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 Even the naughty bits are a bit outdated.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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Review of "Gymkata (1985)"

Gymkata (1985)

The Most Dangerous Game and the Strategic Defense Initiative in Parmistan

This movie beckons the question : What does men's gymnastic and cloaked, ninja henchmen on horses have in common ? Both are an intricate part of director, Robert Clouse's, vision. After his collaboration with Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon and Game of Death, Jim Kelly in Black Belt Jones and Jackie Chen in the Big Brawl, Robert Clouse cleverly blended campy masterpieces like the Ultimate Warrior (with Yul Brynner), Lee Van Cleef as the "stunt-ed" Master and this relatively unknown gem.

Gymkata's protagonist is "faster than fire" Johnny Cabot (adequately played by Kurt Thomas, a gold medalist at the 1978 World Championships in gymnastics). Cabot's father was on a secret mission for the US government to secure "favors" of a country call Parmistan (actually filmed in the former Yugoslavia). They have a certain custom there which involves "the Game" and the 1 wish imparted to its survivor (a.k.a. winner). Major countries across the world are competing to win. Apparently, Mr. Reagan's "Star Wars" project is on the line. Johnny is sent in as a backup to his father and to win the game. To do so he is given the help of the Princess of Parmistan (who doesn't utter one word until 16 minutes into the movie and seems to be the mentor and acting coach of Devon Aoki) and her "gymkata" grand masters. Their training turns him from an adequate fighting gymnast to a lean, and relatively polite hopping machine.

The most important and relevant question one needs to ask oneself is "what is gymkata"? Gymkata seems to be a fighting form that combines gymnastics with some generic un-named martial art. Its principles involve lots of running and jumping around. To be proficient in gymkata, one must also master the lost weapon skills of pommel horse, high bar and floor exercise. Martial arts veteran, Richard Norton (Zamir), bares his chest and hams it up as the villain. Norton's fighting skills are severely in check and underused, however, this movie's influence can still be seen in other movies (for example, the pommel horse scene seems to have been a huge influence on the Wachowskis and a certain scene involving Neo and many Smiths).

The "Game" of Parmistan is an "iron man"-like event. There is first a race that leads to cliff rope climb, followed by a rope bridge, more running, hill climbing, running through the forest and then surviving the Village of the Damned. Whomever survives gets just 1 request and is revered by the local population. Big Whoop !!

Unfortunately, the director's pedigree and the presence of Norton does not provide for anything more than laughable combat scenes. This movie is in no way to be taken seriously. From the 80's hair and 80's clothes, to the ridiculous plot and silly fighting is sure to put a smile on the face of the most disgruntled person. Johnny is whiny and annoying as the hero (think of Luke except much, much whinier). The plot, acting and action is laughable. It is enjoyable and easy to watch, but is geared towards showing off the talents of Kurt Thomas. I am sorry, Kurt, but you are no Bruce Lee. You aren't even good enough to lick the boots of Bruce's #1 fan and impersonator, Bruce Li. That's okay, though. You may not be the best of the best, but you sure look funny trying. Keep up the good work, Yorick.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Review of "The Work of Michel Gondry (2003)"

The Work of Michel Gondry (2003)

Do I offend ??

So far this is one of seven in the director series compilations (the others being Chris Cunningham, Anton Corbijn, Jonathan Glazer, Mark Romanek, Stephane Sednaoui, and Spike Jonez). These would definitely be considered the new wave, MTV generation type directors. These directors are fully integrated into a visual medium. I would love to see who the series go to next.

You might remember Michel Gondry from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and Chappelle's Bloc Party. Prior to these movies he became famous for doing stunning music videos for artists like the White Stripes and Bjork.

This is mostly a collection of the various music videos that he has done from about 1986 to 2003. Out of the all the music video's I have to pick 5 as my favorite.

1) Daft Punk - around the world. Trippy and surreal dance number consisting of aliens, skeletons, mummies, and a few women.

2) Kylie Minogue - come into my world. Kylie's Mobius trip from her dry cleaner + 1.

3) White Stripes - fell in love with a girl. Lego land video is simply amazing.

4) White Stripes - the hardest button to button. Recurring Michel theme of duplication.

5) Cibo Matto - sugar water. Split screen asynchronous story that has a focal point in the middle.

This is basically a compilation of the work of the director. It includes his music videos, commercials, and other projects. This is their portfolio. The Director's Series is the great thing as you see the influences and evolution of the director. I also enjoyed the Levi's commercial, with the truck driver. I highly recommend this and the other DVDs in this series.

Review of "Take the Lead (2006)"

Take the Lead (2006)

Formulaic Rehash with Ballroom Dancing

Formula for the teacher meets misunderstood/troubled students, where the result is positive for everyone.

Take a teacher (male/female). Place said teacher in an inner city or remedial class room. Add conflict, usually due to social class difference or the fact that said kids have never gotten proper encouragement or positive attention from adult figures. Teacher then breaks down said barriers with some "forward" thinking alternative teaching methodology. The kids learn. There is usually a fall-back to previous behavior (usually caused by external school situations), followed by redemption. And this is usually based on true life events, for added drama.

Now is the easy part. As we learned in algebra, we just place in the actual data to replace the variables. The teacher is Zorro himself, Antonio Banderas. There are the kids (too numerous and somewhat annoying to mention). And there's the forward thinking teaching method which would be ballroom dancing. There are numerous other movies that follow a similar path - Sydney Poitier in To Sir, With Love; Michelle Pfeiffer in Dangerous Minds; Edward James Olmos in Stand and Deliver; The Rock in Gridiron Gang; Rhea Perlman in Sunset Park; and even Samuel L. Jackson in Coach Carter. The later entries on that list follow the same formula, except it substitutes sports for class and coach for teacher.

There is nothing overly original about this movie. Even though this movie is based on actual events and Pierre Dulaine (which is inspirational in itself and commendable), does not mean I necessarily want to see the same thing rehashed with different names, places and dates.

The music is decent and the dancing is average. I guess one really has to be into ballroom dancing to get a fuller appreciation. There is also nothing I like better than to be grilled by Zorro in a condescending fashion. On a side note Dante Basco really needs to invest time into getting his acting skills up to par and getting a new agent. He is almost pushing 32 and playing angst-ridden teenagers might be a bit of stretch right now. The problem I have with most of these types of movies is that the ending is gratuitous. The ending is usually somewhat if not completely happy in which something is achieved, but the full realization of turning one's life around and making something of oneself is never fully shown. For example, how does LaRhette resolve her mom's prostitution and how does Rock resolve his conflict with his alcoholic dad and not to mention with the local thug he just angered ?

The only true worth of the movie would have to be Zorro's tango with actress/dancer Katya Virshilas. That was kind of hot, but I think that was mostly due to her intrinsic abilities. I would have given this movie a higher rating if it actually induced sleep, because at the time I couldn't. Instead skip this one and just watch the trailer. It includes the best scene of the movie.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Review of "Deep Rising (1998)"

Deep Rising (1998)

Beyond the Poseidon Adventure and Leviation, like two ships meeting on the ocean

Stephen Sommers tests the waters, pre-Mummy, with this cheese-ladened romp on the South China seas. This is not a barren, lifeless ocean but one brimming with celebrities : Treat Williams, Famke Janssen, Djimon Hounsou, Wes Studi, Kevin J. O'Connor, Jason Flemyng and Cliff Curtis. Oh yeah, and there's a creature as well. It is some monstrous leviathan that grew out of the mysterious and deepest depths of the ocean.

A boat full or mercenaries, a cruise ship, a prolific thief, the ocean and a monster. Stephen manages to combine all these elements into an enjoyable romp. This movie has much of the same elements as some of Stephen's other movies - The Mummy, the Mummy Returns and the Scorpion King. There are elements of a heist, a survival horror and even some comedy. It also has action. It has graphic deaths. It has a somewhat skewed logic. And there is the campy humor. Much like Stephen's other movies, the cast seems to display a lot of chemistry. They work well together. The movie also doesn't drag. The pace of the movie is quick and enjoyable. I especially enjoy the comic timings of Kevin J. O'Connor (the multi-religious Beni from the Mummy).

This isn't a movie full of deeper meaning and metaphors. This is just a fun movie. If you enjoy movies like the Mummy, Evil Dead, Phantasm and Shaun of the Dead, then you will most likely enjoy this. Until then, just try to figure out how to get a fish in and out of that bottle.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Review of "Star Trek (1973)"

Star Trek (1973)

Emmy Award Winning, "Star Trek in Animation", with continuity!!!

Everything these days seems to relate to my childhood and early adulthood. Perhaps since I am advancing in years, I am also dwelling much more on the past. I remember seeing this show in a limited capacity back in the late 80's and early 90's. Technically, I saw 3 episodes on Nickelodeon and taped them. What I saw was quite impressive.

The animated series immediately follows the cancellation of the original series and can be considered the completion of the original 5 year mission.

Pros : All the voices of the original cast are present except for Walter Koenig : William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, James Doohan, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, Majel Barrett and even Roger C. Carmel (Harcourt Fenton Mudd) and Stanley Adams (Cyrano Jones) are there. Walter Koenig does make up for it by providing a script that allows us to experience a 60 foot tall Spock. We get episodes with more Harry Mudd, more tribbles, more fun on the shore leave planet, Uhura in command, Jihad and even a meeting with Lucifer himself. Also included is an Enterprise holodeck, pre-Pike, a laughing Enterprise, a reverse-timed alternate universe, Gukumatz (a.k.a, Kukulcan, Quetzalcoatl), Mr. Scott crawling on the ceiling, a cat on the bridge, "Blue" Kirk, more solo with Sulu and a nice smear of Shatnerian cleverness and ingenuity (don't forget about Shatnerian logic). There is also a furthering of the Star Trek universe. There are things (encountering lifeforms, aliens, other members of Starfleet along with the adoption of technical schematics, other ship designs and engineering and scientific principles) that seem to be pulled straight out of the technical manuals. All this did was add color, history and background to a somewhat plastic looking universe (up to this point). Books coming to life, imagine that. The animation freed the Star Trek universe from the shackles and limitations of live action. The exotic was limited only by the imagination and the animator's skills. It's as if all the fan energy and fervor to keep the show going at NBC was transmuted into this series. The show as a whole has a "chip on its shoulder" attitude. There are more than a handful of episodes, in the animated series, that could have easily replaced the not-so-good episodes of the original series (in terms of story, acting and pure science fiction fun).

Cons: Walter Koenig does not provide his voice. He ruins what could have been an even more unique event and show. How many times do you see actors reproducing themselves in animation and in this high of a percentage? Maybe this a positive thing to consider. Chekov is instead replaced by an Edosian (a 3 legged and 3 armed alien - one arm comes out straight from his chest) weapons officer named Arex. The animation is also quite typical of "kids-style" and other animated shows of its day. Anyone who has seen animated US shows from the 60's, 70's and 80's knows exactly what I mean. The animation can best be described as minimalistic. Often the illustrators saved money and time by repeating certain scenes. These are usually repeated in various capacities throughout the life of the show. In this case we get continuity errors like : Sulu talking from a planet while at the same time being on the bridge, Mr. Scott growing a wavy mustache instantaneously, Sulu looks much like McCoy in some scenes and much, much more. It will look similar in execution to the Planet of the Apes animated show (except that show had a strange "artistic" mural quality). The length of the episodes is quite a detriment. We were used to 45 minute episodes and now we are left with approximately half that. The voice work, which is the entire cast, lacks the passion of seeing the actors in person. The voices of the extras are also voiced by the Enterprise crew, but sound fake and contrived (often with laughable results). This is not the Simpsons, Futurama or Family Guy. Even Shatner and his Shatnerisms seem to be delivered with a heavy dose of Valium.

I do not want to be misleading. For fans of the show this is an absolutely must own. If you are a weekend Trek fan (a.k.a. - the long lasting debate of Trekkie vs Trekker), you can skip it entirely without missing a beat of the original show. You may want to check out 1 or 2 episodes to see if you would enjoy it. This could also be viewed as a nostalgic romp through the world of 70's animation.

For whatever reason, I still love this show and the original group of characters. There was a chemistry between them that was hard to miss. Though the lackluster voice work and average animation blemishes this version of the show, it still extends these interactions. Even from a science fiction perspective, the animated series does not hold much of a candle to the original. If anything, I would have called this Star Trek Lite - The Animated Series or Star Trek : For Kids. Well, its time to re-watch the Infinite Vulcan. Nothing gets to me more than when they steal Spock's brain from some mixed up alien plan.

Live Long and Thrive !!

In light of today, it wouldn't be appropriate to finish this review without proclaiming the most happiest of days for William Shatner. It's his birthday. Keep it coming Willie!!

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Review of "42nd Street Forever, Vol 1 (2005)"

42nd Street Forever, Volume 1 (2005)

Cliff Notes for Grindhouse

I still remember 42nd street back in the day, before former Mayor Rudi Giuliani transformed the area into a Vegas-like tourist death trap. It used to be a different kind of tourist death trap. I remember the area's twilight years in the 80's and early 90's. During this time the area was still predominately full of pimps, prostitutes, drug dealers, XXX theaters and the grind houses. For an idea of what it was like during the transition, you can reference Schwarzenegger's Last Action Hero (when it goes "real") as a representation of the change. This is because by the late '80s this wasn't quite the one you remember from Midnight Cowboy. I have been living in the area for the last couple of years and there is very little remnant of what the area was. At the changeover from dawn to day, in the area west of 9th Avenue, you can still see the world's oldest professionals quiting for the night. They have become sparse enough in this area, that the professionals are almost there for the tourists and as historical re-creationists, rather than as a professionals performing a civic duty. The legitimate places of business have moved out to the outer boroughs, Hunts Point, Green Point, Queens Bridge, etc.

This first volume in the series was a stroll down memory lane for me. It reminds me of the area, the theaters and as a child, things I was not allowed to see. The area and its movies represented a taboo to me. For those that don't know, Grind House is the genre representative of the movies shown in some of the theaters on the small strip from 7th and Broadway to 10th Avenue on 42nd Street (and the surrounding side streets). They were not necessarily porn but contained graphic sex and gratuitous violence. The stories were usually geared around that graphic sex and violence. One cannot deny the silliness and camp of a majority of the movies in this genre. Some of them were homegrown, others were quite foreign. They were your non-typical kind of movies. They were not the type of movie you would bring home to show mom and dad, yet you still found a way to sneak it in.

The series collects the trailers, usually shown before and during a double feature, into a continuous reel. If you want to know and learn about grind-house movies, then this is a good place to start. Just like in modern trailers, these trailers tend to give away critical information about the movie. Having seen the full version of some of these movies in this collection, it is sometimes sufficient to have seen the trailer to get the best aspects of that movie. It was also a good vehicle for me to get into movies I had never seen or vaguely remember.

There are more movies than you can imaging, that fall within this category. For example, you can expect trailers such as : Sylvester Stallone's Italian Stallion, Matango, The Green Slime, Destroy All Monsters, The Crippled Master, They Call Her One Eye, Maid In Sweden, Shocking Asia, Chappaqua, Death Drive, The Raiders Of Atlantis, Star Crash, Superfuzz, Ironmaster and many, many more. I found volume 1 to contain a great cross-section of the genre and a good representation of the trailers for the most well known movies in the genre. I definitely enjoyed it much more than volume 2. That makes me even more excited about the prospects of volume 3. Till Rodriguez and Tarantino's homage to the genre, I will await volume 3 while secretly shooting up on volume 1 in the Papaya Dog bathroom.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

Review of "300 (2006)"

300 (2006)

"Sin City"-like Miller adaptation. Relatively close to source material. It's nice.....

I saw 300 last night. I could have written something last night, but I wanted to let my limbic system soak all of what I had seen. This morning, while watching a rather swashbuckling maneuver performed by a certain young Jedi on a desert barge, I realized something. There is a condition present in most homo sapien males. I like to call it "Pretty Woman syndrome". I do not know the correct medical term, but it is present. Pretty woman syndrome can be defined by the subconscious desire to reconcile the "life partner" as both a friend, confidant, mother,etc. and the sexually aggressive and insatiability of the "whore". How does one reconcile these two ideas, without having one or the other, but both? Hollywood and the movies have perpetuated such ideas and fantasies. In Pretty Woman, a man "rescues" a prostitute with a heart of gold and turns her into a lady. Star Wars reconciles the princess to slave girl back to princess, in a strange turn of movie moral and symbolism. I know what you are thinking and yes I know it's his sister and thats the symbolism.

I also just realized that Pretty Woman was geared toward females, so there must be some cultural/feminine aspects to my theory as well. The idea of ultimate redemption and cleansing. Past sins can be erased. This isn't just a male fantasy. I also realized that the ultimate realization of said fantasy for males is having two partners, each with their respective sexual role.

You are probably wondering what that has to do with this movie. It is simply the first thing that resonated immediately after letting 300 soak into my subconscious and sleeping mind. It is the idea that movies provide, project and proliferate desires. 300 serves as the carnal blood lust that "modern living" tries to suppress and diminish (i.e. - Fight Club logic). It stimulates that desire.

The story is the aboriginal template of a few-against-many scenario in a no-win-situation (Gladiator, Conan and the Kobayashi Maru). It is based on the 5 part Dark Horse comic series in which Frank Miller adapts the historical Battle of Thermopylae. To be quite fair even back in 1998, I felt the story was not the greatest. I wasn't knocked down by the story and its execution. The dialog and interactions are a bit peppered and melodramatic. Unlike most movies that work from a terrible source and then bury it (or the occasional great material being stifled), this movie was working with an average source and elevated it to the highest it can achieve. It is stunted by the source. What it does well is that it does the interpretation by the book, literally almost. The only exception would have to be the lapse of the failed suicide attempt of Ephialtes. Also the director takes some artistic licensing with the "exoticism" of the Persians. There are units and situations completely fabricated by the movie itself. Their inclusion is simply for the visceral effect. It increases the campiness, while decreasing the realism. Maybe that will change on the DVD. It will probably include the all nude, unedited and extended version of the movie - a.k.a the "Spartan Version".

Director, Zack Snyder (who did a great job of re-imagining Romero's Dawn of the Dead), should get kudos for creating a visually stunning and faithful to the source movie. The problem lies with Frank Miller. I believe he might be better at writing noir and noir-like material then sword and sandal epics. I mean lets not forget what Miller did to his futuristic, female protagonist , Martha Washington. He stranded her in space. The movie overdid the use of the action speed "effects". They were quite good, just overused. The other major problem was with the dialog. Though accurate to the comic, when done by actors it seemed quite melodramatic. The sheer number of speeches and over narration, gave the movie a comical aspect at times. We've all heard the "freedom"/"revenge" speech right before a do-or-die battle. Here it didn't do much but give me the chuckles. Even though there is action in the movie, it is not a typical action movie. It does have a political agenda, but it is hard to discern exactly what that is at times. All I know is that after watching V for Vendetta, I felt like blowing stuff up (at least in a game environment). This movie makes we want to do the same with a sword or maybe a spear.

I recommend watching this movie without the dialog. Just watch it with the soundtrack or maybe even substitute your own music tracks. Watch it in silence. It seems quite spartan that way. The advantage of the book is that the dialog can be skipped. The comic retains the "cave man painting on the wall" type communication. You don't need the dialog. It is art. It has a message. By proxy, if the movie is a faithful adaptation, then it also retains that same message.

The trailers are starting to hurt the movies. At this point it seems like trailers have become bullet points for the content. This is far from the 21st Soul Music Awards. It is good. It has value and it should be repeatedly watched. I wish that I hadn't seen the trailer. Anyone know a bald Hatian mutant I can consult with ?

Friday, March 2, 2007

Review of "Jesus Camp" (2006)

Jesus Camp (2006)

Scariest movie I have seen since Halloween and I was 7 then.

This isn't the kind of scary movie involving twisted carnage or shock value. If you are an intelligent human being that asks questions, this is the kind of movie that will scare you to the core of your being. This is probably the first time in many years, in which I was intensely frightened by a movie. It is also the best kind of documentary. One in which you sit back, not add any commentary, and let the images and sounds speak for themselves. It is funny to think that the filmmakers genuinely intended this movie to show a softer, more personal side of the Christian Evangelical movement in the US.

The whole premise of this documentary is to follow around a group of children, their parents and the camp they go to. A religious camp that inspires and teaches about JC. JC in the house!! JC as in Jesus Christ. There's nothing wrong with JC, if you actually follow what he taught - love and acceptance. It is clear (even before watching this) that Evangelicals have an agenda. It isn't just religion, but rather more a neo-fascist organization veiling itself in JC and the garbs of religion (American for Americans, American for Christians, etc). I use the term fascist because fascist ideals used nationalism and the idea of one-people-one-country to justify an us against them agenda. Again this is nothing new. There are parallels in the Islamic and Jewish faiths as well. The Islamic version have been called terrorists. Funny, I don't see much of difference in ideology, just methodology.

Evangelicals seem to have embraced the 21th century and its advantages. Instead of terror, why not divide and conquer and take over everything from the inside. They prefer the silent coup. They are not afraid nor lackadaisical. Their political power has grown consistently. While we sleep, they take over. They are the Starbucks of the 21st Century. They'll soon be on every street corner dishing out red bracelets and pamphlets. Islamic fundamentalists have other issues and methods, but I bet you if the Evangelical's methods stop working they'll be resorting to blowing themselves up soon enough. I mean they use the term war frequently during this movie. They call themselves Christ's Army. Is this any different from Jihad ? Isn't burning Harry Potter and witches a bit 17th century, not to mention violent? It is also funny to think most Evangelicals support the death penalty. At times, it almost seems like the Evangelicals praised the recruitment tactics and "teaching" methods of the Islamic fundamentalists. It is as if they are striving for the same results.

Early indoctrination is key in both. Get them early and bombard them constantly with rhetoric. Add group influence and it becomes difficult to deal with. It is the way cults work. Break their individuality and then re-form them into the community, where they get acceptance by the "mob". What they are taught is intolerance and linear thinking. If you are not a Christian then you are not one of us and don't belong in this country. History is also molded to reflect this. Apparently the architects of the United States of America used Judeo-Christian beliefs to found this country. Things like the Bill of Rights ,the Constitution, freedom of religion, the separation of church and state and the Age of Enlightenment (Age of Reason) are fabrications of the liberal media and Satan himself.

I am torn. I feel terrible for these children, but at the same time I fear them. These kids will probably grow up to do the same to their kids. Its their right to teach their own kids as they will, but please leave me and mine out of it. I don't go around telling other people what do to do and especially not what they should believe. Evangelicals do not have that separation. It is JC, 24/7, whether it is bowling, running a power point presentation, dancing, singing, talking or buying groceries. Everything relates to JC. How are you suppose to have a discourse with a person who not only will not listen, they wont even consider the possibilities outside of their sphere of knowledge? This is the inherent flaw in everything fundamentalist. Discourse is not an option. You either are with them or becoming one of them or you're not.

The only comical moment was to see Pastor Ted Haggard, in light of recent news. It was alleged that he had homosexual activity (which he is against) and even used crystal meth. Apparently he used to frequent gay bars and invite gay men to his congregation. I believe that is the most original pickup line I have ever heard. Kudos Pastor Ted, kudos. The allegations were so false, of course, that he resigned or was forced out. After 3 weeks of intensive counseling, he was heterosexual and drug free. This is the kind of stuff that give credence to my arguments.

Watching this documentary reminded me of Invasion of the Body Snatchers or maybe one of the many movies about the Inquistion (like the Name of the Rose). The idea that organized religion is not a beacon for truth, but rather a tool of chaos. Those who don't follow the practices I do, are inherently wrong. What is more saddening is that this is all done in God's name.

Much like M. Bennell, we need to find the pods and nip them in the bud. Till then, keep alert and ever vigilant. They are out there amongst us and we must unite.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Review of "Hauru no ugoku shiro" (2004)

Hauru no ugoku shiro (2004)
(a.k.a. Howl's Moving Castle)

Hayao Miyazaki's animated movie follow up to amazing and vivid Sen to Chihiro no kamikakushi (Spirited Away). The difference is disparagingly disappointing.

I am going to do something that I haven't to this point done, in my IMDb history. I am going to point out a trend I have noticed on this website and possibly ridicule some of the opinions of other IMDb contributors. I do realize this is not normal and believe it may be due to the 80 hours or so I am going to complete this week at work and my lack of cranberry juice or Nutella spread for this morning's bagel breakfast spread. That is like spitting on a man ablaze. First of all, you are spitting on someone. Secondly, the ludicrously small amount of water in the spit couldn't put out a match (of course unless you are a spit marksman, in which case I apologize). And finally, you ARE spitting on someone. That is how I felt about this movie. I was actually hoping Miyazaki could help me out in my temporal predicament, as he had done many times in the past. With hopeful enthusiasm, my confidence and trust of my fellow humans deteriorated to the point of despair and disdain. I realize I should probably sleep on this topic before writing a review, but here we are.

The trend in question involves the best of the user comments. I have noticed that many of the under performing movies' (in my opinion) top listings all praise these movies. That is not that strange. What is strange is that these top listings usually are contributed by "authors" with 20 or fewer contributions (a bunch of them are in the single digits). Is this some form of gorilla marketing ? A devoted single-serving, nom de plum for Shakespeare's modern living legacy or something completely different? It is not for me to decide, but merely to point out a perceived pattern.

This movie is a clear indicator of the above patterns. It took to #11th best comment to get the first "prolific author" (only in the teens), who saw it as a disappointing 7/10 film. I would love to be that disappointed. It would make this day for me seem like drinking warm soda on a hot day. It took to the #14 best comment to get the first true prolific author, who didn't actually see this movie with the original Japanese audio. This duality, this contradiction permeates the movie and it's fans as well. For me it is hard to reconcile. Outside of my current state of being (in which case it is the proverbial straw on the posterior of a dromedary), I would have found this movie comparable to a lukewarm bath. It's not annoying or cold enough to get out, yet not hot enough to want to stay in longer or build a summer home there. With Miyazaki mediocrity is not expected, but here we are.

The world is a Victorian-like Era complete with WWI/WWII like technology powered by steam and various non-nuclear fuels. Victorian covers everything from the structures, the clothes, the technology and even the behaviors. Its turn of the century European influence is quite pronounced. At the same time it is part European and it is also part Japanese, but in more subtle ways.

A young, insecure hat maker's apprentice (Sofî) stumbles upon a magician and his situation, quite by accident while walking on the streets at night. This leads to the Witch of the Waste cursing her with old age. She seems to get older and younger over the course of the movie. I am not sure if this is due to the nature of the curse or if she is affecting the spell itself, with her emotions and thoughts. Maybe it is just a colossal film continuation blunder. I don't know. I do know it was very distracting along with Sofî herself. She then finds the wizards again (Hauru, a.k.a. Howl) and decides to hire herself as the house-keeper of his multidimensional castle. She also makes a deal with the boiler (a.k.a, Karushifâ, Calcipher ; a fire spirit holding the castle together and source of Hauru's power) to help her dispel the curse.

I had a hard time connecting with most of the characters, their motivation and the story (especially the main characters). It was an amalgamate of contradiction. It is a movie that takes its time to build up the story and characters, yet ends in a quick breeze complete with a nicely tied red satin bow. It wants to be a love story, built upon loneliness, insecurity, chance and proximity, yet expressed in the juvenile form. I felt like an adult watching a kid's movie or better yet watching an alien trying to emulate human behavior or thought, but never personally experiencing it. It felt contrived. Logical steps seems to skip, as if human motivation is a mere trite and the result is all that is important.

The animation is the only saving grave of this movie. The style, color and attention to detail is amazing. This world is alive, even though our protagonists are cardboard cut outs of real people. This world is so character shallow that wars are started and ended as simply as one would bite into a cookie. I love the idea, layout and detail of Hauru's moving residence. It is in the title of movie and deservingly so. The most memorable character of the movie would have to be Karushifâ and unfortunately his story takes a side-quest to the main story : Sofî and Hauru. The rest is cute and simplistic. It strives to be deep, yet when we examine the evidence of the inner meaning it is bare or non-existing. These "people" don't live, they just follow a life trajectory. If you like floating around through life, not interested in what is going on around you, then this movie might resonate with you. I on the other hand, would like to believe there are things and people yet to see along my path to wherever.