Monday, July 23, 2007

Review of "The Sentinel (2006)"

The Sentinel (2006)

Clint Eastwood was better.

Michael Douglas is a Secret Service agent, who took a bullet for Bonzo, uh, I mean Reagan. That was then, this is now. Think Clint Eastwood in the Line of Fire, except instead of John Malkovich as the antagonist, we have a Secret Service mole and instead of Renee Russo as the love interest, Michael Douglas is having an affair with a former first lady (a.k.a. whatever happened to Kim Basinger).

The director, Clark Johnson, derives most of his experience from the television series Homicide : Life on the Street (in which he starred and even directed a few episodes) and S.W.A.T. If I wanted a realistic portrayal of tactical situations and procedures, Clark Johnson would be my choice. So if I wanted to make the movie version of Rogue Spear, Splinter Cell, Full Spectrum Warrior or a remake of Navy Seals, I would call him, knowing full well the story/plot would take the last seat at the back of the bus.

The movie has a very interesting initial premise that is then beaten, rapped, spat on, urinated on and set on fire. Michael Douglas is a decorated and respected agent who suspects a mole and then becomes the suspect. This was the part that hooked me and got me to keep watching. Unfortunately, this suspense lasts approximately 10 minutes and then dives head first into the deep, shallow end of clichéd predictability. What we are left with resembles direct to video or made for TV (a.k.a. Sci-Fi Channel original minus the laughter).

Kiefer Sutherland seems to be reprising his Jack Bauer role from 24 and Eva Longoria continues her meteoric rise to mediocrity, with her non-existent (or if it exists, untapped) talent (and by talent I mean actual acting ability and not just how she looks). Martin Donovan is also in the movie, but seems to have been typecast as either a doctor or some sort of law enforcement. I loved him in Weeds, but here he (and the rest of the cast as well) is as flat as 2 day old opened soda. It is nice to see Kim Basinger in a movie, but it seemed like they got her Bowfinger style. Maybe they told her they were filming a training video??

Unless you are an insomniac, have a strange attraction to whips, chains and beatings, are wasted to the point that you can't stand or walk or are a die-hard, lifetime member of the Michael Douglas fan club, I recommend you skip this one. According to my "shot scale" this is definitely a 5 drink minimum.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Review of "Ultraviolet (2006)"

Ultraviolet (2006)

Bloodrayne Aeon Flux '84

The above summary actually sounds better, as an idea in and of itself, than the resulting movie. After Kurt Wimmer's surprisingly entertaining and under looked Equilibrium (starring pre-Batman Christan Bale), I had high expectations for his third movie. I had seen this movie in it's theatrical debut. I remember leaving the theater, however, confused and bewildered. I figured the second time around would yield a better indicator of the actual worth of the movie.

Kurt Wimmer made a movie based on a non-existing comic book. The convoluted story is about a pathophobic authoritarian dystopia, where a super soldier virus evolves into a plague and leads to forced relocations and ultimately genocide. Two factions are born; the healthy (medial totalitarian state) and the infected (terrorist rebel underground - a.k.a. hemophages, a.k.a. "blood-eaters", a.k.a. vampires). Symptoms of the infection include stronger bones, better hearing and eyesight, faster healing and hyper-fast reflexes. The only drawback is the dozen year life span.

In all honesty, I like the first half of this movie. The first 5 minutes is an action movie delight, complete with an air bomb/bowling ball ninja death squad. The narrative voice-over, that follows, is when the dread begins. This is mostly due to the realization that this is a puree of preexisting ideas. Equilibrium (also a puree) worked because it didn't try too hard. It didn't fall into the computer graphics trap. It presented a world that was slightly askew, yet eerily possible. All those things that worked in Equilibrium have been tweaked here to the nth degree and subsequently combines into a Frankenstein movie. Unfortunately, it just looks, feels and acts too much like an Aeon Flux clone. Do we really need two?

The movie is a hell of a nonsensical but visually stimulating ride, until about 1/2 way through. This is about the time when our infected and meta-skilled heroine, Violet (Milla Jovovich), ends up on the fence between her people and the organization she is sworn to defend because her maternal instincts kick in. A highly skilled assassin turns into a highly skilled assassin-soccer mom. Milla Jovovich has a certain knack for picking outrages roles and generally excels in things requiring little acting ability. She does look exceptional in a tight body suit. Some of the technology has a nice wow-factor (gravity leveler and transportable space, to name a couple), but is simply there for show.

The second half of the movie is her trying to act in the middle of a nonsensical, non-stop action scenario. It becomes a case of "are we done yet?". It is just too much and too repetitious to deal with. Nothing new is added to the mix after this point, so it becomes a case of rinse & repeat. As in his previous movie, colors are primary and important. I guess Wimmer forgot to add the visual context, because all the color changes just seem to be part of the cool factor and have little to do with the plot. There is a lot of wire work and continuation of gun-kata (from Equilibrium). The problem is we are made to believe that a nurse and wife became an uber, meta-human assassin through a metabolic change and not training. Is Wimmer choosing nature over nurture or is he just so intoxicated off the smell of his own genius that he didn't even consider what he was creating?

For Wimmer this is his Modern Prometheus. It is the monster he created with his own hands, that is currently proving to be his outdoing. On my "shot scale" this is a 5 drink minimum. The top half is good, with the bottom half being synonymous to diving head-first into an empty swimming pool. Save the last 3 shots for the second half of the movie, as you will be bored to tears otherwise. Here's a toast to Wimmer. May his next movie not suck! Zum Wohl!

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Review of "Como Era Gostoso o Meu Frances (1971)"

Como Era Gostoso o Meu Frances (1971)
(a.k.a. - How Tasty Was My Little Frenchman)

Like Dances with Wolves, except with cannibals

This is a pseudo-documentary about a French mercenary whom is executed, ends up as a prisoner of the Portuguese and then is the "honored guest" of a cannibalistic Brazilian native tribe. The film is based on the 16th century account of a German explorer, Hans Staden, who was captured by the Tupinamba. The Frenchman becomes part of the tribe, is even given a wife and a hut, until he is to be eaten in a massive ceremony. During this time he tries to figure out a way to escape, by conforming to the tribe.

This film was originally banned in Brazil and was rejected from the Cannes Film Festival because of excessive nudity. The subject matter is portrayed in a documentary style, complete with shaky hand camera footage and including the spoken languages of French, Portuguese and Tupi. With the exception of the few European characters, the majority of the cast spends the film either bottomless, topless or both (also both sexes). The production value appears at first to be quite underwhelming, but I think instead it tries to emulate the simplicity and actuality of the situation rather than some ornate (or romanticized) recollection.

At the same time it is trying to be an objective observer, it is also a critique of mercantilism and its descendants; monetarism and capitalism. There is no real judgment being issued here, but rather is a look at the encounter of the cultures, in an anthropological or rather a more realistic reinterpretation of what occurred when these cultures interacted. Some have said this a black comedy, but I did not find too many places to break out into a roaring laughter (though I did chuckle a few times at the cultural misunderstandings).

This may sound like a rather dry film (which it is), but the relatively short running time makes it seem more like a PBS special than an actual feature film. The movie would also seem to resonate more with the situation and culture of Brazil (past and present). Brazil is a unique country, with a diverse history and culture. It was one of the first films that tried to relate to the "savages", in light of the audience's identification with the Europeans. Even 30 years later, its relevance continues.

Review of "The Hitcher (1986)"

The Hitcher (1986)

Never pick up a Dutchmen in the desert, even if you are falling asleep.

80's meat, C. Thomas Howell, is a glorified delivery boy named Jim Halsey. He's transporting the car he's driving, to it's owner in San Diego, California. While in the desert, he picks up a rain-soaked hitchhiker in the darkness, Rutger Hauer. The hitchhiker is initially quite uncommunicative, but quickly turns into dubious comic, with a minuscule switchblade (and asks questions like; "Do you want to know what happens to an eyeball, when it get punctured?"). Things become more complicated when the authorities get involved and believe Jim to be the mass-murdering psychopath. This is yet another movie I saw on Cinemax and the first with the incomparable, Rutger Hauer. It is also one of the only movies in which Jennifer Jason Leigh does not go partial or full nude.

The first 12 minutes is a delicate blend of darkness, tension building and serves as the introduction to this cat and mouse thriller. These initial 12 minutes, creates the mood of the movie and sets Rutger Hauer as the deadly, yet compellingly charming psychopath. Much in the same way Jigsaw of Saw, believes in the idea of sacrifice as a growth mechanism, so does the hitcher. This is in direct contradiction to the naivety of Jim. In someway I believe their relationship can be described as master/pupil or the physical expression of how experience overwhelms ideology.

What was I thinking?? This is an 80's movie with a whiny, C. Thomas Howell. There isn't that much depth. What there is plenty of is running, car chases and gun fights. Now rinse and repeat. By the third act, the movie loses most of it's steam and the ending (though quite action oriented and enjoyable) never captures the energy level of the first part of the movie. The backdrops consist of the aforementioned desert and also include gas stations, police stations, abandoned gas stations and miles of highway. You definitely get the impression that you are on your own out there.

This is one of those films that does not require much energy to enjoy and yet multiple views does not harm. I would rate this movie at a 3 shot minimum. The first should be drunk when Jim nearly falls asleep at the wheel. The second toast belongs to Jim's initial (and short-lived) victory. The third drink should be empty by the infamous "truck-trailer" decoupling scene. In conclusion, always listen to your mother and then ask yourself and others one question; "You gonna tell me where you're going ?"

Monday, June 18, 2007

Review of "The Tudors (2007)"

The Tudors (2007)

Part accurate, part artistic licensing does not add up to a "Rome" killer.

This Showtime series focuses on the young life of King Henry the VIII of England and seems to be a direct response to HBO's "Rome". Historically speaking, Henry becomes King at the tender age of 17 years old and marries his brother's widow, Catherine of Aragon (daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, who is 6 years his senior). Thomas Wolsey becomes Lord Chancellor and Cardinal in 1515 and this seems to be about when then the series begins. Henry is approximately 24 years old, at this point, and won't meet Anne Boleyn for another decade.

While more than a few historical inaccuracies occur as well as a bit of chronological confusion (Machiavelli's the Prince is written in 1513, but does not get publish until 1531, for example) much of the sets, costumes, mannerisms and ideas of the day are for the most part in the spirit of the era. The clothing does seem to be more accessible to sex, in light of history, but I assume this is due to some of that artistic licensing.

The sex, to me, seems to be the one aspect that tries to hard to keep pace with Rome's carnal delicacies and seems a bit forced and out of place. The way sex is portrayed seems a bit revolutionary and at least 100 years too early (Libertine era). What is accurate is the outdated and detrimental medical diagnosis of the day as well as Henry's desire for an heir (and subsequent separation from the Catholic Church, start of the English Reformation and influence of the New World).

Jonathan Rhys Meyers is the focal point of the series, playing the Renaissance man that was Henry the VIII. The king is multidimensional and complicated. Meyers does seem a bit underwhelming for a character that seems bigger than life. Sam Neal (Cardinal Wolsey) is ,also, the only other character to truly stand out from the cast (Rome had a thoroughly more distinguished cast). While Meyers and Neal do a good job, there is a certain lack of chemistry (professionally cool) between the all main characters (another problem Rome lacked).

The cities of his kingdom reminded me of the computer graphic backgrounds prevalent in episodes 1-3 of the Star Wars Trilogy; fake looking and lifeless. Rome the series managed to reproduce the intricacies and pulse of that era, down to the battlefield, markets and even the arena. The Tudors remains a bit cold and theatrical, relying mostly on interior sets. The series is very devoid on action and relies mostly on dialog and a slow moving plot (see I, Claudius as an example to the contrary). It lacks the epic quality of Rome along with fewer historically irreplaceable characters (no Julius Caesar, no Mark Anthony, no Cleopatra,etc). Perhaps the the Tudors translates too closely the English demeanor or maybe what it really lacks is the vision of a John Milius ?

Because of the lack of another good historically based drama (don't even mention BBC's Robin Hood series), I will continue to watch this series. It is definitely not as engaging or entertaining as HBO's Rome, but is currently the only game in town. Other notable historical oddities, left out of the show would include :

1)Lark's tongue as a English culinary delicacy.

2)Anne Boleyn tended to vomit in between courses and may have had six fingers on her left hand and three nipples.

3)A cure for baldness involved rubbing dog or horse urine into the scalp.

4)The same year as his coronation, Henry appoints a Groom of the Stool, whose sole purpose is to clean the royal sphincter.

Maybe if those details were present, this would make for a more interesting and authentic experience. As it stands, the show has yet to impress or find it's groove. Here's to your health, M'Lord.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Review of "42nd Street Forever: XXX-Treme Special Edition (2007)"

42nd Street Forever: XXX-Treme Special Edition (2007)

A Time Release Adult Capsule

If you haven't read my review of 42nd Street Forever Volume 1, you really should. This is volume 3 of the series and continues the movie trailer montage, except it switches to covering grindhouse's next door neighbor (namely porn).

Before the videocassette, DVD and the Internet, porn was viewable only in seedy theaters (usually next to grindhouse theaters). Because they were theatrically released, meant that there needed to be an actual story to keep you in the theaters after the money shots. With the 1980's also came the assembly line, cookie cutter porn. The story was no longer important and took a backseat to cheaper (and more frequent) productions, relying mostly on physical attributes. The 80's signaled the death of the "story porn". For reference, Boogie Nights shows this same transition.

Volume 3 compiles the trailers from 46 movies, made during the late 70's and early 80's. This would include cheesy 80's hair, clothes and music. Whatever happens, don't get caught humming the music while in line at the post office. The talent level (no pun intended) is quite high here. Names such as Harry Reems, Seka, John Leslie, Hyapatia Lee, Jamie Gillis, Stacey Donovan, Mike Horner, Nina Hartley, Ron Jeremy, Annette Haven, Peter North, Ginger Lynn, Joey Silvera, Vanessa Del Rio, John C. Holmes, Taija Rae, Randy West, Amber Lynn,Eric Edwards, Chelsea Manchester and Richard Pacheco, should be quite familiar to many. What is even more amazing is that some of them had actual acting ability and gave the movies a campy, fun (and yet absurd) quality. Some were highly educated and others, still, had actual acting training. Imagine what they could have done with a good script, a good director and the possibility to keep their clothes on.

The trailers are very graphic and include full on sex and nudity, so don't show this at the local PTA meeting. It is the 80's so you can expect butcher-like closeups, tan lines, bad hair cuts and hedges in full bloom. I would give this a 2 (of anything distilled) on my "shot scale". That is just to relax you, however. It is also much better to watch this in the appropriate company of others. These trailers are a time capsule of a bygone era. Recreate the experience by sharing with others, but please try and keep the Pee Wee Herman to a minimum.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Review of "Rocky Balboa (2006)"

Rocky Balboa (2006)

Hey, Tommy !! I didn't hear no bell.......

This is a segue into a tangent from Commando.

We can only hope, at this point, that Sylvester Stallone has heard the final bell and will be retiring Rocky. It is safe to bet that this is the last Rocky movie. The only exceptions would include 1) Sylvester Stallone as producer/director/writer but not actor; 2)Stallone in a cameo role (a Rocky movie where the namesake of the movie is a cameo role is either sheer madness or sheer brilliance) or 3) Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Ho-tep. Bruce Campbell as Sylvester Stallone, might work, with the right script. Maybe Rocky could fight Apollo Creed-Zombie?

So in light of the above, this is the farewell of one Rocky Balboa. The first movie was the introduction of the blue collar, Philadelphia everyman of Rocky Balboa, who got to live out the "American Dream". It is the quintessential sports movie, yet it isn't and even still, is much more. The second movie is in my opinion the worst of the series because it is essentially the first movie with a happy ending. It did have Rocky reading out loud and learning to read, which is funny. The third and fourth movies are products of the 1980's. Like the 80's, they are a bit gaudy, self involved, bright and very, very hyper (sniff here please). Also Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers) has been replaced by Clubber Lang (Mr. T) and Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren). After returning from abroad, the fifth movie is essentially Rocky down and out in South Philadelphia. We get back to Rocky's roots and to his legacy. This movie fits very nicely in this chronology.

This movie basically mirrors or is parallel to the first movie in everything except time. We return to all the people and places (that still remain) from his youth. There are some differences. Adrian is now sleeping with Apollo Creed. She's dead Jim!! No Talia, No Problem!! Paulie gets into the action by getting fired and becoming an angry drunk in the process. Rocky even manages a disturbingly uneasy pseudo-relationship with a woman that could be his daughter, in a Gump sort of way.

Rocky, himself, has turned into a Forrest-Gump-Spouting philosophical slab of aged and tenderized beef. He has his own restaurant, in which he walks around and entertains the patrons in true Mickey Mantle-like style. His relations are still strained with his son from the previous movie. This time around even Stallone's son did not want to replay Rocky's son (see Sage Stallone). Rocky (and/or Stallone by proxy) has not aged well. Rocky has become a prime example of too much steroid use and the recipient of too many blows to the head. If he didn't walk around, he could have been mistaken for an animatronic wax statue at Madame Tussauds.

In all honesty, the first time I saw this movie I couldn't help but feel as if this was trying to be a caricature of itself. Stallone's leathery skin and speech is enough to scare anyone into a laugh. There is a point where that changes. It took just one little speech to change it. I loved the speech Rocky gives to his son about life as not being how hard you could hit, but about how many hits you could take and keep going. Up to this point, the movie had been a comical look at Rocky. To be quite honest, all of the Rocky movies, with the exception of the first, have had thick layers of ham and cheese, inducing laughter in the process. Even though Rocky is older, doesn't mean he is any less funny. The speech epitomizes Rocky and salvages the movie.

The best part is that the actual fight is not the crescendo climax of the movie. This is the first Rocky movie in which his opponent is unimportant and unimpressive. Rocky's opponent isn't Mason Dixon (Antonio Tarver), but time itself. The moment the bell rings is both the triumph, victory and end of Rocky. It was the speech, however, that allowed me to see this movie a second time, for perspective. The second time around wasn't as funny, yet it still worked. It proves this isn't a one-trick pony sent to the glue factory. It isn't the best in the series, but it is a good send off for an icon. Hopefully, he stays there.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Review of "Commando (1985)"

Commando (1985)

Commando. Kirby. Code Red. Coordinates. Got it.

I used to have a VHS copy of this movie that I watched so much, that I wore out the tracking. This is only the second movie (the first being the Terminator), I had ever seen, in which the Austrian sensation did not yield a sword, wear a furry loin cloth or ride a horse. This has the quintessential formula for a Schwarzenegger action movie. Key elements of this formula would include non-stop action, gun play, one-liners delivered with accented stoicism, the muscles and a body count numbering in the hundreds.

In Last Action Hero (an often misunderstood and underrated Schwarzenegger parody action movie with comic elements), Jack Slater (Arnold) and Danny (his pint-size partner from the real world) are in a video store. We are shown an alternate universe where Sylvester Stallone is the star of Terminator 2 : Judgment Day. In that same universe, this movie could well be looked upon as Schwarzenegger interpreting John Rambo.

John Matrix (Schwarzenegger) is a single dad and retired ultra-elite commando living incognito with his daughter, Alyssa Milano. A prepubescent Alyssa Milano, on top of that. I can't make this stuff up. Other members of his elite unit are being systematically eliminated in a convoluted ploy to reveal Matrix's location and kidnap his daughter. Her kidnapping would be used as leverage to force Matrix to perform a presidential assassination. Instead, Matrix uses his commando skills in detecting her location and executing a rescue. His skill set would include : commando driving, commando killing, commando shooting, commando hand-to-hand combat, commando jumping, commando sneaking, commando super senses, commando acting and commando shopping.

The plot isn't very convoluted and reveals itself to be quite straightforward. The non-stop, over-the-top action, sheer personality and pronunciation of Schwarzenegger is what keeps this movie entertaining. That and the sheer body count. I counted 89, but that is a conservative estimate. 85 of those occurred in the last 20 minutes of the movie. The supporting cast is atrociously bad and does nothing to help him. This is a one-man-show. Dam Hedaya's presidentially Latin accented English, Alyssa Milano's best Tammy Faye Baker impersonation and the pathetically whinny (and psychotic) nemesis of Bennett (Vernon Wells) do little except show off the smoked Gouda inherent in the movie. Wells is much better as the crazy, silent type (see the Road Warrior and Innerspace) than the talkative psychotic. Even pre-Boca Rae Dawn Chong barely manages to steal any of the spotlight from the Governator.

I have enjoyed this movie from my youth and it has not lost any of its 80's charm (steel drum soundtrack included). It is impossible to take this movie seriously, so don't. In the real world, the movie would have ended when Matrix jumped out of a jet airline into a 3 foot deep marsh or during the Mall mêlée or while single handedly taking out a small and well armed militia (and dishing the catchy one-liners). So kick back, have a drink (or several) and let off some steam. This is one is sure to not let go.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Review of "Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)"

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End (2007)
The Trilogy Curse Strikes Again

This is yet another summer blockbuster gone Hollywood awry by being a bloated, self-indulging "more is better" behemoth. The series is based on my favorite Disney amusement park ride of the same name. By this point I was surprised that the end product has been this tolerable, considering the sword of Damocles hanging precociously over the entire series. At World's End was the piece-of-eight in my beer that overflows the glass.

The story takes over from the end of Dead Man's Chest: Davy Jones' Kraken kills Jack Sparrow, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann are in couple's limbo, Captain Barbossa returns from the dead and newcomer Lord Cutler Beckett is attempting to do away with all pirates. If you thought the second movie was confusing and went nowhere, then you will be right at home here. Where the second movie contrasted the unevenly paced and somewhat dull movements of the first movie by going over the top(and campy) with the plot, action and characterizations, the third movie tries to outdo the second movie through sheer bulk.

Up to this point the saving grace of the series is Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp). This movie ultimately dumps him into a secondary backup role in favor of promoting Barbossa, Will Turner and Elizabeth Swann (who continue their pouting, emotionless whining as primary backups to Rush's pirate babbling). Davy Jones, who once was good character, has now been reduced to a lackey. Chow Yun Fat seems to be doing his best impersonation of Vincent Price or Chistopher Lee, by starring in useless cameo roles. Maybe for his next English language movie, he can add to his contract that his character must at least live into the second half of the movie. The character of Calypso is a complete waste of time as that story arc sinks to the bottom of the ocean (literally). There is a nice cameo of Keith Richards playing Sparrow's pirate father, that comes across more like the king of the gypsies than a pirate captain and ultimately is useless and fluff. The characters of Pintel, Ragetti, Mr. Gibbs, Cotton and Marty round out the supporting pirate cast and provide a nice array of comic moments. That's they're role after all and they do it pretty well.

The continuation and proliferation of a plot based on backstabbing the back stab, with a back stab and double-dealing double deals, just had me not caring. It had gotten a bit ridiculous before and it is even worse now. In this movie, I just didn't know why people were doing things except that it was in the script. This is a major problem with story telling these days. Instead of writing a compelling story that you can experience over and over, writers instead option out for ridiculously convoluted stories with improbably plot points that stretch out over long periods of time without saying anything (or when it does say something it is horribly simplistic or enigmatic to the point of confusion).

You are probably asking what is left. There is some action, though not a much as you would think and spread unevenly. The start of the movie has very little action, but it eventually gets to it. It is much more satisfying than Spider-Man 3 (which isn't saying much), but at times it doesn't know when to stop. The final action sequence (what Fleet Week should be every year) is a perfect example of too much, including the most ridiculously cheesy pirate wedding in the middle of a battle while falling into a vortex in the middle of the ocean. I kid you not.

Ultimately, this movie seemed to be lacking enough of Jack Sparrow. When he is on screen he is no longer the cunning rascal and is quite predictable. It was interesting to see Johnny do his best Being John Malkovich impersonation, however, his character was amusing at best. Whether Johnny, the script,the director or sheer over-use of the character is to blame, what is true is that Jack Sparrow needs to sail into the sunset on his dingy.

This slack is picked up by the man who single-handedly made Peter Sellers an uninteresting bore. He is the constant of the movie. Now who wants to see the dead-pan and unfunny pirate rantings of Geoffrey Rush over the course of two hours and forty minutes? I sure don't. By the end, I was wishing Barbossa would have had his head hacked off or at the very least got shot in mouth.

You maybe thinking this is a little graphic, but it is in the spirit of the movie. This is probably one of the most graphically violent movies I have seen from Disney (so far?), and without a doubt the most violent in the series. The opening scene is a grime gallows, where men, women and children are being hung. This segues into a musical number reminiscent of Pink Floyd's the Wall and I was on the floor laughing. Unfortunately, I was the only one in the theater to do so.

There is a political message there, but it is superficial and confused at best (dark times/dark empire/current events). Much as Leonidas' freedom speech had me laughing during 300, so did Elizabeth Swann's pirate freedom . It would be the equivalent of writing a speech about human rights and making Joseph Stalin deliver it. The intentionally funny moments are mostly tepid and everyone involved seems somewhat over the subject. The apathy is not as bad as the cast of Spider-Man 3, but it is still present.

The movie predictably wraps up the story and is the best thing that could have happened to the series (namely finish). The editing is atrocious and seems to have been done by recovering alcoholics, locked in a liquor store over a 4 day weekend. The similarities to Return of the Jedi are uncanny. Here's wishing we don't get any prequels.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Review of "The Hidden (1987)"

The Hidden (1987)
"An explanation is not going to help", replied the movie.

Even though the title may imply otherwise, the plot and plot twist is reveled to us from the beginning. This is an action/science fiction mash up from the 80's, starring Lynch alumni Kyle MacLachlan, Michael Nouri and B-movie diva Claudia Christian. This sounds like the perfect cast for a Tarantino movie, just add Sizemore or Michael Madsen. Danny Trejo (who makes a cameo here) will be the common link. It is definitely a hidden gem for those that know about it.

I can remember watching this movie on Cinemax in the middle of the week, around the early afternoon. It was always in the 3:30 - 4:00 PM slot. It is not overly ambitious, yet the end product has infinite replayability. The soundtrack is a combination of stock 80's music (which sounds cheesy, catchy and quite indicative of the period) and some synthetic alien sounds. I can compare this movie to Alien Nation, I Come in Peace, Dead Heat, Total Recall, the Running Man, the 6th Day, My Best Friend is a Vampire (another catchy 80's soundtrack) and even the Peacemaker (which strangely enough has a similar plot, just a different type of alien). The main elements throughout all of them is the buddy cop/tag team concept, occurring in unusual situations (for example, with aliens, postmortem, clones,etc). They are a somewhat of a guilty pleasure, but still not as guilty as after you have downed 3 double shots of Southern Comfort, before watching this movie (my new rating system). While the shots are not necessary for the pain or enjoyment of movie, it does pass the time.

This is classic good guy, bad guy. There are cops and crooks. The twist is that it's a revenge/duty story about aliens (another world and not just across the border) in L.A. These aliens, like fast cars (Porsches and Ferraris), loud music, women and money. "Who doesn't?", you're thinking. It's the 80's, when sealing the deal involved a drink and a snort. The concept of taking by force is not lost on the aliens. The plot is based in the detective procedure, in which a lot of gunfire appears to be a requirement. The progression of the plot is relatively brief, albeit logical (if not a bit visor-vision) and entertaining.

I would attempt to figure out if there is any social commentary hidden in there, but who am I kidding. Thats why you were watching this movie on Cinemax, Tuesday afternoon, right after that nap on the coach. You aren't looking to relish in the human condition by empathically connecting to some talk show host. You want to be woken up by the sheer visual bloodlust and auditory force of the movie. Thankfully this movie has enough of that or rather enough gas to get you there comfortably and as quick as possible. The views are passable. It is perfect on lazy Saturday/Sunday afternoons as well.

*Use with caution, as the results have a risk of dependency.

Review of "¡Mátalo! (1970)"

¡Mátalo! (1970)

I am so bored of being parched in the desert and not caring.

Six years after Sergio Leone's A Fist Full of Dollars created the term "spaghetti western" and the passing of the San Fransisco acid wave of the 60's, someone thought it would be a good idea to combine the two. It would be a showcase for the international talents of Bolivian born actor Lou Castel, Argentinian actor Luis Davila (a.k.a - Luis Devil), Zaire born actress Claudia Gravy, the Italian Corrado Pani and directed by Cesare Canevari. For those familiar with the sultry naiveté of Emmanuelle, Canevari was the director of the first. If you haven't guessed so far, this is all a recipe for disaster.

Speaking with "J" (a friend and I don't mean the John Malkovich currently residing inside of Will Smith) about my reviews, he suggested I should make them my own somehow. I thought I had already done that, but it got me to thinking. I'm not sure if anyone has used this concept before, but here goes. I could rate movies based on a "shot scale". That would be the amount of shots required to enjoy or completely forget about the movie in question. It would only be in use for what I consider to be bad movies (also includes the "good-bad"). So for example, Matalo would require me to down 7 shots of Jagermeister, SoCo (minus lime) or Gentleman Jim D (or a combination of all 3 that would total 7 shots still). So the higher the "shot count", the worse the movie (inverse order to the normal scale). Now back to Matalo.

The whole plot of the movie revolves loosely around the heist of a United States official luggage from a stagecoach in the middle of the desert. We don't get to this point until about 1/2 way through the movie, however. The main character loves the smell of gunpowder, money and women. From the predictable "gore" introduction, I was getting an uneasy feeling in my gut and it wasn't because of the two shots I had quickly guzzled. The "gore" is quite light (even by 1970 standards) and seems almost melodramatically over-theatrical. For an action western, the action is as lively as the ghost town backdrop ; squeaky, rundown, dusty, but with lots of water. I have never seen the desert and water concept/metaphor driven this much into the ground, yet with as little emotion (or sweat) as possible. The director was obviously very influenced by Chappaqua and other "psychedelic" films, as he over uses their effects ad nauseam (literally sometimes). I mean how many times can we show spinning, Outer Limit's tilted framings, and close-ups of thespians with goofy expressions? This is a poor, drunk, blind and deaf man's version of El Topo. It's an Italian import, but definitely not a Ferrari.

90 minutes of that, mixed in with bare-bones dialog and acting (the dialog and acting in this movie share a border with pantomime) is too long I think. The plot could help, right? Not really. Characters coming out of the desert can't help this one, either. The acid rock soundtrack is actually not too bad, however, it is metaphorically alone in the desert with no water. I felt like I was watching Sergio Leone's evil hack clone remaking Tell Your Children (Reefer Madness) for posterity. It's really a smelly, decaying carcass that one million boomerangs cannot save, but it is still in the desert. If you're going to go there, bring the essentials (drugs/alcohol and a gun to shoot yourself afterwards). If you heed my advice, seek Django.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Review of "Grindhouse (2007)"

Grindhouse (2007)
Missing reel?? I think not. The Porkchop Express rides again.

Much like a Rocky movie or a Jackie Chan classic gung-fu movie, an elaborate montage of training scenes is required here. Please include the jogging, mastering of elaborate martial arts techniques seemingly overnight, chasing chickens and fighting slabs of meat (and I don't mean Stallone). My preparation was mental, spiritual and even physical. I primarily prepared myself by going to the cliff notes of grindhouse (42nd St. Forever Vol 1,2,3). This was not my sole preparation. I also skimmed the classics and even managed time for things I had not seen. I was ready. (For more on grindhouse, see my review of 42nd St Forever, Vol 2).

Initially I was to see this movie on opening weekend (Easter weekend) at AMC 42nd Street at the midnight showing (it would have been perfect). It was not to be as my body decided it had other plans. It wasn't a total loss as I did get to see it at AMC 42, with a smaller, but excited audience. At the box office, it has done terribly and I think this is in part mostly due to the its marketing, release date and subject matter. This is not a mainstream movie. It is a niche homage and perfect movie for the fans, but not for the masses. This is more than a movie, as it is a time capsule of a movie experience.

Theatrical breakdown (in order):

1) "Machete" trailer - directed by Robert Rodriguez

2) "Planet Terror", the first feature - also directed by Robert Rodriguez ("Grindhouse" titles instead)

3) "Werewolf Women of the SS" trailer - directed by Rob Zombie

4) Tex Mex food ad

5) "Don't" trailer - directed by Edgar Wright

6) "Thanksgiving" trailer - directed by Eli Roth

7) "Death Proof" (a.k.a - Thunderbolt), the second feature - directed by Quentin Tarantino

Planet Terror starts out with a heart pumping pole dance by the salacious Rose McGowan. The rest of the movie is an adrenaline ride based on the Return on the Living Dead and Assault on Precinct 13, complete with grape jelly CG blood and lots of zombies. The action is over the top (machine gun leg, helicopter, firepower, etc) but felt more like 80's "R"-rated action movie than grindhouse. I felt like Rodriguez didn't really get grindhouse. The humor works for the movie, but the feeling throughout is that it doesn't take itself too seriously. It should be serious, but is too much tongue-in-cheek. While visually nice and heart-pounding, it lacked passion. This is the part of the movie most people enjoyed. I would give it 7/10.

Death Proof is Tarantino's answer to I Spit on Your Grave (a.k.a. Day of the Woman), with cars and a pinch of Rutger the Hitcher and Duel. And not just any cars, but heavily modified muscle cars. Most people felt bored by this feature, since it involved a lot of talking. First of all this is a double-feature and I usually don't expect the same movie type twice (would also make it a bit repetitive and boring). I think the segue, though rough on some with caffeine/sugar addiction, is a nice way to tuck you in for the remainder of the movie. It is classic grindhouse and the dialog is done in classic Tarantino style. It sounds really cool but not much is said. I would call it "elevated wasted dialog". It contains the best death scenes of either feature. I was clapping and cheering by the end of it. I give it 10/10.

The trailers (and the features as well) are pure homage; From the missing reels, to the static, to the skips, pops, burns, movie posters and even Jack Burton's T-Shirt. As with most things Tarantino, the soundtrack is eclectic. It works for his feature, but outside of the movie it falls a little flat. I guess Kill Bill set the bar a little high. Rodriguez, on the other hand, uses a more traditional soundtrack. As with other Tarantino movies there is a revival of talent with Michael Biehn, Josh Brolin and Kurt Russel. They are not alone and makes for a great cast; from Cheech to Nicholas Cage.

Grindhouse is a part of America that is now gone. A back alley America with dirt on its hands and it didn't care. A blue collar attitude that has instead given way to a white shirt and tie and nothing but veiled political correctness. Some of us got to experience the former. This preserves that experience, albeit it in more antiseptic environment. If you like movies, film and/or the visual arts (and you don't just think of movies as only entertainment), then you should see this movie. It is not for everybody. But for those (like me), who thought this was coconut cream pie with whip creme, then here's to hoping for an unrated-missing reels included version on DVD.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Review of "Spider-Man 3 (2007)"

Spider-Man 3 (2007)
The Public Castration and Impotence of Spider-Man (a.k.a. the former secret of Peter Parker) by Dr. Phil

The potential for subject lines here are as infinite as where I could start with just how bad this movie is. Bad maybe an exaggeration. Knowing what I know about Spider-Man and of Raimi's work, it is bad. The movie by itself is barely average. In the echelon of the trilogy, this movie would be dead last. I haven't been this disappointed by a finale of a trilogy since Matrix Revolutions. I'm not counting Revenge of the Sith because in all honesty we knew it was going to be bad from the beginning (it is somewhere in the void of "it's so bad its decent"). The second movie is the best in the trilogy and one of the best "comic book movies" made. This one meanders from the start with the opening credits involving a montage of scenes from the first two movies (minus Alex Ross). Did I just have my memory wiped? No, that would be one of the main characters (more on this later).

Where as the first movie was relatively slow, I can understand that the character and story development was needed. The follow up had all the elements in all the right proportions. Part three simply tries to be better by sheer force. If 1 villain was good, then 3 must be 3 times better, right? WRONG. If the trial, tribulations and personal problems of Peter Parker was meaningful to the character's development, then dropping a truck load of melodrama will make it that much better, right? WRONG. There is just too much of everything, except action. For those that thought Death Proof was boring, the first half of this movie will have you sucking down a Extra-Super-Large Coke just to maintain a semblance of consciousness. I felt like maybe Barbara Walters and her View cronies had written aspects of the script. I know Peter Parker is not your typical superhero, who often delves into his personal life and emotion, but did we have to give him estrogen therapy? Others have called this movie "dark" and full of revenge. By dark they must have meant the costume and/or lighting and by revenge they must not have seen OldBoy (or any of Chan-wook Park's revenge trilogy). There are too many nemeses, too much meaning-less dialog and situations we have already dealt with in some form and not enough new things. All the growth and development is at the end and done in such a lackadaisically talk show-like moment. I'm not even going to comment on the crappy and sudden "sunset" ending or the "apology". Ugh. Now I have to gargle some Stolichnaya to keep the vomit down.

There are few things that are good. The thing that foremost stood out in my mind is Sandman. I'm not talking about the character, but the CG creation. It is simply amazing and left me in awe. The Venom character is also impressive, but it did not resonate with me as much as Sandman. Maybe that was because Eric Forman kept talking out of the creature, with unscripted comic high jinks. I was half expecting a Chevy Chase-like pratfall somewhere (I think this is more of a problem with the actor than the character). The only other standout for me is the incomparable Bruce Campbell. He single-handedly outshines any of the marquee names in this movie (and he does this with a very limited screen time) and is one of the most vastly underrated actors out there. The black-suited Spider-Man is also interesting and has a couple of nice moments, but overall felt underwhelming (more is better equation again). The few good moments (Peter's dark side dancing included) are overwhelmed by repetition and muffled by long stretches of nothing.

The movie is a summer blockbuster gone bad. It was almost as if everyone involved was forced to work on this movie out of contractual obligations. It is completely soulless and the antithesis of the previous two movies. Even New York is missing, replaced by a generic looking metropolis. This would seem to be the case if you heard the way Tobe Maguire and Kirsten Dunst speaking on the "promotion tour" of the movie. I would be surprised if either of them (or the director) hook up for a fourth movie (this of course does not take in account the money and people's desire to sell as much of themselves as possible). It just seemed that everyone was tired of it all. Tobe plays Spider-Man in either a "robot-mimic" style or an over-the-top emotional fake. Does Spider-Man even need a costume anymore? Everyone seems to know who he is. Was Raimi looking towards the recent Marvel House of M and Civil War events for inspiration? Dunst is back to playing the flat Mary-Jane, who yet again is only good for kissing and requires constant rescuing. Topher Grace just doesn't fill up Venom's suit well and his acting acumen has not elevated him past Eric Forman(yet). Sandman as character made me yawn. About the only good characterization (apart from Bruce Campbell) would have to be James Franco (Harry Osbourne). He is the only one who actually looks like he cares; too bad he gets amnesia, his motivations change more times than a manual transmission and his butler has a sudden outbreak of Alzheimer's.

I didn't even mention the story, but that's mostly cause it just seems to be a collection of coincidences. One could say a Reader's Digest edited version of the best of Spider-Man. This movie reminds me much of the X-Men 3 movie except that movie made me laugh my ass off (unintentionally of course). I actually had high expectations for this movie, albeit I had a feeling it was going to try too much. I didn't expect too much to equal bad. Unless you are a teen, pre-teen or a drooling vegetable, you are probably not going to enjoy this movie much. Go back and see the previous two movies for your Spider-Man craving.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Review of "Bottom Feeder (2006)"

Bottom Feeder (2006)

Adventures in Maintenance

This movie's notoriety comes not from itself but rather as a rest stop in the Twilight Zone that is the life of Tom Sizemore. It was prominently showcased in the VH1 reality show about the events following rehab and the crystal meth induced flashbacks of Tom Sizemore's "Shooting Sizemore". It is clear from watching the show that this movie was not an option for Tom Sizemore. It is obvious that he had money problems at the time and would have done dog food commercials if anyone had offered. It is also the movie he quit two days into shooting. After a lot of soul searching, this movie was filmed and Tom was back on the road.

This is a low-budget straight to video type movie. If Tom wasn't in this movie, no one would have probably blinked. There is no originality in anything this movie tries. The elements are piecemeal Frankenstein with Machiavellian conspiracies from the vantage point of custodians. The release of this movie in any form is an accomplishment in itself. I keep thinking this would have been perfect on an adult version of the Sci-Fi Channel. Oh right, thats Cinemax.

A scientist develops a Wolverine-like serum with consequences (which are somewhat vague and leave the possibility for a sequel). An offspring of Pineapple Pokopo and Bruce VeSota attempts to get the serum for his own needs. The serum is not tested and the scientist is "volunteered" to test it. The rest is a Predator-like cat and mouse game, in some abandoned sewer-like corridors. First they try and capture it. When that doesn't work, elimination is the next option.

Tom does an adequate job with a half-ass story and horrible dialog. This is the kind of dialog that belongs in a Steven Seagal movie. You can tell Tom is just going through the motions and he still outshines everyone else. I am not even going to wonder where they got the fake Jamaican hobo, Sarge. I haven't seen a performance that bad since Jar Jar Binks tried it.

This is an appropriately titled movie, since Tom was rock-bottom at the time and everyone else has been scrapping the bottom of the acting barrel for years. I wouldn't be surprised if some of these "actors" had to act for food (a.k.a. porn). It isn't that this movie is enjoyable, it is more that it is not annoying (except for Sarge). Give it a chance as a rental, if you like low-budget modern schlock or Tom Sizemore.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Review of "Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)"

Better Luck Tomorrow (2002)

MTV presents Asian Kids

What I mean is this seems more like an amalgam of Kids, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Cheats, Dazed and Confused, Napoleon Dynamite, Risky Business, Trainspotting, Juice and Very Bad Things, from a teenage, angst ridden Asian perspective. Things get real. Instead of hanging out doing drugs, and having sex, these "kids" study hard, get good grades and build up extra curriculum activities to get into a good university. The twist is that all this is a facade/cover for their teenage rebellious activities in the suburbs, again from an Asian American perspective. This is when the Math Club pulls scams, sell drugs, uses drugs, parties like '99 and guns (Colt '45, maybe ?), in an attempt to be the high school Triads.

No one is who they seem to be. Through this cycle of events, life is lived and things are learned. Growing up is tough and sometimes it is more than shelter, warmth and food. The movie somewhat implodes in the third act when making an omelet takes precedence over it all. I do believe this is one of the director's (Justin Lin) best. This isn't saying much. The whole experience isn't overly original but time passes quickly and it sure beats Annapolis or Tokyo Drift.

Saturday, April 7, 2007

Review of " 3 Dev Adam ( 1973)"

3 Dev Adam (1973)
a.k.a. Captain America and Santo vs. Spider-Man

Deep within Turkey..... a woman's purse, Captain America, flag on the moon.

One of the most auspicious movie starts in history, yet a walk in the part for movies coming out of Turkey. I thought I had seen everything Turkey had to offer. From Turkish Star Trek and Star Wars to Turkish Superman to Turkish Young Frankenstein. I was not prepared for a mostly green Spiderman, with a red hood and giant, untrimmed eyebrows.

This isn't your Marvel Spiderman though. Turkish Spiderman is leader of a gang. His whole racket involves smuggling artifacts from Turkey to the US, selling them cheaply to dealers and then buying them back with fake money. The opening scene is of Spidey and his gang building a hole in the sand, dropping some woman in a night gown into it and then pushing a boat (along with its turned on power motor) into her face. The Spider (as he is called in Turkey) has no powers whatsoever. He knows movie martial arts, is quite the escape artist and tends to sneak up on people. His primary weapons include a 2 inch knife, a shower head, shish-kabobing people and a complicated torture device involving hamsters. Welcome to Turkey !!

Aytekin Akkaya is Turkish Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (minus a shield which would have cost extra). You may remember him from Turkish Star Wars. Sadly I cannot forget seeing his shirtless performance as he bounced around on the screen. His partners include a luchidore who stores everything in the crotch of his tights and a female secretarial assistant (who does most of the undercover work). Their mission is to stop the Green menace (thank you Jonas).

This is truly an exercise in Turkish 70's film making. Turkish movies often remind me of the old movie serials (Flash Gordon, Batman and Robin,etc). They seem to be made on the cheap, poorly edited, poorly acted and done very quickly, often with little regard for intellectual property (the music seems to be from a James Bond movie). It is as if this is Turkey's attempt at mimicking the exploitation movies coming out of the US and/or the martial arts movies coming out of Asia. Exploitation is definitely what this movie is going for. It has all the elements for grind-house: a striptease (with pasties), graphic violence, shower scenes in underwear, crappy disco music, sex and alcohol. Well what did you expect, Turkey is a much different place? What was tame for us was probably raunchy for them. Context people, context.

As with all the 70's Turkish movies I have seen, I cannot take them seriously. I find them quite amusing along with the lingering misogynistic undertones (seems like more women died in this movie than men). There also seems to be a lot of time spent in showing running, driving and chasing. If you have never seen a Turkish movie, try to get one with the appropriate subtitles. Understanding the dialog will only help you slightly, as the plots and edits are "complicated" (not to mention the cultural differences). I have seen Turkish movies without the subtitles and I can tell you it gets pretty confusing (Turkish Star Wars, I'm looking at you).

These movies would have been prime candidates for MST3k. If only that were still possible. Maybe in an alternate universe. Until then, make mine a double whiskey. It's for the pain.

Review of "Come Rubare la Corona d'Inghilterra (1967)"

Come Rubare la Corona d'Inghilterra (1967)
a.k.a. Argoman
Aren't hovercrafts great ??

Roger Browne is Argoman (a.k.a. Sir Reginald). A Bruce Wayne (a.k.a. Batman) like character, without the brooding and fighting crime. Think of Roger Browne living the playboy lifestyle in a wrinkled Roger Moore mask. The differences are also very striking for each of their alternate personas. Batman is an athletic, crime fighting inventor (or at least what he's evolved into). Argoman is a telekinetic pervert who manipulates people, governments and especially women, for the sake of "world peace". While Batman wears the blue/black outfit, black cape and generally looks like bat, Argoman is dressed in sunshine yellow (with black underwear), black hood with Cyclops' red visor and a black cape with red velvet lining. Batman had Gordon as his official contact, while Argoman indirectly uses an uptight Scotland Yard inspector. Both have swinging bachelor pads. Batman generally doesn't work outside of Gotham City (not counting his work in the JLA), while Argoman mainly focuses on global problems. Batman's nemesis would have to be the Joker, while Argoman has Jena Belle, Queen of the World. I don't think Batman would be making out with Joker or that Joker would be telling Batman how he'd want him inside of him. Batman's services are not available for purchase, while Argoman works not for money nor gold, but instead for historical one-of a kind museum pieces. But then again this isn't Batman. It is Argoman.

Now to elaborate. Batman has no special talents. Argoman is a telekinetic. A telekinetic Samson, with the power in his sperm. When he loses it, he loses his power for exactly 6 hours afterwards. Argoman is no Jedi knight. Celibacy is not the answer and technically this was filmed in the "swingin' sixties. This leads to some interesting theories. For example, is his libido somehow connected to his power? Does he need to wait 6 hours before he can have sex again or is it just the powers that need a recharge? On a tangent, this could be a perfect candidate for the plot of a comedy/adult movie (is NC-17 still around??). Orzasmo II : Orgasm in Paradise ?

This is truly an inspiring performance by Roger Browne (a.k.a. Roger Moore's older, older brother). It was one drop kick away from completely channeling William Shatner. Are you thinking of William Shatner playing Batman or maybe Adam West? Yeah me too. I wonder if Shatner was separated at birth from his older, English brother?

If you liked Austin Powers, James Coburn's Derek Flint or even Dean Martin's Matt Helm, then you'll like this spy who's also a superhero. It is very much like a watered down and sweetened version of Bava's Diabolik. This is light sauce, nothing heavy here. The music is upbeat and typically 60's "acceptable" pop instrumentals. This occurs in all scenes, thereby negating the chance that any of this is suppose to be serious. It is visibly tough in cheek on the obvious parody. Its not as overt as Austin Powers, but it is definitely there.

It is quite formulaic in story and layout. The soundtrack and visuals are mostly forgettable. There is nothing original about any of it, yet it just works somehow. It is enjoyable and campy enough to not even notice how the time flew by. I would have given this movie a higher score but the sheer amount of Roger Browne de-robements left me much depleted and nauseous. I guess he used the Shatner clause in the contract which most likely stated that he must act in at least a third of the movie in his robe. The studio agreed when they realized how much money they were saving on the costume budget (S&M henchmen not included). Argoman does make it up to us, by showing us an interesting array of modified pick up techniques involving telekinesis, a bow, a suspended bed, a Rolls Royce, being rescued from a robot holocaust, The Price is Right and a phone call . Was that shoot the red or the white? I guess I have to watch this again.

Review of "Fast Food Nation (2006)"

Fast Food Nation (2006)
What doesn't kill you, makes you stronger.

When I initially saw the trailer, this looked to be a dark humored satire, much like Thank You for Smoking. It isn't. It actually is not funny at all. The movie completely blindsided me and not entirely in a negative way. It was more surprise than anything. It is still nice to see that a movie is still capable of this.

The movie seems to be less about fast food itself and more about the culture that spawned it. It is full of Magnolia-like interactions, albeit more possible since it takes place in Cody, Colorado (and not LA). It seems to be some sort of class study as we see how each level lives (the executive class, Dirty Jobs type people, the immigrants and even the cows). Each has some role to place in this fast food based hierarchy. Richard Linklater creates an adequate movie that tries to show the intricacies and gray areas associated with America. It displays this through some generic/stereotypical relations. It tries to say something or make us aware, yet in the end I have no clue if there was even a message at all. About the only message I got is that things have become so intertwined that it would be easier to cut off live flesh and start anew, than to try and fix whatever was in place already. Someone once said I want to eat the meat and not meet the cow.

There is a particularly brutal scene at the end where they show the death and dismemberment of the cattle. This is extremely graphic. Unless you have seen any of the Faces of Death or the features on the Eyes Without a Face DVD, this will probably be very graphic (and looks quite real).

Its nice to see Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) and Maria Full of Grace's Catalina Sandino Moreno. They seem to be somewhat typecast at this point. I guess it takes a while. John Leguizamo had a funny sketch how Latinos would always be typecast as drug dealers and junkies. I would just rent this one.

Review of "Caligola (1979)"

Caligola (1979)
Roman Tax Reform..........couldn't hurt ??

This is one of the earliest movies I can remember seeing. The other two being Conan the Barbarian and Halloween. My initial view was a brief 30 minutes or so, caused by a cultural misunderstanding. It would take another 10 years or so before I saw the movie in its entirety. It is interested to see how things have evolved and shows like Rome and the Tudors (movies like the Gladiator, 300 and Alexander) have come in the aftermath of this movie. It would almost seem as the prototype for the dramatic historical fiction narrative. It is graphic in terms of sex and violence and tries to depict Rome in terms of its own morals and not ours. This isn't an everyday Roman's view, but rather a look at lasciviousness of the ruling class.

Written by Gore Vidal, starring a pretty good cast. Peter O'Toole (as the dying and diseased Emperor Tiberius), Malcolm McDowell (Caligula) in yet another full frontal movie (Clockwork Orange), Sir John Gielgud and Helen Mirren (thats right the Queen herself).

It is nice to see Peter O' Toole and Malcolm McDowell fully embedded in the hedonism of ancient Rome. I can easily see them as downing cartons of wine before scenes and hanging out with John Holmes in the mirror room. It is nice to see the classically trained (Mirren and Gielgud) joining in this Roman foray as well. I can't help but me reminded of Fellini in terms of style. I am thinking of the influence of Roma and Satyricon. It is heavily stylized and the theatricality is quite visible. At time is feels more like theater than a movie. It might lead one to forget that one is watching porn.

Even though there is a heavy story about how Rome works and perhaps the other motivations of the young Emperor (sympathetic eye towards Caligula amongst the cruelty and scandals), the politics of Rome and the question of morality, it is still in the context of the incest, sex, orgies, homosexuality, sex, bestiality, sex, masturbation, and pure unabashed hedonism (and sex) of a corrupt and failing system. The authenticity and production quality leads more to the impression of a stylized documentary rather than porn. And just when you are comfortable with that assessment of the movie, it shoves some genitals in you direction just to make sure you remembered this was a porn. Yet despite all this it still somehow works and has some time to develop. As opposed to most porn, it doesn't forgo the story for the sex. The story develops organically, while periodically linked by one of Rome's eccentricities (a.k.a. the sex). The scene where Caligula rips the Emperor's ring off is amazing. The sheer energy of this scene(sound and imagery) sets the mood for the rest of the movie. Powerful imagery such as the metaphor of casting a ship to sea (and thus declaring war) to the frenzied energy of a fellatio.

This one is hard to recommend to anyone. This is a view at your own risk kind of movie, not suitable for the TGIF/Fast Food Nation family crowd. It is artistic, graphic and somewhat accurate. I guess its a lot like the history its trying to recreate.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Review of "Ikarie XB 1 (1963)"

Ikarie XB 1 (1963)

The Undiscovered Country....

Somewhere between the Outer Limits and Star Trek lies this little science fiction gem from the former Czechoslovakia. This isn't I. Robot or that type of science fiction, which is Asimov wrapped up in a shiny steel and glass box. This is the actual story and not just the wrapping paper. It proudly carries on the tradition started by Forbidden Planet and This Island Earth, even though its not as exciting. It is actually more like the Magnetic Monster and the Outer Limits. This is science fiction done in crisp black and white. The screen may not be vivid, yet the special effects have an ethereally surreal quality. Mix that in with the futuristic Shostakovitch-like score and we have a compelling and eerie trip into the unknown.

The excitement and glory that comes from living and exploring space (Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) is minimized in the movie. We get the basic day to day activities of the crew of the Ikarie, on its 28 month (15 years pass back on Earth) mission to our closest solar system, Alpha Centauri. We also get the dangers and rewards of hurling ourselves into the vast darkness.

It is the 22nd Century and we are out in the galaxy searching for life. The crew is comprised from a co-ed international pool. We never get to see Earth, yet we get a glimpse of what humans are like from the interactions of the crew (work, entertainment, nutritional intervals, exercise, reproduction and crisis). This is a future full of video screens, blasters, personal transmitters, turbo lifts, artificial gravity, Beatnik-like futuristic dancing and even Nike light up magnetic boots. This is the perfect/classical example of the sci-fi antithesis to Idiocracy. Humanity will improve with time.

The future is bright, shiny and worth waiting for. Man fixes the malaise of his species. We are never shown anything more lethal than a hand blaster, when it comes to weapons. On their mission, they encounter a perfectly preserved space relic from an Earth expedition of the 20th century. Let's just say our predecessors had very little nice things to say about us. Let's not forget that the 20th century contained two world wars, numerous genocides, the birth and use of the the atomic bomb.

One would also assume that a movie made in a Soviet influenced country would contain a certain amount of Communist and Pro-Soviet propaganda (for example, Planeta Bura). Thankfully this is all missing. About the biggest commentary comes from the critique of our 20th century counterparts. I found the only anti-capitalist message in the writing on the Earth relic. Everything inside is written in English, the ship was fully loaded with nuclear warheads and the the crew turned on each other. And even this critique is more of a jab at our collective selves then at full fledged opposition to capitalism.

If you are looking for epic space battles for the fate of the universe, look elsewhere because the crew kills absolutely no living thing. If you want 90 minutes of Georges Méliès mixed with Jules Verne, then you have found the perfect movie. I can easily see this movie as an influence on Kubrick's 2001, Rodenberry's Star Trek, Lucas' Star Wars and even Irwin Allen's Lost in Space. We even have a robot. He's definitely not as cool nor as good as Robby the Robot nor the robot that constantly saves the Robinsons.

We named him Patrick. Patrick the Robot. RIP. (Pour out some alcohol for the robots that aren't with us anymore).

Friday, March 30, 2007

Review of "Debbie Does Dallas (1978)"

Debbie Does Dallas (1978)

This looks so familiar ......

This movie is a snippet of cosmic synergy. At least it is for me. First of all I recognize the name Robin Byrd. That is the woman I see on Manhattan public access every night (channel 30-33) as I channel surf. Now it all makes sense. Then I recognize the setting of the movie. I believe it is the campus of SUNY Stony Brook out on Long Island. As I reminisce transversing the campus, it again makes cosmic relevance.

Debbie Does Dallas is the most commonly referenced Pr0N movie title. The problem is that fewer and fewer have actually seen it. I can now join the club of those that have seen it. Perhaps there is a reason why the title endures while the movie sinks deeper into the vault. It is not a good movie. There is a shortage of acting, scenery, props and plot. Even the naughty bits are a bit outdated. Everything is in gruesome butcher zoom complete with all natural 70's tertiary sexual characteristics. It's a bit Me-Tarzan-You-Jane. The most interesting aspect of the movie is newcomer Bambi Woods (a.k.a. Debbie). She has a certain youthful exuberance.

Debbie has been accepted as a Texas Cowgirl cheerleader (faux Dallas Cowboy cheerleader ??), but her family won't help her financially to get there. Cheerleaders to the Rescue !! They pool together and do "odd" jobs to get the money. Of course each of these "jobs" involves some "incidental" sex in the course of the interaction. It feels quite amateurish, like someone's first VHS camera documenting their summer at camp.

The main attraction of this movie is Bambi Woods, which is of course made more tragic/interesting because of her drug overdose death in '86 (joining a list that includes Playboy Playmate Galaxina herself, Dorothy Stratten, the Black Dahlia and recently Anna Nicole). I can't recommend this movie for more than a one-time thing. It's like that time you ate a worm, or when and how you lost your virginity or where did that tattoo come from? A lot of that you did just to say you did it. Some things you enjoy doing over and over, while others go to the gutter. This will be in the Smithsonian some day (maybe when the garbage starts to avalanche), but for now this is simply a rental. For a true cross-section of good movies in this genre, check out 42nd Street Forever - XXXtreme Edition instead. Yule-love IT!!

(Disclaimer : Do not mix with Motown as the side effects include : Drowsiness, nausea and hostility towards people and language)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Review of "The Prestige (2006)"

The Prestige (2006)

Magic meets OldBoy!! A mystery wrapped up in an enigma, in the pocket of Edward Nigma.

If you are looking for a "magic" laden adventure this is not the place to search (and neither is the Illusionist). Magic does not exist in either. Both are narratives routed in reality. That is the sleight of hand that is being pushed by both.

According to Alfred (Batman's butler), there are 3 parts to a magic trick :

1) The Pledge : This is the part the magician shows you something ordinary and may even let you examine it.

2) The Turn : This is the part the magician takes something ordinary and does something unexpected with it. This is the disappearing part.

3) The Presige : This is the punchline and the "ta-da" of every trick. It is easy enough to disappear. This is the reappearing.

Director Christopher Nolan is still doing a time narrative, albeit not as complicated as his Memento or as dark as Batman Begins. Two magicians (Hugh Jackman as Robert Angier and Chrisitan Bale as Alfred Borden) begin their serpentine, first as colleagues and friends and then as rivals and much, much more. It is an interesting choice of last names. A Nostradamus-like prediction, so accidentally accurate to their character states. Nolan throws us clues through out the movie (much like Memento). We are forced to wait till the end and then we can follow the bread crumbs wherever they lead in the movie. Second viewings turn into a "where's Waldo" type of clue searching game. It is very much in the same light as a magic trick. If you found out how most work, you would realize it is rather obvious once you know.

The peak of their relationship came during their act, in which tragedy ensued (the accidental death of the girl from Coyote Ugly, also known as Angier's wife). It then dwindles down to a magician's grude and a"what-you-can-do-I-can-do-better" scenario. The director has a knack for generating an interesting weave of images and complex narratives. Much like its shadow (The Illusionist), both were marketed as something else. This one has a better cast with a better chemistry, especially between the two main characters. It also had a much better supporting cast in David Bowie, Scarlett Johansson and Michael Caine. The story did not drag at all and felt much shorter than 130 minutes.

Magic is much like religion. We want to believe and such the Prestige will suck you in, till the end. It also helps that it has a style and a narrative. Technology is the new magic. It is the new fire for a new millennium for a new Prometheus to threaten the gods with. We can become gods, but like everything there is a price. If you are willing to pay your own way through this world and not just spectate or ride on someone else's bus, then you should watch this movie. Also if you haven't done so, see Street Trash. You can do it either before or after the Prestige. It works on multiple levels and viewings. Shocker might work as well. YEAH!!!!

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Review of "Street Trash (1987)"

Street Trash (1987)

Tideland couldn't possibly be better.....

Director J. Michael Muro's opus is also his only directorial credit (so far there is only a rumor of Street Filth Part Deux). The rest of his credits have been either as a camera operator or cinematographer. It is so utterly amazing how and even that this movie got made. This movies started shooting in 1982 and took years of starting and stopping to complete, with a cast consisting of both thespian-trained and complete newcomers (think Bicycle Thieves).

It is gritty at the same time it is vivid. It is New York in its transitional phase during the 80's. The director chose Long Island City on the other side of the East River in Queens as the major location. This area was one of the last remnants of New York City's industrialized past. It is an area of warehouses and brick, the homeless, prostitutes, pimps and the criminally insane. With the choice of eerie electronica as the musical background, the time frame could easily be placed in a post-apocalyptic environment where everyone struggles just to survive. It is interesting how this "lifestyle" is juxtaposed right next to the "civilized/real" world. The real world intrudes into this hyper-real, deteriorating steel jungle. I can't help but be reminded of Robot Holocaust in terms of the look (another movie filmed deep within the power station, in the shadows of New York) and Evil Dead/Dead Again in its spirit.

In a junkyard, two homeless brothers survive the rigors of the street. Introduce a $1 alcohol called Viper, which is like Drano in color and result. This is the other major recurring element, Viper. We follow the trail of the alcohol, like money or a disease/virus passing between various people. I knew there is something intrinsically wrong with with well-drinks at bars. $1 drinks have to be outlawed. In to the mix add a crazy selection of characters : a steroid-laden gung-ho cop, the criminally insane and violent ex-Vietnam vet turned hobo-overlord, a colorful mixture of homeless carny folk, the mob, a gas-mask wearing shoplifting hobo, a bald sweaty lecherous junk yard owner and the greedy alcohol peddler.

This movie is filthy enough to drive you to shower with a pumice stone and rubbing alcohol. It is quite graphic. Everything from hand-to-hand combat to decapitation and from castration to necrophilia. Add in full frontal nudity, exploding heads and acid peel (think of a rainbow version of the death from another 80's cult movie, The Stuff) for an extra layer of added grime. It rubs the dirt on it's skin. It does this whenever it's told. It rubs the dirt on it's skin, or else it gets the hose again.

As I stated earlier, this movie make its home in a vivid Cinema-scope Twilight Zone reality. A trans-realistic place where fate plays a role even on the dog-eat-dog and chaotic fringes of society. This is a place where the law or civilization has a minimal effect. It is a base and much reduced existence. There is no silver lining in this universe. It's a caste system consisting of levels of blue collar rejects.

I had worked and been to this area of New York many times. During several visits I was even solicited for sex and drugs. There are places in this area that remain much the same way they were 20 years ago, while others are being transitioned into the new SoHo. In 20 years, there will be nothing left of what there was. Luckily this movie will be one of those things that survive. It is a tribute to the people and gung-ho independent film making that was and is still possible in New York City (in the same category as Mean Streets, Abel Ferrara's Driller Killer, Toxic Avenger and other productions from Hells Kitchen's own Troma). Watch this one solo or with a recommended wingman. Whatever you do, get your tetanus shot, drink orange juice and eat some Special K in preparation. It sure is a dirty world out there.