Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The "Van Triple Feature" at Cinefamily

This summer I took a lengthy and much needed road trip along the west coast that took a little over a month and put 5000 miles on my auto. I got to see a lot of friends that I hadn't seen face to face in a long time, which was great. Thankfully none of my "bros" "iced" me nor did they make me kill a kitten. I did accidentally commit possum murder but it's ok, I believe he was a neo-con. I've been back a few weeks now and have finally worked up the enthusiasm to write something. I don't believe I will be able to catch up on everything I've seen the past few months, so I will try to post some highlights and then get back to business as usual. I do suffer from being lazy though. The cinematic experience that sticks at the most was the aforementioned Van Triple Feature which served up The Van (1977), Mag Wheels (1978), and Supervan (1977). It started amiably enough with a little slice of cheese known as The Van about a (you guessed it) a van! Nerdy Bobby thinks that all he needs to get laid (or attempt a hundred different date rapes) is a custom van. But not even a sweet ass van can overcome Bobby's grating personality and annoying face. There are some shenanigans with the cool bully (also in a custom van, 'natch), a race, nudity, a bad ass song, and Danny DeVito as Bobby's boss at the car wash. Things really got truckin' (hehe) with the second feature Mag Wheels. In this trash masterpiece we have the kick-ass girls in their custom trucks squaring off with the town douche bags in their custom vans. This confounding cinematic treat shifts from wacky scenes where nerds are spanked, to several attempted rape sequences including a 12 on 1 scene that is resolved with with some old fashioned racism when the only Asian girl happens to know kung fu and takes out all dozen a-holes at once. The ending is so hilariously awesome I won't spoil it but the crowd did jump to their feet cheering. "She's all right!!". So you'd think that after sitting through two of these inept mind-scramblers you would be rewarded with the greatest of all van movies, Supervan! I mean, this thing looks like a spaceship and on the poster it's shooting lasers! Alas, it sucked. There is a laser shooting scene but it's too little too late. After the opening where the hero saves the female lead from an attempted gang rape! (oh those wacky seventies) the film meanders it's way to a custom van show where it becomes a mondo film to fill out it's run time. My partner in crime, Nick, fell asleep pretty quickly (no surprise to me based on other movie outings with Nick, hehe), but I was totally jealous that I couldn't fall asleep. Mag Wheels is avaible on a 4 film DVD set from VCi but under the title Summer School. The other two aren't worth finding.

8/10 for the evening overall

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Repulsion (1965)

Dir: Roman Polanski
Criterion Blu-ray

I had seen this film when I was much younger and it did leave an uneasy impression on me. I happily picked up the Criterion Blu-ray release for it and finally got around to watching it and when it was over I thought my head would explode. This is one of the best horror films ever constructed. As I watched it I had a since of deja vu, like it was a half remembered nightmare. The film stars Catherine Deneuve as a young woman working in a beauty salon and living with her older sister. She is unlike any protagonist (save maybe Carnival of Souls 1962) that you would find. She seems to live in a daze, is completely afraid of men, and is both vulnerable and tough. Polanski is a master of keeping you on your toes, keeping a sense of dread that lingers long after the film ends and also makes the viewer as paranoid as Ms. Deneuve's Carole . He also uses some bizarre dream imagery to scare the bejeezus out of you. This is a truly unque film that let's the viewer draw their own conclusions about the world this character inhabits. Deneuve is perfect as Carole, the cinematography is exactly what's needed to tell the story properly, and I don't know about Polanski as a person, but he can direct the crap out of a horror film. Criterion's Blu-ray release is packed with making of extras and looks stunning. A must have.


Youth in Revolt (2009)

Dir: Miguel Arteta
Sony Blu-ray

Here's a film where Michael Cera gets to play a typical Cera role (which frankly I don't mind) and also gets to stretch by being the bad boy alternate persona. He stars as Nick Twisp, a geeky boy that knows a lot of pretentious factoids but is unsuccessful with the ladies. He then meets his dream girl, Sheeni, who happens to know even more about the things that Nick is into and is obsessed with the French. So Nick invents the alternate version of himself named Francois and starts doing dangerous things to when her over. Things go wrong, of course, hilarity ensues. It's not much different, plot wise, from a million other teen comedies where nerds try to get laid. The difference here is in the details which border on being too precious but can mostly be overlooked or forgiven as the film provides enough entertainment and cameos to get you to the end. The real crime is the absolute waste of Zach Galifianakis who deserved much better.


Cry of the Owl (2009)

Dir: Jamie Thraves
Paramount DVD

This is based on the Patricia Highsmith novel of the same name and stars Paddy Considine and Julia Stiles. It follows Considine as an awkward man that is in the midst of a divorce and trying to transition into a new job far from the city he was living in. While in this new rural setting, he spots Ms. Stiles through her kitchen window and starts watching, only because she looks "so happy". She catches him peeking one night and the two become friends and quickly into more than that prompting her to dump her boyfriend. As the story unfolds we realize pretty quickly that everyone in this story has a mental problem of some sort and maybe Considine isn't really the problem at all. When the film started I had an unsure feeling about it, there was something about Considine's performance that seemed off (and I generally love this guy's performances), but he does settle into the role and I realized that the style of the film matched the content fairly well. By the end I had bought into it and was quite affected by the end result. It's not a perfect film but surely an interesting one that I would be glad to revisit.


Saturday, June 26, 2010

Avatar (2009)

Dir: James Cameron
Fox Blu-ray

If you haven't already seen this or don't know what it's about, then you care even less than I do so don't worry about it. It was exactly what everyone says it is no matter who said it and what it was. It's a big science fiction movie with lots of colors. The only insight I had was that I felt like it was inadvertently about our societies addiction to video games and how we're so unimpressed with our selves we're using avatars of our own everyday to escape reality, or it's about the environment, your call.


Pirate Radio (2009)

Dir: Richard Curtis
Universal Blu-ray

This should have been way better than it was. It's set in the sixties in England, follows DJ's at a pirate radio station playing some of the best music ever made, and stars a handful of likable actors (Chris O'Dowd, Nick Frost, Rhys Darby, Phillip Seymour Hoffman). But to my dismay, the film is a disconnected arrangement of scenes that go nowhere, full of characters that are more caricatures, and feels oddly mean spirited in it's attempts at humor. The "drama" of the story comes from a fuddy duddy (Kenneth Branagh) who can't stand that rock and roll music (much fist shaking) so takes it upon himself to shut down rock radio forever! But these rebels outsmart him at every turn, well not really, they just stay on the air and then are all rewarded with women, seriously. And by the way, not based on anything remotely historically accurate, just a weird ass fantasy. Please to avoid at all costs.


The Internecine Project (1974)

Dir: Ken Hughes
Scorpion DVD

A forgotten thriller Starring James Coburn as an agent that must erase some loose ends from his past and comes up with a convoluted plot to take care of them in one night. The first act is a bore and filled with so much machismo that I thought it was a comedy, but when we finally get to the heart of the story it becomes pretty gripping. The convoluted plot in question is certainly the only reason the film got made and if you have any interest in seeing it I wouldn't want to spoil it. Hughes (director of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang !) doesn't seem concerned with keeping his audiences attention and relies too heavily on the script, probably the reason the film isn't more well known. Worth a watch but don't be in a hurry.


Jack Smith and the Destruction of Atlantis (2006)

Dir: Mary Jordan
Arts Alliance DVD

Puppies and personal problems have detained me from pontificating about moving pictures, but now I will attempt to get back on track and thank you for your patience. This is a fascinating documentary about a man, Jack Smith, that should be considered an important part of the counter culture in New York in the early sixties. Through his own self destructive nature he has been able to barely hold on as a foot note in this important era of avante garde artists that changed the landscape of the art world forever. If he is remembered for anything now, it is his experimental film Flaming Creatures. A sort of fever dream of sexual taboos mixed with Hollywood melodrama. Writer and fellow filmmaker Jonas Mikas took it upon himself to champion the film and made sure it was seen in as many places as possible. This made Smith angry and claimed his film was stolen from him but Mikas, and others, claim that he never saw any money from it’s exhibition. Smith’s next film, Normal Love (1963) was never actually completed so that it could not be stolen. Smith would show the film but would edit it live and change the music so that no definitive piece existed. In itself this is a fascinating concept but takes on different meaning when you take into consideration why it was shown this way. A few years later Andy Warhol would latch onto some of Smith’s ideas and use them to propel himself into art super stardom. This didn't help Smith's perception of the world and he seemed to fall further from accessibility as an artist which is, on one hand, a shame but on the other makes him far more interesting than his peers. It's certainly not an uplifting story but definitely one worth knowing. The film is made with a no apologies approach that Smith is a genius that was treated poorly by those around him, but even a little research would suggest that that is only half the story. That doesn't take away from the fact that Smith's films and his photography are pretty incredible works of art.


Monday, May 31, 2010

Hardware (1990)

Dir: Richard Stanley
Severin Blu-ray

The film starts with a nomadic cyborg looking fella wandering the desert and salvaging robotic junk. It cuts to an urban setting where Dylan McDermott and his partner are going to visit a junk dealer. It feels that though, despite his budget limitations, Stanley is creating a large scale post-apocalyptic world. The rug is pulled out from under us when we are introduced to McDermott's girlfriend (Stacey Travis) and her claustrophobic apartment where the bulk of the film actually takes place. Living across from Ms. Travis is a gross perv that watches her and calls her bad names while he abuses himself. McDermott brings Travis a robot head, seen in the opening, for her "art" (art is highly in demand after the apocalypse). The Head builds a body and goes homicidal. The perv gets caught in the middle but mostly it's just Ms. Travis battling a robot in an apartment. Not the worst premise but kind of a let down if you were expecting something on a larger scope that the beginning would suggest. The premise isn't really the problem though, the script was written by an angry thirteen year old and directed in the style of a Nitzer Ebb or Ministry video. A pretty juvenile film and it's surprising Stanley has such a cult following today.


Bigger Than Life (1956)

Dir: Nicholas Ray
Criterion Blu-ray

Nicholas Ray? Check! Criterion? Double check! Bigger Than Life ? Not so much. In the film, Ray takes on high melodrama in a story about a teacher (played sweatily by James Mason) that gets addicted to Cortisone pills. The bad part? Cortisone makes him insane!! Hilariously insane in fact. He becomes even more of 50's creep by calling his wife an intellectual inferior, belittling everyone around him, and eventually deciding he needs to sacrifice his son to God by stabbing him with a pair of scissors. No shit. It takes roughly seven hours to tell this story, or maybe it just felt like it. There is a half hour interview with Ray from the late 70's on what looks like a cable access program. I wondered if that was the real reason Criterion released the disc is because they had no other titles to attach this extra too.


MacGruber (2010)

Dir: Jorma Taccone

I watch "Saturday Night Live". It was born the same year as me so I have always felt a connection to it, even when it was bad. So I was certainly aware of the MacGruber skits, which are nothing more than mini MacGyver parodies, but never thought of it as the breakout character on the show. After seeing a feature length film, that opinion holds up even more. The idea was to take these sixty second videos of Will Forte's racist, homophobic action hero and put him in an over-the-top tribute to 80's action films. The problem is that the film is confused on what it wants to do. It's never action packed enough to be an action movie but it seems to shy away from being truly ridiculous and delivering on the comedy. It flirts with being outlandish and offensive but each time it sets it up, it just fizzles out. It also relies too heavily on homophobia to get an uncomfortable laugh out. I was also disappointed in the lack of SNL or even just comedian cameos. I wanted to like but have to say that there is definitely a reason it bombed at the box office.


Daybreakers (2009)

Dir: The Spierig Brothers
Lions Gate Blu-ray

Recently I have complained about the lack of ideas in the details of sci-fi films. Most are just shoot-em-up action films wrapped in a sci-fi setting. In Daybreakers we get nothing but ideas (vampire cars with cameras and no windows, congealed blood in coffee, school zones starting at 2am for the kiddie vamps, etc..), or mostly what-ifs. The premise? What if there were more vampires than humans? The food supply would diminish and the blood suckers would search for a blood substitute. Why didn't they just call the folks over at True Blood? (sorry) Enter Ethan Hawke as a vampire scientist thats trying to create a synthetic blood but to no avail. He's a sad, guilty vampire and he happens to meet some human rebels that are on the run and are trying to cure vampirism. One of their members in Willem Dafoe who used to be a creature of the night but became human again because, wait for it!, he was exposed to the sun and water at the same time!?!?!?!?!? Uh-huh. So Hawke tries to recreate the accident in a controlled environment, bad guys come, good guys win etc.. The film starts with promise as it seems like it's being taken seriously and is sort of a refreshing take on vampires in the face of all the other vamp flicks we've been getting lately. The film loses it's way when Dafoe shows up playing it up for yucks and the idea of turning him human is just embarrassing. It's definitely a step in the right direction from the brothers previous outing, Undead (2003).


Battle for the Planet of the Apes (1973)

Dir: J. Lee Thompson
Fox Blu-ray

In the final entry we see the beginnings of the first entry in the series. The Ape City is starting to take shape under the leadership of Caesar (MacDowall again) and humans are being used as slaves to teach the apes knowledge. We see the three factions, the war like gorillas led by General Aldo (Claude Akins), the orangutans represented by Virgil (composer Paul Williams) and the familiar chimps. There is also a cameo by John Huston! (his voice anyway) as the Lawgiver. The plot has Caesar, Virgil, and a human, MacDonald, go to the ruins of a human city that is underground looking for something left by Caesar's father. They are spotted by the mutated humans that live there and are followed back by these war mad nut cases. While gone, General Aldo stages a coup to take over so he can kill all humans. He almost kills Caesar's son, named Cornelius! (he's his own father's father!) trying to cover his tracks after Cornelius over hears his plans. Caesar returns and the mutants attack closely on his hills. Aldo declares martial law and all heck break loose. We end with a violent and bloody conflict and the stage is set for part one. This makes the series a spectacular, circular tale that ends at the beginning and it must be applauded for this heavy sci-fi approach. While the films aren't perfect, they compliment each other well and I was glad I watched them all in a row. Ape shall not kill ape!


Planet of the Apes 40th Anniversary Collection (Planet of the Apes / Beneath the Planet of the Apes / Escape From / Conquest of / Battle for) [Blu-ray]

Conquest of the Planet of the Apes (1972)

Dir: J. Lee Thompson
Fox Blu-ray

Part four of the franchise is set in an austere dystopian urban future and picks up with Cornelius and Zira's baby all grown up, he is also played by MacDowall. In this future all the dogs and cats died so people did the natural thing and took on chimps as pets. These pets turned to slaves as people's distrust in the grew and they became more intelligent. Only one can actually talk though, the future ape that everyone thought was killed in Escape..., he is posing as Montalban's slave and renames himself Caesar. Human and ape relations get pushed to the brink and Caesar leads an ape uprising against all humans. It is of course the humans own faults that apes rise up to be the dominant species through their own fear and prejudices. MacDowall does a great job of portraying Caesar differently than Cornelius. In this he is a seething, angry young man as opposed to Cornelius' worrisome, analytical mindset. This is by far the most violent entry and turns into a war picture at the end with plenty of seventies red movie blood. The film does a fine job of bridging modern society into the world of the first film without hitting us over the head with obvious references.


Escape from the Planet of the Apes (1971)

Dir: Don Taylor
Fox Blu-ray

Here we get a departure from the first two films and find the tables turned. In this outing the apes are the outsiders as Zira (Kim Hunter), Cornelius (MacDowall is back), and Milo (Sal Mineo) somehow figure out how to work a spaceship and use it to travel back in time to around the same year that Taylor first left out on his mission. THey are captured and taken to a zoo until they reveal they can talk. Hunter yuks it up by making monkeys (sorry!) out of some scientists. Then a shocking tonal shift happens when a gorilla chokes Milo to death in a cage! After that detour, Cornelius and Zira become celebs, Zira gets pregnant (from Cornelius, the movie is strange but not that strange), some sleaze ball gets her drunk and she reveals that the world blows up in a few thousand years. This starts mass hysteria and while most people believe that killing Cornelius and Zira would be wrong, they all agree that forcing them into an abortion will save the human race from talking apes in the future! The apes go on the run, Zira has the baby, and they meet Ricardo Montalban who owns a circus that happens to have a baby chimp of their own. You can probably guess what happens there but it leads to a really disturbing scene that is fairly unbelievable. This is certainly the strangest of the entries as it shifts from comedy to despair with little warning, it is a nice set up for the more ambitious sequels to come.


Beneath the Planet of the Apes (1970)

Dir: Ted Post
Fox Blu-ray

From the social commentary that was Planet of the Apes, we take a sharp turn south to the sci-fi geekiness that is the low rent sequel Beneath the Planet of the Apes. Not long after Taylor (Charlton Heston) and his team left earth, three more astronauts were sent on the same trajectory to follow them. And why wouldn't they? It also makes sense that they would choose Brent (James Franciscus) to lead up the mission since he looks like Heston only two feet shorter. In fact, in one of the better moments, Dr. Zira actually mistakes Brent for Taylor. Brent goes through a lot of what Taylor did only condensed and less interesting until he finds an underground city inhabited by telepathic human a-holes that worship a nuclear bomb, But not just any nuclear bomb, the ALPHA BOMB! This thing can destroy everything on the planet and if the apes find out about their existence they have to use it. Makes sense. While in the underground city, Brent finds Taylor (Heston actually reprises his role) and the two take on the psychic baddies (including Victor Buono credited as "Fat Man", I won't mention what Don Pedro Colley was credited as). *SPOILER ALERT* But they fail and the Earth actually gets blown up which is kind of bad ass. Kim Hunter returns as Zira as does Linda Harrison as the Mute Nova, but even though Cornelius is in the film they couldn't coax Roddy MacDowall back for this installment. He would return for the next three however. This one is a major disappointment following the original but is still fun in it's own nerdy way. This disc contains a documentary specific to the film and some stills galleries.


Planet of the Apes (1968)

Dir: Franklin J. Schaffner
Fox Blu-ray

I remember liking the original Planet of the Apes but realized I hadn't seen it in years. I also couldn't remember anything about it's four sequels so when I saw it on sale for $50 dollars I couldn't resist picking up this Fox Blu-ray box set. Now let me talk about the box itself for a moment. It may be the nicest box set I have ever laid eyes on. While the Blade Runner pops to mind because of it's coolness, it's frankly a cheap plastic toy (still awesome though). The Apes set however is a beautiful coffee table book filled with outstanding photos in a slip case that just happens to hold five discs in the interior cover. This is worth owning for even the most passive of Ape fans.

That being said, let's discuss the first film. Four astronauts, led by Charlton Heston, are sent form (then) modern day Earth to what they believe to be another planet. It takes a few thousand years to get there and when they crash land they find that one of their companions was killed in transit. The remaining astronauts wander the lifeless desert in search of water and civilization. They come across a speechless, neanderthal type of humans scrounging for food but are almost immediately attacked by a group of intelligent apes riding horses and shooting guns. Heston is captured but is also rendered speechless because he was shot in the throat. While in captivity he meets a more progressive ape named Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter) and her husband Cornelius (Roddy MacDowall). They are amazed by an "intelligent" human and try at all costs to protect him from the religious zealot that is not only the "Keeper of the Faith" but the "Minister of Science", Dr. Zaius. This fact is not lost on Heston's character as he points at that the one man (or ape) should not be able to hold both positions. The good guys are captured, an escape happens, and the final showdown occurs. What sets the film apart is solid directing and an excellent script co-written by Rod Serling. In fact, the script still has relevance today with it's stance on zealots that don't want to believe in evolution still having a voice forty years later. I am sure that at the time he would never have guessed that human intelligence hasn't evolved much. Schaffner plays up the frustrating aspects perfectly, he sutures you in and makes you want to punch some of these apes in the mouth. And then there's Heston. He gives one insanely over-the-top, toothy performance. I have to wonder if he read the script before committing to the project or maybe he just didn't care. But when he yells "It's a madhouse, a madhouse!!" I jumped off the couch cheering. The ending is now famous of course, I won't mention it here on the off chance you haven't seen it, but I am also referring to Heston's characters ending. What is often over looked is what happens to the apes that help him. Frankly it's far more depressing and truer to real life unfortunately. It really is a science fiction master piece and strangely was released the same year as one of the other great achievements 2001: A Space Odyssey and the two couldn't be more different in style.

The disc is packed with extras, including two commentary tracks and behind the scenes footage. The transfer looked excellent on my 1080p plasma. Highly recommended!


Lives of Bengal Lancer (1935)

Dir: Henry Hathaway
Universal DVD

Gary Cooper and Franchot Tone star as Lieutenants in the British army in this action film set in India. It's quite a long set-up until we get to the main plot which concerns itself with a new arrival (Richard Cromwell) getting captured by insurrectionists and the Cooper and Tone putting their personality differences aside to go and rescue him. The film is solid on all fronts but nothing out of the ordinary, and it does suffer in the pacing department in spots. Kathleen Burke shows up in a small but important role. If you're looking for some light adventure, then here you go.


Terminator Salvation (2009)

Dir: McG
On Demand HD

I have seen all the entries in the Terminator series but must confess that I have little to no attachment to them. What the previous films did succeed at that this newest entry doesn't even attempt to do, is have ideas. Even if they were just heady, nerdy sci-fi ideas, there was something there with at least the slightest attempt at social or political subtext. With McG's (seriously) attempt at a reboot (yawn) the audience gets two hours of things shooting bullets at each other. There are no cool ideas, the action is staged without flare, it's never fun, and it has nothing to say. What we're left with is some really good looking special effects that at the end of the day you won't remember at all. The movie is never bad per se, it just sits there lifelessly. It attempts to tell the story that we hear about in all the other films, so we know how it turns out making the movie a big "so what?".


Monday, May 24, 2010

Angel Face (1952)

Dir: Otto Preminger
Warner Bros DVD

It's always great to see characters in a film that are as smart if not smarter than the audience. That's the biggest impression Angel Face left on me as I watched it again. It's an excellent femme fatale story that begins when paramedic Frank (Robert Mitchum) meets Diane (Jean Simmons) on a call to her house. Diane's step-mother almost died from an accidental (?) gas leak. Diane becomes smitten with Frank so she follows him and insinuates herself into his life. She finds out that Frank has a girl, she tries to scare her off, used to be a driver, she gets him a job as a chauffeur, and wants to open his own garage, so she tries to get a loan for him. Frank goes along with most of it but never buys in completely like a chump. Diane is just able to pull him in in such a way that he can't escape. To give away too many more details would take away from the enjoyment of the film, but I will say that I loved how everything that would normally be kept a guessing game to the audience is spelled out for us and we're still captivated on what will happen next. The final act ventures into The Postman Always Rings Twice (1946) territory but not in a distracting way. Top notch film making from Mr. Preminger. The single disc is from Warner is no longer in print but it is still available as part of the Robert Mitchum Collection Box Set.


I Drink Your Blood (1970)

Dir: David E. Durston
Grindhouse Releasing DVD

Where to start with this convoluted plot? At the beginning you say? A group of traveling satanist/hippies/rock band/acting troupe (?) are having a ritual in the woods in praise of their all mighty dark lord. One of the members invited a local girl to watch, it impresses the chicks, and the other members don't like that none so they brutalize her and live her for dead where she crawls back to her small town. The town is even smaller due to some construction happening and budgetary restraints that would have gone to pay extras. The satanic hippies' van breaks down and the closest place for help is, you guessed it, the same backwater burg. They walk in and buy some meat pies and are told that they can stay at the abandoned hotel. They mess with a guy from the town and make nuisances of themselves. The first girls kid brother figures things out and gives them meat pies filled with rabies. The rabies and some LSD gets the party started proper and everyone goes nuts! Yeah! It's as sleazy and gross as you might imagine or want it to be but it's also very well shot (by an uncredited Joe Mangine) and directed for the basement priced exploitation cinema that it is. It was famously re-titled because it was paired with another movie that had absolutely nothing to do with it called I Eat Your Skin (1964). In fact, the ad guy that came up with the title is briefly interviewed on the disc along with some of the actors and the director of the film. It's certainly not a masterpiece but I've seen far worse exploitation dreck from the era.


Iron Man 2 (2010)

Dir: Jon Favreau

Let's play catch up! To show just how far behind I am, I will admit to seeing this at the midnight screening the night before release. Big mistake, it will probably be my last midnight expedition to the theater ever. Stop talking and/or texting people! And no saving seats for your ten friends! Anyway, the film didn't exactly salvage the night itself. The overblown sequel to 2008's mostly competent and entertaining super-hero action outing tries to repeat every note of it's predecessor and fails. Downey Jr.'s charming and smart-ass Tony Stark turns into a middle age cry baby that pushes everyone in his life away and then miraculously saves the day and gets the girl without ever changing or learning a lesson. Go ahead and be assholes kids, you'll still win in the end. The script has Iron Man fighting a bunch of other Iron Mans (Men?) led by Sam Rockwell and a lethargic and mumbling Mickey Rourke. Scarlett Johansson shows up to push a button and let's her stunt double get the best action sequence. Gwyneth Paltrow is back so there can be a woman in the cast with some dialog. In all it feels like little to no effort was made to put together even the most basic action film as there are hardly any action sequences and the story is just patched together. The entire film is in the trailer. Scratch that, there are some scenes in the trailer that aren't in the film that actually look more interesting. But we do get to see Iron Man trying to scratch records at a party! Really this is just an advertisement for the Blu-ray disc and the upcoming slate of Marvel films that will hopefully be better.


Sunday, May 16, 2010

Tokyo Sonata (2008)

Dir: Kiyoshi Kurosawa
E1 Entertainment DVD

Kiyoshi Kurosawa is mostly known for his strange, esoteric horror films like Kairo (2001) and Cure (1997). In recent years he has delved into more normal Japanese horror territory with films like Loft (2005) that are a little more accessible and recognizable as "J-Horror" as it's been dubbed (you know a pale girl with black hair in her face). With Tokyo Sonata Kurosawa leaves horror behind for a story about a modern Japanese family that is falling apart. The father is a mid-level salary man that his just been laid off and is trying to hide it from the family. He has no discernible skills and even goes so far in an interview to say that he will do any job at a company even though the interviewer keeps asking him what talents he has and what job he wants. He can't answer at all and asks if he means karaoke when he's asking about skills. Certainly a comment on the modern business man whose only talent is making money. His wife is unappreciated and ignored and more intelligent than she's given credit for. The oldest son wants out so badly he has decided to join the U.S. Military and ship out to the Middle East. And the youngest son is awkward at school and just wants to take piano lessons which his father won't allow. He uses his lunch allowance to secretly pay for lessons upon finding out he may be a child prodigy. Things keep deteriorating from there until everyone gets a head-scratching moment that at first seemed out of place until I remembered I was watching a film by Kiyoshi Kurosawa. I felt watching it that Kurosawa was influenced to make the film from another Japanese master that he does not share a name with, Ozu. The film felt like a modern take on Ozu's quiet and reserved films dealing with similar subject matter. I had felt that Takashi Miike's Visitor Q was almost an attack on Ozu, at the very least it was an Anti-Ozu film, but this one feels more like a tribute. A beautiful and quiet film that reaffirms how interesting Kiyoshi Kurosawa can be.


The Lovely Bones (2009)

Dir: Peter Jackson
Paramount Blu-ray

Speaking of an over-reliance of computer generated effects! Peter Jackson goes out of his way to insult your intelligence by creating a rainbow filled, candy colored heaven in a movie where a little girl is raped and murdered. This is quite possibly the most painful viewing experience I have had in a decade. It is based on the novel by Alice Sebold about a teenage girl growing up in the suburbs in the seventies. She lives a perfect existence until some creep down the street (played sweatily and completely over the top by Stanley Tucci) drags her in to an underground room and kills her etc.. Thankfully the scene is not very graphic which is a complaint in the Entertainment Weekly review! Seriously! After that her "spirit"? drifts between the real world and her own heaven so she can narrate the next four hours or however long this thing took. In the real world her happy family (Mark Wahlberg, Rachel Weisz) begins to fall apart until her younger sister uncovers the culprit. I will now give the requisite spoiler alert because I would like to mention the ridiculous retribution bestowed upon Mr. Tucci's fiend. After eluding capture and driving to who knows where, Tucci tries to pick up another young girl at a cafe. She turns him down and then he slips off a cliff where his completely computer generated body gets bounced around and mangled by the rocks below. Yeah for random justice. One of the worst devices in writing is when you are supposed to find closure in a completely random event that was not set in motion or directly effected by a main character in the story. This is sloppy film making and a pointless exercise in futility. It's impossible to figure what exactly Jackson's intentions are here. Is it to establish that he believes in a Christian heaven? That pedophiles are bad? That violence can destroy a family? He never clearly sets out to explicitly say any of these things but infers all of them no matter how obvious they might be. The final product just flops between being obnoxious and lifeless.


The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus (2009)

Dir: Terry Gilliam
Sony Blu-ray

This movie will be forever over-shadowed by the fact that it contains pieces of Heath Ledger's last screen performance and that his part was finished by Johhny Depp, Colin Farrell, and Jude Law. Gilliam was able to pull this off because of the structure of the story. Christopher Plummer plays the titular character that roams around with his Imaginarium, his daughter (Lily Cole), and two assistants. They invite people to take part in the Imagainarium which is some sort of illusionary paradise created by the participants deepest desires mixed with the Doctor's mystic abilities. It seems that everyone that enters the contraption has a similar fantasy that looks like a computer generated, Looney Tunes fever dream. After they meet Ledger's character Tony, he is played by a different actor every time he re-enters, a clever enough solution but it can't stop you from thinking about the behind the scenes circumstances that led to this decision. To give the story conflict, Tom Waits plays a devil character that enjoys betting on people's souls with the Dr. and the devil is there to lay claim to his daughter's soul on her upcoming birthday. They enter into a new wager so the good doc may save his daughter and Ledger's Tony is a wild card that may not be as altruistic as he seems. The problem with the film is that the story makes enough since that there are unanswered questions and it's not incoherent enough to be interesting. Gilliam's reliance on computer generated images is disheartening as well, the scenes with hand-made, practical sets looks much better and give the film an air of originality that immediately disappears when the cartoons pop in. And when we finally find out Tony's real story, it's so dark and cynical yo can feel how out of place it is and you're not sure whether to laugh or be outraged. It's not a terrible film but the script seems half-hearted and borrows heavily from Giilliam's other films.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Murders in the Zoo (1933)

Dir: A. Edward Sutherland
Universal DVD

This is part of the Universal Vault Collection that was made available to purchase only through the Turner Classic Movies website. It was clearly a response to Warner Brothers vault collection that produces DVDr's on demand for films that would not sell well in retail stores. I expected the discs to come in a bare bones package and the discs themselves to be on the purple-backed DVDr, so I was pleasantly surprised when I received (after a couple months of waiting) a very nice box with five silver discs. Each disc containing a lesser known Universal horror film with what promotional material from the original release that could be found added on as special features. First up is Murders in the Zoo, which was the only film not actually produced by Universal and the only pre-code film in the set. It's about a big game hunter (played by Lionel Atwill with a psychotically jealous streak when it comes to his wife (the striking Kathleen Burke). The film opens with it's most gruesome image, a man with is mouth sewn shut, so don't expect too many more shocks after that. There are plenty of murders though as Atwill uses various animals to cover-up his homicidal tendencies. He even tries to off a young Randolph Scott who works at the zoo. It's a good movie but unfortunately a good portion of it's very short run time is used up by the "comic" relief of top-billed Charles Ruggles who plays a press agent for the zoo that's afraid of the animals! How wacky. It's definitely not the reason to buy the set but certainly not a deterrent either as it's one of the only films currently available with Ms. Burke in the cast.


Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sherlock Holmes (2009)

Dir: Guy Ritchie
Warner Blu-ray

My mental image of Sherlock Holmes is someone who is refined, a little up-tight, slightly arrogant, and super intelligent. With Ritchie's re-imaging of the classic character, you get pretty much exactly what you expect, none of those things. This Sherlock is disheveled, a brawler, a smart-ass, and through most of the film he has hard time figuring out a mystery that is as easy to put together as a 20 piece puzzle. Here Holmes is turned into every other modern day hero only the setting is different. Downey Jr. does a fine job and Jude Law is more than capable as his sidekick Watson, but everyone else is there to fill screen time. Mark Strong is a one note villain that does nothing in the way of menace, and Rachel McAdams is so stiff and lifeless you have to wonder why Holmes would have any interest in her at all. The film is neither good nor bad really, it just makes you wonder why it was made at all.


The Flesh Eaters (1964)

Dir: Jack Curtis
Dark Sky DVD

This was a low-budget New York based production and is considered by some to be the first gore film. Don't let that mislead you, were not talking buckets of Lucio Fulci red carnage here, but there are a few surprisingly graphic attempts at disembowelment. The film takes place almost exclusively on, what we're told is, a small island off the coast of New York. A charter plane carrying a movie star, her assistant, and a world weary pilot, is forced to land there because of a storm. The three castaways find that a German (you know he's evil, he's German!) scientist conducting some sort of furtive experiments there. They soon find that the water surrounding the island is filled with flesh eating bacteria that leaves nothing but a classroom skeleton if you get close enough to it. Half way through the film a way-out-there beatnik gets stranded on the island (for more victims) and the scientist uses him to conduct the final stages of his master plan. The movie, though sometimes silly) is actually a well paced and cleverly written tale of horror. The screenplay comes courtesy of Arnold Drake, mostly known as a comic book writer and the co-creator of two of my faves, The Doom Patrol and Deadman. Strangely and off topic, director Curtis went on to voice Pops Racer in the American re-dub of the Speed Racer cartoon. He handles the special effects very well, most of the creature and effects shots are pretty effective. The Dark Sky DVD looks great and offers the added "Nazi Experimentation" sequences as a bonus feature.


The Snorkel (1958)

Dir: Guy Green
"Icons of Suspense" Sony DVD

There's not many familiar Hammer names or faces (except for Jimmy Sangster on writing duties) associated with this rather typical thriller. The opening is pretty striking and does the job on suturing in the audience, but the rest of the film, while well made, is a pretty predictable cat-and-mouse affair. It's the story of a man (Peter Van Eyck) that may have possibly killed his wife's former husband. Her young daughter turns up when the woman is killed and says that she saw everything that happened to her father and believes the new husband also killed her mother. From there it is story of trying to convince the girl she is wrong while she fights to prove herself right. Technically there is no mystery here at all, the audience is in on everything from the start, but it's still a decent watch. The most interesting thing is that reportedly after the success of Psycho (1960), Sangster was asked to write several mysteries that were known at Hammer as the "mini-Hitchcocks", and while this film feels like it would have fit into that vein, it was made two years before Psycho was released.


Cash On Demand (1961)

Dir: Quentin Lawrence
"Icons of Suspense" Sony DVD

Oh sweet lethargy, how I would loathe the if not for the apathy. So, I watched this a while back as I was very excited about a new Hammer Films box set but I will finally pontificate upon it. This is probably my favorite film in the "Icons of Suspense" set. It's the story of an uptight jerk of a bank manager (played to perfection by the great Peter Cushing) whose small English town bank is robbed by the clever and suave Andre Morell. The entire film takes place in the bank and the story is played out in real time (remember how that was all the rage in the late nineties?). No violence is necessary, only a war of words as Morell fleeces the bank right before Christmas while the vault is full of payroll money. The concept isn't too far removed from The Desperate Hours (1955) but is played with more dry wit and a valuable lesson learned. It's a perfect example of what a filmmaker can accomplish when relying on the written word and great performances over a budget and major set pieces. The fact that you get five other films in the set makes it a must have purchase.


Saturday, May 1, 2010

Inglourious Basterds (2009)

Dir: Quentin Tarantino
Universal Blu-ray

I have a hard time watching Tarantino films and I blame it all on him, of course. I was a teenager when Reservoir Dogs came out and frankly I loved it. Then I read an article in Film Threat Magazine comparing the film to Ringo Lam's City on Fire. I still enjoyed the movie but I was hooked. It was the first issue of Film Threat that I purchased, because of the Reservoir Dogs story, and it opened a whole new world for me. City on Fire was screened at midnight in Dallas (where I'm from) not long after I read the article by a guy who would bring in a new Hong Kong film every weekend. I started looking for more foreign action films, which led to action and exploitation films through out the ages. It also introduced me to new friends that I would have for over a decade now. The other film from that period in my life that would play an important role in my cinematic development would be Hal Hartley's Trust which led me down similar paths. As Tarantino made more films, I was becoming more educated. Now I only see his films as a series of references to things that we both enjoy. I am constantly being taken out of his movies by the use of sound cues from other films or character names borrowed from directors and actors that we both admire. Inglourious Basterds is certainly no exception as the title itself refers to a film that I have seen several times (the first being under it's alternate title G.I Bro!). The other problem is that I'm constantly wondering if there are references I'm not getting, and should I? All that aside, I also have just found most of his films lacking in some of the very basic things that make a good film. There lack of narrative cohesion make every film feel like a greatest hits of remakes. However, With Inglourious Basterds, QT seems to be trying to overcome his decencies making for what I believe to be his most successful film to date. Now don't take that as a glowing endorsement, the movie still has it's problems with pop culture references, but we're getting close to something here. The story takes place in WWII and is not exactly about a group of Jewish-American soldiers that hunt down Nazis and violently kill them. In fact that story is hardly explored at all and takes a back seat to the story of a young Jewish woman (Melanie Laurent) who is hiding her true identity and is now running a cinema in Paris. A young German soldier is taken with her and insists and screening a propaganda film that he stars in at her cinema. All the highest ranking Nazis will be there prompting a plot for revenge and a way to end the war. This story is the most intriguing and could have sustained a great 90 minute film, unfortunately we needed another hour added on and a movie star so Brad Pitt leads the Basterds as they (really violently) terrorize Germans along the French Country side. The Basterds themselves have very little dialog and relatively minimal screen time. The biggest and most talked about parts go to Cristoph Waltz (his openeing scene is fantastic) as a Nazi "Jew hunter" and Diane Kruger as a German actress working as a double agent. Also look for a rather ridiculous cameo by Austin Powers. The movie could have been much better than it was had it had more focus on one particular story and it's geeky ending undermines anything the film could have been.


Buy this instead.

St. Trinian's (2007)

Dir: Oliver Parker & Barnaby Thompson
Sony DVD

It took two people to direct this? Here's an attempt to relaunch the British St Trinian's film series from the 1950's/early 60's about school girl that get involved in horse racing and other such illegal activities all in the name of tomfoolery. This movie is a chore to watch. The filmmakers do nothing to hold the viewers attention. The main draw here for most would be the cast members that have gone on to be more famous (Gemma Arterton, Russell Brand) or if you just want to watch Rupert Everett embarrass himself in drag. Let's not forget about Colin Firth slumming it either. A tedious and over-long bore.


The Man Who Never Was (1956)

Dir: Ronald Neame

A World War II film of a different kind, this one shows absolutely no war footage. It's a true story about a plot by the British to try and fool the Nazis into thinking that they would be attacking Greece instead of Sicily. Clifton Webb stars as Lt. Cmdr. Montagu (the screenplay was based on Montagu's novel) whose come up with the idea to mislead the Germans. We follow the plan from it's conception to execution and then into the Nazi efforts to confirm the information. Everything is told in great detail with no questions left unanswered. There are some moments that are probably played for dramatic tension, but everything works. The film could be considered a bit dry but it's thoroughly engaging with Neame's no-nonsense approach to the story. Gloria Grahame also stars, in one of the only color films I have seen her in, as a friend to Montagu's secretary that unknowingly plays a huge help in the plan. The DVD is bare bones but certainly worth watching.


Goodbye Gemini (1970)

Dir: Alan Gibson
Scorpion Releasing DVD

Cheers to Scorpion for getting titles like this and Girly out on DVD, unfortunately this one has a lot be desired in terms of enjoyable viewing. It's the story of fraternal twins, played by Judy Geeson and Martin Potter, that appear to be sheltered and a little too co-dependent. They meet a guy named Clive that looks to corrupt the duo by introducing them to party and drink and ultimately giving brother Julian over to some enthusiastic trannies that that quench his secret desires. He uses the photos from the encounter to try and blackmail Julian but things go awry. Michael Redgrave plays an older official type that is curious about the twins after seeing them around. He tries to help out sister Julian before finding out she may be involved in a murder. The story meanders here and there and Potter gives an over-the-type performance that at times is difficult to watch. Gibson directed three films for Hammer but none are looked upon very well. He's a competent visualist but lacks a lot in the storytelling department. The disc has commentary by Geeson but I did not finish listening to it. She sounded a bit uptight or maybe even upset. Her presence in the film is really the only high point though.


Friday, April 23, 2010

The Car (1977)

Dir: Elliot Silverstein
Cinemax HD Broadcast (or Actionmax or Thrillermax...)

A week on vacation and a week of recovery, I know everyone (all 2 of you) out there have been clamoring for more posts! I actually watched this the night before I left to go out of town but didn't have time to post some musings, so here go. The Car is a well managed horror piece about a driver-less car that indiscriminately runs people over. James Brolin stars as a single father of two and one of the town's several police officers that is on the hunt for the sinister auto after it comes blazing through town with a pile of bodies in it's wake. Things get personal when it kills fellow officers and eventually hunts down Brolin's girlfriend, who had provoked it, prompting the rest of the police force to get explosives expert and wife-beater Amos (played by recognizable character actor R.G. Armstrong) to help dynamite a cliff wall on top of the demonic ride. Thankfully we never get in to too much of an explanation of what the car is, just some vague assumptions on the part of the characters that might care about that sort of thing, mostly these guys just want to blow it up. Another plus is Silverstein never let's The Car steer (sorry!) towards camp. The material is handled seriously although I would have like to have seen it more efficiently handled with a shorter run time. An overall enjoyable viewing experience though with a good horror tale that was refreshing in the sense that it never went for gore or shock, but tension. Strangely, I came across the movie because I had just read an article about Anton LaVey and his involvement with films in Screem Magazine, and then noticed this was airing, is Satan trying to tell me something? Ahhh yes, time for the oil change.


Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stop Me Before I Kill (1960)

Dir: Val Guest
Sony DVD: part of "Columbia's Icons of Suspense: Hammer Films" set

Hammer fans rejoice! Grover Crisp at Columbia has brought us six previously unavailable Hammer thrillers on DVD this week. The set features six films on three discs, all in proper aspect ratio, and with their original trailers. Sadly there are no other special features, but I'm not complaining. First up in the set is the film Stop Me Before I Kill, also known as The Full Treatment, which has Hammer regular Val Guest's name all over it. He wrote, produced, and directed the film, in fact at the beginning it says a "Val Guest Production", but does not say a "Hammer Films Production" anywhere. The movie is about a race car driver (Ronald Lewis) that is involved in a terrible accident while on his honeymoon. His wife (Diane Cilento) is thrown from the car, but they both survive. The opening shot is incredible showing the dashboard in tight close-up and then pulling back to reveal the wreck and it's various details while jazz blares from the car's radio. It's so good I watched the opening again right after the film was over. We then jump ahead one year and Lewis is finally healed and ready to get back in to the world, physically anyway. Mentally he is an unstable, temperamental time bomb ready to explode on everyone. They go on holiday where they meet a psychiatrist who finds them fascinating and wants to help. Lewis' identity has been taken from him as he is now afraid to drive which was everything he knew. He now feels impotent and most of his temper is directed back at his wife in violence. He realizes that he is volatile, hence the title, but doesn't believe in all the psychological mumbo jumbo. He doesn't trust the good doctor at all, but is there a reason? It's a fine thriller that has no horror or sci-fi elements at all and makes me wonder if that's why there is no Hammer logo at the beginning. It's fairly predictable, but Guest is a very skilled director that brings some nice visual touches to the picture. It's interesting to note that the film I had just watched prior to this, Sadist With Red Teeth, had a similar plot device at it's center, with a mental health professional dealing with a man that had been in a car accident and strange that films came out on DVD so close together. I had seen two of the films in this set before, and liked them much better. I'm hoping the rest of the set will be on par with those. Either way, the set is a must have.


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Sadist With Red Teeth (1971)

Dir: Jean Louis Van Belle
Mondo Macabro DVD

The main feature on Mondo Macabro's recently released two-disc set, this a new-wave influenced vampire film about a young man that was in a car crash that killed a friend. We start the film with the young man being released from the hospital and he believes that he is becoming a vampire. This belief is being reaffirmed by the hospital's psychiatrist who, for unknown reasons, wants this transformation to happen. The idea really takes shape when the man sees a scene form JLVB's earlier film, Forbidden Paris, about a man who believes he is the last vampire. This and other concepts in the movie work really well and are pretty exciting conceptually, the film though meanders a bit too much and the overall feel is one of improvisation. I'm not sure the film really has very much to say, it is, though, an interesting take on vampire mythology. The print looks great and there's a 30 minute doc on JLVB rounding out the disc.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Forbidden Paris (1969)

Dir: Jean Louis van Belle
Mondo Macabro DVD

Director JLVB (as he's named on the disc) has been recently rediscovered through some festival screenings of his film Sadist with Red Teeth, which is the main feature that this disc is sold with. This movie was made a few years before that one and is part of the "mondo film" trend of the late sixties, which were essentially bizarre travelogues where oddball humans and strange stories were photographed and then a narrator would describe the action we're seeing (not always truthfully). These stories were presented as fact but it's pretty easy to see through the ruse on most of them, particularly with these films as several people from Forbidden Paris are seen in Sadist with Red Teeth which is a fictional tale. As with all mondo films, the vignettes are hit and miss, the real stand outs in this one for me were "Hairdresser of the Dead", where a man cuts the hair of a corpse while the family, including a smiling child, watch, and "Hitler Club", where a bunch of Neo-Nazis paint a woman and scream at her and then march around in a circle in a room the size of a closet. The worse part, and frankly one to skip, is having to see a taxidermist stuff a lady's pet dog in full detail and then add a pre-recorded voice box. This disc, again part 2 of a set, has an introduction with JLVB.


Sadist With Red Teeth / Forbidden Paris (2pc) (Ws Sub)

Girly (1970)

Dir: Freddie Francis
Scorpion Releasing DVD

Originally titled Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny, and Girly, this is about four psychopaths that live in a huge dilapidated estate and lure men back to the house to play games with them until they "send them to heaven". Each person in the house has a specific role (based on their names) but we never find out the truth about the relationships. In fact we never learn anything about motivation or back story which is quite a strength for the film. It plays out as a sort of black comedy but thankfully it's straight faced enough to not become a parody of horror films. The trouble begins for the quartet when they bring a man back to the house after they convince him that he accidentally killed his girlfriend while he was drunk. But once the "new friend" starts to settle in, he begins to manipulate the three women in house and tries to turns everyone against each other. Vanessa Howard gives a real stand out performance as Girly, it's too bad she only did a handful of films. The only real problem with the film is it suffers from some pacing issues in the second half. Once we figure out where this is going, we want it to get there. The disc has an interview with writer Brian Comport and an archival audio interview with director Francis. Kudos to Scorpion for getting this on DVD with such a good transfer and the care it deserves.


Kitten With A Whip (1964)

Dir: Douglas Heyes
TCM broadcast

This is another frustrating example of, "Why doesn't the main character just do this..." as in something logical. The answer, of course, is that there would be a much shorter film if that happened. In this case the people we want to reach through the television screen and slap are Ann-Margaret as a bi-polar sociopath that happens to climb in the window of John Forsythe, a successful business man that wants to run for office, and then forces him to help her. She's on the run for escaping juvie and injuring a guard. She gets Forsythe into more and more ridiculous situations that end with stabbings, smuggling fugitives over the border to Mexico, and a fatal car crash. Peter Brown stands out as a philosophical criminal with some pretty entertaining dialog. The movie is available as part of the Universal Vault collection from Amazon, but I can't attest to the quality.

"You're nothing painted blue!"


I Sell The Dead (2008)

Dir: Glenn McQuaid
Lion's Gate Blu-ray

Let me preface by saying that I love period horror films, particularly Hammer, and I believe that I have seen every film based on the true story of grave robbers Burke & Hare, so I was really looking forward to this film about two resurrectionists (played by Dominic Monaghan and Larry Fessenden) that find themselves in over their heads with the supernatural and a rival gang of grave robbers. The final product didn't live up to my expectations however as the film gives it a real effort but ultimately finds it has no real story to tell. The movie's narrative is based around a conversation that Monaghan is having with a priest (Ron Perlman) before he is to be executed. So the movie is just a series of flashbacks with way too much exposition. And in one of the more convoluted sequences, there's a story within a story within a story! I don't believe that this was a direct reference to The Saragossa Manuscript though. Another story is so silly it's just disappointing and involves (SPOILER ALERT!) the duo finding a Communion like alien buried in an unmarked grave. The filmmakers do a good if not great job overcoming their obvious budget constraints with some inventive use of comic book style stills, but the final product feels lifeless.


The Informant (2009)

Dir: Stephen Soderbergh
Warner Blu-ray

This is true story (or so we're told) of a man (Matt Damon) working for a large food additive company that is afraid of getting fired so he concocts a huge lie based around corporate espionage that leads to more lies that ultimately leads to Damon blowing the whistle on the company he works for to the FBI for price fixing with competitors. This man is both a moron and a genius. He's a well educated manipulator that doesn't know when to quit, or shut up. The film is good for a few chuckles but never achieves or really strives for laugh-out-loud funny even though several comedians cameo through out the film. Visually it looks like a Soderbegh film with orange and blue lighting prominently on display along with hand held camera work. Tapping Marvin Hamlisch to do the score sets the mood perfectly for the tone and pace of the movie. It's fine that Matt Damon put on weight to play the main role, but what about all those chubby actors out there that need a break? This isn't one of Soderbergh's best but it's good for a viewing, it just may not stick with you long afterward.


How To Train Your Dragon (2010)

Dir: Dean DeBlois & Chris Sanders
3-D Theatrical Viewing

Animated films have really hit a comfort zone these days. There is a formula that I see that keeps getting repeated and it works just about every time. Take a quirky, oddball boy, have is father be the opposite of him and a widower, mix in a tough, smart girl, and then let the boy prove everyone's expectations wrong and change the way they think. You hit all your bases so all you have to do is pick the setting. An island in need of food, a panda that learns kung-fu, or vikings fighting dragons. Now I like vikings and dragons, so I'm in. Jay Baruchel plays Hiccup, the boy, Gerard Butler is his father, and America Ferrera as the tough girl. Battles are fought and lessons are learned. The animation is top notch computer generated fare, the story is safe, and there are plenty of comedy stars rounding out the supporting cast. Formula achieved. The only thing I didn't understand is why the grown up vikings were Scottish?


Jennifer's Body (2009)

Dir: Karyn Kusama
Fox Blu-ray

Is there anything worse than watching fake teenagers pretend to be hip and say things like "indie rock band"? No. And that's exactly what you're in for with this painfully dull wanna-be cult film that tries way too hard to make you think it's a subversive classic. It helps that if you make a horror comedy to try and include at least one if not both of those aspects. Megan Fox is simply embarrassing as the twenty five year old high school senior that is possessed by a demon and kills off her classmates to gain energy. There's nothing new or exciting happening here, the story is no different than a million other straight to cable quickies. It was the kind of experience that you want your friends to be in on so you can make fun of what you're watching, but if you are viewing it alone, you feel embarrassed and are constantly afraid someone will catch you. I don't even want to put a pic up.


Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Tiger's Tail (2006)

Dir: John Boorman

So chronologically I jumped ahead a quarter of a century but I never pretended to have a method. This is one of four films that Boorman has made with actor Brendan Gleeson, who stars here as a successful developer in Ireland. One day while sitting in traffic, a man wipes down his window, and it looks like a disheveled version of himself. He loses sight of the man but sees him pop up a few more times before he is led on a chase into a muddy area where he gets stuck and the double races back to take his place. The film that follows is more of a meditation on self, in an existential sense. It asks the question of who we really are other than who we pretend to be. The details of the plot could actually be rather frustrating if taken at face value as it's peppered with logic problems and moments where you'll ask "why doesn't he just do...?" While I was intrigued by the premise, the movie has an uneven flow to it, some supporting characters get too much screen time, or not enough if we were supposed to be more concerned with them. And quite frankly there is a scene with Gleeson's wife (played by Kim Cattrall?) and his double that can't be construed as anything but rape and feels sorely put of place here. The final scene comes across as a strangely compromised happy ending where everyone wins. While it had things about it I liked, I ultimately just couldn't recommend it.


A quick note about Boorman fest: As I write this I have not seen anymore of his films but have watched plenty of other things I need to catch up on writing about. I will continue with a few more selections and then move on to another subject (any suggestions?). I felt that I got a very good sense of what kind of director Boorman is and hopefully pointed to those things without being repetitive. I hate to generalize, but with most artists it seems like their best work is their earliest, when they still have an energy to them you just can't fake.

Excalibur (1981)

Dir: John Boorman
Warner Bros. DVD

With Excalibur, Boorman attempts to tell the story of King Arthur, his father Uther, Merlin, and the Knights of the Round Table in two hours and twenty minutes. Here is where the problem lies. Several of the plot lines feel rushed while some scenes seem to linger past their expected time. It gives the movie a feeling of being both briskly paced and overly long. While I believe Boorman did the best he could with making a film that encompasses so much story into a 140 minute run time, this obviously would have benefited from a Lord of the Rings style trilogy treatment or editing the film down to just focus on one part of Arthur's life. The staging of the action is fine but never amazing and I have to question the decision to shoot the film in 1.85:1 as opposed to 2.35:1, it makes the experience too confining and not very grand in it's approach. It's a good film that could have been great. It's certainly better made and more serious than the rash of fantasy films produced in it's wake in the early eighties, but it's also not as fun. Of course being fun wasn't the goal, but a few of the performances are so over the top, it's like the actors only reference to the material was Monty Python and the Holy Grail. These moments are few, but I think it proves that Boorman is at his best when he tells a very specific story with minimal characters. An approach like that to this story would have been very interesting.

This is one of the oldest DVDs I own, I believe it was released in 1999. The film is certainly due for update in the quality department on home video. Hopefully there is a high definition transfer in the works.


Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977)

Dir: John Boorman
Netflix streaming

So I was pretty enthusiastic about the first four films in my Boorman fest, unfortunately that all changed with the Exorcist II. The film has a pretty bad reputation and it certainly is far from perfect, but to Boorman's credit he does try and do something completely different from it's predecessor. This is probably the main reason for the disdain, the movie is the exact opposite of The Exorcist. While the original is tense and claustrophobic, this one opens the story up to the entire world, specifically to Africa where James Earl Jones plays a former victim of the demon. In doing this, we see that the world the film resides in, demon possession has nothing to do with a Christian mythology. This also opens the door to bring a rather silly subplot about mental telepathy. The story picks up with Reagan (Linda Blair) the child possessed in the first film and now a few years older. She meets a new priest (Richard Burton) at therapy who wants to know what Reagan remembers about her experience. This leads to world travel, psychic binds, and demon possession. The film is pretty lite on horror and overly long. I can only imagine that Boorman agreed to make the film after Zardoz because he felt like he needed a hit, but that's just speculation. I hate to dismiss the film outright, there are some interesting ideas going on in it, it just never clicks.