“The Forest” movie review

The ForestInto the woods…off to find a body. The Forest is a brilliant example of January’s reputation as a movie graveyard. Banking on its ability to over-utilize the cliche jump-scare to get a heightened emotional response from the audience, this film demonstrates little uniqueness in this sub-genre of horror; however, I gotta give it a little credit. It was successful in causing me to jump in my seat a few times and even cringe a little. If for no there reason, this film will possibly prompt you to lookup the legends of the Aokigahara Forest, surrounding the foothills and floor of famed and picturesque Mount Fuji in Japan. Starting off as a movie that feels as if it will have a slow burn but then pick up in the second and third acts, The Forest is more like an annoyingly dripping faucet that has a perpetual clog that you wish would eventually explode with excitement. There is definitely a sense of anticipation and anxiousness, but the movie fails to provide a thrilling release. The only intriguing element of the movie is that this fictional story is indirectly connected to true stories of the Aokigahara Forest. Unfortunately, the stories of people going into the forest with the intent to either commit or contemplate suicide is all too true. Furthermore, a friend of mine who lives in Japan told me that the forest really does seem to have a mystical power that compels people to harm themselves or others. Interesting. If you ever visit Aokigahara Forest, be sure to stay on the path and never remain in the forest after dark.

The Forest is about a young American woman named Sara (Natalie Dormer) who senses something has terribly befallen her identical twin sister Jessica. With the intent on finding her sister, Sara flies to Japan and begins to investigate the whereabouts of Jessica. Learning of the legends surrounding the mystical Aokigahara Forest at the base of Mount Fuji, Sara starts to develop a plan to rescue her. Unfortunately, the reputation of the forest scares the locals so much that she is unable to find anyone to help her. Just when all hope is nearly lost, Sara meets local Austrailian travel expert and writer Aiden (Taylor Kinney) and he contacts his guide friend Michi (Yukiyoshi Ozawa) to lead them into the dark and twisted pathways of the forest. Against the recommendation of locals and Michi, Sara and Aiden remain in the forest after dark to find Jessica, but they have no idea that they are about to encounter the tormented souls of those who are looking to add to their numbers.

The characters aren’t the only ones who stray from the pathway, the film itself strays from the pathway of a well-paced and developed plot. I am not sure if the movie is supposed to be self-reflexive in that it is about exploring dark, repressed memories that subconsciously torment the soul or if it supposed to be a superficial cliche horror flick that provides an hour and a half of mild to moderate entertainment. From poorly written dialog to including too many poorly placed flashbacks, this film is all over the place. I have often commented on my dislike for films that rely on flashbacks to support or tell the story. Every once in a while, there come films that actually utilize the flashback in a way that works extremely well–but those are few and far between–this is definitely not one of them. The first several minutes of the film feels like a ping pong match because the audience is constantly tossed back and forth between present day and 20-30 year old flashbacks.

I feel strongly that this is a horror film that could have really used much more character development for Sarah. Not that horror films are the place to find development amongst its lead characters, but the story being told here was actually a good platform for integrating that element into the narrative. It’s almost like the writers were going that direction, but failed to see it through. Films like this one are not produced to add to the artistic medium of visual storytelling or offer up any degree of legitimate critical value, but still these types of horror films should continue to the library of other horror films by adding something new–even a small contribution. That being said, the fact that the film does integrate true elements of local folklore and true stories of suicide in the forest does give the film a little something that many do not have–a direct connection to the horrific reality of a place that anyone can visit on their trip to Mount Fuji. After talking with my expatriate friend who resides in Japan, I do look at this film a little different since the narrative appears to hit very close to home for many who live with news of the dark side of that forest as part of their lives.

For what it’s worth, it’s a fun movie to watch if you are looking for some cheap scares. Like with most horror films, it is best enjoyed or appreciated in a group setting.

“Bridge of Spies” movie review

BridgeofSpiesA spy movie with very little in the way of intrigue and espionage. Touchstone, DreamWorks, and 20th Century Fox’s Bridge of Spies is a very traditional biographical film. There is nothing innately wrong with it, but there lacks anything truly remarkable or memorable either. Tom Hanks plays a very Tom Hanks character and Spielberg provides us with a very classy historic movie. Perhaps it is all just as well because the Cold War was a war of information and not high powered action. And, that is pretty well what you get in this movie. The most thrilling scenes are ones that are already in the trailer. Even James Donovan’s (Hanks) testimony before the U.S. Supreme Court was anti-climactic. Despite the fact it is based on a true story, for cinematic purposes there should have been more emotionally trying scenes or surprise. We seldom get Cold War era movies, so this is a nice addition to historic/bio pictures. Although the descriptive “thriller” has been attached to this movie, I do not find sufficient evidence in the movie to support such a claim. It is a moderate drama–neither heavy nor lite. Perhaps if John Grisham had written a book on this event and that book adapted for the screen, the film would play off more accurately as a spy thriller. As it stands, it is a historic drama. Nothing more, nothing less.

Bridge of Spies is about a Cold War era spy swap in the late 1950s in East Berlin. Suspected Soviet spy Rudolph Abel (Mark Rylance) is apprehended by the FBI in New York and placed under the counsel of successful insurance attorney James Donovan (Hanks). In an effort to show due process, even to suspected spies, the U.S. government provides Abel with a trial by his peers. Following a conviction, Hanks persuades the sentencing judge to allow Abel to live in the event they need him as leverage to trade for captured suspected American spies in Soviet Europe and Russia. Quite the brilliant move because an Air Force pilot and graduate student were both captured by the Soviets shortly after the apprehension of Abel. Follow Donovan as he makes his way to one of the most dangerous parts of Europe during the height of the Cold War in an effort to successfully negotiate a spy swap.

There really isn’t much to add besides what I have already mentioned in my opening. This movie is very par for the course. Hanks and Spielberg provide us with the quality that we are accustomed to receiving from them. I was never bored during the movie, but I was never on the edge of my seat either. Typically, I look to espionage movies for some sense of surprise or intrigue; but, this one plays it like a typical drama based on a true story. As this is not a story or event that many Americans likely know about, it provides insight into what many of the operations during the Cold War may have been like. I do feel that the dialog and character development were lacking. Hanks and the rest of the cast pretty much remain static through the whole movie. Often in movies based on true stories, I like to see dynamic character arcs or redemptions. What I find in this movie is a realistic depiction of this event that likely felt more intense at the time than what is shown of the screen. Perhaps that is it. Maybe, I would have liked the movie a lot more had there has been a pronounced thrilling nature or contained emotionally intense scenes.

If you are looking for a thrilling movie of government espionage, then this is not it. If you are looking for a well-produced biographical movie based on a true story, then this is it. I am certain that Tom Hanks plays the role of Donovan accurately and I commend him for bringing this real-life American hero alive for the screen. At the end of the day, this is a good example of an accurate biographic motion picture and Spielberg proves that he can deliver a classy true story as well as he can an action-adventure movie.

“No Escape” movie review

NoEscapeLook for an escape–from this movie. The Weinstein company’s No Escape is an over-the-top, absurd, and confused movie. Often times I can find something positive to say about even the worst of films, but this one IS the exception. Rumor has it that this movie was almost nixed from a theatrical release, and I can easily understand why that is. This film has no idea what it is, and tries to fit the tropes of multiple genres. Because of the state of confusion that this movie is in, the plot lacks adequate structure and the pacing is ridiculous. Is it supposed to be funny when people die??? Is it propaganda on not doing business in Asia??? Why are the events in the opening of the movie never explained??? I could go on and on. From the casting to the writing and direction, this film took events that actually happen in that part of the world, and treated them with irreverence and disrespect. Simply stated, don’t get trapped into watching this movie from which there is no escape.

No Escape is about a family that relocates to Southeast Asia for a a bright new future. Jack Dwyer (Owen Wilson) and his wife Annie (Lake Bell) travel with their kids to the other side of the world in order for Jack to take a new job as an engineer with a water treatment company in (most likely) Cambodia. Upon arrival at the airport, they meet frequent British visitor Hammond (Pierce Brosnan) who offers them a ride to the hotel that both are staying in. The morning after Jack’s arrival, he finds himself in the middle of a civil war-like battle in the streets. Unbeknownst to Jack and his family, he and his coworkers are the target along with other Westerners. Virtually trapped in the small Cambodian town, Jack and his family, with help from Hammond, must escape to safety. Only, around every corner there are rebels who will stop at nothing until they see blood flowing from those they see as a threat to their way of life.

As I mentioned in my opening paragraph, there is quite literally nothing positive I can say about this movie. Interestingly, it starts out with an intense scene that sparks excitement and suspense. So, I can understand how this film even got the green light. It did what all screenplays should do–capture the attention by showing something big/important within the first 3-5 pages. I suppose, that is kind of positive. But, had the producers just read the next several pages, they would have realized that this is a travesty of an idea for a film. And casting Wilson in the lead did not help the film’s case any. Unlike the performances in True Story delivered by James Franco and Jonah Hill, that proved these icons of comedy can play serious roles, Wilson just proves that he needs to be confined to comedies, satires, rom-coms, and parodies. The casting choice for Brosnan as the eccentric British traveler was acceptable, but his character also suffers from poor writing and direction.

It is unclear what the message is supposed to be. On one hand, it can be read as a ‘don’t travel to Southeast Asia if you are a Westerner’ but it can also be read as a ‘the West needs to stop exploiting the East.’ Unfortunately, the message/subtext is opaque at best. Instead of treating the plot of this movie with the reverence it deserved, due to civil wars like the one depicted in the movie happen in that part of the world on a fairly regular basis, the movie plays it too close to a satire or dark comedy. It never quite crosses the threshold into blatant comedy, but it gets pretty close. There were numerous times that the audience laughed at the deaths of people. And understandably so, because the scenes, actions, and dialog were choreographed in such a way that they begged for chuckles and giggles from the audience. My roommate, who is originally from that part of the world, was made very uncomfortable by the movie due to the lack of respect for what real people face everyday in some parts of the world.

There is a great lack of explanation for most of the scenes and motives in the movie. The events in the opening of the movie are never re-visited, despite the scene that follows states “17 Hours Earlier.” So, I am unsure what the significance was in the slaughter at the beginning of the movie. Furthermore, the entire reason for the revolt against Jack’s company and other Westerners is vaguely explained in some rushed exposition by Hammond. Even after his hurried explanation as to the source of the resentment that sparked violence, Hammond fails to actually explain in such a way that even Jack completely understands. It is like the explanation for the violence was an after thought–just stick it in there somewhere. If the intent of the movie was to highlight the fact that Westerners have been known to exploit the resources and workforce of the East, it should have been done in such a way that the movie did not make a mockery of itself.

Perhaps after this early release, Weinstein will decide to pull this movie from cinemas. I mean, Sony did that with The Interview, even though that movie was fun and entertaining and should have been shown. Much like the Taken movies could be subtitled “don’t leave America,” this movie could easily be subtitled “don’t do business in or visit Southeast Asia.”