Monday, February 26, 2007

Review of "Renaissance" (2006)

Renaissance (2006)

A Stunning Visual Realization

Much in the same way Frank Miller and his Sin City comics used black and white to express itself (and its film noir influences), so does Christian Volckman with Renaissance.

It is the year 2054, in Paris. In the tradition of science fiction, the future is a bright, sparkling multi-teared jewel. This is a jewel in a setting of misery, inequity and darkness; bright and beautiful on top with a dark underbelly beneath. One of these "bright" people at the top, a research scientist from a very large and influential global company (Avalon), is kidnapped. The well known and efficient, Captain Karas (voiced by the new James Bond himself - Daniel Craig), is assigned the task to find her.

The plot and layout is not overly original. It is heavily influenced by film noir, Gibson's Neuromancer and other detective stories, along with movies like Blade Runner, Sin City, Fritz Lang's Metropolis and Minority Report. There is the main plot, surrounded by other possible sub-plots that all connect at the end. It is not hard to figure it all out.

The movie's strength and originality is in its intense visual presentation. Paris is an intricate array of levels and sub-levels. At its base is the more primitive industrial infrastructure. As the city rises, so does its architectural complexity and luminescence. Yet in this structure, the top does not equate with elevation of human ideals and behavior. Paris has been intricately animated and laid out in brilliant black and white. The movie is closer in spirit with Sin City (the comics) then Sin City the movie was with its source material. This is done all the more easy, because it is still remaining in relatively the same medium; animation. Much in the same way as a Scanner Darkly pushed the visual aspects of story telling, so does this. The light and dark, black and white creates an atmosphere of contrasts, as well as visual ambiguity. Right and wrong, black and white can lose all meaning at the same time it is right in front of us. The movie proves how black and white can be both ambiguous and obvious at the same time.

In keeping with the spirit of the movie, I can be both critic and fan. I can love and loath in the same light. It is definitely an experience I recommend for lovers of the visual arts. So pour another Black and Tan, enter the void and enjoy the ride.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Review of "Blood Feast" (1963)

Blood Feast (1963)

Give yourself UP to the GODDESS !!!

In the context of film school, film theory, film conventions and anything about film-making that makes it a poignant and artful form of expression, this is a big "DON'T". Anything that can be done poorly, has already been done. Yet what we are left with is a prototypical piece of celluloid. The director, Herschell Gordon Lewis, can easily be seen as love child of Russ Meyer and Ed Wood. Those two names both evoke dread and hilarity. One can only imagine what a movie that has both would be like. Well thankfully for Herschell Gordon Lewis, the world soon found out.

As with most of his movies, forget the story. It is usually a patchwork of closeups, zoom outs, shaky cam, fake gore, nonsensical dialog driven vignettes (with sadomasochistic and other sexual undertones), coming together in the framework of 60 minutes.

There's a serial killer around killing young women and removing certain organs or appendages. At the same time there is a deli owner who caters a special ancient Egyptian feast. The rest is just nonsensical, droll dialog delivered with monotony and the ending. The ending is just painful. I recommend running around blindfolded at full speed in a city, as a way to simulate the end of the movie. If I am making this seem bad, I can digress by listing more evidence of this :

Exhibit 1 : Multiple minute scene of a character making a phone call and then conversing with that person. We never hear or see the person on the other end.

Exhibit 2 : Profile close ups of two people talking. Multiple instances too numerous to count.

Exhibit 3 : Echo, echo, echo .....

Exhibit 4 : Try to hire someone who's last job wasn't as a silent movie pianist, in 1919. It sounded like old heroin-hooked Bela Lugosi having fun with a church organ.

Exhibit 5 : Police that store their firearms in their back pockets (along with their wallets, most likely) and continue to mispronounce homicide (pronounced home_e-side).

Exhibit 6 : Horrible acting in vivid, bright Cinemascope.

Exhibit 7 : An intermission half way through the movie, where a Richard Nixon look alike is giving a lecture on ancient Egypt.

Exhibit 8 : The longest and slowest getaway and chase scene by a man from the Ministry of Funny Walks.

Exhibit 9 : Dialog such as :

"Well the killer must have thought she was dead. It was a miracle she wasn't."

"Well she is now."

".... yeah."

Based on all my evidence so far, you either :

a) think I hate this movie. b) know I hate this movie. c) stopped reading 15 minutes ago. d) are confused. e) none of the above.

To answer all but e, I do like this movie. This movie is closer to Russ Meyer's than Ed Wood. Ed lounged in his mediocre low-budget fetish. Russ mostly portrayed sex as a good, fun thing (his movies do have an unusual depth to them). Herschell took Ed's knack for making SOMETHING with limited funds and added the sexually explicit and completely gratuitous scenes. Just in case we weren't gorged enough on our own endorphins, he adds the gore/horror element. The funny thing is that none of it works. The ridiculousness of the movie is in itself. An advantage is the short running time. By the time you realize you are still watching, is the same point you realize it will just end.

I can easily see a starving early 30 year old William Shatner finding an artistic mentor after watching this on a lazy Saturday afternoon double feature. So join in. Drop into the couch and pour yourself a fresh one. We're gonna be here for a little while. Kanpai !!

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Review of "Marie Antoinette" (2006)

Marie Antoinette (2006)

Let them eat Coppola cake.

Marie Antoinette is one of those historical figures that has been mostly misunderstood and in which her "legend" has preceded the facts. What is interesting, is that which she is most remembered for (the "let them eat cake" statement) cannot be historically linked to anything she had uttered. What is even more interesting is her response to what was attributed to her. In summary, she simply stated that the people of France help to maintain the royal family's well being despite the population's misfortunes and that she would work harder to make their lives happier as well. After Sophia's Lost in Translation, I was expecting a lot. This movie has some moments, yet falls quite short of expectations. The fault lies partly in the movie and partly in the subject matter.

Marie Antoinette was born an Austrian Archduchess. At the age of 15 she was married to the overweight and virginal-soon-to-become Louis XVI of France. Marie was an outsider at the court of Versailles and was treated this way throughout most of her life. The rampant gossiping, along with the rumors of a "cold bedroom" and no heir lead to even more gossiping (lets also not forget the Affair of the Necklace). Madame du Barry (Louis XV's common-born mistress - Asia Argento) did not make life any easier for Marie, in light of Marie's dislike for associating with someone she felt was beneath her. In her youth, she spent and acted frivolously as she apparently did not know or understand the concept of money. After the birth of her children, Marie became much less extravagant and completely devoted to her children. It is in the latter years that Marie Antoinette showed her truer character.

The movie tries very hard to convey Marie's childhood innocence and sheltered lifestyle. She is shown as a bit ordinary and unschooled in the ways of Versailles and France. This is partially successful. As the movie stands, the first hour and half are a tribute to Bacchus and the hedonistic lifestyle. The production value of the movie is really high. The costumes, jewelry, wigs and locations are amazing. Are we being shown this as a contrast? Even the choice of music is appropriate to this. The 80's music reminds me of the yuppie lifestyle and mirrors much of Marie's youth. This depiction of the young Marie is the foremost cause of failure of the the primary goal : To depict Marie Antoinette in a more favorable light. This is of course, unless we are given an unabashed look at her. It is hard not to judge, however. Youth and ignorance cannot be an excuse for every deed. She was born into having everything. It is hard to sympathizes with someone who has everything and squanders it callously. Some would say that she was only 15 years old. Unfortunately, a 15 year old in the 21th century cannot be compared with a 15 year old from 200+ years ago.

The predominant focus of the movie and it's major flaw, is the reliance on showing Marie's youth. It is not in her youth that her saving grace can be found, but rather in her maturation as a mother and monarch. Unfortunately, only the last 20 minutes of the movie focuses on this and is so rushed as to seem unfinished. If this movie wanted to truly show the character of Marie, it should have focused on the 4 years from the fall of the Bastille to her execution. During this time, she showed her character in the face of an angry and blood-lusting mob. Instead we are left with a miss-paced, long, stylized, summer-like nostalgic romp though the 18th century. It's nice, but I wouldn't want to live there.

Review of "Sheitan" (2006)

Sheitan (2006)

I'd rather get my eyebrows waxed than having to re-watch this movie.

I continue my adventures in French inspired movies, by seeing this French Movie. You can't get more French-inspired than in France. I definitely feel like this movie put me through a roller-coaster and while I was leaving the park, it came out of nowhere and kicked me in the balls. The first twenty minutes or so I thought I was in a French remake of Stereo Future, minus the oxygen high.

So there's these 3 guys, like the three musketeers. One is Moroccan, one is Vietnamese and the weaselly one must have been the Frenchman. They meet these 3 girls at the club. They get together and this one girl, the tempting-if-you-like-that-kind-of-thing Roxane Mesquida, suggests they drive for hours and hours, into the middle of nowhere to her house. And can you believe this was all caused by one guy's insatiable sex drive?? OK, so the other 2 guys weren't exactly paddling in the opposite direction. At this point I was still intrigued, yet having a creeping suspicion that this was either going to go the way of Miike's Audition or the way of the Descent. It's funny, because it does neither. It goes completely in the opposite direction and then kicks you, again. While you are walking away in pain, it comes back and kicks you once more.

The departure signals the end of the beginning and the revealing of the true nature of the movie. It really wants to be a French version of the Wicker Man in the context of the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. And this is where you start to wonder about Occam's Razor and the possibility that this movie could recovery from a totally, out-of-control spiral towards Terra firma.

It doesn't. The movie had me when I thought it was a light affair and still had me when they were toying more with the love and less with killing. When the movie went towards crazy hillbillies, I was having flashbacks of the appropriate episode of the X Files, Jeffrey Dahmer and a H.P. Lovecraft story I once read (about a guy living in one of those isolated New England farmhouses - think of the introduction to Tales of the Darkside the series). By the end you are cursing the movie for making you watch, because there was a glimmer of hope and it managed to rope you in until the end.

Much like the character Thai, this movie blocks you on multiple fronts. The worst of it all is I don't think there was one death. They must have been saving money from the special effects and extras, to pay for the catered food. There were some assaults and body parts removed, but nothing you couldn't live without. I was further reminded of the similar results in Wolf Creek. At least that had carnage. Both movies were lengthy and took too long to develop. This movie was almost over before something happened. The extra night before X-Mas element should have opened the door for the original Black Christmas and Tales from the Crypt Santa episode. It was wasted as well. And again just like Thai, this movie will leave you unsatisfied and lying in a pool of your own blood. Do yourself and your loved ones a favor and skip this one.

Friday, February 2, 2007

Review of "DOA: Dead or Alive" (2006)

DOA: Dead or Alive (2006)

Oh Phil, when will they learn ....

I first got sucked into the DOA series by my friend and his PS2. Much midnight oil was burned in various DOA 2 "tournaments" at his house. It was amazing. The graphics, the breakable and multi-teared environments, the character models (3D models with a unique take on physics and its impact on the human anatomy) and the unique combat system, is what brought me back from the oblivion of the mundane fighting genre. These were the key criteria to the game's playability. The story was always forgettable, yet the cut scenes were always cinematically impressive.

In steps Corey Yuen, attempting to best Steven E. de Souza and Jean Claude's horrible, horrible Street Fighter (another fighting genre game, for those that Rip Van Winkled). I still can't believe that was Raul Julia's last motion picture. What a terrible eulogy. Corey doesn't improve much on the his predecessors. The fighting game genre is not exactly the best source for a movie or any other story adaption (please also see Tekken, Tekken the Motion Picture, and some of the Street Fighter animated TV series for reference). There is not much there to adapt. I mean the purpose of these games are to take out one opponent after another until there is no one left and you are out of quarters. The story is meaningless.

I will make this brief : The movie mostly revolves around the female characters of DOA ; Tina (Jaime Pressly), Kasumi (Devon Aoki) and Christie (Holly Valance). Insert a flying, bladed boomerang with DOA logo on it and then add a stereotypical, Enter the Dragon-like island with a martial arts tournament and henchmen. Insert a bad guy. Lots and lots of ridiculous wire work. Also don't forget the DOA logo segue (think Adam West's Batman). The result is carrion excrement. It is as if Corey was reading Maxim or FHM while filming this. Is that how he cast his "actors" ?

Now to the positive. Jaime Pressly looks really, really fit and looks great in Tina's American Flag two piece swimsuit. I do feel a little bad for her. She seems to be reprising her role from My Name is Earl (one trick pony??). It is also nice to see Kevin Nash again in a speaking role, nonetheless. There are some nice wink, winks to the fans - a volleyball game homage to DOA Extreme Volleyball, a few character specific moves, the game's ridiculous ability to reveal flesh without revealing too much (see Christie's putting on her underwear scene) and the inclusion of Mortal Kombat's Liu Kang (Robin Shou). Has that guy done anything since Mortal Kombat : Annihilation ? It is also nice to see Eric Roberts completing his metamorphosis into a full time B or C movie celebrity and single handedly killing off any chance at being a respected actor. He probably deserves the John Carradine Lifetime Achievement Award for that.

Now back to the bad. I tried, but this movie just made me want to go to Corey's house and Tony Jaa him in the chest. Will someone please stop paying Devon Aoki money to act ? If you stop paying her, she might have to find another line of work. Maybe a career that will be supportive of her "alien" looks, lack of emotion and her unique inability to put words together into sentences. I mean she was good in Sin City, but she didn't have to say anything. Every monotone line and California-accented Japanese name she delivered, was like nails on a chalkboard.

The acting is atrocious, the dialog ridiculous and the fighting is quite visibly edited to make you forget that none of these "actors" can fight. I know Tarantino used non-martial artists and wire work for Kill Bill, but he did have a story and some real talent (Gordon Liu, for example). The funniest part of the casting is that they didn't take in account the main feature of the game - cleavage. Did Corey actual believe that their combined "acting" ability was going to make up for that shortcoming ? I mean they wasted money on those crappy CGI explosions/effects, when they could have used it for CGI mammary enhancements. It probably would have been funnier and closer to game. The fighting in this movie would make Chuck Norris seem like Bruce Lee to the untrained eye.

Maybe I am being too harsh. Was this a kid's movie? Its appeal must be geared towards the 10-15 year old male demographic who have never seen a martial arts movie before. This is a big skip. Go see just about anything else. It will most likely be better than this. If you really need a DOA fix, just dust off the PS2/Xbox or 360 and play on.

Review of "Hitler : Dead or Alive" (1942)

Hitler : Dead or Alive (1942)

Shut Up. Dutch!! What I tell you about talking'??

I am continuing my "dead or alive" theme with this little war-time propaganda soporific. Before Blood Diamond, Gorillas in the Mist and The Forbidden Dance, Ward Bond went in to Germany via Canada and Great Britain, to kill Adolf Schicklgruber (a.k.a Adolf Hitler). Now I see where the inspiration for Coleman Francis' Red Zone Cuba came from. I will summarize the main points : Steve Maschick (Bond) has just been released from Alcatraz for tax evasion, after serving an 11 year of 12 stint, with his cronies "The Book" (Paul Fix, Alumni of Night of the Lepus) and "Dutch" (the handicap-able Warrne Hymer). The same day a rich tycoon puts up a $1,000,000 reward for the killing of Schicklgruber (Hilter.... oh Monty!!). To set the record straight. A bunch of beer swilling low-level criminal mobsters want to infiltrate the deepest corners of the Third Reich and assassinate Hitler. The plan, none. It's all improvised. Colonel "Hannibal" Smith would have said something about "jazz" at this point.

I'm done with the plot at this point. I will continue by sharing with you some of the intricacies of this sublime stain. They must have been working with a very, very limited budget. The cockpit of the paratrooper plane looks like a giant room, with an oval arch. The pilot is sitting down in a chair, "acting" like he's looking out the window and may be (through some miracle) holding a flight stick. Ed Wood's production would have looked like Steve Spielberg's by comparison. And of course there the hackney stock footage. We have a musical score that boils your blood at the same time it melts your heart. Yankee Doodle is drawn out into a 2 minute epic, describing the griping and stress-filled mood of hiding under the stairs in the sitting room. It's melody is wave-like, moving from eerie to patriotic to melancholy. It also moves to nausea. We also have yet another movie where Hitler is right handed. If I remember correctly, Herr Schicklgruber was of the left persuasion. We also cannot forget about characters such as Else, the German Duchess with a sometimes German, sometimes French accent from London, who doubles as a double agent. Have you noticed Germany looks a lot like California? Yeah, I've had enough already. How about you ?

Ward Bond worked on 25+ movies with John Ford and who knows how many with John Wayne. He was always the lone-cowboy backing you up. Were the times really that tough or was it the damn old studio system again, with its contractual obligations that lead to his involvement in this production? Ward has committed his energy and effort into this role. It is sad that there is nothing there to keep you . Ward is by far the only reason to keep watching. It is to see his over the top performance as a leading man. This movie also seems a bit ironic when thinking what happened to Ward during the blacklisting in Hollywood and all his Communist comrades.

This is a collection of celluloid film which adds up to a ridiculous premise, that is remarkably forward thinking considering the idiocracy of the 26th century to come. It has influenced numerous movies from the Dirty Dozen to Invasion U.S.A to Delta Force. Ward's Anti Nazi-Pro Child message at end, would go on to influence a certain man from Cuba. And inspire millions to "Say hello to his little friend..."