Akira (1988), or My Uncanny Film Origins or The Most Perfect Bookend To Cinematronica

31 12 2009

AT LAST! 365 days, 365 movies indeed! It’s been a long fucking road, friends, but here it is, my last movie for 2009! From the dizzying heights of The Seventh Seal, to the lame pile of degradation of Jennifer’s Body, I have seen a lot of films this year that mean a lot of things to a lot of people. This last film on the website is for me, though. Akira was the first movie that really made me think about the motion picture as art. It was the first movie that grabbed me, called out my name, and took me out of my own head, challenging me to think about things in a different light. Of all the movies I had seen in my life before 1997, Akira was the one that changed everything for me, the one that made me understand the concept of the film as an art form. To me, that crucial shift in thinking means everything, and, of all the films Cinematronica could go out on, I wanted it to be the film that made me who I am today.

Akira is a Japanese animated feature from 1988.¬† Set in (drumroll please…) THE FYOOCHA!!!, we are taken away to the chaotic and dirty city of New Tokyo, a city rebuilt near the ashes of the original Tokyo, which was destroyed by a gigantic explosion that sparked the third World War of the late 80s (remember how awful that was?). Thirty years afterward, the city has reached completion, but the people squirm restlessly and undulate beneath the overbearing government. Riots and doom prophets run rampant in the streets, crying for change to wash over the stagnant air of the near future. In the midst of all this, a group of angry youths in a motorcycle gang whittle away their futures by clashing with rival gangs in the streets. During the skirmish one of the members, named Tetsuo, has a run-in with a strange, aged child, who is trying to escape from unseen forces. His bike explodes from hitting some sort of psychic shield as he nearly runs the child over, and when the rest of the gang comes to Tetsuo’s aid, a group of government vehicles surrounds them and takes the child and Tetsuo away. They are interested in Tetsuo, whose interaction with the strange child has awakened a power within him, something that neither he or the mysterious military man overseeing his capticity could have ever imagined. His friend and de facto leader of the gang, Kaneda, will stop at nothing to discover Tetsuo’s whereabouts, and decides to sneak in with a group of revolutionaries into a secret government building where Tetsuo and other psychically powerful individuals are being held. But what they soon realize is that what they stumbled upon is bigger than all of them, and it threatens the very safety of the world. Because Tetsuo’s power is growing exponentially, and he is growing more and more mentally unstable. The government will do anything to keep him from realizing his maximum potential, however, as Tetsuo’s story seems to mirror that of a boy from 30 years ago named Akira, a boy whose abilities may have caused the destruction of Tokyo and the beginning of the World War…

Akira is sci-fi at its highest echelon, especially in the sense of challenging the present with its dark visions of the future. A chilling saga about science at the fringe of human comprehension, Katsuhiro Otomo’s epic, which he took from the pages of his own monstrous manga, is the standard by which modern sci-fi is judged, a juggernaut of scathing political and societal indictment with strong messages to match the overwhelming emotional side of alienated youth. Fingers are pointed at the philosophically outmoded Japanese military, the shadowy backroom dealings of modern government, a society who throws the young away without giving them much of a chance, and the cold hand of science, who will put discovery before anything and everything else, even the safety of the human race. If good science fiction makes a statement, Akira is certainly one of the greatest sci-fi films out there.

And it’s also revolutionary for its time. Akira is a bloody mess, an anime definitely for adults at a time when animation was just for kids. There is violence beyond description here, like people being turned into gooey messes, but beyond that it houses disturbing imagery that sunk into my subconscious at a young age. One scene in particular sees Tetsuo, in a mental panic, being attacked by a teddy bear with fangs and a snake arm who is bleeding milk profusely from his face! If that’s not terrifying for a kid, I don’t know what the fuck is! But it’s so good, you won’t really care how freaked out you are in the face of its quality. Which is another reason Akira is so special; featuring over 160,000 cels of animation, this movie is a fully realized animated event. Lips are very nicely synched, and movement is flowing and beautiful. One of my favorite animated moments sees Tetsuo falling from his bike after an accident, and Otomo shows the entire wreck in its full glory, even the moment where Tetsuo rolls off and away like a Japanese rag doll. And, if I can just give a personal kudos, thanks to Katsuhiro Otomo for making Japanese people look… Japanese. I hate how white anime characters look, but the art direction here calls for all the characters in Tokyo to look like Asians, not white girls with purple hair and 36 HHH size breasts! I hope more people take to this art style in the future!

Akira is, for me, the point in Japanese filmmaking when anything seemed possible. Where the future was vivid, the message was strong and eloquent, and the world seemed ready to accept it. Looking at Japanese films now, I think they took some of that spirit here and there, and while the films now are not nearly as great as that moment promised, I’m just glad that one film rose above the rest to tell its amazing story with a verve and a presence that still cannot be matched today. I loved it then, and, after seeing it again for the first time in years, I love it even more. Timeless music by Shoki Yamashiro and breathtaking animation by Katsuhiro Otomo make this a film that you will never, ever forget, so Akira gets a big Cinematronica thumbs-up and 10 geriatric children out of 10! My highest recommendation!

FUCK! I’m done! I can’t believe it! It’s been a great year, everyone, and I can’t believe how much fun this was! Thanks, everyone for your support, and I hope you come see me at my new website, http://www.ifreviewscouldkill.com, when it starts up! I’ll keep updates on here for the launch of the new site, so you’ll have up to date Eric news, but until then, enjoy your New Years Eve and I am TAKING A WEEK OFF OF REVIEWS! HAPPY 2010 EVERYONE!!!!!





PSA: Blade Runner (1982), or Fiery The Angels Fell…

27 12 2009

The last PSA of the year. I wanted to end things on a high note, so I thought I would finish my sprinkling of Public Service Announcements about cinema with a movie that should be mandatory for moviegoers of all ages, shapes, and sizes. Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner sits atop the apex of science fiction in a very real sense with a very small handful of peers, and I don’t say that in a sensationalistic manner. This movie, released to dumbstruck audiences in 1982, revolutionized the way sci-fi movies are made. For America, it re-institutionalized the intelligent science fiction film, a genre lost in a mire of post Star Wars mania and established Ridley Scott as a director wh0 had something meaningful to say as a filmmaker. It’s a hypnotic, passionate futuristic noir about the very nature of humanity, and what it means in a cold, harsh future. It’s one of the best there is, and I think before 2009 closes out, you should invest just 2 hours of your time to this beautiful sci-fi masterpiece.

Based on a novel by sc-fi legend Phillip K. Dick, Blade Runner takes place in 2019, where we follow a detective named Decker who is on the trail of four humanoid robotic workers called “replicants” who have escaped from an off-world mining operation to hide on Earth. Decker is a retired “Blade Runner”, a detective who specializes in tracking non-organic humanoids and terminating them. He has been called onto this special case after one of a series of four runaways blows away a younger Blade Runner after being interrogated and escapes into the city. Decker travels from the tiniest cracks in the nasty, futuristic slum of 2019 LA to the top of the splendorous Tyell Corporation building, where the replicants are designed by the reclusive Dr. Tyrell himself, in search of information about these 4 strange runaways who look and act almost exactly like humans. He learns about their history, their design, and a most interesting failsafe on their particular model; a four year lifespan. Decker begins to deduce that perhaps these four are on Earth to discover a way to increase their lifespan, an act they feel that only Tyrell can give them. But along the way of tracking them down, he begins a strange relationship with a woman named Rachael, who works at the Tyrell Corporation. They harbor feelings toward each other, but Decker knows something about her that keeps him reticent; she is a replicant who doesn’t know she’s a replicant. Implanted with false memories, Tyrell created her as an experiment. Decker struggles to come to grips with this strange fact amidst his own feelings about her, the constant struggle to track down the replicants and their relentless leader, Roy Batty, and his own doubts about the assignment and his own humanity…

This is such a thematically dense work. Ridley Scott took an almost obsessive attention to detail as a director and turned it into something exquisite. Los Angeles 2019 is an absolutely complete world, a slum of a city that only houses the people who could not afford to live off-world. It is a world constantly darkened from the shadow of the skyscrapers and the industry that towers above, and there seems to be no hope left in the streets. Much like the noir films of the 40s and 50s, the city is a perpetually darkened hellhole, and acts as a harbinger of the ills to come. Scott’s futurescape takes from Lucas’s idea of a “used future”, but it goes so far beyond that. This is a dilapidated future, where the only lights arrive from neon signs and where the streets are filled with the whirring and buzzing of machines instead of the sounds of people; a future devoid of humanity in its human population, another interesting thematic decision.

And the cast is simply amazing. This might be the best Rutger Hauer performance I’ve ever seen. He plays the antagonist, Roy Batty, with such an intensity that it cannot be contained on the screen. He is a replicant, but he is more alive than any of the downtrodden humans he encounters on Earth. He is strong in heart and in spirit, and his is the true tragedy of Blade Runner, because while he is not human, his soul is great, which makes his four year lifespan all the more cruel. And his love interest, the attractive replicant Zhora, played by Daryl Hannah, is equally tragic. She is a playful female replicant who wants to live life to the fullest. Her character, as much as Rutger Hauer’s encapsulates a love of living that is exceptional and magical in contrast to the real human characters. Harrison Ford plays one of the greatest role of his career as Deckard, the replicant hunter whose life is slowly unraveling. He plays it with a style reminiscent of Bogart’s Philip Marlowe, a wise-talking gumshoe with a street-wise wisdom that is constantly at odds with the evil he encounters on the mean streets that puts his soul constantly at hazard. It’s a rich, complex character that will have you guessing, in some rare moments, whether he is even human, or if he is another lively replicant with a good heart and a short life. Sean Young is beautiful and compelling as Rachel, the replicant who doesn’t know she’s a replicant. She plays the character calm and cool, but underneath her exterior lies a confused and terrified woman who doesn’t understand what exactly is happening to her. Sean Young brings a surprising vulnerability here that I was absolutely NOT expecting, and it’s one of those things that really brings home why this is just one of the best films out there. Her candid romantic scenes with Deckard will leave you both moved and fixated to the screen as the two dance around their own emotions in totally unexpected ways.

Ridley Scott asks quite a few questions of us, some that we are perhaps not entirely prepared to answer. The nature of man, his destiny in an unknown future, and what it truly means to be alive are pondered very loudly here. Blade Runner is a very intelligent, beautiful movie that digs into the subconscious and forces us to confront ourselves in a very meaningful way. The characters are incredibly rich, vivid, and well-written, the score by the prog-new age group Vangelis somehow gets better with age, the story is powerful in a way that most sci-fi could only dream of being, and the film itself is still gorgeous, even after all the various cuts and versions to be released (for a more in-depth history of Blade Runner‘s rocky history, stick with me in 2010 for my planned essay on the making of this classic and how it might have easily been different!). It’s a timeless film that only seems to increase in character and insight as the years go on. I have so many things to say about this, but I’ll just leave you with the fact that if you have any desire to watch sci-fi, then this film is absolutely part of the curriculum! I give it 10 unwitting replicants out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Tomorrow I will take on the great and wonderful Fellini film 8 1/2! Until then!





Star Wars Episode VI: Return Of The Jedi (1983), or A Demigod Among Gods…

26 12 2009

So we arrive at the end of Cinematronica and establish a week of classics, where I pick out of a select set of films some of the best and most wonderful movies imaginable. I come to the Star Wars franchise, a wealth of wonderful sci-fi entertainment, and out of the entire series, I can only pick one to represent in this final week of goodness and awesomeness. Logic would demand that I pick The Empire Strikes Back, for its inventiveness, relative dark tonality, and gratuitous incestuous kissing. I could also have gone for A New Hope, the movie that started it all, for its historical value and innovation. But no, I chose the chump of the original trilogy, the ending. Return of the Jedi is like the solid chocolate square in a Zachary sampler box; it’s still fucking chocolate, but it’s just not as beloved as the rest of the bunch. The other two movies have droves and droves of champions all around the world, people who proudly declare that “Episode (IV or V) changed my LIFE”. Nobody really feels the same way about RotJ. There’s something about it that undeniably is different. The dynamic is different between all the characters after all we’ve gone through with them, the space-battle-to-lightsaber-battle quotient is skewed significantly, and, well, Ewoks. It’s a completely different feel here compared to the rest of the series. But I will defend it with even more vigor than I defended the tepid Episode I, and this time around I think I can surely persuade you to give this movie a second chance!

[I will not be repeating the story of Star Wars to you; please go watch the first 5 movies if you wanna get in on this discussion, COMRADE!]

Okay, so the second trilogy of Star Wars is about Luke Skywalker and his issues with his dad, Darth Vader, while the first trilogy was about Anakin Skywalker and his problems with not wanting to become Darth Vader. So by the time the 6th movie has come to pass, Darth Vader, under the command of the evil Emperor Palpatine, has rebuilt the Death Star, and is overseeing its reconstruction personally so the Empire can terrorize and monopolize the entire galaxy. Well, the Rebellion has a little something to say about that, and they are preparing for an all-out assault on the Death Star once they receive word that Palpatine himself will soon be boarding to oversee the finalization personally as well! But before the Rebellion can do that, Luke and Co. have a whole lot of personal errands they have to do, like jeopardize the entire galaxy’s freedom to save Han Solo, who was in no rush to be saved, since the Carbonite Freeze process apparently works like a metallic Zip-Lock bag, as well as zoom all the way to the Dagobah system to see Yoda and have him train him for an indefinite amount of time (luckily, Yoda has the good sense to deny him training due to his own poor health). Once Luke’s incredibly selfish agenda is put aside, the assault is set to take place. But the Rebellion needs a small group to disable the Death Star’s shields, which are powered at the nearby moon of Endor. Luke is finally rarin’ for some action, and takes off with Han, Leia, and the gang, but even when he arrives for the mission, he decides to gallivant off and get captured on purpose so he can try and talk some sense into his father, so that he might turn from the Dark side of the Force. The Emperor has foreseen ALL of this, though, and is waiting patiently for the Rebellion to fall into his clutches. Can Luke somehow get out of himself long enough to actually do something for the Rebellion, or is the last Jedi too busy finding himself to save the galaxy?

Now, if you think I painted a more cynical picture than I should have for my case, let’s be honest; the entire series is all about the Skywalker family doing what they want, when they want, even if they have honor and duty to think about. If you put it like that, I think you’ll find that this behavior is really not as bad as it is in some of some of the other films.

What this movie does better than any of the others, and why I think it holds a special place in my heart, is its presentation of the two sides of the fight; who is in charge, and what they are fighting for. The Dark Side is always talked about in vagueries and mysterious parables with the other 5 movies. But the Dark Side is there, alive and breathing, in the form of Emperor Palpatine, the real villain of the Star Wars saga, and the mastermind of so much awful shit. He IS the Sith, a terrible old man who breathes lies and treachery, who is willing to sell anyone out and do whatever it takes to keep the one thing he cares about; power. And we finally find true virtue in Luke, a man who is struggling not to repeat the same mistakes as his dandy of a dad, but who is wrestling intently with the same lust for his awesome power that Anakin was years ago. He really does want what’s best for everyone, even if it seems like he’s impulsive and kind of a dick at times. So it becomes a battle for the soul of the last Jedi, in the end, and the final assault against the Sith Lord will not be fought with Star Destroyers and TIE fighters, but with lightsabers and dark persuasion.

And the action sequences are the best, arguably, out of the whole series! That is the real reason most people go to see a Star Wars movie, I think; if you’re looking for space battles, any movie can give you that. I posit that space battles are the worst part of the Star Wars saga, and while unfortunately this movie features plenty of ships flying around and shooting pew-pew lasers at each other ad nauseum, there’s enough stuff going on to keep you entertained in between. If you’re looking for entertaining stuff, how about a no-holds-barred fight on a floating pleasure barge in the desert? How about a battle to death with a 50 foot-tall monster won by beating it to death with a door? How about a super-fast chase through the woods on speeders so fast that you can barely make out the forest background in a blur of green and brown? Or how about teddy bears smashing an AT-ST with two logs smashed on its head simultaneously like a fucking 3 Stooges skit? YOU GOT IT! And let me tell you, this movie has, without a doubt, the best lightsaber battle of the original trilogy. It is the most emotionally-charged, expertly handled battle of them all, and it wouldn’t be until 2005 that they would top it in Episode III between Anakin and Obi-Wan. If you’ve never seen it, watch it above, and revel in its goodness.

The acting is the best it ever was in this trilogy. The players all know their parts by now and can inhabit them with an ease that is really remarkable. Mark Hamill IS Luke, Carrie Fisher IS Leia, Billy Dee Williams IS Lando, and everyone just exists seamlessly in this space opera, not as an actor, but a beloved member of this colorful fantasy world. Harrison Ford is the only person who doesn’t seem to be in it 100%, due to his distaste of Han Solo being revived, therefore somewhat dampening the sacrifice he made in the last movie, and while I can understand people’s frustrations with that, this is more of a Jedi story than the other two, anyway, so he seems to be left out of a lot of the action. All he does is shoot some stuff, declare his love for Leia, and get a little peeved at Luke for taking her attentions away before discovering they are related (OOPS), so it’s really not that much of a loss.

Return of the Jedi is the most emotionally charged movie out of the original trilogy. It has the final choices, when all the shit is really on the line, instead of just whimsical chasing sequences and flirty Leia-Han dialog. It is when Luke comes to terms with his lame-duck of a father, and decides to take the high route and SAVE him instead of wasting him, which is what everyone wants him to do. It also, for the first time, shows Darth Vader’s reckoning with the choices he’s made, and the first time we see him falter in his loyalty to Palpatine. And of course, it’s the first time we’re taken to the lair of the beast, and we get to take a look at the real Dark Side, Palpatine, and not just his lackey, a confused Jedi with a codpiece and a breathing problem. This is the last one, where things really matter, when the choices are made, the lines are drawn, and the fate of the galaxy is decided. And for that, I love it. I think you should go back and give this one a chance. I think you’ll love it too, and if you don’t, you’d have to have a stone heart to not love that last lightsaber fight! I give Return of the Jedi 9 1/2 floating pleasure barges out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I examine our existence with Blade Runner! Until then!





The Adventures Of Buckaroo Banzai Across The 8th Dimension! (1984), or A Black Belt In Crazy

21 12 2009

Another big shout-out to Alex for recommending another movie to me! What a hero! This was a great experience; I appreciate you sharing this with me!

If I were to correctly put Buckaroo Banzai in a genre… on second thought, I don’t know if that’s possible. This is undoubtedly one of the wildest movies I’ve seen in my tenure here at Cinematronica! The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension!, otherwise known as TAoBBAt8D! is something that cannot be put very simply into words. Blending pulp action, comedy, sci-fi, satire, camp, spy flick, and romance into one movie that is as hilarious as it is completely insane. It’s also one of the most enjoyable films I’ve seen. There’s something so charming about the nutty concept, the totally dope special effects, and the witty writing make this a winner hailing all the way from the 8th dimension!

Remember the setup for Indiana Jones? It’s basically like that, only crazy. We arrive in the middle of the unfathomable life of Dr. Buckaroo Banzai. He is probably the most legendary dude who ever lived; he can do anything! He can fight, do amazing science stuff, play in a rock band, and negotiate in times of political crisis! The movie is about one particular incident in which Dr. Buckaroo Banzai must defeat an inter-dimensional species of aliens known as Red Lectroids. During a test run of his Jet Car (!!!), Dr. Banzai successfully drives through solid matter by driving through a mountain. When he emerges on the other side, though, he discovers an alien pod that has attached itself to his car. Hearing of this, a strange Italian scientist named Dr. Lizardo breaks free of an insane asylum. An earlier experiment of similar repute 50 years ago briefly opened a door to the 8th dimension, where an evil alien possessed his mind!!! Now the Dr. has escaped, and, with an evil alien in his head, he has plans for unleashing Lectroid havoc all across the globe! But Dr. Banzai happens to be an expert at kicking alien ass, and he is well versed in the art of just about everything. With his amazing team of scientists and band mates and other various relations to the man, the myth, the legend, called the Hong Kong Cavaliers (!!!), Banzai will try to stop the mad scheme of Dr. Lizardo, that involves somehow Rastafarians, Orson Welles, samurais, the Cold War, and a place called Yoyodyne Defense Company! Can Dr. Banzai do it? He has no choice! Otherwise, we’re all doomed for an alien invasion!

Crazy enough for ya? TAoBBAt8D is something that isn’t really easy to process on paper. I really skimmed through all the plot here, I could go on for hours about all the amazingly superfluous backstory going on here. It’s purposefully dense to give that illusion of history for a new character. Imagine walking in on Dragonball Z halfway through, right when Frieza is about to destroy planet Namek. If you don’t watch the show, you’re going to be monumentally lost, but in a bewilderingly exciting way, which is the effect that Buckaroo Banzai has on you. There’s so much cool stuff happening, and so many references to earlier adventures, that you get lost in this fabricated mythology, and it’s a delightful feeling that this film pulls off incredibly well.

The movie is so kitsch in that hilarious 80s way. The fashion is so forward for ’84 that it’s probably getting cool again as we speak. Everyone wears unfathomable colored jackets with no shirt on underneath and madcap gaudy accessories that scream “I don’t care what my children will say when they see my in 20 years!”. The music is pretty awesome, with Peter Weller actually doing all his own vocals and guitar work for Banzai’s rock band. It’s dated, but actually catchy as hell, and I might, just maybe, like Weller’s voice (I’m still not sure yet). The production is very imaginative, filled with striking images, out-there sci-fi effects, and creative, beatific editing. The movie feels very alive, and every scene etches the wild, convoluted world deeper into your consciousness with its turn-on-a-dime style of direction and scripting. It’s a perfect tone for a movie like this.

Buckaroo Banzai has quickly earned itself a place on my DVD shelf. I liked its originality, its great presence, its implacable genre-bending ways, and most importantly its exuberance. It’s a movie about having the most amount of fun possible. Dr. Buckaroo Banzai is unrealistically amazing so we don’t have to be; while he’s out there blasting Red Lectroids away from his Jet Car, we can sit back, relax, and enjoy the fun of something so incredibly sill as this. There’s everything to like about this movie, and as well as a space up on my racks of DVDs, it has also merited an essay later on next year. I want to get into the nitty-gritty of this wild and zany movie, but for now let me just say that this is a cult classic with a lot under the hood! I give TAoBBAt8D 9 Rastafarian Lectroids out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I check out Dark Country! Until then!





Dead Ringers (1988), or My Dearest Brother…

10 12 2009

I know I’ve probably seen too many Cronenberg movies on this website for you to care anymore, but I really could not resist this time. Dead Ringers is a force of nature, a psychological descent into the lives of two codependent twins. From the first five minutes, you are completely absorbed by the setting of it all. Cronenberg, yet again, breaks all pre-conceived notions of what reality is and throws it away, opting for something more surreal, more visceral, more subversive. And this time he even pushes the envelope against himself by pinning his hopes on an actor, rather than his own genius. Luckily, Jeremy Irons is the kind of actor you can pin a movie on (usually), and this film is the better because of it.

It follows the lives of twin gynecologists (!!!) Beverly and Elliot Mantle. They are two seriously codependent brothers who have a slightly disturbing relationship with one another. Elliot is the ambitious, fiery brother, and he has a huge appetite for women. Beverly happens to be a bit more reserved, which cramps his brother’s style a lot. The two have a good business going together, as well as a good formula to get them both laid. Elliot will get the mood going with his go-getter attitude, wooing the ladies as fast as he can to get what he wants. When he tires of them, he hands them off to twin Beverly, where the women are none the wiser. One of the women they examine as a patient though, named Claire, entices Beverly, and he finds himself in love with her. She has a rare gynecological condition, a trifurcation, that makes it nearly impossible to have children. Elliot thinks it’s all silly, and that he should move on, but Beverly genuinely likes her and wants to be with her. But when he thinks she might be cheating on him, it brings out the worst in him, and he begins to have psychotic delusions about weird genitals and evil women. Can he snap out of it before it’s too late? Or will this jealousy consume him and his secretly codependent brother?

Cronenberg makes Dead Ringers in his world of bizarre, surreal psychological world where the physical and the emotional become one, the ethereal flesh of nightmares encroaching on our living existence. This time, the setting is the glitz and materialism of the late 80s in the big city. Elliot Mantle is the poster child for excess and blatant materialism during the ME generation. The city is oppressive in its posh luxury, and we only sense it when Beverly cuts through reality and into his delusions. Cronenberg always enjoys the cleverest of shots, and it just goes to show you that the power of the auteur is nothing to scoff at. Nobody can work with this material like Cronenberg can because he wrote the damn thing and knows just what needs to be done to visualize it. Where the movie really surprises me is not the amazing phantasmagorical dream sequences, but how engaging the movie is when it is just Beverly and Elliot. It’s about as normal as this director gets, just relaying the relationship between family members who could not be more opposite, even though they’re twins.

And, damn it, Jeremy Irons scores as the dual character of Beverly and Elliot. He deserves a little double time for al the work he put in. His crass and selfish Elliot is very true to what I think a lot of people were buying into as the 80s ended, a dark and unhealthy dream of excess and endless drugs and women that is seemingly destined to vanish. Elliot’s depth is found though when we see how much he really loves his brother. Beverly is also fond of his brother, but in a much more overt, obvious way. Irons’s real achievement is making multiple layers of Beverly’s character by fleshing out his unbalanced nature. He is doomed to spill over the edge, and it seems that love will be the thing that pushes him over. Genevieve Bujold plays Beverly’s love interest, Claire. She is very mysterious at first, but I like how much she warms up to Irons. They have such a good chemistry together here! It’s a very nice performance that makes for great drama later on in the story as Beverly deteriorates.

I think Dead Ringers is a great movie with a unique sense of self that plays like a horror movie but feels like a psychological drama. Cronenberg audiences know what they want to see, so this will certainly not disappoint, and new folks to Cronenberg’s works need to know only that there is significantly less freakiness than he is famed for. I think Jeremy Irons did a top-notch job here, and he seemed to be a good candidate for Cronenberg to place his trust in, when one considers how much the twins had to carry the film and how much combined time they get. I think you’ll like it a lot, weirdness and all. I give Dead Ringers 9 twin gynecologists out of 10! A high recommendation!

Tomorrow I don’t have a clue what I’ll be watching! We shall see soon! Until then!





Out Of Africa (1985), or The Beauty Of Nature

8 12 2009

Out of Africa is one of the best films I’ve seen to come out of the 1980s. It is a tour de force in acting, directing, substance, and style. I came in expecting a big Hollywood drama and came out feeling enriched and renewed. It is a mesmerizing experience to go through, and once I was finished, I felt actually very good. That is the way I should feel after watching a good drama, like I had an emotional catharsis and my head was cleared. After watching so many movies, it’s easy to become jaded, but out of Africa proved to me that no matter how many movies you watch, there’s something moving and powerful about the medium that a really good film transcends all walks of life and hits you square in the emotional causeway of your heart. Out of Africa is such a film for me.

It takes place in the beginning of the 20th century, where a woman named Karen is taken to the beautiful and unforgiving plains of Africa to start a new life with her blue-blooded husband to start a large dairy farm.The marriage is largely a sham, mostly for convenience, and things begin to tense as the dairy farm plan is scrapped and they end up trying for a coffee farm instead. And even when she thinks she might be starting to grow affections toward him, he learns that he has been unfaithful to her, shattering her fragile emotional bridge with him. He regresses into his only solace on the dark continent by hunting game, and she begins to seek emotional comfort elsewhere in the form of local big-game hunter Denys. He is caring, kind, and a handsome fellow to boot, and an affair begins between them that ignites a passion inside her heart. But can she tame his wild heart and start a meaningful relationship with him? Or is Denys too much of a free spirit to leave his carefree life behind?

Out of Africa is a very Caucasian-centric story, and I think that can be a problem for a lot of movies. I don’t want to hear about the plight of the white man in the dark continent; the African has his own story to tell, after all. But I think it can be forgiven this fact due to its sheer love of the continent and its people. Sydney Pollack obviously had a great deal of emotions about Africa in his heart, and this was a great chance to express them. He captures so well the earthy loveliness that the Serengeti provides, the plains teeming with life, the people humble and beautiful, the world staggering and humbling. Africa is really, for me, the main attraction here, because Pollack captures it so well. When the sun begins to hang low over the sweltering horizon, and the night threatens the world with its untamed ferocity, the setting is absolutely perfect for the humans to emerge from their cooled burrows and make their drama.

Meryl Streep shines as the exuberant Karen, caught between two men, two continents, and two lives. This is really a career-defining performance that can’t really be summed up in a review this small, but I will say that her portrayal of a woman in emotional conflict is divine. The subtleties in her face and the soft wording of the lines point to a dichotomy that splits her completely in half. The Meryl Streep slow breakdown rule is in effect here, and over the course of this film, she experiences an emotional devastation that is truly something to behold. Robert Redford, in another career-defining role, plays Denys like he was playing himself, even though to a small extent he probably is. He is such a natural at this role, the debonair huntsman. I felt like I was watching something perhaps I should not have, a special moment between two lovers, when I watched these two together, and it was these moments when these two actors united, that touched my heart deeply and made me feel very alive and electric. Although there has to be a 3rd wheel in every drama film, and that’s where Klaus Maria Brandauer comes in as Karen’s husband. He isn’t an evil man by any means, but he is an irresponsible fool who seems to fuck up his life, and all the lives around him with his bad investment choices, his laziness, and his syphilis (!!!). Brandauer plays this character with a roguishness that is just what he needed; he’s foolhardy and a little stupid, but he won’t usually do anything to get himself hurt. A perfect foil to Denys’s and Karen’s love.

I could go on all day about Out of Africa. Much like Karen, I feel like I’m discovering myself cinematically for the first time all over again. It’s an epic romance set in a gorgeous country, and I could not love it more. It’s probably the best Hollywood film I’ve seen since The Curious Case of Benjamin Button earlier this year. It’s a good reminder that every now and then, they don’t just mess everything up over there. I give Out of Africa 10 syphilitic coffee barons out of 10! My highest recommendation!

Come back tomorrow, when we discuss everyone’s favorite twin movie, Dead Ringers! Until then!!!





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!