Monday, February 28, 2011

Thursday, February 24, 2011

G is for... [part 2]

Fans of Stieg Larsson's Men Who Hate Women may have been concerned about how the Swedish author's novel would translate to the screen, but they needn't have worried. Significant changes to the source material have been made, but director Niels Arden Opley's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, as it's now called, is mostly riveting. As the story begins, middle-aged investigative journalist Mikael Blomkvist (Michael Nyqvist) has just been convicted of a bogus charge of libel against a rich and corrupt corporate hotshot when he's unexpectedly offered a most unusual gig. An aging captain of industry named Henrik Vanger (Sven-Bertil Taube) wants Blomkvist to figure out what happened to Vanger's niece, who disappeared more than 40 years earlier; not only is the old man convinced that she was murdered, but he suspects that another member of his large and rather disagreeable family (which includes several former Nazis) is the culprit. Blomkvist takes the job, which includes spending at least six months on Vanger's isolated island in the middle of winter. But what he doesn't know is that he's being spied on by twentysomething Lisbeth Salander (brilliantly played by Noomi Rapace in a career-making performance), the titular Girl and the possessor of remarkable skills as a sleuth and computer hacker. With her gothlike piercings and all-black clothes, Lisbeth is a vivid character, to say the least. While we don't exactly know the details of her dark past, it's obviously still with her; indeed, she's just been assigned a new "guardian" (like a parole officer) to look after her finances and other matters. We also know that she is not someone to mess with; when the guardian turns out to be a thoroughly vile monster, Lisbeth gets back at him in one of the more satisfying revenge sequences in recent memory. That Lisbeth and Mikael should end up working together, and more, isn't especially surprising. But the horrifying details and depths of depravity they uncover while working on the case (parallels to The Silence of the Lambs are facile but appropriate) definitely are, and Opley does a nice job of keeping it all straight. At more than two and a half hours, the film is long, with its share of grim, graphic, and scary moments, but The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a winner. (synopsis provided by

directed by Niels Arden Oplev

released 2009

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

G is for...

Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis wrote the script, but Bill Murray gets all the best lines and moments in this 1984 comedy directed by Ivan Reitman (Meatballs). The three comics, plus Ernie Hudson, play the New York City-based team that provides supernatural pest control, and Sigourney Weaver is the love interest possessed by an ancient demon. Reitman and company are full of original ideas about hobgoblins--who knew they could "slime" people with green plasma goo?--but hovering above the plot is Murray's patented ironic view of all the action. Still a lot of fun, and an obvious model for sci-fi comedies such as Men in Black. (synopsis provided by

directed by Ivan Reitman

released 1984

Monday, February 21, 2011

Saturday, February 19, 2011

rough week

It's been an incredibly rough week - I thought I should mark it with a picture of how I felt once it was done on 4PM on Friday...

Thursday, February 17, 2011

F is for... [part 2]

A Fistful of Dollars launched the spaghetti Western and catapulted Clint Eastwood to stardom. Based on Akira Kurosawa's 1961 samurai picture Yojimbo, it scored a resounding success (in Italy in 1964 and the U.S. in 1967), as did its sequels, For a Few Dollars More and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. The advertising campaign promoted Eastwood's character--laconic, amoral, dangerous--as the Man with No Name (though in the film he's clearly referred to as Joe), and audiences loved the movie's refreshing new take on the Western genre. Gone are the pieties about making the streets safe for women and children. Instead it's every man for himself. Striking, too, was a new emphasis on violence, with stylized, almost balletic gunfights and baroque touches such as Eastwood's armored breastplate. The Dollars films had a marked influence on the Hollywood Western--for example, Sam Peckinpah'sThe Wild Bunch--but their most enduring legacy is Clint Eastwood himself. (synopsis provided by

directed by Sergio Leone

released 1964

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My Favorite Films of 2010

All right – before we all get too excited – I’m probably the least qualified person to come up with a Top 5 list for the past year – thus why I waited so long to post it. Out of the 10 Academy Award nominees for best picture – I’ve seen 5 – don’t even ask about the other categories. So, until I thaw out and get to the theater or some of these films get released and I get them through Netflix – this will be the list. That's not to say I don't stand behind these films - they are all 5-star films - but they happen to be the only 5-star films I've seen of 2010 (as second viewings have not done kindness to other films I considered 5-stars).

#5. The Social Network (directed by David Fincher)
You can see my notes in my review posted sometime this year. In summary – it’s a solid character study – top acting by the lead – interesting story and great direction – worthy of (most) the accolades bestowed on it.

#4. Inception (directed by Christopher Nolan)
Didn’t like this one very much my first viewing – and this is why I don’t generally want to discuss films prior to me seeing them – as I was told that if I blink I will miss too much. I was told that it’s much like PRIMER - I’m sorry that some people feel that way – but it’s no PRIMER. I’m still lost in the maze of PRIMER – but INCEPTION is great in its own right – at its base it’s a highly stylized, high concept, action film wrapped in a puzzle film. So, upon my second viewing – I stopped thinking about it and enjoyed it and really liked it for the film that it is – and will now gladly ponder along with the rest of you.

#3. Winter’s Bone (directed by Debra Granik)
Haven’t seen BLACK SWAN – but how Natalie Portman can be considered the front runner for the awards this season over Jennifer Lawrence in Winter’s Bone is beyond me. Lawrence carries this film – brings so much weight to the character in a brilliant performance. The film impressed me so much with its simplicity of the story but technical merit that – the film flows – never drags – it lets the fine performances guide you through the bleak world of backwoods Arkansas and the crank drug culture – it’s a fine piece of filmmaking.

#2. Toy Story 3 (directed by Lee Unkrich)
The people at Pixar are by far the greatest filmmakers of this generation. This time Woody, Buzz and the gang are struggling with feelings of worthlessness – and the plot cleverly plays on heaven and hell and universal themes that strike into the hearts of everyone. It’s a heavy film yet it doesn’t appear to be – because it doesn’t preach – but it’s deep and meaningful and pulls the heartstrings all while you are rooting on a plastic cowboy. It puts a fine conclusion to probably the greatest film trilogy ever - it has a ton of heart and as always has the clever but not overly childish humor that really puts Pixar so far ahead of any other movie studio out there.

#1. Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (directed by Edgar Wright)
In a word: Epic.

Boy meets girl.
Villain tries to stop boy from being with girl.
Boy has to fight and grow as a character to be with the girl.

It’s a universal plot from Greek Myths to video games – the hero and the epic journey is ingrained into storytelling – but it’s all about how you address it. Edgar Wright uses the source material from Bryan Lee O’Malley’s comic books blends video game elements/comic books and uses it as an action/romantic/musical/comedy to make my film of the year. Not only is this film a visual feast (without it being jimmy-rigged into the film to make the elements fit), the music and sound editing was brilliant, the direction is fast paced, the cinematography is everything I hope for in a film (interesting shot in every frame) – but each character is so well defined and well crafted and fully realized in their performance by an apt cast. I’ve watched this film more than a half-dozen times already – and I laugh and get that tingle up my spine every time - certainly one of my most favorite films of all time.

Epic indeed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

F is for...

Gonzo doesn't begin to describe this wild women-in-prison film. A mad mix of outrageous exploitation, flamboyant art movie, and energetic comic book, this manga-inspired cult classic is actually the second film in a series, but you hardly need the history. Matsu (Meiko Kaji, of Lady Snowblood fame) is an innocent woman in jail who defies the sadistic warden and brutal guards with silent stares and sudden strikes. Nicknamed "Scorpion" for her lethal, lightning attacks, she is systematically abused, tortured, and humiliated by the vengeful warden (guess why he wears that eye patch), but escapes with a chain gang and leads the cops on a violent chase through the countryside. The doomed "Seven Sinful Women" are systematically cut down by the trigger-happy posse, but not before they take a few with them. Kaji gives a near silent performance as the smoldering Matsu, who stares out from under artfully tousled hair with piercing eyes and spars with her bullying, psychotic cellblock rival. Director Shunya Ito paints his striking set pieces in brilliant colors: an autumnal death scene that turns from restful, leaf-blown orange to a desolate gray in a flash, a blue waterfall that suddenly runs red with blood, an escape down a literal mountain of garbage. Never has exploitation looked so beautiful.

Mastered from a gorgeous widescreen print, the image is sharp and the colors vivid. The subtitles are printed on the film, but in this case they are easy to read and grammatically sound. The DVD also features the theatrical trailer and informative liner notes that chart the series' background history by film programmer and historian Chris D. (synopsis provided by

directed by Shunya Ito

released 1972

Monday, February 14, 2011

Thursday, February 10, 2011

E is for... [part 2]

Esteemed author Albert Radeck is the toast of the Berlin literati and the object of his stepdaughter Eugenie's affections. However, when his doe-eyed little darling unmasks her sophisticated father figure as a sex-crazed psychopath obsessed with perpetrating the perfect crime, she transforms from innocent ward to a willing accomplice. The deadly duo seduce and destroy everyone in their path - until Eugenie's charms spark a jealous rage in Albert that threatens to consume them both.

Prolific filmmaker Jess Franco (MARQUIS DE SADE'S JUSTINE, SADOMANIA) again brings the writings of the Marquis de Sade to bloody life with the aid of the sinister Paul Muller (EUGENIE...THE STORY OF HER JOURNEY INTO PERVERSION), and the beguiling beauty of Soledad Miranda (VAMPYROS LESBOS, SHE KILLED IN ECSTASY) and Alice Arno (JUSTINE DE SADE). This twisted tale of the perverse has been remastered from its recently discovered original negative and is offered completely uncut and uncensored.
(synopsis provided by

directed by Jesus Franco

released 1970

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Star Wars

Despite my issues with George Lucas and all – I found it to be a great experience to show the original 3 Star War films to my girlfriend for the first time ever. We watched the original-original trilogy and she quite liked them – they are universal themes and great popcorn entertainment – so there’s not much to dislike.

My new stance is – if Georgie doesn’t want to release the original-original trilogy on Blu-Ray – good for him. I don’t care. My days of being a Star Wars worshiper are over. My wallet will stay closed for all future Star Wars fun. Georgie released a perfunctory print of the original-original on DVD a few years ago to shut up the fans – and that’s as much I will be shat on by him anymore. But a thought did cross my mind...

If he’s so unhappy with how the original three came out that he felt he needed to constantly “fix” them – why doesn’t he just remake them? Someone will one day – they are remaking Lethal Weapon, Mad Max, Suspira, Wizard of Oz, Arthur – right now! Hell, just about any foreign film that has any merit these days gets remade almost immediately! Why not beat everyone to the punch – create your complete vision – it’s your destiny.

Another thing – this whole Admiral Ackbar “It’s a trap!” joke has gone too far – sick of it – get over it – it’s not that funny.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

E is for...

David Cronenberg's signature obsessions flower in Eastern Promises, a stunning look at violence, responsibility, and skin. Near Christmastime in London, a baby is born to a teenage junkie--an event that leads a midwife (Naomi Watts) into the world of the Russian mob. Central to this world is an ambitious enforcer (Viggo Mortensen) who's lately buddied up with the reckless son (Vincent Cassel) of a mob boss (Armin Mueller-Stahl, doing his benign-sinister thing). Screenwriter Steve Knight also wrote Dirty Pretty Things, and in some ways this is a companion piece to that film, though utterly different in style. The plot is classical to the point of being familiar, but Cronenberg doesn't allow anything to become sentimental; he and his peerless cinematographer Peter Suschitzky take a cool, controlled approach to this story. Because of that, when the movie erupts in its (relatively brief) violence, it's genuinely shocking. Cronenberg really puts the viewer through it, as though to shame the easy purveyors of pulp violence--nobody will cheer when the blood runs in this film. Still, Eastern Promises has a furtive humor, nicely conveyed in Viggo Mortensen's highly original performance. Covered in tattoos, his body a scroll depicting his personal history of violence, Mortensen conveys a subtle blend of resolve and lost-ness. He's a true, haunting mystery man. (synopsis provided by

directed by David Cronenberg

released 2007

Thursday, February 3, 2011

D is for... [part 2]

Loud, violent, and proudly derivative, the post-apocalyptic action-thriller Doomsday is the latest from UK cult director Neil Marshall, who impressed horror fans with his previous efforts, Dog Soldiers and The Descent. Both pictures established Marshall as a director with a knack for reinventing well-worn genre pictures, but here, he seems more interested in stitching together favorite scenes and elements from established horror and science-fiction films. Escape from New York is the main source for Doomsday, though there are plenty of nods to The Road Warrior and its multitude of Italian-made carbon copies, as well as the zombie/plague subgenre; the lovely but impassive Rhona Mitra is the Snake Plissken-esque loner sent by police (represented by Bob Hoskins) to infiltrate Scotland, which has descended into anarchy following a viral outbreak. The disease has surfaced in London (now a walled city), and Mitra is dispatched to find a scientist who may possess a cure. Marshall's vision of Scotland in ruins brings together the punk/modern primitive costume design of George Miller's Mad Max trilogy with some eclectic homegrown elements (knights on horseback defending a gang leader's castle), and while these touches are novel, the picture as a whole should ring overly familiar to any viewer who's spent time in the exploitation trenches during the past 25 years. Younger and less discerning audience members will undoubtedly enjoy the plentiful violence and gore, as well as the unbridled performances of the supporting cast, especially stuntwoman/actress Lee-Ann Liebenberg as the heavily tattooed Viper. (synopsis provided by

directed by Neil Marshall

released 2008

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

D is for...

Considered by many to be Dario Argento's first masterpiece, Deep Red recalls his first hit, The Bird with the Crystal Plumage. British star David Hemmings (Blow-Up) plays an American jazz pianist who witnesses a brutal, bloody murder from afar and turns detective to find the killer. Kooky Italian journalist Daria Nicolodi (Argento's wife and cowriter onSuspiria) joins him as comic relief and tepid romantic interest, but the real costar is Argento's high style: gliding camera, razor-sharp editing, and gorgeous but gruesome set pieces. The story is convoluted, to say the least--plotting was never Argento's strong suit and the unnecessary exposition often drags the film down--but his vivid, horrific imagery is perfect for a thriller driven by haunting memories. Deep Red was originally released in the U.S. in a severely cut version retitled The Hatchet Murders (odd since the killer uses a butcher's knife). Producer Bill Lustig has restored the film to its original two-hour-plus running time, though some scenes exist only with Italian-language soundtracks (which are subtitled). It's a bit jarring at first (it makes for an unintended joke when a man suddenly checks his hearing aid after a language switch), but it's the only way to see Argento's original cut. There's also a brief 25th anniversary documentary with Argento and cowriter Bernardino Zapponi, and the DVD offers a choice of English and Italian language versions. (synopsis provided by

directed by Dario Argento

released 1975