Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Man Who Fell To Earth [1976]

I watched this film a long time ago - and I didn't quite like it - but back then my movie tastes haven't matured to what they are today. So, I'm curious what my reaction would be today.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Meiko Kaji

The beautiful star of the Scorpion pinky violence films - Meiko Kaji - sings "Jeans Blues"


Friday, February 26, 2010

Siren [2004]

“Hey guys, I hear there’s a female ogre around these parts that preys on young greedy stupid virgin film students who don’t know how to make a film – but watch a lot of films so they thought they would try to make a film.”

“What’s that on the side of the road?”

“Oh, it’s a female – let’s pick her up!”

“I cannot possibly think of any possible reason why that even MIGHT be considered a bad idea!”

So, if I was watching this film – and let’s not pretend that I just wasted 78 minutes of my life watching this film – this is purely hypothetical... I would be asking the filmmaker – who is my friend – as that’s probably the only reason why I would watch this film... He’s still in film school – and he wants me to screen it and give an honest opinion... Okay? Is that enough of a set-up?

Well, I would ask my friend; “The dialogue – that seems kind of spontaneous. Was that difficult to write?” Then he would say; “Oh yeah, but we improvised a little.” Then I would say; “Oh.”

I wouldn’t have the guts to tell him that the dialogue at times makes little sense – and the directing, acting, story and everything makes little if no sense - almost like there wasn't any to begin with - it was all decided at the moment. The only thing that’s any good is the concept of the story – but that’s just about it. Concepts aren’t stories.

I also wouldn't have the heart to tell him that I hate movies made on cheap digital cameras. Sure the picture's clear - but there's no depth to the picture - it feels so sterile and wrong.

Then I would say; “How did you convince the girl to get nekkid that many times in your student film?” He would say; “She’s a porn star.” Then I would say; “Well, that makes sense.”**

I wouldn’t tell him that even though she’s cute and all – the hopes of seeing her breasts isn’t enough of a motivation to sit through the entire film – one would watch just to the point of seeing them – and then turn off the film. No, since I was watching this film with the filmmaker in the room I didn’t want to insult them by turning it off.

So bad.

I would then tell my friend that I thought it was pretty good – I would’ve done a few things differently – (like when it rained in that final scene I’d make sure the characters hair got wet – so the rain is convincingly wet and not just there) – and I would give it a 4 out of 5 and then drink another beer... But truly inside me that beer would be used to drown my sorrow of watching a really bad film that had no redeeming parts (other than boobs – but boobs aren’t a movie – until I MAKE THE MOVIE CALLLED BOOBS AND THAT’S ALL THAT WILL BE AND EVER BE - BOOBS!!!) – but truly inside it’s barely worth a 1 out of 5 – but I round up from NOTHING!

Okay, I admit it – I watched this film... And the filmmaker wasn't there with me... It’s only because I got the ‘Behind the Pink Curtain – The Complete History of Japanese Sex Cinema’ and got overly excited and rented the first pinku style film that I found on Netflix even if it was modern and I HATE modern Japanese sex cinema films... And I regret it okay? I’m sorry.

[directed by Satoshi Torao]

** This is also the reason why I cannot find a picture of this movie on the internet - or even a picture of the movie's "star" that doesn't have a male appendage sticking out of her in some fashion. So, ummm... G'morning!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion: Beast Stable [1973]

After watching the first Female Prisoner #701 Scorpion film – I wasn’t exactly impressed – I wanted a pinky violence film but got a women-in-prison film. Even though I was disappointed - I really wanted to give the second film - Jailhouse 41 - a try. The only problem with that is the second film is mysteriously out of print – yet the third and fourth films in the series come in a box set along with the first. In the mood for a kind of pinky violence film – I decided to give Beast Stable a shot.

Scorpion (played by Meiko Kaji) is still on the run from the law – ever since her boyfriend a crooked cop set her up in the first film. Beast Stable opens with Scorpion narrowly escaping capture by cutting off a detectives arm after he handcuffs her. Yuki, a prostitute, meets Scorpion as she’s trying to escape the handcuffs – and takes her in. Scorpion goes on to cross a local gangster – while the one armed detective is still searching for her – but little do they know - they don’t want to corner the Scorpion.

This film is fantastic in so many aspects – I’m really kicking myself for not watching it sooner. It’s visually stunning and surreal – but that’s not to say that it doesn’t have a pretty good dose of sleaze, violence and exploitation-like bizarreness. When I say a pretty good dose – I don’t mean over-the-top – it’s fairly low-key when compared to other pinky violence films released by Toei around the same time.

I really liked Meiko Kaji as the Scorpion – first off she’s gorgeous – secondly she’s the lead character but has so few lines - so she has to play the character more with body language and blank facial expressions that blossom when alone (or with Yuki - who I felt there was a developing quiet love story). You also have to take into account that she’s an escapee so she’s also got to blend in and be so subtle about all that she does in public – even though she’s an extremely dangerous person to the people who cross her.

Kaji has the direction of Shunya Ito to thank for really helping pull together a great performance with a great film. Ito uses surreal elements to help provide tension or to help express what the Scorpion has bottled up inside of her. He also uses the composition of the frame and the angle at which he shoots as a way of helping build up the audiences reaction to a particular scene.

I thought it was interesting – that the film dealt with a taboo politically charged topic at one point – that was handled and show in two different ways simultaneously – as to not preach to an audience. In some of the exploitation films I’ve seen – they usually take on a taboo topic head on – and tell you – this is how you should feel and we will be exploiting it as a motive.

That’s not to say the film doesn’t have its flaws – such as how the One Armed Detective connected both Yuki and the Scorpion – maybe I missed something but Yuki never tipped her hand to anyone from what I remember. I thought Yuki’s mentally handicapped brother was a bit over the top – but that’s what an exploitation film is supposed to be (not exploited in a ‘duh-duh’ way mind you).

My only other confusion was I kept expecting the lead gangster’s woman to turn out to be a dude – but I guess she just wasn’t an attractive lady… With biggish hands… And 5 o’clock shadow...

This is a great film – and I think it’s great as part of the series – and would even work as a stand alone film. I’m giving this one a perfect 5 out of 5.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Law Abiding Citizen [2009]

Scanning the reviews on Metacritic – this film is bashed for being torture/porn and compared to Saw. I just don’t see it. It’s an over the top revenge film that does have some contraption kills – but it’s certainly not Saw.

The wife and child of Clyde Shelton (played by Gerard Butler) are killed during the course of a robbery. An ambitious assistant DA, Nick Rice (played by Jamie Foxx), decides to make sure that at least one of the perpetrators get what they deserve even if it means the other gets a light sentence. The only problem is the deal that he makes lets the wrong guy off – and Clyde is mad – 10 years later Clyde enacts a plan – and as we find out “If Clyde wants you dead. You’re dead.” Even if Clyde is behind bars!!!

This is a cat and mouse chase kind of who is smarter than whom - revenge tale. Clyde plays with Nick and his group of cops & prosecutors – as he teaches them a lesson. I don’t think anyone out there would disagree that this “lesson” is worth learning – as the law is set-up to protect its citizens – not to let killers go free. It’s the execution of the lesson plan (pun-pun-pa-pun-pun) that raises the question.

Can the “hero” of the film be the one killing innocent people? Or is the hero of the film the one who let an innocent family’s killer go free?

My problem with the film is that I think the message gets a little muddled – and they tend to over-sympathize with Clyde – therefore making it harder to root for Nick. Maybe it’s the script – maybe it’s the actors – but it’s hard to feel sorry for what seems like an unsympathetic and cocky prosecutor – who has his entire life in front of him – and doesn’t regret making the deal to let the killer go free. Versus’ a scorned father – who’s charisma almost makes you forgive the fact that he’s causing horrible things to happen to people.

Your like or dislike of this film is ultimately going to be based on who you like more – rather than based on who is “right”. Both characters are ultimately “right” and “wrong” in their decisions – the DA does his job the way the law allows him to do his job even if it means making deals with murderers – Clyde is taking out the trash but also crosses the line on whom he considers “trash”. Considering one character is more sympathetic than the other – if you whole-heartedly disagree with Clyde – then you will probably dislike the film.

The direction was standard – as was the entire production – nothing that makes it stand out. I finished it maybe a half-hour ago – and there wasn’t truly any memorable scenes that make me want to watch it again. The acting was all right – though I thought Foxx should’ve come off as more sympathetic than he did.

I liked the film more than I disliked it – there was enough intrigue that kept me interested – and even though there were some big plot holes (the most glaring of which addressed head-on as soon as I thought it up) – I didn’t mind rooting for Clyde and his quest taking down the “corrupt” system. On first viewing – I’ll give it a 4 out of 5 – but I can see it settling more around a 3 if I watched it again in the near future.

[directed by F. Gary Gray]

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Weekend Viewing - Feb 19-21 (part 2)

Play Misty for Me [1971, directed by Clint Eastwood]

A radio disc jockey (Clint Eastwood) has a stalker (Jessica Walter).

I liked this film – it was pretty well made – a fine script – and a good build up of tension. My problem with it was that Clint didn’t get sufficiently pissed off with this woman who’s ruining his life – Clint is far too cool for school for the shit she pulled on him. In his feature directing debut – Clint was pretty good with certain elements – and fairly standard for the time the film was released in others. I’ll go out on a limb and give it a 4 out of 5.

Futureworld [1976, directed by Richard Heffron]

In the sequel to Westworld [1973] – the Delos Corporation has reopened their adult oriented theme park after 150 people got snuffed out by killer robots just years before. This time they invite some higher profile reporters to a free visit in hopes they would promote the park – or do they have something up their sleeves?

The fun of Westworld really didn't come over with it to the sequel. This felt more like a dull investigation/conspiracy story that could've been about anything - not just about robots. The relationship between the two reporters felt like love via default - and the relationship between Harry and Clark was disturbing to say the least. They also brought back Yul Brynner in the worst way - in an unnecessary dream sequence that mad you wonder - why is Yul in her dream if they never met? I give it a frustrating 2 out of 5.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Weekend Viewing - Feb 19-21 (part 1)

Shutter Island [2010, directed by Martin Scorsese]

A patient has escaped from the mental hospital on Shutter Island – and two US Marshals are brought in to investigate. The more they investigate – the more questions they raise as to what’s really happening on the island.

Shutter Island is a good film if you want to be taken for a ride that will tease your brain – and at times frustrate you. I’m really not quite sure how I want to rate this film – on it’s surface and looking back – I’d give it a 4 – but I’m not sure if that 4 would last under more scrutiny.

On a side note – my dad told me he had a dream about the movie (which he hadn’t seen) – and basically told me what my thoughts were half-way through the film on what was happening. If he only knew how right he was.

Kelly’s Heroes [1970, directed by Brian Hutton]

Kelly got wind of $16 million in gold behind Nazi lines – and hatches a plan to go and get it.

This film has aged badly – the humor – the soundtrack – the direction – the pacing – all doesn't really work in today's eye. Donald Sutherland’s Oddball character – felt completely out of place – I know he was supposed to be a gypsy or something – but came off as a hippie – which in WWII felt wrong. All that said it was kind of fun – and I liked it just a tick more than I disliked it – I’m stretching out and giving it a 3 out of 5.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

A thought on video game movies

This weekend - I completed a video game for the first time in a LONG time - Bioshock. After seeing the complete story unfold - and seeing how interesting the world of the underwater city of Rapture is - and seeing its inhabitants (pictured above the Frankenstein like - Big Daddy & a Little Sister) and how and why they've come to be - I think I would be interested in seeing what a movie on Bioshock might look like.

The game revolves around your character trapped in Rapture after your plane crashes in the middle of the ocean. A man you know only over a radio begs you to help him rescue his family from the mad creator of the city - who's God complex has turn Rapture's residents crazy and very very violent.

I agree in part with Roger Ebert who's recently said that video games will never be translated to movies successfully - because the moral choices that the gameplayer has cannot be quantified into a film.

Where beg to differ is - just as not all books translate well to film - it takes an adept hand who knows how to boil down the story to its base elements - and stick to that story. Which means concentrating on the film story - even if you anger gamers by not referencing their favorite subplot. Video games should be looked at like books - they are what they are - and "the original may always be better" - so make an intelligent movie to be proud of using the pieces you are given - but don't color too far outside the lines.

Also, if you consider the games that have been translated - such as House of the Dead, Mortal Kombat, Alien vs. Predator, Street Fighter, Doom, Super Mario Brothers & Tomb Raider - simply don't have the advantage of being made in an age where story really plays into the video game experience to the affect that it does these days. (Not to mention, studio's hoped the name would sell these films - so talent behind the camera was optional)

I'm sure that I wouldn't have to wait long - as it seems like if you sneeze - there's someone out there adapting it as Hollywood seems out of ideas - but a movie based on a video game doesn't have to be dumb. I'm just saying...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Werewolves on Wheels [1971]

So, I hear the new Benicio del Toro Wolfman movie wasn't all that great.

Maybe if they gave him a motorcycle?

Friday, February 19, 2010

Bella [2006]

You know – when the year ends – the decade ends you think back about your favorite movies over that time span. It’s not really THAT important – but as a sense of – “I remember this time span for this particular film/event”. Like the death of Heath Ledger and his amazing performance in The Dark Knight – or you remember that you had a great date seeing a particular film.

Well, you wonder what you ended up missing out on – and you are eventually nudged in the right directions until you find that movie that you somehow overlooked – and you get that great little excitement for finding a “lost” gem.

Being a movie guy – I often wonder if I should ever put out a top 10 or something along those lines – if I haven’t seen everything that I need to debate about to put into a top 10. For instance – I’ve seen a handful of the Academy Award Best Picture nominees – but it’s certainly possible – that one of those that I missed – will end up being even better than the one that I’m rooting for.

I’ve been wondering about this film Bella for quite a while now. I’ve actually had it sitting on my shelf for I don’t know how long – but I borrowed it – and decided that I should eventually give it back. I was assured – that this film is exactly the kind of film that I would love. To be honest – I hear that kind of comment – and I’m almost immediately turned off by it. Unless it’s something that’s screaming “me” – to me – then I almost would prefer never to see it ever – just because if it’s horrible – what does that say about that person’s opinion of me?

Well, I finally got around to watching Bella – and oh my God does it suck!

You get two very likable characters – and what appears to be the unfolding of a fun little story – then here comes the pro-life dildo to RAM YOU IN THE ASS! Not that I dislike this film because it’s pro-life – every filmmaker has a point of view – and that’s great – I am honestly open to many different points of views and willing to ponder many thoughts – but you’ve got to come at it with at least a little bit of subtly. I PROMISE you that if he said "just get an abortion" - I would be equally offended - because of the lack of film subtly. It's a fucking movie - events and realizations should unfold - not be dictated to you.

So, the female character finds out she’s pregnant – she’s upset – and not wanting to have the child. She tells the male character – who’s all Jesus beard and whom she barely knows – but it doesn’t stop him from getting upset. So, they both leave work to spend the day together – and they are riding on the train having a good conversation he says “what about adoption?” out of nowhere – and it turns her off and makes me think “well that was an awkward moment”.

Then later – he brings her over for dinner – and everybody’s laughing having a great conversation – having a good time everything is so light and funny – and Mom says “you know we adopted one of our boys?” – out of the blue killing the momentum of the film’s whimsy.

Why not just fill out the fucking adoption papers for her? You barely know her – but you want to get all “I’m Jesus – blah blah blah – do what I say because I accidently killed a kid” – oh snap! I let the cat out of the bag. Jesus beard killed a kid by accident – and so it becomes obvious that since he suddenly takes interest in this girl who’s pregnant that he wants to raise up that kid... So, he’s doing it all for his own selfish reasons anyway! Not even just for some fucking pro-life message – for some heavy handed bullshit self-redemption reasons.

Then they play up some kind of gravitas towards the end where it’s been 7 years or something (they don’t tell you) – and we see Jesus beard playing with a kid on the beach – and the girl riding around in a cab – and they meet up and she looks a the kid and starts balling... Come on! We figured this out 45 minutes ago – there’s no more power in this scene! After the first “what about adoption” bullshit awkward question that comes out of nowhere – you should’ve realized that Jesus beard had ulterior motives.

Let me reiterate – I have no problem with the film being pro-life – I just wish they wouldn’t use a clown hammer to drive in the point. This film reminds me of Crash – I even think they pulled a cut scene from Crash in some off-key heavy handed white guy versus Chinese guy convenience store “oh it was all just a big misunderstanding” scene.

1 out of 5 – it could’ve been an enjoyable film if they just were subtle – but I can’t give it any higher marks because it did in fact piss me off - that is all.

[directed by Alejandro Gomez Monteverde]

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Vampire Lovers [1970]

There’s a new pale family in town – and they need you to watch their daughter/niece – she’ll get along with your daughter well. REALLY well!

I really should stop watching Hammer Horror films. I always find them so stodgy and uninteresting. Even with this one where they stopped with the teasing and showed some skin – I found it incredibly unattractive. I’m always finding the lighting and directing make it seem like a movie factory – with a machine that stamps out the same basic stories – same bad cuts – same bland we 'need to show the string quartet every 4 seconds or you won’t know where the music is coming from' direction. The lighting – is it night or is it day – is it night or is it day? It’s the same!

There's hardly ever any joy or creativity to the filmmaking process in Hammer Horror films. They all seem to have a set of paints and a numbered sheet and they play by the rules. I immediately want to shut this off and watch something from Franco or Argento - or even Norman J. Warren who was kind of a studio guy - but he had fun and it showed in his films.

I’m typing this up with about 20 minutes left in The Vampire Lovers – and I’m not missing much. About 10 minutes ago – the butler made a joke about the girl dying because of being attacked by a vampire – and everyone thought it was a good idea – so they went with it.

What they don’t seem get is that this girl’s tutor or step-mother or whomever that is had been with the “child” so much longer than her new creepy best friend – but they seriously really truly suspect the tutor/step-mother – not the new weird "I prefer the shade" best friend?

And hey, stodgy old guys – now that you know that there’s vampires at large – why are you chatting in some castle and not heading over to your place to stop the vampiress? Nope, let’s hear the boring history that was covered right in the beginning of the film! STOP FUCKING AROUND IN THE CEMETARY – GO HOME AND STOP THE VAMPIRESS! IT’S YOUR FUCKING DAUGHTER AT STAKE HERE – DUMBASS!!! (Oh bad pun)

The acting is so bad too. You’re thin and have giant boobs! Would you be willing to flash them a couple times on film for a t-shirt… I mean a role in this vampire film? You don’t need to act – just show up and say what we tell you.

I did learn how to say "eyebrow" in German from this film – which I’ve already forgotten – so I wonder if it truly deserves the 2 out of 5 I’m giving it. No, it doesn’t – but I’m rounding up from like a 1.3 or something - and it gave me a couple of unintentional laughs - and since I don't hate it - more than 1 seems appropriate.

I’m probably not being fair. I don’t really like vampire movies – and I’ve already established a displeasure for most Hammer Horror films (Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb and Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter – are two exceptions that pop out of my mind) – so if you like both you might dig this one – it’s a wee more scandalous because a couple flashes of breasts – which is not common for Hammer Horror.

Thank you, Peter Cushing – now I can stop my watching – my review – and move on to watching cooking programs or something.

[directed by Roy Ward Baker]

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou [2004]

We join documentary film auteur and oceanic explorer, Steve Zissou, as he sets out on a journey for revenge against the Jaguar shark, who killed his best friend and first mate, Esteban. Along with him is a crew of misfits - his film crew, a bonds man, a reporter and a young pilot who may be his son.

There is something about the sheer joy of filmmaking that Wes Anderson brings to his films that makes them so appealing to someone who watches a lot of movies. He combines elements and influences that make you say – “that reminds me of...” or “after watching that I feel like watching...”

He brings a subtle humor to most of his films – he doesn’t go with the easy joke – he goes with the smart joke. Though in The Life Aquatic he goes for a few of his broadest of jokes – none of them feel forced or contrived. Bill Murray is brilliant as the aging Zissou – who desperately wants to stay relevant – but plays it in such a deadpan way as to not fully show his hand.

Anderson’s films aren’t overly bitter or mean – everyone is typically kind of caricatures – but that’s not to say they don’t have some depth – and a sense of a history to them. You get the feeling that they’ve all got stories in their past worth hearing – and they will go on to have more stories in the future. This is one of the aspects that I’ve always enjoyed about how Wes Anderson approaches his characters – I’m always left thinking about them.

His cast of characters – and talented actors of course is outstanding. Willem Dafoe, Cate Blanchett, Michael Gambon, Jeff Goldblum, Angelica Houston and of course Owen Wilson and the Wes Anderson staple – Bill Murray.

The soundtrack of pretty much all early 70’s David Bowie tunes –most of which covered in Portuguese by singer Seu Jorge - was an inspired choice for a soundtrack. There’s an excitement about Bowie in that time frame that really goes along with this film – as Bowie (on the surface) is singing about outer space and aliens and wonders from beyond.

The Life Aquatic captures an innocence of childhood wonder and the spirit that adventure is all around you – but it doesn’t’ require you to be childish to enjoy them. You could imagine this film as a kids movie if there wasn’t the nudity or swearing – and this film goes as kind of a tribute to childhood.

“Let’s get the gang together guys and have an adventure! Watch out for pirates! We discovered a wreck! Oh no, leeches!”

The stop-motion animation critters they encounter along the way – the snakes and exotic animals all over – the over the top action – all those things you get from old adventure films – and things you envision in your childhood adventures playing pretend with your friends.

I’ve watched this film several times – and it’s been one of those films that has grown on me to the point where I love it and give it full marks 5 out of 5.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Weekend Viewing - Feb 12-14 (part 2)

Orphan [2009, directed by Jaume Collet-Serra]

A couple looking to complete their family – adopts the child from hell, Esther.

I expected your standard fair from this film – and for the most part got it. You’ve got the creepy young girl – that does some depraved things that make you cringe – and you get the same child being charismatic enough to throw doubt in enough of the adults heads to make them question the child’s lone accuser – but it’s done very well. The performances all around are spot on – and the actress playing Esther (Isabelle Fuhrman) is fantastically creepy. It’s rather violent, gory and terrifying – it builds tension and anticipation of terror very adeptly and it’s smart enough not to throw some dumb excuses in your face in hopes that you’d just plain believe it. I give this film an enthusiastic 4 out of 5.

Suspiria [1977, directed by Dario Argento]

Some very strange things are happening at the European ballet school that Susan has just joined.

This isn’t just Dario Argento’s masterpiece – this is a horror masterpiece. Argento’s direction is outstanding – from the amazing cinematography, to the use of interesting frame composistion, and the basic yet under used art of using light and shadow. I loved the use of colors - everything is washed in reds, blues and greens – it’s amazing. There’s a high influence of German Expressionism as well as French Impressionism – elevating Suspiria to above just another horror film to a visusal masterpiece. You could put it on mute and enjoy the film for just that – BUT you couldn’t because of Argento’s use of the soundtrack to punctuate the images is perfectly executed. Even the acting was great – I’m seriously having a hard time finding a flaw in this film. Suspiria earns a perfect score – 5 out of 5.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Weekend Viewing - Feb 12-14 (part 1)

Public Enemies [2009, directed by Michael Mann]

The story of the FBI’s hunt for John Dillinger.

My problem with this film is the stop-n-go narrative – the characters were mostly unsympathetic and unlikable – and no discernable theme or insight that makes you stand up and enjoy the film on anything other than a base level.

What I did like was Dillinger’s girl, Billie – she was really the only likable character and the one you wanted to see her storyline come to a satisfactory conclusion. The action and gun fights were very good – and the locations were especially nice (one of them was a block away from my grandfather’s house). Yet, a sloppy story, sloppy direction and virtually no characters to care about make me give this a generous 3 out of 5.

Man Bites Dog [1992, directed by Remy Belavaux, Andre Bonzel & Benoit Poelvoorde]

A documentary film crew follows a charismatic yet unrepentant serial killer on his murder sprees.

This film firmly evokes disgust while shining a light on how the media often will promote and somewhat glorify the villains in society. It is a very effective and thought provoking critic on how we as a society lose focus on what’s really important when it comes to violent crimes. Often the main focus is on who’s doing these crimes – the Jeffery Dahmer’s, Ted Bundy’s, Ed Gein’s all get movies/documentaries made about their exploits and their victims are footnotes just like this film. We see the killer’s crimes in this film so much – and know so much about him – yet we know nothing about the victims. I give this film a solid 4 out of 5.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Thriller - A Cruel Picture [1974]

Ah, Christina... It's been too long.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Female Demon Ohyaku [1968]

Ohyaku has been running away from her mother’s shadow for her entire life – but when she meets Shin (a thief planning a huge heist on the mint) – she falls in love and is given the strength to move past that shadow. But when Shin is killed after the heist – Ohyaku has to discover her own strength to gain vengeance on his killers.

Certainly a precursor to what would be known as the pinky violence genre – but still in the range of “pinku”. This film is wonderfully shot in black & white – though it may detract from some more of the scandalous and possibly beautiful aspects of the film (namely Ohyaku’s tattoo – which could come off as quite powerful if shown in full color). This film doesn’t feature any nudity though it features plenty of the over the top violence, sex and torture one comes to expect of the later films in the pinky violence genre.

Directed by Yoshihiro Ishikawa - I give this film a solid 4 out of 5 - for those who might wonder if they pinky violence genre is worth all my talk - it's kind of a pinky-lite - not as garish but just as fun.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

5 movies from my youth that still do it for me

Surprisingly – I didn’t watch many movies when I was little. I sometimes wonder if that was the reason why I never really cared for the 80’s like many people around me did. I grew up watching public broadcasting – and the few movies that would play over the networks – but spent a lot of my time playing with action figures, watching camp 60’s Batman in the basement and teasing my little brother. There were certain movies that I remember, have fond memories of – and still hold in higher regard today. So, here’s the list.

The Empire Strikes Back [1980, directed by Irvin Kershner]

I was a crazy Star Wars fan when I was little – if I could I would watch it morning noon and night – and I’m betting my parents stopped me from doing so on several occasions. Though it wasn’t my favorite of the three films back then – it’s certainly my favorite now.

Labyrinth [1986, Jim Henson]

This was a gateway drug film that put David Bowie on my radar – if I only knew back then how much I would come to further appreciate the film for not only the puppets and mystical magic fun of the Jim Henson workshop – I would’ve been looking into music much sooner than I did.

The Muppet Movie [1979, directed by James Frawley]

A classic epic road film – that I can appreciate now more for the meaning behind some of the catchy tunes and the cameo appearances of people who I didn’t know of in my younger days like Steve Martin, Richard Pryor, Mel Brooks, Elliott Gould, Madeline Kahn, Bob Hope and Orson Welles.

Pee Wee’s Big Adventure [1985, directed by Tim Burton]

Another epic road film that I never grew out of – though many of my classmates turned on Pee Wee after the whole theater incident – and it became another reason why I was teased – but I loved the movie never-the-less. Even today - I'm telling people to look for their missing items in the basement of the Alamo.

Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory [1971, directed by Mel Stuart]

I remember sitting with my nose to the television watching the very end of this film – Gene Wilder will always be Willy Wonka – sure Tim Burton’s may be more true to the book – but I think it’s not as disturbing as the original adaptation – all soft and nice candy – then bugs crawling out of eye sockets and Gene Wilder’s “the rowers kept on rowing... never knowing which way they are going...”

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Talk to Her [2002]

Talk to Her [2002, directed by Pedro Almodovar]

Two men bond over their comatose loves.

I’m not exactly sure how to describe this film. It’s mesmerizing – sad and yet strangely beautiful. It’s dark and surreal – yet at times humorous. I’ve seen Volver also by Almodovar – it’s also quite dark yet humorous – not as surreal - but after watching Talk to Me – I really want to see more. It’s thought provoking and I get the feeling that this film will stick with me for quite a while – and I would have to recommend it to people who are looking for a similar experience in films. Films like this that push boundaries make me thankful for markets (both foreign and independent) – as I can’t see this being made in conventional Hollywood.

I have to note that the whole incredible shrinking man sexual fantasy scene will go down as something that I will never forget.

5 out of 5

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Weekend Viewing - Feb 5-7 (part 2)

This weekend I also watched our favorite fedora-wearing, adventurer played by Harrison Ford’s in his two best films - Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Indiana Jones films work because they play on the old classic world traveling serials of yester year that Lucas and Spielberg grew up enjoying – there’s a kid inside all of us that will always enjoy their timeless nature.

We’ve all probably watched these films dozens of times – but my viewing of them this weekend was purposeful as I wanted to figure out what was that much better Raiders and Last Crusade than Temple of Doom and Crystal Skull. I realize there’s not much that I can say about them that hasn’t been said before – but this is my space to say it – so I’m saying it (as short and possibly uninspired as it may be).

I’m not saying these are the reasons why these films are better – but here’s my list of the main differences between the two best in the series vs. the two worst of the series.

- No kids/teenager as a sidekick (not that as a kid I didn’t love Short Round)

- Nazi’s are the enemy (who are great “we can all relate to hating” enemies)

- The hunt is for a mystical Christian artifact (which again is something firmly understandable by Western Culture standards)

They are all classic b-movie type “jungle”, “tomb” adventure films – who’s lineage can be traced back to the beginning of cinema. World traveling adventurers under the guise of being “scientists” or “archeologists” or “explorers” have been fascinating kids and adults forever with their exotic locations, gross out scares and “near impossible” stunts.

As part of the new Raiders release there was an interview with George Lucas who insisted that he just wanted to see the film – he didn’t care who made it – he just loved the idea and story and just wanted to see it. Lately, Lucas has been on record in plenty of interviews – specifying that “audiences/kids want to see” things such as Anakin Skywalker as a child, Jar-Jar Binks and special effects nonsense. I can’t say whether Lucas wanted to see Indiana Jones fly around in a refrigerator – but with the massive rewrites to Crystal Skull – wouldn’t be surprised if that was the least worst idea out there.

My point here being – maybe Lucas should stop deciding what others want to see and put down what he’d like to see – as that’s what got him so excited about Indiana Jones in the first place – as it seemed to work out for everybody.

My feelings toward Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – are that they are neck and neck for the best in the series – two of the finest adventure films made – both 5 out of 5. Temple of Doom gets a 4 out of 5 on its best days but lingers around 3 most days – and Crystal Skull gets a very generous 2 out of 5.

There’s also a lot to be said about my feelings for George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and how I feel they are partially to blame for the crap Hollywood spews – intentionally or unintentionally – but this isn’t the blog for that rant.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Weekend Viewing - Feb 5-7 (part 1)

Black Snake Moan [2007, directed by Craig Brewer]

An old blues man is left by his no good cheating wife – a sex obsessed young girl is left behind as her fiancé reports to the military. When the man discovers the girl beaten and left outside his house – he takes it upon himself to “cure” the girl – thus redeeming himself of his wife leaving.

Black Snake Moan is pretty good – there were some performances that fell flat (namely Justin Timberlake) – but the concept and music was great. The whole film plays out like a blues song – and the rising tension between the characters - as a black man who has a white girl chained to his radiator was palpable and interesting. It’s amazing how much little Christina Ricci has grown up... (I’ll leave it at that since she bares all quite a bit). I give it about a 4 out of 5.

Lemon Tree [2008, directed by Eran Riklis]

A Palestian widow has a lemon orchard on the green line between Israel and the West Bank. When the Israeli Defense Minister moves in next door and it’s determined that the lemon orchard poses a security risk – she has to fight to keep it.

This is a very interesting movie that fails in the area of the relationships between the characters. If the film stayed with it’s sole focus on this lemon orchard and the characters directly involved – it would’ve been a great film. The fact that the film had some interweaving storylines that just didn’t work was disappointing. The acting was great – but the storylines didn’t work for me – and I was confused if I was actually supposed to care about some of them. I give it just above a 3 out of 5 – which I round up to a 4.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Dog Soldiers [2002]

There's been some interesting previews going around for the new The Wolfman movie - and it certainly looks pretty good.

All the previews do remind me of an interesting werewolf flick that came out in 2002 - from one of my favorite 'you get what you pay for' directors - Neil Marshall.

Dog Soldiers - a low budget werewolf film that plays on some of those - it's scary because it's in the shadows tricks harnessed by creative types all over the horror genre from the very beginning of film. It's perfectly fine for what it is - if you're Wolfman jones carries past the new Benicio Del Torro film - you could do worse.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

In a Franco state of mind...

Accompanying a slideshow of the gorgeous Soledad Miranda - we get a track from one of my favorite Jesus Franco films Vampyros Lesbos.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Really, Nero? That's the plan?

After checking out the Oscar nominations – I go and check out the inevitable snubs list on Yahoo! – and I see a few pretty good choices – but smack dab in the midst of it there’s a huge nod to Star Trek – which confounds me to no end.

Sure, it’s a fun film – but really?

The more I think back about the film – the more I get frustrated with one aspect of it – the bad guy – Nero. I’ll make no bones about my dislike for Eric Bana – who I think is a talentless hack – but it’s his character and the good guy’s reaction to his plan that gets me the most.

If you haven’t seen it – and want to see it – here’s where you should stop. If you catch yourself getting a little upset because you love the film so much that criticism about it gets you worked up – here’s where you stop – as I’m not going to pull any punches.

Nero’s plan is to destroy the planets of the Vulcan’s and the Human’s – for their lack of reaction to prevent the destruction of his home world. That’s fine. If that’s what he wants to do – more power to him. My problem revolves around his method – the giant hanging drill. The good guys eventually stop him by shooting the drill with torpedoes – but not before they fail at it and Nero succeeds at destroying the Vulcan planet. WHY didn’t they shoot torpedoes at it THE FIRST TIME?

Seems like the smartest thing to do – and the first thing that pops into my mind! No! They needed to have a pointless action scene that revolves around dressing up in special suits and shooting themselves at it in order to turn it off or explode it or something that’s far too complicated and dangerous – compared to SHOOTING THE FUCKING THING WITH TORPEDOES!

Lest we forget – that Nero is waiting for 20 years to fulfill this little plan by waiting at a wormhole for Spock to show up through the same wormhole. As far as he knows – Spock may have shot out of the thing 20 years BEFORE the time he ends up in when he goes through the wormhole – isn’t that how wormholes work? You never know where you’ll end up? He could’ve destroyed the planets – and THEN waited – just in case. BUT NO! He waits – and waits – and waits – and waits – like a fucking tool.

Nero is a dumbass – and a complete waste. And that’s why I think there’s no way in hell that Star Trek can be considered one of the top 10 films of the year – or nominated for anything other than special effects awards.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Zombieland [2009]

I was hesitant to see Zombieland in the theater – as it looked like it’d either be really good – or dreadfully bad. Sometimes those stylized “hip at the time” kind of films – especially comedies - can lead you in with it’s sweet promises – only for you to walk out cursing that you were duped again.

The United States has been overrun by zombies. An overly cautious boy named Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg) meets a violent Twinkie obsessed guy named Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson)– they join up to travel and to survive. They meet a girl named Wichita (Emma Stone) and her younger sister named Little Rock (Abigail Breslin)– and a cat and mouse chase develops.

This film tries to have some varying themes and zombie like messages – but that’s coated so very thin – that it’s almost not worth mentioning. The main theme would probably be the detachment of people from each other – given the fact that Columbus was basically a shut-in – and they all call themselves by the town they grew up in – in order not to get too attached to one another.

The film is pretty much all fun and zombie killing from there. It provides some VERY solid laughs – some good zombie kills – and a special cameo that was quite satisfying. The movie felt like a video game at times – which is fine – but it does lack substance for it.

Everybody was as good as can be expected in their respective parts – with a special nod to Woody Harrelson who hits a big home run in the role of Tallahassee. The performances – really don’t equate into the liking of the film – you just basically don’t want to follow around a bunch of unlikable characters – so as long as the parts are written right – there’s no problems.

As Columbus ticks off his “rules to survive” there’s graphics showing up on the screen – and demonstrations of what he’s talking about. The graphics don’t added or detracted from my personal enjoyment of the film – but in other films I know it’s really gotten to me. Don’t try and be too cute or try to bee too cool “look at us” – or else I’ll turn off right away.

There's plot holes the size of something very big and there’s a couple of really stupid decisions made my some of the characters – that you just want to shout at the screen and ask “why?” – but it’s no more dumb than giant robots who can transform into stuff in order to hide in plain site but not transforming when they need to because they want to play peek-a-boo around the corner of a fucking house while that stupid fucking kid is having some inane conversation with his dumber than rocks family in that one really fucking stupid film that makes me want to punch myself in the head over and over and over and over... Sorry.

Zombieland is fun – just plain fun – I won’t tell you to turn off your mind and enjoy it because life doesn’t work that way – but if you want to watch it I won’t tell you not to – if you are on the fence I would give you a nudge toward the ‘watch it’ side – if you have no interest I won’t tell you you’re missing a lot. In my book - Woody and the cameo make it worth it - I’m giving it a solid 4 out of 5.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Up In The Air [2009]

Sometimes people know their weaknesses – sometimes people will even admit to them – sometimes people will even embrace them. Most of the time – those weaknesses are hidden behind something – and uprooting them in a film can be interesting – and make for both interesting drama but interesting comedy.

George Clooney plays Ryan Bingham – a man who works for a company that’s main purpose is to fire employee’s for other companies that have bosses that are too weak natured to fire their own employee’s. Bingham is great at his job – and it gives him an excuse to travel – A LOT – and rack up a ton of frequent flier miles. When Natalie (played by Anna Kendrick) a girl half his age, comes in with grand plans to take Ryan out of the air – and in an office firing people over a teleconference – his lifestyle is threatened.

Bingham is an anti-hero – from a Lost Generation of kids who grew up with no discernable values. He doesn’t value human relationships like everyone else – that’s what makes him great at his job. He can give motivational speeches to crowds of strangers – because he actually believes that people who load up their “backpacks” with the stuff he doesn’t value – are somehow weaker for valuing those things.

It’s not really explained in the movie – exactly why he’s like this – why the only thing he values is the frequent flier miles – and not the human interaction and bonds that everyone else values – but that’s not the point of the film. It can be from any number of issues or excuse - the point is Clooney plays the character in a believable fashion that you don’t need excuses. If Clooney doesn’t put his weight behind the performance it wouldn’t matter if it was explained or not. There’s no condescending Hollywood monologue that will be shown as Clooney’s Oscar nomination clip - which is much appreciated.

I would also like to note – that George Clooney isn’t showing you new sides of himself in this role – this is a tailor made Clooney role. He plays confident and unaffected well – and the casting of him in this role was a wise choice – and I feel it’s a great performance – but not much new for George Clooney.

The story is about watching him cope – not explaining why he is. He tries to push his values back on to Natalie – in his way of nullifying the threat and maintaining his status quo. Once he feels that he’s not going to win – he starts grasping for human relationships to fill those gaps in his life whether it’s reconnecting with his family or reaching out to his new love interest Alex (played by the lovely Vera Farmiga – who absolutely shines in this role) – with results that are best left to viewing the film.

The theme of the film is about the various gaps people have in their lives. Bingham in his job creates holes in people’s lives – but hands out literature and gives an uplifting speech to fill in that hole. Every character seems to have a hole in their life – whether it’s as obvious as a spouse that just left them – or in the case of Bingham’s boss (played by Jason Bateman) a soul. Some people want to embrace the missing pieces of their lives – and some would rather grasp onto something to fill those holes – some don’t realize what they are missing until it’s pointed out to them. It’s a very interesting concept – and should speak to the viewer and have them give it a thought.

Natalie comes off as a person without any gaps in her life – therefore somewhat of a personal threat to Bingham – but he plays it cool and of course her façade falls apart. This is where the other main theme of dreams versus reality really comes into focus. She describes how she thought her life would play out and those dreams haven’t been realized – Bingham and Alex are more than happy to explain how life is really like – as callous as it may seem to a young dreamer. It’s a universally spoken theme – of the grandeur and hope of youth and the disappointments of age – and how people are still looking for the fountain of youth - I wish I knew what I knew now when I was younger.

The performances were strong – with possibly the exception of Anna Kendrick’s mini-awkward-breakdown was the low-point in the film – even though it provided a laugh. The script was strong, funny and bittersweet. The direction by Jason Reitman was spot on – he’s turning into one fine director. He’s got a great sense of composition and pacing - and an ability to keep it light – though this film could easily be a trudge through a depressing matter.

It’s tough to watch a film with your main character going around firing people without acknowledging the current economic climate – and how people are losing jobs every day – helping make Up in the Air a film that finely represents the current malaise of our time. It works as a statement film – with the cinema verite kind of interviews that have people expressing what it’s like to lose a job – and what they’ve done to cope with it and bridge that gap that was created in their lives. It’s uplifting – in that bittersweet way.

Not all hope is lost.

This is a great film on many levels - and even though I don't particularly think this has been a really strong year for Hollywood - this gem of a film is clearly in my mind the best of 2009.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Weekend Viewing - Jan 29-31 (part 2)

Gangs of New York [2002, directed by Martin Scorsese]

The Italians versus the Irish for control of the 5 Burroughs in New York in the mid-1800’s. The Irish leader “Priest” Vallon (Liam Neeson) is killed by the Italian leader Bill “The Butcher” Cutting (Daniel Day Lewis) – and 16 years later Vallon’s son (Leonardo DiCaprio) comes back – under the wing of “The Butcher” – does he plan revenge? It was pretty good – I enjoy watching Daniel Day Lewis chew scenery and throw himself head first into roles. I just didn’t feel it really come together in any way that made me want to call it great. I’m giving it 4 out of 5.

The Band’s Visit [2007, directed by Eran Kolirin]

Once-not long ago-a small Egyptian band arrived in Israel. Not many remember this… It wasn’t that important. That’s the tagline for the film – and where I’d agree not much happens – not a lot needs to happen for people to get accidently intertwined in each other’s lives. The band shows up in the wrong town – which is one of those forgotten small towns – and that’s where this little human comedy begins. They all learn a bit about themselves and each other – and the music sounds so much sweeter – I give it a full 5 out of 5.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Weekend Viewing - Jan 29-31 (part 1)

Up in the Air [2009, directed by Jason Reitman]

This is a story about filling holes in your life. Ryan Bingham fills holes in his life by flying across the country to create holes in other’s lives by firing them – but his goal isn’t to bring others down – it’s the frequent flier miles. When a girl half his age begins at his company and presents a more cost effective – way to fire people over teleconferencing – Bingham is obviously threatened. Bingham is left once again with a gaping hole – and he looks to fill it once again. This is my favorite film of 2009 - a full review should be coming later this week.

A Perfect Getaway [2009, directed by Dave Twohy]

A murderous couple is out killing newlywed couples on the islands of Hawaii – what are we ever going to do? Well first off – let’s not be so self referential that you make the actual movie obsolete – it’s fine that the character works in Hollywood – but talking about plot structures and “red herrings” only goes to further my initial theory of the film (seriously figured this one out almost immediately). “Oh, we’re going to throw you off the trail – because we’re clever Hollywood types! That’s why we made the reveal awkwardly long as to prove how dumb you are as the viewer that you didn’t see it coming! Ha ha ha!” Anyway – this film is getting 3 out of 5 because I’m that big of a fan of Steve Zahn – he’s hilarious (even if he can’t get a role in a decent film to prove it)!