Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Raid: A Much Needed Man From Nowhere

About 30 minutes into The Raid (or The Raid Redemption as it has been dubbed in the US) I realized that its protagonist just may be the perfect representation of a new type of hero for these times -- one that has perhaps been around, but is deserving of far more attention.  The team of ‘good guy’ honest cops have been getting their heads handed to them by a seemingly endless supply of thugs, when Rama, played by Indonesian martial artist Iko Uwais,manages to somehow fight back.  It is far from a victory; more like a roughly hewn tourniquet becoming fast soaked in blood.  The team is still disfigured, shocked, and quickly dropping in numbers.  But it’s enough to get the attention of the drug overlord and controller of the rundown tenement that serves as a safe haven for hordes of criminals and lowlives, as he watches from an undisclosed level of the building.  “Who is this guy?” or something to that effect, he wonders aloud.  He is dealing with a ‘man from nowhere,’ just another member of the special forces team (which after spending just a few minutes in the movie’s nightmarish setting, does not seem all that special) assigned to a thankless job.  Uncelebrated, unheralded, the villain never sees him coming.  

This marks a major shift from the days of super men with near unlimited power and an incorruptible moral compass.  They were followed by dark knights and vigilantes, whom I would argue are fading from relevance as well.  They marked a move towards greater realism, with super powers being replaced by vast resources, self training, and a darker attitude better to match wits with the savageness that the enemy possesses.  While these crusaders have remained on the screen or in the pages of comics, the darker aspects of real life have, as some would put it, come to imitate art.  More and more violent acts taking on elements of the fantastic, are becoming commonplace headlines, seeping into our collective conscious and being experienced and perceived at a far closer proximity than ever before.  Along with the notion that shocking violent incidents could potentially occur anywhere and anytime comes a new sense of powerlessness. One that is less easily assuaged by those fantastical heroes that have come before.

A more meaningful onscreen hope, even if it’s only slightly more conceivable, is that in the midst of one of these real life nightmares, someone with the ability and will to step up could emerge from the panicked masses.  Not special, but capable of looking horrifying reality straight in the face and leading the way through to the other side of an impossibly hopeless fate.  

And this is where Iko Uwais’ modern day hero, at once an everyman and a nobody, comes in.  In the film's opening scenes, we know only that he is a cop living in a modest apartment, kissing his pregnant wife goodbye before heading to another day of a law enforcement agent’s job.  Not a decorated hero cop or a man with a mystical journey of enlightenment hidden in his past (at least not yet - there is the dreaded threat of the oftentimes past rewriting sequel), he is just another member of the team about to participate in an operation being orchestrated at a rank and pay grade far above his own.  

I lifted the phrase ‘man from nowhere’ from the title of a recent Korean action movie, it also being an achievement of intense storytelling coupled with strong action choreography.  Reflecting on that film, it had me most captivated in its first act when the protagonist was still shrouded in complete mystery.  While the added backstory of secret agent gone underground gave an explanation to his feats of violent prowess, it also made him somehow more distant, and shattered that appealing premise of heroism lurking somewhere within the realm of common every day existence.  
   
Besides sticking faithfully to this compelling modern vision of heroism , Evans does so many other things right to make The Raid a cut above the rest.  There is the direness of the setup, portraying the uphill battle of those that play by the books against complete and utter ruthlessness. A nerve wracking sequence involving the drug lord and several captured cops shows the enemy's complete disregard for human life and its snug embrace of cruel brutality, as if it were a second skin.  

The Raid is also a fantastic case of filmmaking in which the enemy is not only the hordes of attackers, but the environment itself.  Every doorway and darkened landing of the hostile high rise trips up the squadron and poses a lethal threat.  Around corners and underneath floorboards lay traps ready to be sprung. It is a claustrophobic construct reminiscent of, if not inspired by, the dizzying black market internment space for hire in Korea's also infamous Old Boy film.

While all comers will no doubt be riveted, this is an action lover’s movie at heart, and the action itself is treated with the highest regard. Dreamed up by Evans and choreographed by Uwais and Yayan Ruhian, the actor portraying Mad Dog, lead skull smasher in service to the boss.  It involves furiously fast movements, throws, and fights that often end with somebody’s head or torso connecting bone crunching-ly with a wall, pillar, or some other unfortunate furnishing.  Yet,
Evans also knows how to balance the hand to hand combat with plenty of shootouts and knife fights, ensuring the tension of life or death stakes stays disconcertingly close at hand. This is a nice change of pace from a film like, say, Chocolate, in which all semblance of suspense eventually falls to the way side and it all becomes for the most part one big martial arts exhibition.   
     

While changes from a country of origin’s release are always dubious, the addition of music composed by Mike Shinoda (Linkin Park) and Joseph Trapanese (Tron) to US version is a definite positive. It is a propulsive mix of bruised and battered beat-oriented themes.  Stunning throughout, but actually working best in the moments of relative calm leading up to a conflict.  The standout track is made up of rising tones, suggesting a seemingly impossible heavenward escape from the crumbling confines in which the two hour plus battle takes place.   
The screening I got to was put together by the good folks at Fangoria, attended by the likes of a few Unseen heads and low culture documentarians from Planet Chocko (whose reportage on the movie is here).  Between us and the other action film fanatics in the packed house, hardly a scene flickered by without ecstatic applause and awestruck expressions of disbelief.  This is the way the movie is meant to be seen: with a crowd of fellow enthusiastic spectators.









The evening also included a Q & A with a gracious and enlightening Evans on hand.  He discussed the use of the traditional Indonesian martial arts form, Pencak Silat, or rather just one strain from amongst a vast number of variations.  He also shared the inner workings of his mental process behind one of the film’s more explosive action sequences.
Also discussed was a bit on the business end of things.  The reasoning behind lengthening the film’s name from simply The Raid to include the extraneous ‘Redemption,’ a decision he was not a fan of.  It came from a desire to get the film out there sooner than later, with copyright issues keeping the original name out of play, and ‘redemption’ being applicable to one of the movie’s threads.  

And yes, there was talk of a future English remake and an Evans-helmed sequel...threatening the sacredness of this one of a kind movie, yes, but with this fresh and idealistic director somewhere prominently in the mix, here is optimism that some more quality action will come out of whatever’s in store.

So, if you find yourself assembling an fantasy action team, you can take the established ones: Statham, Diesel, even Li.  I’ll go with Iko Uwais.  It’s early still, they'll never see him coming.  

Capsule Reviews 3/31/12 Comedy

Three of a Kind (1936)
Heiress insists on marrying a gold digger her father knows is no good. Through circumstance she gets mixed up with a man who just quit working for her father after winning a large service award. Everyone ends up at a swanky resort. Romantic and criminal nonsense ensues. Good screwball style comedy is much better than it's forgotten B nature suggests. A funny film with good complications and witty lines this is a nice little trifle of a film. I think that the films only flaw, and it's kind of a big one is that everyone is ultimately unlikable. Our heroine is a bit of a twit, her father is shrill and the men in her life are money mad on some level or another. Still it's funny and enjoyable in spite of it all. Worth a look.

Minnesota Clay
Minnesota Clay
is an unintentionally funny spaghetti western starring Cameron Mitchell as a gun man with the title name. He’s been sent to jail because the one witness who could prove his innocence never testified. Escaping from a work camp he heads off to find the witness and get vengeance… and oh yea Clay is going blind. He needs urgent medical care and to stay out of fights which might jar his sight into oblivion. Sergio Corbuci, a normally good director lays everything on thick and over blown in a film that appeared early in the Euro-western cycle. Even allowing the English dubbing is way too arch and silly, the physical performances are atrocious. Is this a western or a tear jerking soap opera? I’m not sure. It’s the sort of film that I started watching and after five minutes was sure I was going to be turning off or fast forwarding through, and then all of the over done elements came together into a package that is best described as unintentionally enjoyable. While not bad as such, you can’t believe that adults actually made the film. Sue me I liked it…but for all the wrong reasons. Worth searching out in the discount bin.

BOY! WHAT A GIRL
Harmless dress up comedy in the style of Tootsie or Mr Doubtfire

This is the story of a would be theatrical producer who somehow manages to arrange financing for a show despite barely having enough money for the rent. When one of the backers fails to show up, one of the producer's friends is forced to pretend to be the missing backer so that the show can go on.

Low key and funny, with some great music, this is a wonderful movie just to plop down in front of when you don't want to think. While the plot has been done to death by Hollywood there is something about this pass through the well worn territory that keeps it interesting. Perhaps its the fact that other than the actor who played the Kingfish on TV's Amos and Andy we probably haven't seen most of these actors before so we have no notion as to what anyone might do.

Definitely worth a bag of popcorn and a cup of soda for a slow night before the tube.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Hollywood Party (1934)


To celebrate the up coming release of his latest Schnarzan movie Jimmy Durante throws a huge party...

The answer to the question of Did Laurel and Hardy ever make a movie with the three Stooges? Or the answer to the question did The Stooges ever appear with Mickey Mouse?
Or Did Mickey Mouse ever appear with Greta Garbo?

Yes, Yes and Yes.

This is one of those films that was only possible with a studio system, namely there was no way you could get this many stars into one film without it.

This is also a film that is more a collection of great bits rather than a cohesive whole. Its more like walking around a party and stumbling into nonsense. Its a mix of comedy bits, wild musical numbers full of trick photography and animation. Almost all of it works, but not all of it connects to anything.

Yes Mickey Mouse does a bit with Jimmy Durante which leads into a film called Hot Chocolate Soldiers which is one of the creepier things that Disney ever did. I've heard that the Mickey Mouse portion of the film was missing for years because of legal reasons.

I like the film. Its a film that I first tracked down after my mom died after I had heard about it. I had to get it on VHS because until the recent Warner Archive release that was the only way to get it. It arrived on Christmas Eve and it was a film I used to help get through a really crappy holiday.

My favorite part is the confrontation, late in the film, of Lupe Valez and Laurel and Hardy. I makes me sad that they were never allowed to make features together because I really think the pairing clicks.

If you're an old movie fan you owe it to yourself to pick this up.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Green Slime (1968)


The opening song is completely out of place, but then again we should be amazed that anyone would write a song called Green Slime....once the Green Slime song is done the film settles down into Armageddon territory with an asteroid racing toward earth. A space ship full of astronauts is dispatched to blow it up. They succeed---but no one is aware that they have also brought back the title creatures.

Directed by Kinji Fukasaku, best known these days as the director of The Battle Royale films, this is a big cheese ball of a movie. While hailed by many people as a turkey, many other people hold it in certain regard (well they like it in a cheese ball sort of a way.) I'm in the cheese ball camp because this is a lovable misfire of a movie.

Very much the product of it's time, the film is full of weak model space ships and men in suit monsters. It has men who are men as heroes, beautiful women as victims and stupid men of science as the reason that the slime spawn and take over a space station. Its not so much that the film is silly, its more that it's hard to believe that anyone- say MGM- actually thought this was going to be taken seriously.

Serious? Really?

A twisted part of me wants to think that this was some one's answer to 2001 which was released in the same year, but that's not possible. More likely it was the result of the success of Japanese monster movies (Godzilla)and several co- productions (Fukasaku went on to direct the Japanese sequences in Tora! Tora! Tora!). Ultimately this was just a bad idea all around- fun- but a bad idea.

I'm not sure whether we should thank the Warner Archive for putting this out or curse them. I'm guessing it will depend on your feeling for men in silly monster suits. If you like grand silliness give this a try.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Last Dinosaur (1977)


The Warner Archive has released the full theatrical version of this Rankin Bass produced film about the search for dinosaurs in a hidden valley in Antartica. The film was intended for a theatrical release in the US but I guess the silliness of the dinosaurs,especially in the wake of Star Wars, made the producers relaize it was a losing proposition and they chopped out 11 minutes and sold it to TV (at least in the US).

The film has a rich big game hunter going with a scientfic expedition into a hidden valley in Antartica that was reached via a huge lazer mole digging device. It seems that the our hero, Masten Thrust, only wants to study the dinosaurs. However when a tyranasaurus wrecks the camp, eats a crew member and steals the mole he is forced to go hunting once more.

There's more to it than that but thats enough to get you started.

I’m not sure if this film has improved with age or if I’ve just become more forgiving. Its also possible the restored 11 minutes help, but for whatever the reason. The Last Dinosaur is an amusing movie - with more than its share of cringe inducing. moments.

The cringe worth material starts with some of the cheap ass designs and sets, moves on to the uneven special effects and dinosaur suits (yes its men in suits time), and onward to the performances. Chief among the offenders is Richard Boone as the big game hunter, Thrust. He blusters his way through the material in away that makes you wonder just how later he was for the golf course when most of the scenes were filmed. He is way way over the top. Certainly he manages to have a sense of authority, but the fact he has one leisure suit through the whole thing makes me laugh at the silliness of it all. It kind of looks like his part was all filmed on one day.

Actually the really weird thing is that as “bad” as Boone is, his force of personality shines through and you realize that yea, this guy could make money, and would be a guy I followed into danger.

The weirder thing is that despite all that is wrong with the film, and trust me there are any number of things that are wrong with it, the film kind of works in its own fun level. Once you get past the crappy opening scene and painful title song, the film settles into being a retro-boys own adventure. It’s a film that is very much akin to the British produced Edgar Rice Burroughs films At the Earth's Core and The Land That Time Forgot which come from the same period, except this is a step or two down.

Sue me, I like the film.

And where I would normally babble on about it not being high art, in this case the idea of art isn’t even the ball park.

Worth a look on a rainy Sunday when you’re in a silly mood.

Story of Mankind (1957)


Yea well... this grand all star road accident is based upon a popular history of mankind is the sort of thing that proves how wrong Hollywood can go. Its proof that that the highs of Irwin Allen's hits like Lost in Space, Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure were matched by real crap.

Taking Henrick Van Loons international bestseller and putting it in a shredder Irwin Allen came up with the story of a supernatural tribunal set to determine whether mankind will be allowed to blow himself up with a super H bomb. For the prosecution is Mr Scratch (Vincent Price) while for the defense is The Spirit of Mankind (Ronald Coleman). Jumping through the history of mankind via celebrity infested tableau's and mismatched stock footage, the pair looks at the highs and lows of human existence.

I can't imagine what the school study guides for this film looked like. I have no idea if they existed, but I suspect they did. Is this film history? Oh hell no, the film is so off base as to not even use a picture that looks even remotely like the Mona Lisa as the Mona Lisa. Its simply Hollywood excess.

The performances, with the exception of Vincent Price, were all phoned in. Pick any actor in it and odds are you'll see them at their worst here. Even allowing for them being often grossly miscast (Hemut Dantine as Marc Anthony, Hedy Lamarr as Joan of Arc, Agnes Moorehead as Queen ELizabeth, Vigina Mayo is Cleopatra, all the Marx Brothers...) the acting is really bad. So bad I'm forced to wonder if there was a completion to see who could be worst.

This movie is awful...and yet you can't look away. There is the awful road accident quality to it all that has slowly become somehow charming. Its everything you expect from a Hollywood blockbuster but done cheaply and badly. Its an unintentional yuck fest.

The fact that the film is a yuck fest is the reason to see the film. This is a film to watch getting some friends together with drinks and snacks. Its a party film. Its a film you watch and riff on...because lord knows you can't really watch this straight...I should know I've tried.

If you want a good time at a party give it a shot...also it's great to give to people you don't really like (just remember to swear up and down that you heard it was a great film).

Currently out on DVD from the Warner Archive

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1967)


Amazing documentary about the rise and fall of Hitler and the Nazi's.

Actually this look at Hitler and the rise of the Nazis started its life as a book by William Shirer. The film was turned into a three part television documentary that was sponsored by Xerox. The three hour long parts (well,51 minutes each) were cut together and released to theaters. The first time I saw the documentary was as a special TV presentation when I was a kid. It was a big to do and my parents let me stay up to watch the whole thing since the end was going to be well past my bed time. As far as I know until the Warner Archive released their edition the only way to see this was the feature version,which the only way I saw it after that first viewing.

Covering all of Hitler's life the film is a rock solid introduction to the man and his times. If you want to know the basics this is the place to start. While the film doesn’t cover every little detail, it tells you enough that by it’s end you will have the basics of what happened and why. It also makes several other points that tend to be glossed over by later films and books, in particular that the government in Germany was forced to take the blame for the surrender at the end of the First World War. The ones who were largely responsible was the military, but they wanted to remain spotless so they set up some myths. The film further goes into the backroom deals and private manipulations that put Hitler in power.

One of the things I like about the film is that it doesn’t seem to be full of the same old footage. Its not the same pictures of Hitler and the henchmen, much of the film seems to be reasonably unique or used in a unique way. The sameness of footage is what kills many other documentaries on the various wars. I don’t know about you but if I have to sit through the same old pictures over and over again I tend to drift off, not because the material is bad, rather because I’m filled with a sense of been there done that. Rise and Fall is never been there and done that.

Also working in the films favor are the interviews, these aren’t the same people we’ve seen a dozen or so times before. Not only do we get time with Shirer, but we all so get interviews with people who knew and interacted with Hitler. Unlike many later documentaries, say the wonderful World at War, these aren’t just soldiers from the trenches, rather these are the people who rose with the Nazis and eventually broke with them. We’re hearing what happened from people who really were there.

Can you tell I really like this film?

If you want the basics of the Second World War in Europe see this film. If you already think you know everything but have never seen this film before see it.

(Apropos of nothing, I had a friend in grammar school who’s favorite book in the world was the Rise and Fall. Actually it was the first half of the book. While he read the whole book once, he had read the Rise a couple of dozen times. When you asked him why, he said he didn’t plan on making the mistakes that would lead to the fall. He disappeared after 6th grade and was never seen again)

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Animal World (1956)


Irwin Allen's nature documentary is, at this point in time an amusing diversion. Sadly it's a film that hasn't stood the test of time but is still worth seeing.

Told as if it was the history of life on earth from creation of the earth until now, its a look at life from microscopic animals in the sea, through their evolution and climbing out on to land and into the sky. There is a stop over for a peak at dinosaurs (I'll come back to them in a minute), but mostly the film concentrates on animals alive today.

I'm not going to lie, some of the images are stunning and I can only imagine what some of this would have been like on a truly BIG screen. The images of the insects and some of the fish are just astounding and really blew me away.

The film does get into trouble in with the narration which is not only often dopey, but also insists on dealing with Biblical questions. God and scripture is too often brought in. The problem is not the mixing of science and religion, rather it's that the religious talk is condescending as if it was inserted so the film wouldn't be boycotted. There isn't a genuine line regarding the Bible in the film, and no matter how you feel about the Bible, you're going to be annoyed.

Honestly this is an amusing time capsule film that would be simply a nostalgic trip except for one key thing, the dinosaur sequence. If it wasn't for the dinosaurs you could forget the film. However since the dinosaurs were the work of Ray Harryhausen the film remains of interest. Actually the sequence is you typical dinosaurs battling each other sort of thing. It's five or ten minutes that ends with the dinosaurs dying in flowing lava.

How is it? Laughably bad. Its easily the worst work Harryhausen ever did. The problem is that producer Irwin Allen had no money and limited time so Harryhausen had to cut corners by using puppets and by animating things with more than one frame per move. (A full account can be had in the book Cheap Tricks and Class Acts by John JJ Johnson) Laughably bad or no it's still a fun sequence.

As for the rest of the film, it's worth seeing as a rental. I don't know if the film is worth paying the full 20 dollar cost from the Warner Archive, but for me, getting it on sale, it was worth the plunge.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sunday Nightcap 3/25/12 Enough with the 3D and rude parents. I'm looking forward to Tribeca

Monkey King aside,I’m tired of 3D films.

Yea I enjoy an occasional one, I loved, as I said, The Monkey King andJohn Carter, but mostly I find its just not worth the effort…or the money.

I say this as a long standing 3D fan. I love a good 3D film. I’ve been going and collecting them since I was kid, the trouble is most of the films don’t have a point being 3D. We see depth…and? They aren't even good thrill rides.

I suppose it would be fine if they were filmed 3D but most of them are simply being post-converted.

Since March started I’ve seen The Rabbi’s Cat, John Carter, Monster in Paris, The Monkey King and Pirates. I was supposed to see The Magic Piano last Saturday but was sick and I messed up on the train and missed Tales of the Night. It should have been 7 films in roughly three weeks.

Its too much. I'm groaning at the thought of seeing another one any time soon.

Of all of those films only The Monkey King (and on some level John Carter) had anything added to it. The rest were just sort of there as far as 3D goes.

My real complaint is the damn glasses devour the light and make the films so dim. If you look at something like the brilliantly colored Rabbi’s Cat you have this color scheme that matches the comic source, but its muted because of the glasses. I would also argue that most after the fact conversions look terrible, but that's a given.

I'm sick of pointless 3D, a fact driven home by the wonders of the Monkey King and that's all there is too it. Why can't films be that?

I don't know.

At this point I need to say something. I need to vent about something that happened.

During the screening of A Letter to Momo yesterday a family came in and sat behind me. The problem was that one of the people there was about four years old. This meant that the parents had to read all of the subtitles to the kid. Not only that they had to explain to the kid what was going on. It was a constant conversation between parents and child... a conversation that turned truly annoying as the goblins scared the kid and the parents refused to take him out because they wanted to watch the movie.

The behavior was rude. Parents should NOT be bringing kids too young too read subtitles to films like this. The ages are suggested for a reason. Parents should listen to the suggestion and they should abide by them... or since some younger kids can handle older material they should give it ago, but if it isn't working they should leave.

I was really annoyed. The guy sitting next to me was equally pissed. He kept glaring at them. I know I should have gone out and complained but to do so would have caused an even bigger uproar as I climbed over people, went out, talked to someone and then climbed back in.

I've been to a large number of films at the NYICFF and never have I ever had such a rude parent and child sit anyhere near me. For the first time I've run into parents who refused to take their too young child out, rather they let their rude behavior ruin the film for the people around them. Seriously, I've been to dozens of screenings and the audiences at the NYICFF have been incredible. I love that every one is well behaved and polite. I don't find that in most family audiences in regular screenings. Screenings at the NYICFF are some of the best I attend each year....

Theaters are not your living room and you shouldn't behave as such.

End the vent

A word of warning Tuesday starts press screenings and assorted goodness relating to the Tribeca Film Festival. I’m going to be throwing myself off the cliff and going to as many of the screenings as I can manage. I'll stop when I start drooling. (I’m hoping to have at least 12 films under my belt by next Sunday). The plan is to start posting reviews for the festival around the 14th of April and then continue posting through the week after it ends. Look for a ton of posts to go up once the festival starts. (I’ll tweet anything that looks good so watch Twitter).

Also just so you know I'm not the only one involved in this Tribeca madness, Mondocurry and a soon to be announced special guest are going to be wading into the press screenings with me. We're also looking at how were handling the public screenings and special events. Mr C is working out his own schedule so he can wade in with coverage from the public sector. We are going to try and bring you so much coverage that I've had to ask John to step in and act as a supervisor to make sure we don't run all over each other, review things too early or make too big a fool of ourselves.

Trust me it's already out of control and we haven't even seen a frame yet.

Relating to the Tribeca focus, don’t expect a large number of additional posts between now and then. To be certain we will be giving you a film a day, but the number of extra posts will be limited. Yes, we will still be reviewing the Korean Cultural Service films (Remember: Tuesday is My Girlfriend is an Agent) and anything that we think deserves your immediate attention, but that’s about it. I can’t say for certain that even these Sunday Nightcap features will be posted- though I expect they will (except for a the first Sunday of the festival when I'll probably be either in a coma or stressed out.)

This should be fun….so keep reading

I think that's it. I need an early night, all attempts in the last week have failed and I won't be able to sleep in until Easter. So Good night from me.

As always -here's some random links:

Not film related but somehow amazing Russia under the Czars in Color

Walking Dead in the style of Calvin and Hobbes

John Carter's influence

Coppola's history of the Corleone family

(This weeks films are all from the Warner Archive)

Aardman's Pirates! A Band of Misfits (2012) and the end of the 2012 NYICFF


The best part of being a pirate is Ham Night!

By the time this posts the NYICFF will be over.

It was their best year ever.

I had a blast.

Thank you NYICFF for a great time.

Thank you all for great films, for (mostly) great audiences and for putting up with this crazed reviewer. Thanks to the wonderful ladies at the tables, who's names I never learned, but who always smiled and said hi. Thanks to festival director Eric Beckman for taking time to talk about the movies and for being great fun in the pre-film intros and t-shirt tosses (get some sleep you earned it).

I can't say enough in the way of thank you. I've already cleared my schedule for next year...I don't think you'll be able to top this year...but damn I can't wait to see you try.

The final day of the festival had three films. Cinderella Moon ran at the IFC Center. I saw that on the first day of the regular screenings and there was a nice symmetry to it running on the last.

The festival also ran the wonderful Le Tableau. I loved the film. I was originally supposed to see it here but I saw it at a press screening. I had considered seeing it again, but decided to hand off my ticket to a friend at work who is a huge fan of animated films, particularly the films the festival runs.

The other film run today was a special preview of Peter Lord's Pirates! A Band of Misfits. I kind of wish I hadn't seen it since I now have to wait a month to see it again.

Based on the books by Gideon DeFoe (who wrote the screenplay) the film follows Pirate Captain (that's his name) as he and his crew, attempt to win the pirate of the year competition, get mixed up with Charles Darwin and battle with Queen Victoria.

Full of great gags, tons of in jokes and an unending references this film is a funny funny movie. It's the sort of film with so many jokes that you're going to have to watch the film five of six times in order to catch everything.

The film is also a good adventure. Sure the thrills and chills are decidedly off beat (the bath tub chase for example) but they are thrilling.

I really like this movie. I can't wait to see it again.

I should say that the film is in 3D. The use isn't bad, but for me it's kind of pointless. Only towards the end, as Pirate Captain takes on Queen Victoria does the 3D add anything. The 3D adds a great sense of scale and place as we see Victoria massive war ship.

Its a blast.

You really want to see this....

And with that the NYICFF ended for me, and Randi, John and Bully. While I'm sad that the film festival ended, it did so on a high note.

Thank you again guys. It was great.

(I'll post the festival winners as soon as they announce them. I'll also post a piece on the wonderful short films I saw)

Capsule Reviews 3/25/12- Westerns

JOHNNY YUMA (1966)
Love it or hate it spahetti western feels more like an American TV western of the period than any big screen venture. It's got odd tonal shifts that drift between seriousness and silliness, and a plot that seemed a tad rambling to me. The story has Yuma going to see his uncle. Yuma locks horns with his his aunt who along with her brother are trying to control his uncle's fortune. Its not a bad film, it just trips over itself with the aforementioned tonal shifts and the fact that the action sequences aren't particularly well staged (The bar fight is just odd). You would think I wouldn't recommend the film, but to be perfectly honest there are some things here, that make it worth seeing, especially since it comes packed in several multi-film western sets.

HIS GUN SMOKED...THEY CALL HIM CEMETARY (1971) (aka BULLET FOR A STRANGER)
Two brothers return from schooling in the east and find that there home town has been over run by bad guys. Their civility gets them into trouble and it isn't long before they are in way over their heads. Only the intervention of a stranger keeps them alive. Odd mix of western story with humor doesn't always work. Part of the problem is that the brothers are often twits with the stranger the more interesting character. As a film to pass an afternoon it's worth a look, thanks in large part to the witty dialog between the stranger and his friend, some great set pieces and some dynamite camera work that keeps the film from looking like every other spaghetti western.

UNHOLY FOUR
Good small scale western concerning four men who escape from the crazy house. Heading out into the west they attempt to help one of their number regain his memory. Ending up in a town that means something to the man, things take a turn for the strange as the populace begin to take a wide berth of the man and his friends. Those in power attempt to find out why he’s come back, figuring the amnesia is just a dodge. Better than my attempt at explaining it, this is a solid little western that tries to spin out a tale that is at least a little different than the norm. Actually it’s good enough that I considered doing a longer stand alone post but found that to do so I would have revealed too much of the plot, and in this case not knowing is part of the fun. Worth seeing.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Letter to Momo (2011) at NYICFF (and Ninja Kids!!!)


Today is the next to last day of the New York International Children's Film Festival, say it isn't so....

In order to stock up on family friendly goodness until next year, I made my way to the Asia Society for two movies.

First up was Takashi Miike's Ninja Kids!!! I was lucky enough to see it for the first time last year at the NYAFF. I've seen it a couple of times since then on an import DVD, but I had to jump at the chance to see it with an audience of kids. I had a ball. Listening to the kids laugh and groan in all the right places was a joy. As I've always said this really is a movie for kids.

The second film was A Letter to Momo.

Written and directed by Hiroyuki Okiura, who directed the classic Jin-Roh, the film tells the story of Momo and her mother. Mourning the loss of Momo's father the pair returns to the island where her mother grew up. As the pair tries to come to terms with their loss, Momo finds that there are three goblin's living in the attic and they are causing all sorts of trouble on the island. (Its not giving anything away to say that the reason the goblins are there has something to do with Momo).

This is a sweet little film. It's a film that nicely examines how we grieve, how we try to come to terms with things unsaid, the wrong things said, and the things we cherish from those we've lost. The title comes from a letter Momo's father. He had started it shortly before he left on a trip that took his life.

I have reservations about the film. it's too long at 120 minutes. Its also too rambling and somewhat unfocused, but by the time the end came I was primed to get weepy. Tears were running down my cheeks. Okay yes I am a mush at heart, but I wasn't the only one fighting the tears, I heard sniffles all over the place.

I've heard rumors this is coming to the US. If that is indeed the case, it's worth seeing.

The Price of Power (1969)


Six years after the JFK assassination some of the producers of the spaghetti westerns decides to retell the story in the old west. It’s something that your typical slow on the up take reviewer didn’t pick up until I saw the train station said Dallas.

Retelling aside this is a nifty, if a little too complex, western concerning a plot to kill the President of the United States. Its 1881, give or take, and President Garfield is touring the US. In Texas he is targeted by a band of men who want to break with the Union. The plot is discovered by a Pinkerton agent and a few others who seek to stop the impending murder and bring to justice the men behind the plot.

This is more a political thriller than a western, though the film has several excellent action set pieces. The meat of the film is really the plot to kill the President and all that follows in it's wake, rather than your typical good guys vs. bad guys for land, or a gold mine, or cattle or whatever. If you’ve ever seen any of the documentaries produced in the late 60’s or early 70’s from Europe and Italy in particular, about the Kennedy assassination that talk about vast Machiavellian conspiracies, then you’ll have an idea of what you’re walking into. For the most part it works as our hero is forced to navigate the plot at hand as well as the fall out from the Civil War (He and his father were on opposite sides).

A couple things I read on the film complained that the film isn’t historically accurate. My question is since when does anyone watch a western for historical accuracy? Accuracy wasn’t first and foremost on the minds of anyone involved. To the producers in Europe the American West was simply another location in which to tell their stories, it was not a place to give a history lesson. Van Johnson looks nothing like James Garfield, but he does vaguely resemble someone who could be called Kennedy. Garfield was killed in Washington DC, but if they move it to Dallas the film will have a deeper resonance. I don’t think the film needs to make the connections since the film is good enough on it’s own terms.

I like this film. Watching it as just another in a set of 44 spaghetti westerns from Millcreek I found that this was one of the films I stopped and actually watched with my full attention which is not something I did with many of the films since are bad enough that I skipped them or only paid partial attention. I like that there is a bit more effort being used to tell a story that is a bit more than your typical western. I also like that there is enough action to keep things from being too talky.

Its a solid little film.

Worth searching out.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Monkey King Uproar in Heaven (1961/1964 restored 2012) NYICFF


Holy moley this was cool. Its a film that made me fall in love with what movies can do all over again.

Monkey King Uproar in Heaven is the high point of the film year so far. It is conclusive proof that the New York International Chilren's Film Festival is not only one of the best film festivals going, but a real New York treasure. I can not thank them enough for bring this jewel of a film to New York.

One thing that amazes me is that Monkey King is one of the very few films that should be seen in 3D. It is one of the very few films that is improved by seeing it in 3D. The restoration of the film has it go from a 2D Chinese national treasure into a cinematic work of art of any kind. The restoration team from the Shanghai Animation Studio is to be applauded.

The plot follows the Monkey King as he first goes to meet the Dragon Lord in order to get a new weapon. He manages to get the Dragon Lord’s most prize possession- a huge cudgel that can change size. The Dragon Lord then goes to the Jade Emperor and asks him for help because the Monkey King is causing further trouble. The Jade Emperor has the Monkey King brought to Heaven, where he of course causes havoc and ends up battling all of the various celestial deities.

(Some of what follows is based on the post screening discussions that followed the film at Lincoln Center, most of which was done informally in the lobby of the theater. It only ended because we were thrown out.)

The film was originally made in two parts. The first half of the film was made and released in 1961. The second half of the film was completed in 1964 but never really got a release in China because of the Cultural Revolution. The two parts were put together it was screened as one film at festivals and around the world, and China after the Cultural Revolution.

The film has been lovingly restored. Each of the frames was cleaned up and redone. The restoration was done under the supervision of three 3 advisers who worked on the original film. What has resulted is one of the most amazing visual treats you’re likely to see. The film is very much like watching paintings come to life. I couldn’t believe how the artists managed to get the film to look as it does. Before I saw the film I was certain that all of the stills I was seeing were all created for promotion. I mean no one creates images like that and then animates them… I was wrong. They did. What you see in the stills is what is on screen.

The 3D is amazing. From the moment the film started it was clear that the people doing the conversion knew what to do. Not only did they give depth between the characters and the backgrounds but we also we get depth on the characters- you can sense their arms and legs moving away from their bodies. It may sound like a small thing but with most films post converted or cartoons done in a 3D version of 2D such as The Rabbi’s Cat, the result isn’t a 3D representation of the world but merely a series of visual planes like a Viewmaster slide. That’s not case here, there is more than just visual planes but an actual sense of space and place. Characters seem genuinely three dimensional.

Let me explain how good the 3D here is, out of all of the 3D films I’ve seen in my life and there are there have been too many to count, only 3 films are made better by it’s use and should be seen that way:

Werner Herzog’s Cave of Forgotten Dreams

Wim Wenders Pina

This version of The Monkey King

That’s it. Those are the best. Those are the only ones worth talking about in regard to 3D. Sure some others have moments, but only these three are the ones that work from start to finish, with Monkey King probably being the best. It certainly makes a case that post conversion can work if done right.

This is what 3D could be and should be.

And as for the dimming of the image by the glasses, it doesn’t degrade the image, which was a huge problem with The Rabbi's Cat and others.

I can’t say enough good about the film visually and it’s 3D.

If you like action and comedy this film is for you. It's a great deal of fun. The film mixes the Monkey King’s antics with some grand martial arts battles. It is the animate equivalent of some of the better martial arts films out there. It’s the sort of thing that Hong Kong does with wires and computers, only here it's pen and ink.

To be honest the film has a slightly draggy center. The start of the second half has the Monkey King brought back to Heaven to watch over a peach orchard and the film slows down a little. We get some fairies floating around and dancing and things slow a little bit. They pick up after a lovely sequence but it does slow things a little bit as far as the story is concerned.

During the informal Q&A the lull was explained. During the restoration the film, which was originally two parts and ran a total of 110 minutes, was trimmed. The directors and producer said that the film, as good as it was had some draggy parts that they had to trim them down or eliminate them because they didn’t move the story. It wasn't malicious or careless it simply was making the film work better (and things were approved by the people from the original production.)

The trimming resulted in a rerecording of the score, which is a huge plus, because the music is wonderful. The music is so good that I think the most asked question was how could someone get a copy of it.

This film needs a wide audience. Not only is it a good movie, but its clear proof that wonderful things were being done elsewhere in the world and not just in Hollywood where Disney, Warner and UPA were the big names at the same time.

Speaking of Disney I suspect that the animators there screened this film and used bits of it in their films in the late 60’s and early 70’s. Want proof look at the sequence in The Sword in The Stone where the characters have a shape shifting battle and see how it seems to have been cribbed from this film.

I had a blast, and based on the yelps of delight and laughter I think the audience around me did too.

I was told that the producers are currently close to having a deal to bring the film to the US, if so go see it and have your eyes dazzled.

I also want to shout out to the lovely ladies from the festival who recognized this poor reviewer. I’m taken aback that you remembered me. Thank you making me smile and thank you for the kind words about the blog, mostly thank you for being part of a festival that brings such wondrous treasures to New York.

This is an interview about the restoration with director Su Da. I should point out that what is said is slightly different than what she said after the film.

The Rabbi's Cat (2011) New Directors New Films


Animated film from Joann Sfar is based upon his graphic novel.

The film is the story of the rabbi's cat who begins to talk after eating a parrot, who then helps the rabbi pass a French exam before heading off on a journey across Africa looking for a city called Jerusalem.

This great looking film truly is the comic come to life (director Sfar refused to let anyone film his comic until he did it himself). Its an amazing living and breathing work of cinematic art that really should be seen in on the big screen...

...but not in 3D. The brilliant colors are completely washed out by the glasses making the eye popping colors turn to mud. I have no idea why 3D was used, other than for marketing, since it only adds minimally to the films sense of space. Its a lessening of all that is beautiful in the film.

The film outside of the 3D is a really good. Its a grand adventure about how we all are ultimately the same. Its a point driven home as we see all of the various people across Africa saying terrible things, the SAME terrible things, about each other.

The film also takes some of the piss out of Tintin who shows up briefly as a know it all, and overly talkative journalist.

I like the film a great deal. While it may ramble all over the place in the second half, it always remains engaging and entertaining. Actually my only serious complaint is that the film doesn't end so much as stop. My reaction when it ended was more or less, that's the end? Why not either sooner or a little later?. I can't really explain since you won't know what I'm talking about until you see the film.

Definitely worth seeing.

A word or two of warning. The film is being billed as both New Directors New Films first 3D and first family film. Its fine for older kids, but little ones (or more likely their parents), assuming they can read the subtitles, maybe upset by the graphic bloody violence, inferences of sex and the lack of shying away from real talk and actions. There is nothing wrong with any of it, it's just that some parents are overly protective and easily upset when cartoons turn out not to be juvenile as they think they are.

Tarkan and the Armless Hero (1973)


Kartal Tibet plays Tarkan for the last of five (to my knowledge) films called in English Tarkan and The Armless Hero.

(As with the previous Tarkan films I watched this without benefit of English subtitles, so details maybe sketchy) The plot of this one has Tarkan in the Orient. The film begins with a bad guy swordsman entering a town and everyone fleeing. He kills a good number of men at a dinner then storms off. Tarkan arrives at an inn (we know its in "China" because of the lettering on the signs) and orders dinner. A woman in distress arrives and Tarkan helps her out by beating up enough men to fill out a large army. Leaving the inn separately, both Tarkan and the girl are caught by the same people (Both the ones he beat up and the ones that capture the each of them). Tarkan is forced to overcome some great trials before winning the release of himself, the girl and some men making a delivery of a sword. Tarkan and the men deliver the sword to a monastery but end up being attacked by the bad guy from the beginning and his men. From this point on its a series of pitched battles between the two sides.

Say what you will about Turkish Cinema they have turned out some real gems. The film makers have this knack for making wild action films that blend a variety of styles together to make an entertaining movie. Here the film makers have taken the sword and sandal/costume drama and blended it with a martial arts film. If you're thinking that you didn't know that there was a large population of Asian actors in Turkey, you would find yourself correct in your assumptions, there aren't. The producers covered over this by putting any Asians tend to be toward the front of any scene, with squinting non Asians behind them (and lest anyone doubt they are Asian they have what I can only describe as Asian style facial hair). Its a scream. Even more wacky are the fight sequences. Certainly the sword fights are even more outrageous and wonderfully silly than before. However the real jaw dropping "I can't believe this/oh my god this is so dumb its fun" moment comes when you realize that since this film is set in China (or where ever) that most of the fights will involve some form of martial arts (I say some form since anything anyone does was clearly learned from the movies). The actors may not be able to do real martial arts, but damn it they are going to try, and amazingly it it some how works (in a jaw dropping I don't believe this sort of way).

I liked this film. It just goes from start to finish with out a great deal of extra baggage. It also takes a few twists and turns that were completely unexpected (I loved the trials) which liven things up as a result. Its a pure action film, and on that level it succeeds.

However as fun as the film is its clear that the Tarkan series had run out of steam. The addition of martial arts into the movie was a one shot deal and clearly couldn't have worked a second time. The mostly action format of this film appears to have been at the expense of most of the characters who have nothing to do but fight. You got no real sense of who anyone is, which was not the case in the previous entries. And you have to worry about a series that has to resort to two, yes two, flashbacks for the wolf of Tarkan as a baby (Thanks to footage from Tarkan and the Silver Saddle).

While not the best of the Tarkan film (Vikings and Golden Medallion are better) this film is certainly worth a look if you can find yourself a copy.

(For the record, no one is Armless in this movie, everyone has both arms on their bodies and a good number of weapons as well.)

The Spy Who Loves Me? My Girlfriend is an Agent at Free Korean Movie Night



A look through Korean films released theatrically in the US could lead one to think that the nation’s  movie going masses are largely depressed, going to the movies as a form of group therapy by bearing witness to intense suffering and psychologically draining confrontations.  Fortunately, institutions like the New York Asian Film Festival and Korean Cultural Service prove otherwise by bringing over films that represent a wide spectrum of genres from Korea’s vital industry.  

Prime evidence comes in the form of the next free movie screening from the Korean Cultural Service, My Girlfriend is an Agent, a romantic comedy wrapped up in a classic spy tale’s over sized trench coat, often tripping over its awkward tailoring.  Unlike some big messy blockbuster hopefuls that explode in every possible tonal direction, those at the helm of My Girlfriend is an Agent know how to keep things in proportion.  It is a comedy first and foremost with enough light-hearted action and romance to set up the laughs.

While in the midst of intercepting some international criminal activity, NIS agent Ahn Soo-ji finds herself concealing her clandestine activity from her boyfriend on the phone by claiming to be on Jeju Island.  It’s an alibi she’s used one time too many, as he is one foot out of the relationship and a boarding pass away from an international flight to somewhere far away from Korea.  This brings Ahn back to a similar situation three years ago with one time significant other, Lee Jae-joon.  The difference being that unbeknownst to her, while she was secretly carrying out her undercover activities, he was also pulling the wool over her eyes, his flight abroad being a part of his own top secret affairs.

The double deception between would-be lovers will no doubt lead to Mr. and Mrs. Smith comparisons.  And while I am not sure whether I’ve seen that movie or not (If I did, any significant memory of it is all but faded away), I will presume to report that the similarities are few and far between, aside from this general convention.  The couple in ‘Girlfriend’ while certainly attractive, are not being played up as sexy.  Rather, imagine if the star-crossed crime stoppers were played by Steve Carrel and Tina Fey and you have a more accurate idea of the ensuing antics.  

If you are expecting lots of flimsy excuses to get the female lead into revealing outfits and compromising physical positions, you’ll be disappointed or pleasantly surprised depending on your agenda.  Despite the seemingly guy-centric English title, the movie is rather evenly split between both leads, maybe spending a bit more time on Jae-joon’s comedic bumbling than the other way around.  

Another operation brings Soo-ji and Jae-joon together once again after the long separation.  They are each angered about the breakup, feeling it was caused by the other’s dishonesty, but naturally a wispy smoke ring of love still lingers in the air.  They go through their awkward attempts at rekindling a relationship, while both, still unbeknownst to the other, begin to tackle the same international threat of bio-terrorism, world domination, or something to that effect...clearly, the dysfunctional relationship humor makes a much stronger impression than the cloak and dagger stuff.  

Western audiences might be thrown for a loop by a traditional Asian chasteness that runs through the story. Still thinking of the Smiths and their marital counseling? Never mind that; this pair is working on holding hands and first kisses.

Despite this traditional seeming restraint, there is a fun bit of role reversal that flies in the face of old fashioned expectations. Soo-ji definitely wears the pants in this partnership. Her fighting skills are far superior to those of Jae-joon, who has the geekier talent of being a wiz with codes. Meanwhile, his inability to utter any form of communication to his team that isn’t inappropriate, along with an ineptitude with firearms, is a source of great mirth.

Of course, neither of them is particularly good at the job. While Soo-ji is the more capable combatant, she has the grace and subtlety of a bull in a shop that sells...some kind of porcelain.  It makes it almost plausible that these two supposed super sleuths cannot figure out that the other is in working for a different branch of the same agency.  That nobody on either of their crack teams is quite a bit harder to swallow, but by this point, you’re either charmed by the premise or you’re not.  When these protectors of the free world finally do catch wind of the strange behavior their agents’ significant others display, it leads to even more confusion.  While the turn is nothing shocking or groundbreaking, it’s a good bit of fun better left to be discovered on screen than described here.    

Regardless of the genre, this just wouldn’t seem like a proper Korean movie without some barb tongued verbal exchanges, and here our couple shine.  There are several heated arguments that threaten to go nuclear between the two leads, which steal the show movie’s international incident subplot. These aggro conversations are what offer something unique, making for a refreshing difference from the usual back and forth between Hollywood comedy couples.  

A true comedy at heart, consider the secret codes and sinister canisters an extra bonus.
 



My Girlfriend is an Agent screens for free on Tuesday, March 27, 7:00 PM, at Tribeca Cinemas. See the Korean Cultural Service website for details.


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Thursday, March 22, 2012

How to Survive a Plague (2012) New Directors New Films


Moving documentary on the men and women who decided to ACT UP and try force someone to find a cure for AIDS. Told most through news footage and film and video from the period, and an occasional talking head, the film has a you are there feel. Its a film that puts you in the trenches.

If the film has any real flaw it's that it drops we the audience into the middle of things. As the film starts we are six years into the AIDS crisis. People are dying from a new disease. People like Jesse Helms refused to do anything because it was killing mostly gay men. The film assumes that we have some knowledge of what had been going on up to that point. It's a small flaw that is repeated a time or two later in the film when it assumes we know things already. Its a minor flaw but one that keeps this very good film from being a truly great one.

Great or not the film is full of many emotional moments. I dare you not to be moved by Larry Kramer's shaming of a bickering ACT UP meeting that was losing sight of things. His cries of "Its a Plague" is chilling, and heart rending because in the middle of everyone verging on being wiped out they were quibbling over some bullshit matter. Also moving is the march on the White House by the dead. We watch as the cremated remains of AIDS victims were carried, and then dumped on the White House lawn. I dare you not to tear up as lovers, friends and parents truly say their last good byes before they dump their loved ones on George Bush's door step. And there is a "we got lucky" when we see those who have survived the plague, and we see the pain of having lived through it when those they fought to save died.

I don't know what else to say other than I really like and admire the film a great deal.

See the it and understand that you really can make a difference and save lives....

The film is playing New Directors New Films before traveling to several film festivals and a regular release in the fall.

Tarkan and the Golden Medallion (1972)

This seems to be the Turkish answer to the Hercules/ Sword and Sandal movies that were being cranked out in the 1960's. We have fights, blood, topless women, supernatural beings, and enough seriousness to make this more than just a silly adventure film. Its also one of five films that Turkish film makers made in the late 60's and early 70's with the same character.

The plot set in medieval Europe has something to do with an evil lord raising someone from the dead and then running rough shod over the countryside. He kidnaps one of his enemies wife and child. The woman is raped, killed and her body sent back to her husband. With the help of Tarkan and his dog, the grieving warlord takes revenge. Please forgive the lack of details but I saw this with out benefit of any English translation (the plot is rather straight forward so its very easy to follow, though details, like names, are lost).

Made on a budget that allows for some sense of place and reality this is a wonderful swords and sorcery/sandal type of film. Unlike some Turkish films of the same time you don't have 1960's mod clothing pretending to be what was worn 700 years earlier. The fights tend to be a bit inept, however this gives them a feeling of being very much comic book like or perhaps "intentionally stylistic". The acting is earnest and not over the top (The bad guy reminds me of Jaquim Phoenix in Gladiator, only slightly more mad). There are lots of nice touches like weird traps the villain has in his castle. It seems that a great deal of care went into this movie.

I really liked this movie. I've been seeing a good number of Turkish films lately and its nice to see one that is a serious attempt at being more than just a goofy romp. I'm also a sucker for a really well done fantasy film so this was doubly up my alley.

If you want to try a really good fantasy film from somewhere other than Italy, Spain or one of the usual suspect countries give this a shot. Personally I liked it so much I tracked down the other four films in the series.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Neighboring Sounds (2012) New Directors New Films (spoilers)


What in the hell is this film all about?

Seriously, what's the film's point?

The film shows life on a street in a city in Brazil around the time that residents agree to pay for private security. We follow the security guys, a guy who sells apartments in one building, his girlfriend, his uncle, his cousin breaks into cars, their grandfather who owns many of the buildings on the block, and a family in one of the buildings who are driven nuts by a barking dog.

The film is told in three parts that move the characters over the course of several months.

I can't tell you what the film is about other than what it shows, nor can I tell you what the point of it is. The film, despite having an often ominous tone just sort of runs to a stop.

The film falls apart in the the third part. It's here that the film begins to flail about in all sort of directions making you wonder what the director was thinking.

What do I mean by flailing about?

We get a sequence where one of the security guys ands the grandfather's maid go into a house and have sex. There is a shot of some one walking by a door in a supposedly empty house that caused the audience I saw this with to scream and jump with a greater intensity than most horror films. What does this have to do with anything? I have no idea since its just one shot that is never referenced again- despite the camera moving to capture this key event.

We get two horror movie like dream sequences, one involving a shower of blood and an another involving a bunch of people leaping over a wall and congregating in a hallway. Do either mean anything? Your guess is as good as mine.

Then you have the ending which is best described as out of left field. Its a scene where a conversation between the grandfather and the security men talk about something we've never heard referenced before and it implies something terrible except the film cuts away to the dog family setting off firecrackers and a black out.

There is no resolution, no anything just more threads. I wanted to yell out - YOU HAVE GOT TO BE KIDDING. but I held my tongue and just watched the audience flee.

Personally I want to smack the director upside the head. He has a great cast, some interesting plot threads, and then he tosses them all out the window.

What was he thinking?

No clue. After the screening I read the press notes which told me nothing- other than they talk more about the barking dog than the film does.

Pretentious twaddle.

What a waste. Two hours of my life gone for a film that ultimately means zippo.

Skip this one.

Kilink Strip and Kill (1967)


The first Kilink film (Kilink in Istanbul) is a fantastic thrill ride of action sex violence and silliness. When I saw it I sat there with my mouth open amazed at the "throw everything into it the mix" nature of the movie. There was no reason any of it should have worked, but it did in spades. I was so excited by the prospect of seeing another film in the series I picked up a copy of the third film even though it was sans subtitles.

The plot of the film has Kilink, again back from the dead, playing off two bands of gangsters against each other. The police also join the battles once they realize that the super criminal is not as dead as they thought. There are shoot outs, fist fights and seductions in the typical Kilink style as our hero attempts to get whatever he's after this time (without subtitles it was hard to tell what it was). Its a Turkish version of Yojimbo or Fistful of Dollars.

Kilink Strip and Kill is a disappointment, or is at least without subtitles. The problem is not that there isn't the over the top violence and behavior, there is, there's just less of it. The problem here is that the film has a good number of scenes with just dialog, where nothing but talk happens. I'm sure had I had a subtitled print this would have played better, but it didn't and I kept wanting to reach for the fast forward. I know that part of the problem is that since the film is also sans supernatural/superhero elements the film seems to be just another gangster film, but with a protagonist in a full skeleton costume. I liked the wild elements of the first film and was slightly disappointment that they weren't here to spice things up.

If you've seen other Kilink films give this one a try, although try to hold out for one with proper subtitles. Its not bad, its just hard to follow with out them, hence my rating of six. I know that should I be able to find a subtitled print I will be very happy to try this again.

Kilink in Istanbul (1967)


Talk about Psychotronic film, this movie from Turkey is one of the most amazing and jaw dropping things I've ever seen.

The plot has Kilink, a man in a full skeleton suit, being raised from the dead in order to continue his evil ways. His latest plot has him looking for a secret formula that will destroy the world and allow him to rule over whats left. The formula was created by a scientist who once worked for the evil Kilink, but fled from England to Turkey when he had the chance. Kilink catches up with the turncoat and kills him. The search for the formula is then on. Meanwhile the son of the murdered scientist is visited by a god like figure who gives him super powers whenever he says Shazam, yes that Shazam (though the suit isn't the same)

Can you say copyright infringement? Not in Turkey, where they have been stealing characters an film bit from Western movies for years. Kilink is actually based upon an Italian comic book character which they co-opted for their purposes. The origin of the Shazam character is lifted out of American comics. Its an odd mix and yet it some how it works. Taking the infringement even farther all of the music is lifted from other places, the Bond films primarily. No one is credited of course.

Kilink is a vile character, he's probably one the best screen villains I've run across, arrogant, amoral, charismatic. and deadly. Its simply a joy to see a character this bad plot to destroy everything. Darth Vader and Hannibal Lecter have nothing on this guy.

The film is full of sex and violence and everything that mom said was bad for us. Its done in a wild abandon that is absolutely charming. The fights are done with a sincerity that turns their raw violence into something often better than their polished Hollywood counterparts. At one point Kilink forces himself on a busty blonde who's just tried to kill him. With barely veiled promises of sexual ecstasy the rape becomes a seduction almost instantly, and while you can consider it sexist, there is something about the way that its done here that makes it less than morally reprehensible.

Kudos aside there are some warnings before you see this film. First off its often not up to "Hollywood" standards, at times it looks like a better than average home movie. It was done fast and cheap and at times it shows. The sound is tinny, or has been obviously over laid on top of the picture. You have to be forgiving of its imperfections. Worse the prints of this, and many early Turkish films, are awful. The films from the period were not preserved. They were churned out as fast as possible and then put aside in favor of the next one. There was no film preservation so whats survived are scratched, broken and missing bits of the action. If you don't go with it you will be driven mad by jumps in scenes due to lost footage. (and odds are its going to be subtitled)

If you can forgive the physical flaws of the film, you really should see this film if you get the chance. Its a wild mad dog experience thats the type of thing that real film lovers search out. Its a full steam fun film experience, with out a deep thought anywhere in sight.

Rating of 9 out of 10 is on the Psychotronic/Drive-in scale of unique movie experiences.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Raid (2012) New Directors New Films


This is a two part review. The first part, before the Addendum is what I wrote after seeing the film at the sparcely attended press screening for New Directors New Films. It was a screening that was mostly quiet and respectful, not the sort of way you want to see a film like this. The Addendum is my reaction after seeing the film with an audience pumped up and primed for a good time. It also contains my feelings after two weeks of discussions on the film.

Gareth Evan's follow up to Merantau is a must see for action film lovers. Its a more or less nonstop battle between a group of cops trapped in a high rise controlled by some bad guys. They got in okay but they were spotted early and the plan to extract the main bad guy is thrown aside in favor of just surviving.

Gareth Evan's first action film, Merantau was a mixed bag. Its a film about a young man who leaves his village on a spiritual quest and finds himself having to fight bad guys to help a young woman he's befriended. The story is a soapy mess, however the action is incredible.

The Raid pretty much dispenses with plot and just throws us in the deep end with the team of police who head into the high rise. Almost from the get go the fighting begins. Its guns, knives, machetes, fists, clubs and everything else you can think of. Yea a plot creeps in here and there, but it's mostly disposable.

I can't say this enough the action is incredible. Its an amazing assortment of fights that will make you jaw hang open and make you yelp with pleasure. As a pure action engine this film is way up on the list. If you're an action junkie you will love this film. Its the best definition I know of action speaking louder than words

The twists and turns in the bits are fantastic. For example there is a sequence where our hero and a wounded officer are hiding in a false wall from some baddies. I won't say what happens but lets just say that one of the baddies want to make sure there is nothing behind the wall.

See this film.

See this film with an audience of action film fanatics.

See this film and have a good time.

(A few last notes.

The picture at the top is prerelease art I found on line. The building in the film isn't 30 stories but 15.

I should say that, as much as I like this movie and as highly as I recommend it, I would not and will probably not put this on on my best of the year list. The action is amazing but Evans attempts at story telling results into some logic problems. Ultimately it doesn't matter, thats just my feeling- you want to see the film and I want to see it a couple more times.

I strongly suspect that how and with whom you see this film will determine how you react to the film. The more into action those seeing the film with you are, the more you'll like it.)


Addendum

Last Wednesday night I saw The Raid for a second time at a preview screening set up by Fangoria Magazine. This time it was with a pumped up audience that included Mondocurry, Mr C, Rufus from cineAwesome, plus Roy, Joel and Earl. It was a loud verbal and very appreciative crowd that really got into the film and really got what was happening on screen. This was, and is the way the film should be seen.

Seeing the film for a second time I came to a couple of realizations.

First the film plays better the more you see it. Part of it is simply that on the second time through you can see little story bits from late in the film and see how they are reflected earlier in the film. Knowing some of the twists adds to what’s going on earlier.

Also seeing the film a second time allows you to really watch the action sequences. If you thought the sequences were amazing when you were watching the film for just the story, they are even more mind blowing when you can focus a bit more attention on them and a tad less on the story.

Walking out of the theater and talking with everyone after the film I felt certain that I was going to go home and change the review that I had written up when I first saw the film.

Strangely, other than adding this addendum I haven’t.

Yes it’s a thrill ride. Yes the film is a blast, there is something about the ending, something about the final battle, that kind of doesn’t work for me. I don’t think the film is bad. I do think it’s a mostly great film. I think I find that the resolution, after all that has gone before is kind of a let down…I think in large part that’s because the film was conceived at the first part of trilogy which mandates that you have to leave some plot threads open for what follows. It may keep the cash cow alive but it does mean that you can’t do certain things to your characters.

I stand by my initial feeling- that the film is a must see for action lovers. I also don’t think I’m going to end up with it on my best of the year list – though it has inched closer to it with the second viewing.

For Mr C's take on the film check oyt his home base Planet Chocko

Tarkan and the Silver Saddle (1970)

Kartal Tibet returns as Tarkan in the second in the series of films about a lone warrior and his wolf. Actually this is the first "story" telling the story of the events leading up to Tarkan's birth, his being raised by wolves after his family was killed by raiders and his ultimate revenge against those who did him and his people wrong.

I have to say that I watched this with out English subtitles so a complete understanding of the plot was not possible. Even allowing for that this is the weakest of all of the Tarkan films I've seen (I've seen four of the five). There is a great deal of talk and unless you speak Turkish much of the plot is going to be lost on you. Worse the normal fantastical and action elements are lacking in this film. Sure there is a sorceress who puts most of the story in motion, and there is a giant and some very good fights, but the majority of the good stuff takes place in the final twenty minutes.Until then its a long slow slog.

If you've seen the other films in the series and liked them I'd give it a try, but if you're new to Tarkan I'd start with The Vikings or Golden Medallion (third and fourth films in the series), since they won't put you off to continuing with the series.