Archive | November, 2013

Straw Dogs – Review

28 Nov

Sam Peckinpah is a name that goes along with controversy in the film world. In fact, one of his nicknames was “Bloody” Sam. Straw Dogs continued that streak of controversy, and even went on to be banned in the UK for 18 years! The reasons for this is Peckinpah’s unapologetic depictions of violence and rape, and his filming something so graphic at the time was pretty ballsy and I respect that. This has made the film somewhat of a keystone in modern film making, even if Peckinpah’s depiction of women can be somewhat… I don’t know… misogynistic?

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David Sumner (Dustin Hoffman) and his wife Amy (Susan George) are trying to get away from the anti-war protests and anger that has engulfed the United States, so to get some peace and quiet they move to a small village in Cornwall, England. This being the village where Amy grew up, she starts to get harassed by an old boyfriend. The troubles don’t stop there as a group of drunken villagers begin tormenting them day in and day out, until one day David just can’t take it anymore. As the villagers begin attacking his house, David lets out a much more violent side and shows that he will kill, maim, and otherwise disfigure anybody who steps through his door.

The first time through this movie, it feels really slow and really boring. I will admittedly say that for a while, I wasn’t really feeling the movie at all. Then the climax came and the whole drama played out and I was sitting on my couch in a state of shock. First of all, in terms of suspense, I can’t believe how intense and violent this climax is, and in such a way that I felt like I was stuck in the scene. The lighting and sound is gritty and dark, and once David begins blasting Irish music, my blood really starts pumping. Another thing that this now infamous climax does though is make you appreciate the slow boil of this movie and the constant pushing that the villagers do to David.

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When I say slow, I mean slow. It seems, at times, that nothing is really happening in the story, but once the movie is one you realize that everything is connected and everything is important. This isn’t a very complicated movie when it comes to the story, but the tension is what really makes it. It seems like every line of dialogue is pushing the movie forward in some way. Plus the slow pace of the movie makes the climax that I just can’t stop talking about even better since we’ve been waiting and watching for an hour and some minutes.

We’ve all been pushed in some ways in our lives, whether it’s at work or home, it’s happened to us before. In this way, we can relate to David and stand by him in his acts of extreme violence. Peckinpah had it right there. In terms of the woman in the movie… that can be debated. In a way, her dynamic made the movie very interesting, up until the end when she was just annoying. Without giving too much of the plot away, Amy behaves in a way that people may find unrealistic and kind of sexist towards women. That’s really the only fault I have for this movie. Unfortunately, this fault could be a major turn off for some people, which is really disappointing considering how great this movie is.

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Straw Dogs is a violent and evil ride. Evil is a weird way to put it, but I feel like it’s one of those movies that have been stigmatized so much that it’s considered a necessary evil in the film world. It did help push film into the more modern direction and was a good early film in one of my favorite decades of film. This may not be for the weak stomached not folks who turn away at the possibility of cringing, but it is a very important movie and I love it very much!

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Some Thoughts on “The Day of the Doctor.”

25 Nov

Spanning 50 years and becoming popular worldwide is not something every television show can say they have achieved. Doctor Who has sparked such an incredible fan base over the years that it may be impossible to fins someone who has seen the show and respond negatively. Starting with William Hartnell all the way to Matt Smith, and soon to be Peter Capaldi, the character of the Doctor has become something of a television icon despite the many different faces he has gone through. Stephen Moffat has honored all 50 years of Doctor Who in The Day of the Doctor, an anniversary special that is one for the history books.

This talk will also be full of spoilers. So if you haven’t seen this yet, close out of this and get a move on!

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In this “episode” the past is explored and the future is ultimately changed. Probably the most insane thing that happens here is that the Doctor(s) stop Gallifrey from being destroyed. This is certainly an interesting way to  take the series and it opens up an enormous amount of material to work with. By the end of the episode, the Doctor said it is now his main mission to find where Gallifrey has been frozen in time. This also makes me wonder if this will change the Doctor’s personality in any way, especially with this new Doctor coming in the next series.

But really, how cool was it seeing Matt Smith, David Tennant, and newcomer John Hurt all together as the Doctor. Seeing how their personalities are all very similar, but clash in small ways makes all of their versions of the Doctor seem very unique and very much the same. Just seeing David Tennant in this role again was great, and he seemed to be really excited to be there. But, Tennant isn’t the only past Doctor to be present! Technically we see all the Doctors, which is one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen ever, but we even got to see Tom Baker return. The other Doctors are all archive footage, but Tom Baker was actually back! Good stuff right there.

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Before watching this, I was worried that it wasn’t exactly going to live up to my expectations. I was concerned that all the hype and excitement would be for nothing. Luckily, everything I could possibly ask for was in this episode. Three Doctors, Billie Piper, Daleks, Gallifrey, and some excellent twists that change the entire series in drastic but interesting ways. The story really takes a huge step forward with The Day of the Doctor.

There’s a few people I know that haven’t seen any Doctor Who yet. This episode just reminded me that they have to get a move on and be a part of this truly remarkable show. 50 years of the Doctor and he is still going strong. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

Waking Life – Review

22 Nov

Richard Linklater has an interesting way of story telling. From movies like Dazed and Confused and A Scanner Darkly, it is evident that he has a knack for setting up a film’s narrative using supposed randomness shown in a very true to life kind of way. Waking Life is much like that, except broken up in such a way as to mimic a dream. Also like A Scanner DarklyWaking Life uses real actors but is completely animated afterwards via rotoscope. The result is a very wordy philosophical journey through a man’s dream as he begins to dig deeper into themes such as existentialism, follies of society, and philosophies of art.

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An  unnamed man (Wiley Wiggins) is asleep, but what’s going on inside his head seems all too unreal for it to be his actual life. He begins wandering the dreamscape, meeting different people and hearing their thoughts on life and philosophy. This man’s dream takes a strange turn when he realizes that he is dreaming and is having a hard time waking up. As he begins dealing with his lucid dreaming, he also starts interacting more with these dream characters and learning more about what it means to dream, how it relates to life, and how to get out.

This is a very bizarre film, which is a very high compliment. There is almost no narrative at all, with the exception of the later conflict of the main character trying to get out of his dream. All up until that point, all we get is a series of random meetings between the main character and other people, or between two completely unknown characters without having Wiggins present at all. This makes it a very difficult movie to watch if you aren’t interested in the subject matter, but luckily if you aren’t quite into philosophy, you can at least look at the beautiful rotoscope animation that, at the time (in terms of live action films), was very new and still equally as remarkable.

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Bob Sabiston, a computer scientist and animator at the MIT media lab, came up with a computer assisted rotoscoping process that was used for this film. In fact, Waking Life, is the first feature film to use this rotoscoping technique, and the result is mind blowing. The scene of this movie is a dreamscape, which is perfect for this psychedelic rotoscoping. While the different philosophers and other characters are talking, there are occasional triply animated effects that happen that match their words or ideas. Also their distorting facial features and bodies look really weird and cool. I absolutely love it and worship the grounds these animators walk on after spending three years alone rotoscoping this film.

Everything else about this movie is pretty debatable. The ideas and topics brought up are of a wide variety and some are really interesting, while others are of no interest to me whatsoever. Scenes about existentialism and film theory are all really cool, but then there are topics about social change and how the government is an evil tyranny that we need to rise against comes off as sophomoric and reminds me of discussion I had in high school.

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Waking Life is an odd film that is not for people who are expecting mindless entertainment. It’s a lot of talking and sitting and thinking, not a lot of action. The whole movie was made for us to tap into a deeper part of our brains and accept different ideas from many different people who are very passionate for what they believe in. Their passion helps drive this movie. The rotoscoping is beautiful and the discussions are thought provoking, but it’s certainly not an easy ride.

Bronson – Review

20 Nov

Without giving away too much of the plot yet, let me just say that Bronson is based off of a true story. To anyone who has seen this movie before, it just makes the entire spectacle all the more ridiculous. Nicholas Winding Refn, whose most recanting outings of Drive and Only God Forgives has made him a more prominent name in the American film scene, already created a strange and beautiful head trip with Bronson. This isn’t your average, everyday biopic. This is a biopic through the eyes of a madman about a madman.

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Michael Peterson (Tom Hardy) didn’t come from a bad household, nor was he given a hard time at school. Michael Peterson, however, loved to fight. Combine that with his desire to be famous is a nasty concoction of insanity. After his first stint in prison, he spends his 69 days in the outside world bare knuckle boxing under his new name, “Charlie Bronson.” His time outside of prison doesn’t last long, and before he’s out for even a year, he’s back to what he calls home: a maximum security prison where his main goal is becoming “Britain’s Most Dangerous Prisoner.”

Keeping this a traditional, straight forward biopic wouldn’t be doing it’s subject any justice. Michael Peterson is a loose cannon whose mind seems to be all over the place. The form of Bronson is almost episodic, highlighting major moments in Peterson’s life, from his younger years to the more present time. All the while, we are treated to Peterson’s random acts of brutal violence with what seems like no motivation at all. He just loves the feeling of beating a prison guard’s face in.

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Now, a major problem with Bronson, that also seems to be apparent with Nicholas Winding Refn’s films, is that the movie gets a bit too pretentious for its own good. I’m all for artistic movies or movies that try to be as bizarre as possible, but Refn seems to go a bit too crazy at times. My only other experience of his films is Drive, and as cool as that movie is there are times where it gets too excessive in a way where Refn thinks he’s being super cool and edgy. The same can be said about Bronson, except that it is even more guilty of pretentious excess than Drive.

But for what it’s worth, I do love a lot of the insanity in Bronson. The fight scenes that are a main part of the movie are absolutely vicious. Peterson is a tank that takes multiple men to take down, and just watching Hardy’s performance as he goes into a sort of berserk mode is just too awesome. It’s bloody as a pulp, and the sounds of flesh being his and bones being broken is sickeningly fantastic. This movie certainly isn’t lacking style, that’s for sure.

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Bronson isn’t for everyone. It has often been called A Clockwork Orange of the 21st century, and we all know how a lot of people feel about A Clockwork Orange. It’s a stylish trip into the mind of one of the most notorious criminals in history. It’s easy to love the character and hate him at the same time. So, it is fun and stylish, but it’s pretentious as all hell. I can live with that though. Bronson is an awesome movie.

Thor: The Dark World – Review

14 Nov

Ever since The Avengers dropped last year, it seems that everybody is going a little Marvel crazy, and that’s just fine with me. This year alone we’ve already got to see Iron Man 3, a new show on ABC called Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, and most recently Thor: The Dark WorldWe’re on our way to the next Avengers movie, but for now the cinematic Marvel universe is growing and growing, with The Dark World not only being a very entertaining film, but also an important entry in terms of expanding the universe.

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Since Bifröst was destroyed and rebuilt, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) has been traveling through the different worlds in over to restore peace amongst them all, however, a  lurking evil is waiting for its moment to strike. On Earth, Jane Austin (Natalie Portman) uncovers a portal that releases and infects her with the Aether, a powerful substance that was locked away by Odin’s (Anthony Hopkins) father Bor. Now that the Aether has been released, the dark elves led by Malekith (Christopher Eccleston) come out of hiding to reclaim the Aether and use it to destroy the universe. Facing his most difficult and personal challenges yet, Thor must team up with his brother Loki (Tim Hiddleston) to stop Malekith and save the universe.

Now, let me be there first to say that the original Thor was my least favorite of all of the first Avengers films. I’m sure many will disagree, but in my opinion, once Thor got to Earth in that movie, it slowed down way too much. Kenneth Branagh was s good choice of director and handled the Shakespearean content very well, but it just wasn’t as entertaining as I wanted it to be, which is exactly what I expect from any movie with a Marvel logo attached to it. Luckily, The Dark World fixes all of its entertainment problems, and despite some major ugliness in the plot, beats its predecessor by a mile.

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Right off the bat, this movie throws action in your face and doesn’t let up until it’s over. I can’t say the same thing about the first one, even though it did have the task of setting up the universe and the characters. This time, we know everyone and we can see exactly what they can do. Idris Elba’s character Heimdall gets more to do in this one and it’s really cool to see him kick some ass. Who really steals the show is Tom Hiddleston’s Loki, this time not really playing the villain but still full of wisecracking remarks.

Still, there are some ugly, ugly problems in this movie. For one thing, the whole plot of a powerful villain using a mysterious substance to destroy the earth is a bit old by now. Wasn’t that pretty much the whole thing behind the Tesseract? Now it’s the Aether. Another thing is that there are moments in the plot where everything is solved without any effort. One scene in particular ends before there can even be any suspense at all. And finally, there are moments when the CGI looks pretty bad, especially when it’s from a distance.

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As for the Thor movies, I can say without question that The Dark World is better than the original Thor and I can also say it’s better than Iron Man 3, in terms of post-Avengers Marvel movies. Though it is not without some major flaws, I can’t say that I wasn’t entertained from the very start to the very finish. Let’s just say the movie was over before I even realized, not because of the run time, but because I just had so much fun with it.

The Elephant Man – Review

12 Nov

Joseph “John” Merrick is a man that throughout the years has become a very interesting individual. This isn’t due to any achievement or talent that he had, but because of the rare and extremely curious disease that ailed him, now known as neurofibromatosis. In 1980, the year of this film’s release, David Lynch only had Eraserhead in terms of feature films, but the uncredited producer Mel Brooks was so impressed with this film that he hired Lynch to act as director of the story of Merrick’s later life in The Elephant Man.

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Doctor Fredrick Treves (Anthony Hopkins) is a surgeon in London who comes across an interesting specimen at a traveling freak show one night. This specimen is John Merrick (John Hurt), a man whose extreme deformities make the general public reel in horror at just the sight of him. Treves takes Merrick to the London Hospital to be studied, but soon gets him permanent residence and care. Over the time spent together, the two men become very close friends and Merrick’s reputation as a tragic human being is made known after he befriends famous stage actress Mage Kendal (Anne Bancroft). While everything seems to be going better for Merrick with the help of many kind and caring people, hateful and greedy men from his past and present still use him for fear and money, making Merrick’s ailment all the more difficult.

The Elephant Man is a hard movie to summarize because it isn’t really a plot based movie, but more of a character study and a look at how society should see people who are different. Casting David Lynch was a very interesting choice given his absurd and surreal filmography. This is a much more straightforward film than his others, but there are still glimpses of his trademark style from nightmare sequences to the heavily industrialized area with beautiful shots of smoke blowing out of chimneys and grimy machinery being operated, all embellished an excellent industrial sound design.

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Now, there are a few movies whose sole reason for existence is to test the limits of my tear ducts. Crying isn’t the most enjoyable past time, but sometimes when I’m watching a movie (or the last episode of the John Adams miniseries!!) I just can’t really help myself. The Elephant Man is a very difficult movie to watch in this respect. Seeing Merrick dealing with his disease is hard enough, but seeing his very human reactions to people gawking, screaming, and making fun of him is even worse.

So no, this is not an uplifting movie at all, but this isn’t really a film to watch if you’re looking for a good feeling to be had. This is something to watch to learn about a man’s life, how to treat other human beings regardless of their individual circumstances, and to admire the cinematography by Freddie Francis, who went on to work with Lynch in Dune and later on with Scorsese in his remake of Cape Fear. The point is that you really need to know what you’re getting into with The Elephant Man.

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David Lynch may forever be known as one of the strangest and most surreal film makers of the modern era, with films like Eraserhead and Mulholland Drive to stand as testament. He did something beautifully different with The Elephant Man. He created a very human drama an very unusual and interesting man to come out of the Victorian era. It’s beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, and succeeds in telling this man’s story, despite some historical inaccuracies. It’s one of those movies that are just plain perfect.

Mutant Girls Squad – Review

4 Nov

As I’ve said many times before, I have a soft spot in my heart for over the top B-grade Japanese movies, especially those done by the production company Sushi Typhoon. I’ve already reviewed RoboGeishaTokyo Gore Police, and Machine Girl, and now I’m adding Mutant Girls Squad to the list. This film is directed by Noboru Iguchi, Yoshihiro Nishimura, and Tak Sakaguchi. Iguchi and Nishimura have proved themselves with the insanity of the other films, and Sakaguchi has been involved with Sushi Typhoon in the past, so really nothing can go wrong with this movie!

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Rin (Yumi Sugimoto) is an unassuming school girl who gets bullied everyday at school. If only they knew the truth about her. After her parents are brutally killed, she learns that she is actually a mutant that is descended from the ancient Huriko clan and the soldiers who killed her family are part of a faction whose job it is to wipe these mutants out. Rin’s hand turns into a sharp, wired, muscular killing device and she is soon picked up by Kisaragi (played by one of the directors, Tak Sakaguchi) and his right hand woman Rei (Yuko Takayama).  They being training her and a group of other mutant girls to wage war against the humans who hate them and want them dead. At first all seems well, but Rin soon learns how sadistic Kisaragi is. With the help of Rei and fellow mutant Yoshie (Suzuka Morita), Rin wages her own war against Kisaragi and his loyal followers.

There are a lot of similarities to the X-Men movies and comic books, but there is no trace of characters like Wolverine here. This is pure, unadulterated, Japanese schlock and it is so much fun it should be illegal. Yoshihiro Nishimura not only co-directs, but uses his trademark gore effects to really take Mutant Girls Squad to the next level. This is definitely the best looking of the Sushi Typhoon movies, with the exception of maybe their masterpiece, Tokyo Gore Police.

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There’s almost no point in going into depth about the acting. A lot of it is shit, but some of it is so wonderfully ridiculous that you can’t help but love it. Tak Sakaguchi steals the show as the transvestite mutant Kasaragi. He delivers all of his lines with more menace that is really needed, but that’s what makes him a great villain. That and his whole attire is hilarious and cool all at the same time. Along with the acting, it’s easy to dismiss a lot of the writing as shit, but if you do, you just need to learn to laugh. Hearing a guy yell about how weird it feels to have his brain sucked out of his head is too great. If you were being critical, you would say that it is way too much exposition and over written. But come on. It’s Mutant Girls Squad. This out of this world dialogue just adds to how silly the movie is as a whole.

Back to how great this movie looks though. That’s the real draw in my opinion. The world that is created for this movie is splashed with color in ways that would make Dario Argento giddy with excitement. Rooms are filled with reds and purples. Night streets are made green and blue with wonderful uses of gels all around. Finally, the effects of the mutations and the gore are exactly what fans of these films come to expect. Unfortunately, a good deal of the blood and gore is CGI, but when it’s practical it looks even better. It’s such dark fun seeing blood literally geyser out of a severed arm or through the middle of a head split in two!

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Forget Assault Girls. That movie can rot in hell for all I care. Mutant Girls Squad is exactly what you want to watch when you’re in for a good old fashioned Japanese splatter film. The only problem is that it could’ve been shorter. It seems even I can only take the insanity for only so long. I still love this movie though and had a uproarious good time with it. Tokyo Gore Police still reigns as champion, but Mutant Girls Squad holds a close second in the ranks of the Sushi Typhoon movies.