Wednesday, February 16, 2011

239) Dracula's Daughter (1936) and 242) Mr. Vampire II (1986)

239) Dracula's Daughter (1936) Dir: Lambert Hillyer Date Released: May 1936 Date Seen: July 30, 2010 Rating: 3.25/5

242) Mr. Vampire II (1986) Dir: Ricky Lau Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 31, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

A pity I couldn't fit Mr. Vampire II into my vampire piece for the L Magazine. It's mostly very bouncy, even if it is a bit soggy. I mean, that slow-motion chase scene is worth the price of admission alone. That gag is so funny, so inventive and oh yeah, so damn strange. In any case, see my piece on vampires for the L Magazine. NOW.

238) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010)

238) Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) Dir: Edgar Wright Date Released: August 2010 Date Seen: July 29, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

RV!: Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010) Dir: Edgar Wright Date Released: Still August 2010 Date Seen: November 6, 2010 Rating: 4/5

I'm all Scott Pilgrim-outted at this point but I did write about it twice. Below is my first piece. And in the comments sections is my DVD review for Slant Magazine.

So this piece never ran on Cinematical but I've been told that that's not a reflection on my writing but rather a sign of my editors refusal to snipe at peers, even if they have been sniped at first. I admire that. A lot, actually.

Still, I think the piece is worthwhile and didn't just want to kill it. It'll go up on Extended Cut eventually. I just don't want to go through the hassle of figuring out what chronological # it should be assigned (long story short: I # all the feature films I've seen from start to finish for the first time in my online film journal. It's a curse.)

By now, I'm sure some of you have read Vanity Fair's James Wolcott's response to Todd Gilchrist's recent review of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World that he filed from Comic-Con. Wolcott's piece, which quotes from Shone's piece that originally responded to Gilchrist's piece (exhausting, innit?), is petty and flat-out ugly.

Briefly: both Wolcott and Shone assume that Gilchrist's presentation of the way director Edgar Wright handles Bryan Lee O'Malley's original source comics is a form of croneyism. They assume because this Cinematical that Gilchirst is a fanboy and is defensively covering for Wright, who is conspicuously also a big geek. Shone takes great offense to the following passage, excerpted in turn in Wolcott's post:

"But what's most surprising is how the movie sneaks up on you, and how it seems to know that these are its shortcomings, particularly at the beginning of the story. That I was initially bored by his dating life with Knives feels intentional in the context of the film's ending, and that he is sort of infuriatingly inactive becomes an integral part not only of the character but his eventual journey, both physical and emotional, as he navigates adversaries and obstacles of both varieties."

Shone then replied thusly:
"So Cera's infuriatingly inactive but it's integral to "his journey," and the dating scenes are slow as a setting cement but it's "intentional." For crying out loud. It's not Francis Ford Coppola we're dealing with here and even Coppola might just be able to hold himself together if Cinematical let slip with the occasional frown. But no, apparently Edgar Wright is so sensitive a creative flower that every comment must come sugar-coated, ever criticism soft-pedalled, every barb softened and proferred atop a bed of pink fuschia petals as the critic backs out of the room, blushing, curtseying and promising absolute fealty to his liege. What are these guys so terrified of? Why are these guys even reviewing?"

Yeah, why /are/ we reviewing, anyway?!

I saw Scott Pilgrim vs. the World last night and before I get into this, allow me to say: I don't know Todd Gilchrist. I just started writing for Cinematical. I did not have a long-standing love affair with the site, though I did enjoy it before writing for it. Ok? Ok. Let's go.Spoilers ahead.

I couldn't help but watch Scott Pilgrim thinking of what Todd admittedly alludes to only obliquely in his review. Wright's handling of the Scott Pilgrim comics is very literal-minded, which is not surprising considering Wright's previous projects and also in light of O'Malley's equally literal-minded comic.

But Wright's film is nothing if not deliberate. In fact, if anything, Wright's direction is over-determined though very assured in its campiness. I can't speak for Todd and I won't but Wright's problematic aeshetic confidence is both why I enjoy Scott Pilgrim vs. the World as much as I do and why I think it's a rather limited romantic comedy.

Scott Pilgrim vs. the World announces its dogged devotion to the comic book logic and naivete of its main character's psyche in pretty much every damn scene. It's a story about a kid that doesn't want to grow up or face his responsibilities, so naturally his life looks like a comic book, is filled with video game references and is shot in glitzy panoramic shots that are all front-lit like a mother. Wright doesn't follow through on that line of thought and instead allows his main protagonist to mature in his own immature time and way, held by the hand by everyone around him until he really has no other choice but to grow a spine.

Then again, the same can basically be said about O'Malley's comic. That's not a valid excuse for Wright: O'Malley's comic frequently feels rushed while Wright's film announces how mannered and controlled it is--for an Edgar Wright comic book adaptation--in practically every one of its carefully blocked widescreen shots. It's like Wright took a lot of plays out of David Fincher's OCD gamebook, though that doesn't necessarily make Scott Pilgrim vs. the World or its story any more exact. I'm specifically thinking of:
  • The Knives/Ramona fight at the end is tacked on. We need a way to end Knives's story arc but by pushing that subplot to the end instead of figuring out a way to resolve that tension in another way earlier on, it feels like Knives never really got over Scott unlike in the comic, which over-emphasizes that point. 
  • We don't need Nega-Scott by the end. Felt silly in the comics, feels silly and vestigial in the movie.
  •  I was going to say that Wright should have done something to speed up the whole "Seven Evil Exes" structure of O'Malley's comics but I think the only sequence that really bugs me, or just feels flabby or even unnecessary was the fight with the twins. 
  • Subspace. I still don't know why this exists in the story beyond a very cursory way for Scott and Ramona to meet and it makes even less sense in the movie than it does in the comic.
And this is because Wright's adaptation's main problem is that it's not very ambitious nor especially thoughtful beyond a point. It's main strength is its abundance of energy, which pays off wonderfully throughout. But Wright's film eventually feels as rushed as O'Malley's comic. That race to the finish makes the film's ending rather dissatisfying: Scott Pilgrim doesn't really grow up nor does he really earn his newfound sense of self-esteem. He was guided every step of the way by his coddling friends and given more than a little help from Wright and O'Malley, who for the most part do everything they can to protect Scott's ego by allowing him to tough out his problems on the terms of his own fantasy world of friends, parties and video game references. O'Malley's comic's final volume is one long epilogue while Wright's film doesn't give itself time for any such resolution. It's too beholden to the jokes and the structure of the original comics to give itself time for genuine closure.

But in spite of my reservations, I can see Todd's point. Wright's control of his material is not what I want it to be but I understand what Todd's saying about the way Wright sympathizes with his hero's emotional journey so much that he ends up making the less kinetic scenes in the film the slowest parts in an otherwise blisteringly quick two hour-long film. Then again, even if I didn't see Todd's point, I wouldn't call him out for his opinion and assume I knew where he was coming from as Wolcott and Shone have. Because, hard though it may be to believe, that's Todd's opinion and criticizing him for it is just obnoxious and unnecessary. "Meta-criticism at its most eunuch," indeed.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Whoa-oh, We're (More Than) Halfway There

Greetings, friends.

I'm writing to tell you that as of now, we have successfully raised $875 towards my Send Simon to Cannes 2011 Fund. The intended goal is still $1250-1500. So yeah, either way, we are more than halfway there. But if you haven't contributed already, and can help me reach $1500 (preferably), please: give more, repost this, retweet, whatever it takes. It'd be kind of amazing if we could do this in a week's time without the help of Kickstarter to boot. But hey, I don't care how long it takes. But the quicker I meet my goal, the sooner I shut up about you giving me your money. So....give it to me. GIVE IT TO ME NOW.

243) Sanshiro Sugata (1943)

243) Sanshiro Sugata (1943) Dir: Akira Kurosawa Date Released: April 1974 Date Seen: July 25, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

The opening action scene of this film, which I've come to regard very highly just because Johnny To used it as the biggest influence on Throw Down, is stirring. Two groups of men standing together in two opposing groups, their collective body language saying more about them than most dialogue could. The rest of the movie I was just fascinated with how holier-than-thou our titular hero was. Seriously, he's a DIIIIICK. You don't want to hang out with this guy because he will threaten you, get drunk with you and then fight your grandpa, probably in that order. I didn't buy his redemption arc but I did enjoy the film as an action flick.

ISF: Coyote Falls (2010) and 242) Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010)

ISF: Coyote Falls (2010) Dir: Matthew O'Callaghan Date Released: July 2010 Date Seen: July 25, 2010 Rating: 3/5

242) Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore (2010) Dir: Brad Peyton Date Released: July 2010 Date Seen: July 25, 2010 Rating: 1/5

The roadrunner cartoon slapped in front of Cats and Dogs 2 didn't leave enough of an impression for me to feel strongly about it either way; I remember that it put me on edge but for what it was, it was ok. Peyton's film on the other hand...oy. See my review for Slant Magazine.

241) Dark of the Sun (1968), 244) The Sicilian Clan (1969) and 245) The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976)

241) Dark of the Sun (1968) Dir: Jack Cardiff Date Released: July 1968 Date Seen: July 23, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

244) The Sicilian Clan (1969) Dir: Henri Verneuil Date Released: March 1970 Date Seen: July 26, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

245) The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976) Dir: Charles B. Pierce December 1976 Date Seen: July 26, 2010 Rating: 3/5

I didn't really enjoy Pierce's film that much but the more I think about it, the more I appreciate its own special je ne sais pas. See my piece for the New York Press on this series of films programmed by William Lustig.

240) Spring Fever (2009)

240) Spring Fever (2009) Dir: Lou Ye Date Released: August 2010 Date Seen: July 23, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

Don't really get the apathy towards this one; thought it was, for the most part, just as good as Summer Palace. See my review for the New York Press.

239) The New Year (2010)

 239) The New Year (2010) Dir: Brett Haley Date Released: July 2010 Date Seen: July 22, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5

The main romantic plot of this was a little stale, I thought, but the subplot with our protag's dad really hit home. Otherwise: eh. Oh but I will say this: Trieste Kelly Dunn is very easy on the eyes. What? She is! Don't even front, non-existent internet friend.

Monday, February 14, 2011

238) Lisztomania (1975) and 247) The Devils (1971)

238) Lisztomania (1975) Dir: Ken Russell Date Released: October 1975 Date Seen: July 21, 2010 Rating: 4/5

247) The Devils (1971) Dir: Ken Russell Date Released: July 1971 Date Seen: July 28, 2010 Rating: 4/5

Russell's work, the more I think about it, really is tremendous in its own ribald, self-involved way. Check out my Devils-centric piece for the New York Press.

RV!: Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000)

RV!: Barking Dogs Never Bite (2000) Dir: Bong Joon-Ho Date Released (DVD): July 2010 Date Seen: July 20, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

I liked it a little less the second time around but I still think Bong's debut is an exciting and very strange and all-around original debut. See my dvd review for Slant Magazine. 

237) The Dinner Game (1998) and 246) Dinner for Schmucks

237) The Dinner Game (1998) Dir: Francis Veber Date Released: June 1999 Date Seen: July 19, 2010 Rating: 2/5

246) Dinner for Schmucks (2010) Dir: Jay Roach Date Released: July 2010 Date Seen: July 27, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5

Not much of an improvement on the original but the original wasn't that good to begin with. See my review of the latter film, in which I briefly talk about the former film, for Slant Magazine.

235) The Only Son (1936)

235) The Only Son (1936) Dir: Yasujiro Ozu Date Released: April 1987 Date Seen: July 17, 2010 Rating: 4/5

I stumbled into this remarkable melodrama knowing nothing about it except that it was directed by Ozu, a Japanese master whose work I'm woefully still largely unfamiliar with (Mizoguchi and Naruse too). I can remember the recurring images of the looms and the pervasive sense of melancholy that just utterly destroyed me. But other than that, I can't think of much to say about The Only Son other than it really worked me over. Like a feature-length adaptation of The Giving Tree, but even that's a reductive reading, isn't it? I need to see more Ozu; glad I bought the Eclipse box set of three films from his silent period.

230) Inception (2010)

230) Inception (2010) Dir: Christopher Nolan Date Released: July 2010 Date Seen: July 13, 2010 Rating: 2.75/5 

The first film by Christopher Nolan that I was actively disappointed by. See my quicky preliminary review for the New York Press.

RV!: Death Race 2000 (1975)

RV!: Death Race 2000 (1975) Dir: Paul Bartel Date Released: April 1975 Date Seen: July 12, 2010 Rating: 4/5

It's gone down a peg upon re-view but I still really can't stop from watching this flick with a big goofy grin plastered on my face. See my dvd review for the New York Press.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

228) Cornered (1945), 229) Desperate (1947), 231) The Phenix City Story (1955), 232) Armored Car Robbery (1950), 233) Crime in the Streets (1956), 234) Backfire (1950) and 236) Dial 1119 (1950)

228) Cornered (1945) Dir: Edward Dmytryk Date Released: December 1945 Date Seen: July 12, 2010 Rating: 3.25/5

229) Desperate (1947) Dir: Anthony Mann Date Released: May 1947 Date Seen: July 13, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

231) The Phenix City Story (1955) Dir: Phil Karlson Date Released: August 1955 Date Seen: July 15, 2010 Rating: 3/5

232) Armored Car Robbery (1950) Dir: Richard Fleischer Date Released: June 1950 Date Seen: July 14, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

233) Crime in the Streets (1956) Dir: Don Siegel Date Released: June 1956 Date Seen: July 15, 2010 Rating: 2/5

234) Backfire (1950) Dir: Vincent Sherman Date Released: February 1950 Date Seen: July 16, 2010 Rating: 3.25/5

236) Dial 1119 (1950) Dir: Gerald Mayer Date Released: October 1950 Date Seen: July 18, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

In retrospect, this noir box set was actually really very good. See my dvd review for Slant Magazine.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Cannes 2011 Fund-Raising A-Go-Go

Hello, friends. 

I am writing to you today because I am trying to raise money for a trip to the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. For about a year now, it's been a goal of mine to go to this year's festival and in spite of a number of factors, I find I can't do without independently raising a bit of scratch. So yeah, I know this makes it seem like I'm aping that D'Angelo guy and for that, I'm sorry. 

But I do need the money, folks: I can't seriously pursue a dream project like this without draining pretty much all of my finances. I kinda live hand-to-mouth even after living at home mostly because of the cost of commuting, student loans and up until December, health insurance payments. 

But I do want to go to Cannes and I do think I can do this. I have three outlets interested in coverage and they will be paying me some. But not nearly enough to get there on my own steam. Keep in mind: I'm also looking to finally move out of my Great Neck home this year. Two years at home has been really helpful for me but it's also taken its own toll, too. So yeah, if I can do this thing without totally going bankrupt, I'd sure like to give that a try.

First, the good news: theoretically speaking, I have my flight plans taken care of. I don't want to say anything about this yet as I don't want to jinx it. There is nothing set in stone but I think I can manage to fly there and back for little to money with a lot of help from the wonderful and generous Rachel McCain and her douchebag boyfriend Jon Lanthier. 

S'more good news: I know I will be rooming with at least one person, Monsignor Glenn Heath Jr., and we have a hotel scoped out, one that offers a complementary shuttle.

Finally, the not-so-good news: in light of all this, I want to raise $1,250-1500. I tried to get Kickstarter to help me reach that goal but they told me that my project was just not a "Creative Arts Project," even though I have seen them previously finance similar endeavors. I cajoled them and insisted, "No, no, this is a creative arts project: I'll throw arts-and-crafts-type blog posts! With pictures! And a podcast! And make the project about documenting my first year at Cannes!" They encouraged that change in focus right up until they stopped communicating with me altogether; I didn't get an email back about my proposal in a little more than a week. So I resubmitted my idea, this time incorporating all the changes that I was told would make my proposal more viable. I got two generic, unhelpful and totally vague responses. We shan't be using Kickstarter now or ever again. 

Here's where you come in: for just pennies a day (well, hopefully several thousand pennies) you can support a starving freelance film critic. Or something. Look, honestly, I know this thing is highly unrealistic and I probably can't meet the goal I'd like to. But let's humor me and try for a bit. Right. So, you can give to my Paypal account using the "Donate" button to the right or below in this very post. Or you can go to Paypal and give (generously) to Any donation is a big help but obviously the more you give, the more I'll truly respect you as a human being. 


I'll keep you posted as to how close I am to meeting my goal and hopefully, it'll happen sooner rather than later. Thanks.

 Note: As of 12:56am on 2/13/11, we've raised $325. I'd like to think our donors thus far: Phil Tatler, Bill Best, Kevin J. Olson, Dor Dotson, Kenji Fujishima, Zengkun Feng, "Two Sisters Crochet" and Tobias Ximenez. Thank you so much. 

Monday, February 7, 2011

227) Judge Dredd (1995)

227) Judge Dredd (1995) Dir: Danny Cannon Date Released: June 1995 Date Seen: July 11, 2010 Rating: 2.25/5

I swear, growing up in the '90s inured me to more spectacularly trashy movies than most normal people with standards or just a sense of decency can tolerate. How eroded is my taste, you ask? Well, remember when I live-tweeted Joel Schumacher's Batman and Robin? And lived? Yessir, an iron constitution, hup hup.

At the same time, there are certain films that have gained nigh-totemic power over me simply because I always saw them on the shelf of my local Blockbuster, but never took them out. Showgirls is one of those films, certainly, if not the king of those films. Jade is one of those films. And Judge Dredd was, too. My viewing experience upon finally seeing this Schumacher-era comic book adaptation--all thumbs, no sense--was as a result fairly surreal. The film is a total mess but I cannot, ahem, judge it for the life of me. It's rather charming in its own clumsy way: the big robot, the inability to translate the tacky humor of the original comics, which the people who made the film clearly used for their source material (Rob Schneider, a derpa derpa dum!), the stoopid "I knew you'd say that" running gag Stallone's got going throughout the film, the Diane Lane vs. Joan Chen cat fight, the ridiculous production values...this is my Kryptonite. Don't look at me, I'm hideous!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

226) Toy Story 3 (2010)

226) Toy Story 3 (2010) Dir: Lee Unkrich Date Released: June 2010 Date Seen: July 11, 2010 Rating: 3.5/5

In conversation, I often sound more like a Pixar hater than I am because, while I often appreciate how well-done many of their films are in terms of individual scenes and general story-telling craft, I just don't think they're nearly as smart as their creators think they are. Toy Story 3 is a perfect example. I take great issue with its feigned air of maturity. It brings out the nitpicky, trolly side in me. For instance, Andy has packed up all his toys into a garbage bag to show us that he has grown up and is ready to move on. From a dramaturgical standpoint, I get why the story needs Andy to pack his things up and throw things away. But as a recent post-grad that admittedly, may be revealing how much of a sheltered life he's lived by asking this, I had to wonder: why does Andy have to throw his things away at all? If Andy's sister is moving from her smaller room into his room, why can't they just put his things there? 

Ok, ok, sorry about that, that bugs me but that's hardly a lethal blow to the film's Jenga Tower of Logic or anything, is it? So. Let's get beyond something that dumb and get to what I really don't like about Toy Story 3: the whole charting one's own maturation through objects thing, mostly. There's a didactic quality to many Pixar films that dictates that characters must ostentatiously act morally even when they're dealing with their Complex Emotions. At the same time, double standards are willfully created by doing so because after a point, the series creators have to unclench and treat a cartoon like a cartoon. The children in the daycare center are holy terrors and not human beings, just as Andy's sister was a slobbering lil brute in Toy Story. That at least made sense in Toy Story because throughout the film, Andy doesn't realize the importance of empathizing with his sis as he just doesn't take to heart the fact that he too was once just as heedlessly overzealous with his toys. But in Toy Story 3, that reductive logic stinks. We're just supposed to sympathized with Buzz and Woody and the gang's torture at the hands of these toddlers because that's just where our allegiances lie in this film: in objects that don't have a master that needs to keep them to recognize just how important they are to him. We can treat them as sub-humans because they don't matter, they're just kiddies, after all. 

Forgive me for belaboring a point but: if we accept the fact that the toys are no longer a part of Andy's life, and that they do need to find new children to play with them, why can't their new owners be those same toddlers? Andy's goodbye to the toys at the film's beginning is a rite of passage we're supposed to respect. So why can't the filmmakers realize that in the same way, viewers need to respect the fact that toys do get used and eventually do get thrown out? Sure the bigger, scary death-be-not-part embrace tugged on my heart-strings but doesn't the scene the wrong message in a movie about accepting the end of things? I mean, they're in a fucking volcano. And it's scary as shit which is supposed to make the scene where they embrace before being melted down that much more poignant because they're up against such inevitable odds. But that kind of thing just feels so completely counter-intuitive in light of the film's thematic goal: growing the fuck up.

Bottom line: Toy Story 3 just didn't work for me in the same way it did for so many others.  I often thought that Lotso was treated like a bargain basement baddy at the expense of basically recognizing, as the film almost does before the switch-flipping scene, that he had just as much right as Woody and Buzz to panic and be afraid of being irrelevant. The fact that he's given two or three chances to redeem himself in the film and never actually gets to do that shows how mean-spirited the series is because, well, it's a kiddy cartoon and once you assume a moral component that kind of shallow entertainment, especially when you have as literal imaginations as many of the Pixar artists do, something will eventually give. I suspect viewers just don't care that much because superficially, the Toy Story movies work. But after a point, Toy Story 3 just feels frustratingly crude.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

224) Doman Seman (2009) and 225) L.A. Streetfighters (1985)

224) Doman Seman (2009) Dir: Go Shibata Not Yet Released Date Seen: July 10, 2010 Rating: 4.25/5

225) L.A. Streetfighters (1985) Dir: Woo-sang Park Date Released: March 1986 Date Seen: July 10, 2010 Rating: 0.75/5

I laughed at the latter film and had my mind blown by the former. Read more about either film at Cinematical.

223) The Man Between (1953)

223) The Man Between (1953) Dir: Carol Reed Date Released: November 1953 Date Seen: July 9, 2010 Rating: 3.75/5

Carol Reed's post-war melodrama is mostly so good at conjuring up a totally oppressive sense of atmosphere thanks to two presences. The first is naturally the city of Berlin. Shooting on location was a tremendous boon to this project: the scenes where James Mason and Claire Bloom are on the run really take advantage of the city's decimated landscape as much as possible. That having been said, I still don't think Reed knew how to shoot kinetic action scenes well. His sense of pacing for these scenes is characteristically off and he's just too indecisive in his camera placement for us to often get a good view of the frenzied action on display (I like to see my spectacles and get a sense of their urgency, thanks). 

Still, Reed did know how to turn chase scenes into fantastic set pieces solely based on his ability to elicit mood from wherever his films' were set. With Berlin, he didn't need to try very hard: the city's history is ingrained into its architecture. The film's depiction of the polis as a blitzed sprawl makes Berlin look like a natural haunt for ghosts. The night-time scene at the construction site is extraordinary for its distinct, hyper-real sense of place. The dark lights, the grime and toil of never-ending construction and the hot white lights all present a vaguely recognizable shadow of the Berlin I know, even if I've only ever been there once and even then only decades after Reed's film was made. That last scene, where they're racing to escape the city's limits, is searing.

The other essential presence to the film is Mason. His sleazy mercenary act is a little kitschy at times but it's never not satisfying. You don't need me to point this out but Mason is just that good. He oozes charm and malice, as when he casually settles into a Berlin cafe and casually pumps Bloom's character for information (mind out of the gutter, you). And throughout that scene, he never stops flashing these little toothy, enigmatic grins, making it harder and harder to tell whose side he's on (naturally his own but determining what that means in the context of the film's plot at any given moment is a treacherous proposition). Too bad The Man Between is so hard to get a copy of; would like to rewatch it if only to hear Mason's Sturm und Drang accent.