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

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Clash of the Titans

If the projectionist had spooled a roll of used toilet-paper to the projector, I would've walked away no less enlightened, and slightly less embarrassed (for myself and for the cast) than I felt walking away from the steaming pile of Kraken-turd that is this year's remake of Clash of the Titans.  Don't get me wrong, I knew I was walking into a shit film; it had been out for a couple of weeks and I had read or heard nothing but terrible things.  So, why did I still shell out the nine bucks for this abomination you might ask?  Let me explain.

I grew up watching the OG Clash (1981) I had taped on VHS from TBS' Super Scary Saturday with Grandpa Munster (anybody remember that shit?).  For those of you who had something better to do than watch TBS on Saturday mornings/midnights in the '80's, it's one of those cheesed-out flicks that tied the monster-movie madness of that decade with epic mythology (think Godzilla meets Homer's Odyssey), and was the last film to feature the deft handiwork of visual-effects-monster-master Ray Harryhausen, who was responsible for the campy yet awesome Sinbad movies of the '70's (full of clay-tastic cyclops and centaurs, rocs and eight-armed, sword-wielding serpentine women), as well as another mythological adaptation, Jason and the Argonauts.  So, my only hope was that the filmmakers would respect the source material on some level, and make even a potentially bad film somewhat enjoyable, even if only for the camp factor.

Here's the story:  The king of Argos locks his daughter, Danae, away from the filthy, philandering hands of men in order to avoid the prophecy (damn prophecies) of his death if she has a son.  This only entices Zeus, king of the Gods, and now the only person capable of impregnating her in captivity, which he does.  Learning of the pregnancy, the king seals his daughter and newborn son into a wooden coffin and casts it into the sea, to somehow prolong his fate.  When Zeus finds out, not only does he kill the king, but he tells his brother, god of the seas Poseidon, to unleash the mother-fuckin Kraken (a freakishly large sea-monster or "Titan", from before the time of the gods) upon the city of Argos completely destroying it (overkill?), while Danae and her son float safely to some island in the Aegean, where Perseus grows into the future tanned star of LA Law.

Meanwhile, Calibos, the son of sea-goddess Thetis, is set to marry Princess Andromeda of Joppa.  Being the redneck of Greece, Calibos hunts and kills every living creature in the countryside, including Zeus' prized herd of flying horses save one, Pegasus.  Incurring the wrath of said king of gods, Calibos is transformed into a freakish satyr-like creature and outcast to the swamps of Joppa.  Enraged, Thetis irrationally takes her vengeance out on Andromeda, for if Calibos can't marry her, then nobody can.  She curses the Princess so that if any man wants to marry her, they must answer a riddle, and if they do so incorrectly, they're burned at the stake.  She also meddles in the life of Zeus' son, Perseus, magically transporting him to Joppa, thinking he will fall in love with Andromeda, get the riddle wrong, and burn alive.  Spoiler: He gets the riddle right and marries the princess, making Thetis even angrier and demanding that her still virgin body be sacrificed to the Kraken in thirty days or Joppa will be destroyed.  Then it's Perseus Vs. Calibos/Giant Scorpions/Stygian witches/Medusa/and finally Kraken with help from Daddy in the form of a magical sword/shield/helmet/robotic owl (I shit you not).    Except that this is the plot of '81 Clash.  In '10's Clash, gone is the romance between Perseus and Andromeda, and subsequently the motivation for him to take on this impossibly ridiculous quest to fight a 200-story sea-monster with the head of a snake-haired bitch.  In 2010, Leterrier pits Perseus on a quest for revenge on Zeus and the rest of Mt. Olympus for letting a large statue fall on his boat, killing his adopted-family (sound stupid? trust me it looks stupider).  By taking out the romance, the apparently eunuch director takes out any reason why you should care about whether or not Perseus succeeds.

Much like this year's version, '81's Clash featured an all-star cast of classic screen-greats, including Burgess Meredith (Mick from Rocky), Ursula Andress (Honey Rider from Dr. No), Maggie Smith (McGonagall from Harry Potter and the head nun in Sister Act), and the legendary Sir Laurence Olivier (the original Heathcliff AND Mr. Darcy, and he was in just about every Shakespeare film adaptation), and a promising newcomer as protagonist Perseus, played by tanned TV star Harry Hamlin (ummm, LA Law?).  This time around the marquee boasts veteran names Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, and Pete Postlethwaite, with Aussie Sam Worthington taking on the lead-role of the demi-god son of Zeus.  It's hard not to like that list of names (Worthington was one of the few things I liked about both Avatar and Terminator Salvation), but that's the last time I will associate the word 'like' with this version of the Titans.

I'm not going to spend too much time (too late) breaking down this bad joke of a remake; I've spent enough brain cells on it already, and that doesn't include the bowls I smoked in the parking lot (a requisite for any movie involving Gorgons and flying horses, but especially in the case of this one).  I could argue that the movie should have never been offered in 3D, since it wasn't filmed in 3D, but I didn't see it in 3D, and honestly it couldn't be worse if it was in 1D pixels.  I could elaborate on how the film-makers botched the myth of Perseus and Andromeda, but the '80's version wasn't true to form either (as far as I know there is no mention of a Kraken in the Greek and Roman myths).  And speaking of the Kraken (the only reason why I stayed to the end), I prefer Harryhausen's silly Play-doh version to the ridiculously large, perpetually moving Leterrier version, hands down.  Which brings me to Leterrier, the primary reason why I hate this movie.  Louis Leterrier, French director of this Clash, and previously the first two Transporter movies and the most recent Incredible Hulk: Fuck you for having absolutely no respect for your audience.  You have no ear for dialogue, and even less for character development.  I could include the screenwriters in this blame, because the script (the source code for the dialogue) was indeed awful, but the movie is Leterrier's brainchild; he pushed for this remake, he's ultimately responsible for it, and he better stay the fuck away from my precious Marvel Universe forever more!  For shame.

I feel like I've misled you in that I feel most of this review is more an homage to '81's Clash and less a poo-poo of this year's impostor.  So let's treat this as a double review, and I hope that if you see only one Clash, now you know which one to see.

2010 Clash of the Titans:  1 out of 5
1981 Clash of the Titans:  4 out of 5
 (by the way, these ratings pertain to the stars I issue on Netflix, where I get the vast majority of my movies, and Netflix won't let me rate a movie lower than 1, which I would do so in this case.)

Friday, May 7, 2010


I came, I saw, I came again, and a pint-sized school-girl with a silencer kicked my optical ass! Every scene of director Matthew Vaughn's adaptation of Mark Millar's comic was so fucking vibrant; the soundtrack, the colors, the costumes, the Cage, the c-bombs getting dropped by 12 year-olds. It's evident from frame-to-frame that everyone involved in the making of this film had a blast while doing so.

Kick-Ass embraces every mainstream taboo (teen sex, drug use, pro-pro-pro-violence, comic books, sailor-mouthed pre-teens) with loving arms, portrays them as humanly and humorously as possible, and then pours gasoline on them, cuts off one of their legs with a machete, calls them a cunt, and runs to grab a bazooka. This film was a high-water mark for all directors and writers, especially comic-book writers, who ever wanted to create a story into film for the masses, as raunchy and shameless as they want it, unhindered and un-impinged upon by the all-knowing deus ex machina that is the Hollywood studio exec. The Scotsman Millar had the privilege of seeing his brainchild fully realized into lovely, live-action glory, without the editing, censoring, or otherwise butchering of some platoon of big studio schmuck-o's and executive writer wannabes who think they know what their audience wants (which sadly, apparently they do, as the film is doing less than spectacular at the box office).

Here's a little 'nopis: New York teen, Dave Lizewski, wonders aloud to his friends why there are no super-heroes in the world, or at least why nobody even tries to be a super-hero. His buddies call him a dumb-ass and explain why this idea is obviously ludicrous, their skeptic isms perfectly illustrated by an Armenian kid with head-problems and home-made wings who plummets to his death from a sky-scraper. This of course spurs Dave to buy some ridiculous green and yellow spandex online, pick up a pair of sticks and head out into the most dangerous city on the planet to fight crime, adopting the moniker Kick-Ass; aptly-named as his first foray leads to his own ass-kicking. Actually, every fight Dave gets involved in leads to his ass getting kicked. But he eventually hooks up with the father-daughter, dynamic duo of Big Daddy (Nic Cage) and Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz), and the movie immediately takes a sharp turn towards awesomeness. Chloe and Cage absolutely MAKE this movie! Team-ups, hilarity and ass-kicking ensues as a stellar comic-book literally comes to life.

The players: Aaron Johnson plays Dave Lizewski, and he does a stand-up job as a ferd playing a nerd (ferd, or fake nerd, is a made-up word from Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost; ferds are coming out of the woodwork now that comic-books and their movie adaptations are making trillions of dollars; all of a sudden every one's a Batman or Iron Man fan). I seriously doubt that baby-faced Aaron ever spent any amount of time hangin' with his buds at the comic-book shop, lamenting over coffees and issues of Captain America about their lack of pussy. In real life, the British-born Johnson is known for playing a young John Lennon in Nowhere Boy; he's in his early twenties and already married with children. But give him a pair of glasses, and he does an admirable job making us believe he's a dorky comic dweeb in NYC.

Mark Strong, aka Lord Blackwood from Sherlock Holmes, is New York crime-boss Frank D'Amico. Wonderful actor, but I would have loved to see an Italian-American or at least a New Yorker in this dialogue-heavy role. Can't wait to see him as Sinistro in Green Lantern.

Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin, plays D'Amico's spoiled, sheltered son Chris, who becomes inspired by Kick-Ass, and takes up the mantle of Red Mist....'nuff said.

Nicholas Cage reaffirmed my love for his sickly style of acting with his adaptation of the Batman-esque, Big Daddy. That love usually lasts about eight or nine shitty films (Knowing, Ghost Rider, The Wicker Man), which is about how many he makes between tiny masterpieces like this and Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, which we were lucky enough to get in the same year.

But seriously folks, this movie belongs to little Chloe Moretz and her character, Mindy Macready. Cunts can call her Hit Girl. Every scene involving Hit Girl - starting with her being shot in the chest by Big Daddy, to her Kill Bill in ten-minutes finale - is an absolute joy to behold. And I don't care if that's a little creepy. This Moretz girl has quite a career ahead of her, starting with the Americanization of Let The Right One In (thanks for that nugget, Ain'tItStu), the Swedish vampire instant classic.

The only character I had any sort of problem with was Lizewski's girlfriend, Katie. She's introduced as this untouchable, popular future tri-delt girl at Dave's high-school, who one day out of the blue asks him if he wants to meet for coffee at the hip, new comic-store. He soon realizes this has only happened because she thinks he's gay, and has always wanted a best-bud homeboy to go shopping and get pedi's with. Then he finds out sweet, innocent, cotton-candy Katie has a sordid past involving a pimp named Tre. What?! In a film full of unbelievable shit, Katie's story took the cake.

The soundtrack, while not the most ass-kickingest list of songs put together, works perfectly for Kick-Ass. There's some brilliantly used pop-punk tracks by The Dickies and The Hit Girls, fitting for the high-octane Hit Girl scenes. The original score played during Big Daddy's solo fight scene is pretty fucking raw. Vaughn even slipped in an homage to western soundtracks with Ennio Morricone's Per Qualche Dollaro In Piu (For a Few Dollars More). On the flip-side, there's two tracks by The Prodigy (remember Firestarter?), and they haven't gotten any better. More poppy if you can believe it.

I'm not going to say Kick-Ass is flawless. There are a few lulls in the script; one of the few downsides to staying absolutely true to the source material, you lose the polishing most treatments get once adapted. But for those of us who like pictures in our books, and who see comics as true storyboards, this film was a wet-dream come true. The highs more than make up for the very finite lows. Kick-Ass personifies the desire of every comic-book fan who's ever dreamed of enacting the feats of derring-do they've only witnessed at their finger-tips in the funny-books. And it just happens to have a lot of sex, drugs, and rock & roll. And c-bombs. See this fucking film.

5 out of 5

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Blood Simple: Dead In The Heart Of Texas

This being my first, fully fleshed movie review (besides the one for Watchmen that I video-taped for the Rotten Tomatoes Show that was almost aired on national television, and almost won me $100, but that they ultimately couldn't use because I taped and uploaded it in Thailand...and that I'm still bitter about), I wanted to run with the theme of 'firsts' and go with the first film from two of my, and now everyone's favorite filmmakers, the brothers Coen.

Blood Simple is old-school film noir spread unevenly over Texas toast with more than a few dollops of grisly, unflinching, comedic murder. It's a pathetic podunk love triangle gone rotten that only the Coens could make you care about. Fresh out of film school, the brothers brought every technique and trick they had learned to the table, and executed them with the taut precision of a Hollywood vet.

The title does not lend itself to the lack of a complex story, but is instead based on a phrase from the 'Dashiel Hammet' (The Maltese Falcon, The Thin Man) novel Red Harvest, in which "blood simple" is a term coined to describe the addled, fearful mindset people are in after a prolonged immersion in violent situations, and buddy, there is plenty of violent situation immersion in this here flick. The film stars John Getz (best known as Christina Applegate's scumbag co-worker in Don't Tell Mom The Babysitter's Dead) as Ray, a bartender who falls in love with Abby (Frances McDormand, in her feature film debut), who happens to be married to his boss, Marty (played by Dan Hedaya, better known as the dad in Clueless). Abby reciprocates Ray's affections when he helps her dip town and Marty's clutches, which leads Marty to hire P.I. Loren Visser (played by a diabolically sleazy M. Emmet Walsh , who would've stolen the show had it not been for Fran McDormand's adorable Texas twang), to kill the back-stabbing lovebirds.

In addition to the tangled narrative that is anything but simple, the film is filled with distinct, visual originality, and money-shots a film-school art-house maven might write a thesis about, but that the Coens use with the ease of a close-up: a tense conversation between Ray and Abbey halfway through the film is broken up with succinct and slow-motion suspense of a mere newspaper tossed at the screen door they're standing behind; a scene involving a dark stretch of highway, a stubborn corpse and a shovel, that no doubt inspired a much similar incident in Fargo; Visser, first shooting, then punching through a wall with his left hand, to pry loose the knife stuck in his right hand; the erratic manual track-and-zoom shot that Joel Coen picked up from his buddy Sam Raimi, after working as an editor on Evil Dead; and the funniest use of a cul-de-sac before The Burbs, all make for the most entertaining "art" film I've ever seen. If you've never seen it, or haven't in a long while like me, you have to queue this shit up.

5 out of 5.