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Movie Review: The Rite (2011) March 16, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Paranormal, Reviews.
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I am a huge fan of horror films, and few intrigue me more than those with ‘possession’ and ‘exorcism’ angles.  So of course I was eager to see The Rite, which was apparently aiming to be this generation’s The Exorcist.  It stars Academy Award winner Anthony Hopkins and newcomer Colin O’Donoghue (great screen presence), and tells the story of the young son of a mortuary owner (O’Donoghue) who almost drops out of seminary school and is instead whisked to Rome to participate in ‘exorcism’ class, and ends up learning from an unorthodox expert (Hopkins).

I didn’t have to see the film to know that critics were probably going to savage it — few horror films these days, especially those dealing with the supernatural, are likely to pass through unscathed.  However, I thought the previews looked pretty promising, so I was kind of hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

I’ll get straight to the point.  The Rite started off extremely well, almost too well for its own good.  It was atmospheric, intriguing, chilling and rather eye-opening.  It also asked some interesting questions about religion, faith and psychiatric illness, without coming off feeling contrived.  There were some fantastically effective scenes and sequences that made me recoil in horror.  It’s supposedly ‘inspired’ by true events, though I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about that.

However, at some point, around halfway through the film, The Rite takes a massive wrong turn.  I can almost pinpoint the exact scene where things start going downhill.  The point of view begins to switch awkwardly all over the place, and all subtlely flies out the window.  Instead of keeping you guessing, everything is spelled out and shoved down your throat, and genuine chills are replaced by cheap scares and special effects.  What began as potentially a new classic spiralled into just another uninspiring supernatural horror flick.

Sigh…

Nevertheless, I enjoyed the first half.

2.75 stars out of 5

My Career Tarot Reading February 25, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Misc, On Writing, Paranormal.
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3 comments

I’ve always been terrified of tarot cards.  I mean, come on, in every TV show or movie that features tarot cards, things never turn out well.  People always get ‘The Devil’ or ‘The Hangman’, or something ominous.  And then they die a gruesome death.

Nevertheless, I tried a tarot reading for the first time last year after borrowing a set from a friend and former colleague.  I was at that point in my life where I had already decided on a career change, but was terrified of the unknown and what lay ahead of me.

Thanks to the booklet accompanying the deck, I learned a lot about tarot cards and got quite addicted to them, conducting several ‘readings’ for friends during office hours (we either used the meeting rooms or went down to the cafeteria).

As it turned out, they are not as frightening as Hollywood has made them out to be, though I still get scared every time I do a reading for myself.  Cards can be interpeted differently, and your future is supposedly subject to change all the time.  As they like to say in the movies, your destiny is in your own hands.

Anyway, I returned the deck and stayed away from tarot cards until last week, when I downloaded a tarot app called ‘Tarot Holic’ on my iPad.  It’s apparently the #1 top paid lifestyle app in South Korea!

The app has several types of readings, and the first one I went for was an ‘In-depth Career Spread’ with 5 cards.  What that meant exactly I wasn’t sure, but I was ready to find out.  It has almost been a year since I left the legal profession and took the plunge to become a ‘writer’.  So far I am still a student, but I’m slowly making progress, even if it’s not as much as I have hoped for.

So, I selected 5 cards by concentrating on my questions and tapping on a spread out deck.  And the results were very interesting…

(click on ‘more…’ to read on!)

(more…)

Movie Review: Hereafter (2010) February 14, 2011

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Paranormal, Reviews.
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Sure, Invictus was just okay, but it seems to me old Clint Eastwood can do no wrong these days.  There is a quiet confidence in his approach, a lovely subtlety in his pacing and pauses.  And no matter what, he manages to evoke powerful, genuine emotional responses from his audiences (I mean, come on — Mystic River, Million Dollar Baby, Letters from Iwo Jima, Changeling, Gran Torino…).

Eastwood’s latest effort, Hereafter, is no different.  It’s a dangerous project because, as the title suggests, the film is about death and what comes after, which makes it prone to soppy melodrama and manipulation.  And of course, the afterlife is a topic often subject to ridicule and parody, so there’s the additional hurdle of keeping the film serious without tipping it over the edge.

Somehow, some way, Eastwood delivers.  Pound-for-pound, Hereafter is perhaps not one of Eastwood’s greatest films, but it’s certainly one of his better ones — and it holds great potential to be one of his most popular films.

It tells three separate stories about three different characters — Marie (Cecile de France), a well-known French television journalist; George (Matt Damon), an American factory worker who just gave up on his old job; and Marcus (Frankie McLaren), a British boy with an older twin brother and a crackhead mother.  I won’t say much more than that except that each of their lives is touched by death and what lies beyond.

Perhaps it’s just my fascination with the film’s themes and/or my appreciation for Eastwood’s direction, but I was totally engrossed by Hereafter from start to finish.  Sceptics might have a natural bias against the film because it lays quite a lot out on the table (similar to say atheists towards The Passion of the Christ or fundamentalist Christians towards The Da Vinci Code — even though it’s fiction), but those who keep an open mind will find it hard not to be moved by at least one of the three stories in the film.  It’s a shame that many people will simply scoff at this film because of its subject matter and try to discredit it on other grounds.  I’m just glad religion played an almost non-existent role in all of this.

Anyway, I loved it.  Eastwood butchered the ending in my opinion with a pointless sequence but apart from that I found it beautiful, absorbing, poignant, and ultimately very satisfying.

4.5 stars out of 5

Classic Movie Review: The Orphanage (2007) March 31, 2010

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Paranormal.
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2 comments

Most of the posters for this film are very disappointing, but this Spanish one's not too bad

I’m a sucker for supernatural thrillers, and for the last couple of years I kept hearing about this Spanish film called El Orfanato (The Orphanage), the debut feature of director Juan Antonio Bayona, and produced by his good friend Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy and soon, The Hobbit).

I finally got around to watching it, and admittedly, the hype is justified.

The Orphanage tells the tale of a woman who returns with her husband and son to her childhood home, an orphanage, which they intend to turn into a home for disabled kids.  Needless to say, stuff happens.  I don’t think it’s a premise I’ve seen before, but I’m sure it feels familiar.

Three things that tend to be common in ghost movies: big old house, weird noises and creepy children.  The Orphanage ticks all three boxes, but don’t let that fool you into thinking that it’s going to be a formulaic, predictable horror.  The Orphanage is multiple notches above your average supernatural story for a variety of reasons.

First, the atmosphere is genuinely creepy.  It’s a film that builds up the tension gradually, using a combination of eerie stories and spooky moments.  It unsettles you, makes you feel uncomfortable.  It rarely relies on the cheaps scares that plague horror films these days.  There are also some clever tricks that I won’t divulge, but they are freaking terrifying.  There are a couple of scenes in particular that are classics in my opinion, and they always give me chills when I think about them.

Second, you actually give a crap about the characters.  Laura, the mother and the main lead, is exceptionally played by Spanish actress Belen Rueda.  You feel her pain, her fears, and her desperation.  Rueda makes her a flesh and blood, believable character you care about.  The father, Carlos, played by Fernando Cayo, has less to do here, but he has his moments too in a subtle, controlled performance.

Third, it’s a great story!  Given the premise I described above, it would have been easy for the film to collapse into your run-of-the-mill haunted house story, but there is so much more to it.  There is mystery, intrigue, twists and turns, many of which I didn’t see coming.

In a way, The Orphanage shouldn’t even really be called a “horror” as that downplays the dramatic aspects of the film.  I think the main reason the movie has done so well (won 7 Goya awards) is because of how emotional and heartbreaking it is, in a way you don’t expect horror movies to be.

Watch it before the obligatory Hollywood remake comes out! (New Line has already acquired the rights)

4.5 stars out of 5!

The Haunting in Connecticut – Fact or Fiction? April 10, 2009

Posted by pacejmiller in Movie Reviews, Paranormal.
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15 comments
haunting_in_connecticut_ver22

Just how much of it is true?

Yesterday I watched the ‘based on the true story’ film The Haunting in Connecticut.

First, a short review

To be honest, despite the poor reviews the film was received, it wasn’t all that bad.  It was just average, and for a supernatural horror film, ‘average’ is pretty good these days.  In my opinion, it was one of those rare horror films that actually got better as it progressed.  In the first half or so, the attempted scares were your stock standard ‘boo’ moments and the bloody, visceral shocks you’d expect to see in any regular PG-13 horror.  I don’t know why, but for some reason I found myself actually frightened a few times in the second half, and that’s a rarity for me nowadays.  I even forgot how insanely and ridiculously stupid and non-sensical (even within the confines of the film’s own logic) everything was.  And for that,  3 out of 5 stars!

Fact or Fiction?

After I got home, I started wondering just how much of the film was really ‘based’ on the true story?  Was it even a true story to begin with?  Which characters existed and what parts of the film actually happened in real life?

And so I turned to the trusty old Internets for some answers.  The results were…interesting.

(Read the rest of the true story by clicking on ‘More…’!)

(more…)

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