• Film reviews

    #596 – 3ft Ball & Souls (2018)

    3ft Ball & Souls (2018)

    Film review #596

    Director: Yoshio Kato

    SYNOPSIS: Four people arrange in an online chat room to undertake a group suicide. They meet in an isolated shed where one of them has brought a huge ball of fireworks to explode along with them. When the last person arrives, they realise that she is just a high school student, and the three other adults try to talk her out of it. She refuses and sets off the fireworks, but this sends the other three back in time as they all arrive at the shed. They deduce that the reason they are being sent back is because that Tsukiko, the schoolgirl, is there, and so they try and persuade her to leave before they can end their own lives…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: 3ft Ball & Souls is a 2018 film. The setup of the film is fairly simple: four people, who meet in an online chat room, and agree to commit suicide together. Meeting up in a shed, one of the participants brings with him a huge fireworks ball, which he intends to explode with them all inside the shed. One by one the people arrive, until the final person arrives: a schoolgirl named Tsukiko. Uncomfortable with her joining their plan, the other three try to convince her to leave, but she is adamant she wants to go through with it, taking the detonator and setting it off. This, however, causes time to go back to before everyone gathers. As time loops at this point again and again, the three people believe that the loop is being caused by the schoolgirl’s presence, and try to convince her to leave so they can break the loop. The premise of the film is fairly simple: taking place almost entirely in this small shed, the three participants try to convince the schoolgirl to leave, with each participant recognising they are in a loop at different points of the film. The story takes an in-depth look at it’s topic of suicide that is serious and frank, with a sprinkle of light-humour to round out the characters. The sparse and limited setting supports the tone by proving few distractions, and setting the four characters around this giant ball of fireworks, which leaves them little room to hide.

    As the film progresses, we learn a little about each of the characters and the reasons which have led them to this point. The story is well paced and provides enough insight into each of the characters to get you into their state of mind. The irony of these three people so willing to end their own lives trying to convince Tsukiko to not do it herself is not lost on the film, and even though everyone is the same position, they are still there for vastly different reasons, so their words don’t necessarily resonate with one another.

    The film’s weaknesses are that while the film does have an in-depth dive into the topic of suicide, it lacks a kind of profound emotional depth that I think it wants to go for. It has it’s moments for sure, but overall it’s missing something to tie everything together. maybe it’s because the characters all have these very distinct personalities and reasons for being there with no overlap, which makes it obvious they are actual scripted characters. There’s also a very cultural aspect of how suicide is perceived and dealt with in japan, so you might miss a certain element of the film if you’re not well-versed in it. I think the weakest aspect of the film is the ending. Without spoiling, it ties everything together a bit too neatly, and it is one of those rare films where it would have been better if the film ended about five minutes earlier in a more ambiguous way that was still positive, but without over indulging the point. The strongest moment of the film comes near the end, when the three participants have run out of reasons and arguments to dissuade Tsukiko from going through with it, being left with the sole reason that they don’t want her to.

    Overall, I thought 3ft Ball & Souls was a good film that has a good story that is well told and set up; dealing with a topic that is hard to deal with. The characters play well off of each other, and have a decent amount of depth too. The ending is a bit too simplistic and well-rounded to really gel with the rest of the film, but it doesn’t detract too much from the net positive of the film’s story, pacing and characters.

  • Film reviews

    #587 – Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018)

    Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween (2018)

    Film review #587

    Director: Ari Sandel

    SYNOPSIS: Teenager Sarah Quinn is struggling to write an essay for her college application. Meanwhile, her brother and his friend find a mysterious book at an abandoned house, which when opened releases Slappy, an evil dummy, to appear. Slappy is more than just a dummy though; he is alive, and sets about unleashing all sorts of monsters just in time for Halloween. It’s up to Sarah and her brother (and his friend) to stop Slappy before he unleashes pure chaos on the town…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS: Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween is a 2018 film and a sequel to the 2015 film Goosebumps, based on the series of horror stories written by R.L. Stine. Set three years after the first film and in a different location, we see teenager Sarah Quinn trying to write her college essay, but is constantly distracted by her Mother wanting to babysit her brother and his friend, who is stopping with them over Halloween. The plot revolves around Slappy, the evil dummy who was the villain the previous film, being released from one of R.L. Stine’s unfinished books, and does what he does best: unleashes monsters and horrors of all sorts to terrorise the town, leaving Sarah and the others to stop him. The plot is very similar to the first film, but while the first one managed to offer a twist that made things interesting with the Goosebumps books themselves forming part of the story, here that little unique twist is absent. The film revolves around an unfinished story by R.L. Stine called “Haunted Halloween,” which apparently was an early book that was very rough and unfinished, so the monsters that are unleashed have that feeling of being unpolished. This does, however, have the feeling of making the film also rough and incomplete, with the story feeling very weak and uninspired. There’s certainly a way to make the premise work without it bleeding into the quality of the film itself, but as it stands, the film ends up being feeling underdeveloped, and desperate in needing a good rewrite or two.

    The characters are all fairly unremarkable: while the first film was the same, it had Jack Black as R.L. Stine to bring everyone together and inject enough energy to keep things interesting. Here, we get no such thing: Jack Black does appear in a scene halfway through and at the end to somewhat explain everything, but in teasing him in this way without actually doing anything probably hurts the film more than anything. While Jack Black was such a prominent role in the first film, here, it would probably have been better if he wasn’t in it at all, if all he does is show up at the end and explain everything, leaving a feeling of disappointment you’re not going to see him do anything interesting. The whole subplot about Slappy wanting a family wasn’t something that was a part of the first film, so it just feel like it comes out of nowhere, and doesn’t further his character in any way. Overall, Goosebumps 2 is a very unpolished film that fails to get going in any way: the enjoyable elements of the first film are gone and we are left with a predictable, low-stakes story that offers nothing that the previous film didn’t.

  • Film reviews

    #439 – Evil Bong 777 (2018)

    Evil Bong 777 (2018)

    Film review #439

    Director: Charles Band

    SYNOPSIS: After escaping “Sexy Hell”, Rabbit, Ebee and the rest of the gang decide to head to Las Vegas to escape the wrath of Lucy Furr and Beelzebud, but the two are hot on their heels to take their revenge…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSISEvil Bong 777 is the seventh and final (to date) instalment of the Evil Bong film series. Continuing from where the previous film left off, we see Rabbit, Ebee, Misty, Batty Boop and the Gingerweed Man escaping from “Sexy Hell” and the clutches of Lucy Furr and Beelzebud. On the run, they decide to flee to Las Vegas. The plot of the film basically revolves around the cats just…doing stuff in Las Vegas: they go and see a show (an excuse to show some nudity), they check into a grubby hotel and…well, that’s about it. The film really has no plot, like most of the other films in the series. Every scene is just a chance for either some crude nudity or extended, inane dialogue that goes nowhere. There’s not even a real plot to the film: Whereas in the previous films had some sort of scheme by the evil bong to take over the world, here she just hangs about in the background interrupting with some dismissive comments every so often. Lucy Furr’s plan to escape Sexy Hell doesn’t have any consequences either, as she never seems to have a plan with what to do when she gets out. The series clearly ran out of ideas several films ago, and spends most of it’s runtime on this inane dialogue I have come to expect from the series, and at a runtime that is less than an hour, the bankruptcy of ideas is very apparent.

    The characters from the previous film return, but the original cast of college roommates are long gone and forgotten. The only characters that have appeared in all the films are Rabbit and the Evil Bong herself. I suppose if I were to find a positive in this film, it is that each of the cast has something to do and their own dedicated scenes. None of these scenes really tie into anything in the grander narrative, because as mentioned there is no grand narrative. The inclusion of other characters from other films made by Full Moon Pictures makes things even more confusing if you haven’t watched them. The gag characters of the rednecks and stoner pairs return for their predictable schtick that adds a little energy to the dialogue. There’s also two new creatures made from the Gingerdead Man’s corpse, but they only re-appear at the end of the film to perhaps set them up as the villains of the next film, which has to date not materialised. Introducing the halfway through the film and having them show up only at the end again feels like another pointless endeavour.

    One common theme throughout these films is the lack of settings. Evil Bong 777 has a few different ones, but they’re either pretty sparse, or they’re obviously greenscreened. You definitely never get the sense that they are actually in Vegas. There’s perhaps some attempt to push the series through more absurd and in-your-face nudity and sex scenes, but they don’t really tie into anything. Whereas the previous films might have gotten one or even two mild chuckles, this one didn’t even get that: Evil Bong 777 is really running on fumes in terms of its story, characters and humour. As such, it is not going to appeal to anyone, but I suppose if you’ve suffered through the rest of the films (as I have), you might as well suffer through just one more…

  • Film reviews

    #350 – 2.0 (2018)

    2.0 (2018)

    Film review #350

    Director: Shankar

    SYNOPSIS: Dr. Vaseegaran, an expert in robotics and artificial intelligence has developed a new robot named Nila, after his older robot Chitti went on a murderous rampage and was disassembled. When everyone’s mobile phones start flying away of their own accord, it turns out to be the work of the spirit of Pakshi Rajan, who is using them to stop their overuse from killing birds. With no way to stop him, Vaseegaran suggests reactivating Chitti, as he is the only one strong enough to defeat this new menace…

    THOUGHTS/ANALYSIS2.0 is a 2018 Indian science fiction film and the sequel to the 2010 film Robot. The film opens with Dr. Vaseegaran introducing his newest robot Nila to a group of students. Shortly thereafter, people’s mobile phones throughout the city begin flying away of their own accord. Without these phones, the city is in a state of chaos, and attempts to bring in new phones are met with suspicious accidents. The phones then combine to take the form of a giant bird, which causes more chaos by uprooting signal towers. Vaseegaran suggests to the government to reactivate Chitti, but his murderous rampage that was the result of an upgrade means they are reluctant to do so. When the military fails to resolve the situation, the government then gives Vaseegaran permission to reactivate Chitti to counteract the mobile menace. The plot of the film is fairly robust, with a good amount of time dedicated to all the characters, with some decent set pieces that give the action scenes the space they need to stand out, as well as a decent amount of character development. 

    One issue that arises with the story is the pacing and it’s organisation: some scenes go on for too long and put the film into a bit of a slump that make it lose focus through its inconsistency. The big example is when Chitti encounters Rajan (or his energy spirit…thing) and asks what his motivation is. This leads to a twenty minute flashback essentially telling his life story. I think the aim is to get the viewer to empathise with his message about how mobile phone signals are killing the birds, and will ultimately endanger our own existence, but this could have been done in a much more interesting and provoking way other than this biographical picture of a villain to make us feel sorry for him. Rajan’s kill count in this film is pretty high, and is portrayed with a very evil look, so ultimately he is being played as a straight, typical villain that doesn’t really need this backstory. His whole life being centred around birds from the moment of his birth onwards also makes him seem like a very one-dimensional character. The rest of the cast are given just the right amount of development, and the performances are all pretty good, with characters from a number of different perspectives on the events that are transpiring. One character that doesn’t serve much use is Dhina Bohra, the son of one of the villains who was killed in the first film. He serves as a good reminder of Chitti’s legacy in the first part of the film, but his part gets muddled and loses it’s way as the film progresses.

    The message of the film concerning the effect of mobile phone signals on birds is not a subtle one, and I have absolutely no idea how much of it is true or not, which makes the message even more confusing. The film does try to explain how and why everything is working, even when it probably doesn’t need to. The explanation of Rajan’s spirit being a 5th form of universal energy that is binding together the mobile phones is needlessly complicated, but probably should be commended for its effort in elaborating on details. Any criticism of the subtlety of the film’s message should also be balanced out by saying this is not a subtle film in any other regard either. Like it’s predecessor, 2.0′s biggest strength is its over-the-top action sequences that defy reality, logic and sense. Again, this contrast with the exasperating exposition of the antagonist give the film a very uneven feel in places. Nevertheless, the action itself is pretty solid, with some implausible stunts and plenty of destruction. The fights are also pretty varied, with the first fight of Chitti after reactivation showing off Chitti’s strengths, then after Rajan possesses Vaseegaran’s body, Chitti cannot defeat Rajan because it would also harm Vaseegaran, and conflict with his programming against harming another human. With this in mind, Nila activates Chitti 2.0, the upgraded version that caused the destruction of the first film, as it is the version that would not be averse to harming a human. This version partakes in the more absurd action, with an army of Chitti robots combining to make a giant ball of machinegun fire and even a giant bird cage to trap the giant mobile phone bird. Some of the sequences feel a bit similar to the first film (the “Chitti ball” for example), but it’s more of what made the first one so memorable and entertainingly insane, so that’s not too much of a problem. The special effects that support the action are also well done, and while not as good as the top Hollywood films, still deliver a credible, colourful and visual treat.

    Overall, 2.0 continues the story of Robot with more of the excessive action that made the first film so good. The direction and set pieces of the action sequences deliver an entertaining bit of cinema, even if it does not evolve too much from its predecessor. Away from the action, the film suffers an uneven pacing with too much focus on the villain’s backstory and his motivations that drain the film of it’s energy for some time before it can regain its momentum. Apart from that, there’s plenty of content and story to fill it’s runtime, so it’s a worthwhile watch.