The Road Warrior (1981), or The Emergence of A Post-Apocalyptic HERO

22 05 2009

Mel Gibson is a god-damn hero. No, not for his ridiculous anti-Semitic rants. No, not for his lackluster directorial efforts. No, not for the legendary What Women Want. NO! Mel Gibson is a god-damn hero because of his work on today’s film, the uber-cool The Road Warrior, the sequel to Australia’s national movie, Mad Max. They not only capitalized on what made the original great, but they made it somehow cooler than it already was. This movie IS the post-apocalyptic genre; I don’t know if I’ve seen a better one yet.

Max, played by the dyspeptic Mel Gibson, is a bitter and silent man after the events of the first film, and without a family he travels throughout the crumbling ruins of Australia with his great dog and his badass Pursuit Special. After finding a goof-mobile (it’s actually called an autogyro, but let’s assume it’s called a goof-mobile) and its tricky pilot in the desert, Max learns of a working oil refinery nearby (oil is VERY important). At the oil refinery there are settlers being besieged by the evil biker warlord Humungus, who wants the oil for himself. Max decides to rediscover his humanity by taking on a dangerous journey to help the settlers and put a stop to the charismatic but intensely vile Humungus.

It’s a hell of a lot of fun. I really found a lot of things to enjoy about the film. It’s tightly shot, it’s cinematography is nothing short of spectacular, the amazingly appropriate soundtrack is composed by rock legend Brian May (I’m kidding; it’s just by a Brian May, not THE Brian May), and the concept is strong despite so many people mining the same ideas over the years. If you like action and you want to see a movie that feels perfect, watch this movie.

I really discovered Mel Gibson. I felt like I haven’t seen the real Mel Gibson in years. Every time I see him now, he has a Walt Whitman beard or he’s directing some shitty movie about some shitty Savior or he’s playing Mel Gibson instead of an actual character. Here, we find Mel in a role, deeply interested and ready to put it all on the line. Max is actually someone I cared about! I want Max to be okay; he went through a lot in the first one, but the wastes aren’t done with him yet, so I feel pretty bad for the poor mug. Max is a man on a mission, and he cares so much about it that you care about it, even though it’s silly and post-apocalyptic. That’s the mark of a good movie, action spectacle or not.

The movie was made with only $4 million, but it entertained me far more than the $160 million Star Trek. Why is that? It feels just right. Everything fits; there’s no slack on the pants, and no excess cuff on this suit. It’s a film about biker gangs in the Australian desert, with enough philosophizing to keep it firmly planted on the ground, with enough dialog to keep me waiting for the next line, and with enough action to shake an incredibly rare functional shotgun at. It’s a great mixture, and not one easily duplicated.

What are you still doing here? Go watch this movie! It’s Memorial Day Weekend, so go enjoy the freedom our forebears earned for us by watching a movie that isn’t high art, but nearly flawless for what it is. I haven’t smiled so much while watching a movie in quite a while, and it felt good to have the ol’ cheek muscles stinging a bit. I give The Road Warrior 9 goof-mobiles out of 10. Check it out!!!

Tomorrow is the PSA, where I take a look at L’avventura!!!

Penelope (2006), or What’s Wrong With A Pig Nose?

21 05 2009

Penelope is a wish-fulfillment fantasy about a young woman born with a pig’s nose. She’s stricken with a curse carried down from her blue-blood ancestors that her wealthy and not-so-piglike parents were certainly not expecting to experience. This curse, wrought upon them by an angry witch for extraneous reasons nearly a hundred years prior, can only be broken by Penelope finding a husband with a rich family, like hers. The problem is that when spoiled and attractive suitors come along, they find themselves absolutely terrified of her face (!) and often run away screaming (!!!). With a mother that would rather hide her away from the world and have her married to the first blue-blood that comes along, and a face that is allegedly hideous, it doesn’t seem like there’s much hope for our poor pig-nosed waif. But chivalry comes in the form of Max, a ramblin’ gamblin’ ne’er do well aristocrat who likes her just the way she is. But does he have a secret agenda and possible complications? You betcha!

If you like romantic comedies, this is the place to be for you, but I had a hard time getting into it for a while. It starts out just flat-out ridiculous, and just when my brain was about to throw in the towel, it starts picking up by leaps and bounds and becomes a worthwhile endeavor. The problem is that they base the premise around the concept that Penelope’s pig nose makes her INCREDIBLY ugly. What’s so wrong with that, you ask? Well, you chauvinist monster, Penelope is played by a lithe and quite attractive Christina Ricci, first of all. In no way is she unattractive, so just by adding a pig-nose prosthetic, we are supposed to believe that well-to-do men JUMP THROUGH WINDOWS TO GET AWAY FROM HER FACE?! I’m not kidding. It’s a joke, I know, but by the middle of the film they just drop it and hardly discuss it at all, so I suppose they realized that the gimmick wasn’t working by then.

The rest of the film is actually decent, with a breakout performance by Peter Dinklage as a reporter and a likable performance by the pretty, if not banal, Christina Ricci. It’s every single romantic comedy ever, so don’t go in looking for something to shock you, because you will find zero surprises here. But it’s definitely a better made film than most others in the genre, and I feel like I would like films in that style better if they were more like this.  Check it out, but just don’t bust through your window when you see Penelope. I give this film 7 INCREDIBLY UGLY PIG NOSESout of 10. Check it out sometime.

Stay tuned later today for my review of The Road Warrior!!!

Suspiria (1977), or I’m Lost In All The Colors

20 05 2009

Dario Argento, sometimes called the master of Italian horror, brings a fresh and exciting spin on the genre today with his classic 1977 film Suspiria. I really enjoyed it, and it’s not just because of the sexy Italian language floating around everywhere

Suzy is a young and talented dancer, who is in Germany to enroll in a famous dancing academy. But all is not as it seems for the lithe and beautiful young lady as fellow dance cadets start to get killed around her in brutal and terrifying ways. It becomes clear that whatever is brutalizing her schoolmates is not entirely natural. Strange, unbelievable occurrences strike terror into Suzy’s heart, and it is not clear whether she will survive the following nights.

Looking online, there’s been an awful lot written about this film, and I can see just how beloved it is in the annals of horror fandom. What makes it so special? I find it to be the sheer otherworldliness of the picture. Like ghosts painting self-portraits, there is the presence of something not quite human here, a feeling doubtless manufactured by a man whose specialty in the giallo and suspense genres prepared him to create something on an entirely different level from most films.

Scenes like the one above and others show off a trademark of Argento’s style of using colors to disarm the audience. This was the last film to ever use Technicolor, and it certainly goes out with a bang. Not one scene has anything resembling natural lighting, or anything resembling normal. Instead, Argento takes the viewer on a candy-colored big-top performance that might just induce vertigo during frequent viewings. Blues, reds, and yellows are all slapped into the scenes at random, like a homicidal, supernatural kaleidoscope. It’s one of a kind, and it has to be seen to be believed.

Speaking of one of a kind, the music (THE MUSIC!!!) is completely insane! Composed by Italian prog-rock group Goblin and Argento himself, the frenetic score sounds like a mix between the A Nightmare On Elm Street and Relayer by Yes. It, too, sounds like it came from another world, one where music is cranked out from robot nightmares and where timing is pruposefully disjointed in order to produce terror. I don’t know what kinds of conditions these lads were working under, but one can be absolutely sure that they weren’t bored when they were composing it.

In Grand Guignol tradition, terror is induced not only by timing in Suspiria, but by gruesome horror-shows and torture. Some people are merely stabbed, mercifully, while at other times we are asked to watch a woman squirm for multiple minutes in rolls of barbed wire. It’s always unclear how somebody is going to die, and while that is true of nearly every horror movie, it is ESPECIALLY true here, as the line between the real world and the spirit world is blurred and broken.

I had a scary good time here. Watch this with your easily spooked significant other and have a good evening together, or just watch it with your FILM SNOB buddy so he/she can point out paltry details about the cinematography and set design. Just watch it; you’ll be glad you did. It’s not just an important movie, it’s also a fun movie. I give Suspiria 9 homicidal kaleidoscopes out of 10! A high recommendation!

Thanks for all the suggestions, Kevan! Now I have to get to work on Goregirl’s for the next few weeks! Until I get to work on those, I have a surprise for all of you tomorrow! Come back then to see what it is!!!

Pink Floyd: The Wall (1982), or Which One’s Pink?

19 05 2009

I’m a Pink Floyd fan. Always have been, really. Ever since I heard “Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun” I was hooked on not only their sound, but all progressive music. It opened my eyes to a new way of thinking, a new way of experiencing music. They have always been one of my favorites, and I’ll always have at least one Pink Floyd record in my all the way up until Dark Side of The Moon, where they lost the prog spirit. That is where I stop following them as a fan, and more as a curious bystander pondering a car crash. And Dark Side was only 1973! So, by 1979, when The Wall was released, I really have no admiration left for them as fans of their earlier, more daring works. And today’s movie, The Wall, made in 1982, has even less spark and verve!

It’s a stylized account of the autobiographical album, which follows a young rock star named Pink (HAAAA!!!) and his slow mental breakdown and subsequent recession from a social existence. We focus on Pink’s harsh upbringing in post-war Britain to his existence as a jaded rock star and his eventual retreat into himself as life just becomes too much for him. He constantly fantasizes and daydreams about his past and current state, and often times those dreams turn into haunting nightmares. He falls in and out of consciousness, and the audience is never sure just what is real and what is imagined. With his wife estranged from him, and his stage manager a lackey for his physical addictions to drugs and women, things seem pretty bleak for ol’ Pink. And when he begins to construct the wall around himself, there might be no hope left at all…

It’s a long music video, essentially, for the massive double album about Roger Waters’s mental collapse and rejuvenation. For every minute of dialog, there’s four minutes of a song, so I actually gave 95% of the plot away right there for you. You’re welcome. It’s really a showcase for conceptual filmmaking rather than a standard narrative, so don’t look for a single thread to tie it all together. Its only real unifying idea is the inner anguish of Roger Waters, which, while artistically intriguing, gets real old, real fast.

Part of it is the songs encompassing the entire plot, tone, and voice of the movie. The songs, which are the entire point of the damn film, are deceivingly banal. I found the lyrics, when I was younger, to be insightful and the songs to be of truly high caliber. As I grew older and a bit more refined, however, it occurred to me that The Wall is a very whiny, pedantic work whose only high spots herald back to the days when they were bolder and more willing to take chances. If you happen to be a teenager who has yet to realize that you will die one day and that life is more difficult than high school, I can see the appeal. But, for the adult in all of us, songs like “Goodbye, Cruel World” and “Don’t Leave Me Now” ring with that particularly disgusting peel of “Why me?”, the pitiful yelp which has turned us off to characters since the days when Hamlet couldn’t decide to kill himself or not.

When it comes to the actual film, I found Bob Geldof, who played Pink, to be a welcome addition to this otherwise dreary picture. While he doesn’t have more than a handful of lines, his acting style lends itself to the music video format, if that makes any sense. Like an opera singer, his actions are bombastic and obvious to the eye, somewhat timed to the beats of a rock and roll outfit. No real standouts other than him, as the rest of the cast is filled out with character actors and a young Bob Hoskins as a total schlub.

There is animation here, all created by Gerald Scarfe, and it is impressive. You don’t see too much hand-drawn animation anymore, so what there is left I enjoy a great deal. It’s standard Roger Waters subject matter (i.e. the bombing of Britain, death, woe is me, etc.) and while it seems a little flat by today’s high standards, there is more emotion in the ever-changing color pallet of Scarfe than in the entire 90 minutes of Over The Hedge.

It’s not really that good, and I wouldn’t recommend the film on a whole. It has some definite high points, including the spectacular animated finale, but I found myself wanting to be more intellectually engaged by the group that gave the world A Saucerful of Secrets. It’s not horrible, per se, it just doesn’t live up to any realistic creative expectations. And why make an artistic film about personal struggle if there’s no substance? What does that say about you as a person? I’m looking at you, Roger Waters… I give Pink Floyd: The Wall 5 Over The Hedges out of 10.

Tomorrow, I finish up Kevan’s requests by watching Suspiria!

And, on a side note, what is the name of this movie? It reads Pink Floyd The Wall, but that sounds rather idiotic, don’t you think? It sounds like someone at a party playing a game where they have to blurt out an answer really fast without any spaces or punctuation. That’s why we have colons and semicolons, guys! Do you want the world to look like this:

Breakin’ 2 Electric Bugaloo!

Prince of Persia The Sands of Time!

Howling 4 The Original Nightmare!


Still think excluding punctuation is cool?!?!

Contempt (1963), or On The Rocks

18 05 2009

Jean-Luc Godard practically started the French New Wave with his bare hands in 1960 with his amazing debut, Breathless. Today’s film, a dazzling drama called Contempt, paved new ground for the movement that he himself began not even three years previously. Its power lies in the extraordinary ability of a director in his prime, and it is truly wonderful.

It all begins when a producer decides to create a film adaptation of Homer’s Odyssey. He hires famed director Fritz Lang (playing himself!!!) to direct the picture, but it soon becomes a power play between the two, with the director wanting a more artistic version of the material and the producer wants a more commercial work. This struggle runs concordant with the screenwriter’s crumbling relationship with his beautiful wife, who grows aloof from him during their time shooting the picture and spending time with the producer. Will the film go according to Lang’s vision? Will the producer win out in the end? And will he get the screenwriter’s voluptuous wife while he’s at it?

Despite it being a heavy drama, I found this film to be incredibly vibrant and refreshing. After all the drab and dreary flicks I’ve watched in the past few days, it was invigorating to watch a movie with some zest. The movie was filmed in Italy with the deepest Technicolor saturation possible, and it equates to looking like a mix between The African Queen and a rainbow’s armpit. It’s that vibrant.

But it’s still a serious endeavor, although my witty bon mot was nothing to sneeze at. It’s all about the misunderstanding of emotions in a relationship. People can’t read one another, nor can they read themselves, and this creates gauntlets upon gauntlets for each of us in our travails. Godard clearly enjoys pitting a character’s humanity against him, and this is a perfect example of a film where the only protagonists and antagonists that exist lie solely in the hearts of artists and the personalities they attract in their lives.

The screenwriter, played by Michel Piccoli, is beset on all sides with troubles, like the brave Odysseus he writes about, and watching him having to deal with all of it at once can be hard to watch. Fritz Lang is funny just because he’s playing himself, and his drive to make “art” is a real treat to watch. Jack Palance, believe it or not, plays the playboy Hollywood producer who wants to wreck the classy artistic nature of the picture. It’s a turn from his average tough-guy role, and I wish he had done more of this work before permanently type-casting himself as a man’s man. He ‘s a villain, but you don’t hate him. Michel Piccoli is a hero, but you don’t love him. They’re people, just like you and I; it’s only a matter of who’s more sympathetic.

If you’re a history major, or if you just like the classics, this film contains a number of allusions to The Odyssey. Using Italy as a backdrop for the film was no mere coincidence. It places the audience in that strange limbo between antiquity and the present, where magic still seems almost possible if not quite. Godard’s characters mirror the protagonists, and I’ll let you figure out just who’s who. It’s yet another layer to this deceivingly simple piece about human relations that interests Godard so much.

It’s a powerful drama from a master in his prime. Like watching the gods of old create the moon and the stars, it makes one wonder how someone can create so much outside of himself. There is plenty to enjoy here, and I’m dying to watch this again sometime soon. I cannot in good conscience give this anything less than 10 rainbow armpits out of 10. It was fantastic, and I recommend it to any serious lover of cinema and the arts.

Tomorrow I take a look at the Pink Floyd film The Wall! Will I like it? Will I not? I can’t handle the SUSPENCE!!!

Chapter 27 (2008), or I Just Believe In Me

17 05 2009

I’m back, everyone! Jump into my arms and embrace me like a long lost lover. It’s been so long, so let’s cut the shit and get back to work! Today’s film was generally regarded as a steaming pile of cinematic posing and lackluster talent. Chapter 27, aka That Jared Leto Movie Where He Gained A Lot Of Flab To Portray A Normal Human Being And Where Lindsay Lohan Is In It For, Like, Five Minutes is about John Lennon’s killer, Mark David Chapman, and the odyssey he takes during the three days prior to his dirty deed. It is an uncomfortable, dread-filled journey through one man’s disjointed and disturbed world view, and although there were some artistic choices that I disagreed with, I certainly believe it has some merit beyond being a typical celebrity vehicle.

The schizophrenic Texan’s last days as a free man are chronicled with a mix of sympathy, condemnation, and profound confusion; much like the man himself views the events from hindsight, I’m sure. We see how hard the Big Apple is on the ugly and the lonely, but we also see how judgmental and rash a man on the edge can be. We see how badly he wants somebody to talk him out of committing such an act, but we also see someone who wants to see the world rid of one less “phony”, rabid and angry like a junkyard dog. And throughout the picture, we see how art imitates life, and how Chapman’s infatuation with the lonely martyr Holden Caulfield from The Catcher In The Rye made him a friendless renegade who sacrificed himself and one of music’s greatest icons for a cause that he himself seemed conflicted about.

It’s a competently put together picture, and while the subject matter seems a bit gimmicky and forced at times, it’s a very evocative topic that is handled tastefully and stays away from the border of exploitation. John Lennon was a man who incited so many emotions in people, that it was almost no wonder some people became knotted up and confused in their relationship with his music and art. Chapman took things to an extreme, but Chapman was an extreme individual it seems, though one would never know it but for one or two moments in his entire life.

Jared Leto plays the deranged killer like he plays any other character; like Jared Leto playing someone else. I don’t see his performance as spectacular, but it’s actually not so bad. The weight transformation he underwent was a success, and he inhabits the creepy corpulent skin of a murderer with a lot of vim and vigor. He gets the voice down pretty good, too, and sometimes I almost (almost) forget he’s such a pretty-boy. He really seems at ease with the darkness of a life spent alone, and I found myself taken at times with his ability to wear that burden so well.

Director J.P. Schaefer hit and missed a few here. The tone hit all the right emotional notes, and he knows where to point the camera for some great effects. But the score of the film ended up being a distraction from the perfect silence and loneliness of Chapman’s lost weekend. It was mediocre and unnecessary, and I would have preferred silence to enjoy the journey with. I feel the same way about the extraneous narration. It’s jarring to hear what he’s thinking in contrast to the film. You’re not expecting to hear it, and when you do, you’re not expecting to hear it so much. A few words here and there, but they really over-estimated how much I wanted to hear him explain himself. If they really wanted to get me, I would have loved to see this movie with a much lighter soundtrack and 60% less narration.

The cast and crew obviously did a lot of research on the subject, and their great care and intent is shown throughout the movie like a boy carrying a bird with a broken wing. It’s endearing, but what does it all mean? If a movie doesn’t want to answer any questions, why so much emotional music and over-bearing voice-overs? Who knows? Just like Chapman himself, we’ll never know the reasons for these things. Sometimes people just make mistakes, and while Chapter 27 ponders a great game, it seeks to find more than there is, and we are left thinking that perhaps less would have been a whole lot more. All in all, I give it 6 fat Jared Letos out of 10.

Tomorrow I enjoy myself with a little foreign drama, where I’ll watch Contempt!

Sorry, Everyone! Tomorrow The Site Will Be Back To Normal!!!

16 05 2009

Hi, everyone! It’s me, Eric. No more short reviews, no more Bren taking over my writings. From now on, starting tomorrow, I will be back in the saddle again. Keep checking throughout Sunday for updates. Tomorrow, for sure, will be a review on Jared Leto’s creepy-crawly Chapter 27, and somewhere along the way I will do a make-up review for today. Sorry to keep you waiting, but my internet situation and my moving situation has really messed me up recently, and I am just now getting back to a state of normalcy. Until then, just remember how much I love you guys and that I will keep working at this as hard as I can, just for you. You’re welcome, and I will see you tomorrow!

A different kind of review…

15 05 2009

Hey folks, it’s Bren- Eric’s older and not really much wiser counterpart. Today, after a what seemed to be an eternity of waiting, is moving day. We have been up for far too long, hauling giant heavy boxes and angry pets back and forth. Eric will not be posting a review today due to his inablity to get his ass off of the shiny, comfy new couch. So I will be reviewing something today instead. It will be brief and to the point. No flowery language as is the norm for this site. So here goes…don’t judge him for this as this is all my doing.

Lord of the Rings. All 3 movies. Best trilogy ever, flaws and all.

Hope you enjoyed the shortes review of all time.  Swing by tomorrow, I’m sure Eric will be back to normal in no time.


The Constant Gardener (2005), or Romance Buried Beneath The Red Dirt

14 05 2009

Another quickie, everyone! I loved this movie. It was haunting, poetic, and wonderfully shot by Fernando Meirelles. It concerns the First World’s dirty dealings in the Third World, specifically Africa. It’s a land ripe with exploitation, a place where the state governments have no power compared to that of the white man’s corporate countenance. It’s also a love story, invlolving an activist named Tessa and a British diplomat named Justin. During a press conference where they butt heads, the two opposites attract, and a passion forms between them. They soon move to Kenya together, where Justin works and where Tessa helps out the locals in any way she can, as well as maintaining her activist agenda. But when Tessa ends up dead, a heartbroken Justin must piece together the murder against a backdrop of backroom politics, and dark alleyways, and the threatening skyline of an angry land.

It’s a wonderful film that not only gives us a taste of the atrocities that are surely going on right now in Africa, but allows us to glimpse Kenya’s pristine beauty and proud people. It’s intelligent and heartfelt, and many scenes ring true on many different levels. Fernando Meirelles made a ponderous combination between a thriller and a romantic film, and I have to say that I’m pleased with the results. The stars, Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz, are devastating as the two doomed lovers, and I really enjoyed their earnest, simple love they shared, a genuine romance that strikes true no matter who you are. The Constant Gardener has a lot to offer. And only a little over 2 hours, it is brisk for a movie with such depth and scope.

I REALLY want to get more in-depth on this, because I have a lot to say about this film, but this is the last push for packing before my move-in day tomorrow. Please understand, and don’t come to my new place to beat me up! I give The Constant Gardener 9 corporate countanances out of 10. Sorry for my extreme brevity!

Tomorrow’s my move-in date though! If my internet is connected in time, I will try for a longer review, but otherwise expect yet another short review. Hang in there with me, folks!!!

PSA: Pineapple Express (2008), or Buds+Buddies=Comedy Gold

13 05 2009

Seth Rogen and James Franco star in what ended up being one of my favorite films of last year, Pineapple Express. They play two smokers-turned-pals who are being hunted down by a drug kingpin who caught one of them witnessing a murder he committed. It doesn’t sound too hilarious, but it’s played with a big wide grin the whole way through. Saul and Dale, a dealer and a process server, are bound by the strong ties that entwine a smoker and his supplier, and although their friendship is basically non-existent at first, the relationship blossoms and we get some real, genuine buddy action going on in a relatively short amount of time. While on the run from crooked cops and hired thugs, they get into a bunch of scrapes, but they always help each other out in the end with the unstoppable power of bromance!

For a buddy movie, it’s smart about who its audience is, and knows what it takes to make them laugh. Filled with obscure pop culture references (who but Seth Rogen could reference the band Godspeed You! Black Emperor in a major motion picture), goofball action sequences, and enough quippage to make Dennis Miller cream his pants from a mile away, Pineapple Express understands the art of comedy enough to know that you stick to what you’re good at, which the cast and crew do to quite an extent.

If I had to name a single flaw, it would be the lack of the supporting cast’s standout moments. Gary Cole, Craig Robinson, and Ed Begley Jr. are all in the movie, hilarious talents all, but I was left wanting. They all had some screen time, to be sure, but I think that they should have perhaps given them a bit more to work with. The characters themselves are pretty interesting, and if they had been given some better lines, I could see them really standing out in their own right.

It’s a raucous, bawdy comedy inspired partly by the antics of 70s buddy flicks, partly by balls-to-the-wall action films, and partly by the genius in Seth Rogen’s head. It gels together in just the right way to make something fast-paced, witty, and incredibly silly in tolerable doses. Check it out; I think it’s one of the best comedies to come out in ’08, and maybe you will too. I give Pineapple Express 8 1/2 creamed Dennis Miller pants out of 10.

Sorry that one was so short, but my move is imminent, and I REALLY need to get back to work. Thanks for being so understanding, and thanks in advance for coming back tomorrow to read my review of The Constant Gardner!!!