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Ghost Voyage (2008)

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Ghost Voyage review!Reviewed by The Foywonder

Starring Antonio Sabato Jr., Deanna Russo, Nicholas Irons, Julian Berlin, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa

Directed by James Oxford


And the award for the most obvious Sci-Fi Channel original movie goes to … Ghost Voyage!

A small group of people of varying (and in some cases shady) backgrounds awaken aboard a seemingly deserted cargo vessel with no memory as to how they got there. The ship’s steward appears and rattles off a short list of strange rules they are to follow or face dire consequences. This steward offers no answers as to how they got there or where they are headed other than to describe this as “a voyage of their own making”. He then vanishes into thin air right before them. It will take them over two-thirds of the way into the film’s running time to figure out they’re all actually dead and this ship is some sort of sea-faring purgatory taking them to their final destination. It’s so obvious from the get-go it’s laughable.

Before anyone screams I just spoiled the big third act revelation, I want to say to all of you that one cannot spoil that which is blatantly obvious within the first five minutes of a movie. It’s that obvious. I’m not trying to sound like some sort of smarty pants know-it-all when I tell you that I knew exactly what was really going on mere minutes into the film. It really is that obvious. It’s so obvious everyone reading this should have it figured out right off the bat, too. At least I hope you would. We’ve all seen this scenario done many times before and this one doesn’t exactly try being subtle setting up its premise.

This cargo ship has no crew. They’re sailing amid stormy, foggy waters, almost unnaturally so. Hallways are adorned with photos of famous sunken ships and pictures of some of history’s most infamous mass murderers. They find maps that show no land. The controls of the ship are locked on a course they cannot change. On top of all that, they keep seeing ghostly apparitions and, again, they have no memory as to how they got there. Yet it still takes these people over two-thirds of the running time to come to the same conclusion the rest of us will have come to within the film’s opening minutes. The characters in this film are so dense the average “Scooby Doo” episode to them must be like trying to unravel an Agatha Christie mystery. That it takes them so long to figure out that which is so painfully obvious makes it all the more laughable.

Little about this vision of the netherworld will make much sense when you really stop and think about it. Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa plays the mysterious steward of the cargo ship, carrying himself in such a manner that if he had a cigarette in hand he’d be outright imitating Rod Serling at the end of a “Twilight Zone” episode. His three rules to them are to not breach any closed doors, not enter the captain’s quarters, not refuse any orders from a member of the crew (odd given he’s the only crew member), and no smoking. The first thing one of them does is go up onto the deck to smoke a cigarette. The smoke from his cig forms a ghost that kills him, followed by a cheesy CGI vortex that sucks him down. I realize the MPAA is now adding smoking to the list of things they take into consideration when rating a movie but isn’t making smoking an offense punishable by eternal damnation just a tad much?

The other uninteresting passengers include a slutty Hollywood party girl, the son of a Russian shipping tycoon, a heroin addict, a sleazy movie producer, a pair of mafia arsonists that look and talk like “Sopranos” extras, an art curator with daddy issues, and Antonio Sabato Jr. as a guilt ridden NASCAR mechanic who cannot help but talk in racing speak. There’s a scene where he’s trying to unlock the steering controls and he actually says, “If I just had my tools I could get it to the finish line.” Nobody talks like that – not even in “Speed Racer” cartoons.

The one thing they all have in common – besides being dead and taking a laughably long time to figure this fact out – is that they’re all entirely too calm about having just woken up aboard a crewless seagoing vessel with no memory as to how they got there and no clue where they’re going. I mean the producer and the starlet are more concerned with getting in each other’s pants, and they even decide to do it in the captain’s quarters, of all places. The Russian shipping heir and the mob thugs will join forces in a plot to steal all the priceless ancient artifacts discovered in the cargo hold once they dock even though they’ve no clue if, where, or when the ship will dock somewhere. Only Sabato Jr. and the female art curator he starts romancing seem to show any real concern as to what in the hell is going on and even they’re remarkably low-key about it all things considered. When we learn what these two’s relatively minor sins compared to most of their shipmates are that could get them damned for eternity you come to realize that in this version of the afterlife potential damnation is based on more nitpicking than that found in one of my typical reviews.

Again, it all comes back to the film taking two-thirds and quite a bit of thinning out of the cast for these people to finally realize that they’re dead, on a boat to Hell, and if they break any of the rules ghostly apparitions, CGI fire squids, or zombie demon skanks that throw skull-shaped dragonballs that don’t do anything are going to kill them again (so to speak) and have them sucked directly to Hell. Even if they don’t break any rules they’re still going to be damned if they don’t find a way off the ship since it’s taking them straight to the mouth of Hell, envisioned as a slow-moving oceanic whirlpool surrounded by glowing green lights. Not at all how I imagined such a thing would look.

Truth is this is one of those movies where there’s only stuff to mock and even on that level it still isn’t particularly worthwhile. The Sci-Fi Channel has been on a roll of late having premiered two entertaining original movies in a row: Showdown at Area 51 (review) and Beyond Loch Ness (review). I was hoping they could make it three in a row with Ghost Voyage. Oh, well. Inoffensively bad at best and I wasn’t totally bored despite it making the plot to Sarah Landon & the Paranormal Hour seem tricky by comparison.

Yet despite being unoriginal, not the least bit suspenseful, so simplistic as to make the average “Goosebumps” story seem layered, with characters that are total morons who keep doing unrealistically moronic things, and often providing viewers with little more than all the thrills and chills that comes with watching people slowly walkabout the interior of an empty cargo ship for long periods of time, I’m actually surprised to say that I wasn’t bored out of my mind. I can only chalk that up to being kept on the edge of my seat watching, waiting, and wondering how long the movie was going to take until it allowed its characters to come to the same conclusion everyone with half a brain watching will have already come to very shortly after the opening credits finished rolling – and to see what moronic action certain characters will make next. For goodness sake, the soul survivors save their souls … I cannot believe I am about to type this … They’ll save their souls with a fire extinguisher and some electrical tape!

And because I had nothing better to do during the commercial breaks I decided to have some fun by rewriting the lyrics to “The Love Boat” TV theme song to fit Ghost Voyage. Everyone sing along now…

Hell, terrifying, we’re screwed
Come aboard, they’re expecting you
Hell, sin’s greatest reward
Soul in limbo, the choice is up to you

Ghost Voyage
Soon will be making another run
The Ghost Voyage
Promises suffering for everyone
Set a course for purgatory
You’re headed into damnation

Death will claim everyone
No escape your time has come.
Yes hell…
It’s hell…
Welcome aboard – It’s Heeeeeell!

2 out of 5

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Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions

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Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa

Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa


During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.

Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).

What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.

While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.

Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.

While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.

With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.

  • Before We Vanish
4.0

Summary

Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.

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Delirium Review – Bros, Cameras And A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On

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Starring Mike C. Manning, Griffin Freeman, Ryan Pinkston

Directed by Johnny Martin


When will these testosterone-overloaded frat bros with cameras ever learn that pissing off the evil souls of the departed all in the name of amusement won’t get you anywhere but wrecked? Same goes for filmmakers: when will they learn that found-footage exploits set in a house of pure sadism are something of a wrung-out affectation? Oh well, as long as people keep renting them, they’ll continue to get manufactured…which might or might not be to the benefit of the horror film-watching populous.

Delirium opens with a poor lad, strapped with a GoPro, running for his life through a labyrinth of haunted territory, praying for an escape…and it’s a foregone conclusion as to what happens to this trespassing individual. We then relocate our focus towards a collection of (ahem), “gentlemen” self-titled as The Hell Gang, and their escapades are about as profound as their grasp on the English language and its verbiage. The words “dude”, creepy”, and the term “what the fuck” are thrown about so much in this movie it’ll make your head spin to the point of regurgitation. Anyway, their interest in the home of the Brandt clan is more piqued now than ever, especially considering one of their own has gone missing, and they’ve apparently got the gonads to load up the cameras, and traverse the property after-hours, and against the warnings of the local law-enforcement, who surprisingly are just inadequate enough to ignore a dangerous situation. The cursed family and the residence has quite the illustrious and bleak history, and it’s ripe for these pseudo-snoopers to poke around in.

Usually I’m curb-stomping these first person POV movies until there’s nothing left but a mash of blood, snot and hair left on the cement, but Martin’s direction takes the “footage” a little bit outside of the box, with steadier shots (sometimes) and a bit more focus on the characters as they go about their business. Also, there are a few genuinely spooky scenes to speak of involving the possession of bodies, but there really isn’t much more to crow about, as the plot’s basically a retread of many films before it, and with this collection of borderline-douches manning the recording equipment, it’s a sad state of affairs we’re in that something such as this has crept its way towards us all again. I’m always down for jumping into a cold grave, especially when there could be a sweet prize to be dug up in all that dirt, but Delirium was one of those movies that never let you find your footing, even after you’ve clawed your way through all of the funereal sediment – take a hard pass on this one.

 

  • Film
2.0

Summary

Got about a half-dozen bros with cameras and a wanton will to get slaughtered on camera, all the while repetitively uttering the same phrases all damn day long? Then my friends, you’ve got yourself a horror movie!

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User Rating 2 (1 vote)
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Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Review – A Timid Step Towards a Frightening Possibility

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Starring Mamoru Miyano, Takahiro Sakurai, Kana Hanazawa, Yuki Kaji, Tomokazu Sugita

Directed by Kobun Shizuno and Hiroyuki Seshita


The Godzilla series is the longest-running franchise in cinema history. With over 30 films over a 60+ year career, the famous kaiju has appeared in video games, comic books, TV shows, and more, cementing its place as one of the most recognizable cultural icons in the past 100 years. With Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters, the titular beast makes its foray into the world of anime in this first film in a proposed trilogy. While there are moments that are genuinely thrilling, the film unfortunately fails to capture the imagination and wonder that is at its fingertips.

The story is quite simple: Earth is under attack by swarms of various kaiju who are wreaking havoc across the planet. Entire cities are being destroyed when Godzilla appears to vanquish humanity’s foes. Unfortunately, the King of the Monsters isn’t really there to help humans and its rampage continues until a race of alien beings arrive at Earth asking for a place to stay in exchange for defeating Godzilla. When they are unable to do that, the remaining humans board a giant spaceship to venture off into space in search of a new home only to come back some 20 years later, nearly 20,000 years later by Earth time (think Interstellar logic), to search for resources and, possibly, a planet that will welcome them once again. However, Godzilla is still around and isn’t keen on sharing.

The main character of the film is Haruo Sakaki, a young man who begins the film by nearly following through on a suicide bomber terrorist act that is meant to call attention to humanity’s loss of vision and failure to fulfill their mission of finding a suitable home for the remaining survivors. Even though he is accosted and jailed for this act, he is eventually freed when people realize that his lifelong passion of killing Godzilla is the foundation for research he’s done in finding a way to take down the creature…a plan that just might work. The other characters are so forgettable that I forgot their names during the film.

From there, the film essentially pivots into following a massive team of volunteers who land on Earth’s surface to lay a trap for Godzilla in order to destroy it. Since this is Earth 20,000 years after they left, the flora and fauna have evolved and changed so radically that the team have no idea what to expect or how to react, so caution is a must.

The problem with this is that while the characters have to be cautious, the film doesn’t nor should it. The movie has the chance to explore the wealth of imaginative opportunities at its fingertips and yet does almost everything it can to avoid doing just that. The color scheme is flat and uninteresting. The character movements lack smoothness and the action sequences fall victim to shaky cam syndrome. There are a few mentions of some of the changes that have taken place on the planet, such as razor sharp plants, but they’re so incidental or offhand that it feels like no one making the film has any interest in seeing anything other than man against beast.

Speaking of this dynamic, the action sequences are quite entertaining but also feel somewhat reserved. Godzilla barely moves and much of the destruction levied against the humans is seen from a distance, apart from an attack on a military outpost by dragon-like creatures. For nearly the entire film, I found myself thinking, “I’m okay with this but that’s about it.

The brightest moment in the film are the last few minutes and I won’t spoil what happens. Suffice it to say that it definitely has me interested in the second and third films but I really hope that this new world will be explored further in those entries. Otherwise, we’ve got a fascinating foundation that will be squandered.

  • Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters
2.0

Summary

Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters is a bland entry in a trilogy that has great potential. For a first course, there’s a distinct lack of flavor or complexity. The final minutes are the only saving grace and I hope that the second and third films make use of that grand wonder.

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User Rating 5 (1 vote)
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