Monday, March 28, 2011

Death, Violence, Carradines, and Nudity... Lots of Nudity

Django -- Sergio Corbucci
I was first told of Django by my roommate in Australia in relation to Takashi Miike's Sukiyaki Western Django. Featured prominently in each is a man who drags around a coffin containing mysterious contents. Many already know the contents of the coffin, but I won't spoil it for those who don't because my girlfriend was definitely caught by surprise. It's a good film, though I wouldn't recommend those unfamiliar with Spaghetti Westerns start with it (is there a better genre name than "Spaghetti Westerns?"). Django has gone on to be a huge influence in pulp (sub)culture, so it may be worth checking out just for that.

Death Race 2000 -- Paul Bartel
Have you ever been driving down the street and seen a couple walking their dog on the road or a group of schoolchildren crossing at an intersection and thought to yourself, "50 points?" That's basically what's happening in Death Race 2000 except that it's a government sanctioned race across the country and the drivers are trying to rack up as many points as possible. And it's awesome. The amazing Roger Corman produced and it stars David Carradine and nutty Sylvester Stallone. This would make a great double feature with The Road Warrior or, in a pinch, Duel.

Graduation Day -- Herb Freed
This was my second Troma experience (the first being Mother's Day... they sure had a thing for event-based horror movies) and it wasn't much better than the first. To be fair, I kind of hate Lloyd Kaufman and The Toxic Avenger/Class of Nuke 'Em High stuff looks terrible so I'm biased to begin with, but Graduation Day is really dull. The most it has going for it is that Linnea Quigley in an early role and a pre-Wheel of Fortune Vanna White. It also has some mildly amusing silliness, but unless you're really curious about Vanna White, I'd say stay away.

Emperor of the North -- Robert Aldrich
Hell, yeah! Emperor of the North rocks! Ernest Borgnine. Lee Marvin, and Keith Carradine (another Carradine!). Borgnine is a train conducter who has zero tolerance for hobos riding his line. Marvin and Carradine are hobos determined to ride that line. Definitely supplants Zero Effect in my Top Five Films: Oregon. Emperor of the North is a great battle between adversaries and had me thinking of double features once again. The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (the original) would be perfect. Both feature main characters diametrically opposed, all of whom are fantastic actors. Of course, I'm a mark for movies that take place on a train...

13 Tzameti -- Gela Babluani
The story of why this film landed on my cue is probably a bit more interesting than the film itself, though the film isn't bad. It's about a gambling ring where contestants stand in a circle holding revolvers with one bullet to the head of the person in front of them. Onlookers place bets. The signal is given. Some live, some move on to the next round. OK, it's a pretty cool concept.

It was recommended to me by a very drunk guy at the Hollywood Theatre while I was trying to change the marquee and put up new posters. This guy was with two friends, boyfriend and girlfriend, who were in the vacant lot next to the theater having a huge argument about something stupid (though she kept saying how much she loved him and wished he would just open up to her). Anyway, the friend of the couple in between recommending movies to me confessed to having sex with her in the bathroom of the theater that night while the boyfriend was watching the movie and after the boyfriend left, the two remaining made out vigorously in front of the theater before taking off. Love...

Anyway, what did I take away from all of this? Star George Babluani looks like a cross between John Cazale and Zach Galligan.


Holy Mountain -- Alejandro Jodorowsky
Holy Mountain signaled the unintentional immersion into movies that features LOTS of nudity and the following reaction from my girlfriend: "What are you watching? This is weird." And she's not wrong (about any of the movies), but Holy Mountain is simply beautiful to look at. The set design is vibrant and kind of astonishing. I got a little restless in the middle when it was filling in backstories for the seven other travelers, but I can't recommend Holy Mountain enough. And to be fair, I think my girlfriend was turned off by a certain grooming scene. I can't wait to watch Sante Sangre after this and El Topo.

Zardoz -- John Boorman
Do not see Zardoz. You'll see that it's John Boorman's follow-up to the amazing Deliverence. Don't give in. You'll see Sean Connery dressed like some wrestler with an absurd mustache:

There, you've seen it. Now forget about the movie. Forget about it's reputation as a cult classic. It's terrible. The best part about Zardoz is the reveal of the name "Zardoz." One exception to these warnings: if you like to take drugs and watch movies, this one seems ideal. You may even be able to make some sense of it all.

Enter the Void -- Gaspar Noe
I've deliberately avoided Irreversible, though I think I may hazard a watch in the near future. Enter the Void isn't exactly pleasant, but it doesn't have a 9-minute rape scene either. It's also quite fetching to look at. The first-person perspective doesn't feel too gimmicky and the flashbacks fit in with the hallucinatory nature. If only Enter the Void wasn't 2 hours and 40 minutes long. Much of that time is spent floating around or in 2001 "Star Gate"-esque visuals. Still, I have to recommend it based on visuals alone. It's like little else I've seen recently. Also, much like the previous two films, drugs could very well enhance the experience greatly.

Inserts -- John Byrum
A "boy wonder" silent film director can't make the transition to shooting sound films and has been reduced to making pornography in his home. What ensues is very talky and seldom clothed film about desire and passion, though not necessarily sex. Inserts feels very much like a play, not just because it takes place in one location, but because it uses lots of long (in duration) shots even when there are cuts, they aren't very noticeable. I haven't found any indication that it was ever a play, though. It has a great cast: Richard Dreyfuss (this came out the same year as Jaws, which triggers a certain cognitive dissonance in me), Bob Hoskins, Jessica Harper (Phantom of the Paradise) , and Veronica Cartwright (The Birds, Alien) and if you've ever wanted to see the latter two nude, well, that's this movie. It was especially weird for me because Cartwright has featured prominently in the X-Files episodes I've watched lately, but that's something else entirely. Anyway, it's a pretty good movie and different from most movies I've seen recently in a non-thisistheweirdestthingever type of way. Ironically, I can't think of a single insert in the whole film.

Possession -- Andrzej Zulawski
OK, so this wasn't a Netflix movie, but that's only because it's unavailable on Netflix. I had to borrow a downloaded copy from someone and it places me squarely back in "thisistheweirdestthingever" territory. It plays as a melodrama racketed up a few notches for the first hour then just goes of the rails in a very organic and deliberate way. Sam Neill and Isabelle Adjani seem totally out of their minds the whole time which doesn't help in figuring out what's going on. Add in that everyone seems to have a double and I don't even know what to tell you anymore. My most enduring thought during Possession was of Cronenberg's The Brood and how he was going through a messy divorce at the time which resulted in a very angry movie and that must be what happened here. Imagine my surprise and delight (with myself, not in Zulawski's failing marriage) to find Wikipedia stating (because Wikipedia talks to me) that Zulawksi was going through a similar experience and people often associate Possession with The Brood. If I had to classify this film, I'd call it hyper-melodramatic supernatural horror.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Reflections on I Saw the Devil

It's been a few days since I saw I Saw the Devil and having since convinced an Hollywood volunteer to see the film after her shift and subsequently talking about it after, I felt compelled to write about it. I Saw the Devil is a brutal movie and I understand that it may be tough for some viewers to stomach, but it's not gratuitous. Plus, I often think about how people flocked to Passion of the Christ even though it is similarly brutal, so I know the general public can take a bit of blood and torture (I guess gore is tolerable when it's in service of one's beliefs...). Some minor spoilers below, though nothing that will ruin the movie.

In lieu of a summary, here's the trailer:

I Saw the Devil is an incredible, if slightly long (140 minutes) revenge tale, though I'd really call it an anti-revenge tale (not against revenge, but used like the term anti-Western in film). Our "hero," Soo-hyeon, loses any sense of humanity in his quest to avenge his fiancee. Because his particular brand of justice involves tormenting the killer, Kyung-chui, instead of just killing him or turning him in, Soo-hyeon endangers others, so he pays them little consideration (I'm kind of reminded of Liam Neeson's character in Taken when he ignores all of the other drugged up women who have been kidnapped because he only wants to get his daughter back). Soo-hyeon becomes nearly as culpable in Kyung-chui's crimes as Kyung-chui. After all, the police were all set to arrest Kyung-chui. On a very basic and quite obvious level, Soo-hyeon becomes just as much of a monster as Kyung-chui and one wonders just how much satisfaction Soo-hyeon is getting from all of this because even though he says it's for his fiancee, we all know it's for him.

Brutality and Blood
There are lots of movies where the viewer is meant to root for the hero to kick the ass of then kill the bad guy. This is especially true of revenge movies (though Dirty Harry is the film that immediately pops into my mind, but I don't think that vigilante movies and revenge movies are that far apart). Generally, these movies shy away from showing the real life ramifications of shooting the shit out of someone (or however the protagonist dispatches his or her rival). There may be a spurt of blood or some pooling, but it's usually nothing CSI doesn't show every week. I Saw the Devil, on the other hand, gets you right in there and pretty much forces the viewer to watch (as someone who watches a lot of this type of movie, for better or worse, I was surprised at the restraint shown at times). The effect is that the viewer no longer thinks "hell yeah! Kick that guy's ass!" but "dear god, just kill him or turn him in!" By showing the beatings in realistic gruesome detail (ok, maybe the Kyung-chui wouldn't just sleep off his head being smashed repeatedly into a rock), it alienates the audience from his quest. Soo-hyeon is dehumanized.

A Sympathetic Serial Killer?
Not only is Soo-hyeon dehumanized, but he's a flat character. He's got no depth beyond his desire for vengeance. Kyung-chui is far more interesting and developed. He may be psychotic, but he's not insane. The viewer gets a very firm grasp of who he is even if the viewer doesn't know his motives (of course, who he is happens to be pure evil, so maybe it's not that difficult to make someone grasp that). He shows no remorse and instead of trying to hide when he's being pursued, he keeps going after women. But he still keeps contact with his son (I can't help but wonder what happened to his son's mother), but not his parents in an effort, it seems to me at least, to keep them distanced from his exploits. Kyung-chui is a fascinating character who, while not exactly sympathetic, is well-developed. By dehumanizing the protagonist and humanizing the antagonist, director Kim Jee-woon and writer Park Hoon-jung level the playing field. Now it's a game that the viewer wants a third party to win before things get really out of hand (and things do get really out of hand).

Portrayal of Women
The aforementioned volunteer came down from the film part-way through to get another beer and expressed concern about the lack of care for the women in I Saw the Devil. She's not wrong. There's no strong female character (most are victims) and even Soo-hyeon seems unconcerned as to whether the potential victims are hurt. In the world of I Saw the Devil, women are victims (similarly, Korea is a place where serial killers freely roam the streets at night looking for victims). Is there a point to this? Obviously, I'm going to say yes. Once again, by showing the blatant disregard for others solidifies Soo-hyeon's descent into obsession. He was probably once a kind and caring man (he did sneak off to sing to his wife while on a secret service mission). So women don't come out of I Saw the Devil with much to do, but since everything is viewed through the lens of two psychotic men, I think it can be excused (who wants to talk about Straw Dogs now?)

When I describe I Saw the Devil to people (which I've done a lot), it really sounds like a kick-ass revenge movie (and it is kick-ass). But I just don't feel comfortable calling it a revenge movie since it so squarely falls into the "what does one gain from revenge?" question. I Saw the Devil is a rumination on the nature of revenge and what it can do to us and its ramifications for those around us. Yes, it's bloody. Yes, it's intense. But those elements are necessary to drive home the message.

Or, I'm just trying to justify it because I love Kim Jee-woon's films so much. See I Saw the Devil and let me know.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Top 5 Films: Georgia

It's been a while, but unlike Sufjan Stevens, I'm returning to my 50 states project. I'm sure in my process I missed some films that take place in Georgia, but I'm pretty happy with what I've got. I really wanted to add The Walking Dead to the list, but sadly, TV isn't cinema (and that's not meant to be a statement about quality, just fact). In alphabetical order...

Deliverance -- John Boorman
An epic example of wilderness trips gone wrong. It's not nature that will get you, but the backwoods hillbillies. I can't imagine that there's a person over sixteen that doesn't give a knowing cringe when they hear the words "squeal like a pig!" Poor Ned Beatty... A terrific adventure from the man who would bring us Zardoz.

Dutch -- Peter Faiman
Dutch was a cable staple of my middle/high school years. Those years also coincided with my peak appreciation of Ed O'Neill and hell, let's throw Christopher McDonald in there, too. It's a road trip movie, so Georgia is only a factor at the beginning, but that's where we learn what kind of movie Dutch is going to be (which happens to be an awesome movie). Who doesn't love seeing a grown man stick it to a spoiled brat kid? Bonus for lovers of the '80s: it's written by John Hughes. Double bonus: directed by the guy who directed Crocodile Dundee.
(Trailer disabled. Click here to see it)

The General -- Buster Keaton and Clyde Bruckman
Another road movie (rail movie?), but he's a Confederate "soldier" from Georgia! I can't leave The General off the list. Seriously, it's one of the best movies of all time and certainly one of my favorites. Super-hilarious and incredibly inventive. Of course, I'm a total Keaton mark and think he does everything better than Chaplin. If someone was averse to silent films (which I fear many are), this would be the first movie I show them. Dear lord, this trailer doesn't do the movie justice:

The Gift -- Sam Raimi
The movie that will forever be known as the film that introduced the world to Katie Holmes' boobs. I know when I first saw The Gift I thanked Sam Raimi for that. It's also notable for being the first film since Bill and Ted that featured a Keanu Reeves performance that didn't make me want to claw my eyes out (I hadn't seen Point Break yet). It's a cool little movie that frequently gets overlooked in discussions about Raimi (although, that description could be applied to any film of his from 1995-2000). Also, it wouldn't be bad to keep this film in mind for game of Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.

Gone with the Wind -- Victor Fleming (among others)
OK. I haven't seen this. And I'm sure I would've heard about it if it wasn't included. Having no real desire to spend 238 minutes with Gone with the Wind (I've seen bits and Clark Gable's eyebrows are far too distracting), I'm just going to accept that it's an amazing piece of epic filmmaking and we can all go home happy. Yay diplomacy!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Netflix Round-up

It feels like an eternity since we last spoke. I guess that's what happens when one works a 40-hour work week like a real person. The movies are kind of all over the place for this entry, but I definitely fell into a Grindhouse groove for a while.

The Witches of Eastwick -- George Miller
My girlfriend really dug this movie and I enjoyed it quite a bit, but two thoughts rose above everything else going on in the film: that Joe Dante should've directed it and that I was very impressed with how mangled Nicholson let himself get. For the latter, I think of the story from Ghostbusters that Bill Murray wouldn't let himself get covered in the whipped cream during the climax (which is why he just has a tiny bit on his head). Nicholson is a hot-shot, too cool for anyone persona, yet he literally gets dragged across the ground (well, his character, anyway). I was very impressed with his willingness to go anywhere for the part. As far as the former, had Dante directed this, then we'd not have Innerspace, so I guess I can come to terms with that.

My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done -- Werner Herzog
Paraphrasing an observation I read somewhere else, leave it to Herzog to turn a little story about a son murdering his mother with a sword into an excuse to film in Peru and China. I love Herzog and find that even his weaker films have sort of a hypnotic grace to them. My Son, My Son, aside from having an awesome title relies heavily on Michael Shannon who is always incredible, but seem to be most at home portraying mental imbalance (see Bug for further illustration and because it's terrific). The film can be a little talky, but it's still quite good.

The Red Shoes -- Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger
Black Swan took so much from The Red Shoes that I was kind of surprised. The central relationship between dancer and (in the case of The Red Shoes) producer is nearly identical to the dancer/director relationship in Black Swan. Superficial similarities aside, The Red Shoes blows Black Swan out of the water. Powell and Pressburger are masters of cinema and I urge you to not only check this out, but the rest of their films, as well. Jack Cardiff is an amazing cinematographer and set the standard for Three Strip Technicolor with this film (according to the founders of Technicolor!).

Fort Apache: The Bronx -- Daniel Petrie
If it wasn't for Paul Newman, I probably would have stayed away from Fort Apache: The Bronx. It doesn't really cover any territory I haven't already seen in Serpico and The Prince of the City (did Sidney Lumet have a monopoly on police dramas?). That said, it's not a bad movie. Newman is awesome. The film gets the viewer frustrated in all of the right ways and the ending is appropriately joyful. Still, it could stand to lose about 15-20 minutes.

Mad Hot Ballroom -- Marilyn Argrelo
Talk about overlong movies. Mad Hot Ballroom is a documentary about a ballroom dancing contest for elementary school kids. Three schools are followed through the competition. Unfortunately, the most entertaining school is eliminated early. The rest of the film goes through the levels of competition, but it's exactly the same every time. When the championship finally comes around, you're just kind of over it. The film has long lost it's point about extracurricular programs and is all about the winning. It is fun to see the kids that are fully formed personalities and will be that way forever (Cyrus). It's fun for a little, but a trifle in the end. Also, it sounds a bit like a crazy porno.

Danger: Diabolik -- Mario Bava
With a description like:
No loot is safe when criminal mastermind Diabolik (John Phillip Law) sets his sights on stealing it -- and that's bad news for harried Inspector Ginko (Michel Piccoli), his police force and a whole army trying to capture the slippery thief. Using his prodigious wit and gadgetry that would make James Bond envious, Diabolik always gets away -- with help from his shapely partner (Marisa Mell) -- in this stylish caper flick helmed by Mario Bava.
and filmed Mario Bava, I was expecting so much more. Instead it's a pretty dull caper with some fun kitchiness. I'm thinking that maybe I should stick with his horror outings.

Four of the Apocalypse -- Lucio Fulci
And speaking of sticking to horror, man is this a sorry film. I tend to agree with the assertion that the worst offense for a film is to be boring and not only is this film boring, the horribly dated music is practically coma-inducing. Naively, I never expected spaghetti westerns to be bad. I've been so very spoiled.

Machete -- Robert Rodriguez and Ethan Maniquis
Easily my favorite of Rodriquez' films. I'd initially been against the idea of turning the Grindhouse trailers into movies and even making movies that are supposed to emulate the Grindhouse feeling and Machete didn't win me over at the start. It has the fake film scratches in the pre-credit sequence and I was afraid the whole film would be like that. Fortunately, Machete drops the facade to become it's own beast. And Danny Trejo is a beast. I just love that he gets top billing in a film. Tons of fun and even though it's inspired by the Grindhouse experience, there's little winking. Plus, it's tons of fun to think about the effort it must have taken to hide Lindsay Lohan's boobs behind he hair.

Eugenie de Sade -- Jesus Franco
If all soft-core porn is this boring, then I've been greatly mislead by scrambled TV channels. There really isn't anything good to say about Eugenie de Sade. I wasn't expecting some kind of sexy Salo, but the Marquis de Sade was insane! I want some insanity!

Buried -- Rodrigo Cortes
The opening credits are clearly inspired by Saul Bass, and that's OK with me. The whole promotional campaign for Buried was pretty amazing. I was hooked by the poster:

and sad I missed it when it was showing at my theater. It probably would've been best served as a short film, but as far as filming entirely within one cramped location without any respite, I have to admire the courage of the filmmakers. That's a gamble. I kind of want to do a double feature with 127 Hours.

Close Encounters of the Third Kind -- Stephen Spielberg
Going in to Close Encounters, my dominating thoughts were that I'd get so many more references in pop culture and that I really wanted to like it because the Blu ray is way cheap. I wasn't sure about the latter, though, because I don't really care for Spielberg. I only actively like three of his films (Duel, Jaws, and Jurassic Park), but I'm happy to chalk up a fourth. Close Encounters is visually amazing and totally absorbing. I can't help but think Chris Carter took a lot of inspiration for The X-Files from Close Encounters, especially Neary's quest. I watched the original theatrical version and am looking forward to checking out the others. And it's always nice to see Melinda Dillon (the mom from A Christmas Story) pop up in other films.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Week in Netflix: A Dalliance with Class Ends

Last week was probably my most varied, genre and era-wise. I felt I came off quite the cinematic Renaissance man. This week is a return to the status quo with lots of cheesy and offensive horror on the table.

No Direction Home: Part 2 -- Martin Scorsese
I already wrote about this, so I'll just say if you like Bob Dylan, you should definitely check Scorsese's documentary.

Piranha 3-D -- Alexandre Aja
None of Aja's other films really made me think he'd do a tongue-in-cheek, mostly comic horror movie very well, so I'm fairly impressed that Piranha 3-D is generally entertaining (though I technically just saw Piranha since there was no 3-D). If you like extended underwater nude ballets and lots of gore, this is for you. I was a little let down by the reliance on CG (having watched the awesome original the week before didn't help) and Piranha falls completely apart in the last 20-30 minutes to the extent that I was getting angry about how things were playing out. And if anyone has any theories on what happens to Paul Scheer's character, you have to top his own explanation: "OPTION #1: Andrew is a Piranha" (more thoughts here). Not unhappy I saw Piranha, but never have to revisit it (unless it gets a new ending).

Blade II-- Guillermo del Toro
I think I'm inclined to like del Toro more when he's not adapting a comic book. They're all serviceable, but he's so much better when creating his own world (at least to me). Probably my biggest issue with Blade on the whole is that it's so humorless. I just can't take a half-man, half-vampire vampire killer seriously to begin with, so why should the film? Because it's Wesley Snipes, who seems to have lost his sense of humor some time after White Men Can't Jump. I was struck by how similar the super-race of vampires are to the vampires in del Toro and Chuck Hogan's book The Strain (and its sequel(s)). I did have a tiny "holy shit!" moment when I realized that one of the cadre of Reaper-hunters is played by Donnie Yen (who is the star of Ip Man, which I watched last week), who also did the fight choreography. It's the little things.

House on the Edge of the Park -- Ruggero Deodato
I guess I shouldn't be surprised by this, but House on the Edge of the Park (which isn't really near a park at all) reminded me a lot of The Last House in the Woods. It's not just the similar titles, though. They both play around with who you should be rooting for. While the latter actually has a sympathetic character or two, the former is nothing but awful people. HotEotP isn't really pleasant to watch (unwanted sexual advances are the order of the day), but it definitely left me with a lot to think about. The payoff doesn't really work at all with any type of critical thought, but there's a lot of interesting structural and thematic elements (which may or may not be intentional) that I can't help but admire. But seriously, this film isn't for everyone, so watch with caution. It does have an DVD cover, though.

Eva -- Joseph Losey
Eva is probably a fine movie. I just didn't care about the story remotely. Anytime I watch a movie where one character falls hopelessly in love (read: lust) with someone who treats them like crap even though they are engaged/married to someone else who loves them seemingly no matter what they do (it's like a vicious circle!), I check out. Sure, it probably happens all the time, but it's so stupid and beyond reason that it's not worth investing my time in. Needless to say, I don't have much to say about Eva.

The Wrong Guy -- David Steinberg
The Wrong Guy should probably be a lot worse than it is. To be honest, I enjoyed it a lot. It's a trifle of a film, but wholly enjoyable. It's like The Wrong Man except the police know that the titular wrong man didn't do it leaving him the only person who believes that he's a suspect. David Foley is eminently likable (as always) and the cast is filled out by lots of recognizable bit players. It's co-written by Jay Kogen (writer for The Simpsons) and features tons of fun dialogue. An example? Sure thing.

Creepy Guy: Know how many assassins it took to kill JFK?
Nelson Hibbert
: One?
Creepy Guy
: Nope. There were no gunmen at all. His head just did that. I call it the "No Bullet theory."
A fun riff on Hitchcock. Definitely one to check out (even if it has a Barenaked Ladies cameo).

Sherlock (BBC Show) -- Disc 2
There's only three total episodes of Sherlock this was the last one, though I'm looking forward to the second series. I really like everything about this show. Well, almost. There's a portrayal of a character that only comes up in this episode that I found a little off-putting. I almost came around to it, but was pushed back. I don't want to spoil anything about it, though. Sherlock Holmes mysteries are interesting because I don't think the reader/viewer is ever supposed to be able to figure out, which makes my efforts feel particularly futile, but I've still got to try, dammit!

Samurai Princess -- Kengo Kaji
I think this might be the end of me watching this type of hyper-violent Japanese horror movie. I made it through Vampire Girl vs. Frankenstein Girl and one other (the name escapes me, but they're all essentially the same), but Samurai Princess' production quality is far below those (which are already fairly low). Maybe it's that I watched it on Instant View, but it looked bad (and was dubbed... seriously Netflix. If you're going to focus on streaming, at least supply options for how we want to stream). There's some crazy gore, but the movie is a complete mess. The best thing I can say about it is that it's less than an hour and a half.