Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Pearl Harbor (2001)

What an ill-advised project; a large-scale depiction of the epic attack sandwiched in between a cochamamie love story with 2 hunks and a babe. As strong as the central attack is, and some of the side scenes and performances are, assuming the main plot here would keep the viewer's interest alongside the action is borderline offensive. Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale are wooden and lifeless, but the script does not do them any favors; the dialogue in their scenes could've been written by my kid sister. Josh Hartnett comes out relatively unscathed by downplaying every nuance of his ridiculous character, as does Cuba Gooding, Jr. Alec Baldwin, Dan Aykroyd, Ewen Bremner, and Tom Sizemore register strongly in their stock roles (especially man-god Baldwin), and Jon Voight is a convincing F.D.R. It is a painful reality that the side stories of the film, as derivative and predictable as they are, end up being far more diverting than the central story. They have camp value, and are energetic and lively enough to provide consistent chuckles, whereas the love story vacuums all residual interest. There is potential here; Cuba's scenes, based on real life, actually achieve a very high level of war-film energy. But the main thrust of the story is total and complete contrived bullshit, and no amount of heroism, spectacle, or hard-boiled Baldwin can make up for it.

Skip it, save for a casual viewing for camp value. That's how I got through the 3 hour shitstorm without feeling like I wasted my time...but I still can't recommend it, even slightly.

Give 'Em Hell, Malone (2009)

Pretty sick noir/action flick about Tom Jane as a gun for hire on a quest to recover a stolen briefcase, and its contents. The plot is derivative, and lifts from many different films, but that is redeemed by the pace of the film, which is nearly breakneck. Between the snappy dialogue, the action, and the lively production design, there is always enough going on here to supercede the story which is, aside from being cliched, sorta thin. The villain, a corporate exec, rants and raves on a phone in front of a huge fireplace, as if he's the devil himself, and Malone himself is nearly a superhero; he raves as he takes bullets in the opening scene, "Some guys are harder to kill than others; lucky for me, I'm one of those guys." There is a fine line between noir and camp that films like Lucky Number Slevin try, and fail, to achieve, and this film treads it successfully for the whole endeavor.

The film is exceptionally well cast. Tom Jane is a natural for the lead, as one who has seen his performances as Neal Cassady and the Punisher can attest to, delivering his meaty, noir dialogue with zeal; one of his strengths as a performer is that there is a tangible sense of energy when he is engaged with the material (Boogie Nights, The Tripper), and this is a perfect example, and it keeps his hard-boiled noir hero from becoming a full cliche. Ving Rhames is one of those few dudes who can refer to himself as a big, bad, black motherfucker and have it seem, rather than goofy, sickeningly badass. His villainous right-hand-man character is simultaneously violent and sympathetic, creating an actual foil to Malone rather than an obstacle; if the "To Be Continues" subtitle at the end of the feature is to be believed, you can bet Ving's character will play a prominent role. Elsa Pataky is a serviceable, if slightly undercooked, femme fatale, and Leland Orser turns in a brief, but dependable performace as Malone's handler. Two supporting performances really stand out, and those are French Stewart, as a hilariously cheesy lounge singer/stoolie, and Doug Hutchison as "Matchstick," a pyromaniac villain covered head to toe in burn scars, with increasingly impressive makeup effects. Hutchison may be taking a cue from Heath's Joker with his hyper-American delivery and almost-proud psychotic ravings, but takes it so far over the top that it registers as a purely comic creation, and, as in Punisher: War Zone, Hutchison's take on the material elevates it from interesting to truly memorable status.

Highly Recommended for fans of noir, Tom Jane, or Russell Mulcahy. Myself, as a fan of Highlander, Ricochet, and The Shadow, I consider this a return to form for the maligned action director; I hope he finally finds his niche with moderately-budgeted, highly stylized action flicks like this.

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003)

"Beat" Takeshi Kitano updates the classic Japanese tale of Zatoichi, the blind swordsman/masseur, with his trademark exuberance, deadpan humor, and sporadic, outlandish violence. The plot is overly complicated, but is set up to allow Zatoichi to remain in the background and not wear out his welcome; the Naruto sisters witness their whole family killed by clansmen, and task Zatoichi with taking down them and their rival clan. His chief rival is a ronin, hired as a bodyguard for one of the clan leaders to support his dying wife, and whose skills nearly match Zatoichi's (in the light, that is). The clan politics are interesting, but become tedious; without the traditional Japanese environment, there is little here that significantly deviates from his Yakuza sagas. The two winning elements here are the fight scenes, with use bright, CGI-enhanced blood spurts and lively samurai work to give samurai fans nice sweaty action boners, and, as always, the half-paralyzed superhero of Takeshi himself.

Aside from his understanding of complex crime sagas reminiscent of this one, the match of Kitano with this material is ideal for another reason: his minimalist acting style is so perfect for this environment, it is a wonder why he never felt inclined to tackle the samurai genre before. His face, devoid of movement, as usual, keeps him an enigma, and allows his character to be the catalyst for much of what goes on around him. He massages, gambles, and kills with equal indifference, only consistently taking pleasure at the stupidity of the villains who underestimate him. He shuffles his feet like a pathetic old man, and seems to invite evildoers to test their merit against him. I'm sure his stardom allows this aspect to play much better in Japan, but for an American who appreciates his work, his cheeky, interesting interpretation of Zatoichi definitely made the project worthwhile. Mention must also be made to Gadarukanuru Taka, who, as Zatoichi's goofy companion, Shinkichi, manages to make one forget about all the grotesque old comic foils of these samurai picures, and has several hilarious scenes interspersed with the plot that do much to sustain one's attention span. One scene, where he miserably tries to relay Zatoichi's teachings on three bandits, recalls Beat's brilliant beachside Russian roulette scene in Sonatine.

Recommended to fans of samurai films, color-rich Japanese cinema, or Takeshi Kitano. This is not the rip-roaring samurai adventure one might expect, but definitely contains enough nuance and originality to be a interesting, fun Zatoichi film.

Gamer (2009)

Fun, but ultimately hollow rumination on the future of gaming and interactive technology. Gerard Butler plays Kable, the headliner of a reality show called Slayers, involving remote-controlled Death Row inmates competing to the death for a chance at freedom. The derivative, Battle Royale-esque plotline is not among the films detriments; the plot has enough intricacies, and moves quickly enough, to avoid leaning on its ostensibly tired premise. The action scenes within the game are very well handled, and do, at points, truly feel like live-action renditions of video game action, a la Call of Duty. The film gets going once you meet Kable's handler, a teenage kid who bought the rights to play him online. He gets involved in a revolutionary attempt, and the film begins to echo The Running Man. However, the broad satire of the film, Neveldine/Taylor's trademark kinetic energy, and the perversity of elements such as a SimMolester named Rick Rape played by Peter Petrelli keep the film from being a total waste of time.

Butler is strong, and believable as a trumped-up action hero, but boring; there is no question that Jason Statham's self-awareness and undiluted machismo would have ideally suited this project. The kid who plays Kable's handler, as well as Amber Valletta as Kable's wife, are typical, shallow, and forgettable, more so than any major character in the Crank films. Kyra Sedgwick, John Leguizamo, Alison Lohman, and Terry Crews are underused, but register nonetheless; Ludacris's appearance is just embarassing and pointless. However, the cast's true saving grace is Dexter, Michael C. Hall. His villainous performance as the mastermind behind Slayers, and the technology behind it, is a hilariously fun creation. He puts on a vaguely southern drawl, sniffs every object he interacts with, and generally acts like the creepiest summbitch alive; by the time he is dancing to "I've Got You Under My Skin" while beating up Gerard Butler, you almost want him to win just so he'll earn some more screen time. The film never regains the energy it contains when he is onscreen, and his devotion to the over-the-top nature of his character is one of the few truly excellent touches of the project.

Slightly Recommended for fans of action or war video games and Running Man/Battle Royale-esque plots. Crank fans take heed; this is not a hair on the ass of either of those Neveldine/Taylor masterpieces.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oleanna (1994)

Typically strong piece from David Mamet about sexual politics between a college professor and his feminist student. The whole film involves the interplay between the two on three separate occasions, each with escalating conflict and tension. William H. Macy plays the teacher as a bored man who has seen the seams in the education system he represents and seeks to escape it, if only for one student. Debra Eisenstadt plays the student as a lost soul, desperate for a confirmation that her struggle to get accepted to a prestigious school was worth it. Both of the actors are extremely sensitive and believable, and keep you interested as the conflict develops.

Mamet is a master wordsman, and this film is no exception. The interplay between the two is relentlessly fascinating, especially during the early developments. Mamet has a keen sense of what is essential and what can remain unsaid, and uses it to create enormous amounts of tension that build up for the entirety of the running time. The true mark of brilliance of this film, and the element that keeps it in almost a constant stream of major stage revivals, is that you do not know who the villain is. Both characters manage to seem completely justified in their actions from their point of view, even if you do end up taking one of their sides. The dialogue hints at much but divulges little; the main question of the film seems to be, "if something might've potentially happened, and seems like it could have happened, is that nearly as bad as it actually happening?" It is left for you, the viewer, to decide, and the graciousness of Mamet to the intelligence of the viewer gives the endeavor a hefty amount of integrity.

Highly Recommended. Sure to instigate arguments between friends, family, and especially lovers. Just don't complain about it being talky...if you don't like films where people talk a lot, this isn't for you.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Series 7: The Contenders (2001)

Hilarious mockumentary set up as a reality show following 6 people around as they try and achieve the show's goal: murdering the other 5 contestants. Each contestant is given a 9mm and a list of the other players, and must stay within the confines of the contestants' home town or they will be hunted down and murdered by the show's own "SWAT" team. The film was shot on video, and has a distinctly Cops-esque feel, before the reality TV scene became so glossy and over-produced that it makes this film look like a home movie. Brooke Smith plays the protaganist, an 8-month pregnant woman who has survived the show multiple times, but stays and fights on for the welfare of her unborn child. Smith, who's only prior role that I know of was the woman in Buffalo Bills hole (the ditch.) in The Silence of the Lambs. Here, she drops the helpless victim and takes charge; cantankerous and bitter, she kills relatively mercilessly while humorously screwing with their heads to ensure her advantage, until it turns out one of the contenders knows her from her more vulnerable past. The other cast members are very exceptional and real; you remember their faces and their plights, and sympathize with them when they make the decision to kill, or when they bite it themselves. Will Arnett narrates the whole thing as an EXTREME tv show (prob on Fox), adding his patented "Club Sauce" delivery to the films already thoroughly satiric tone.

In some ways, the movie is funnier than Man Bites Dog, but not as provacative. The focus here is on reality tv and exploitation, not on dehumanization. The deaths are played almost straight, and there are scenes of true pathos here. The reality TV format, and the unknown cast, allows you to accept the world that is presented, and I completely forgot the absurdity of the premise and got caught up in the plot. Even when the film begins to take itself more seriously (in its own way), I did not cry bullshit because the reality had been sufficiently set up. This is not another American Dreamz, where the reality of the reality show was as tenuous as Chris Klein's acting, but a legitimate satirical exercise.

Highly Recommended. This film was made after Survivor and Who Wants to be a Millionaire, but is more relevant than ever; the kicks you get while watching the human drama unfold with the murders shed a lot of light on the appeal of many of today's reality shows. This is an indie that did not want to be something else, but took its underground appeal and ran with it.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Man Bites Dog (1992)

Provacative, spellbinding French film about a documentary crew following around a serial killer. The killer, Benoit, is a charming son of a bitch, and is the primary aspect of the film that supersedes its avant garde subject matter. He jokes and basks in the "joie de vivre" as he murders completely innocent people in the most inhumane ways you can imagine. The documentary crew is obviously smitten with the man, and accepts his flagrant charm as an excuse for his horrific deeds. The film itself is black and white and, presumably, 16mm, and it truly feels like a documentary. Stylistically, this feels like a French response to Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer. Whereas that film went to great lengths to depict the truest possible monster of his character, this film sees the humor of him; the man that sustains himself through the death of others, including whole families, and yet treasures his own loved ones. I don't want to talk about the film any more. This is a film that deserves to be experienced by everyone, especially today, for it is now more relevant than ever.

Highly Recommended. This is a thoroughly engrossing, intelligent, and powerful film that says much about humanity, filmmaking, and the fragility of life. Must-see.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Final Countdown (1980)

Sweet, if fleeting, Twilight Zone-esque flick about an aircraft carrier that gets warped back to 1941 Pearl Harbor, a day before the attack from Japan. The story is set up almost like a late 70s disaster picture; everyone has their own little defining character quirks, and the ensemble stands out more than any one lead. That being said, I don't have to tell you that Kirk Douglas plays a fat, swinging dick of a captain, whose concern for his crew overrides any grander notions of power. Martin Sheen plays a DOD suit charged with analyzing the crew and reporting any misconduct. James Farentino is the stalwart pilot, who happens to be writing a nonfiction book on WWII. Ron O'Neal is Douglas's loyal, but hot-headed second-in-command. Charles Durning and Katherine Ross play a WWII-era Senator and his secretary, respectively, who get caught up with the drama. The story mostly involves the ethical implications of launching a pre-emptive strike against the approaching Japanese fleet; should they take the initiative, and avenge an attack that hasn't been made yet, or rest and let history safely play out as it should? That central conceit holds the movie afloat, and keeps the tension and character work interesting for the running time. Still, there is nothing here that matches the cerebral musings of the best Twilight Zones, and the military hardware, although impressive, takes up far too much screen time. The same cannot be said for Troma President Lloyd Kaufman, who has a tragically small role as a communications officer on board.

Recommended for fans of sci-fi parables, a la Zone or The Outer Limits, or strong naval stories. Or, of course, people who can't get enough of Mr. Douglas's gloriously inflamed cleft (like me).

P.S. There is an interview with Kaufman on the DVD, where he admits that he believed, as a production manager, that the movie was dead in the water due to a cantankerous cast and crew, and the only things that saved it were the efforts of producer Peter Douglas, and Kirk Douglas, whose professionalism seems unbelievably strong for when he was at this point in his career. Kaufman lovingly recalls Kirk's reaction after watching him do his cameo: "You're a better actor than you are a producer, and you're not a good actor." "That was Kirk," Kaufman says. I believe it.

Count Dracula (1970)

Decent reinterpretation of Bram Stoker's classic, with Christopher Lee turning in a characteristically great Dracula. Herbert Lom is a strong, wise Professor Van Helsing, and Klaus Kinski is a raving, yet surprisingly deep Renfield. Maria Rohm is a gorgeous Mina, and thoroughly fits in her Victorian environment in a way Winona Ryder and Sadie Frost struggled to. The story follows basically the same beats as the novel, however here, Jonathan returns to London before the Count, warning his loved ones; this deflates much of the tension of the Count's nefarious intentions, and makes the film more of a traditional cat-and-mouse tale than a detective story.

The production value, scripting, and direction are all standard rate for an early 70's B-movie. The sets are often stagey, the effects become obvious and gratutious by the end, and the supporting players are as stiff as surfboards. However, the central players do much to sustain ones interest in this juvenile rehashing of the classic saga; aside from Lee, Lom and Kinski turn in performances far more sophisticated and professional than the production warrants. It is not enough to make the film

Only for fans of Christopher Lee, Dracula films, and bad 70s cinema. For me, this was a good casual late night flick.

Moon (2009)

Wow. Not like this movie blew me was thoroughly entertaining, but no classic. But wow...the thematic material in this material is so fresh, so provacative, that I cannot help but wholeheartedly recommend this one to anybody even moderately interested in good cinema.

The less known about the plot, the better. All one has to know is that Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, the operator of a Moon base that provides all solar energy for the Earth. His only company aboard the station is Gertie, a somewhat HAL-esque robot with a multi-functional arm (that can even trim his hair). Gertie's voiced by Kevin Spacey, who, as in Usual Suspects, once again straddles the fence of being sympathetic or, possibly, sinster. The intricacies of the story, and why it deserves to be thought about and analyzed for years, begin laying themselves out very quickly, and the movie keeps you engrossed for its running time.

A big part of that is Sam Rockwell. This resides with Confessions of a Dangerous Mind and The Assination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford as the finest work I have seen from this wonderful, eclectic actor. There are so many layers to his performance, so much that has obviously been carefully thought out and rehearsed, that I will be truly disappointed when he is inevitably snubbed at the Oscars for Morgan Freeman's Nelson Mandela impression. He has this amazing ability, even in his supporting work, to distinguish his character in the context of the world around him; he never feels like a supporting character, only like the focus of another movie. His intellectual dedication to this story is inspiring; I hope this leads him to the roles, if not the stardom, that he rightly deserves. Hopefully his work in Iron Man 2 will contain the intricacy and fun that I expect of him.

Highly Recommended. If there is this and District 9 in one camp, with Star Trek and Avatar in another, I'll take these flicks any fuckin' day of the week over that glistening, tepid regurgitation horseshit.

In The Loop (2009)

Funny, if a tad dry satire of modern politics, both in the U.S. and Britain. The premise involves an English minister of communications who accidentally lets some information about an impending war slip a little too early, causing PR problems on both sides of the pond. However, this is more All The Presidents' Men than Strangelove; many of the characters are journalists or PR reps, and the main issue is the public image, rather than the state of the nation(s). This allows for Peter Capaldi's PR wizard to be a savage, Ari Gold-esque character, viciously and profanely tearing apart all those that annoy him, even in the most minor sense. His is the most interesting character in the film, and one of the few that manages to transcend the intricate, politics-heavy plot. Other standouts are James Gandolfini, turning in a great, low-key supporting performance as a peace-advocating general, and Tom Hollander as the loose-lipped, but somewhat composed communications minister. It was also pleasant to see My Girl herself, Anna Chlumsky, doing some background work as a befuddled secretary; she has a very open and endearing face, and deserves some grown-up work to complement her childhood repertoire.

Recommended for fans of political or British humor. The success of this one hinges on your interest on the subject matter; this is not ideal for casual viewing.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

World's Greatest Dad (2009)

Very Funny. Go see it.

Recommended for fans of cynical, oh so black humor a la Election or Very Bad Things. Others should stay clear.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Hurt Locker (2009)

Best film made about Iraq so far, although somewhat cliched narrative conventions keep it from attaining the modern classic status many seem to believe it achieves. Jeremy Renner and Antoine Mackie are a bomb defuser and his spotter, respectively, as they traverse the tough Iraqi landscape over the last month of their tour. Renner is a great loose cannon, actively putting himself in harms way to attain the adrenaline rush that fuels his expertise at defusal. Mackie is also very strong, and is especially chilling when his character exposes his rough, unstable edges. Guy Pearce, Ralph Finnes, and David Morse have fun cameos, but the film is generally intense and heart-wrenching; we end up really caring about the characters, and each successive bomb defusal sequence is more tense than the last as a result. Kathryn Bigelow stages the first successful Iraqi battle sequences since Three Kings. Although the film never quite reaches the heights of her classic films Near Dark and Point Break, it is another example of her mastery of action sequences and her unique insight into relationships in the trenches.

Highly Recommended. Not for ADD morons, but then again, what is, except pills and youtube.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

It's Complicated (2009)

Kinda cute romantic comedy about Meryl Streep as a divorcee who tackles an affair with her married ex-husband, who is played by Alec Baldwin. Baldwin's gut steals the film. Yeah, I said it. His 51 year old fat fucking stomach is so deliciously obtrusive, so gloriously round and rotund, that this movie ended up being a pleasant experience for me. It helps that his wonderful belly is surrounded by charming acting talent that has been cultivated over a long career of leading man roles that he has elevated through charisma alone; this is no exception. All man-crushes aside, he is truly the most alive aspect of this film, where everyone else seems to be going the motions. Meryl Streep's character, and performance, are cute and effective, but nothing sensationally original. Same with Steve Martin's character; the various scenes of him trying to get over his insecurities in order to court Streep could've had much more pathos had the filmmakers let him make the character more personal, and less cliched and cuddly.

But alas, that is my critique of the whole film. There is a cute romantic comedy in here, about a complicated, mature relationship and its repercussions on an existing family and lifestyle. However, Baldwin leaves his wife, and the film carries on for another half an hour with uninteresting, unnecessary wrap ups that contradict the behavior of the characters in the more enjoyable early scenes. That being said, the film does contain a great 2nd act scene where all the major characters interact, and, after a series of events, we get to see Baldwin shotgun a joint into John Krasinski's mouth. My man-crush is deep enough for that kinda shit to thoroughly work on me.

Slightly Recommended for couples of a respectable age and mindset. Everyone else should stay away.

P.S. Everyone is hilariously wealthy and comfortable in this film; it is not, at all, indicative of the times we live in...right?

Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs (2009)

Cute, if typical animated film about a town whose rain supply is modified by the local mad scientist into various types of food. The film never quite outruns its silly, childish premise, but it does manage to find its own brand of charm; the jokes are not so juvenile that they will piss off the older crowd, but not in-jokey enough to seem like a bullshit cop out like so many animated films these days. Bill Hader and Anna Faris are cute as the leads, the local goofball/mad scientist and the plucky reporter, respectively, but the film belongs to the supporting cast. Mr. T voices the Mr. T character, an over-zealous cop who gives Hader's character grief, but kicks ass when the time calls for it. James Caan, of all fucking people, is Hader's working class father, who doesn't get his son's weird tendencies, but cannot relate to him anyway. Benjamin Bratt almost steals the film in his small part as Faris's cameraman, a short, yet omnipotent hispanic. And Hader has a cute talking monkey, whose obsession with Gummi Bears leads to the funniest scene in the film.

Recommended for animation fans, and stoners who like seeing people playing in gobs of ice cream, Jello, and spaghetti.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

The Big Sleep (1978)

A pretty solid noir headed up by a badass Robert Mitchum as the legendary Philip Marlowe. He ain't no Bogart, and he sure as shit ain't no Elliot Gould (whose mumbly Marlowe resides with The Dude as my favorite cinematic P.I.'s), but he is fucking Robert Mitchum, and he doesn't let us forget it. He seduces, snarls, deducts, and recoups like he was born to do it, and you never once question his omnipotence or his effect on the women in the film. James Stewart plays the mysterious old General who hires Marlowe to find a blackmailer; he does not provoke anything in those two scenes other than his legendary status, and how much more evocative his face was in his youth. Candy Clark and Sarah Miles fare better as his flighty daughters who have as many skeletons in their closet as any girl that rich, and Oliver Reed bounces around as a nefarious underworld figure. The film never treads too far from its detective story roots, and the sideshow gallery-esque presentation of characters becomes tedious after a while, especially knowing how convoluted the story became in the 1946 version. The dialogue reminds one of Chandler, while never quite reaching the same quality. The 70's era London environment is the most unusual part of the production, and it thoroughly works; the film would not retain interest if it took place in L.A., or even anywhere stateside.

Recommended for fans of noir or Robert Mitchum. All else should stay clear; she's a dry one, and you'll be bored to tears.

P.S. This is from the director of Death Wish 1-3 and The Mechanic, several of my favorite Charles Bronson films...this is a better made movie, but I'd rewatch any of those over this one.

Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (2004)

Fun throwback to the serials of the 1930s and, more obviously, a great showcase for then-modern digital compositing and greenscreen technology. Gwenyth Paltrow plays Polly Perkins (if you are already turned off, avoid this film), a spright New York reporter who stumbles on a nefarious plot to destroy the world. Jude Law is Joe Sullivan, a.k.a. the titular Sky Captain, Polly's ex who happens to be mankinds last hope at saving the day. Considering they spent most of their time running around in front of a green screen, their chemistry is what holds up interest in the film and, luckily, it works. Gwenyth displays the eye-rolling cynicism that got her a similar gig in Iron Man, and Jude Law actually shows some reserve for once; it could've been his most smiley role ever, but luckily, he keeps the cheekiness to a relative minimum. The rest of the cast is serviceable, with Giovanni Ribisi and Omid Djalili as reliable sidekicks to "Cap," as they call him, and late cameos by Anjelina Jolie (worthless, but her lips are among the films most impressive effects) and, in a very nice touch, fucking Lawrence Olivier. Again, if that last bit turned you off, avoid this film, but it evokes the time period like a motherfucker.

The story of the film is cute, but sometimes its thinness catches up with it, and you are left to wonder why you are watching this crazy fuckin thing. But then one of the many charming moments occurs, and you remember that, while it is light as air, this is a successfully entertaining film, and, surprisingly, the script is strong enough to warrant the effects budget. In the trailers, I thought the weird white sheen on all the surfaces would turn me off, but the visuals all work well in the finished product; very evocative, interesting work.

Recommended to fans of old school cinema (a la Indiana Jones), effects junkies, and those who dig movies that open with flying robots invading New York and lasering the shit out of everything.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Mikey and Nicky (1976)

This mob film from legendary screenwriter Elaine May looks at the friendship of two low-level gangsters on the night one of them has a hit put out of him. John Cassavetes plays Nicky, whose unwarranted theft makes him a hunted man, and Peter Falk is Mikey, his supportive best friend who puts aside Nicky's arrogant bullshit to try and be there for him. Their relationship is at the heart of this thoroughly 70s film, where events seem to only transpire to remind the audience how small the characters actions and predicaments really are. The female touch is really apparent in the way the film handles the duo's relationships with women: these two tough guys define themselves by how they treat the women in their lives. While Mikey constantly calls his wife to update her on his whereabouts and activities, Nicky has a wife and mistress who both see him for the petty scum that he is, even though they cannot escape his wily assurances that they are what he lives for. And they might be; a late-night visit to his mothers grave hints that he feels as inadequate and unsuccessful as he, truly, is, and is constantly trying to make himself seem like someone important, or even worthwhile, to his women.

Cassavetes was a prototypical leading man who was able to become one of the legends of the industry by defying convention and truly digging to the core of human behavior, and here, his talents are on full display. His Mikey is not the cliched huckster friend a la De Niro in Mean Streets; he is appreciative of Nicky's affections, and understands that he is truly his own worst enemy. Peter Falk, as always, is the fucking man, and turns in a deep, layered performance as the more stable of the two. He is conflicted between his loyalties to his friend and his work, but you'd never know it from how sincerely he cares for Mikey, and how far he would go to protect him. The two were known to be close friends and here, in a movie Cassavetes did not write or direct, their chemistry feels completely believable and natural. Ned Beatty runs around the film as the bumbling assassin looking for Mikey; why is it so many of the best films of the 1970's have Ned Beatty in them? Was his agent the only one not faced out on coke? Either way, he's not as indispensable here as in other films (as to say he doesn't get raped over a log), but he's believable and entertaining nonetheless.

Highly Recommended. Plot does not force feed you details, so it takes some focus, but the dialogue and performances keep you hooked. A reminder of how kickass some of the movies that were coming out in the 70's were.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lifeforce (1985)

Pretty badass, if nichey Sci-Fi click about an alien vampiress/zombie/plague carrier, and her unfortunate relationship with her enslaved human mate as he tries to hunt her down. The cast is mostly unknowns, with only the lead, The Stunt Man's Steven Railsback and Patrick Stewart having any familiarity with me. The performances are servicable, with particular mention going to Peter Firth's stalwart soldier, Caine. Tobe Hooper, director of Texas Chainsaw Massacre I and II, has a filthy fucking blast mixing genres in a way that makes the central threat become, ostensibly, having your soul sucked out through your mouth by a gorgeous, naked brunette. The plot, as it unravels, has lots of fun providing you with a lot of familiar or archetypal scenes, often with a different outcome or intention than one you were expecting. In this sense the film does not achieve much; there is not nearly enough original about it to be a true work of art, but what it does, it does well. The scares are intense, the effects are reminiscent of, but superior to those of Hooper's Poltergeist, and the plot is just convoluted enough to be simultaneously self-awarely goofy and provocative; there are many parallels provided in the slave and the demonesses relationship, and their passionate pseudo-sex scene, along with Railsback's intensity throughout, make this dynamic more unique than the traditional vampire-victim relationship.

Recommended for fans of Hooper, sci-fi/horror, or '80s movies with names like LIFEFORCE. The mere fact that the blue, luminescent "lifeforce" of a human is the prize of contention here makes this at least somewhat worthwhile, right? Actually, when you put it like that...I guess you need the stomach for it. But if you do, and this pops up on cable, peep it for a bit, see how it sticks.

The Omen (2006)

Decent remake of far superior horror classic. Gregory Peck and Lee Remick are replaced here by Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles...not quite as classy, but still dependable. The script leaves more to be desired. The dialogue is boring and unmemorable, and the melodrama hinges on very stupid decisions and actions by the characters, save for Stiles' sympathetic troubled mother routine. The best parts here are updates from the original: crazy, coincidence-laden death scenes, the use of London and Rome as evocative locations, and, of course, the powerful, gut-wrenching subject matter. Another highlight of this film is the always-adorable Mia Farrow as the satanic Ms. Blaylock; the eldest cast member seems to have the most fun, and it is because she is thoroughly in on the joke that she is playing, essentially, her Rosemary character several years down the line. Her scenes are genuinely creepy, and not due to elements directly lifted from the original.

Skip the original instead. As much as I like some of these actors and scenes, they are all far surpassed by their 1976 counterparts. Pointless remake.