Tuesday, March 31, 2009

93) The Wicker Man (1973)

93) The Wicker Man (1973) Dir: Robin Hardy Date Released: June 1975 Date Seen: March 31st, 2009 Rating: 2.5/5

Though it’s often miscategorized as a horror film, Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973) is more accurately a very peculiar and self-defeating thriller. The film’s haunting atmosphere only serves to heighten its procedural plot, which is unfortunate considering how easily Sgt. Howie (Edward Woodward), its hard-nosed, “Christian copper” protagonist, procures information. As the viewer’s stand-in, he serves as a cultural voyeur on the island of Summerisle, a Disneyland version of an isolated community ruled by real Pagan beliefs and rituals. Though his anger with their heathen ways would seem righteous enough to force answers out of thin air, the islanders’ free and loose habits make them more than willing to tell him everything he wants to know about the island and Rowan Morrison, the native girl whose disappearance he was anonymously asked to investigate. So much for good old-fashioned detective work.

Summerisle’s residents’ initial reticence is just the first step in a cruel storytelling ritual performed by screenwriter Anthony Schaffer. The relation of information starts with a teasing protest like, “No, we don’t know any Rowan Morrison,” proceeds with a rebuke and then continues with total disclosure. Rather than supply some sort of suspenseful build-up along the way, Shaffer provides a slack series of easy info dumps. These confrontations are supposed to make the answers Howie gets look earned, relying heavily on his increasing distaste and eventual revulsion. At the same time, not even Howie’s best putdowns—the most damning one comes when Rowan’s mother asks if she can do anything for him and he scowls, “No, I doubt it, seeing you’re all raving mad!”—could accomplish such a monumental task.

Schaffer’s script drolly acknowledges its lack of subtlety—a child tumbles out of a closet during Sgt. Howie’s frantic door-to-door search for Rowan—as if to show that the Summerisle community has nothing to hide from him or us. This might be believable if it weren’t for the fact that Howie has to pull teeth just to get the natives to admit that any such person as Rowan Morrison exists. Lord Summerisle (Christopher Lee, with an amazing helmet hair/kilt combination) is the only one entitled enough to be freely giving away information to Howie like table scraps, but that’s because he’s a blue blood and not one of the uncouth gentry. They don’t speak as plainly as Summerisle does, using bawdy traditional songs and limericks to tease Howie with their ribald beliefs, making one wonder who has the real power in Schaffer’s version of Pagantown, UK.

On the one hand, Summerisle would seem to be the people’s spokesperson, divulging more information than any other single native. He not only gives Howie a brief oral history of the island’s settlement, which the viewer will hear twice—in case they were distracted by his hair—but also spells out his hatred for Christianity and monotheism in general as a means of introducing himself. This is done through an operatic soliloquy with Summerisle booming his fiery rhetoric at him in the courtyard below Howie’s open window as he says his evening prayers. Like Iago in Verdi’s Otello, whose wicked deeds are similarly motivated by his belief in a “cruel God,” Summerisle is sick of people who claim to have a “duty to God,” preferring the mindlessness of animals:

“Not one of them kneels to another or to his own kind that lived thousands of years ago. Not one of them is respectable or unhappy, all over the Earth.”

This careless nugget of information is tossed aside while the townsfolk sing along to the gentle but persistent noises of frantic copulation emanating from the window adjacent to Howie’s. Schaffer no doubt chose to heap Summerisle’s explanation on top of this telling act of coitus as a means of establishing his hierarchy amongst the group but in the process, he forfeits the scene’s ability to unnerve.

On the other hand, the islanders’ habits, especially their off-kilter singing and dancing, are the community’s most powerful and bewitching source of eerie fascination. Considering how open they are with their sexuality and religious habits, as in the frank schoolhouse conversation about the Maypole’s significance, their skittishness regarding Rowan Morrison’s disappearance is almost comical. With a little, ahem, prodding, they eventually give in to Howie’s demands for answers like a coquettish schoolgirl. No door is ever really closed to him—he discovers the secret of the town’s May Day rituals in, of all the arcane places, the public library. This is about as devious as watching children follow a path of bread crumbs and just as exciting to boot.

This of course leads to the worst possible twist, namely the revelation that Howie’s investigation was supposed to seem too easy as Summerisle was leading him on “every step of the way.” This basically means that everything that Howie and we by proxy have learned to that point is meaningless, a ruse meant to lead us to Howie’s inevitable death, which is only gripping if you can accept that the film’s mystery plot was rigged the whole time. Watching Schaffer’s vision of what traditional British paganism looks like today is only so interesting when the plot that that cultural survey is predicated on after it’s revealed to be a sham. 

Sunday, March 29, 2009

92) Knowing (2009)

92) Knowing (2009) Dir: Alex Proyas Date Released: March 2009 Date Seen: March 29th, 2009 Rating: 2.25/5

Until I saw Alex Proyas’ Knowing (2009), the director’s long-awaited return to science fiction after cult favorite Dark City (1998), I couldn’t tell what was missing from a Michael Bay film. Bay’s films offer totally carefree destruction porn: loud, gorgeous explosions and other random acts of flashy violence. They’re satisfying but only to a point. There’s no meaning to the tableaux of spectacular violence in Transformers (2007), or more accurately, no real emotional investment from the filmmaker. Knowing is another story because here, when the world blows up, it’s because The Rapture is upon us, or at least, The Rapture according to Alex Proyas.

Don’t get me wrong, Proyas’ screenwriters (Ryne Douglas Pearson, Juliet Snowden and Ryan Stiles) use Christianity like Passion of the Christ’s (2004) scribes use Judaism. Though they rely heavily on images like the Tree of Life, angels and belief as a means to ascend to Heaven, the Hacks Three makes sure to use scrubbed-down, hollowed-out representatives of the religion they swipe so much from. While Knowing’s Christian symbols are not innocuous enough to be as inoffensive as its writers might like to believe, they are sanitized enough to make the scenes of brash carnage fittingly portentous. The actions scenes are subsequently frenzied enough for you to feel insulted by their insistent, shrill message and hence ominous enough to be a rubber-necker’s delight.

Like John Koestler’s (Nicolas Cage) quest to find answers, Knowing is so blind in its single-minded quest for a revelatory conclusion that it creates some very intriguing casualties in the process. The scene set near Lafayette and Worth Street reveals that any resemblance to reality the film may have is pure coincidence, one fashioned by an all-knowing intelligence that is holding all of its answers very to its chest. The layperson won’t know that the African Burial Ground is right near the fictitious train station Koestler visits when he’s still interested in saving the world from God’s wrath. They will know that 9/11 did not happen because of an insane pattern predicted by a grade-schooler, but that’s beside the point. Proyas wants to transform fact into something more, in this case propagandistic fiction and from that into fanatic destruction porn, the destruction porn to end them all.

I’m in awe of Proyas because the prevailing feeling of dread that he’s infected Knowing with is apparent even in the most ill-conceived scenes. While “the chosen” get beamed up to heaven in a holy spaceship that looks like a gerbil’s exercise ball by angels that look like pasty Nordic vampires that hide holy laser beams in their mouths, genuine panic is on full display. I’m not claiming I understand what’s going on in the film or why Koestler, who in the end essentially converts from atheism, does not get “saved” but that’s what religion and sequels are for.

91) The Golden Boys (2009)

91) The Golden Boys (2009) Dir: Daniel Adams Date Released: April 2009 Date Seen: March 29th, 2009 Rating: 0.75/5

Oh. Oh, ouch! I think I just got pwned. See my jokey but completely necessary review for Slant Magazine.

90) Sexy Battle Girls (1986)

90) Sexy Battle Girls (1986) Dir: Mototsugu Watanabe Date Released (DVD): February 2009 Date Seen: March 29th, 2009 Rating: 2.25/5

Hits the right spot in parts but otherwise, yawn. See my second Pink Eiga-centric piece for the New York Press where I talk about this and A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn (2003). 

89) A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn

89) A Lonely Cow Weeps at Dawn (2003) Dir: Daisuke Gotô Date Released (DVD): February 2009 Date Seen: March 28th, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

You’re as amazed as I am, maybe less….make that “probably less.” See my second Pink Eiga-centric piece for the New York Press where I talk about this and Sexy Battle Girls (1986). 

Saturday, March 28, 2009

88) Vault of Horror (1973)

88) Vault of Horror (1973) Dir: Roy Ward Baker Date Released: March 1973 Date Seen: March 28th, 2009 Rating: 3/5

As both a follow-up to Tales from the Crypt (1972), the first of two films scripted by Amicus Productions’ founder Milton Subotsky based on EC Comics and an adaptation in general, Vault of Horror (1973) is a bit of a disappointment, especially considering the tacked-on epilogue. The epilogue repositions the act of storytelling in the film—five strangers regale each other with macabre recurring dreams of theirs—into punishment. They are doomed to retell their stories to each other every night. Consequently, you’d think that Subotsky’s script would try to cherrypick stories that aren’t just the same types of stories that his Tales From the Crypt adaptation was made up of—magical wishes as double-edged sword, punishment of the pre-Thatcherite mentality and the punishment of greed. Though there may not be that much more variety in the original comics, I had hoped that Subotsky would try to adapt stories that were more visually demanding instead of this lackluster collection of humdrum backstories.

87) The Broken (2008)

87) The Broken (2008) Dir: Sean Ellis Date Released: January 2009 Date Seen: March 28th, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

It’s to writer/director Sean Ellis’ great credit that The Broken (2008), his visually flashy but structurally understated follow-up to Cashback (2006), that he makes so much out of a film that doesn’t have a single memorable line of dialogue. Conversation is purely functional and hence negligible, leaving the bulk of the plot’s build-up up to Angus Hudson’s luridly glossy cinematography. 

Tension builds and builds and even when its released, it’s with the greatest care as to how much we see and not how much we’re told. Even the film’s flabbiest images, even its off-putting Psycho reference, are drawn taut by the fact that nobody is being vigorously interrogated as to their meaning. They’re just over there in the viewer’s periphery and then gone until the next confrontation, which never comes soon enough. Do yourself a favor and find a copy of this film.

86) Cashback (2006)


86) Cashback (2006) Dir: Sean Ellis Date Released: July 2007 Date Seen: March 28th, 2009 Rating: 3/5

Without having seen the short film writer/director Sean Ellis based his debut feature Cashback (2006) on, I can only say that the transition between 20 and 100 minutes seems warranted. There’s a lot of ground Ellis could have but chose not to cover in this considerably longer version, all of which revolves around the disquieting slow-motion fantasies of Ben Willis (Sean Biggerstaff), our nebbish protagonist. Twee moments with Ben’s dead-end zombie supermarket colleagues are what we get instead, making his beautiful perversion all the more curious.

When we’re introduced to Ben, we find out that his girlfriend has dumped him and since she’s the first real one he’s had, she’s all he can think about. He loses so much sleep over this girl that he takes up a job as a stockboy in a local supermarket just to keep busy and in the process, finds a new way to visualize his impotence. Ben lusts after pretty girls but not in the way that Matt and Sean (Michael Lambourne and Shaun Evans), his moronic but well-meaning horndog colleagues, do. Unlike them, Ben likes to stop time and strip them so he can appreciate their form, their essence and their shaved pussies.

What’s most remarkable about Ellis’ execution of this patently absurd scenario is that he’s almost able to sustain the melancholic tone during these arty porn scenes that’s needed to turn them into something more than just the beautifully creepy fantasies of a lonely young deviant. They’re certainly more gripping than the bland, patented art school voyeurism that American Beauty’s (199) Ricky Fitts indulges in because they’re more obvious and hence more visceral. In looking at these frozen European porn star-types with their Brazilian waxes on full display in various artistic poses and pouts, you can almost understand why Ben believes hyper-sexuality is artistically euphoric.

These fantasies are discomforting because they are pornographic and mysterious, probing the boundary between what’s gauche and haunting. Though Ellis indirectly narratively addresses what kind of therapy these scenes give Ben through his obsession with the comparatively drab Sharon (Emilia Fox), it’s never indirect enough to sustain the quirky allure of those almost controversial scenes. Pity, because as Sharon tells Ben earlier about his paintings, “This tells me so much more than you could ever say.”

Stray quote: "Me likes dat cooch" -an art critic in an Ivan Brunetti cartoon-

Friday, March 27, 2009

85) Super Fuzz (1980)

85) Super Fuzz (1980) Dir: Sergio Corbucci Date Released: October 1981 Date Seen: March 27th, 2009 Rating: 1.75/5

Super Fuzz (1980) confirms my suspicion that Italian genre films in the ‘70s and ‘80s could be made by any hack with enough energy to film a feature-length script. Sergio Corbucci is no Bruno Mattei but not for want of trying. Both this and Django (1966), the derivative film that spawned countless others just like it, are creative wastelands that happen to have a few good ideas to recommend them and a lot of dead air between them.

Super Fuzz is slightly better because of its winning camp value. It has about three songs in its soundtrack, one of which is used in almost every scene, Ernest Borgnine complaining a lot in a police uniform and Terrence Hill using his newfound superpowers to walk on water, add a seventh dot to a six-sided die and see through the walls of a casino that’s operating out of the back of a freight truck. I mean, for cripes sake, our protagonist’s one weakness is the color red! For many, this is C-movie mecca but for me, this is just a couple of decent yuks.

84) I Love You, Man (2009)

84) I Love You, Man (2009) Dir: John Hamburg Date Released: March 2009 Date Seen: March 27th, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

I Love You, Man (2009) is far too inoffensive in its bumbling points about male bonding for it to warrant serious thought regarding any deeper implications it may have about male insecurities and the gays. It's far easier to just roll with the film’s absurd punches, like seeing Jason Segal deliver Dr. Phil-like dating advice, Lou Ferrigno do anything or Jon Favreau as a poker-playing, beer-swilling macho. The film’s one-note nature and its inexpertly blunt exposition-as-dialogue moments are grating a couple of times, but there’s way too many other scenes that made me laugh long and loud for me to really mind. Thumbs up to both Paul Rudd and Segal, who I think is my favorite Apatow comedian.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

83) Wild at Heart (1990)

83) Wild at Heart (1990) Dir: David Lynch Date Released: August 1990 Date Seen: March 26th, 2009 Rating: 1.5/5

Because we're talking about a David Lynch film, saying that Wild at Heart (1990) is totally perplexing might sound like an endorsement. It's not. The content of the film is bizarre enough but the film’s real noodle-scratchers come from watching a luminary's monumnetally horrible creative decisions executed with the help of a very big budget. Ten bucks to the guy that can tell me what manner of illicit substance Mr. Eraserhead was on when he came up with this load of horse puckey. 

Like Lynch’s other films, Wild at Heart does not need to be particularly coherent to be effective. What’s most unsettling about Lost Highway (1997) is not that it doesn’t make sense but rather there’s enough arcane and indecipherable hints that it seems like it could in some parallel universe. In that sense, the disconnect between the understandable, narratively grounded world of Wild at Heart, the one ruled by pulpy melodrama and the one that’s peppered with bizarre references to The Wizard of Oz and Elvis Presley, is more jarring than the idea that at some point the two overlap.

This mismatch is a product of Lynch’s need to deny his viewer any sense of satisfaction they might glean from a single sustained and/or cogent mood. Wild at Heart is an exercise in self-denial, namely the denial of the viewer’s pleasure. Seeing Willem Dafoe go after Nic Cage with a shotgun is freakishly pleasurable, as much of the film’s over-the-top violence, so what better way to dispel that pleasure than by having Dafoe’s head pop off or overlaying a brutal beating Nic Cage delivers to a hitman with an absurdly heavy-handed electric guitar riff? These decisions are undoubtedly made because of a cruel sense of humor that dictates sarcasm and disdain for generic cliches is a valid form of artistic criticism. Lynch should know better, especially considering how wrenching Cage, Defoe and Laura Dern’s performances are.

Note: What was the deal with the serious badonkadonk fetish this film had going? I mean, don’t get me wrong, Laura Dern has a great rear and there are countless other fetihistic preoccupations in this film to balk about but when lil Simon gets confused, I get really confused.


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

82) Vampire's Kiss (1988)

82) Vampire’s Kiss (1988) Dir: Robert Bierman Date Released: June 1989 Date Seen: March 24th, 2009 Rating: 2.75/5

There’s something so cruelly ironic about watching Vampire’s Kiss (1988) for Nicolas Cage’s performance that it makes me ashamed to admit that those were once my intentions. He makes Udo Kier in Blood for Dracula (1974) look positively stoic and is easily the biggest blight on what might have otherwise been a valiantly over-reaching social critique of the decadent, power-mad yuppies that have since come to epitomize the period.

To get to that kernel of intellectual curiosity, I’m going to ask you to ignore how director Robert Bierman not only fails to reign in Cage’s hyper-spastic performance but rather encourages it—I can’t imagine Cage getting the idea to eat a cockroach on his own—and screenwriter Joseph Minion’s pseudo-intellectual, pseudo-offensive link between impotence, vampirism and black women. Instead, focus on the ungainly but almost-competent ideawork in the film. 

If Gordon Gekko ever woke up one morning and thought “greed is very, very bad,” he’d be Peter Loew (Cage). Loew is a powerful executive in a literary agency, handling the firm’s big contracts behind his big desk. Though it’s almost impossible to tell that Cage is doing this intentionally, he affects an accent to prove that he’s intellectually superior to his peers. He also gets turned on by mysterious bats/black women that seduce him and suck the blood out of him. Did I hear somebody say “zeitgeist” already? Just wait; it gets better.

Loew’s vampire fetish is a turbulent but obvious metaphor for yuppie guilt, a phenomenon unique in the discourse of white collar fiends, past or present. To hide the fact that he’s (sometimes) remorseful for his larger-than-life, self-indulgent professional behavior, he welcomes Rachel (Jennifer Beals), a bootylicious blood-sucker into his bedroom. As if this weren’t enough, Loew tries to further throw his persistently indifferent co-workers off the trail by manically chasing the skirt of Alva (Maria Conchita Alonso), but unfortunately for him, as he will later find out, he fucked with the wrong Latina.

Loew’s self-destructive fantasies of being a vampire are freakishly fascinating because of the alternative they provide a much-needed alternative to the two main models of American businessmen in melodrama—the morally confused breadwinner and the emotionless sociopath.

Suggesting that there’s a character type beyond the Don Drapers and the Patrick Batemans of the world is hardly revelatory but it is certainly refreshing considering how insanely cavalier Bierman and Minion are in making their point with such a peculiar fetish. It’s as if they were trying to make a kooky comedy to play as the B-feature to Teen-Wolf Too (1987) that also demanded to be put on the couch. The results are jaw-droppingly weird and I’m still out-to-lunch as to whether I mean that in a good way or not.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

81) Puzzlehead (2005)

81) Puzzlehead (2005) Dir: James Bai Date Released: March 2006 Date Seen: March 24th, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

What first-time writer/director James Bai’s Puzzlehead lacks in originality and in the end coherence, it easily makes up for in its engulfing frigid atmosphere. Watching first-time actor Stephen Galaida struggle to sound like an emotionless blank as both Walter and his creation, Puzzlehead, is understandably grating, and yet it's also a tacky but necessary springboard into the film’s suffocating, cramped mindset. The purposefully inert plot mimics the film's android protagonist by blacking out in between bouts of skulking about. In the process, Bai conjures a suffocatingly sterile mood that makes the silence in the scene when Walter and Julia (Robbie Shapiro) stare blankly at the bed they’re about share devastating.

Monday, March 23, 2009

80) Dachimawa Lee (2008)

80) Dachimawa Lee (2008) Dir: Ryoo Seung-wan Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 23rd, 2009 Rating: 3/5

You know there’s something wrong with an action film when its outtakes are the most structured and consistent stretch of the film. Dachimawa Lee (2008) is a vanity project, through and through, a throwback to Manchurian action films that doesn’t have a hard bone in its 100 minute runtime. There’s nothing to it but cheesy slapstick gags and equally cockeyed action scenes, which is what co-writer/director Ryoo does best. The fact that only 1 in 4 jokes work forces me to recall that his jokes were only half on-target even in Arahan (2004) and some arcane adage about too much of a good thing. Ryoo apes the Zucker brothers' style of comedy but lacks their flair for sight gags. There’s a lot to like because there’s a lot of energy in the film, as the outtakes show, but there’s also a lot of hiccups that a few more script revisions could have taken care of.

79) Within Our Gates (1920)

79) Within Our Gates (1920) Dir: Oscar Micheaux Date Released: January 1920 Date Seen: March 23rd, 2009 Rating: 2/5

Like D.W. Griffith's The Birth of a Nation (1915), the film writer/director Oscar Micheaux was responding to, Within Our Gates (192) is most remarkable for its portrayal of volatile racial politics. There the similarities end: unlike Birth, Gates can only be remembered as an echo or a counter-proposition rather than a stand-alone treatise or even racially-charged melodrama. Though it appears to boast a relatively more nuanced portrayals of blacks betraying their fellow men, Micheaux has based his scapegoats on caricatures that are no less clichéd and offensive, like Efram (E.G. Tatum), the giggling servant so eager to please that he’ll tattle on anyone in hopes of rubbing shoulders with the whites that would lynch him without batting an eyelash. Even Reverend Wilson Jacobs (S.T.Jacks), the man of faith that sells his people out for the sake of maintaining an illusory status quo, jitters about his pulpit like a palsied Sambo. 

This makes Larry Prichard (Jack Chenault), the smooth-talking, well-dressed villain-about-town, the most believable baddie in the film. This is especially sad considering how much stress is put on “Divine justice,” or assigning blame to the bad blacks and one or two wrong-doing whites that deserve punishment for their ignorance. Larry “the Leech” does everything wrong, from murder to bribery, a man that doesn’t respect the values of hard work and education. These wrongs apparently supersede the humane value of forgiveness and the storytelling boon of nuance but hey, an eye for an eye, right?

Sunday, March 22, 2009

78) The Blob (1988)

78) The Blob (1988) Dir: Chuck Russell Date Released: August 1988 Date Seen: March 22nd, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

Though director/co-writer Chuck Russell and co-writer Frank Darabont’s remake of The Blob delivers the kind of detail and humor that such a quasi-nostalgic, quasi-modern remake requires, there’s something fundamentally unsatisfying about a film that so efficiently curtails its own ambition. Their Blob is a neat little drive-in movie for an audience with no cars, multiplex filmgoers whose brains are addled by bad slasher fare that are now (apparently) seeking a light, intelligent and almost challenging alternative. In that respect, Russell and Darabont deliver, but for brevity’s sake, they go no farther. Mindless fun was far enough and to that myopic end, their Blob’s a hit.


RV!: Arahan (2004)

RV!: Arahan (2004) Dir: Ryoo Seung-wan Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 22nd, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

As anticipated, the big problem with Arahan (2004) is that it doesn’t really work when it’s trying to be serious. Though its action scenes are graceful, fluid and eye-popping, they are as playful as the fitful but satisfying bouts of humor in the film—5 Lucky Stars reference, I’m looking at you. All of the script's talk about training for its own sake and the fight for good and evil though is really kind of dull and eventually flat-out irritating. Ryoo should just make a movie composed of nothing but breezy banter and action as this film proves that he can do those two things very well. I suspect that film is Dachimawa Lee (2008) so I’ll hold my breath.

77) The New Twenty (2009)

77) The New Twenty (2009) Dir: Chris Mason Johnson Date Released: March 2009 Date Seen: March 22nd, 2009 Rating: 1/5

One musical number, just one lousy musical number would have made this turd infinitely more bearable. I’m not asking for a Bollywood number, just something to tide me over between the moments of Ozpetekian melodrama. See my review for Slant Magazine for more details.

76) City of the Living Dead (1980)

76) City of the Living Dead (1980) Dir: Lucio Fulci Date Released: May 1983 Date Seen: March 21st, 2009 Rating: 1.75/5

Lucio Fulci’s City of the Living Dead (1980) may be conceptually an interesting stab at visualizing Lovecraftian terrors but never pulls itself together long enough to be much more than a curious precursor to his equally clunky but infinitely more ambitious The Beyond (1981), which he made two films later. The idea of “zombies” appearing out of a hyper-unreal empty, pitch-black nowhere to pull chicken and pig organs out of the scalps of unsuspecting Dunwich residents is kinda cool, but it’s not so fun to watch when it’s this inexpertly filmed, paced, written, visualized, acted, etc. Fabio Frizzi’s soundtrack is neat at times but is ultimately just a weak rehash of his recent earlier Fulci collob, Zombi 2 (1979).

75) Hell of the Living Dead (1980)

75) Hell of the Living Dead (1980) Dir: Bruno Mattei and Claudio Fragasso Date Released: January 1984 Date Seen: March 21st, 2009 Rating: 0.5/5

My love for Hell of the Living Dead (1984) is admittedly based on a sick ironic fascination with exploitation films that are so preposterously gaudy and ill-conceived on every level that they reach astronomical new levels of camp absurdity. Hell is like a zombie version of Heart of Darkness, a trip into Euro-centric fears of black otherness that actually genuinely believes that it's not being racist by limply repudiating the fears it so clearly has become infected by. 

Even ignoring that intellectual failure, Hell is just plain bad, despite its amazing Goblin soundtrack. Mattei and co. has stuffed this monumental crapfest beyond all reasonable breaking points with ridiculous confrontations, over-the-over-the-top gore (yes, that wasn’t a typo) and a lot of slow-motion animal stock footage. I honestly can’t stay mad at a movie this catastrophically inept for any length of time; instead, I worship at it’s alter.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

74) Duplicity (2009)

74) Duplicity (2009) Dir: Tony Gilroy Date Released: March 2009 Date Seen: March 21st, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

The pleasures of writer/director Tony Gilroy’s Duplicity (2009) are simple because the story is both complex and breezy enough to be both eye-catching and genuinely well-conceived. As a smart heist comedy, it's got brains enough to be a coherent narrative in-and-of itself and unlike Gilroy’s Michael Clayton (2007), a film where politics get turned into a McGuffin for the titular, formerly apathetic protagonist’s big change-of-heart, the film’s lack of politics doesn’t matter. The many and assorted double crosses that the film revolves around are topically parodic enough and unlike Clayton, none of the characters’ define themselves by the politics of corporate deception. It’s very refreshing to see a film that doesn’t strive beyond being a intelligent bit of escapist entertainment, no matter how close it comes to being more.

73) Crying Fist (2005)

73) Crying Fist (2005) Dir: Ryoo Seung-wan Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 20th, 2009 Rating: 3.25/5

Action films are what writer/director Ryoo Seung-wan does best, making Crying Fist (2005) a weird but not unexpected change-up in his budding oeuvre. Not unlike The Wrestler (2008), Darren Aronofsky’s soppy love letter to the spandex-clad pro-wrestlers of the ‘80s, Crying Fist is a melodrama about two men who use boxing to get their shit together. The story’s build-up therefore does not revolve around their preparation for their big confrontation but rather the road that leads them there, making the film’s final fight the goal rather than the means to an end. That kind of sportsmanship and reserve is touching and makes the film a better macho tearjerker than most but its definitely not what Ryoo does best. 

Ryoo made Crying Fist just after Arahan (2004), an action comedy that elicited the same amount of tension from a kung fu pastiche that revolved around a young man quest to fulfill his destiny for the sake of saving a something or other. Crying Fist should logically be the better of the two films as it proves that Ryoo can do more than orchestrate colorful genre pictures. When it comes to emotions, he’s smart enough to know to rely on bodies under stress to convey pathos instead of dialogue. In Crying Fist, he takes that philosophy and runs with it farther than any of his films (that I’ve seen).

In both Arahan and Crying Fist, Ryoo’s protagonists have to maim themselves to get ahead (ie: any knowledge gained takes a beating or two to sink in). In Crying Fist, Ryoo takes that theory of emotional torture as character-builder one step further and allows the actors’ body language to completely carry the film. There are perfunctory moments when Ryoo has the characters literally mutilate themselves to get forward, like when young Yoo Seung-hwan (Ryu Seung-beom) cuts himself in the prison shower to ward off a bully—no soap dropping here—but they’re strictly bush league compared to the films’ truly revelatory moments. Whether it’s cross-cutting between Gang Tae-shik (Choi Min-sik)’s hangdog expression and his doctor as he’s given a bum prognosis or a paradoxically understated tracking shot of Seung-beom’s face as the red and blue lights of a squad car are projected onto it, these moments make the film’s emotional payload stick.

Where the film collapses is in its warm and fuzzy final fight. By that point, both Yoo and Gang have already made the progress they needed to, leaving nothing riding on the fight’s outcome. Unlike earlier fight scenes, which are filmed in hyper-active DV, this one is filmed with none of the overblown but necessary stylistic tricks needed to accentuate any distinct features of the two fighters. It’s as if Ryoo is repudiating the viewer for expecting a climactic finish. He even goes so far as to use his one flag-waving, hey-this-is-what-the-movie-is-really-about moment to tell the viewer, through two sports announcers that quickly disappear immediately afterwards, that his protagonists’ are in it for the right reasons, namely everything but winning. Nice sentiment but if Ron Howard could make a prize fight look great without being really climactic, there’s no reason why Ryoo couldn’t.

Note: Oh Dal-su may still be playing the same guy he plays in pretty much every movie—the sleezy loan shark type guy—but he does it so well. More loan shark, pls.

Friday, March 20, 2009

72) Tricky Brains (1991)

72) Tricky Brains (1991) Dir: Wong Jing Not Yet Released Date Seen: March 19th, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

Writer/director Wong Jing has a bad, nay a terrible wrap for being one of the worst Hong Kong filmmakers of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Tricky Brains (1991), was made at the height of his career—one of six films he’s credited with directing that year—and its stars—Stephen Chow had eight roles that year while Andy “toilet song” Lau had thirteen—and hence its a prime example of his worst and/or best work, depending on your tolerance for extra cheesy, poorly timed and slipshod humor.

Jing’s films willingly sacrifice logic for the sake of more gags than any sane viewer can handle. Tricky Brains has a plot—a professional practical joker (Chow) is hired to pretend to be the son of Yan-chi (Ng Man Tat), a businessman and the father of Chi-Man Kit (Lau) because…well, we find that out much later for reasons undefined—but it’s negligible. That barebones set-up is just an excuse for the film’s loosely organized string of off-kilter gay jokes, impromptu off-key singing, sight gags, slapstick routines and costume changes—Lau’s fans should note that Tricky Brains is the first time Lau wears a muscle suit. The film’s superhuman, more spazzy than Bazzy level of energy is pretty infectious so long as the viewer is willing to accept that the film has no greater ambition than to throw several kitchen sinks’ worth of grade school-level humor at you.

Realistically, the film’s cast is the real reason to watch Tricky Brains, confirming my suspicion that nobody today goes out of their way to watch Jing’s films unless they’re trying to look ironic and/or kill a few brain cells. Like any physical comedian, Chow’s mugging is usually hit or miss, but Jing’s overcaffeinated script gives Chow an ideal amount of scenery to chew up. His supporting cast is, as always, terrific, especially Chingmy Yau as (wait for it) Banana Yau and Ng Man Tat, still the only mustachioed Hong Kong actor to look good in a dress (admittedly, I have yet to see Suet Lam wear one). Their nutty performances make it very hard to dismiss Tricky Brains because of its uncannily high camp content and harder to defend it as a guilty pleasure. More than likely, that’s what it and the rest of Jing’s films will remain for everyone but a few crazies like me.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

71) Cube 2: Hypercube (2002)

71) Cube 2: Hypercube (2002) Dir: Andrezj Sekula Date Released: April 2003 Date Seen: March 13th, 2009 Rating: 2/5

The problem with any sequel to Cube (1997) Vincenzo Natali’s sharp puzzle box thriller, is determining a new aspect of the original film’s psycho-architecture (or psychotecture) to expand on. Space was the obvious first step and so time should logically follow. Initially, Cube 2: Hypercube (2002) looks like it may make good on that promise and add something to the original without trying to diminish its alluring mystery with unnecessary backstories or explanations of who or what built the titular cube. Sadly, the enormous potential that encountering past and future maze dwellers has is never capitalized but rather ignored for the sake of insipid and useless new traps that are distractingly preposterous and the best evidence of why Hypercube could have used several rewrites. It's not only as amateurish as Cube Zero (2004) but that's like saying that Riding Alone for Thousands of Miles (2005) was better than House of Flying Daggers (2004; lol Zhang Yimou). 

70) 21 (2008)

70) 21 (2008) Dir: Robert Luketic Date Released: March 2008 Date Seen: March 12th, 2009 Rating: 1.5/5

While 21 is the story of Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) a brilliant, ambitious young thing taking on the world and rolling the dice with love and black jack, one can’t help but root for the film’s bad guy, Cole Williams (Larry Fishburne), the brainy bruiser that sets out to take him down. Though his defining philosophy holds no more water than Ben’s or his skeevy mentor Prof. Micky Rosa (Kevin Spacey, of course; Pacino and Walken were both busy), it hits home the most. In a moment of flag-waving, character-defining clarity, Williams laments the fact that times are a-changin’ for the casinos and that he’s no longer hip and/or “with it.” Immediately this means that he’s pissed about being replaced by a piece of face-recognizing hardware but indirectly it hints at the biggest reason why 21 is such a good sleeping pill—it’s almost impossible to preserve the mystique of even the classiest gambling den.

There’s really no way to cinematically encapsulate or reproduce the sleazy charm of a casino without cheap storytelling techniques that over-glamorize everything ‘til they’ve triggered your gag reflex. Casinos are zoos and like any other sensual attraction, their pleasures are of the moment. They’re memorable only in so far as the individual person’s experience is so when that person’s experience is a paint-by-numbers plot about the rise, fall and rise again of a real-life prodigal boy genius, things tend to get pretty dull pretty quick. There’s nothing wrong with the players involved but there’s nothing memorable or even likeable about them.

Knowing what will happen to them, how it will happen and how those events will be portrayed—without knowing anything about the real-life characters beforehand, mind you—not only sucks the life out of the story but stymies any kind of vicarious enjoyment. It takes no risks and doesn’t even give an excuse to sate the mildest kind of curiosity the film’s “style” might elicit. It deserves to be airplane viewing.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

69) Donkey Punch (2008)

69) Donkey Punch (2008) Dir: Oliver Blackburn Date Released: January 2009 Date Seen: March 10th, 2009 Rating: 0.75/5

While the worst slasher films have never needed a mandate beyond having the fundamental cliches of the genre on tap--a desolate locale, a murderous lunatic and a lot of pretty people--Oliver Blackburn, the co-writer/director of Donkey Punch (2008), has seriously got some ‘splainin to do. In spite of how amiably crass his premise almost is—pretty dumb young things go out on a yacht and one of them gets donkey punched to death—one has to wonder: just what exactly was he thinking when he made this film? 

I might have given Blackburn the benefit of the doubt if he had given me a single way to sympathize with anyone in the film, even just the girls that have live long enough to kill off their dopey and doped-up attackers. The story plods along in the hope that viewer will have sympathy for these mouthy and utterly uninteresting meat puppets because they're in peril but never provides one except for outlandish murders and pretty scenery. All we know about these girls is that they look good in a bikini, they're British, they like to party and they don’t want to die. In other words, they're Greek tourists. That's such a basic staple of the genre and seemingly such a hard one to fuck up that the fact that Blackburn couldn’t make anything out of it makes me need to reiterate my original question. 

The obvious answer, apart from creative constipation, is that there’s no way to be both nasty and good-looking. Apart from the grisly and unintentionally hilarious deaths, Donkey Punch might very well be an avant garde travel brochure. The eye candy squirm about in skimpy clothes behind a backdrop of blue waters filmed in hyper-stylized DV, as if the natural charms of the kids’ and their exotic surroundings’ weren’t enough to seduce the viewer. Looks like Blackburn had some foresight, even if his vision is otherwise pretty myopic, to put it mildly.

Note: Be thankful I didn't put up the, ahem, thematically related image of the guy in the donkey costume with boxing gloves on. Hell, I'll be thankful for you.

Monday, March 9, 2009

68) The Birth of a Nation (1915)

68) The Birth of a Nation (1915) Dir: D.W. Griffith Date Released: March 1915 Date Seen: March 9th, 2009 Rating: 1.75/5

If you were to watch the only the first half of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915) knowing only the vaguest details of its infamous politics, you’d feel cheated. It’s possible to gloss over the first 90 minutes thanks to its sleepy, florid story of the inseparable bonds connecting everyone white at heart that were forged by the fires of the Civil War. Even the film’s second half begins innocently enough, insisting that the events we are about to see, many of which the dastardly intertitles tell us are based on “historical facsimiles,” do not reflect contemporary people or events. Griffith’s pretense of gentility holds up until John Wilkes Boothe leaps onto the Ford’s theater stage and mutely bellows “Sic Semper Tyrannis." After that, the racial apocalypse offended film scholars and laypeople alike have promised breaks out. 

The Birth of a Nation can ostensibly be aesthetically defended for all the reasons Griffith’s shorter fantasies about tough women in tight corners I’ve seen can be but its politics, which are the main reason why it and he are so fondly remembered, cannot. Its muddled worldview cloaks its white supremacist mentality underneath the catch-all fantasy of a united nation, which gives the film a veneer of respectability that prizes Abraham Lincoln but poopoos the darkies that he had such a yen for.

 Granted, I can’t tell you objectively tell you if Caucasian Reconstruction Southerners were actually a “helpless white minority” but any chance that I might sympathize with the impotent racism inherent in Birth flies out the window when it's used to justify such insipid caricatures. Seeing 101 freemen outnumber the 23 seated old white guys in the House of Representatives might have been innocent enough to be laughable but it's not considering how it's used as one of the cornerstones of the film’s argument for the rise of the Ku Klux Klan. Forgive my delicate stomach but racism as a sickly semi-humorous punchline is pretty noxious.

The KKK are depicted as knights in white billowing armor, “the answer to the black and Carpet baggers” that are just taking back what never belonged to the bad blacks—apparently, the slaves that side with their masters are good. To valorize their activities is like how Macagni made the mafia look chivalrous in Cavalleria Rusticana but at least the mafia don’t excuse their actions by crying wolf. Ignoring the associations the KKK evoke outside of Birth’s plot, Whitey’s fears of the jeering Black Scourge that threatens to overtake his way of life remains one of the most absurd popular paranoid fantasies to date (black men taking up the white man’s sidewalk, denyin ‘im the right to vote, marryin’ his sister before he can…white power!). 

If Griffith’s story were compelling outside of its fiery rhetoric, the wrong-headed politics might have been negligible. As it’s not, all I can offer is more rote indignation.

Note: awesome photo stolen from http://www.the-spine.com. 

67) In the Mouth of Madness (1994)

67) In the Mouth of Madness (1994) Dir: John Carpenter Date Released: February 1995 Date Seen: March 9th, 2009 Rating: 3.75/5

As what may very well be John Carpenter’s last really good feature film, In the Mouth of Madness (1994) breaks no new ground in the veteran auto-didact’s varied oeuvre. There’s nothing startlingly innovative in this Lovecraftian pastiche but that’s just fine. Considering how he would follow Mouth with more schlock than his fans can forget through sheer force of will alone, it is a welcome addition to his highly touted canon. 

Carpenter’s ability to tell virtually goreless horror yarns that tease the viewer with Hitchcockian sight gags—let’s just say that the ol’ “now you see it, now you don’t” bit gets trotted out a lot—is on full display in Mouth. Though the film’s makeup and set design crew never let up, there’s only one or two scenes that rely on blood for their impact. Instead, the film relies on shallow but effective psychological hooks that are some of the best screen adaptations of Lovecraft’s favorite kind of horrors—the unfathomably grotesque. Because private dick John Trent (Sam Neill) cannot understand what’s going on, we only see what he sees in bursts and starts, making for some of the most satisfying horror montages I’ve seen in a while.

As hammy as the film’s high-falutin, m SubTerraneans eta-reflexive author-as-God explanations are, it fits perfectly with Carpenter’s usual game of peekaboo that he probably did best in Halloween (1978). Despite some minor speed bumps along the way, Carpenter had me going from start to finish and that alone makes me proud to continue my membership in the John Carpenter is American Horror Club for Troglodites and Other Subterraneans.

66) Strange Wilderness (2008)

66) Strange Wilderness (2008) Dir: Fred Wolf Date Released: February 2008 Date Seen: March 8th, 2009 Rating: 2/5

I cannot nor will I defend the moderate but sufficient amount of yuks I got from this hideous mess of a stoner comedy. After this sometimes funny stinker, Harold and Kumar looks positively ambitious.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

65) Watchmen (2009)

65) Watchmen (2009) Dir: Zack Snyder Date Released: March 2009 Date Seen: March 6th, 2009 Rating: 2.75/5

The long and short of the good/bad news about Zack Snyder’s much-anticipated and even more dreaded adaptation of Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ Watchmen is that there’s more good than bad in it, but not by much. Attempting to adapt the modernist monolith was sheer heedless ambition on Snyder’s part and while the film’s altered ending still packs a punch, the task of keeping all of the original story’s balls in the air was clearly too much for him. Trying to satisfy both fans and new-comers alike, his tendency to err on the side of strict adaptation has once again backfired (see Robert Rodriguez’s Sin City for another slavishly dull adaptation), leaving much of the film a passionless tracing of the original material and the rest a pointless but not infrequently satisfying revival.

To give credit where credit is due, Snyder’s adaptation does everything it can to fit everything it can into its 2 hour 43 minute runtime. While Watchmen would almost certainly have made a better TV show or mini-series event, the film is as competent an adaptation as it could’ve been for a film with little ambition other than sticking like rubber cement to the comic.

Therein lies the film’s biggest self-imposed hurdle. In trying to be a faithful representation, it bogs itself down with techniques that only really work in comics. Hearing Rorschach (Jackie Earle Haley, looking like Johnny Rotten in his Walter Kovacs make-up) strain out his journal entries doesn't sound right, which is partly Haley’s fault but mostly the fact that the character’s warped logic was never meant to be read objectively aloud. The preposterousness of the excessive gravel in Haley’s voice, which normally works in his favor during dialogue, buries his words’ urgency. It sounds like something you’d hear at a bad poetry slam instead of a Hammett-esque paranoid screed.

What’s more problematic however is how the flashbacks in the story really wear on the viewers’ nerves after a while thanks to both their bulk and how, unlike the comic, they're forced to be shown in a fixed linear sequence. While the comic broke up its action into fluid asides and interludes, Snyder’s film attempts to tie the film’s events together into a narrative whose flashbacks are not only readily discernible from the present but also have a direct, rather than strongly implied, correlative link with events in the past. This is the peril of a film that has to tell a coherent story out of a jigsaw plot that was never meant to be digested all in one sitting.

Snyder’s film also woefully insists on an aesthetic kinship with its pulpy predecessor. Sometimes he succeeds, like in the stylistic references to the EC Comics that left an indelible impression on Gibbons’ style. Still, the undergirding idea of making a film look like a comic is particularly lame when it comes to the way Snyder constantly presents traumatic encounters and action scenes as slow-motion snapshots. That technique feels especially out of place in Watchmen considering how the comic defies the romanticism that comes with nostalgia, specifically the fetishization of the characters' fond memories. It's also rather trying considering how often the technique is used. 

Again, within the constraints of that kind of mentality, the film is engaging enough—the Dr. Manhattan (Billy Crudup, working wonders with the Master Card voice) backstory is especially affecting because of how effectively Crudup’s passionless voiceover undermines the scene’s slick and effectively portentous look. In the long run however that’s not saying much.

Additional notes:

-Disappointed by how Haley delivered my favorite line in the comic—“You people don’t seem to understand. I’m not trapped in here with you. You’re trapped in here with me.” It wasn’t a desperate howl but rather a Bale-as-Batman type grumble. If I were a prisoner he were taunting, I’d yell back, “WHAT?! WE CAN’T HEAR YOU!”

-The sex scene suggests an awesomely inappropriate sense of humor at work and while I get that’s just because Snyder loves The Comedian's “It’s all a joke” mentality a little too much, that’s not a valid excuse for adding a superfluous, jokey, Heavy Metal-esque scene of copulation.

-Patrick Wilson was mostly good but he disappointed me with some of his lines; I still think he’s only a so-so performer but he has his moments here and he was pretty decent in Little Children, too. I most strongly object to his lack of a gut in the film considering how integral that is to understanding that the character has let himself go. As it is, he looks like he could have leapt back into action at a whim, which really doesn’t make much sense.

-Carla Gugino was terrific as was Billy Crudup and Matthew Goode. Jeffrey Dean Morgan joins Haley and Wilson in the so-so pile.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

ISF: How Men Propose and A House Divided (1913)

ISF: How Men Propose (1913) Dir: Lois Weber and Alice Guy-Blaché Date Seen: March 5th, 2009 
With its portrayal of a woman courting three men for an article she’s writing, I couldn’t help but think of the film having an undergirding logic suggestive of a weird precursor of a post-feminist attitude. But then again I’m not sure. Is it really an example of vamping up one’s sex to equalize gender inequality/emphasize the impenetrability of ‘women’ as a category? My knowledge of feminist theory is clearly wanting.

ISF: A House Divided (1913) Dir: Alice Guy-Blaché Date Seen: March 5th, 2009 
I find the comic interaction through the cue cards and intertitles to be a very fun and perceptive use of the uniquely cinematic ability to transition between a close-up text-object and the people reacting to it. Other than that, I have nothing to say; outdated battles of the sexes are only so interesting.

Note: couldn't find pictures for either film. Sowwy.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

64) 13B (2008)

64) 13B (2008) Dir: Vikram Kumar Date Released: March 2009 Date Seen: March 4th, 2009 Rating: 2.75/5

Via my twitter: “Despite it being as precious and absurd as all get-out, 13B was actually a lot of fun. I'll dream of the last musical number tonight.” See my forthcoming review for the New York Press for more juicy details.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

63) Two Lovers (2008)

63) Two Lovers (2008) Dir: James Gray Date Released: February 2009 Date Seen: March 3rd, 2009 Rating: 4/5
 -“You know what I realized?”
-“I never really saw you.”
 -“I never saw you, either. I could feel you, you know. I could really feel you.”
What’s striking about the way director/co-writer James Gray films Leonard (Joaquin Phoenix), his titular two lovers (Gwyneth Paltrow and Vinessa Shaw) and his surrounding community (including Isabella Rossellini and Moni Moshonov) is the way the camera is both distantly voyeuristic and uncomfortably familiar. It is as if we are watching Leonard through the eyes of an invisible and hence powerless friend, one not satisfied with mere detached surveillance. We are allowed to get close enough to embrace him, but in a split-second, we are pushed back for the sake of simultaneously respecting and re-enforcing the distance between us and him. It’s almost as if we’re family.

That kind of intimacy is something Gray sought to envelop the feuding brothers in We Own the Night (2007), which featured equally laudatory performances from Phoenix and his co-stars. Here the empathic sense of frailty and tragic optimism that the film’s stellar cast radiates is fully embraced by Gray’s technique—and a better screenplay doesn’t hurt either. The film’s finale, especially Leonard’s farewell to his mother, is full of such prickly poignance that it oozes with a desperate kind of melancholy. It suffocates you with its warmth.

62) Street Fighter (1994)

62) Street Fighter (1994) Dir: Steven de Souza Date Released: December 1994 Date Seen: March 2nd, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

It’s easy to see why writer/director Steven de Souza’s Street Fighter might have been scuttled off to a January or February release. But. What’s even more incredible than seeing that it was released on December 23rd—early Christmas present?—is that the film is actually fun. 

Unfortunately, my affection for this film is an apologist’s kind of love, the kind whose defense is predicated on having grown up playing the video games that the movie is based on (though the credits credit only Street Fighter II, fans will recognize some later characters, like D.J. and Tomahawk). What I can semi-objectively offer is that while the film can be taken as a big in joke with fans, it does exactly what a Street Fighter movie should: provide a silly, light and energetic plot full of fights, cameos and flashy effects. Nostalgia be damned, it’s a goodish movie! Leave Street Fighter alone!

Still, as long as I’m admitting that I’m watching this film to satisfy the 10 year-old in me, I have to say that it’s hard to watch the film without looking at either of the two main character actors in the film retrospectively. As Col. Guile, Jean Claude Van Damme doesn’t get an opportunity to flex his famous muscles but then again, the film is yet another example of why his plea for playing at peace in JCVD (2008) seems so silly. He’s a member of the AN, a UN stand-in but when given the chance to put his arms down, he voluntarily chooses to kick ass instead. He’s got such laughably bad punny lines that if one weren’t watching the rest of the film, you might easily think that de Souza had it out for Van Damme.

In the same vein, it’s tough to suppress a groan or five when you’re watching poor, sickly Raul Julia shoot lightning out of his hands and zoom around on electro-magnetic boots. Seeing him taunt Van Damme is one thing but watching him get the snot kicked out of him knowing that he was about as sturdy as a toothpick at the time and had to wear a wire suit to fill out Bison’s signature red uniform—whose designer is specially credited in the beginning!—I had to suck in my teeth and chuckle. Then again, rewatching the film for the first time in its entirety, I can’t help but reject the old joke about the film being so bad it killed him—he gets in some good lines like when he tells Chun-Li, “For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day in your life. For me, it was Tuesday.” Honestly, that Julia stayed alive after Overdrawn at the Memory Bank  (1983) is the real miracle. Accentuate the positive, people.

Oh and while I'm on the subject: neat poster, huh?

Monday, March 2, 2009

61) Turkey Shoot (1982)

61) Turkey Shoot (1982) Dir: Brian Trenchard-Smith Date Released: October 1983 Date Seen: March 1st, 2009 Rating: 3.5/5

As a Battle Royale-esque exploitation golden not-so-oldie, Turkey Shoot succeeds within its self-imposed limitations at critiquing Thatcherite strict “order”-based logic. To my mind, there’s no more perverse way to upend her regime's justly demonized mentality than with a movie that's as alternately organized and spazzy as  this one, being a film about rich blueboods who hunt proles with everything from exploding arrows to a manimal. While it understandably won’t strike a chord with anyone looking for a serious political critique (unless of course you think Ilsa the She-wolf of the SS is a radical revisionist challenge), as a fun little Corman-esque splatterfest with ample amounts of camp and moderately artistic camerawork, it hits the spot.