Johnny Mnemonic (1995), or Cyberpunk Rules, Dude!

22 01 2009
Uh, like, Ive got a gun, and, like, Ill totally shoot, man...

Uh, like, I've got a gun, and, like, I'll totally shoot, man...

Well, welcome to 90’s week, everyone! Every day this week I’ll be taking a look at movies from yesteryear. Back when Ike was president, Chubby Checker ruled the radio, and you could buy Coca-Cola in the green glass bottle for a thin flat dime. Wait, am I thinking of the right decade? Ah, fuck it. Anyway, our first film comes from the ancient year of 1995 C.E.. So far back, huh? This is more like an archaeological find than a movie rental, I know, but come back with me, won’t you?

Johnny Mnemonic (What a dumb word to spell. That ‘M’ on the front is worthless!) is a data trafficker in the year 2021. Apparently, in about 13 years, the earth is about to get way more fucked up and dystopian, because life sucks in the future. Everything is dark and industrial. About half of the population of the earth is suffering from something called the Nerve Attenuation Syndrome, or “the black shakes” that is caused by an overexposure to electromagnetic radiation (?). And evil conglomerates, of course, rule the world. So, good times all around, and this is where Johnny comes in. In the future, info is the most valuable commodity, so he takes info secretly from one location to another. Well, the problem is that he carries the info in his brain with a mnemonic implant, and with the high amount of data he trafficks, he has lost some of his own memories. And he wants to buy them back. To do that, he’ll have to carry some pretty important info that is way too large for his implant to carry. On the way to drop off this info, a lot of people are after him and the implant in his head. Can he handle all the dystopian freaks that want him dead? Can he handle all the gigabytes of info in his head? What will happen to poor Johnny?!?!

The effects are decent for the time, I’ll give it that. I feel like it’s a dystopian future with all kinds of pixelated digital effects, and I think that is what they were going for.The director, Robert Longo, has worked in many other art forms, including lithograph, sculpture, and even music videos. This was his first feature. And his last. He performs admirably, but any good artist knows when to stay and when to chage mediums. The soundtrack is the most 90’s thing in existence (other than those flannel jackets and torn jeans you still keep in your attic. You know who you are…) You won’t find a more industrial-lite soundtrack around, a soundtrack which even features a song from Bono written during the “Achtung, Baby” sessions, their most 90’s album. Whoa! That’s a lot of 90’s!

Oh, and a funny thing. This is one of the few futuristic movies where we have actually surpassed the movie’s technological advances in real-life. Because in this movie, Johnny can only store 80 gigabytes of data in his implant! 160 if he uses a doubler, whatever that means. 160 Gigabytes! Most people could get a portable hard drive that could hold as much for about 80 bucks! And the massive info that is killing Johnny’s brain is only 320 GB. You can still find something to hold that easy! Good job, Johnny! You made all that fuss about your damn implant, and you could have gone to the Best Buy of the future and saved us all a little trouble.

This movie really encapsulates the 90’s alternative film scene for me. Everyone thinks they’re so damn cool in this movie. The movie is based fairly faithfully on William Gibson’s book of the same name, but you wouldn’t know that from their performance: you would think they were doing Shakespeare in the Park. They look like they’re creating some kind of masterpiece, when all they’re creating is an expensive flop. This movie tanked hard, and I’ll tell you, it wasn’t the cheezy special effects or the incessant bombast of 90’s hipper-than-thou techno-industrial, and it wasn’t even the marketing execs for a change. Mr. Reeves, would you kindly stand up? We need to talk.

Johnny Mnemonic is the least likable “hero” in history. He is a whiny half-wit with no redeeming factors. He throws tantrums (“I need room service!!!”), he constantly yells at people, and he is incompetent for all that. At least if he were the one thinking up all the schemes to get his own ass out of danger I would sympathize a little. But, no. Everyone in the future world is looking out for this guy. And, still, we are supposed to like the guy. Look, I know you lost your memories, Johnny, but that doesn’t excuse your asshole-ish qualities enough for me to even remotely like you. So sit back down. Here’s a few bucks to buy yourself a flash drive, baby, ’cause that’s all you’re worth.

In the end, I felt Johnny Mnemonic was way too smug for its own good. It wanted to be so 90’s hip, it forgot to be genuinely entertaining. Still, it does bring you back to a goofier time in movies where something like this could actually get a wide theatrical release, and that garnered a few chuckles from me. So, all in all, I give Johnny Nemonic 5 misplaced M’s out of 10.

See you tomorrow where we discuss our next 90’s film, Anthony Hopkins in Remains of The Day. Until then!!!

The Votes Are In! We Have A Winner!

21 01 2009

Thank you one and all for making the month 1 poll a success everyone!  I have tallied up every single ballot, and it seems that the 90’s are everyone’s favorite year for movies! Starting tomorrow, it’s 90’s Week, where we are going to search far and wide for the width and bredth of the era! First stop: the Keanu Reeves vehicle, Johnny Mnemonic! Thanks again for voting, everyone! It’s people like you who keep this place running!

Bad Taste (1987), or Do Not Watch This Movie Over Dinner

21 01 2009
Well, thats just rude!

Well, that's just rude!

Welcome, one and all, to another day and another movie. Today is a gross one. Peter Jackson is beloved by millions around the world these days as the director of epic box-office-smashing movies. Everyone loves him around the world (this is a scientific fact. I have the hard data in my sock drawer right now). But Mr. Jackson started out not as the regal, majestic director of The Lord of The Rings trilogy, believe it or not, but rather as a director of low-budget, super gore-fest horror comedies. He was famous in his hometown of New Zealand (admittedly, I think it might be a country) for these splatterific flicks, and today we’re going to watch the one that started it all, his first feature from 1987. It’s called Bad Taste, and it is pretty disgusting.

So, at the beginning, we have the disappearance of the entire town of Kaihoro, New Zealand. The government sends out a special agency to deal with the situation, the Astro Investigation and Defense Service. Yes, that spells AIDS. They investigate the town to find that people are still there, but that something is not right about them; mainly, their desire to attack and kill the AIDS agents. It becomes clear eventually that these villagers are not the real McCoy, but instead are aliens (GASP!) in human form. The aliens think that human beings just taste delicious, and that we would be great to send back home for snacks. Well, not if AIDS has anything to say about it! It becomes a battle-royale between the aliens and the special agents as the stakes get higher and higher. Will the entire world become a deep-fried alien snack? Or will New Zealand actually save us all? If likeliness is the deciding factor, lock your doors everyone!

You can really tell that this is a first effort film. I especially love the cast: everyone is either Jackson’s friend or Jackson himself. The shots are average, leaning towards good. Made for about $250,000, it is actually pretty impressive. He makes the best of what he has, and everyone seems to take the endeavor somewhat seriously, which adds to this impressive debut.

Oh, by the way, did I mention this movie is bloody? Well, THIS MOVIE IS VERY BLOODY! In typical spatter-comedy fashion, the gore borders on the absurd and there is enough blood here to fill up a few bathtubs. There are people being shot, cut, and exploded all over the place (even a sheep gets what for in a violent, explosive finale). What I like to keep track of in these types of movies are the kills. It is excellent to watch the inventive ways that people are sacrificed to the movie gods. You wouldn’t believe the ways people are killed here, and you also wouldn’t believe how many. Even today, this movie can hang with the big boys of blood and gore, which is amazing considering the sheer number of these films that have been made since 1987. If this is your first gory horror-comedy, you might want to shop around a bit first before you settle down with this feature.

If you like these types of movies, you’ll love this one. But even if you don’t like these types of movies, I still maintain that you will like it. The dialogue is sharp, way wittier than you would think. The music, which consists mainly of cheezy 80’s Dire Straits knock-offs, works well with the experience, and really throws you back to the year this was made. And it really is a fun movie that takes itself just seriously enough for you to get into it without losing all the laughs.

So enough flapping of the gums! Check it out! It’s fun to watch, at least once, and it’s a surprising diving-board for one of the world’s biggest directors. It’s short, sweet, and a real blast to watch. Have a good time with it, flaws and all. I give Bad Taste 7 exploding New Zealand sheep out of 10.

Tomorrow’s movie is up to you guys! If I get no more votes today on my month 1 poll, and it ends in a tie between the 90’s and the 00’s (the question was “what was your favorite decade for cinema?”), I will start on a week-long rampage with every single Planet of the Apes movies, starting with the original. But if somebody breaks the tie for the 90’s I will watch Johnny Mnemonic to start off 90’s Week, and if somebody breaks the tie for the 00’s I will watch Gladiator. The choice is up to you! Until tomorrow!

Today Is The Last Day For Voting! You’d Better Do It!

21 01 2009

All right, everyone! I’ve asked nicely. I’ve pleaded with you numerous times, probably hundreds of times to vote on the poll I have up in the Public Opinions section. And this is the last day. Right now we are at a standstill. If somebody votes to break the tie today between the 90’s and the 00’s, then by popular vote I will watch nothing but movies from that decade. But I swear, if no one votes today, you’re gonna get a theme all right. A theme of epic proportions. That’s right!!! If nobody breaks the tie today, I’m going to watch Planet of the Apes movies all week. Seriously! You drove me to this, you know, with your non-voting asses! So get your vote on today, and I would be much obliged! And damn it, do not vote twice! In the interests of democracy, and for the love of freedom!

PSA: Southland Tales (2006), or Huh?????

20 01 2009
I cannot believe this movie exists

I cannot believe this movie exists.

Welcome to another public service announcement regarding films I have already seen that you might not have. This segment brings up an interesting point I would like to address. Folks, do not forget to watch the DVDs you own. More often than not, I see people’s collections gathering dust, growing stale from lack of use. Don’t just buy a movie and watch it once. If you didn’t like a movie, or you know you’re never gonna watch a movie, give it to someone else. Like me. The fact is, I’m gonna need 340 more movies, so donations or bargain prices are greatly appreciated. Don’t get all pack-rat over that copy of The Thin Red Line you got at Target for $10: it’s still in the shrink-wrap! Don’t get all attached and weird about The Devil Wears Prada: you didn’t even like the movie that much. And what does this have to do with our current specimen, Southland Tales? Not a damn thing. Just a friendly reminder to not waste your DVDs. I’ll use them sometime this year.

Oh, boy. Where to begin… Donnie Darko was a small, ill-financed movie filmed in 2001 about a teenager who had a feeling the world was going to end. At first it tanked in theaters, barely breaking even. But then a funny thing happened. When it came out on DVD, it became a runaway sensation, a veritable cult phenomenon. Word-of-mouth spread the positive feedback like wildfire. Everyone was talking about this hip, mysterious movie about time-travel and hideous bunny rabbits. Richard Kelly, the director and writer, was hailed as a visionary, the voice of the next generation of young talented directors. And so after a quick break, and a director’s cut of his debut film, he started working on his sophomore effort. What would it be? How would it look? Would it be as grim as the dyspeptic Donnie Darko?  A mysterious website popped up that touted that it would be the biggest promotional site for a film ever made. Graphic novels were proposed and printed for the full multimedia experience. The anticipation was high. But then another funny thing happened. Time. Years went by, the website was abandoned, the graphic novels were forgotten, and the interest was drained out of the movie. Not to mention whispers of a disastrous Cannes screening of the movie and pressure from the studio to make serious cuts. By the time it came out (in just 63 measly theaters!), no one remembered or cared about Richard Kelly’s new creation. But I still cared. Oh, did I ever. Ever since the embarrassing Cannes screening, I had heard the reason that the film was being buried (and let’s face it, it was being buried) was because Kelly had gone off the deep end, and that this movie was the most insane movie-going experience to be had in years. So on March 18, 2008, I literally ran to the store to pick this DVD up to see if what everyone said about Kelly and his nightmarish celluloid child were true. Giddy with excitement, I popped the disc in the player and for the next 2+ hours I discovered in fascinated horror the answer to that quandary.

Yes, Kelly had indeed fallen off the deep end…

The plot is basically that in 2005 (THE FUTURE!) two atomic bombs fall on El Paso and Abilene, and although it’s not explained who attacked us, America wages WWIII on an unsuspecting globe. This allows the evil right-wing government to put even more shady stuff into the Patriot Act, and gives authority to a new agency called USI-dent, who make the US more authoritarian than ever. Meanwhile, three years later, with a looming energy crisis rearing its ugly head, a mysterious company called Treer has solved the problem with a seemingly endless supply of energy for the world called Fluid Karma, which is created by the ebb and flow of the ocean’s tide. But something’s evil about them too. Meanwhile, an actor named Boxer Santaros with a sketchy past is being manipulated by a porn star named Krysta Now to make her a mainstream actress. There is something mysterious about Boxer as well. Meanwhile, there is a militant group called the Neo-Marxists who are railing against the authoritarian right-wing government. There is something mysterious and evil about them as well. Meanwhile, all of these plot points converge. Meanwhile, meanwhile, meanwhile….

Are you starting to get the picture? I’m sorry if I did not explain that very well at all, but I just touched the surface. This script is a mess, a mudslide on top of a shit-farm. The story is so convoluted it’s like all of mankind’s stories and parables were thrown into a black hole and someone pulled out a handful of what was left. It’s massively confusing. The writer, also Richard Kelly, says this was an encapsulation of all of his post-9/11 feelings and it was kind of a catharsis for him. And that is fine, but there are ways to do that cohesively. If you read all the FAQ’s online and read all the graphic novels, it actually does make sense in a way (about as much sense as you want it to make, depending on how much sleuthing you want to do). But you should not have to do that with a movie. It loses its timelessness that way and you only confuse people needlessly that way. Watch this one next to the graphic novels or the internet if you’re interested.

I also didn’t talk much about the characters because there are so many and they are so disposable that it simply does not matter. And everyone is in this movie. You won’t believe the amount of celebrity that was pulled for this film. I can’t even start a list, just take my word for it. Kelly admits, perhaps as a grotesque experiment, that he cast against type for every character in the movie. Dwayne Johnson plays a wimpy guy! Seann William Scott and Jon Lovitz both play quiet badasses! Richard Kelly was cast as a director without dementia! It’s discomforting to watch every single character in a movie to play against their strong suit. And the dialogue they spout out is very shameful. I was actually blushing for people as they said lines like “I’m a pimp, and pimps don’t commit suicide!” with such conviction that they seemed almost heartfelt in the hoary netherworld Kelly had created for himself.

The technical aspects aren’t even worth mentioning. This is only Kelly’s second movie, so I’ll let up on him on this point, but the shots are very plain and almost amateurish. The music is good. Quite good. Kelly has good taste in music, and if I were buying his i-Pod I might tell him to keep his old songs on there instead of erasing the drive for me. But that’s one of the few compliments I can muster up.

This is a terrible movie, and I could go on about all the things that don’t make sense and all the things that suck, but I don’t really want to. Because I love it. I LOVE THIS MOVIE! It is so insane and ridiculous and smugly stupid that I get a smile every time I think about this film. It is an epic, massive failure that is so completely shameful for everyone involved that I ended up with either a mild form of dysentery or a soft spot for this film. If you love flops, unintentional humor, and actors shaming themselves, this is THE film for you. Watch this with friends. It is good for what it is, which is psychotic. But for all you regular folk who like their movies to make sense and be good and everything, I solemnly give this big, dumb animal 2 1/2 shameful Cannes Premieres out of 10. Watch it at your own risk!

See you tomorrow, where we go in for our first spatter comedy (I know, why haven’t I done one yet?) called Bad Taste. Until then!!!

Immortal (2004), or Are You Real Or Digital?

19 01 2009
Yes, that New York City. Yes, thats a floating pyramid. What of it?

Yes, that's New York City. Yes, that's a floating pyramid. What of it?

Greetings and salutations! Today we take another dip into the far-side with a sci-fi fantasy romp! No matter how many flops the genre has produced, I will always have a soft spot for fantasy and sci-fi. It’s about exploring new ideas, breaking new ground. Even if some of the ideas have been rehashed, you can almost always find something new and exciting in those stories. I am a lifelong fan. 2005 was the year the final Star Wars movie come out. I was there that opening night. 2003 was the year The Matrix Revolutions came out. I took every punishing second of it. 2000 was the year the Dune miniseries came on the Sci-fi Channel. I taped all 265 minutes. We all have similar stories. And although my tastes have since matured since then, I will always be up for a sci-fi or fantasy movie, which is relevant because today we have a very sci-fi flick on our hands.

Immortal, or Immortel (ad vitam), depending on your druthers and your nationality, is a 2004 French film about New York City in the year 2095. Science and technology have evolved exponentially, regular folks like you and I are living side-by-side with genetically enhanced humans, and a giant pyramid hovers over the city (?) housing the gods of ancient Egypt (??). Wasn’t expecting that last one, were ya? Well, the gods of old are idicting one of their own, Horus, and stripping his immortality. Before they do, he has seven days to exist as a god before his gift of ever-lasting life is taken from him. The catch is is that he may retain his immortality (in a manner of speaking) if he can find a suitable mate with a human host body. So off he goes to find both a host and a mate. Meanwhile, in the city, a mysterious woman named Jill is arrested. She is a very strange woman with blue hair and blue tears. She is special in ways that she does not fully comprehend, as she does not know her true identity. Aided by a doctor fascinated by her very being, she scours the city, looking for who she truly is. Believe it or not, these two stories are destined for a collision course, and the results of such a meeting could have dire effects on New York City circa 2095.

Get ready for an odd-fest, folks! You got it all in this one. You have super-powers, you have a force-field in Central Park that kills anyone trying to enter, you have Egyptian gods playing Monopoly. Be prepared for an assault on common sense. This is sci-fi leaning towards fantasy, and all realism is thrown out the window at the drop of a hat. And I am perfectly at ease with that. If you are not a fan of high fantasy, go do something constructive with your time. This is not the one for you.

This film is loosely based on the French graphic novel La Foire aux Immortels (or The Carnival of Immortals) and is actually directed by the creator of the graphic novel, Enki Bilal, which means he must not have thought his own work to be very filmable, because apparently much of this film is changed from the story of said graphic novel. He does an admirable job, though many of his shots are rudimentary, and I would have liked to see a more dynamic use of the camera on a movie so charged with weirdness.

One neat thing about this movie is that it is a mix of CG people and effects mixed with real people and effects. There are scenes that feature almost exclusively real people and props and vice-versa, and I often found those to be the obvious ones to spot what was real and what was fake. What makes it fun is when CG characters interact with real people. That is where it becomes difficult to divide the two. Try spotting the obvious and not-so-obvious special effects in this movie! It’s fun!

The story is interesting, I’ll give it that. It sucks you in, making you guess at what its real game is at. Unfortunately, the characters, and this goes across the board when it comes to fantasy and sci-fi usually, are pretty one-dimensional (ironic considering some of them belong in another dimension). I wasn’t concerned with anybody at anytime. Even the heroin Jill was so badass I wasn’t too worried about her. But I will say that when the movie chooses to be smart, it can surprise you (watch for Jill going through bouts of intelligence).

I’ll keep this one short, because this is in many ways a niche movie. If you like this sort of thing, which I do, you will leave feeling mildly to nominally entertained. If you do not like this kind of thing, you will not even attempt to watch it. It is so hyper-colored with oddity and strange, you will be turned off within the first five minutes. But the CG is very good for its time, and the story is learned on occasion. I recommend it if you are a fan of comics, graphic novels, and all those books that don’t require you to read too much (I kid graphic novels! I love ’em!). But as a movie unto itself, I give Immortal 7 divine Monopoly boards out of 10.

See you tomorrow for another PSA! This one is not gonna be so easy for me, because I’ll be taking on one of the stranger films I’ve seen, Southland Tales ! Can I survive? Find out next time!!!

The Night Out: The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button (2008), or Beauty In Reverse Is Still Beauty

18 01 2009
The greatest of things are those which do not last.

The greatest of things are those which do not last.

Hello, patrons, and welcome to The Night Out! This is my attempt to inform the world of movies that are still in theaters. And today we are talking about another romantic film in the vein of Brokeback Mountain. Before we get on with it, though, I would just like to say that for me, films are primarily an art form. I watch so many movies because although I understand that by nature films are an incredibly shallow art, with little of the depth afforded by books or dance or paintings that allow the participant to linger over questions and thoughts, I feel that movies are among the most powerful mediums in art, because when a movie confronts you with a query it can force you back with the power and fury in which it asks. If you are going to see a movie for reasons other than aesthetic value, you might enjoy seeing a movie like Bangkok Dangerous or Iron Man based purely on how much it entertains you and your imagination. And that’s fine: movies are a fun way of escaping from your worries and I think we all like to watch more light-hearted fare to laugh and enjoy ourselves. But I do not review movies based on that alone. I am somewhat of a more intellectual creature, and if that makes me an elitist and a film snob, well whoopdy-doo. I hope you’ll enjoy my work regardless, guys.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button is a movie loosely based on the short story of the same name by F. Scott Fitzgerald. And by “based on” I mean it took the most basic of premises and they kept the name of the main character. It’s 2004, and a woman sits with her aged mother in a hospital in New Orleans. The mother is dying, and the woman, her daughter, is saying her farewells. The mother points across the room to a book and asks her daughter to read it to her. It is a diary, and it tells the story of a man named Benjamin who was born on Armistice Day, 1918. His parents abandoned him, relegating him to the doorstep of a retirement home. The matron of the home, named Queenie, took him in instead of turning him over to the police or an orphanage. He was abandoned because of what he was. You see, Benjamin was a man with a very odd affliction; he was born old. That is to say, when he was born he had the appearance of a seventy year-old baby (wrinkles everywhere!!). And thus begins a fascinating tale of age with no age, youth with no youth. It is the story of a man who goes through life aging backwards, a condition that seeks to cripple his relationship with everybody around him. It is a meditation on the beauty of life, and the fact that life is beautiful because it is brief.

What a well-made film. The story is crafted like a clock. Things that are precise and exact like this are very fragile, and in the hands of someone less capable it would have fallen apart. But David Fincher does a great job in capturing the odd life of someone who would have to live with such a condition. With dark, natural tones he creates a moody, mysterious New Orleans filled with magic. He continues to amaze me every film he does with his technical expertise. The short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald was sketchy and honestly not very compelling, so screenwriter Eric Roth (from Forrest Gump, another character who brushed hands with time and history) punched it up and made something that actually trumped one of the Jazz Age’s most influential writers. The plot is rich, it has depth, and it is very textured. Great job, folks!

As if I haven’t ranted enough today, I wanted to say a little something for the sake of discussion. Now, as some people out there may know, I have a bit of a problem with super-pretty people in my movies. It takes me out of a movie when the main character is clearly way more physically attractive than anybody who exists in that world. It is distressing when I have to watch average people who are just as splendorous and wonderful get marginalized by hyper-attractive ones. It feels like physical elitism in a way, as if us “normies”, non-Adonis types, could never star in a movie like this, could never attain such stature. I feel regular people are much more beautiful than genetically-chiseled mutants like Brad Pitt, but the movies obviously don’t feel the same way. That being said, we have not one but two freakishly perfect leads in this movie, Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. This does not affect my decision in any real way; a performance should not be based on looks, and that is that. I just had to get that off my chest. End rant.

Now, how do they perform? Well, Pitt is Benjamin Button, and he is somber, rarely excited. He is old no matter what age he is, and his temperament is level with maturity gained from the weight of this knowledge. So, to be honest, Pitt is really a diving board in this role, a platform for other performers to tack on their feelings, their dialogue, and expound from there. He spent hours upon hours in make-up, I am sure, and while that in itself is commendable, Cate Blanchett is the real trooper here. She is Daisy, the old woman in the hospital, and the young woman who Benjamin falls in love with. She not only has to apply the make-up and act under such conditions, but she has to be a character who lives outside of the condition Benjamin has but also be directly affected by it. She makes the character come alive though, and when she is on the screen, she electrifies.

It is a movie that needs to be unraveled, as there are many emotional layers to the movie. This is a technically brilliant film, a film made by pros that actually dwarf the performers for me. Imagine a painting where the central figures are perfect in every way, absolutely stunning, but the oil on the canvas is spread in such a way that you cannot take your eyes away from the technique. That is The Curious Case of Benjamin Button for me. I enjoyed myself thoroughly all 160 minutes. Not a wasted scene, not a flat line. It is a wonderful picture that is in many ways timeless, which is exactly what we humans are not, the film is keen to remind us. It will certainly have you talking when you leave the theater; about the premise, about life, about love. I give this film 9 wrinkled babies out of 10.

Come back tomorrow, where we discuss Immortal!

Babylon A.D. (2008), or Police! I Was Robbed By A Passing Movie!

17 01 2009
When it rains, it pours. When it sucks, it blows.

When it rains, it pours. When it sucks, it blows.

Hello, everyone! History lesson: have you ever heard of Babylon? A jewel of the Mesopotamian, Babylon was a glimmering, massive city-state that was once one of the most industrious and prosperous cities in the world. Dating back at least all the way to the 24’th century B.C.E., Babylon enjoyed wealth and splendor for centuries and was lauded throughout history as a true marvel. It was said to be a wonder to behold, and we are certainly the poorer for not having many of its ruins left to our modern world. Babylon A.D., however, is a film by Matthieu Kassovitz that nobody has ever lauded for any reason, and we are the poorer for having many of its ruins left to our modern world.

“Stay objective.” That’s my motto, my creed. I try to steer through the hype and the mounds of stereotypes associated with movies to get at the heart of the matter. Some movies considered bombs are actually pretty good (see The Adventures of Baron Munchausen), so I think it would be a shame to not see a good movie based on hype alone. And, believe me, there has been a lot of negative press surrounding this one. Going into it, I was more on the positive side, and in the first 30 minutes the needle on my Enjoy-O-Meter (patent pending) was actually on the rise. But shortly after that point it started a steep descent that eventually landed right on the Mayor’s desk in Shit City. So, believe it or not, but sometimes the hype machine is actually right.

OK, so we have a mercenary in the year 20?? ( They never say what year it is) played by everyone’s favorite big, dumb, hulking badass Vin Diesel. He’s a gun for hire who has a strict set of moral codes. He lives in the war-torn remains of a Russian city, with just barely enough food and shelter to stay alive. But he’s tough as nails, and of course he’s the best around. He’s contacted by a fugly Russian mobster named Gorsky who looks like what happens when someone tries to bake a Mr. Potato Head. He has a job for him involving human trafficking: two women need to be taken from a nearby convent all the way to New York City. Thing are different in the future I guess because it’s really hard to get into America now (people can’t hop a fence or sneak onto a cargo barge in the far-off year 20-blah-blah-blah). He is skeptical at first, but the thought of getting the fuck out of Russia starts to sound enticing, so he accepts. When he arrives at the convent, he is greeted by his cargo; a shy young girl and her sassy guardian nun. The girl is special for a reason that the nun is reticent about, and Vin Diesel is not so dumb that he can’t pick up on it. On the way, they are tailed by a number of different people, all out to get their hands on this mysterious girl and the secret she is carrying, and the rest of the movie follows the three trying to make their way to New York City against all odds.

Oh, and a personal note. Question: which of these four names would you suspect Vin Diesel’s character is called?

A. Tough-As-Nails Mahoney

B. Kick-Ass McGillicuddy

C.Oh-My-God-Vin-Diesel-Just-Stabbed-Me Whittaker

D.Hugo Cornelius Toorop

If you chose A through C, I applaud you, because those names would make sense on an action hero. But Toorop is his name in the movie. Toorop. Toorop! Toorop? That sounds like a goofy Japanese strawberry soda (Ohaiyo Gonzaimasu! Toorop!) or something that needs to be excised from a colon. I refuse to call him that. From now on he will just be called Vin Diesel because that’s the only character he can play anyway.

Now, as I said, this first 30 to 45 minutes of the run-time is actually pretty interesting. The futurescape is decent, really better than decent. They do a pretty good job in capturing the details of a future gone wrong. Matthieu Kassovitz, despite my angry tone, is a good director. I have not seen any of his other films, but judging from his direction, I would be inclined to see another (and considering he pretty much disowned the film and placed the blame on the distributors and the studio, I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt).

Everyone has to take a little blame for this, though, because the last 45 to 50 minutes of the movie is so fucking bad. It’s rushed. It’s awful. It’s embarrassing. It’s a goddamned betrayal of my trust in a story to not lead me down a path to no return, a path so far-fetched, ridiculous, and unnecessary that my jaw drops in horror more than five times! I won’t ruin the big “fuck you” surprise, folks: you’ll just have to watch it for yourselves if you’re intrigued enough. I’m telling you, it insulted my intelligence as an adult to have me sit there and take in the garbage they were shoveling out. I felt genuinely pissed off at the end of this movie. Why? Because it was so unavoidable. If you dare to watch this movie, you will find yourself making up far better endings than the one you were given, I guarantee it. There are so many turns everyone as a cast and crew could have taken to make this a better movie, but nobody took them. In the end, they set up a very realistic world for a movie whose source material (the book “Babylon Babies” by Maurice G. Dantec) was quite outlandish, and the two worlds collided for the worse.

Oh, and the music was created by Hans Zimmer and Atli Orvarsson, but it was performed in the movie by RZA from the Wu-Tang Clan and Shavo Odadjian from System of a Down!!! Is that not the strangest combo you’ve ever heard? The pair has a group called Achozen, they make experimental hip-hop, and they have an album slated for this year. But if this soundtrack is any indication, I would hold off on buying the album for a while. A long while. Maybe never. Or at least until the year 20??, when that sound will be popular.

So while Babylon A.D. had such potential in the beginning, like the famed city of its namesake, the climax is so mind-blowing that I don’t have any brain matter left to write any more about this abomination. I give this movie 3 1/2 Japanese strawberry sodas out of ten. Kampai!!!

See you tomorrow for another movie! I don’t know what I will watch yet, so give me some suggestions, damn it!!! Until then!

Belle De Jour (1967), or Ooh La La!

16 01 2009
While the husbands away...

While the husband's away...

Hello. you wonderful people! How’s it going? Did you get enough sleep last night? Are you rested for the dawn that breaks over yonder horizon? You’d better be, because today we’ll be discussing something that demands your full attention. And that something is sexy ladies. I hope we’re on the same wavelength now. Because today’s feature, entitled Belle De Jour, is all about the sex, and it’s effect on people.

Séverine Serizy is a beautiful young housewife. She is married to a wealthy doctor, and their life is perfect. Everything is going well, except for one hitch. They don’t have sex. Ever. You see, the beautiful young housewife cannot bring herself to do it. She does not feel desire for him in any way. Their marriage is almost platonic. Instead, she fantasizes about a more wild sexual life, full of bondage, masochism, whips, and other fetishes. She keeps this to herself until one day she confesses to a friend these sexual desires. And instead of leading her down the straight and narrow path of marriage counseling and sexual experimentation with her husband, the guy actually mentions that maybe she could work at a high-class brothel he knows about (!) and admits a sexual desire for her himself. Some friend! To be fair, though, he does make the movie interesting. So she actually takes the guy up and seeks out the brothel. She begins to work there under the name Belle De Jour and fulfills her fantasies in the afternoons while at night remains frigid to her husband. What follows is an odyssey through love, jealousy, and desire that is compelling and rich to the very end.

Catherine Deneuve is Séverine, and she is a marvel. If she looks familiar, it is because she was Kathy in Dancer in The Dark, the Lars von Trier film from a few days ago. She may have aged 30 years, but she still looked gorgeous then, and she looks gorgeous in her prime circa 1967. She plays the role with compassion, and even sympathy for the character. Even though what she is doing is wrong, we still cannot wholly judge her because she captivates us. It is quite the conundrum, and it makes for good cinema.

But this film has the same problem as another film I reviewed, Barabas. Both of these movies it seems has a problem with the peripheral characters. I was not too thrilled with anyone else’s performance but Deneuve’s. Michel Piccoli as her friend is a minor exception, as his dry dialogue does spice up the film a bit. But for the most part, I could not care less about Séverine’s husband or Marcel, her most devoted customer, because I did not feel they put their all into it. I know detachment was cool and hip in Paris in the 60’s, but the rest of the cast seem more like things to throw dialogue at rather than actual characters themselves.

On a more positive note, Luis Buñuel is a genius. Let’s get that out of the way. He is one of the greatest directors of all time, he has paved the way for generations to come, and will always come to mind when the discussion of direction comes up. He moves with such slyness between day and night, daydream and reality, sanity and madness. This movie is no exception. He stalks with ease through Séverine’s uptight nightlife and her wild, sexy afternoons. If you are a fan of direction like me, watch the shots on this one. This is a true talent at work.

So I’ll just say that if you like sexy women, and if you like sexy French direction, you will love Belle De Jour. This is a very good film, though not on par I think with Luis Buñuel’s greatest works (go check out his filmography, pick out three movies, watch them, and tell me he’s not one of the best!) Go see it for the beautiful Catherine Deneuve alone. I give Belle De Jour 8 sexy ladies out of 10!

See you tomorrow, where we check out Babylon A.D.!

PSA: Brokeback Mountain (2005), or To Be Loved

15 01 2009
Damn it, its cold out here. If only there was someone to cuddle up with...

"Damn it, it's cold out here. If only there was someone to cuddle up with..."

THE PSA!!! Welcome, one and all, to my own personal public service announcement. Today we’re going to talk about the infamous gay cowboy movie, Brokeback Mountain, but before that I’d like to make a confession. When I first saw the trailer for this movie, I laughed out loud in the theater. It was quite embarrassing for everyone involved. Now, mind you, it wasn’t because I thought the premise was dumb or anything, but for a split second I thought that it might have been a joke. I had never seen a movie really where two big-name actors had done such a thing. It just wasn’t done without some dark undertone or some tongue-in-cheek added in the story, as if to soften the blow for the rest of America. It was just hard for me to process that in a film two men could be gay because they were in love. But now I look at it as one of the better motion pictures to come out of our country this millennium.

I think we’re all well aware of the story, but for the few left who don’t know, here goes. Jack Twist and Ennis Del Mar are two ranch-hands living in Wyoming in 1963. The movie begins with them applying for the same work; herding sheep for the summer. They both get the job, and are sent to a lonesome trail on Brokeback Mountain to where the sheep are. Along the way they start opening up to each other, talking about their experiences at other ranches and a little about their private lives. They are in complete isolation, so a real bond forms between the two. One night a biting wind comes through the mountain and forces the two to share a tent together. At first nothing happens. But Jack starts kissing the nape of Ennis’s neck and one thing leads to another and…

Now that’s only part of it, but I hate spoilers almost as much as I hate not spoiling something for somebody. Suffice to say that it is a very natural storyline, and for your first time watching it, it is something best left for discovery and not discussion.

This is a real love story. If you are a fan of romance, this is romance of the highest echelon. It is a wistful story of love that could never be, and how even the test of time cannot completely sever the bonds of passion. It does a wonderful job showing us that we are not that different, homosexuals and heterosexuals. And you might think that is easy for me to say, considering I am all for gay marriage and gay rights, but we all have our prejudices. It is just a matter of breaking down the barriers to see that love is the same for both of us, gay and straight, and that at some point we all want it, need it, and should have it.

What a cast on this bill! You have Heath Ledger as Ennis and Jake Gyllenhaal as Jack, as well as Michelle Williams and Anne Hathaway as the women in their complex lives. When I first heard about this film, and even when I first saw the movie, I thought these actors were perhaps a bit sub-par. I was blinded by their age and their big Hollywood status, I think, because I have since changed my opinion on this second viewing. These are deep performances by performers who still may not have hit their prime, but draw from such raw talent as many denizens of Hollywood will never know. Heath Ledger in particular shines. His eyes are so hurt, so wounded, that they take on a dogged and indefferent quality midway through the film. There is such a sadness to it that I wept for him in a scene where nothing was happening to him. I felt him, and anyone who has suffered upon life’s barbed, unjust wheel will feel for him as well.

But let’s not forget the amazing crew! Ang Lee does a masterful job. His eyes are trained on such breathtaking shots that you just feel dwarfed at times by the sheer human drama. The veteran cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto creates amazing vistas, especially on the eponymous mountain (Fun fact, he is also a Mexican gigolo in one scene. Nice!). And the score by Gustavo Santolalla is sparse in the film, a brilliant artistic choice I think, but it fills your heart when it is there. We are talking about an all-star team of pros creating something very human, very wonderful. This is good craftsmanship.

So don’t be afraid, guys and gals. Go watch this movie. It is a timeless picture that proves that love knows no bounds. You won’t be any less of a man or woman for watching something like this. I won’t judge you, and neither should you. In the end we’re all human, and emotions are the universal language between us. Watch it and you might even learn something about yourself. I give Brokeback Mountain 9 love-struck cowboys out of 10. A high recommendation!!!

See you tomorrow where we explore sexuality again in Belle de Jour! Until then!!!