Archive | June, 2012

Stalker – Review

29 Jun

When people think about classic science fiction film from the seventies and eighties, their answers are usually something like Blade RunnerAlien, or Star Wars. But what is that little gem silently sitting behind all of these loud, special effects laden sci fis? That, my friends, is Stalker, a highly philosophical, slow moving, and strangely peaceful science fiction film that forces major viewer introspection.

In the not too distant future, an area in Soviet Russia called the Zone is blocked off by police and military after people have been mysteriously disappearing after entering. The origins of the Zone are unknown with possible solutions being a meteorite or invisible aliens. There is a room in the Zone that if you enter it, your inner most wish will be granted. Now, a person who can successfully navigate the Zone, a Stalker (Alexander Kaidanovsky), must take a Professor (Nikolai Grinko) and a Writer (Anatoly Solonitsyn) to the room, but he soon learns that these two aren’t his run of the mill customers.

The philosophies of Stalker are both personal and mysterious. By the end of the movie, Tarkovsky has not given his audience a clear answer with an ending that might be one of the most baffling of all time. I sat for a long time thinking about what all of this could mean and what Tarkovsky was trying to say. There’s religious symbolism, governmental criticism, and interpersonal relationship theories that all clash into some sort of amorphous conclusion.

That being said, this is a very difficult movie. This is a film that you and your friends can talk about for hours after seeing it and still begin to realize more and more of what it was about. Is the story meant to be taken literally or figuratively. The characters and dialogue are some of the deepest that I’ve ever seen and I could easily relate to them, but at the same time, I had trouble understanding them. That begs the question: If I can relate to these characters on a personal level, but can’t understand them, what does that say about me? Like I said before, the viewer is forced to examine themselves after watching Stalker, but they may not like what they find.

I’ve already mentioned the pacing, but I think that it is one of the most key aspects to this movie’s success. To some, Stalker will be way too slow and will bore them easily. Others will find it to be a very relaxing pace and perfectly appropriate for this kind of movie. What’s the rush? The main plot is an attempt to traverse a barren, foreign landscape. Why not take the time to appreciate it. Underneath the surface is the philosophy, which, like the landscape, must be appreciated slowly and deliberately.

The scenery of the Zone is almost like another character. Each scene has a completely different feeling, but always lingers a sense of uneasiness. Andrei Tarkovsky does a great job making the normal feel supernatural. There are no fancy tricks or effects here. The most fancy effect in the whole movie is the transitioning between sepia and color. Everything else was simply crafted through technique, mood, and set design. This just goes to show that not every sic fi movie has to have the budget of Transformers to look cool. In fact, I’d make the argument that Stalker is exponentially cooler than ANYTHING Michael Bay has ever released…ever.

I can easily put Stalker on my list of favorite movies (which will be coming eventually). The pacing and philosophy are matched perfectly with the scenery and the characters. Not only that, but the story was absolutely captivating. Be warned before going into this movie: it is incredibly slow. That being said, the pacing should not stop you from losing yourself in the Zone.

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Braindead (Dead Alive) – Review

28 Jun

Peter Jackson. There’s a name that everybody knows very well, even if movies aren’t your forte. He’s most known for directing the Lord of the Rings trilogy, a remake of King Kong, and an adaptation of the book The Lovely Bones. But let’s pretend that they haven’t happened yet and the year is 1992. Peter Jackson’s first film, Meet the Feebles, was a small cult hit but he would need something bigger to really start his career. How about making the “goriest film of all time?” Now we have Braindead. 

Lionel (Timothy Balme) is a push over who spends his days doing whatever his mother (Elizabeth Moody) tells him. After his mother gets bit by a Sumatran rat monkey in the local zoo, she begins to get sick and eventually dies…but not for long. Soon, the undead begin to run amok and it’s up to Lionel, who is new girlfriend, Paquita (Diana Peñalver), and his scheming Uncle Les (Ian Watkin) to destroy these zombies any way possible with unbelievably gory results.

I was excited to see Braindead. Really excited. I mean, come on, this is supposedly the king of all gore movies, and I can now honestly say that it is and then some. I could not believe the amount of blood, limbs, intestines, and all the other miscellaneous appendages that I saw fly across the screen. In one particular scene involving a lawnmower, five gallons of blood were blasted from the device per second. What other movie can brag about that?

The scene below is pretty gross. Just wanted to let you know if you want to watch it.

Don’t let the amount of gore and general yuckiness give you the wrong idea. You will be laughing hard at 90% of the jokes in this movie. Lionel was both likable and frustrating, but definitely a character we can relate to on some level. The supporting characters were appropriately good and evil, with the exception of Uncle Les who went above and beyond the level of douche baggery.

What I also mean by not letting the gore intimidate you is also the fact that when there are loads of body parts flying across the screen, it is normally in a slapstick fashion. There were never any parts in the movie, besides the one above scene, that really grossed me out like Anti-Christ did. Instead it was just a lot of fun to see how far Peter Jackson would go with his gore crazed scenes. I have to say, it exceeded my expectations.

This is the scene that I mentioned in the beginning and is probably the goriest scene of the movie.

Stylistically, Braindead hits the mark perfectly. The film is loaded with dutched close ups that are both funny to look at because they are kind of cheesy, but they also cause a feeling of disorientation at times. There are also some great green and purple filters used in scenes towards the end that make the rooms in the zombie filled mansion almost other worldly.

Braindead or Dead Alive, whatever you want to call it, is a fantastically awesome early film by Peter Jackson. I can vouch for it and say that it is, at least, the goriest film that I’ve ever seem and that’s saying something. I don’t just recommend it for that reason, however. I recommend it because it is really funny, has style, and also has great characters. This is a very well rounded movie in a aspects and I really loved it.

Santa Sangre – Review

26 Jun

If you have read my blogs before this, then you know that writer/director Alejandro Jodorowsky is no stranger to the bizarre. Santa Sangre may not be Jodorowsky’s most strange and confusing film, but it is certainly his most disturbing. Let me put it this way: El Topo is Purgatory, The Holy Mountain is Heaven, and Santa Sangre is Hell.

A man finds himself in a mental hospital, and refuses to act like a normal human being. Cut back to his childhood. Fenix (Adan Jodorowsky) is a circus performer along with mother (Bianca Guerra) and father (Guy Stockwell), who is having an affair with the tattooed woman (Thelma Tixou). Fenix is abused by his father and hates the life he was given, but finds solace in the new mime, a deaf and mute girl named Alma (Faviola Tapia). One night, all of the conflict in his life collides, and we are then transported again to the present where the older Fenix (Axel Jodorowsky) is still in the mental hospital. He escapes to find his armless mother and lives with her to be her arms. Every chance Fenix now has at love is crushed by his mother who can now control his arms and uses them to kill the women, maybe even his original love, Alma (now played by Sabrina Dennison).

This is one of those movies that when the credits begin to roll, the viewer is forced to just sit  staring at the screen and contemplate what they just witnessed. So much happens in Santa Sangre that it’s almost difficult to take it all in. The movie is loaded with family dynamics, love deeper than the surface, possible incest, mental disorders, and the plight of mortality. Now that’s a fully loaded movie.

For fans of El Topo and The Holy Mountain, some people might be disappointed with how linear and down to earth this might be. In fact, I was on the IMDB message boards for this movie and people were complaining that it wasn’t “trippy” enough. If that’s the only reason you’re watching a Jodorowsky film, than yes, Santa Sangre won’t really be enjoyable for you.

For me, this was an incredibly moving and haunting experience. As I said before, this film is hellish in a surreal, but also very real kind of way. It shows sides of the world that I don’t particularly know a lot about, but does exist. There’s the side of living with a torn family and also a side of living with overwhelming guilt and shame. If you aren’t sympathetic towards Fenix, then you must have been born without any sense of feelings, because he may be one of the most tortured characters ever in a movie.

While Santa Sangre tries to keep itself down to earth, it still has a beautifully unsettling surreal atmosphere to it. I still feel distanced from this world the Jodorowsky created, but that’s fine because I never want to be there. It’s terrifying. Is it surreal for the sake of being surreal? Or is it because Fenix’s view of reality s distorted due to the abuse and traumas that he has suffered. I like to think that the answer falls in the latter category, especially since we get glimpses of reality throughout the movie.

Santa Sangre is a magnificent piece of film making that may be difficult to sit through for some and may bore others entirely. It is not a movie that is to be watched for solely pure entertainment, but to reflect on your own psyche and your impressions you leave on other people. The personal evils are brought to light in this haunting Jodorowsky film, and I can honestly say that what I have seen, I will not forget.

RoboGeisha – Review

25 Jun

Citizen Kane, Gone With the Wind, Along the Waterfront. All of these are classics that are relevant in the studies of film history. Filled with dramatic performances and moving character arcs that cover the entire human emotional spectrum, these films pack a punch aimed right at the viewer’s heartstrings. But, do they have machine gun boobs, arm pit swords, and wig napalm? No, but RoboGeisha does. How can you honestly not be interested in this?

Yoshie (Aya Kiguchi) is a geisha assistant to her sister, Kikue (Hitomi Hasebe) until one day they are both chosen to become cyborg geisha assassins by a steel manufacturing corporation. Between her various hits, Yoshie must deal with not only her conflicting morals surrounding these assassinations, but also with two elite stripper assassins called the Goblin Squad (Takumi Saito and Taro Shigaki).

Be warned friends and fellow movie lovers, it is necessary to leave any common sense or harsh intellectual judgements at the door. RoboGeisha is not meant to be taken even a pinch seriously. That’s what makes this movie so ridiculously fun and memorable: it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s easy to find films that would have been great if it weren’t for an overly serious storyline coating a ridiculous set up. Thankfully, this movie knows exactly what it is.

There is really nothing in this movie that is at all believable. The acting is pretty bad, the writing is way too expository, and the special effects can be downright laughable. But, let’s be real, who cares? While the dialogue may reveal way too much, it’s hysterical and almost self-aware. I laughed just as much at the ludicrous dialogue as I did with the ridiculous action sequences.

There actually is one thing in this movie that I liked not because it was silly, but because it was legitimately something that I appreciated as a film student, even though it’s nothing cutting edge. When there was an intense action scene or lots of frenetic fighting, the camera movement and the editing would become hyperactive. This really added to the scene and just made me get more excited and into what I was looking at.

I do have a few complaints, however. For one, I would get pretty bored with the long scenes of dialogue. The poor writing is funny for the short scenes, but when they go on and on, it gets kind of old and I get ready for the next scene of ridiculousness. That being said, the movie goes on a bit too long.  This would have been a perfect hour and a half movie, but it actually clocks in at close to two hours. That’s good for a drama, but not something like this.

Thinking back on RoboGeisha, I start to love it more and more. I had more fun watching this movie than I have in a while. Is it the best movie I ever saw? Certainly not, but it may be one of the most entertaining I’ve ever seen. I easily recommend RoboGeisha to everyone who doesn’t mind turning their mind off and forgetting all rules of common sense, because they are of no use here.

The Groove Tube – Review

22 Jun

Here’s a strange one from the Vault of Obscurity, and while it is obscure it does hold a place in the most important comedies of all time, because it is the first ever movie that comedy all star Chevy Chase was in. I didn’t really know what to expect going into this movie, so I went in with no expectations and was not surprised or wowed.

I can’t tell you what the story of The Groove Tube is because, well, there is no story. What we have here is a series of satirical, absurd, often offensive sketches that mock television and the time period of the mid-70s in general. In one sketch we have a clown who reads erotic novels to children during a segment of his television show to a fake news show that spawned a famous line from SNL, “Good night, and have a pleasant tomorrow.”

If I went into this movie with high expectations, I would have been terribly disappointed. The really good laughs came too few and far between, which is a shame because when a joke was effective, they were really funny. Unfortunately, there are a few sketches, like “The Dealers”,  that goes on for way too long. Even though their beginnings are really strong, they slow down during the middle and end and just get plain boring.

Like I said before, this is an important film in the history of comedic cinema, even with its almost nonexistent budget. Both Chevy Chase and Richard Belzer got their start with this movie. For that reason alone, it’s a worthwhile film to have in my collection. Other than its history, the satire can be pretty strong. There’s a 2001 spoof at the beginning which replaces the giant monolith with a television. The Uranus Corporation is also a good spoof of big business and some of the crap that they produce, in this case literally.

This is a pretty short review, because I really don’t have anything to say that I haven’t said already and if I keep going, I fear that this review will get way too redundant. The Groove Tube is simply a mediocre movie, especially when compared to the sketch comedy kings, Monty Python. I will say it’s better than anything SNL has produce in years. While it may be edgy, offensive, and occasionally funny, I can’t really recommend The Groove Tube unless you’re interested in seeing a piece of comedy history.

Underworld: Awakening – Review

21 Jun

Well, this is it for the Underworld films for now. Here we are at number 4, with the medieval time period gone and returning to the modern day/near future metropolis that was the setting in the first film. But, unlike the other installments in this series, I have major problems with this one that almost ruined the entire movie for me.

Six months after the events of Underworld: Evolution, the vampire and lycans are discovered by humanity and a Great Purge begins to rid the world of their species. Selene (Kate Beckinsale) is captured by Antigen, and evil corporation with mysterious intentions run by Dr. Jacob Lane (Stephen Rea). She is soon freed by Subject 1 (India Eisley), a found hybrid who is being chased by the lycans. Selene joins forces with another vampire, David (Theo James), and a human detective, Sebastian (Michael Ealy), to protect Subect 1 from the lycans and Antigen.

Now tell me, how different does this sound than all of the other plot lines of the Underworld films. The fantastic lore that surrounded the three previous films are pretty much gone. We get brief mentions of Alexander Corvinus and the other mythology that we’ve all come to really appreciate. Instead, there is pretty much beginning to end action scenes that are broken up with very short scenes of dialogue. Personally, I care more about the story, but I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained by the action in this film.

I was also pretty disappointed with the setting of this movie. The metropolis in the first Underworld was dark, rainy, and gothic. Instead of that, I was “treated” to visually bland city that had nothing special going for it. New York City in the first Spider-Man film looked more exciting than this fictional city where anything could have been done to make it cooler. The Underworld films have a great way of setting the mood with its settings and how they look, but the locations here are just bland and unoriginal.

Don’t get me wrong. This is an entertaining film. As I said before, the action really is exhilarating and might be the best of the whole series. The acting is typical for this series. Kate Beckinsale is perfect for Selene, giving off the right amount of coldness and emotion. Seeing Selene jump, shoot, hit, and all around kick ass is still as satisfying as ever. India Eisley gives a surprisingly good performance as Subject 1, and the scenes where she transforms into her hybrid state is really cool.

I really enjoy the Underworld movies, and despite all of my complaints, I liked this one to a point. I was just disappointed that the mythology was pushed to the back burner, Scott Speedman didn’t return as Michael, and that the setting was a little boring. That being said, I never lost interest. Underworld: Awakening was entertaining, but certainly didn’t blow me away. Fans of this series may be disappointed by this entry, but it was still a good way to spend my afternoon.

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – Review

18 Jun

In my honest opinion, I wasn’t too thrilled to watch Underworld: Rise of the Lycans. I thought, “Really? A prequel? And no Selene!” I felt like a prequel wasn’t very necessary and the gunplay and technology of the first two are part of what makes the movies so cool. But, I had to watch this one, and I have to say, I’m really surprised.

It’s the Dark Ages and vampire elder Viktor (Bill Nighy) has the new race of lycans enslaved. Lucien (Michael Sheen), the first lycan, is in a secret romantic relationship with Viktor’s daughter, Sonja (Rhona Mitra), which serves as the catalyst for Lucien to rise up against the vampires and rally the other lycans to make their stand for freedom. This is the beginning of the war between the vampires and the lycans that has raged on for hundreds of years.

My favorite part of this film was being able to see, in full, what has been talked about or briefly shown in flashback over the course of the first two films. As I’ve said before, the Underworld films have a great mythology that was created, and now being able to see some of the mythology explained is a real treat. For example, it’s cool to see the origins of the lycans and how that changed the world of the vampires and werewolves.

Unlike the other films, I have absolutely no qualms about the acting. Bill Nighy kills it once again. He is cold, meticulous, and brutal which make him an excellent villain. He was only in the first one at the end and in the sequel in the beginning, but here he gets a full length movie to be evil. It was good to see Michael Sheen again. His performance is really powerful and heartfelt. I could tell that he was really into his role and not just there for a paycheck. Rhona Mitra was the weakest link here, but not bad by any means. She gave a solid performance without ever going beyond what was asked.

The look of this movie is stunning. Filming was done in New Zealand, but make no mistake, this film looks nothing like Lord of the Rings. There’s no green to be found here, rather what looks like a winter from hell. The castle of the vampires radiates gothic from every corner, chandelier, and bedroom. It looks absolutely fantastic, but that’s what I’ve come to expect from the Underworld movies.

Something that was a little disappointing was that some things didn’t happen exactly like what was explained or slightly revealed. I feel like I’m either nitpicking or completely wrong, but one scene in particular was different than a flashback that was shown in the first film. The basic event of this scene was correct, but the location and timing were wrong. The span of time that this whole event took place was longer than it was in the first and the blocking of characters was different. This is a very small complaint, but it really bugged me for some reason.

I will still say that, so far, the second film is my favorite, but Rise of the Lycans is a close second. It had great atmosphere, character development, revelations, and a surprising amount of emotion. As I said with the second film, this isn’t going to change any minds for the people who didn’t like the first two films. For those who are fans of the first two, this movie is just for you.

Side Note: I really don’t understand why these films aren’t more popular. I’d love to sit down and have a conversation about these films, but it seems like no one is really willing to. Where are all of you?