Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Crimson Rivers

Two French cops and their seemingly unconnected and bizarro cases converge in spectacularly far-fetched fashion.  Jean Reno (Leon) is a living-legend Paris inspector venturing to a countryside college town to investigate the grisly torture and killing of a Ph.D student. The murdered monsieur was found in a glacier that looms over the college, bound in the fetal position, missing both hands and both eyes, with acid-rain in his eye-sockets. I shit you not.

Meanwhile, Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises) is smoking a joint on duty, and sets out to investigate the desecration of a tomb for a girl who's been dead since '82.  The case leads him to the dead girl's school, a convent, a group of kick-boxing skinheads, and eventually to the sleepy little college town where he teams up with Leon.

The story is ludicrous. There's a crazy blind nun who sees demons, a group of incestuous, fascist intellectuals, a Nazi breeding ground, and an avalanche.  I liked the beginning, the early characterization of both detectives and their initial investigations, but it quickly turns into a muddled made-for-tv mess of a film, with poor dialogue (even by French standards) and an over-dramatic score, saved only by not-surprisingly strong performances by both leads.  Think Boys From Brazil meets Cliffhanger.  I was never bored, but never dazzled.

Tomatometer:  68%
Netflix Est.:3.0/5
Rating: 3/5 (I'd probably give it a 2.5 if Netflix allowed, but if I have to round I'll round up)

Friday, September 3, 2010

Burma VJ

In September of 2007, thousands of Burmese monks and students took to the streets of Rangoon to protest decades of brutality, ethnic cleansing, and overall unhappiness inflicted upon them by the ruling military junta, and to demand the release of democratically elected Prime Minister and Burmese heroine, Aung San Suu Kyi, who's been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.  The police responded with gunfire, tear-gas and torture.  Hundreds of monks, perhaps the most peaceful beings on the planet, simply vanished, leaving only a trail of blood on the streets.

This collection of harrowing footage from the guerilla video journalists of the Democratic Voice of Burma, filmed with hidden hand-cams and cell-phones in the midst of flying bullets and exploding tear-gas cannisters, needs to be seen.  It fucking yearns JUST to be seen.  The brave men and women who risked their lives to acquire such footage and then smuggle it to news outlets outside of Burma realize the fact that most people don't know, understand or care enough about their plight to do anything of actual substance to help them.  They realize that most people who see or hear about Burma on the news don't give it a passing thought.  They realize that most likely this film is at best third place in the Best Documentary Oscar category; another tragic human-interest story for people to watch on HBO and then forget about.  They say as much in some of the special feature interviews on the DVD.  But none of that stops them from risking what little freedom they still have and their very lives, just by turning their cameras on.

Now to step off my soapbox for a second.  This isn't me just being pseudo-advocate here, this is how I really felt after watching this doc.  And this obviously isn't the best quality of film footage, but it's footage filmed in complete fear of being seen or caught with a camera.  So just the fact that it has surfaced at all is impressive beyond measure.

Rating: 5/5

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rob Roy

I'm gonna keep these short from now on because if I don't, if I write about everything I have a mind to, then these things will rival L. Ron Hubbard for his lack of brevity.

Rob Roy (Liam Neeson) is a Scottish clansman and it's 1718.  The clans are dissipating due to famine, disease and greedy noblemen, and many are immigrating to America.  Rob Roy doesn't want to do that, he wants to stay in Scotland and ravish his wife (Jessica Lange), and maybe a few sheep now and then, and hang out with his two boys, and herd cattle and listen to Enya down at the town bonfire this weekend.  But he and his clan need money in order to live that lifestyle, so he arranges to take out a loan with his lordship, the Marquis Montrose (John Hurt), and sends his buddy Eric Stoltz (Eric Stoltz) to collect it.  Unbeknownst to Montrose, his factor, Killearn (Brian Cox) and English nephew?, Archibald Cunningham (Tim Roth) conspire to rob Rob's friend Stoltz of the money, murdering him in the process. Thus begins the plight Rob Roy and his family and clan find themselves in for the bulk of the story.

I love this movie, and not just for the constant bagpipe, but also for the roughly-hewn characters and the actors who portray them. Tim Roth tears this shit up as spoiled English hedonist and all-around bastard, Archie Cunningham.  "Love is a dunghill, pretty Betty, and I am but a cock who crawls upon it to crow," pretty much sums up his role in this story. Dare I say his finest role, or at least the most convincing I've seen him play.

Jessica Lange turns in another randy performance as Rob's wife.  She just has this raunchy and weathered way about her that doesn't subtract from her beauty or skill as an actress, indeed it only enhances them.  When she wakes up one morning and walks down to the beach near her home to relieve herself, it just looked so natural. It could have been a brilliant little piece of cinema verite from director Caton-Jones, but something just tells me Lange did that on set on a whim and a camera-man was lucky enough to capture it, because that's how she rolls.  But Lange's performance during the whole r-bomb scene, and the restraint she exhibits in keeping that nastiness from her husband, is where she really fucking shines.

And Liam Neeson is just Oskar Schindler with a sword and a skirt.

Rating:  4/5

Monday, June 28, 2010

The Incredibles

I was a late Pixar convert; I still haven't seen any of the Toy Story movies.  But I am a fan of animation done well, because if done well, anything thing is possible and plausible.  I did somehow see A Bug's Life on accident or by some ancillary means (i.e. some girlfriend or something), and I did enjoy it.  But The Incredibles was the first Pixar film I purposefully paid to see; in fact I saw it in theatres by myself back in '04 for the sole reason that it was about super-heroes, which I have a soft-spot and hard-on for.  And only during the opening credits was I pleasantly surprised to find that it was written and directed by Brad Bird, who created one of my favorite films, if not my favorite animated film, The Iron Giant (actually, I'll have to revisit that thought later, but I fucking love that cartoon).

The Players

The aforementioned Brad Bird writes and directs.  The voice talent is supplied by none other than "Coach", Craig T. Nelson, as Incredible patriarch, Mr. Incredible (super-strength, invulnerability), as well as Holly Hunter, Mr. Incredible's wife/baby mama, Elastigirl (super-stretchy).  Samuel L. voices Frozone (subzero coolness), and Jason Lee does the super-villain voice of Syndrome.

Synopsis and Stuff

The story about a family of super-heroes.  It's definitely been done before (the Commish has a new show about one, No Ordinary Family), but never with the power of Pixar.

The film begins in the past, where we're introduced to several super-heroes via old-timey, narrated news-reels.  This world's "Superman" is a fellow by the name of Mr. Incredible, whose secret identity is Bob Parr.  He enjoys the life of a care-free, bachelor superhero, occasionally teaming up with his buddy Frozone, but never taking on a sidekick.  His biggest fan, teen-aged Buddy Pine, has trouble accepting this latter bit, and insists on assisting Mr. Incredible.  With no powers of his own, Buddy uses an array of gadgets to try and stop Bomb Voyage from robbing a bank, but bungles the job and enables the villain to escape.  Mr. Incredible and Frozone are forced to clean up the mess, humiliating and scolding Buddy in the process, and consequently making them late to Incredible's wedding to his new-found love, Elastigirl.

Shortly thereafter, a series of lawsuits from injured bystanders results in the government banning super-heroics.  Cut to the present, where Bob and Helen Parr now live extremely boring lives in Municiberg, with their super-children Violet (invisibility/force fields), Dashiell (super-speed), and baby Jack-Jack (appears normal), all of them forced to suppress their powers in public.  Bob, now an insurance agent, hates his job and secretly sneaks out with Frozone to fight crime.  One day, Bob's fired for losing his temper towards his boss (voiced by Wallace Shawn, who's Vizzini from The Princess Bride (5 stars) and who I thought was dead), and is dreading telling his wife, when he finds a video message from the beautiful Mirage, who covertly hires him to take out the killer robot, Omnidroid 9000, on a remote island.  Incredible handles the job with ease, and takes on more assignments for Mirage, making lots of money and keeping the loss of his real-life job a secret from his wife and family.  Bob is eventually led back to the island, where he discovers that Mirage and the Omnidroid actually work for Mr. Incredible's would-be side-kick, Buddy Pine, who now goes by the super-villain moniker, Syndrome, and who traps the hero, forcing his family to attempt a rescue.  Syndrome ultimately reveals his evil plan of luring the world's super-heroes to his island to fight the Omnidroid, improving the robot's weaknesses each time, and killing the do-gooders in the process.  After seemingly destroying the Incredible family, Syndrome takes his robot to the city, and stages a fight with the monstrosity to win the hearts of the public.  The animated shit hits the fan, and the Incredibles escape from the island to save the day, but not in the way you'd expect (hooray Jack-Jack!).

Brad Bird's stories are laced with the love and nostalgia of Golden Age comic-books and fantastic tales. But he doesn't alienate those of the audience who don't give two shits about any "Age" of comic-book by just telling damn good stories, with lovable characters, ingenious plot twists, and with the help of Pixar tech, seamless animation.  So for 115 minutes, I forget that I'm an unemployed 30 year-old man watching cartoons.    Not that that would stop me.

5/5 stars

Monday, June 21, 2010

Re-Animator "What kind of medicine are you involved in? Death."

If any photo or recollection of author and cult-leader H.P. Lovecraft is accurate, the man was very short on light-heartedness and optimism.  But even Lovecraft, America's version of Uncle Aleister Crowely and father of "cosmic horror", the Necronomicon, and all things Cthulhu, would be hard-pressed not to smile at this hi-larious adaptation of his story, "Herbert West-Reanimator".

The Players

Directed by Stuart Gordon (dir. of The Dentist, The Wonderful Ice Cream Suit, and Space Truckers and writer of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids),  Re-animator features an unheard-of cast suitable to it's B-level stature with the likes of Jeffrey Combs, Bruce Abbott and Barbara Crampton as protagonists and Al Berry as Dr. Hans Gruber (a beer on me for whoever can tell me which movie features a classic villain of the same name).

Some directors go for broke with their debut films and leave everything on the table, as if they'll never get the chance to direct again.  Sam Raimi (The Evil Dead) and the Coens (Blood Simple) come to mind.  Re-animator was Stuart Gordon's first shot at the megaphone, and while it may not have led to as storied a career as his counterparts, he nevertheless turned the opportunity into an operatic splatter-house comedy horror that never fails to entertain.  

 Synopsis and Stuff

American medical student, Herbert West (Combs, looking like a younger, shorter, smarter, and more serious Bruce Campbell), somehow eludes authorities at Zurich University Institute of Medicine after being accused of murdering his professor, Dr. Hans Gruber....and then bringing him back to life via some neon green reagent that looks a lot like funky cold medina.  He's unexplainedly deported  back to America, where he's allowed to continue his death-defying research at Muskatonic University.  

Herbert moves in with fellow student, Dan Cain (Abbott, looking like Combs' younger, handsomer brother, or Noah Wyle from E.R.), and turns their basement into his own little secret laboratory.  Dan is secretly dating the dean's daughter, Megan, and has a Talking Heads: Stop Making Sense poster on his bedroom wall (which led to my netflixing the seminal concert film that I'll review soon).  Megan is almost immediately weirded out by Herbert, and her suspicions are justified when her cat Rufus shows up dead in Herbert's freezer.  Herbert gives some bullshit excuse about finding the cat already dead and storing it in the freezer until he could break the news to the couple (which reminded me of The Office episode when Dwight euthanizes Angela's cat), and recruits the naive Dan as his research assistant when he "re-animates" Rufus with the FCM, albeit as a ferocious, uncontrollable zombie cat.

Herbert creates animosity for himself and Dan, with their professor and Megan's dad the dean, which leads to them being banned from the university, making them desperate to perfect the re-animating reagent/medina in order to salvage their reputations.  So, in search of test subjects they break into the morgue.  Re-animation madness ensues, fake blood and guts abound.

Worth Your Time?

This movie is just 86 minutes long, but it's 86 minutes of fucking Frankensteinian fun. The gung-ho Gordon manages to stuff every minute of the film with all sorts of creative gore splendor.  At one point, Herbert, having trouble keeping Professor Carl Hill's severed head up-right, uses one of those desk note-spear thingies for support.  And the skull-peeling scene is masterful.

Also, every member of this fully capable cast treats their respective performance as their only chance at an Oscar.  And when you mix that level of dedication with a movie as campy and playfully gory as this, it's just a damn good time.  So, is it worth YOUR time?  I'll leave you with this image:

4 out of 5

Fun little tidbit I pointed out to myself, and then verified via IMDB:  the opening credits theme is inspired heavily by Hitchcock's Psycho theme; almost identical, in fact.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Nightmare On Elm Street ('84)

I remember first learning, on the playground of Talbot Elementary, that there existed movies whose sole purpose was to scare the crap out of you.  The couple of my friends who were lucky enough to have parents who were oblivious to what they watched on television would regale us with stories of ax-wielding, hockey mask-wearing behemoths terrorizing teenagers at Crystal Lake, and before I had even seen one, I was in love with horror movies.

As I began seeing the trailers for the newest Nightmare, predisposing it as crap and proclaiming it as inferior to Craven's masterpiece, I realized it had been at least a decade since I'd seen the '84 classic, and wondered if it still held up 25 years later.  So with a rainy Tuesday night and Netflix Instant, I turned off the lights, got out the whiskey and weed, and settled in for a little historical horror.

I'm quite sure no one needs a synopsis of Nightmare, but truth be told, there were some plot points that I don't remember from the first go around, and that made my reunion with Fred that much more enjoyable.  Back in the day, I remember not giving a shit about the 'how' and 'why' of Fred Krueger, and being more concerned with how the hell he was going to slice up his next victim.  This time around I found myself paying closer attention to Nancy's mom's story about the neighborhood parents banding together to hunt down and kill alleged kiddie murderer, Fred Krueger by cornering him and setting him on fire.  But it was never explained why Fred used a glove with knives for fingers, and why he only showed up in his victims' dreams.  But I don't really care why, because it enables Kreuger to kill in increasingly bizarre and disturbing ways, which may ultimately be the 'why'.  For example, how else would you explain why Freddy's chasing Tina down an alley with ridiculously elongated arms, other than that it's a fucking dream so why wouldn't he elongate his arms (for some reason, that image above all other fucked up images from this film sticks with me the most, that and the goat).

A Nightmare On Elm Street still stands strong as ONE of the best horror movies of all time (but not THE best; that distinction in my opinion currently belongs to the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre).  It does however have arguably THE best scene in horror film history.  And I of course welcome all dissenters to weigh in on this, but THE quintessential scene in horror film history unfolds as follows:  after realizing that they're all three having the same nightmare about a creep in a fedora with fucked-up fingers and face, teen friends Nancy (Heather Langenkamp, older sister on that 80's show Just the 10 of Us) and Johnny Depp stay overnight with Tina when her mom goes out of town (i.e. requisite horror movie sleepover).  Their jock -friend Rod shows up and plays some spooky pranks on the three, then goes upstairs to have loud requisite sex with Tina, while chaste couple Nancy and Johnny Depp stay downstairs.  After they all fall asleep, the inevitable shit hits the fan.  Freddy appears and watches Tina in her sleep through rubber wallpaper, then goads her into the dark alley behind her house by throwing things at her window and creepily calling out her name.  She is startled by a goat.  And then Freddy makes his move, chasing her down the alleyway, blocking her escape with the aforementioned Mr. Fantastic arms, and cornering her in her backyard where he slices off his fingers in front of her just for shits and giggles.  She tries to make it back inside, but he grabs her and a struggle ensues, which we then see is taking place in her dream as she begins to thrash about next to a sleeping Rod.  Rod wakes up, pulls off the bed-sheet and Tina's stomach is slashed open by four invisible finger-knives as she's pulled screaming by an unseen force, up the wall to the ceiling and falls to the bed in a bloody heap.  Classic.

This and so many other iconic moments in Nightmare (Freddy's hand surfacing between Nancy's legs during her bubble-bath; Johnny Depp getting sucked into his bed then spewed back out in a gore geyser), coupled with the semi-intelligent storyline, if not thoroughly explained, make for one of the most inspired and inspiring horror films ever made, and certainly the best of Craven's and of the 1980's.

5 out of 5

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, or "The closest I've come to doing heroin with Nicolas Cage and a couple of iguanas."

The first thing people say to me when I bring up the film Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans is, "Is it as fucked up as the original (Bad Lieutenant, which came out in 1992, starring Harvey Keitel and sporting an NC-17)?"  That's if they've seen BL, but most people just raise their eye-brows and nod.  And then I mention that it's "my favorite Herzog film to date! (which isn't saying much since I've only seen three out of his 80-something films)" and that's when they really feign interest.

The truth is BL:PCNO is as much a mystery to me as to someone who's neither seen nor heard of the original or of Werner Herzog. I'm not sure how the film came to be or why it was conceived in the first place.  Is it a sequel?  A follow-up?  Is it going to be the next big franchise, a la Harry Potter (I can envision a dark and twisted series of notorious crazies playing BL's in different cities all over the world, e.g. Del Toro in Mexico City, the dude from Brother in Tokyo, the dude from Oldboy in Seoul, Crowe in Sydney, Gary Busey in Starke, FL)?  When told about the possibility of a remake of his film, Abel Ferrera, who co-wrote and directed BL reportedly said he "felt horrible""like when you get robbed" and that those involved with the remake "should all die in hell."  When Herzog was asked why he was remaking the film, he reportedly claimed that it was not a remake and that he had never seen the original (bullshit).  Some theorize that the producers only added "Bad Lieutenant" to the title in order to get a better market, which I find unbelievable because so few people have heard of the first film.  Suffice to say, whether a sequel, remake, re-imagining or none of the above, both films share the same basic plot which follows a drug-addled, corrupt cop as he traverses the seedy parts of his respective city (the first BL takes place in NYC).

To elaborate a little on BL:PCNO's plot, we are introduced to detective Terence McDonagh (Cage) in the first scene as he's investigating a Katrina-flooded jail with his cop buddy, Val Kilmer.  They come across an inmate who begs to be released before he drowns in the rising hurricane water.  The two cops laugh and poke fun at the doomed man, and Terence complains about not wanting to ruin his European underwear, but he eventually jumps into the water and debris to save the pathetic convict, to the protest of Val Kilmer.  Fade to black.  Now, we find Terence in a doctor's office being told he's permanently damaged his spine (presumably in the rescue attempt), and that he'll have to take Vicodin for the rest of his life.  End scene.  The following scene show's McDonagh being promoted to Lieutenant for his heroic actions.  And that's all the exposition we're gonna get.  This is all we have to explain why Terence McDonagh spends the next two hours abusing his newfound power in increasingly hedonistic ways, scoring parking-lot sex and smack from night-clubbers, pimping out his prostitute girlfriend, Eva Mendes, and smacking around grandmas in a drug-induced haze.  Ostensibly, the rest of the story revolves around McDonagh's investigation of five Senegalese immigrants, but this case only serves as the sandbox for Terence's many vices and the methods in which he enjoys them.

I don't want to reveal too many of the juicy bits, but I will say that my favorite scene involves Nic Cage, a lot of drugs and a couple of lizards.  He walks into an apartment, high as a Georgia pine, where Val Kilmer and a couple of other cops are staking out a suspect, and begins to converse when he notices two iguanas on the coffee table.  He asks the other cops what they're doing there, and they look at him like he's dipped in shit.  His apparent hallucination continues, and is even joined by the audience in a playful poke at the fourth wall.  As Herzog gives one of the iguanas a couple of nudges with the lens, Cage looks on smiling humorously at the camera, and a moment is shared.  Fucking magic.

Given the aforementioned synopsis, a lot of people will not like this movie.  If you need reductive clarification for every movie you see (i.e. if you need to know exactly what was in Marcellus Wallace's briefcase), then this movie is not for you.  Oh, and if you don't like drug binges and gratuitous sex and violence and downward spiral tragic train-wreck stories, then it's not for you either.  But I for one enjoy a healthy fascination for train-wrecks, and this is one of the most personified examples of train-wreck, short of an actual train-wreck and Jon and Kate Plus 8.  And the fact that Herzog and Cage ride that fine line between train-wreck and fascination so precariously throughout the film is what makes it so brilliant.  That's right, brilliant, and in my opinion superior to Abel Ferrera's.  Both films were amazing, but Herzog's was just a little more palatable, and Cage a little more charming (I often found myself rooting for him, despite his, ahem, shortcomings; and vice-versa with Harvey Keitel).

You can not casually view this film and come away without an intense opinion, either positive or negative.   Fortunately for me, in this age of tabloid drug queens and crotch-shots, and video-games that give me bona-fide nightmares, my mind has been dulled to lasciviousness, so very little of BL:PCNO shocked me (but trust me, I did catch myself staring slack-jawed at the screen during two or three particularly nasty scenes).  But I still had an intense opinion, which is that I enjoyed every fuckin minute of this bizarre and rollicking good time.  And I didn't even mention the breakdancing corpse.

Note:  I got this off of Netflix.  I wanted to see it with Stu when it came to the Hippodrome, but I couldn't free myself up from my insanely busy schedule (ha).  The first Bad Lieutenant was my very first NC-17 movie (although it later got clipped down to an R).

4 out of 5