TOKYO! (2008), or So, Which Of You Is The Japanese One?

30 11 2009

Thanks to Goregirl for introducing me to this film! I would never have heard about it without you, I’m sure!

Tokyo is a magical city that inhabits my dreams some nights with its unreal size, its complex technological advances, and its dense culture. There’s such a mystique about it, and now I’m glad that I’m not alone in marveling at the world’s largest city. Today’s feature is a collaboration of sorts between 3 non-Japanese directors each making their own personal visions of the great city of Tokyo, 3 very different young directors with 3 very different ideas of what the city is and what is has to offer. It’s a philosophical, silly, at times disturbing look at Japan’s most famous city, and a seriously quirky look at its people and sociological niceties.

Michel Gondry directs the first feature, about a young couple drawn in from the country to live in the big city. They don’t have a lot of money and their stability leaves a lot to be desired, but they still have each other. Akira, the young man, is a young filmmaker who is struggling on his film, while his lady Hiroki feels alone and invisible during the creative process. When the film opens to negative reviews, Hiroki begins to feel distant  from Akira, and the effects of that in the city of Tokyo are a little more drastic than either she or Akira could ever have realized as Hiroki begins to physically change from the isolation… Leos Carax’s feature revolves around a white guy who comes up from the Tokyo sewers and acts terribly and nastily to everyone he sees. When he’s arrested for his behavior, a look-alike lawyer pops up and tries to get him off the hook. Bong Joon-h0’s feature revolves around a hermit and his serendipitous encounter with a pizza delivery girl during an earthquake. She inspires something in him, something that he has never felt before. For the first time in a decade, he might come out of his house to seek out this beautiful woman. But can he find her in all the hubbub of Tokyo? And what will the future hold for them, when he is a social idiot, and she is not all that she appears to be?

Each of the vignettes tells a story of lost communication, rediscovery, and transformation, either physical or mental. It’s a triptych of delicate stories that brings to mind some of the most beautiful imagery in the hands of these visionaries. These three directors have an amazing depth of imagination that takes the inanimate colossus of a city and gives it a demeanor all its own. Certainly, the road to the heart of Tokyo is murky and at times unreadable, but the journey is definitely worth the confusion. The stories aren’t exactly even; I’d definitely say that Bong Joon-ho had the most emotionally effective story, while Gondry’s was the most imaginative (with a slight nod to Kafka). Leos Carax’s story, entitled “Merde”, is the odd, odd man out. It is very good, but it’s the least visually impressive of the three. The style is bland and Carax just points the lens at things. And yet, it has the best story of the three. I don’t want to give anything away about it, but if anyone has any interpretations of it, I’d love to hear them in the comments section. If you do, I’ll give you mine in return.

Teruyuki Kagawa is probably my favorite actor here. He is the shut-in in Bong Joon-ho’s story. His subtleties are pretty authentic, at least as to what I’d imagine the realities of being a shut-in would be like. He’s very insecure, very suspicious about the world he left outside his door, and the he talks in that very quick dismissive way, as if words themselves are hindering his self-imposed exile. He does an excellent job, especially at the transformation of his character from loner to lovesick fool. The other real hero of this film for me is Mr. Merde, the nasty titular character of Carax’s story. He’s played by Denis Lavant to a great degree of oddness. Lavant chews up the scenery like a bulldozer, doesn’t have a clear motivation, and he generally just acts like an extra who walked accidentally in the frame. But, for some reason, I think it was entirely intentional. Because he isn’t just supposed to be repulsive, he’s also supposed to be foreign in every way, and the way Lavant plays him, you’d think he was from Hobo Mars. And I suppose he hits it right on the head there.

If you are as enchanted with Tokyo as I am, TOKYO! is the film for you. It’s in the vein of Paris, je t’aime or New York, I Love You, but I think this is a superior product to those because of its emotional and psychological inventiveness. It’s not necessarily a bright and cheery look at the city by any means, but it has an indelible beauty to it that is as undeniable as Tokyo’s charm. The people are weird, the situations are weirder, and it’s hard to decipher the meanings behind these young director’s images, but if you have the patience and the willingness to just go with TOKYO!, you’ll find it to be an enjoyable experience indeed. I give it 8 Hobo Marses out of 10!

Tomorrow I take on Network and I also start counting down the last 31 days of my 365 day movie sojourn!!!!! I’m frothing at the mouth with excitement! Oh, no, that’s just my rabies popping up! Oops!

Samurai Rebellion (1967), or Fealty And Bravery

29 11 2009

Toshiro Mifune stars in another samurai movie I love! What are the odds? He’s batting 1000!
Let’s get down to brass tacks. Set, of course, in the Edo period, we follow Isaburo Sasahara, a vassal for a great and powerful clan, the Aisu. He is a powerful man with nary an equal to be found in all the land. One day, however, forces beyond his control pressure him into a corner. His daimyo orders Isaburo’s elder son Yogoro to marry one of his ex-concubines, Ichi. The two fall in love, wed, and have a child together named Tomi. Remarkably, an arranged marriage that works out! But that doesn’t really interest the daimyo, whose eldest heir unexpectedly passes, and orders her back to the palace to take care of the son and heir that they had together before Togoro. The family steadfastly refuses, considering Ichi one of their own now. The daimyo is not pleased, and demands Isaburo and Togoro commit seppuku for not following his orders. Isaburo has another idea; he tells him that he’ll gladly do it as soon as the heads of the daimyo and his top advisors arrive at his home. With the battle lines drawn, it seems that an all-out battle between the samurai clan and Isaburo is inevitable. Can a lone swordsman, even a great one, stand up against a legion of samurai by himself in the name of honor and family?

Masaki Kobayashi directs this tale of familial bonds, fealty, and wide-eyed samurais. It’s an entertaining look into well-worn territory that definitely has its place in the myriad of Edo period dramas that exist. The thing I like about Kobayashi’s endeavor is that his eye is drawn like wild fire to the frames that are the most tense, so whenever something goes down between Isaburo and his foolish daimyo, the camera leaps as ferociously as a jungle cat to get to it. It’s an effect that predominantly started in Italy, but spread quickly to the Eastern world, and it became the staple of martial arts and Edo period pieces for the next decade to bust into a confrontation like a rabid district attorney. It’s a fun style that heightens the urgency of the situation by leaps and bounds. I certainly felt the dire nature of Isaburo’s plight when the music sting erupted and the camera snapped forward.

The legendary Toshiro Mifune again treats us to a performance that is nuanced and moving as Isaburo, the swordsman without equal. Ever notice that he NEVER has an equal in these Edo period pieces? What if all the Mifune characters met each other one day from all the various movies of the 50s, 60s, and 70s? Who would win? Or would Japan just explode from all the mighty blows put forth? Either way, even though he acts with an honor that is deeply connected to his family, you can still tell that it shames him to have to raise arms against his daimyo. Just one of the many reasons why Toshiro Mifune is one of the greatest actors to have ever lived. The other real standout here for me is actually Yoko Tsukasa, who plays the wife, Ichi. Her story is tragic and painful, and it all comes out in Tsukasa’s beautiful, poignant eyes. She looks to be a woman truly in love when she’s with Togoro, played by a young and charismatic Takeshi Kato, and I felt the closest to her and her plight. She is really in the middle of these two great powers, and all she wants to do is love her man and her children, a request that is apparently too great to ask as she is forced into this lose-lose situation.

Samurai Rebellion is a movie for the samurai movie guy or gal. If you’ve seen the mandatory classics, and are looking for something to put you deeper in the genre, you can’t go wrong with this one. It has the same fell, with more subtleties and fresher faces than the stand-bys. It’s probably not something most people could rush into without having a feel for the Edo period dramas or never having seen one before, because its dynamic is such that it doesn’t cater to newbie interlopers, but if you like Japanese cinema from the 60s and are looking for some fresh material, this is something that you can’t afford to miss. I give Samurai Rebellion 8 1/2 despotic daimyos out of 10. A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I take care of a request from Goregirl with TOKYO! Until then!

PSA: Kung Pow: Enter The Fist (2002), or This Is Actually The Movie That I Fell In Love To!

28 11 2009

Most people have either a love or hate relationship with Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. They will either say, “I thought it was HILARIOUS!” or “That was the dumbest piece of shit I ever saw…” And while I can’t exactly say that Kung Pow is NOT dumb, I can reply by saying that it’s unabashedly so. Kung Pow is that silly, stupid mix of comedy that wins me over with its sheer spontaneity. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and even after you’ve seen it, you still can’t believe they went there, of all places. I know because of it’s format I’m perhaps predisposed to liking it, since it mimics the MST3k style of comedy in a way, similar to Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily?. But this is like an extremely interactive, hyper-silly MST that features an array of different ideas, fun special effects, and off-the-wall characters that will stick in your brain long after you’re done watching.

Basically, director Steve Oedekerk re-edited the cheesy 70s martial arts film Tiger and Crane Fist and inserted new scenes, dialog, and characters. It totally throws away the story, opting for a new one. In this version, there is a terrifying martial artist/warlord named Master Pain roaming the countryside destroying all resistance to his rule, looking in particular for a child who will defeat him one day known as the Chosen One.  He stops by a tiny hut in the middle nowhere one night, believing to have found the child in the form of a newborn baby who bears a striking mark. He kills the parents in a matter of moments, but when it comes to killing the baby, he finds it considerably harder. The Chosen One, even as a baby, puts up a decent fight, kicking the crap out of him and his henchmen!!! Eventually, he loses, and Master Pain, believing him defeated, burns down his house. But he escapes, and grows up on his own in the wilderness, honing his martial arts skills for the day when he would meet Master Pain again and finally defeat him. He grows up into a great fighter, but one who needs direction, so he finds a home at a dojo to train with the legendary Master Tang. There, the eccentric Master trains him into an even better warrior. But will it be enough to defeat the evil Master Pain, who now goes by the name Betty (It’s an Asian guy with a moustache)? And can the Chosen One defeat Master Pain’s Betty’s henchmen, one of which includes a ridiculously evil martial arts wielding cow? Or will he end up causing the dojo harm by merely standing against Betty’s evil plans?

This film is insane!!! We have aliens, kung fu cows, people punching holes through people, telekinesis, women with three boobs, and talking tongues!!! There’s so much madcap fun going on, it’s hard to keep up with the jokes! Steve Oedekerk likes machine-gunning humor at people, just throwing stuff out there and seeing what sticks, and in my opinion, he gets most of it dead on. The thing you have to realize is, he’s not just making up goofy scenarios, he’s also doing a lot of satire, taking aim at all the old martial arts cliches and the weird things about them. A lot of the jokes he makes involve the dubbing, and all the goofy off-the-wall words and noises you can make them say to match the lips of whoever’s saying them with the new dialog. That’s why the Chosen One’s girlfriend, Ling, usually just makes a lot of nonsense words, because they somehow fit into her lips when the voice actress says stuff like this…

If you ever watched the badly dubbed kung fu movies from the late 60s and 70s, and always wanted add your own dialog to it, here’s a fun alternative!

The effects are pretty mind-blowing when you put it into perspective. The guy took a movie, remade it, and painstakingly added himself and others into it. It technically has more special effects per shot than nearly any other movie. The time it took to digitally insert these people must have been unimaginable, but the effect is pretty seamless. After seeing it 100 times like I have, you can  figure it out, but otherwise I would have thought he was actually part of this production in the 70s. Oedekerk is also all the voices for all the characters with the exception of one, and he was also the director, producer, and writer of this film. Pretty impressive when you consider he’s also the main character too!

With such a wealth of abundance from this slice of 70s martial arts cheese, it’s hard to choose the best gags. But here are a few of my favorites:

1. Master Tang Comforts His Dying Friend-

What a pal!

2. Chosen One Creates A New Word For His Frustrations-

I fully endorse that statement.

3. Intermission-

I think that speaks for itself.

And finally, possibly my favorite gag of the many, many found in Kung Pow:

WTF?!?!?! I don’t know what it means, but I like it!

So don’t listen to your friends, your family, the press, your youth minister, more reputable critics, the nation at large, your youth minister, IMDB, the box office receipts, various negative stereotypes circulating about the film, or especially your youth minister about Kung Pow: Enter the Fist. Listen to me. I think it’s a hilarious movie with a lot of delightful insights about the martial arts film of bygone days, as well as some just plain weird, absurdist humor. It’s not on 100% of the time, but I’ll say that at least 80% of the jokes worked for me, so I’m going to go ahead and give Kung Pow: Enter the Fist 8 Wee-oo-wee-oo-wees out of 10! Take that, established critics of America!

Tomorrow I’m still in the dark about what I’ll be watching, but if you can think of something I should be watching, let me know!

And for those of you wondering about the title, this was the movie Bren and i would put on ad-nauseum in my room while we talked the night away those first few months of our relationship. It has a special place in my heart as the background noise to my timeless romance with the lady I’ll be spending the rest of my life with! So don’t write anything TOO snarky about it on the comments section!!!

Heavy Metal (1981), or Rocking It To The MAX

27 11 2009

I think anyone who is a serious fan of animation has heard the infamous name of Heavy Metal being tossed around. It’s perhaps the ultimate animated anthology of the 80s, an unbridled thrill ride of sex, violence, and, of course, “heavy metal” music. It’s somewhat of a cult classic, rejected by critics at the time of its release but championed later by droves of fans around the world. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think, neither ecstatic about the names on the back of the box or clear on what I would be getting myself into. But exactly 90 minutes later, my fears were assuaged, my expectations were exceeded, and my mood was jacked to the MAX!

The film consists of 15 animated vignettes, inspired by stories in Heavy Metal magazine, THE publication for dark barbarian fantasy/sci-fi fans and misogynists. The plot is simply this; while driving a Cadillac in space, some dude in a space suit cruises around the galaxy, looking for spectacular artifacts. One day, he returns home with something to show his daughter. It’s a cool, glowing green orb, something he’s been searching for awhile. Unfortunately, only moments after he opens it, he is turned into goo by a glowing green energy right in front of his daughter! Yikes! The orb, calling itself Loc-Nar, declares itself to be the sum of all evils, and quickly attacks the young girl with the most dangerous weapon of all; seemingly unrelated stories! He tells her about all the evil that it has caused throughout eons of time and space. Stories range from a futuristic noir involving a taxi driver and a mysterious murder near a museum to an odd parable about a US scientist and a stenographer being picked up by and android and getting totally high with him. All the stories involve the Loc-Nar and its destructive capabilities. Will our young heroine be toast in the midst of this sum of all evils? Or will she find a way to turn it around at the end?

Heavy Metal is something of an acquired taste. Most people will look at this and find it to be filled with the most antiquated animation, the silliest plots, and the most epochal tunes this side of the galaxy. But I still think it’s pretty neat. Like finding a time capsule buried in a pile of leather pants and Aqua Net, it’s interesting to see what people used to think was cool back only twenty-eight years ago. For a lot of people, this was their favorite animated feature EVER; in East Texas, where I grew up, I knew a lot of older kids who SWORE by Heavy Metal, as if it were some redneck birthright. That’s not saying a whole lot, but in their particular generation, that meant a lot to them and their perception of what was “rad” and “dope”, and somehow that intrigues me.

The animation is the main draw for me. The 80s was really the Renaissance of American animation after the Dark Ages of the late 60s and 70s. Colors are vibrant, the styles are dramatic, the concepts are out of this world, and the sheer imagination is nothing to scoff at. It all seems encapsulated in that first little vignette where the spaceman rides around space in a Cadillac; this is animation with attitude, for teens and adults who don’t watch reruns of Rainbow Brite. No wimp rides around in space with the top DOWN! These are virile, cool vignettes about the possibilities of the human imagination and where it can take us in the future. Perhaps it’s a little naive, but that headstrong attitude is what makes me love Heavy Metal. That, and the nudity.

There are two types of cameos here; famous voice actors and bands on the soundtrack, as a lot of these short films involve musical interludes. John Candy is the most recognizable name in America. As this was a Canadian production, they found the most prolific Canadian comics to contribute. That’s why the likes of Eugene Levy and the famous voice actor Harvey Atkin grace these characters and give them speech. They all do well, but Candy shines with that trademark large guy sound that just can’t be replicated by thin people. The bands, for the most part, lack the heavy metal edge a movie like Heavy Metal should garner. Why the fuck is Stevie “Gypsy Woman” Nicks on this soundtrack? For that matter, why Sammy Hagar? Blue Oyster Cult, in this particular instance makes sense, as they took cuts from their earlier, cooler space rock period instead of the later material, which would define the rest of their career with one word; soft. “Veteran of the Psychic Wars” is a stellar track, and I’m glad the producers had the foresight to include it. And, I won’t lie; I know Journey sure as hell isn’t heavy metal, but I really like “Separate Ways”, and I’m glad it’s on here. So sue me.

Give Heavy Metal a chance. It might not seem like your cup of tea at first, but you might just get sucked in as easily as I did. It’s a blast from the past, but in that fun, retro way, not like xenophobia or antique medical equipment. The stories are short and sweet, the music ranges from okay to awesome, the voice acting is really quite good, and most of all, the animation is eye-catching. You won’t see many of these techniques any more outside of an animation festival or school projects, so eat it up while you can. Heavy Metal was something I quite enjoyed, and if you just give it some time, I think it will grow on you like a dangerous green radiation. I give it 7 1/2 Veterans of the Psychic Wars  out of 10! ROCK IT!

I’ll be sure to come up with something delightful for you all tomorrow! Until then!

Thirst (2009), or Care For A Taste?

26 11 2009

For all those in the know, Park Chan-wook is the face of the Korean extreme film. He is our Quentin Tarantino, and when one of his films arrives, it’s really a big event for moviegoers. When you want in-your-face movie-making, cerebral storytelling, and violence coming at you like a bloody, goring bull dog screaming in garbled Portuguese about his Pupperoni, Park Chan-wook is the guy you talk to. Today I checked out his latest film, entitled Thirst, about a priest who, through a series of mishaps, and despite his altruism, becomes a vampire. It is darkly conceived and divinely inspired by an Emile Zola play, and I enjoyed it, but much like the other Chan-wook films I’ve seen, it seems to run out of steam at times, and I can’t help but feel that there were better scripting choices that were foregone in favor of what would make situations end the most violently.

Poor, poor Sang-hyun. He’s got it rough. He’s a Korean Catholic priest who has two faces; that of the unbending and rigid faith of a priest, and that of a doubting man, someone who, in his heart of hearts, has a problem with all the suffering and death around him caused by an allegedly loving God. In his drive to help people, he decides to volunteer for experimentation to cure a very deadly disease. He is a very brave man, and he does a very good thing, but the experiment is a disaster, and everyone dies during the experiment. He, however, is quickly revived and completely healed after he’s given more blood in his IV. Sang-hyun leaves the treatment center after a few months, and is cleared to return to his parish. He is famous around the area for being only one in 500 to survive the experiment, and is considered to be something of a miracle. He is invited to the house of a dress maker whose son has cancer after he prays for him. There, he falls for Tae-ju the wife of the woman’s son, a thin, quiet girl he remembers from his youth. She’s changed into a beautiful woman since they last met, but he has changed as well. He no longer is seen during the day, he has an amazing amount of strength and speed, and nobody ever sees him eat anything…

The film focuses on Sang-hyun and Tae-ju’s illicit relationship. It’s a very sensual movie that relies on the transformative properties of the characters to bring a lot of the romance home. You don’t quite know where the characters stand, and even those who you feel would never be able to do something against type will shock you. This can also pose a problem, though, because in this particular instance, I feel like some of these characters were almost hyper-transformative, too unpredictable and unnatural, while some characters, like Sangh-hyun, atrophied as a character about 45 minutes in. It can be a bit annoying, but it doesn’t totally distract as much as it does bother.

Chan-wook Park directs with such a passion. It is clearly his dream to make movies, and his drive inhabits every scene as an auteur who writes and directs his own material. Zola’s play must be very close to his heart, because my heart swells at this well-timed and beautifully framed affair. Even when Park’s infamous blood and gore bursts onto the screen, it’s still grotesquely lovely, in a way. Aesthetically pleasing in every way, this movie takes sensuality to a new level with the love scenes. Actors Kang-ho Song and Ok-vin Kim positively set the film ablaze when their passion ignites as characters Sang-hyun and Tae-ju, and I don’t say it lightly when I posit that they have one of the most intense and engrossing love scenes I’ve ever seen together. But I will say that Park did let the film drag a bit. There are some largely unnecessary sequences added for seemingly no purpose and, as I said earlier, some of the character changes seemed extraneous, which hurt the momentum a bit.

But the actors are amazing, the direction is exquisite, and it’s an interesting take on the vampire legend. Thirst is about a man at odds with himself as well as the world he has constructed around himself. He is surrounded by things that disgust him, including himself, and even in his dark solaces there is nothing to truly comfort him. The film begs of us, “Where is salvation for the damned?” and we leave the theater without much of an answer, only a desire to not ever find ourselves in that situation. This is another violent chapter in Park’s cinematic legacy, and while it is not perfect, I do feel that there is a lot of value here for the film connoisseur. Take a chance on it, and you won’t be disappointed. And, hey, even better news, the DVD I saw didn’t even have an English dub of the dialog! Take that, subtitle-hating fiends everywhere! I give Thirst 7 1/2 dark solaces out of 10! Enjoy!

Tomorrow I will take a ride into the 80s with Heavy Metal! Until then!!!

Time Barbarians (1990), or If I Could Tattoo One Movie Title On My Forehead…

26 11 2009

Dear Readers,

If you are reading this, that means that I have just watched Time Barbarians, one of the worst sword-and-sandal flicks I’ve seen in all my days. Perhaps it was hubris, to think I could handle it without first being given a heavy sedative, or perhaps it was the muscular, hulking gremlin that was my curiosity, forcing me to watch something involving the keywords “Barbarians” and “Time-Travel”, but whatever it was, I watched it, and now my fate is uncertain. For if this is being posted, likely by one of my confidants, then I, Eric “Wonder Pants” Young, in a spectacular fit of pain and confusion, beat myself in the face with my own living room knick-knacks (probably my ceramic figures based on characters from The English Patient) until such time as I was incapacitated. Hopefully I survive my own foolish experiment into the world of T&A fantasy flicks featuring former American Gladiators, and hope to report back to you soon. But if not, let this be a very real warning to you kids who think it’s “cool” to watch awful movies. It’s not cool at all, and it’s possibly lethal. So fuck you, kids.


Well, everyone, I’m back from the hospital. They let me go early. The doctor said that not only is there nothing wrong with me, but apparently I just made up that whole scenario for the purpose of written comedy! Well, I didn’t get my Ph. D. in either Voodoo or Bullshit, so I guess I’ll take her word for it (my Ph. D. is in Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, with a minor in Alligator Wrestling).

Now, I did indeed watch this straight-to-VHS atrocity, and while I’m sure you’re probably aware of its intense lack of quality, I still think you should watch it. Why? Because it redeems itself in unexpected and hilarious ways. If you wanted something serious to watch for Thanksgiving, stay tuned for my review of Thirst tonight, and I’ll make sure you have something to recommend to your smart friends so you don’t look like a colossal pleb. But this is a horrible movie that I think is pretty good for a lark. It sucks, and I’m not going to lie about that; just watch the trailer, for fuck’s sake. In fact, I’m going to go ahead and and give it a dreadful 1 time-traveling American Gladiator out of 10. But Time Barbarians is still worth your time if you’re of a particularly twisted mindset like me and enjoy the folly of the B-movie filmmaker.

What’s the setup, you ask? Only one of the most epic scenarios since Rollerball! In Inconsequential Medieval Fantasy World, a beefy long-haired barbarian king named Doran runs around the forest righting wrongs and attacking his queen with the lil smokey he’s smuggling in his loincloth. Everything’s going good in the land of merriment and stoic mirth until Mandrak, an evil dude with a plot to take down Doran even though he never did anything to antagonize him, takes his queen hostage and steals the magical amulet bestowed upon Doran by his father and his father before him. Doran chases after them and eventually finds Mandrak, but his queen dies at the hands of the fiend, and, worse than that, he escapes after the amulet’s power transports him far away. Broken and discouraged, Doran screams in anger, but just when all hope seems lost, the sexy blonde wizard who gave his family the amulet ages ago appears before him and demands that he get off his ass and chase down Mandrak to get that amulet back! She gives him a sword that will take him to the exact spot in time and space that Mandrak left to, and sends him off to his destination. And, of all places, you’ll never in a million years guess where he lands up. No, not the Bronze Age! No, not the Belgian Revolution! He lands in Los Angeles during the early 90s! How whimsical! It turns very quickly into a fish-out-of-water story, and Doran has to find that evil Mandrak in a modern city with the help of a reporter who looks suspiciously like his dead queen…

Some people have complained that this movie is misogynist, and I really don’t see that here. It all has to be put in context. Time Barbarians is exploitative in the most charming way. There are one or two brief flashes of nudity here in the beginning that are both tasteful and borderline respectful, but those four or five nipples might have been the entire reason this movie was put into production by the super-frugal straight-to-Betamax production. It reminds me of a Boris Vallejo calender, only not very good. Time Barbarians, like the sliding pens that allow you to take the top of a woman if you turn it upside down, is harmless and delightful.

Too bad the acting IS harmful. Jesus Christ, these people should not be in front of a camera. Deron McBee is Doran, king of the barbarians and Malibu from the first season of American Gladiator! He wields a sword mightily enough, but as soon as someone asks him to talk, he doesn’t know how to sound like a normal human being. It’s cringe-inducing, but not quite as cheesy as Daniel Martine, who plays the insidious Mandrak! He really can’t get out of the same tone, like no matter what happens, he’s a fucking villain, end of story. And worse than that, he does that awesomely embarrassing look into the camera, and he does it at times as if he’s waiting for the scene to end! “Someone just get me out of this god-damn movie!” The best acting comes from Joann Ayers, who plays Doran’s queen/reporter future girlfriend. She abstains from completely shaming herself, but she still falls pretty flat. None of her lines sound quite right, and for some reason even the future version of her is off. She LIVES in the 1990s! What the hell, Joann? On aside note, her breasts are quite enjoyable, bolstering a much-maligned cast.

With a score from a series of 90s RPGs, special effects by a 7 year old, and a script that was rejected from the Deathstalker series, Time Barbarians sucks pretty hard, but in a hilarious way. The same way Hell Comes To Frogtown endears itself to me, I can’t help but feel like this has a lot of entertainment value. This is something you and your friends can tear apart late night on a Friday, drunk and looking for something easy to ridicule. I enjoyed it on a certain level, and if you have the right sense of humor for it (a good one), you’ll get a real kick out of Malibu the Barbarian cracking necks for the good of the land!

I’ll be working on watching Thirst tonight, so stay up with me, folks! Until then!

THX 1138 (1971), or Whatever Happened To THX 1137?

25 11 2009

Can you imagine a world without George Lucas? I imagine there are some people who try to envision that scenario every day, but it’s not easy. George Lucas has changed the face of cinema forever, and while it’s debatable whether we’re much better off for it, I think it’s important to acknowledge all that he’s done. American Graffiti, Star Wars, Indiana Jones… okay, that’s pretty much it, but Star Wars is big enough for 10 movies. His influence is undeniable in the annals of the modern day mainstream action or sci-fi film, and he’s world renowned for his innovations in make-up, special effects, and sound design. But long before any of that, Lucas was just a struggling nobody, looking to make a buck off one of the ideas he had in film school. THX 1138 is George Lucas’s debut as a filmmaker, and it showcases what might have been if he had directed more than 6 movies in a 40 year long career. It’s daring, insightful, and, for all it’s faults, it’s entertaining, the real mark of a Lucas film.

It’s, yet again, THE FUTURE!!! Man has screwed himself yet again by creating a society where emotions are strictly controlled and obstructive rules crush originality and individualism. Underground, they work and toil in total seclusion, away from the possibilities and wonder of nature and the beauty of the sun. One of these poor dopes of the future is named THX 1138, and he works in a nuclear production line of some sort, and his life is misery. He does the same thing day in and day out, and his entire life is controlled by the drugs he is indoctrinated into taking and the propaganda that plays on the overhead 24 hours a day. It’s a depressing outlook for him, and it seems he’ll spend the rest of his life in a boring jumpsuit doing the same activity over and over until he dies, until one day his female roommate decides to stop taking her meds. Her entire life changes, and she decides that THX needs to feel this as well, so she starts feeding him placebos to ween him off the emotion-dampening meds. When he finally awakens from his self-imposed coma, he begins to have real zest and desire again. He and his roommate begin talking of escaping the underground to go live away from the oppressive society, as well as their baser desires for one another (i.e. they have dirty 70s sex off-screen). But almost immediately after all this coitus and crazy talk, they’re arrested for their heinous crimes against the state. Thus begins THX’s breaking away from the status quo. After his arrest, he begins a transformation that will see him through the labyrinth of underground tunnels all the way to his escape. He cannot handle the underground society and needs freedom. But what will the government be willing to do to keep him from seeing that freedom he craves?

Robert Duvall IS THX 1138. What a total shift from everything he’s ever done. Take a moment to look at his filmography. Go ahead. No, seriously, go look.



You back yet? Okay, did you see any other sci-fi films? And those TV shows from the 60s don’t count! This is Duvall as you’ve never seen him before; he’s fit, he’s young, and he’s ready to stop taking his future meds!!! THX is Lucas’s ultimate symbol of artistic expression, and his vision of how the artist should react in modern Hollywood when demands are made of their work. Duvall slyly understands this, and makes the character something that anyone can relate to, by reminding American audiences of their innate desire for freedom. It’s a good move, and it works well in this case.

Lucas, on somewhat of a shoestring budget, crafts a rather terrifying future that we are forced to consider. It’s not overpowering, and it’s not even that original, but Lucas does one thing well despite it all, and that is make the movie look good. The effects have a lot of thought put into them, and they border on the disorienting. Lucas’s dystopia is filled with disembodied voices commanding many things from its inhabitants, so there is a lot of chatter in the air that you’ll have to get used to. The city looks pretty good for ’71, and the sets are depressingly claustrophobic, which I’m sure was the desired effect. My favorite set piece though is the Sanctioned Deity. It’s Hans Memling’s Christ Giving His Blessing, and it’s had a particular resonance with me. Here’s the image:

Christ Giving His Blessing

Christ Giving His Blessing

Kinda freaky, huh? Jesus, Caucasian for some reason, staring at you like he wants to eat you. It weirds me out a little bit, I won’t lie.

So if you want to watch a movie with your family this Thanksgiving with Donald Pleasence as a vengeful techie reciting speeches from Richard Nixon, Robert Duvall as a guy who just wants to roll around in the grass and get laid, and George Lucas with a passion you’ve never seen him with before, THX 1138 is your best bet, you upstanding family man, you. It’s not very long, the message isn’t very crisp, and the final sequence can get a little repetitive, but it’s decent entertainment that has something to say, and there’s never really enough of that nowadays. It makes me want to see more of this guy’s filmography, but unfortunately I think I’ve seen the rest of his films about 5000 times over by now. Oh, well. Check this out if you want something new and technically innovative for its time. I give THX 1138 7 1/2 disarming Jesus portraits out of 10.

Tomorrow’s Thanksgiving! Give me a good recommendation, and I will watch it! Goregirl gave me a fantastic one, but I still need more movies to see before the end of the year!

Nausicaa Of The Valley Of The Wind (1984), or The Beginning After The End

24 11 2009

Hayao Miyazaki is the crowned prince of family-friendly Japanese animation. His works have garnered international attention to the wonderful things going on in hand-drawn animation today, his art has been acknowledged the world over, and by all accounts, he’s the most accomplished person distributed by Disney at the moment. But did you know how long he’s been in the animation game? Try over 30 years!!! He’s been toiling to perfect his craft for longer than most of us have been alive, and he’s gotten so damn good at what he does that it’s hard to believe that his newer work is still hand-animated. But even back when he started making features, Miyazaki was still amazing. Today’s feature, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, is his first feature, and it is head and shoulders above anything else that was happening at the time. It’s a strong, pointed parable about the damage we’re doing to the environment and the consequences it could have later down the road.

1,000 years after the end of the world, humanity lives on in a fractured state. There are pockets of people left who have learned to live in harmony with nature from the mistakes their kind has made in the past. But in between these pockets lies the Sea of Decay, a noxious condition that covers the rest of the known world. It’s very existence is poisonous to humans, and it has hindered humankind from expanding its territories ever since. In this tattered world, we follow Nausicaa, a precocious young woman who is the princess of the Valley of the Wind, a peaceful settlement ruled by her father. She is trying to find a way to rid the world of the Sea of Decay, but her research is hindered one day when the settlement is visited by a crashing airship. The airship contains a prisoner that Nausicaa rescues, and the prisoner tells her that she is the princess of far away the kingdom of Pejite, and that the cargo the ship was carrying must be destroyed. And then she dies. Awwww…. So the cargo the princess was talking about was from the greedy empire of Tolmekia, as was the airship, and what it was carrying happens to be a deadly warrior embryo, a weapon from the war 1,000 years ago that could threaten the very safety of the earth. Things get crazy when Tolmekia invades the Valley for the warrior embryo, but Nausicaa won’t go down without a fight! She will do whatever it takes to save her family and friends and make sure the Tolmekian army doesn’t try to awaken that evil, evil thing in their midst!

I like this one a lot. Nausicaa is a strong, smart female character who makes it very easy to love her. She has a lot of heroic qualities, but she doesn’t lose her childlike essence, which seems to be a theme of Miyazaki’s work. You don’t need to be an adult to be a hero who cares about people in a mature way, and he also feels the importance of keeping that childlike wonder alive. Now that I think of it, he’s also very feminist, as well. I can’t really think of that many male Miyazaki protagonists; they’re there, but not nearly as prevalent as the women. Nausicaa is really a prototype of what we would see in the future from Studio Ghibli; powerful family-oriented fantasies about the importance of life above power and greed.

The animation is that of a bygone age. You won’t likely see this unique style of drawing nowadays. Anime, like American animation, goes through cycles, and the 80s was a time of incredibly thin, almost gaunt women, a non-descript male anatomy, and doe-eyed little girls with constant triangle-shaped open mouths. There isn’t as much detail here as in newer animation, but there are touches here that are epochal but beautiful nonetheless; some of my favorites are the look of objects either dirty or scored by fire, which use an unmistakable line effect needing an artist’s steady, careful attention. Nausicaa is full of attention; from the exquisitely designed post-apocalyptic Sea of Decay to the pristine Valley of the Wind, from the most insignificant passerby to Nausicaa herself there is so much care given to this film and its look. It’s just so well done.

The American voice acting is a mixed bag. I wish I could’ve been in the booth when Patrick Stewart delivered his performance as Nausicaa’s father. What a voice acting champ! I almost begrudge how he doesn’t really have to steer out of his normal range, but his voice is so damn robust that you can’t really stand against it. It’s a force of nature, and when you consider that his character’s the leader of the tribe tied to nature, it only seems more fitting that his strong, commanding voice make a splash. Alison Lohman’s Nausicaa is a little flat. I’m not sure how old she was when she recorded this, and I don’t want to bash a child, but I will say that there’s not really enough character in her voice to carry such a larger-than-life heroine. Oh, well, she eventually redeemed herself in Drag Me To Hell many years later, so all is forgiven. Uma Thurman is Lady Kushana, leader of the Tolmekian army and a real firecracker. THIS is what I mean when I say you have to have some character. She’s not too hammy, but she really lets loose and has fun being a villain. Kushana is a real bitch and Thurman obliges that aspect of her, so hearing her get into villain mode really put a smile on my face.

Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind is, like all Miyazaki films, a unique experience. You’ll never see something quite like it. There’s something for everyone in the family, and even something for jaded film snobs like me. It still has a lot to say to the people of 2009, even from 25 years in the past, and with a magnificent score by Joe Hisaishi and a burgeoning American voice acting crew, I would be inclined to listen. Even if you don’t normally like Miyazaki, check this one out; it’s pre-Studio Ghibli, so you might find it to be a refreshing break from his upbeat rigamarole. This IS a post-apocalyptic film after all. I give Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind 8 1/2 smooth Patrick Stewart line reads out of 10!

Check me out next time, when I dive into THX 1138! Until then!!!

My Computer Has H1N1! I Can’t Do Anything Tonight!

23 11 2009

Sorry to crap out on you guys again, but this is ridiculous. There’s something bogging my computer down so hard, this message has taken me about 10 minutes to get up and running so far. I can’t finish my Nausicaa review tonight. The usual rules apply; I’ll have two reviews for you tomorrow, but I feel pretty crappy that I’ve wimped out twice this week. To make it up to you, please peruse these videos I found rather hilarious. Consider it my humble, humble apology:


The Night Out: The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009), or Werewolves Give Me A Wetty

22 11 2009

Well, time doesn’t really fly when you’re writing reviews and watching movies every day. Sometimes it’s excruciatingly drawn out. But every now and then, things creep up on you that you weren’t exactly prepared for. Around 11 months ago, I wrote my first review on here, a sample to test out the format of what would one day be my writing style for this very site. The review was for Twilight, everyone’s favorite female-orgasm-inducing fantasy romance. I found it to be a little naive, a little poorly conceived, and overall a bit disappointing. But, at the end of that test review, I stated very plainly that I would give the next film a chance, because I felt the seeds that were sown in the first film had the potential to blossom into something approaching a solid franchise. Case closed, game over, see you next time, and sayonara were my thoughts on the matter, and I was content to wait for the next film without talking or thinking about it. I, however, was about the only person on the planet who wanted to wait for any more Twilight discussions. Next thing I know, the entire world is talking about this franchise non-stop, waiting with a slack jaw and throbbing genitals for more; all my entertainment magazines were gearing up for New Moon fever, every female around me was picking sides on which of the leading men were hotter, and even the bookstore I work at suddenly became a souvenir shop for any merchandise that tried to fit a picture of Robert Pattinson’s pained face on it.

It’s all been a bit much, and now, almost a year later, we get the sequel that everyone’s been waiting for, New Moon, the continuation of Bella and Edward’s awkward ETERNAL LOVE. Problem is, it feels like I just saw the damn original, and I honestly wasn’t up for another 90 minutes of questioning a love that was supposed to be forever. Up until the lights went down, I was honestly a little bummed out about seeing it, and probably looked like a bit of a Glum Gus to Bren. But as soon as I saw the first trailer attached to this mega-ultra-super blockbuster, it suddenly occurred to me that I needed to get with the program; I had an obligation to be objective, no matter how much I was loathe to be. I needed to just calm down and get to movie watching for the sake of any modicum of integrity I’ve garnered over the past 11 months. And it also hit me that I was hanging out on my day off with the girl of my dreams watching a movie in a nice, clean theater, so I really didn’t have a whole lot to complain about as far as my condition went. So, completely serious, what did I think of the movie, all bullshit aside? Well…

Okay, I really, really don’t want to have to set up this movie, because I think just about everyone on Earth as of this reading is aware of what Twilight is about; human girl in love with vampire guy, vampire guy in love but with misgivings about the nature of their unconventional relationship, other vampires and humans shake their heads trying to sort out their dumb, cow-eyed love for one another. Well, New Moon is the same thing, rinse and repeat, but adding werewolves into the list of people shaking their heads at Edward and Bella. Edward still has misgivings, which are made manifest after a mishap at Bella’s birthday party involving a hungry vampire and a, no joke, paper cut (!!!) causes Edward to leave Bella in order to keep his crazy vampire lifestyle from hurting her. Bella does what any normal person would do after getting dumped and completely shuts down for a few months. She is lost in a sea of immature emotions, and has nowhere to turn after Edward leaves. The only way she can even picture him is when she does something reckless, so she starts becoming an adrenaline junkie. Meanwhile, she also starts hanging out with Native American beefcake Jacob, her childhood friend, and a romance develops between the two of them that won’t go anywhere because Bella’s hung up on that damned vampire. So this keeps going back and forth for quite some time, with little interludes involving the vengeful vampire Victoria from the first film trying to kill Bella and Jacob protecting her with his obviously alluded-to lycanthropy, dancing a futile dance around their doomed love until news gets out that Edward is planning to kill himself in the most garish way possible after getting a false vision from his sister that Bella has died. Bella must travel to Italy to prevent this outlandish suicide, but will  will it be too late?

It’s really a trade-off. While it seems that the franchise has learned from a few of their previous mistakes, they seem proudly intent on keeping others like framed folk art on the wall. While I do applaud the series for making the incredibly brave speculation that maybe, just MAYBE Bella could have rushed too soon into something she wasn’t prepared for, as is exemplified by her immature handling of Edward’s departure, they’re not exactly condemning it, and they might just be all for it. Their relationship is shallow, baseless, and all-too stuffy and literary, especially for something that’s supposed to last forever, which makes it even more of a shame that childhood friend Jacob is even involved, because the kind of love they have is real and natural. Instead, he’s needlessly tangled up in this for the purpose of some half-hearted werewolf-vampire-human love triangle that is definitely isosceles in nature, ensuring that Jacob gets the tiny surface and is therefore doomed to being strung along the rest of the franchise.

And I’m not too sure I like the new vision of the saga. I think one of the things the original got right was the scope of the story. It really loses a lot of the romantic steam when it becomes bombastic and epic instead of the indie sensibility the first film maintained. This story doesn’t need to be Harry Potter and The Magical Vampire’s Chemically Unbalanced Bitch Girlfriend (coming soon); it just needs to be about people from two, and now three, different worlds and how they try to love one another in the tumult of their lives. Things get more complicated when they start to add more fight scenes and million-dollar special effects. Leave some of those out if you want it to be a more cohesive and streamlined experience; or add those, but maybe take away some of the ludicrous lingering ab shots that dot the landscape of this vampire romance from start to finish.

And the actors have stayed the same from the original; they’ve neither advanced or devolved, although when one considers that they really never took a break from filming this break-neck saga, maybe I shouldn’t expect them to. Kristen Stewart is Bella, the “main character” of this saga who has the “unenviable” task of choosing to live forever with a hot guy or live life as a human with a hot guy. Choices, choices. She has a distracting affectation that forces her to act with her mouth open, and it gets to be a problem when I’m expecting her to say something and it just ends up being her bottom lip taking a breather. Other than that, I don’t like her character, but she’s not bad as a young actress. Robert Pattinson is pretty much the same from before. Remember that time he got really emotional in the first and broke your heart? Oh, that’s right, I forgot; he never really emotes. Ever. Well, good thing he’s an actor, right? The most he does as Edward Cullen is look mildly annoyed with himself and everyone around him, though I probably would be if I was a vampire who was constantly doting on a human like Bella “I’ll String You Along As Long As It’s Convenient For Me” Swan. The real standout is Taylor Lautner, who plays the boy next door, Jacob. While I hate the guy personally (Bren is Team Jacob…), I don’t think he did half bad here. He was a real teenager here, which is striking when Kristen Stewart is trying to be an adult and Robert Pattinson is playing a guy born at the turn of the century. He even has a little bit of an arc, much to my surprise. If you’re going to watch this and pay as close attention to the acting as I had to as a critic, your best bet is to drown everyone out and focus on the lesser of three mediocrities.

I’m not doing New Moon any favors by reviewing it, I’m sure, and this review probably won’t be attracting any more people to the site considering who my readership consists of, so it’s a case of strange bedfellows, me reviewing this film. But, much like the romance between a vampire and a human, it just happened, so what can you do besides either go with it or bury the evidence? I would go so far as to say that this is a better movie than the original, but I don’t know what exactly it’s doing better. It’s marginally better looking, the soundtrack is better, and there’s a character here to root for, unlike the fatalistic first film, where everyhing was DESTINY. I don’t really like new director Chris Weitz’s vision for the franchise or what it means for the core story of the romance, and I really don’t like how both the characters and the people that portray them are ponies with but one trick between them. But I’d say it is a little better. I’ll bite one more time, and will probably watch the third one next year when it comes out, because I still think they can do something with this series. But from what I’ve heard of the later book installments, I’m not exactly what you’d call hopeful. As it stands, I give New Moon 4 1/2 isosceles love triangles out of 10.

Tomorrow I watch Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind! Until then!

And, for the curious ladies out there, if I had to pick between Jacob or Edward, I’d go Jacob all the way. But if I could choose any man in the saga, I would definitely go with Charlie, Bella’s dad. That’s right, I went there…