movie Sequels

I'm of the opinion that a good horror story lends so much to the imagination - not belittle the general intellect of the audience - that it sets the atmosphere for the mind to take over from the ending and come up with a far more haunting continuation if desired. Usually sequels don't work well for the horror genre; I mean, you don't tell ghost stories around the campfire in installments. It's just one-shot and that's it, right?

It seems horror sequels are seldom made because the original warranted it. Hollywood studios tend to make because they're easy. But even with name recognition and big profits from the original, horror sequels often fail to capture the essence of the first film. The plots tend to completely stray from what drew us to the story in the first place. Most times they don't even meet the minimum requirement for basic storytelling.

Now don't get me wrong, I can tolerate some sequels as long as they are of similar quality as the original - or at the very least stick to some of the source material while adding more detail or answering lingering questions from the prior film.

With that said, these are the top 6 sequels that irritated me the most.
Lost Boys: The Tribe (USA, 2008)
Lost Boys is admittedly campy but is still considered a popular homage to the 80s. Its plot makes use of a typical teen movie formula: family moves to new town, teenage brothers learn to adapt, make new friends and find love, all with a horror twist: the town is the home and hunting ground of a vampire motorcycle gang. I'd playfully test the longevity of many friendships by seeing who would sit through it with me and for how long. I'm not all that ashamed to admit that I have a soft spot for this cult hit, mostly because it was one of the first horror films I didn't watch between my fingers.
Unfortunately, no excuse can be made to justify a watching of the sequel. I even rented the uncut blue ray version in hopes that it would toss in a few charming extra's to make up for what I disliked in the standard edition. No such luck. The acting from the entire cast is pretty uneven, most notably in Kiefer Sutherlands' younger half brother, Angus. His inclusion was ill-advised and was an utter disgrace in comparison to what Kiefer brought to the lead vampire role . There are glimmers of hope whenever Cory Feldman shows up but those are immediately squashed as the film progresses. At times there were scenes that filmed too dark to make out what was going on, and not in a way that looked at all intentional. The whole film had a cheapo, made for tv feel to it anyway. The cringe-worthy rock rendition of "Cry little sister" and brief appearance from the Frog brothers at the end of the credits was the final letdown.

There's one more sequel after this called Lost boys: The Thirst but I heard it involves fang dentures so I decided to skip it.
S. Darko (USA, 2009)
Psychological sci-fi brain teaser, Donnie Darko really doesn't strike me as the sort of film that could be easily 're-imagined,' redone or added to so I was immediately skeptical of how well a continuation would play out when this was recommended to me earlier this year.

I'm glad I watched with zero expectations. The essence of S. Darko encapsulates everything that I hate about Hollywood's current sequel and remake trend. It had an interesting viral campaign but that's about it. I attempted to view this as an independent movie or a continuation of the Donnie Darko saga but found the experience to be pretty pointless. It would have been one thing had the film actually expanded on ideas involving quantum mechanics and alternate dimensions in an interesting way but it barely managed to achieve a discernible plot. Much like it's predecessor, the cinematography was really lush. I was enjoying the atmosphere of the film for the first few minutes, you know - before the actors started talking. There are some fascinating concepts buried beneath the less-than-amazing execution, but overall the film wasn't satisfying in the least. Donnie Darko can be explained and interpreted on many different levels, whereas this sequel is just not worth picking apart to find meaning in.

Human Centipede 2 (USA, 2011)

One of the most uninspired, creatively bankrupt films in the horror genre whose only merit is having sparked some hilarious parodies with catch phrases like “you never go ass to mouth” and “100% medically accurate”. I'm not gonna lie, the premise disturbed me just a tad because I don't want to imagine how trapped someone in the middle of the centipede chain must feel, nor do I want to dwell on the icky implications of such an ordeal. Maybe this shows what kind of jaded I am, but after viewing the first one I wasn't any more grossed out than I had been reading the summary on imdb. It is definitely an out there concept and some nasty stuff happened, but it didn't present anything close to the truly horrific moments that A Serbian Film did. In fact, I ended up laughing through most of it. That aside, the second film contained even more gratuitous over kill. Although it's filmed in black and white, during one scene the director decided to utilize color to further emphasize a particularly nasty incident. There is no motive for the actions of the villain (I'd have accepted anything just to have a story to follow) nor were there any creativity involved in the multiple onscreen killings. It just felt that the director wanted to release something even more shocking than the original. However, not even the uncut scenes ended up being a shock or surprise to me. I honestly cannot think of a single highlight in this film to warrant a recommendation, except that it's up on Netflix and perhaps you have two hours of your evening to blow off. It'd probably be fun for a sleepover.
Of course there's a third one in the works. This time with an even bigger centipede chain. 
Exorcist II: The Heretic  (USA, 1977)
I wasn't even aware that this film had spawned multiple sequels until someone at the library showed me an old promotional poster. I probably could have lived without the knowledge of its existence but the trivia surrounding this film was amusing so I decided to rent the second one just for kicks.

Original film’s makers, novelist/screenwriter William Peter Blatty and director William Friedkin hated this film so much they humorously dubbed it “The Hairy Tick”. Apparently the movie flopped so hard the audience threw things at the screen during the ending credits. I can see why, as its narrative is a convoluted tangle of mess. Linda Blair reprises her role as Regan Macneil but was no doubt limited by this awful script and confusing plot devices. Several aspects of the first film were completely invalidated at times. Apparently she was never possessed by the actual devil. It was the Assyrian locust demon, Pazuzu all along. A few sequences were visually trippy but never horrifying. And even with its costly budget, the film suffered too greatly from its blah presentation, though it takes itself about as seriously as the Matrix.

Final Destination 3-5 (USA, 2006-2011)
Here's the perfect example of blatant cash grabbing. Non-corporeal grim reaper obliterates young vapid lives in the most inventive ways possible. Nobody ever likes the teenagers in these films so it was fun to watch, right? Indeed I enjoyed it for what it was until about the 3rd movie, after which I just gave up on the franchise entirely. Please refer back to Miko's wonderful review on the 5th movie. While it focused specifically on the final film I'd say it can be used as a summary for the series as a whole. Instead of actually renting or borrowing final destination 4 and 5, I found myself youtube-ing the death scenes for quick laughs. Worst of all, as the installments progressed, the suspension of disbelief proved harder and harder to maintain, not that we were expected to maintain it in the first place (pool vacuum death anyone?).There is something about the combination of surprise and anticipation that makes this corny set of movies entertaining but not quite worthy of being recommended over classics such as Ulli Lommel's 1980s Boogeyman, the supernatural slasher film that most likely inspired this series in the first place. 

Hellraiser 2-8 (UK, 1988-2011)
A very good friend of mine introduced me to this British film franchise 3 years ago after lending me the book The Hellbound Heart written by Clive Barker. The first film borrowed a few elements from the novella but since there are a lot of major differences I personally consider Hellraiser to be an entity all on it's own. The carefully cultivated aura of creepiness and perverse undertones made the first Hellraiser film a classic for me. Between the frightening but somehow extra-dimensional, frighteningly sensual cenobites (that play a relatively small role in the film, as most of the screen time is dedicated elsewhere) and that disturbing flaying scene at the very end, it was love at first watch. There is a unique intersection of popular horror themes that were compiled nicely in the first film but I believe that there is no need to expand up to 8 films beyond that. I've watched every single one of them in order, including Hellraiser: Revelations (though I cringed at the heavily cgi'd pinhead). “Jesus wept,” and so did I while sitting through most of the sequels in this franchise.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

October Madness

October is the prime month for horror movies and everything scary. We here at Muddy Cult love the horror genre. So, I have proposed an idea for us to bond together with a genre we all enjoy and love to pick a part. All this month we are going to do some horror themed post. Hopefully, we will inspire you lovely Cult followers to open your minds to different variants of the film genre and maybe shed some light to those who don't understand the appeal.

We're going to experiment with the frequency of the posts this month and we will also continue posting our usual content as well. I hope you enjoy this little change of pace. We're really excited about it!