2.75 out of 5 stars
[Note: I rewatched this as a result of our recent podcast on Tim Burton] Oh, Tim… Forever behind your camera… pushing your Hot Topic-friendly oddball esthetic. Don’t get me wrong… Your visual sense is superb. Despite yourself, you’ve created some truly beautiful cinematic moments, ones that will appear in your “Best Of…” montages until the end of time. Sadly though, someone once told you that your goofy visual look was cool and you believed them. In an unlikely sequence of events, it somehow made you think that what you did was also funny. So, Tim, as someone who’s observed your work since its beginning, I gotta say, buddy… stop it. You’re the polar opposite of funny. You’re like Anti-funny. You’re goofy and infantile and it makes me not like the films that you do. And that’s sad because I really do adore your visual sense. Its spooky tone is one that resonates with me… and I want you – really WANT you - to be good. But then…. You do shit like you did at the end of PLANET OF THE APES. Or you cast Anthony Michael Hall in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS. Or you don’t slap Johnny Depp when he shows you his ideas for the makeup for CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY. Don’t get me wrong. You can make a good film. I mean, I loved SLEEPY HOLLOW. I liked SWEENY TODD (sorta… you missed the boat on casting, but what's here is better than nothing). PEE WEE… BEETLEJUICE… You’re not a slouch. But yeah… DARK SHADOWS. I’ll say this… The plot is simple. It’s really easy to follow. Very little plot happens, in fact. I mean, I’ve read children’s books with a deeper narrative. Collinswood is beautiful and it rivals the house in Jan de Bont’s THE HAUNTING for the title of Best House in Cinema. That said, by no means, is DARK SHADOWS the utter shit-heap some people would have you believe. Admittedly, the original series was weird and goofy and stumbled throughout its run-time for years. But again, plotwise – don’t get me started. At the end of the day, I did like portions of DARK SHADOWS… it’s weird and goofy albeit not particularly funny, but it does have that sort of element of Burton charm. Viewers should just go in knowing it is certainly not what it could have been, but it is fun and everyone involved seems to be having a good time chewing their portion of scenery. Rentable… but get it SOLELY for the visuals & for the house.
1 out of 5 stars
An interesting premise (MAXIMUM OVERDRIVE meets TALES FROM THE CRYPT: DEMON KNIGHT meets THE PROPHECY) gets hamstrung by LOOONG talky (ie boring) sequences and a moronic third act. Make no mistake though, at its core, LEGION is a zombie film (think NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD in a diner with some goofy Biblical shit thrown in to obscure its true origins), but a bad one. Director/Writer Scott Charles Stewart is an ex-FX guy and it shows as there are some decent looking FX shots in the film. The problem is… the story is cobbled together and not exactly completely thought out. I mean, for example, towards the end, we have a woman who has JUST given birth seen rapidly climbing up a mountain with her newborn baby in her arms. It just don’t make sense - just from an anatomy standpoint alone. Further, the internal logic having to do with God and his relationship with Michael & Gabriel is loaded with inconsistencies and dead ends. And don’t even get me started on the fact that this is supposedly a film about angels, but very few angels are ever actually seen. Long-winded and dopey, LEGION is nothing special.
3 out of 5 stars
A sprawling war epic from Peter Chan (THREE… EXTREMES II) starring Jet Li, Andy Lau (HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS), and Takeshi Kaneshiro ( RETURNER, HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS). While the story is engaging enough and the action set pieces are well-executed, there really is nothing new to see here. What we have is a pretty standard “brothers in arms” tale with some political maneuvering thrown in to keep things interesting. There is a lot to like in this film, but really not so much to love. If you’re in the mood for a Chinese war epic and you’ve already seen stuff like THREE KINGDOMS, SEVEN SWORDS, or John Woo’s immaculate RED CLIFF (the 5 hour version of course) or if you‘re a fan of any of the lead actors, then go ahead rent this. You won’t exactly be sorry, but it also probably end up in your Top Ten.
The Lovely Bones
3 out of 5 stars
So, this was a tough one… While visually interesting, THE LOVELY BONES has more than a few problems. It is overly long at 2 hours and 15 minutes (45 minutes could have EASILY been cut out of it and no one would have noticed) and wholly self-indulgent. More HEAVENLY CREATURES than LORD OF THE RINGS, there are moments (and some themes) that seem cribbed from WHAT DREAMS MAY COME. It’s like Jackson saw a Tarsem Singh (THE FALL, THE CELL) film and thought, “Hey, I have WETA… I could do that!” Sadly, he fails. The images are beautiful, but they are beautiful in an almost cartoon manner rather than an organic one. And then there’s the script… I understand a lot of graphic content has been cut from the book, but… the ending is one of the most unsatisfying endings I’ve seen in recent memory. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone, but… how the killer gets his come-uppance is empty and without meaning. The young girl said it herself, “Everyone dies…” Seeing how the villain’s character dies robs the story of any sense of justice (not to mention vengeance). LOVELY BONES is worth seeing… don’t get me wrong… but if you’re looking for a solid story, you will be disappointed. If you want to see something visually arresting… rent Tarsem Singh’s THE FALL instead (it's less depressing).
2 out of 5 stars
Japanese director, Koji Kawano (ATTACK GIRLS SWIM TEAM VS THE UNDEAD) brings us this riff on the SWEENEY TODD / BUNMAN (aka THE UNTOLD STORY) tale of a restaurant that substitutes human flesh for their meat. The film stars softcore porn legend, Mihiro (aka Mihiro Taniguchi) and is a rather ridiculous affair. More softcore sex film than real horror film, there is little for which to recommend this one. Yes, Mihiro is cute, but rather than use that to its fullest, she is instead raped and victimized for no other reason than the audience’s titillation. When the mystery of why the restaurant’s dumplings are so good is revealed, it’s just silly (she folds them with her vagina thereby giving them their unique and distinctive taste). While CRUEL RESTAURANT is better than Kawano’s other films, it’s still just this side of a Troma movie. Some may dig that sort of thing, but I found it to be juvenile and insulting. Had the film maybe gone for the gore, it might be different (I can’t believe I’m saying that…), but instead… this is just not a very good film.
1 / 5 stars
With YOGA HOSERS, Kevin Smith (CLERKS) writes and directs the second installment in his Great North Trilogy (the first was TUSK and the last will be something called MOOSE JAWS). Essentially, all three films were conceived as the result of conversations on various episodes of Smith’s popular podcast, SMODCAST. While the episodes themselves are humorous, these films, quite frankly, are not. Misguided, over-thought, and made for seemingly only Smith himself, the films are weird, awkward, and dumb… and not in a good way. With YOGA HOSERS, we get the goofiness of JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK-era Smith with a heaping helping of nepotism thrown in with the casting of his daughter, Harley Quinn Smith. The film also stars a nearly unrecognizable Johnny Depp and Depp’s daughter, Lily Rose. Sadly, the film rests on the girl’s shoulders and that’s where it all begins to unravel. The girls simply aren’t up to the task. They’re stiff, awkward, and clearly cast because of who they are and not for any imagined acting talent. The shoe-horning of them singing (especially Styx’s “Babe” at one point) is beyond painful. Also cast are Smith’s HOLLYWOOD BABBLE-ON co-host Ralph Garman as the main villain (and BOY is he terrible – essentially recycling the five or six impersonations he’s known for) as well as Smith himself as the jaw-droppingly irritating “Brautzis.” But the main problem with YOGA HOSERS is its script and Smith’s assumption that his audience thinks every damn thing that comes out of his head is funny. In a nutshell, YOGA HOSERS script is, well… stupid and so ‘inside’ that I’m not surprised a lot of critics hated the film. The multitude of Canadian jokes are forced and obvious. The inclusion of SCOTT PILGRIM-esque video game graphics that come ten years too late (in both relevance and look) is misguided and betrays a fifty-year-old man writing scripts and dialog for teenagers and trying to be relevant. Acting is oddball and over the top and off-puttingly so. Honestly, I can’t fathom how the whole thing ever got past the podcast episode other than by Smith’s insistence. But here we are… On the plus side, the film is competently made. I mean, it looks great. Smith clearly has learned a few things making FLASH and SUPERGIRL episodes and it shows. But again… the premise and script are so predicated on the audience being in on the joke that it all falls flat if you’re not. Smith completists (if there is such a thing) and podcast fans are the only ones who will be amused by this careening mess. All others… watch ANYTHING else.
2 out of 5 stars
NEW GLADIATORS (aka I GUERRIERI DELL’ANNO 2072 aka ROME 2072 AD aka a ton of other titles) is a film from 1984 that is pretty obviously inspired by Stephen King’s 1982 novel, THE RUNNING MAN and/or John Carpenter‘s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK. The results are, well… varied. The plot is exactly what you’d expect in this sort of thing. But, from the looks of things, director Lucio Fulci had ZERO budget in which to make his film. The result is a sort of goofy sci-fi action thing that betrays its influences early on and continually wears them on its sleeve. The acting by such luminaries as Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Jared Martin (WESTWORLD, DALLAS), and Al Cliver (ZOMBI) is terrible. The sets… pretty much made of some cardboard and flashing lights. The score by Riz Ortolani (CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST) is pure cheesy synthesizer schmaltz. Still… with all these things going against it, Fulci still manages to make a film that, while certainly not particularly good, still manages to hold one’s interest. There’s plenty of pseudo-science to go around and The Maestro even manages to throw in a couple of gruesome decapitations. NEW GLADIATORS is by no means one of Fulci’s better films, but… it’s also certainly not his worst. For that, you’d have to rent (or not rent in this case) his film(s) TOUCH OF DEATH, AENIGMA, or DOOR INTO SILENCE.
The Killing Room
3 out of 5 stars
While REALLY similar to Frenchman Fredic Grousset’s film AQUARIUM, this US spin is a more satisfying endeavor. The story of a group of test subjects who sign on for a study protocol and get A LOT more than they figured on is packed with tension and is full of thought-provoking “What would YOU do” moments. Naturally, in this day and age, a 9/11 angle is brought in, but this time, it's used to great effect. All of the actors (even, believe it or not, Nick Cannon) are solid and the direction by TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE: THE BEGINNING’s Jonathan Liebesman, while jumpy, is assured. My one complaint is that the sound design of the film is packed with reverb and therefore a little difficult to always understand. Still… I liked this one probably more than I should. Once again, it follows the Romerian theory of “take a group of people, lock them in a confined space, and let their characters bounce of one another” and runs with it. Good stuff and much better than I anticipated it would be.
3 out of 5 stars
CASSHERN director, Kazuaki Kiriya, brings us a highly-stylized, CG-laden ‘jidaigeki.’ The story is basically Robin Hood with a lot of CG environments, horses, and blood. As a result, we get tons of castles, uncountable scenes of armies marching, and people flying everywhere. The feel of the film is kind of like a jidaigeki meets a wu xia (if that makes sense?). The film feels overly-long at 2 hours and it could’ve easily been trimmed down… a lot. Acting-wise, everyone is suitably over-wrought and does a decent enough of a job. Fighting-wise, it’s a lot of wirework and high-flying swordplay. Most of the blood is noticeably CG, so it’s ok for kids, but… I fear the plot is so overly-complicated that they’ll undoubtedly check out just after the credits. There are some genuinely beautiful moments in the film visually, but… they are mitigated by the filmmaker’s obvious over-use of CG. So much so that, in some scenes, the film looks almost like a live action anime. It’s THAT noticeable. At the end of the day though, GOEMON is an enjoyable – admittedly flawed - pseudo-epic which does exactly what it sets out to do: entertain. The story is certainly nothing new, but the visuals are nice and it makes for a lovely little time waster. And, as these types of films go, this one is competently made, performed well, and pretty to look at. Recommended, just go in knowing it’s not going to be exceptional. For that… check out Ten (BLOOD) Shimoyama’s SHINOBI: HEART UNDER BLADE.
Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time
2 out of 5 stars
Director Mike Newell (HARRY POTTER AND THE GOBLET OF FIRE, FOUR WEDDINGS AND A FUNERAL) directs this big budget adaptation of the popular videogame series with mixed results. The stunts are pretty terrific and some of the visual FX (and there are a LOT of them) are eye-popping, but the script is overly-convoluted and unclear and the decision to have Persians (played by mostly American actors) all speaking in English accents is puzzling. Despite all the technical wizardry and Persian parkour, the erratic camera work (bring your Dramamine) and confusing narrative outweighs whatever cool there is in the film. Well, that and the “pristine violence (ie, many people are seen falling to the sword, but there is little blood and the deaths are so sanitized as to be nonexistent). Rentable just so you can see a TON of money thrown up onto a screen, but don’t expect anything too impressive for your time.
I Spit On Your Grave
3 out of 5 stars
Right off the bat, let me just say this… as with the original, I had problems with some of this film. While I understand that it is necessary - dare I say, “mandatory” - in order for the revenge aspect of this film to work, you have to make your way through the oftentimes gratuitous aspects of the female lead’s assault. I get that. I get that in order for the audience to feel justified in the violence she inflicts on her attackers later, she must literally go through hell. Problem is… I’m just not a fan of that sort of thing. For whatever reason (and those reasons should be abundantly clear), I can watch just about anything, but I sort of draw the line at rape. But, ok… again, you need to get through the dark water to get to the sweet. The original film’s comeuppance was groundbreaking and pretty dark and brutal for its time. This remake… is a whole ‘nother kettle of fish. When the assaulted woman gets her revenge, well, it’s really the only reason to see this. While the film is well-made and decently acted, there is a level of well… “fucked-up-ness” to her retribution that is pretty damn epic. In fact, had that last third of the film not been there, I would have scored this movie a lot lower. A LOT lower. But that last third of the story is just so twistedly note-perfect that I found myself laughing out loud at the audacity of the filmmaker. Admittedly flawed, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE is worth the rental just for those last 30 minutes or so. If you can get through the first two-thirds, fasten your seat belts because, as Better Davis once said, “It’s going to be a bumpy ride.”
Autopsy (aka Macchie Solari)
3 out of 5 stars
Mimsy Farmer (FOUR FLIES ON GREY VELVET,THE PERFUME OF A LADY IN BLACK, SPENCER’S MOUNTAIN) stars in this B-grade giallo which makes up for its plot inconsistencies with a ton of nudity and some pretty decent gore. Director Armando Crispino sets an even tone, but – like a lot of giallos – the script puts way too many plates to spinning and the proceedings become unnecessarily convoluted. Farmer sports an obvious blonde wig here and looks a lot like Sean Young while she whines her way through her role. For example, despite being a supposedly seasoned pathologist, she manages to shriek each and every time she comes across a dead body. Man, I hate that kind of shit! Anyway, the rest of the cast is solid for its timeframe (mid-70s) and its country of origin (Italy). There is some nonsense thrown about regarding sunspots (its Italian title actually means “sunspots”) and their effects on “collective suicides,” but it’s a glaring red herring and completely beside the point. In the end, AUTOPSY is again a B-grade giallo that pays off… sort of… and it’s worth a rental especially once you’ve clipped through all the A-List giallos and still have a jones to see one. Good - not great - but you could do a LOT worse than this one.
3 out of 5 stars
Comic book movies…at this point (this is the eleventh Marvel movie), they’ve become their own thing, haven’t they? But, if we’re being honest, not all of them have worked. Here… we have a live action adaptation of DR STRANGE – Marvel’s mystic enchanter / super hero. Directed by Scott Derrickson (SINISTER, DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL), the film is visually stunning, but suffers by its own definition – this is an origin story. Had we not already sat through a multitude of these things, there may have been something novel to see here. But instead, all the tropes are dutifully trotted out: the flawed hero who must be reduced to nothing before rising from the ashes to be the hero he was always meant to be ™, the vague mythology which spawns a seemingly undefeatable antagonist, the dizzying panorama of lush, CG environments… they’re all here. But with DR STRANGE we also get some very mind-blowing visuals (think INCEPTION meets Gaspar Noe’s ENTER THE VOID and then add a sentient cape) that are unlike anything we are used to in these kinds of films. STRANGE stars a top-drawer cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (SHERLOCK), Chiwetel Ejiofor (KINKY BOOTS), Rachel Adams (SHERLOCK HOLMES), Benedict Wong (THE MARTIAN), Mads Mikkelson (VALHALLA RISING), Tilda Swinton (CONSTANTINE, SNOWPIERCER), Benjamin Bratt (LA LAW), and Scott Adkins (UNDISPUTED) and all do journeymen’s work (particularly Swinton), but it all just seems a little compulsory. Like despite all the histrionics, the pyrotechnics, and the hand-wringing, not much of anything important happens that isn’t expected. But boy… is it sure pretty. I will say that I enjoy the first third of the film which focused more on the mysticism and magic side of things rather than the “kicky-punchy” finale, but let’s be honest… DR. STRANGE was not made for me. It was made for a younger – more inexperienced – audience that maybe can’t see the plot twists coming are content with the bombast of it all. In the end, DR. STRANGE is a perfectly serviceable comic book movie that fires on all cylinders. It’s just disappointing because it had the potential to be something else (see that first third), but that would have made for a completely different film. I would have loved to see more of his training and had the film culminate with him becoming the Sorcerer Supreme, but that's just me. It also doesn’t seem to be what Marvel has planned. I think, we’ll see more and more characters being introduced with their backstory being given in short-hand and brief flashbacks which, I guess, is ok at this point. But as escapist fare, you could do a lot worse than DR. STRANGE (again, that first third). Worth seeing, but you might want to wait until it hits disc. Fans of these sorts of things will love it. Non-fans… won’t be convinced, but are sure to enjoy it.
The Plague Dogs
3 out of 5 stars
From Martin Rosen, the director of WATERSHIP DOWN, comes this animated tale that is the BLEAK and depressing story of two dogs who are being used for animal experiments who escape and try to find their place in the world. Out of the box, I’ll tell ya… if scenes of animals being tortured, operated on, and being generally abused bothers you, you’re really gonna want to steer clear of this picture. The film’s animation style is stylized (and sort of similar to that of WATERSHIP DOWN), but its story is DEFINITELY and DECIDEDLY not for children. Sad and, at times, upsetting, THE PLAGUE DOGS caused quite a stir when it was released back in 1982... and justly so. That all said, this is one of those films that all animation fans should see, but again… it’s a very bleak and depressing little film. Recommended… only with a few caveats.
2 out of 5 stars
The tale of a hard living, hard drinking musician is nothing new and no new ground is broken here. The plot of this film is EXACTLY what you think - old music legend, down on his luck, finds someone to love him, he fucks it up, learns some valuable lessons, and a) dies or b) finds redemption and a sort of understanding of Life. Bridges does a good job in the role, but, let’s be honest… this is NOT Oscar-worthy. Not by a LONG shot. His portrayal of Bad is pretty much him doing Jeff Bridges with a bit of a southern twang. And whatever casting agent booked Colin Farrell (an Irishman) as a country singer should be run out of Hollywood on a rail. In the end, CRAZY HEART is nothing special and Bridges has done more Oscar-worthy roles than this. For the covering of the same ground, do yourself a favor… rent TENDER MERCIES instead.
Friends of Eddie Coyle
4 out of 5 stars
Another rewatch... Seasoned director Peter Yates (BULLITT, MURPHY’S WAR, THE HOT ROCK, THE DEEP, BREAKING AWAY, EYEWITNESS, KRULL, and the list goes on and on) crafts this quintessential ‘70s crime thriller starring the great Robert Mitchum, Peter Boyle, Richard Jordan, and a host of well-known character actors. The story is basically about a low-level gun runner who’s about to go to prison and the lengths he goes to in order to stay out. Solid acting all around and the film’s pacing is spot-on. The Criterion print on this disc is a beaut with a crystal clear image and vibrant colors. This is one of the truly great crime dramas of the early 1970s. Highly recommended!!!
4 out of 5 stars
A holiday rewatch! Ranking somewhere beneath Masaki Kobayashi’s KWAIDAN, but slightly higher on the scale than its director’s (Kaneto Shindo) other masterwork, ONIBABA, KURONEKO’s tale of vengeful ghosts and the samurai who is sent to slay them is sprawling and terrific. The acting is classic “jidaigeki” while the swordplay is just ok. But it is the way the director stages each scene and his painter-like use of B&W that sets this one apart. Now granted, I watch a lot of samurai drama and am therefore predisposed to loving this, but… this is easily one of the finer examples of the genre. Beautiful and out on Criterion, KURONEKO is HIGHLY recommended. If you’re interested in these types of things (ghost-centric samurai dramas), see KWAIDAN first as it’s one of the best the subgenre has to offer. Solid stuff!
17 Ninja aka Jushichinin no Ninja
3.5 out of 5 stars
Yatsuo Hasegawa directs this tale of a group of ninjas are sent to infiltrate the impenetrable fortress where the dying Shogun’s youngest son is preparing to storm Edo Castle and name himself Shogun by force of arms. The characters are drawn well (although many of them die in short order) and the plot moves along at a nice clip. There are a lot of nifty authentic ninja weapons and tricks shown with none of the flying around and implausible trickery seen in a lot of these types of films. Sadly though… in the last reel, the plot stumbles into melodrama and, by the end credits, the viewer’s patience runs a little thin. Still… 17 NINJA is a neat little ninja flick that shows how intrigue and intricate planning was the rule of the day rather than what we’ve come to expect from ninja mythology. A fun little flick… just be patient through all of the heavy-handedness in that last act.
Film #328: DIRTY PICTURES aka UN POSTO IDEALE PER UCCIDERE aka AN IDEAL PLACE TO KILL aka OASIS OF FEAR
Dirty Pictures (aka Un Posto Ideale Per Uccidere aka An Ideal Place to Kill aka Oasis of Fear)
2 out of 5 stars
More pseudo-giallo wackiness… This time out, we have Umberto Lenzi (CANNIBAL FEROX, SEVEN BLOODSTAINED ORCHIDS, NIGHTMARE CITY) directing a tale of two young people played by the beautiful Ornella Muti (FLASH GORDON, OSCAR) and Italian cinema staple Ray Lovelock (LET SLEEPING CORPSES LIE, DJANGO KILL! (IF YOU LIVE SHOOT!)) who, after being arrested for selling illegal pornography, are taken in by a lady of means played by Irene Papas (ZORBA THE GREEK, GUNS OF NAVARONE, DON’T TORTURE A DUCKLING) for unknown reasons. Is she a benevolent Good Samaritan… or is she motivated by darker things? By the third reel, it’s all pretty apparent what the game is except how it all will resolve itself. The mood of the film is all pretty groovy (it was, after all, made in 1971) and comes off a little dated, but… there’s an interesting casual sexuality at play during the early scenes that is indicative of how things were back in the day - Post Summer of Love and Pre-AIDS. Director Lenzi does a decent job with none of the gore he shows in some of his other films (CANNIBAL FEROX, for example). The film features an atypical pop rock soundtrack which serves as a counterpoint to the dark intrigue that follows. Not a great film by any means… but it is an interesting one. I can’t really recommend it across the board, but early '70s euro fans will dig it. Others may not quite get it.
From Paris With Love
3 out of 5 stars
From the mind of Luc Besson comes this predictable and clichéd actioner. Travolta chews scenery while Jonathan Rhys Myers walks around looking confused as to why he got cast. The action is ok, but it gets marred by too much “shakey-cam”-style cinematography. The plot moves along at a good clip, but the audience is never really surprised by how things turn out. Ideas get brought up and then summarily forgotten on a far too routine basis. Now, this is all not to say the film is bad. It’s not. In fact, there are some very cool sequences amidst the tedium and trite dialog. It’s just that director, Pierre Morel (DISTRICT 13, TAKEN) seems to have gotten all of his ideas from the book ACTION MOVIES FOR DUMMIES. Is it worth seeing? Sure. Again, I know you’ve seen worse. But given all the talent involved (Travolta, Besson, etc), I just expected something better.