Friday, December 29, 2006

Review of "Scoop" (2006)

Scoop (2006)

Should be called Snoop instead.

Tell me if you heard this joke.

A dead man's ghost wakes us on a boat on the river Styx. He then tries to bribe the ferryman, which results in nothing.

Haven't heard that one, eh ? Well thats probably because it's not a joke but rather the plot of a Woody Allen movie. To elaborate, a recently deceased well-known reporter (Ian McShane) is given an amazing "scoop" about a serial killer from another dead person, while on the boat crossing the river Styx. He then chooses to appear in the middle of a magic box magic trick, to a former dental hygienist turned college journalist (Scarlett Johansson). And the magic act is Splendini's (Woody Allen's magical alter ego).

This is a very, very light fare. Don't expect, nor should you look for, more than there is. I have had problems with most of Woody's later pieces. Lets just say his best material didn't leave the disco era. I did like Match Point (though I thought it was a bit long), but I believe that my enjoyment of it was due more to the nontraditional Woody' material and lack of the the director's presence in front of the camera. So the question everyone dances around is : is Woody still funny? I say not really. Why is that? Is it because his advancing age just make his "shtick" not funny or that it reminds us of our septuagenarian relatives (with all their nutty quirks)? Maybe it's because his cute neurosis became full fledge syndromes after 30 + years. It could also be that instead of trying to figure out a mystery, we end up accomplices in a game of lets find out what's in this drawer (aka, snooping). Hugh Jackman is barely used and the movie could have saved money if they just used a cardboard cutout of the actor. Scarlett Johansson is major eye candy, because I found her neophyte character portrayal to be lacking. She is the only reason this movie gets any rating past a yawn. So I say skip it, indulge your Woody wants in Annie Hall, Bananas, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex... or Sleeper.

Review of "Tom Yum Goong" (2005)

Tom Yum Goong (2005)
a.k.a. The Protector; Warrior King; Ong Bak 2
Prachya Pinkaew's Sophomoric Tony Jaa movie. Who cares if the story is any good?? Its got Tony Jaa. 'Nuff said.

After seeing Ong-Bak I didn't think the action and terrible story vehicle could be pushed much further. I was happily mistaken for one and sorely underrated the other. The action has now risen to "WHAT" status and the story has dropped to "WHAT" status.

Kham (Tony Jaa) and his dad are Jaturungkabart, the protectors of the royal elephants. This seems to include doing everything with the elephants : bathing with the elephants, riding the elephants, hugging the elephants, trimming the shrubbery, and martial arts training. For Kham, his dad and the elephants, this is paradise. It is the intrusion of other, malicious humans that causes a disturbance. This happen twice : first when the elephant mom dies accidentally at the hands of kidnappers (really, elephant kidnappers). The director cleverly uses various scenes to mirror the relationship of the remaining dad and son elephant to their human protectors (lone tear. wipe with tissue. jazz hands. juggling plates. - Joel). The second incident sees both elephants get kidnapped and Kham's dad get shot, at a local wealthy man's sponsored parade and festival. From there we go to Australia. Thats the first 18 minutes. You can cut most of that. I think I can reduce that to about 3 minutes of just titles and simple introductions with white overlays.

Minute 18:00. Scene : Kham party crashes. Jaa flies across the powder blue wall and knocks down the perfectly centered, water buffalo head. The kicking of ass thus begins. And thus I learned how many guys one can take out with one knee ? 5. That is also the number of minutes of action we get in the first 40 minutes of the movie. The rest of the movie is : boat chase, foot chases, chest-crushing knees, roller-blade-rs and bmx'ers attacking, fluorescent lights, transvestite Chinese mob boss, cramp-like kicks, elephant throwing and pulverizing elbows.

The best and longest action sequence is when Kham arrives at the restaurant (this is probably because I was parched for some kind of action). It goes from being a small restaurant front, to opening up into a multi-teared pagoda-like structure with a spiral staircase, a casino, brothel and rare-species dinning facility. The capoeira fighter scene in the burning church is also very good. The final fight at the press conference is also mind blowing. It is incredible brutal and so so hilariously ridiculous (elephant skeleton, Tony Jaa's emotional release, Nathan Jones and 3 other huge guys fight, a transvestite with a whip, elephant bones as weapons, tendons and a helicopter). Also the sheer number of extras hurt during this scene was incredible. Can you imagine the hospital bill ?

The end is predictable, though strange because it was hard to discern much of a storyline. So the need for a conclusion, complete with politically laced stop elephant poaching, protect the elephant, Thailland for Thai messages seem a bit tacked on. Prachya Pinkaew just needs to put Tony Jaa in a room, reading Shakespeare in English. So long as Tony kicks someone's ass during the first paragraph, it will all fall into place. Tony Jaa makes Parkour (pseudo martial art, see my Banlieue 13 review) seem like Tai Chi. Jet and Jackie seem like your grandfather after Thanksgiving diner, by comparison. For fans of martial arts and action movies, this is a definite MUST own.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Review of "Beerfest" (2006)

Beerfest" (2006)
From the director, writer and actor of Super Troopers, Club Dredd and the Dukes of Hazzard.....

.....comes Dodgeball with beer (fill in the blank at this point : _____ with beer. ie, "BASEketball" with beer, "Cheech and Chong" with beer, etc). After the death of their German grandfather (Donald Sutherland, who's cameo is obviously part of the plea bargain agreement with some law enforcement, somewhere), our beer-guzzling heroes go to Munich, Germany to complete their dead, drunken grandfather's last wish : to have his urn brought to the BeerFeast (kind of like the competition from Bloodsport, with beer and except without the killing and fighting. Those have been replaced by quarters and beer chugging). There they encounter their distant German cousins and uncle, who promptly disgrace them by beating them at beer drinking (and making them wear their uncle back to the airport). This becomes the point of the rest of the movie. That is the 12 month, Rocky-like training regime of beer related activity, where they bond and have kooky adventures while learning the real meaning of Christmas (okay. that last part doesn't happened).

Everything else you can probably figure out very easily, even after several 6 packs. This movie is definitely geared towards the "drinking" collegiate-humor crowd. To tell the truth, I had found the humor in Jay Chandrasekhar's movies to be a little underwhelming, like watching Will Ferrel in Ron Burgundy or Ricky Bobby. Don't get me wrong, I'm the last person not to appreciate sausage warming (performed by Frau Blücher herself, the Leechman), frog sperm collecting, Schwarzenegger quotes and an unquenchable ocean of beer. Its amusing, but thats about it. Its not as bad as most things Adam Sandler touches (Grandma's Boy is an exception but his influence is limited to just being one of a few executive producers), but definitely not in league with Grandma's Boy, Half-Baked, the Cheech and Chong Trilogy (Up in Smoke, Next Movie and Nice Dreams), Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle, Fear and Loathing and Office Space. The cameo's by Das Boot's Jürgen Prochnow, Will Forte and the German Chin - Ralf Moeller are nice but minor.

Its not even worth a watch over pizza and many, many beers. It's like when you were 20 and you couldn't afford good alcohol so you binged on the water and empty calories contained in $1 Buds drafts. You'll get wasted, but you'll hate yourself in the morning.

Review of "Huo Yuan Jia" (2006)

Huo Yuan Jia (2006)
a.k.a. Fearless; Jet Li's Fearless
Semi-Fictional, Demi-Political, Demi-Philosophical tale of Chinese martial arts legend, Huo Yuanjia.

That whole first line is a mouthful, but describes the movie in a most precise way. First of all my gripes. After watching Tony Jaa, anything that doesn't involve contact is not quite there. It's like playing the original Half-Life after you've tried Soldier of Fortune. It is so close, yet something is lacking. Tony Jaa's influence is in everything these days from Banlieue 13 to Casino Royale and is certainly not missing from this one either. The wire work and the Jet Li's fill-ins are the blemishes on some really great fight scenes. This isn't to say that the wire work is bad, because it is not. It is done in a realistic manner. I guess Tony Jaa has just spoiled us all. My second gripe is the demi-political message mixed in. Although there is no direct country mentioned, there is a subdued sense of communal nationalism. Maybe I am just reading into it, or if I am basing it on other movies (ie, The Bodyguard from Beijing, another Jet movie in which it ends with a full screen Chinese Communist flag fluttering) ?

Now to the good parts. This is a glorified tribute to the famous Shanghai martial arts master, Huo Yuanjia. You will remember Hou Yuanjia is the master of Bruce Lee's character in Fists of Fury (aka, The Chinese Connection). The above subject has also been visited by Jet himself in Fist of the Legend. The movie starts with Huo Yuanjia's famous tournament against the champions of the Sphere of Influence nations. We get to the Japanese challenger and then are sent into a flashback to Huo's youth. We are given the details of Huo's early life, his trials and tribulations. How he was, what he became and how he got there. This section is full of all the other parts of martial arts that have nothing to do with fighting (at this point I'm think fondly of Bruce's Circle of Iron). This all leads up to the point past the end of the opening scene and involves the battle between the Japanese master and Huo. All the fight scenes are choreographed well and are quite exciting. I'm thinking especially of Hua vs O'Brien (Nathan Jones - who recently got his ass kicked by Tony Jaa in Tom Yun Goong) and the scene where Hua has all the challengers come up at once. This is obviously a tribute to Bruce's dojo scene from Fists of Fury.

As this is a semi-bio-pic, it runs into the same inherent problems in the genre; namely that you must have something invested in the person already. The person must be someone you know something or care something about. Rarely does a movie in this genre make you care about the character if you are not interested. It is much like hypnosis, if you do not believe you will not be put under. I did not know much about Hua before this, but I was curious enough to get some background afterwards. Also, I have seen enough martial arts movies such that this was background enough to connect me to Huo. All in all, I highly recommend this movie and don't tell anyone, but................... I'm a real life giant chicken.

Review of "The Descent" (2005)

The Descent (2005)

I didn't realize my high school English teacher wrote a movie script, with a curriculum level double-entendre title.

The movie with a grizzly and tragic beginning is most easily described using the vernacular of a stereotypical Hollywood executive :

"Little Women meets Pitch Black in the Hills Have Eyes, while tuned into National Georgraphic, with a side of Cannibal Holocaust poached with Lord of the Flies in a gravy of Machiavelli's Prince. Now this is all on a side of Predator. And for dessert, nothing but Brazil. This is all occurring on an island in a sea of estrogen."

It sounds like someone just regurgitated their lunch, but not to worry. It is the end result of the "mash-up" of other movie ideas. The uniqueness of this movie, the glue if you will, is that it all takes place in a cave. Oh wait, there's the Cavern and the Cave as well. I guess all you've got left is an "atmospheric mash-up", with an entirely female cast. Please feel free to use that term.. In typical "horror" genre guide-rules, one must remember to start the actual horror some time within the 2nd half of the movie (preferrably around the hour mark). Then remember to include lots of things jumping out at you (shock value), lots of gore and blood (more shock value), and finally lots and lots of screaming. There isn't much here; unless you really, really, really like cave exploring with 3 or 4 backstabbing dog-eat-dog females. This kind of shock horror I've seen done somewhere else (and better). It is a nice distraction on a lazy Saturday/Sunday afternoon. Just you and Jack Daniels, engaged in some cap-topping activities.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Review of "Kronos" (1957)

Kronos (1957)

Who would think a planet destroyer would be this boring ....

I once heard this movie described as either you'll love it or you'll hate it. From reading some of the other reviews and the ratings, I would venture to say that this is true. I am placing myself in the hate it crowd. I have seen some truly bad movies, boring movies, and even low budget movies. This movie is bad on all three fronts.

This Island Earth's Exeter (Jeff Morrow), returns to his sci-fi/b-movie roots as Dr. Les (minus giant head prosthetic). The doctor and his assistant Arnie (George O'Hanlon - aka the voice of George Jetson), along with Les' girlfriend assistant Vera, are tracking a meteor. This is the crux of the cast and is almost a double date. Les has Vera and Arnie has his "Susie" (Synchro Unifying Sinometric Integrating Equitensor - aka the computer). Lets just say the relationship between George and his robotic maid, Rosie, (and his relationship with "Susie") is more believable than the cold, clam-like feelings Vera has for Les (and vice versa). The object of their all their interest is no ordinary meteor, however. It is really an alien art nouveau/art deco energy storage device, which moves around like a 3 legged dog. There is also the little alien "energy" being that controls Dr. Hubbel (aka, the chief scientist there). The alien is obviously and from the get-go, malicious and evil. Is this the kind of science we are handing out? No wonder the aliens from the Explorers were afraid of us. From watching some of these movies, we shoot first. There's no need for questions afterwards.

The whole movie is synonymous with watching some really boring science experiments, like boiling an egg or adding food color to celery. Its not the fact that this is a low budget sci-fi movie or thats its a bit cheesy and outdated. It is really, really, really boring. The whole movie is about trying to figure out what is going on. That is it. Most of the things we learn about what's going on are through monologues and self dictation. Now add crappy dialog, cardboard acting and cheap-sets and you have the makings of an Ed Wood clone (by the way, Ed has made some really boring movies as well - please avoid the Orgy of the Dead). The dialog ... oh, the dialog. Jems such as :

"..from under 2 miles of ocean ?

Why not ?! It came through a billion miles in space."


"Do you think you'll be able to respect a husband who's probably pulled the scientific boner of all time ?"

This movie is obviously trying to pull a Forbidden Planet, This Island Earth, Magnetic Monster or in the same light as the Outer Limits, Twilight Zone. Namely, a low budget sci-fi movie (or TV episode) that is compelling enough to get past the technical difficulties and strange situations. At the core, these movies are enjoyable on some level (the story, the underlying meaning or the sheer comical nature of the dialog or situations). This movie has none of that. It is just 90 minutes of boredom. I couldn't even enjoy this on a Ed Wood level. I definitely recommend skipping this one and seeing one of the movies I mentioned above instead. It is so bad, that if my name was Dr. Forrester, I would never think of showing this movie to anyone ... except Frank maybe.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Review of "Gojira tai Megaro" (1973)

Gojira tai Megaro (1973)

(a.k.a. - Godzilla vs. Megalon)

Look I found some funny powder......

All my previous Godzilla sessions were solo. Finally I have someone riding shotgun with me, helping me through the tough times. The guys from the Satellite of Love join me on this lovely expedition.

Sometime in 1971, nuclear tests are performed on a Pacific Island. This introduction is full of giant explosions or rather miniatures of giant explosions. Lots of miniature models were destroyed. Next, we are at a lake with a kid on some sort of powered dingy and two males. An earthquake occurs and a fissure opens within the lake that causes a whirlpool, but thanks to the heroic rescue of the silly powered dingy, the boy survived. After following around the trio, watching them drive and listening to them talk about random things, we get down to the "why are we following these 3?". The kid's dad is a "scientist" who created an android, which he suddenly christens - Jet Jaguar (the 2nd man is the scientist's friend who seems to be a race car driver).

Jet Jaguar looks kind of like a suit of armor with colored segments (bright red, yellow and blue on silver background), with a blue medical neck collar, a curved, pointy head (looks a bit like a metallic version of Martian Manhunter), and an ominous looking smile. His functions include - walking, climbing stairs, flying, increasing in size, speaking in semaphore without the flags and has a severe case of motion sickness.

We then transition into another plot point : the hairy, white guy in a silver toga and super trooper mustache ruler of the underground pseudo-Atlantian utopia (reminds me of an extra on a spaghetti-epic), Sea-topia. Apparently, he's not happy with the all the atomic tests and he releases Megalon upon Japan. Now Megalon is a green scaly monster that looks like a beetle with a giant star shaped extended horn and arms that look like the Chrystler building. Its digs under the earth, can fly and has yellow lightning coming out of the it's horn. Apparently, releasing Megalon isn't enough for the ruler, so he has a plot to kidnap Jet Jaguar and use it to aid Megalon.

Thankfully the scientist has a decoder ring that can override any control (withing a limited range) and sends Jet Jaguar to Monster Island to recruit Godzilla for help. This sets up the tag team match : Jet Jaguar and Godzilla vs Megalon and newly arrived Gigan (cycloptic cybernetic creature with a buzz-saw in its stomach and two large steel hooks for hands). This is a pretty good fight and I would venture to say is one of the best in the series. This includes the now infamous Godzilla riding-tail 2 legged drop kick (or as I like to call it, Godzilla's best impersonation of Captain Kirk).

The movie by itself is terrible, especially with all the crazy cuts, nonsensical car chases, phantom explosions, lots of miniatures, terrible dubs, ridiculous acting and terrible pacing. This is exactly what makes this one of the better "terrible" movies out there. So kick your feet up, twist off the cap on the Smirnoff, don't Bogart but pass it along to the others and enjoy.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Review of "Hard Candy" (2005)

Hard Candy

They never showed this on Dateline.

The plot is simple enough. A 30 something photographer, a.k.a. Jeff, meets an underage androgynous robot, a.k.a. Hayley, (after the movie it goes on to play an X-Men) over the internet. They meet over coffee and she/it suggests that they reconvene at his place. Yada, yada, yada .... Dateline shows up and reads their chat room conversations in a stoic and morose manner. Or better yet, it turns out the AI robot is actually an undercover member or law enforcement who arrests him on the spot. No I'm just kidding. In the movie, the roles of victim/assailant are thrown up in the air. We are torn. Who is right in this scenario ? You find yourself swaying depending on what we see and what we hear.

I definitely had mixed feelings about this movie. During the first 60-65 minutes of the movie I was cursing myself for picking yet another dud. The movie gets a little better down the stretch, probably due to the increase of actual violence and decrease in supposedly intelligent "dialog" (not to mention the interesting "Wicked"-like ending). I have always disliked dialog that seems intelligent at first, except if force fed to the actors (especially done in a lot of indy movies). Usually this is due to a bad combination of dialog and casting. Unfortunately, I found myself either shaking my head at the juvenile nature of the dialog or the sudden switch to calculated Orwellian-like dialog. For an example of this, check out the one-dimensional Nicolas Cage in American Treasure where his "revelations" suddenly appear in his mind, as if someone just spoke the line to him through an earpiece. Another problem with this movie comes from the fact that if you have probably heard of the movie, you also know the synopsis. It's also right there on the back of the box. Without the element of surprise, this movie loses most of its bite. Also, unless you have been under a rock or do not like Asian cinema you have seen this before in any of Chan-wook Park's Vengeance trilogy or Takashii Miike's Audition. By those standards, this movie is tame.

In the end, you find out very little except what we already suspected initially. So the whole movie turns into a giant vigilante retribution session, except the involvement of the "child" robot is still somewhat in doubt. Was this an experiment, an initiation, the loss of innocence, justice or a prank? Is she a victim, a vigilante, a criminal or a relative? Who knows. Only Grandma, the Woodsman and the big bad Wolf know.

Definitely see this movie before any of the movies I mentioned earlier, otherwise you might be a little disappointed or have a sense of deja vu. The uncut (sorry for the pun) version of this movie (if it exists) should be required punishment for sexual predators, pedophiles, rapists, domestic abusers, female castrators and so forth. They should be strapped in and forced to watch (much like Alex De Large).

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Review of "Casino Royale" (2006)

Casino Royale (2006)

No no, Peter Sellers and David Niven are not in this one ...

Casino Royale is the first book of the James Bond series, written by Ian Flemming. This is the second movie adaptation with the same name (the first being a comedy, see 1967). Daniel Craig of Layer Cake fame is now James Bond. First of all I would like to clear the air of my experience with the Bond franchise. With the exception of License to Kill, the Bond franchise has been rather campy and over-the-top (a perfect entertainment vehicle). I have never really taken the franchise seriously, simply because it didn't seem to take itself too seriously. Bond had become synonymous with gadgets, girls, cars, over the top stunts, one liners, unbelievable plots and the now stereotypical nemeses (usually with a crazy looking/acting henchman, crazy conspiracy theory to take over the world, crazy built in timer doomsday devices, etc,etc.). License to Kill stands as my favorite James Bond movie, with the much underrated and often maligned Timothy Daulton. He was much different then the others. He had a certain mix of youth, emotion, athleticism, charisma, and suave, mixed in a very good proportion. He could be happy, sad, angry, confident, sexy, etc. Bond tended to be very one dimensional usually (with some exceptions, namely in License to Kill and On Her Majesty's Secret Service).

Sean Connery is still my favorite and tops my list. Daniel Craig is now second (his stock will rise if he keeps this up maybe giving Sir Connery a challenge in the top spot), with Daulton coming in third. Roger Moore picks up the next spot. Aussie George Lazenby is next followed by my all-time most reviled bond, Pierce Brosnan. After the despicable Brosnan Bond movies, the franchise had gone the way of Star Trek, namely into the gutter. The series need a serious dose of adrenalin and a good stiff, shock from a heart defibrillator.

What is the best way to administer the above? Simple. Clinical death followed by a new miraculous lease on life. Kill off Bond and start fresh. Forget the previous 20 something movies. Daniel Craig is Bond. Being that this is Fleming's first book, this is also the origin of Bond : How did Bond get his double 0 moniker and his first assignment as full agent. If you haven't seen it, please go watch Layer Cake. I cannot say enough about that movie and it's influence on this one. Daniel Craig is a youthful, prideful, supremely confident, athletic, suave, and yet slightly cockney James Bond. It is like looking at your college pictures. There are certain things you would like to change, but can't because you wouldn't be here without all those experiences. The same thing goes for Bond. He actually evolves during the movie. Craig's Bond isn't the always cool Connery, or the never sweats Moore, or even the bad one-liners of Brosnan. He is a real person, or as close to one as you can get from such a well known and fictional character. You actually feel like Craig can actually be James Bond, something the Brosnan never did for me (I always felt like he was playing a role and playing it apathetically).

Now to the plot. More realism and less campy is definitely the goal of this movie. There is no crazy megalomaniac boss at the top, but lots of little bosses all with not-so-grand schemes. This usually just involves promoting terror or making money. James Bond, after getting his 00 license to kill, turns a bit into Shelock Holmes and discovers a hornet's nest in the Bahamas. This all eventually leads him to Montenegro and a poker match at the Casino Royale, where the stakes are much higher then the $10 million buy in.

The movie seems to take notes from other "realistic" action movies (the Bourne series anyone). The opening sequence, with the chasing of the "burned" assassin is clearly a note to Banlieue 13. The assassin is Sébastien Foucan, a co-founder of Parkour along with David Belle (Leito from Banlieue 13). The fighting is also much more graphic and intense (thank you so much, Tony Jaa). Also Bond seems to rely less on his gadgets, which is good. He's no Batman, he's an agent of MI6. Even the series dependence on crazy cars and chase sequences is diminished. James doesn't actually use cars much, except to get from point a to b, and actually crashes his very nice and expensive sports car after only using the defibrillator (interesting mirroring metaphor to the franchise). There are fewer Bond girls as well. Only two (Eva Green and Caterina Murino) in this movie, which is not a bad thing, and actually allows for some character development.

The movie itself seemed to also take homage from within. Casino Royale seems to amalgamate the two aforementioned On Her Majesty's Secret Service (which goes into details about how Bond falls in love for the only time, plans to quit and his love interest is killed by one of his nemesis) and License to Kill (in which Bond goes AWOL on a personal vendetta against a drug lord who fed his CIA buddy, Felix, to a shark). This is not a perfect movie, but it does mark a new beginning. I didn't like a few things. First of all the product placement was ghastly. Thank you so much Sony for hedging your products into the plot to the point of distraction. Secondly, the love/betrayal/love plot between James and Vesper was a tad predictable. Also the inclusion of poker over Bond's preferred Baccarat was an interest sign of the times. It's nice to see Bond still prefers Bollinger and martini's (though he hasn't really picked how he wants it prepare yet). Of interest also note one of the funniest and equally cringing torture scenes ever. Anyway, this was a highly enjoyable movie, one of the best in the franchise and a great new beginning. I eagerly anticipate Bond 22 - Coming Soon.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Review of "Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan" (2006)

Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006)


He is Borat and he is in town. If you have not heard of Borat by now, you are probably one of the people living under rocks in Uzbekistan. Borat Sagdiyev is just one of the multiple personalities that is Sacha B. Cohen. This should all be familiar from Sacha's HBO show, Da G Ali Show. If you aren't familiar and happen to be one of the rock-burdened people from Uzbekistan with access to a computer and the internet, then by all means please read on.

Borat, heir of Boltok the Rapist, is a reporter from Khazikstan, sent to the US, along with his producer - Azamat Bagatov, to document American culture (under penalty of death). For those who don't know Borat (and as a way to show the before, before the after.) we first are taken to his home town of Kuczek. As a funny sidebar, this was actually filmed in a Gypsy shanty town north of Bucharest, Romania and not in Khazakstan. As a second sidebar, the things said in the town are even funnier than the subtitles. After a long, long and circumnavigating Indiana Jones-like plane ride, we arrive at JFK.

The premise of Borat is simple. A caricature simple foreigner (anti-femanist, anti-semitic, anti-gay, sexual deviant,etc) travels to another land, with all the faux pas as comedy and critique. For the magic to work certain criteria must be present. For one, the people Borat meets must not be familiar with Borat or his country. Next, the illusion of foreign documentary must be maintained. Thirdly is the air of spontaneity. For example, Borat singing the national anthem at the rodeo could have cost Sacha his life if it had lasted a few minutes longer. The actor was evacuated from the building for fear of his safety and/or a riot. At times the humor is quite physical and quite graphic. I personally could not stop laughing while others in the theater were wincing or just plain looking away.

You know you have made something meaningful when you upset people. If no one is upset, it means that it is universally acceptable or not important enough to justify a meaningful contradiction. This movie has upset a lot of people and with good reason. Borat instigates and often the second party fills in all the graphic and quite colorful, unscripted, personal nuances. It isn't that Borat is critiquing Khazakstan or the third world (which of course he is to an extent). He is criticizing our culture through our biased perceptions of "foreigners" and through our own instigation.

The movie reminds me of John Wilmot's Sodom, in terms of open critique, except without the monarch. Sic semper tyrannis, or something. The only problem I had was with all the previews and show appearances. A lot of the jokes could be seen there prior to ever setting foot within a theater. Even with all this "hype" I highly enjoyed this movie and I recommend it to others. Now to dust off those G Ali DVDs until the next movie or until the DVD of this comes out.


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Review of "Logan's Run" (1976)

Logan's Run (1976)

29.999 year old male seeks pre-30 year old. Purpose : A ride on the Carousel.

It is sometime in the 23rd century. The survivors of the global holocaust live in an Utopian-like structure (controlled and regulated by computer system) where mankind lives only for pleasure (plastic surgery, sex, drugs, orgy clubs, swinging, etc) separate from the world outside their domed structures.

This movie has a significance much apart from many other movies. It was made in the same year as my birth and this day being my year of renewal, marks this as a special occasion. Is it coincidence that a movie about pre-30 year old, was made at the same time? I shall answer that with a resounding NO. It is not coincidence.

Logan 5 (Michael York) is a "Sandman". He is essentially the enforcer of the new world. A Sandman takes out "runners"; 30 years old who attempt to flee the festival of Carousel (white robed and hockey-masked 30 year olds with flashing red crystals in their palms, wearing flaming tights underneath their robes, floating towards a white crystal and are eventually vaporized but they call it Renewal). His world changes when Logan meets Jessica 6 (the lovely and scantily clad Jenny Agutter) and her Ankh necklace. The computer informs Logan that Ankh is synonymous with Sanctuary (the place of refuge for the runners, most likely outside the domes). The computer expires Logan's life clock (flashing red palm crystal) to help him to infiltrate the underground and take it out. His mission becomes increasingly difficult because :

1) People are wary of others and are hateful of the Sandmen (only members of this society dressed in all black)

2) Francis 7 (Logan's best friend and also a Sandman) discovers Logan's run and pursues to terminate

The future world looks much like a mall. Everyone is young, scantily dressed in bright colors, plastic surgery is quite common, everyone likes to work out and exercise and the people have as much depth as cardboard cut outs. Farrah Fawcett's character (Holly 13) is a perfect indicator of the depth of people of this world. She actually has to be told her lines mid-movie.

The movie is quite dated in terms of special effects (even for the time). Future world is a model of domed structures connected by a toy monorail system. The interiors are mall-like and have a 70's perspective of the future (lots of glass, mirrors, and the heavy use primary colors). The clothing is also very 70's like. The movie proceeds in typical fashion of that era's "catastrophic future" genre (Planet of the Apes series, Omega Man, etc). With all this dated material this movie still manages to maintain integrity through the story (are you reading this George L ?). It is the same reason why 2001 continues to be an important and relevant piece of science fiction almost 40 years after it was made. The movie has the underbelly element of Big Brother, the foolishness and folly of youth, dogma and doctrine, and the exaggeration of the degradation of human behavior through lack of want. The movie is not bogged down by the social questioning nor does it dwell in the action. It is a perfect amalgam of science fiction, social commentary, action and adventure. This is a must see for science fictions fans. Growing old is nothing to fear, especially when you have Sanctuary. See you in Washington, D.C. when I'm 31.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Review of "Shaun of the Dead" (2004)

Shaun of the Dead (2004)

Señor B.B. Stache greets you:
The Winchester Pub at the End of the Universe.

This movie has been in the top 3 most played media on my DVD player over the last two years (the first two being Criterion's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and the episode of Family Guy when Brian become a drug sniffing police dog). It has all the right elements in the "w-right" proportions (sorry about the pun).

Shaun (Simon Pegg) is a pre-Carousel everyman working at a dead end job. Translation : 29 year old appliance salesman. He lives with 2 roommates that are the antithesis of each other. One is Ed (Nick Frost), the overweight, slightly lecherous, fart-making, gorilla impersonating, pot smoking (coincidental) underachiever. The other is Pete (Peter Serafinowicz), who is a type A personality. Shaun also has a counterpart, his girlfriend ,Liz (Kate Ashfield), who has never met his mother and wishes they could spend more time alone together (without Ed - how oxymoronic). Diane and David are Liz's friends, a.k.a. Ed's counterpart. Rounding up the cast is Shaun's Mom and Philip "He's not my dad. He's my step-dad." (Bill Nighy).

Shaun can be characterized much like Ed Norton's Fight Club character. In the modern world, Shaun is just ordinary or worse, mediocre. In the extraordinary circumstances he has been placed in, he excels, or perhaps find a purpose. The information about what is happening is in the background of the movie (newspaper headlines, TV new reports, unusual people activities,etc.), however (in a fashion typical to modern man), tends to be ignored or dismissed until it has to be taken care of on a personal basis. It is an interesting commentary/relationship on the over-saturated senses of modern humans and the media creators. It is also in line with the "zombie" genre explanation of why things are happening.

Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright continue their writing/directing magic from Spaced. They bring along most of the cast with them as well (Nick, Pete, Jessica Stevenson, and a couple others now credited as "zombie" extras). The dialog is great. It is sharp, full of humor and double-sided. The two provide a lot of homage to everything from Grandmaster Flash & John Romero to John Carpenter & video games. The movie is a great mix of horror, comedy and dramatic moments. There were moments I shed some salty drops and others when I was spasming on the floor laughing. Humor in the face of bizarre and terrifying moments is the overwhelming theme.

There are more quotable quotes and scenes than I have the space or time to write out. Also, it might detract from you enjoyment of the movie. My three favorite moments would have to be :

1) Zombie Acting 101

2) The choreographed zombie beat-down to "Queen-Don't Stop Me Now".

3) Introductory title sequence where the mundane activities of the extras are choreographed to "I Monster-Blue Wrath".

If you haven't seen this movie, I don't know what else to say that will convince you that this is one of the best movies of the new millennium. I you have seen it, then bugger off. Maybe you should go back and see it one more time, since its obvious you haven't had your fill yet. Get stuffed !!

Review of "Cry Wolf" (2005)

Cry Wolf (2005)

Written by the co-authors of Robot Monster and the "infamous Bobby Ewing is in the shower and not dead" episode of Dallas.

If you have seen Robot Monster or that infamous episode of Dallas, where a whole season was a "dream", then you will know what's going on in this movie. This has only two possible outcomes : 1) you love been lead astray along long twisty, dark avenues that lead nowhere and seemingly come out of left field or 2) you are angered, outraged and throwing your remote at the TV for the very same reason.

This all takes place at an elite boarding high school, where 8 elite students are bored with their "elite" existence. The 8 are made of a clichéd range of elite students including the misunderstood troublemaker, the sport-jock-meat-head, the I-think-I'm smarter than everyone else and even "the alternative" I'm doing this to get back at my parents. They play a game where they deceive each other to gain points. It is taken to an extreme, when they all agree to come up with a new game based on the events in town (a woman is shot in the face and her body is dumped in the woods). They decide to create a spam email, in which they fabricate a serial killer and his modus operandi.

This build up is typical, predictable and boring. It takes more than 1/2 the movie to get to the point where we start to wonder :

1) did the killer magically appear through some mass belief ("we-think-therefore-we-are" principle), or

2) is there a real serial killer out there and

a) did he just happen to read one of these emails and become interested or b) was it just cosmic fate where the fictional and reality coincide in the same place (Twilight Zone principle).

3) or the realization that this movie is going nowhere, and we know it's going to annoy us to no end, yet we want to stick around for the car crash just so we can throw anything within reach, at the screen.

Both Bon Jovi and Gary Cole make appearances in the movie, but you wouldn't really take notice due to the bad accents, limited screen time and canned dialog. There really isn't much to this movie. It is trying to "thrill" us, the same way a magician at a 6-year-old's backyard birthday party would pull a rabbit out of a top hat. I say for the sake of your home entertainment system, and your mental state, you avoid this movie and instead read a book or perhaps perform ritualistic body modification on yourself. Anything is better than watching this.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Review of "Runaway Train" (1985)

Runaway Train (1985)

Señor B.B. Stache greets you:
Manheim vs Ranken

I clearly remember the VHS cover of this movie at my local video store (the fore-mentioned mom and pop local video store). I also remember bits and pieces of it from late night cable. With all this exposure, one would think I would actually get to see the movie in it's entirety. Initially, I didn't expect so much passion and depth from this movie. It also seems like this might be an homage or definitely inspired by Jules Dassin's Brute Force.

The movie revolves around a "lifer" inmate (John Voight) at an Alcatrez-like prison in the wilderness of Alaska, run by an sob warden (crazy-eyed John P. Ryan). The warden had Manny (Voight) in a solitary cell, a cell that was welded shut, for three years. The warden is forced to release him after Manny wins his litigation in this matter. Everyone knows, the warden included, as to what Manny is going to do next. Escape or Die Trying !! The escape leads to a train yard and then to a train. Did I mention it takes place during an Alaskan winter ?

This movie has it all. It first starts out as a prison movie. It is very gritty and graphic. It then turns into a escape/heist picture, complete with sidekick (Julia Robert's brother). After the conductor falls off the train, it turns into the Towering Inferno disaster movie on a train. Through all this it is still an action movie. On top of all this, it layered with Shakespearean undertones mixed with Nietschian frosting. John Voight's performance as Manny is simply amazing. I would definitely characterize it as one of his best. Manny is the grit and the experience. He is juxtaposed by the relative innocence and idealism of his sidekick, Buck (Eric Roberts). The warden is the other major player. He acts as the pursuer and yet admires and fears Manny. They are more alike than each gives the other credit for. The train becomes a small stage (or maybe a petri dish) for the human race to play it's game out on.

The finale is filled with everything a heroic epic needs. There is sacrifice, glory, determination, perseverance, freedom and a little bit of sadness. We don't actually see the finale. We just fade to gray and white. I don't think anyone could have done it better. I highly recommend this movie for fans of true cinema.