Archive | March, 2013

The Man with the Iron Fists – Review

17 Mar

The Wu-Tang Clan are best known as being one of the most influential and popular rap groups of all time. They also had a huge part in an underground revival of kung fu films, taking unknown trash and re-releasing them on video under their own names. That being said, it seems only appropriate that RZA, a member of the group, direct an homage to these “beloved” kung fu films of the past. With the help of Eli Roth, a script was written and a film was made.

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In feudal China, clan leader Gold Lion is charged with delivering the Emperor’s gold to awaiting soldiers. The gold never arrives, however, since Gold Lion’s lieutenants Silver Lion (Byron Mann) and Bronze Lion (Cung Le) betray and assassinate him. Now in possession of the gold, there are other parties moving into Jungle Village to claim it for themselves. These parties include a rogue soldier Jack Knife (Russell Crowe)and a madame of a brothel, Madam Blossom (Lucy Liu). Finally, a Blacksmith (RZA) is caught in the middle of it all, and takes it upon himself to defend the village and the woman he loves, Lady Silk (Jamie Chung).

Personally, I think kung fu is a pretty cool genre when done correctly. I really like Wuxia films like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and HeroThe Man with the Iron Fists take these two styles and blends them pretty well. It has the cheese of Kung Fu and the wire work of Wuxia. What’s not to like? Well, believe it or not, a lot of stuff. This is a really sloppy movie both in the way the story is told, the editing, and the effects. I had much higher expectations for this movie and have not felt so disappointed in a film in a long, long time.

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I do feel a great sense of appreciation by RZA and fellow writer Eli Roth. All of the tropes and cliches of the genre are there from the gold worth dying for, the over the top violence, and the cheesy dialogue. I recognize all of these, but it really doesn’t save the movie. The most distracting thing here is the acting. Pretty much all of the actors do subpar jobs, which I feel has a lot to do with the writing. I understand that Kung Fu films aren’t supposed to have the best dialogue, but some of this stuff is so derivative and corny that it’s painful to listen to. Thank goodness Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu have scenes to balance it a little bit. Crowe delivers his lines like a champ and Liu relishes the silly dialogue she has been given and provides a wonderfully over the top performance.

I will give massive props to the production design. The brothel, the Pink Blossom, looks awesome. It is bright and, as the name would suggest, very pink. I think that’s a pretty bold move to have a completely pink set in such a violent film, but hey, it works great. The costumes are also really nice looking. The only problem with the look of the film is some of the special effects. One character turns completely into brass when struck, and that looks so cool. There are some quick special effects shots, such as a bell shattering, that have such cool potential but look so fake it’s annoying. I can’t say it enough, I know I shouldn’t over think this movie, but when things are so bad it’s distracting, I have to say something.

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The action does look pretty cool sometimes, and I’ll go so far as to say there are some really, really awesome shots of crazy gore and slow motion goodness. Unfortunately, the pacing of the movie is absolutely dreadful. There is a huge chunk in the middle of the movie where the pacing changes so abruptly from fast moving to not moving that it’s jarring. My attention felt like it was literally thrown out the window. It got so boring. When it eventually did pick up again, I already lost so much interest in the movie that I didn’t really care about what I was watching.

As much as it pains me to say this, I didn’t like this movie too much. Out of almost two hours, I only really like twenty minutes worth. The rest is completely forgettable. The characters are dull, the acting is horrible (save for Russell Crowe and Lucy Liu), and the action scenes were pretty sloppy and suffered from some weird editing issues. I expected a lot more from The Man with the Iron Fists, but instead, I feel completely let down.

Re-Animator – Review

16 Mar

H.P. Lovecraft was a really strange guy, and I’d really love to talk more about him, but this is a film blog so I’m going to talk about film. How can I make this connection? Ah, yes! Re-Animator. Many have dubbed this film as a definitive cult classic and one of the best horror films of the 1980s. It’s appeared on Bravo’s 100 Scariest Movie Moments. Going into this movie, I was really hoping, like REALLY hoping that I wasn’t going to be disappointed.

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Herbert West (Jeffrey Combs) is a brilliant scientist. In fact, he may be too brilliant. After being kicked out of the University of Zurich, he resumes his studies and experiments at Miskatonic University, where he also meets fellow student Dan Cain (Bruce Abbot). Cain, much to his dismay and horror, learns that West’s experiments involves a reagent that will reanimate recently deceased corpses, only they are much more violent and behave very much like zombies. The last thing that Dan ever suspected he would do with his years at university would be fight off a horde of living, breathing corpses all while protecting his girlfriend (Barbara Crampton) and West’s discoveries from the hands of Dr. Carl Hill (David Gale).

Horror is a really fun genre, because it seems like it would be the polar opposite of comedy, and yet they are so similar. It’s easy to find yourself laughing at a scary movie, and it also isn’t rare to find really great horror comedies. Re-Animator is one of these hybrids that certainly doesn’t take itself or the source material too seriously. This film was made out of the fun of making movies for people who don’t exactly want to over think every movie they see. There probably won’t be too many intellectual conversations surrounding this film, but sure is a lot of fun.

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A very large part of this movie is the gore and the effects that were used to make sure it looked as insane as possible. This where a lot of the humor comes from, and it works very well. There are a few effects where it’s really obvious how they did it, but there are a few that still have me scratching my head. Let me just say that Re-Animator takes the violence, shocks, and gore to an extreme that was oh so popular in horror films of the 1980s. This truly was the golden age of horror, where anything flew and people weren’t so squeamish. To put it in perspective, 25 gallons of blood were used for this movie. Not too shabby.

Jeffrey Combs obviously steals the show here with David Gale close behind. Combs is the definition of a hysterical sociopath (I haven’t forgotten Dexter, don’t worry). He delivers remarkably intelligent, but uncomfortably nutty lines with such composure that you can’t help but crack up. David Gale has a cool little character arc from a relatable professor to an evil, idea sucking head that stars in one of the most memorable (and strange) horror scenes in all of film history. Bruce Abbot is about as mediocre and uninteresting as you will find in a movie, but still likable none the less. As for Crampton… well… she can scream very well.

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It’s impossible to really recommend Re-Animator without letting you know exactly what you’re getting into, and I think I explained it pretty well in this review. It’s funny, bloody, and scary. Combs and Gale own their roles and definitely had a great time performing, but the rest of the cast is pretty typical for a low budget horror film from the 80s. Check your brain at the door and get ready for some gruesome dark comedy that’s splashed with red and neon green.

Gattaca – Review

12 Mar

Science is evolving at an alarming rate leaving humanity and our moral standings in the dust. Science doesn’t care about right and wrong, but people do, and that means developments that could be made aren’t. The ethical questions around cloning and stem cell research are interesting and have plausible arguments on both sides. As a science fiction movie, Gattaca shows a world that very well may exist in our not too distant future, and it’s up to you to decide if it’s utopian or dystopian.

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In the future, humanity has figured out a way to genetically modify children before they are even physically conceived. This has created a world full of superior humans who can easily climb their way to the top of any organization or lead any sort of life that they desire. This isn’t true for Vincent (Ethan Hawke), who was born before this scientific discovery with heart problems and the possible growth of mental disorders. Although he is brilliant, these health issues render him inferior in society and completely destroy his goal of traveling to space. He illegally “borrows” the genes of failed swimmer Jerome Morrow (Jude Law). Under the guise of Morrow’s genes, Vincent is finally able to enter the Gattaca Aerospace Corporation and is eventually chosen to travel to the moon of Titan. When a murder is committed at Gattaca, Vincent’s cover risks being blown leaving him dodging the police and obsessively covering his tracks.

This film plays out like an old science fiction novel or short story. The science is never overwhelming or extravagant, but instead feels like it could really happen. There’s plenty to think about after watching Gattaca, especially with the knowledge that we are probably very close to this. Unlike most science fiction films, this feels like more of a drama than anything else. Sure, there is a murder investigation which causes some thrilling and suspenseful scenes, but it’s never really the main point of the story. This leaves the movie feeling uneven at times, especially since the murder investigation takes some interesting twists that aren’t really played up enough. I felt like Andrew Niccol, the writer and director, didn’t know if he wanted to make a thriller or a drama, which creates this weird hybrid.

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I feel like the main idea behind the whole plot is to force the viewers to stop and examine where technology is taking us. The movie needs a story, and it is certainly there, but I was a lot more interested in the setting than anything else. The way this film handles the idea of advancements in technology is a lot different than many science fiction films. I feel like the point of science fiction is to warn us about what we are creating for ourselves. Gattaca can be compared to the film Moon, in my opinion. Like in MoonGattaca doesn’t try to bombard the viewer with awesome special effects and cool looking technology, but paints a picture of how humanity has ultimately failed.

Getting away from the thematic area, I should mention some of the more concrete aspects of the film. Jude Law and Alan Arkin give great performances, with Law proving again how deep he is willing to fall into a character. Uma Thurman is ok, and I was really unimpressed by Ethan Hawke, especially his voice overs which sounded like he was reading right from the script rather than his character directly explaining the story to us. What’s really nice is the production design. The sets all look really nice and very appropriate for the “not too distant” future that is being presented. Niccol and his crew knew the limitations of the technology and never tried to bite more than they could chew with the special effects. It’s a very nice looking movie.

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There is this one awesome scene where Jude Law’s crippled character, Jerome, has to quickly climb this large spiral staircase. This staircase looks a lot like a double helix of DNA, which Jerome has to conquer. That, in a nutshell, is the point of this movie. Humanity should set it’s own goals and not rely on what they are told they can and can not do. This is also a warning. Technology is great, but there are consequences to everything we create or discover. Gattaca isn’t a fantastic movie, but it is quite good. By the end, I was ready for it to be over, but I did enjoy the glimpse into a possible future.

The Best Movie to Ever be Made, and Almost not Exist: My Thoughts on “Citizen Kane”

7 Mar

I can’t call this a review. With each viewing of Orson Welles’ incomparable masterpiece, I find something new to find, enjoy, think over, and then talk about. Citizen Kane has been called the greatest movie ever made by many, many people. To me, there is no argument. It is absolutely the best film ever to be made. This doesn’t mean it is my favorite. I’m talking about objective vs subjective. There may be a song that I dislike, even though I know that it is objectively well made and performed. So, even though there are many people who would argue my claims to this being the best, I will present my reasoning.

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I’m sort of surprised that I’m not completely sick of this movie. There isn’t a class that goes by where Citizen Kane isn’t mentioned, referenced, shown, or compared to at least once. Every frame offers something new and exciting, especially at the time when it was produced. Orson Welles, who was only known for theatre and radio performances, never dabbled in the cinematic world at this point in time. He was still a very well known individual, especially after the whole War of the Worlds scare. RKO gave Welles complete control over this project, which he took full advantage of. He is the producer, director, co-writer, and star. That’s a lot to juggle, but somehow he pulled it off.

Coming from a technical stand point, this is really an amazing movie. It it weren’t for all of the work and innovation injected into the film by Welles, the cinematic world would be different than it currently is. Before this point, classic Hollywood movies had a very strict structure on how to make a film. Wide angle lenses were used for establishing shots and large scenes and telephoto lenses for the more intimate moments. Welles takes these rules and completely rewrites them. Citizen Kane is almost entirely shot with small, but very wide angle lenses. This makes the depth of field in these scenes very great. One excellent shot towards the beginning of the film shows a young Charles Foster Kane playing outside in the snow. The camera moves further away from the window to show his parents talking to Thatcher. Charles is still seen clearly through the window even though the attention is place on the dialogue. The scene moves even further into the house when Mrs. Kane goes into the dining room. The camera moves with her, and even though Charles is so far in the background outside of the house, he can still be seen clearly. Instead of making this an intimate story about Kane’s rise and fall, the audience is kept at a distance, acting only as observers in his life. This also makes the settings feel very spacious and grand, leaving a lot of room for emptiness, much like Kane’s own life.

Even if you haven’t had the stunning pleasure of seeing Citizen Kane, you probably still know about the famous line that actually only consists of one word: “Rosebud.” The mystery of who or what Rosebud is is the driving force behind the movie, but isn’t what the movie is about. Citizen Kane tells the story of Charles Foster Kane, a newspaper magnate who at one point seemed to rule the world. His downfall happens just as his rise, gradually but defined. On his deathbed, Kane utters the word “Rosebud,” which leads a reporter on a hunt to find its true meaning. The mystery of Rosebud allows the viewer to get a look into the history of Charles during the most important times of his life. Another huge innovation that is getting more common in films today is its disjointed narrative. The film pretty much begins at the end, but pieces together all of what happened before in flashbacks that are started by different associates of Kane talking about his life. This is a much more effective way of telling a story like this.

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By the end of the movie, my experience is that of loneliness. Combining the technique of using wide angle lenses with the entire drama of Kane’s life creates an air of longing and hopelessness. To top it all off, the answer to the Rosebud mystery is one of the greatest revelations in the history of cinema. Without spoiling it, although I’m sure most people who haven’t seen it know what it is, the revelation is shocking and sad. Why Kane was thinking of this at the time of his death poses many questions. The main one is: Why? Was it because it represents a time in his life when he was truly happy, or is it just the random last thought of a dying man? The whole thing seems pretty pointless. The final shot of the movie that shows the fate of Rosebud only adds to the idea that what we are on earth, and how we spend out time here is meaningless. Kane’s belongings are being packed up and sold and his only remnant of happiness is lost forever, which means nothing that describes the best of Kane is left.

In a way, however, the audience shouldn’t feel bad for Kane. Everything that happens to him in the movie is a result of his own actions. The morality that is presented in the movie is clear along with Orson Welles’ view on particular individuals. Although this theory is still debated, and Welles himself has come out and denied it, it seems apparent that Charles Foster Kane was based off of real life newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst. Hearst was very displeased with the way that he felt he was being portrayed and campaigned heavily against the film. He prohibited any advertisements for Citizen Kane to be printed in his newspaper, and even refused to endorse any other RKO film. Welles defended the film saying that he meant for Kane to be a conglomeration of many different leaders and businessmen into one character. The questions is: Did he mean this or was he just covering his tracks?

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Although it was nominated for multiple Academy Awards, all of the controversy that the film and Orson Welles stirred up set Citizen Kane up for some major losses. The only Academy Award that the film received was for Best Original Screenplay, which is great but it deserved so much more. Whenever Orson Welles or Citizen Kane were mentioned at the ceremony, everybody booed. That couldn’t have made Welles feel too great, especially it being his first film using actors who were known for the theatre and not the screen. Everything seemed to be against him and his film, from a terrible box office turn out to only being released in limited theaters. In a way, Hearst won, but only for the time being.

Now, 72 years after Citizen Kane was released, it has become a film that is worshipped in its own way. The spectacle of it may seem a bit dated by today’s standards, but what you have to remember is that when this movie was released in 1941, it was groundbreaking. The technical proficiency, Gregg Toland’s cinematography, the way that narrative is organized, and I would go so far as to say Welles’ performance of Kane. One scene that has really stood the test of time, in my opinion, is a scene where Kane destroys a room. It was shot in only one take, leaving Welles’ hands bleeding. He claimed to be really into the scene and it was perfect on the first try. Many other scenes make this an incredible movie that is cherished by many and studied by those who want to make this their life.

To describe how I truly feel about Citizen Kane, let me just say that it is the perfect example of a movie. It is Hollywood in its purest form, with a studio putting faith in an artist who has a specific vision which is accomplished. It wraps up a very human, American story in a way that is satisfying, but will leave you feeling emotionally empty. If someone never saw a movie before, this is where you would want to start them off. I can’t imagine that Orson, his cast, and his crew knew they were making a film upon which all others that came after would be built on. This isn’t my favorite movie, but it is the best one to ever be made. It’s hard to imagine one that will top it. The only one that has ever come close is The Godfather: Part II. I hope that I’ve done this film and Mr. Welles justice with this, and I feel it’s my duty to say that if you haven’t seen Citizen Kane yet, than you don’t really know just what it is to watch a movie.

Roadracers – Review

5 Mar

I don’t think that I’ve talked about Robert Rodriguez on this blog yet, which is strange because he is one of the biggest inspirations to my style of writing and, hopefully, directing. He enjoys all things over the top, as you can see in his films such as DesperadoPlanet Terror, and Machete. Before all of this insanity was El Mariachi, the little indie film that put him on the map. What I’m sure many people don’t know about was a little TV movie he made for Showtime, Roadracers, which was made right before Desperado.

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Dude (David Arquette) is a 1950s greaser who spends his days cruising through town with his girlfriend Donna (Salma Hayek), getting into fights with his rival Teddy (Jason Wiles), and making trouble for the local sheriff (William Sadler). His entire life has been spent this way: moving fast but going nowhere. Now that Dude is beginning to grow up, he’s beginning to realize that he needs to get his act together and possibly follow up on a very possible music career, or get left in the dust and remain in the town. The pulling between the two factors pull Dude harder than he can handle, leading to a violent climax that will decide where Dude’s life will take him.

The first thing I noticed about this movie was the use of the character name “Dude.” Does that ring a bell for anyone? The Big Lebowski anyone? Funny thing is that Roadracers came first. I think that’s pretty interesting since The Dude from Lebowski is thought of as such a goofy and original character name. I mean no disrespect to the Coen Brothers, I enjoy their work and consider them two heroes of mine, but Rodriguez was first! This isn’t what I want to talk about though. After El Mariachi, Rodriguez made this film for Showtime which was doing a series of made for TV movies called Rebel Highway, that were homages to 1950s B-movies. The series featured big name directors like William Friedkin, but Rodriguez was, at the time, unknown.

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Like Quentin Tarantino, Rodriguez has made his career off of making films that hearken back to the days of video stores and all of the strange genres that lurk in their darkest corners. In that respect, Rodriguez is the perfect choice to be a part of this series. Strangely enough, this was before he made his stylistic mark. It seems like he was born for this style of film making. Still, this was before he really found his niche, and it shows. The plot begins to jumble and ramble in the second act leaving me thinking that it could’ve have realistically been an hour long or maybe a little over. And hour and a half felt like a stretch.

I will say that the movie was better than I expected, but I wasn’t really expecting much. I laughed a lot in the beginning and I really liked how cheesy all of the ’50s style is played. It’s all over the top and romanticized while being satirized at the same time. Let’s compare it to one of my favorite films, Rebel Without a Cause. James Dean plays a character who is also beginning to grow up and learn that he needs to start making adult decisions without relying on adults. This is played very seriously, and almost tragically. Dude in Roadracers also needs to make these decisions, but they are played so over the top and comedically. Rebel Without a Cause  and Roadracers both critique the society of the time and the fact that cliques and classes are so separated, it made life for these young people difficult.

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Roadracers is an alright attempt by Rodriguez, although it is nowhere near as great as his next film, Desperado. By that point, he’s found his style and locked onto his ability and made a great film. This one, however, is pretty sloppy and got pretty boring by the midway point. It’s pretty silly, made me laugh, and the ending is abrupt, yet awesome. It still could’ve been a lot shorter and the narrative much cleaner. Unless you’re really a die hard fan of Rodriguez, skip this one. If you’re a huge fan and interested in all of his work, lower your standards and give it a quick watch. It’s very mediocre.

 

Argo – Review

1 Mar

It’s hardly even an opinion to say that truth is stranger than fiction. There are some things that happen in this world that make me stop and say, “How could someone ever think of this?” Now take a film like Argo, which is based on the true story of the Canadian Caper in 1980. Again, how could someone ever think of this? The story is so hard to believe that I almost dismissed the movie, but in light of overwhelmingly positive recognition, it was about time I gave it a watch.

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In 1979, the American Embassy in Iran gets over run by protestors who are demanding the return of their exiled leader for his prompt execution. Many workers are held as hostages, but six manage to escape and take refuge in the home of a Canadian ambassador (Victor Garber). The CIA brings in an expert in exfil missions, Tony Mendez (Ben Affleck), who is at first unsure with how to go about a rescue mission. It comes to him one night. Enlisting the help of Hollywood make up artist John Chambers (John Goodman) and producer Lester Siegel (Alan Arkin), Mendez heads over to Iran under the guise of a film maker doing location scouting. With the escapees acting the parts as film makers, the group attempts to leave Iran in plain sight.

Just writing this small summary, I find it hard to believe that a lot of this actually happened. A portion of it is definitely dramatized and the roles of the Canadians are downplayed while the roles of New Zealand and Britain are left out all together. Affleck said this was to keep the film at a quick, but steady pace and I can agree with him there. This movie does feel very Hollywood in a couple of ways. For one, it is partly a satire of the Hollywood business, but the entire feel of the movie feels like something that would have been made in the classical period in film history.

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It’s become quite clear with Gone Baby Gone and The Town that Ben Affleck is a much better director than he is actor. To me, his acting is nothing special, including his performance in this. His “character” is very passive in this movie up until the end, which was when I really got into his performance. His directing is impeccable, however. With Argo, my opinion about Affleck has only gotten better. This is a completely different film than his previous two, which only proves that he is versatile and can cover any number of genres. Speaking of genres, Argo quite clearly blends a few.

It’s actually kind of amazing how well this movie combines a human drama, a political thriller, and a satirical comedy. A lot of movies try to do this, but they unfortunately don’t always measure up to what they’re trying to accomplish. I feel like I reference Hitchcock a lot in this blog, but with good reason. Think of North by Northwest and how it’s a thriller, but also an excellent comedy. Argo works just as well. I laughed as hard as a bit my fingernails. The writing is sharp, witty, and smart.

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Argo has swept the awards this year, and I think with good reason. It was an excellent film about an incredible true story. It’s expertly written, directed, and acted (especially Goodman and Arkin). I’m content with this movie winning Best Picture, amongst other Academy Awards, but I can’t say it would’ve been my choice. I’m still going to stick with The Master as my favorite film of 2012. Still, Argo is an excellent movie that deserves all of the recognition it is receiving.