26 August 2007

OLR: Rock 'n' Roll Nightmare (1987)

All one needs to know that this is 310% awesome is that it's a horror movie written by and starring a bodybuilding hair band front man. (8/10)

d. John Fasano

OLR: Masters of Horror: "Pick Me Up" (2005)

Michael Moriarty is a Canadian national treasure. (8/10)

d. Larry Cohen

20 August 2007

Rodriguez (2005)

2005 - Sin City - Like eating a hamburger and drinking a brew. It's a manly feast of honor fighting evil in a twisted world. Beautifully shot, near-perfect casting (thanks for nothing, Michael Madsen), and a great score. I haven't been this entertained by such an unrepentantly dark film since I repeatedly went to screenings of The Crow back in high school. Something about this ultra-violent and grim world speaks to me on the reptilian level of my brain.

The film begins and ends with a man seducing and killing a woman. The only strong women in the show are prostitutes or strippers, and they still need help and leadership from Marv, Dwight and Hartigan. Women are smacked around by boyfriends, eaten by cannibals, and beaten by yellow bastards. Is this film misogynistic? Perhaps. I could also see painting the movie with a broader misanthropic brush. Outside of the honorable warriors of the picture -- Marv, Dwight, Hartigan, Miho and Gail -- humanity isn't portrayed as the noblest of species here. Corrupt cops, crooked clergy, and perverted politicians' sons abound.

This has to be the most faithful adaptation ever filmed. With a novel, I'm always one to say that I don't care how closely a film sticks to its source book. Writing and filmmaking are completely different art forms; some things that work well in writing (long interior monologues) don't work well on screen. Graphic novels, however, are different. They're essentially movie storyboards with the dialogue conveniently circled. It makes sense to use them this way when translated them into film. The results speak for themselves, I think. All of the creative energy Frank Miller originally put into framing his comic panels is preserved in the movie. The same goes for his noir dialogue. Using this, beyond his respect for the author, I see as more of Rodriguez's ultra-efficient filmmaking style. It makes sense and it worked. Bring on part 2. (9/10)

Tarantino (2004-2005)

2004 - Kill Bill: Vol. 2 - This is the half where the meat of the story was inserted, I see. A jilted lover seeks revenge. The jilting lover seeks revenge for that revenge. Because they're both professional killers, mass-slaughters ensue. Lesson: never have anything to do with professional killers.

Unlike the carnage she wrought in the first film, The Bride only kills one person this time out. It's not nearly as exciting a flick to watch. This could barely be called a martial arts film, though it does contain the training sequence the first film lacked. After her super-human rampage in the prior movie, it's terribly disappointing to see The Bride almost immediately taken down by a strip club bouncer living in a trailer in the desert. I suppose this is Tarantino's way of preparing us for the final half of the film; it's a reminder that The Bride is human. To be sure, she gets out of her impossible scrape by employing another super-human feat and has a brief marital arts battle with Elle, but the tone of the series is different.

My interest in the film only perked up when The Bride finally found Bill. She discovers him with their daughter, who she thought was lost. I couldn't wait to see how this played out. She came to kill Bill, but how can she kill the only parent her daughter's ever known? She can, but it isn't easy.

Speaking as a huge fan of the character, I see Superman a bit differently than Bill. Bill argued that, unlike other superheroes, Superman's true disguise was his Clark Kent suit and tie. Superman wakes up as Superman, he claimed, and has to put on his idea of a human identity in order to walk among us unnoticed. I disagree. This view of the character ignores an important part of his background: Superman was raised by human parents. His American, mid-western values are as a part of the character's make-up as his alien biology. Superman is culturally a human, just as a Russian raised from infancy by Americans in America would be culturally American. My point, however, is that Superman is almost always disguised in a secret identity. Wearing the red, blue and yellow, he's a public servant and the world's greatest hero. Wearing a suit and tie and accidentally knocking into things like a clumsy oaf, he's undercover in the big city, looking and listening for wrongs that need Superman's attention. Neither of these are his true identities. He's only truly himself when he's at home with his folks. There, he can relax as the simple, though gifted, farmboy that he is. But, Bill's/Quentin's argument worked well in the context of the film.

This series will work better edited into one film. Split in half, it's inevitable that the two will be compared against each other, even though neither tell the whole tale. Still, though there was some tasty story in this volume, it wasn't quite enough to fill the whole two hours as the action sequences did in the previous film. (8/10)

2005 - Sin City: The Big Fat Kill: "Designated Driver" - Tarantino's turn as "Guest Director" on Sin City refers to the scene in which Dwight imagines the corpse of Jackie Boy is talking to him as he drives to the tar pits. It was mostly just Tarantino's way of trying out Rodriguez's beloved HD camera. Outside of that, it's just a standard car conversation scene. It's shot through the windows. There are lights passing over the occupants' faces to simulate motion. Nothing particularly Tarantino-esque here. (5/10)

16 August 2007

OLR: Masters of Horror: "Pro-Life" (2006)

Ah, John, I love yah, but it's clear your passion for filmmaking is waning. (5/10)

d. John Carpenter

[strangely, my baby -- probably sharing my depression over Carpenter's bad run -- started kicked my wife from the inside as we watched]

15 August 2007

Tarantino (2003)

2003 - Kill Bill: Vol. 1 - I've been waiting to see this movie for years. At first, I refused to buy the DVDs due to some honest, though infuriating, remarks from a Miramax exec. After giving in and buying the "non-special" editions, it was too late: I had to wait for this 'thon to get going. Was it worth the 4-year wait? Yes, I think it was. This flick is a ball of concentrated ass-kicking. I had a blast watching it.

This has got to be the best martial arts film ever directed by a white guy. I'm sure getting the bad-ass Sonny Chiba to be your fight choreographer helps significantly. As I remarked to C after the first fight between The Bride and Vernita Green, the action sequences are the "real deal." They're super-fast and super-violent, with just a touch of Tarantino charm (as when we see the school bus arrive and drop Green's daughter off amid the fury of a knife fight). They're as fun and exciting to watch as an authentic Asian martial arts movie. I was reminded a bit of my favorite, Duel to the Death.

I loved the soundtrack, which is always one of Tarantino's strong points. This time, he cleverly assembles song selections taken from other movies and TV shows. Uma was excellent in the lead role. She conveyed the proper amount of strength and icy resolve to sell the part. The cinematography was beautiful, capturing the carnage in well-framed shots. I dug the story: I'm always a fan of a good revenge flick.

My one complaint: I think the anime sequence should've been cut. I like anime just fine, but it felt a little incongruous stuffed into the middle of this film. It also takes the focus away from The Bride's story for the first and only time, which I felt was a mistake. I don't really care about O-Ren's past; I just want to see her kick her ass kicked by The Bride. I would've made this a part of a series of backstory animes, to be released separately like The Animatrix.

To Quentin: for the love of Pete, just get it out of your system. Film a full-on foot fetish movie, sell it to Vivid or some other adult company, and be done with it. During "The Bride Conquers Atrophy" scene -- not having the miss-wired brain to appreciate the sexual aspects of it -- all I could think was: "Man, shoes really do mess up feet." (second thought: "Buck was painting her toenails?")

Though never reaching the level of greatness of Pulp Fiction, this is still quite a tasty burger. (9/10)

13 August 2007

Rodriguez (2003)

2003 - Once Upon a Time in Mexico - I like this movie a bit better than the other two. I guess that makes it my favorite of the Mariachi trilogy, though not by much. The first time I watched this movie, I didn't think much of it. If you're going to use a title that imitates one of the best westerns of all time, I'm going into it with high expectations. The movie just doesn't have the epic scope to live up to the title. Maybe that's an odd thing to write, given that the film is about stopping a presidential assassination. However, most of the film takes place in the center of a city. Confined by buildings in every frame, you don't get the feel of wide-open Mexico. There isn't a great sense that country-wide events are taking place. It would've been interesting to see this at the theater. There, it was cropped to a 2.35:1 aspect ratio, like its namesake Leone film. Perhaps that extra wideness would've complimented the title?

Anyway, I'm just glad the plot wasn't another rehash of the first film. That may be why I liked this one the best. The movie is pro-democracy and anti-US intervention. It has the (perhaps irrational) optimism to suggest that some heads of state can look out for the needs of the people. I dig that at this point in history. Action-wise, also, I think the movie's an improvement over its predecessors. El Mariachi & Carolina's chained escape down the side of a building was a beautiful sequence to behold. El Mariachi retains his cartoonish power from Buscemi's tall tale during the beginning of Deperado, as I'd wished for, his guns exploding like cannons and propelling bad guys through the air. Add in the always interesting Johnny Depp and Willem Dafoe and it's a good time. (7/10)

2003 - Ten Minute Flick School: Fast, Cheap, and in Control - A brief look at the shooting of Once Upon a Time in Mexico. There's a lot of focus on CGI again, which is a large part of the "cheap" portion of Rodriguez's shooting philosophy. Don't mess up the church: CGI in the bullet hits later. Don't poke Cheech's eye out: use a dummy and computer composite the two together. The only practical advise to the computerless independent filmmaker was some discussion on editing to hide lack of people in crowds. (6/10)

2003 - Ten Minute Cooking School: Puerco Pibil - How to make Johnny Depp's favorite dish from Once Upon a Time in Mexico. This looks pretty tasty; I'm gonna give it a try one of these days. Rodriguez does a great job of explaining the steps necessary to cook this pork dish. He's a natural Food Network personality. This piece is also edited in a nice, punchy manner, making it fun to watch. (7/10)

2003 - Ten Minute Film School: Dream Screen Plus How to Make Cool Home Movies - The first half of this is a look at the green screen work in Spy Kids 3. It's as you'd expect. A stage. Covered in bright green. Kids pretending they're in a video game. Check, check, and check. The later half is more interesting. Rodriguez shows off some home movies he's suped-up with sound F/X, editing and a smattering of CGI. Fun. As someone now only 4 months away from being a parent, I found this part to be inspiring. I need to buy myself a new camcorder soon! (7/10)

04 August 2007

Rodriguez (2002-2003)

2002 - Spy Kids 2: Island of Lost Dreams - Or, Spy Kids Go To Harryhausen Land. Which ain't a bad idea. As a kid, Mysterious Island was one of my favorite Disney movies. This is sort of the hyperactive, computer-generated version, which I'm sure suits modern kids just fine. The mid-level CGI does not stand-up to Harryhausen's stop-motion work, but it's at least creative. I felt like this one was a tad more violent than the first, probably because it featured kids doing kid-karate on human adults, rather than robot thumb guys. It was good to see Ricardo Montalban kicking some ass again. (7/10)

2002 - Ten Minute Film School: Big Movies Made Cheap - This installment of Ten Minutes takes a peak at the computer effects in Spy Kids 2. Here, Rodriguez applies his El Mariachi shooting philosophy to CGI. No need to make more than one fake rock for a cave wall: just duplicate it in the computer. No need to build a big set: just fake it in the computer. While it's all as practical and frugal as you'd expect from Rodriguez, this Ten Minutes is veering into standard DVD featurette territory. Maybe I'm getting old, but CGI isn't something I see independent filmmakers using a lot. Computer modeling and animation requires an entirely different skill set than regular, old filmmaking. (6/10)

2003 - Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over - I was afraid this one was going be the modern equivalent of Transformers: The Movie: flashy, surfing a sugar high and incomprehensible to adults. It was, but I enjoyed it anyway. I think the 3D aspect helped. Parts were plain exciting to watch wearing those red and blue glasses. My one complaint was that half of the movie was focused entirely on Juni's adventures in the video game. Fortunately, the entire cast of characters developed over the course of the series joined him for the final battle at the end. Also: Sylvester Stallone was hilarious, hamming it up in a quadruple role.

Extra bonus point for 1) casting Bill Paxton 2) having him say "Game over, man! Game over!" (7/10)