Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Six Feet Under: Season 4 (2004)

Nate may seem like a hard man, but he cries... a LOT

Genre: Drama Comedy Series

Starring: Peter Krause (We Don't Live Here Anymore; The Truman Show), Michael C. Hall (Paycheck)

Created By: Alan Ball

Overview: The continuing saga of the life and times of a family in the undertaking business. In this season, Nate deals with his recent crisis, David and Keith do better regardless of all their horrible luck, and Rico faces marriage troubles.

Acting: Consistently the acting is as good as it ever was, but after all these years, I've come to expect greatness from HBO, makers of such little known series as Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Sopranos. Better still, all my least favorite characters are either gone or have more minimal roles. I like that.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: There's far more 'imagination takes' than there was in last year's season. By that I mean scenes where you see something going on, but it's only what someone's thinking, like David finding a Chinese baby girl in his pantry, a moment of wishful thinking. As always, the opening scene as someone's death and fading to white instead of the typical black, much enjoyed.
Rating: 8

Script: The life lessons taught in this one seem even more plentiful than in last season. Ruth, Rico, Nate and David all face genuine trials that we can all learn the easy way if we care to listen. The speeches may not be as earth-shattering as last season but they are still some of the best you'll find out there.
Rating: 9

Plot: For as much as this show will certainly keep your interest, Clair's character development is nowhere near as fun to watch this time around. Instead, you'll find that David and Keith's roller-coater ride of a life are far more interesting that watching some drug-addled artists take pictures and make out with friends. Finally, after all this time, George becomes more than a tertiary character.
Rating: 8

Mood: Again, the business end of things was pretty much left by the wayside in favour of character development, however there are far more daring episodes this season than any that have come before. Mysteries revealed, horrors lived and resolved for some while troubles just begin for others, this year doesn't end abruptly or with too many cliffhangers. It flows smoothly, though I miss the moments where the characters spoke to the dead, there's far less of that now.
Rating: 8

You'd have to be high to think that this message is original and poignant... and they were

Overall Rating: 84% (I Still Dig It)

Aftertaste: Still loving the show and looking forward to jumping right into the next and last season with my baby, who got the whole 5-season boxed set as a gift. What HBO wonder will take it's place when I'm done? "Big Love", about a Mormon and his three wives? Doesn't interest me. "Deadwood" Season three? I didn't even know it made it through the second. "Entourage"? Hmm, don't think so. I guess HBO will sit on the backburner for a while, in lieu of "24", "The Shield", and the original 1959 "Twilight Zone".

Good times.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Tombstone (1993)

Aww look they're all dressed up with no one to kill.

Genre: Western Action Drama

Starring: Kurt Russell (3000 Miles To Graceland; Big Trouble In Little China), Val Kilmer (The Saint; Heat)

Directed By: George P. Cosmatos (Leviathan; Rambo: First Blood Part II)

Overview: Based (ever so loosely) on the story of Wyatt Earp's move to Tombstone, Arizona, we find retired lawman Earp and his brothers facing the red-sashed Cowboys gang. That famous shootout at the OK Corral? That's here too.

Acting: From time to time it's clear another take should have been ordered up, usually a hammy bit of forgivable overemphasis on Kurt Russel's part, but I blame the director, I mean he directed Stallone's Cobra. I'm surprised this didn't have more muscle-bound shirt-tearing screaming scenes, frankly. When you look at it that way, this film is genius. One more thing: Val Kilmer's role as 'Doc' Holiday is awe-inspiring, no kidding.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: Pretty indeed. The shootouts and showdowns are suspenseful, ladies marching around in their parasols and all those gambling hall scenes and outdoor dusty city streets. However, slow motion walking down the street, though sometimes interesting has been played out to death. I know Reservoir Dogs did it, but the music kicked ass and it was during the opening credits, it's fine that way. In this, it was too melodramatic, and to do it in the film and at the end credits? Puh-lease! And they weren't even walking into the sunset, damnit.
Rating: 8

Script: "You die first, get it? Your friends might get me in a rush but not before I make your head a canoe, you understand me?"

Every time I thought this was a standard Hollywood script with the words as filler between gunfights, a line like the one above would be spoken. 'Doc' Holiday was full of poetic zeal and the motives and desires of all the major players was perfectly explained. Not perfect though: in one scene, a slow-motion Wyatt Earp yells "NOOOOO!" when one of his buddies gets it in the chest. Ouch, I know.
Rating: 8

Plot: It was quite interesting to realize that there was no group consensus when it came to an action, be it by the antagonistic 'Cowboys' gang members, or even by the heroic troupe of Wyatt's men. What this does for the story is give it a broad element of individuality, of self. You know that doing in the leader isn't going to change much, that vendettas are set between people, but by the same right, even a good man can go rogue when he has something to prove. This movie excels in the telling of the lives of men as men, and not as some force moving in unison. Terrific character development, even if the true story's facts are ignored.
Rating: 9

Mood: Granted, the happenings on-screen were often vainglorious, but chalk that up to the taint of corruption brought in by such films as 1988's Young Guns, not to mention the director's penchant for... What do you call that? Overzealous cock-slapping? Not to be too harsh, those moments were rare and overall i really had a good time with this.
Rating: 8

If I was a doctor with the consumption, I'd want to be Val Kilmer too.

Overall Rating: 82% (Wouldn't Kill Ya To Watch It)

Aftertaste: God, now I can't get Young Guns out of my head. Why is garbage like that so popular? They even made a sequel, too. Looking back at the late 80s I realize how lucky we are that we climbed out of that self-made hellpit. The "A-Team", Adventures In Babysitting, Cindy Lauper... Frightening. Sometimes a movie from the early 90s still shows signs of the throwback, but we try to forget, oh boy, do we ever try. Eesh, just had a flashback to all the movies where they disarm a bomb with the classic Eenie-Meenie-Miney-Mo method... At least we evolved.. not counting parachute pants...

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Versus (2000)

A yakamuza kickin'-in-the-head, shootin'-in-the face piece of genius

Action Comedy Zombie Fantasy (USA, Japan)

Starring: Tak Sakaguchi, Hideo Sakaki

Directed By: Ryuhei Kitamura

Overview: In this world there are 666 portals to the other side. At the site of the 444th portal, in the Forest of Resurrection, Yakuza gangsters find that the bodies of the enemies that they've been burying all these years are suddenly not quite at rest.

Acting: Normally you'd think a movie with an estimated $400,000 budget (severely low end) would have actors who really don't know what they're doing. That would be true here too, however, we also have a genius of a director, who, knowing this, turns this into just enough comedy to make it work. "CSI: Miami"'s David Caruso can't hold a candle to them, but he sucks. These guys, they made a great movie, period.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: It's low-budget, no doubt, but when you tribute Sam Raimi's Evil Dead series with your ground-low zoom ins and circling overhead cameras, have lots of latex gore and the occasional fish-eye lens shot and never once complain about any technical issues, then how can you not appreciate it for what it is? El Mariachi is considered a classic and the cameraworks was really shoddy. This was visually stunning, a pleasure to watch.
Rating: 8

Script: Because you can't reason with zombies, there was not a whole lot of dialogue. When there were plot elements being explained, they did it so quickly that there wasn't time for comprehension. It didn't sink in before some other major plot piece or character was introduced, and in the end, I found myself a little lost. I will say though, that the 'rote' dialogue, things you'd expect to hear, like 'Oh my God, they're getting up' or 'Oh Jesus, we have to get out of here!', was done far more originally than I would have expected, and there were some hilarious moments between characters that more than make up for what's lacking.
Rating: 7

Plot: It's actually quite surprising how complex this film is. Most of the characters are comedically farcical, but the three mains are truly driven by their goals. With some genuine twists and turns and a sequel-inviting (and received) and original ending, the simple survival plot that zombie movies tend to be is made more important with the 'cosmic relevance' of this story. Is it me or do the Japanese love plots that mean the fate of the universe?
Rating: 7

Mood: The film opens with the shot of a man holding a sword outstretched, his enemy cleaved in twain before him. This has real gore and lots of it to entertain the kiddies. It would have been nice to have a story that was a bit more structured, a touch easier to follow, but that just makes me want to see it again... In the past I would say that low-budget gore-horror films needed a stretch of the imagination, forgiveness even, to truly enjoy it. This shattered that belief. Versus knew its fault and ran with it rather than ignoring it, giving it a unique and distinctly immersive mood that is all its own.
Rating: 9

Oh my God! Zombies that use guns and swords!!!!

Overall Rating: 78% (Technical Score Versus Genuine Love...)

Aftertaste: The good friend of mine who introduced this to me predicted I would give it a 76%. He knew the inherent faults in this, given the budget, guns and kicks in the head aside. At first glance this could be easily considered nothing more than some low-budget zombie flic, worthy of nothing more than being watched as a joke, but I'll tell you this left an indelible impression on me, and this has raised the bar on low-budget film for me permanently. Like Ricky-Oh, this is the kind of film that if you like, you will constantly have to defend, and I'm ready to champion that fight, yes sir.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Why We Fight (2005)

Eisenhower plays the President of the United World of America

Genre: Documentary (USA, France, UK, Canada, Denmark)

Starring: Republican Senator John McCain, President Eisenhower's Son, John S.D. Eisenhower, and his granddaughter Susan Eisenhower.

Directed By: Eugene Jarecki

Overview: President Eisenhower, in his farewell speech, warned America that the 'military-industrial complex' was a threat to liberty and should be closely reined. This documentary poses the question, 'Why are we in Iraq?', and more importantly, 'Why do we fight at all?'

Acting: These people seem really comfortable in front of the camera. It's refreshing to see that in this kind of documentary. Of course, with people like John McCain, you're raising the bar when it comes to video interviews. From the lowly illiterate sheep-herder to the soldier about to ship out to Iraq, the people who are in this movie do a great job of making the movie, and staying natural without being awkward.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: The stock footage they use, the quick cuts from missiles and bombs being made, to trade shows with greasy merchants doing card tricks (nice imagery of being conned by the way, very cute) to Eisenhower's message. Sure, this follows the standard documentary style of shooting, but there's a nice budget and some great editing.
Rating: 8

Script: "America will fail. She will fail completely among the countries... America will lose because her behaviour is not the behaviour of a great nation."

Some pretty damning words that sums up the general consensus of the film. This documentary, if you know enough about America's war / imperialist history, is not that shocking. The story of the man who lost his son in the trade center at 9/11, and how he tried to get his name put on a bomb that was used in Iraq, however, was my favorite part. It's a touching tale of how the typical American is starting to lose faith in their once great nation.
Rating: 8

Plot: This film goes over Eisenhower's warning, narrates the threat of Lockheed Martin and the privatization of military support units (food services, contractors), and asks regular people on the streets of home and abroad the question "why do we fight?" The answer may turn out to be a little thin, but the focus is clearly on learning more about what's going on that finding out why.
Rating: 7

Mood: The professionalism, the amount of archive footage, the soundtrack, these are the things that make or break the mood of a standard documentary like this one and I must say that from the very beginning, this was great music overlaid across some impressive footage while making it well-rounded with some touching tales of humanity.
Rating: 8

No jokes, just suck.

Overall Rating: 78% (Why Not?)

Aftertaste: This is nowhere near as memorable as The Corporation or The Take, which I think everyone should see, but it was recommended by a good friend, and until good friends start thinking that I'm a trash-compactor of film, ready to have stuff shoved in just to consume, then I'll keep taking their suggestions. So far I haven't been too let down, Good Guys Wear Black aside, but in defense, that was to knock my love of Chuck Norris down a notch, and it worked, oh Lord did it ever.

Slapstick Masters (1916 - 1929)

Never thought Chaplin could be so intimidating as a pig...

Genre: Silent Action Comedy

Starring: Keaton, Chaplin, Laurel & Hardy, Monty Banks

Overview: This collection of shorts highlights some of the classic moments of slapstick comedy in early cinema

Acting: Well we all know my opinion of the silent Chaplin and Keaton, but Laurel and Hardy make a great team (malicious as they are). The new face to me here, Monty Banks (below), seems more like the average Joe without a gimmick like Keaton tends to play. I don't know why he didn't stand the test of time, but he's a great actor.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: Monty Banks' short, Chasing Choo-Choos, has him pulling insane stunts on a train more daring than the ones Keaton did in The General. I'm talking jumping from moving cars just before said car explodes by getting hit by the oncoming train on the other track. He also does some plank walking and roof hopping on the moving engine. He's effin' crazy.
Rating: 9

Script: Simple as can be. Insert girl, reason to save her, then go to it. The jokes in this one aren't as plentiful, but they more than make up for that in the madness, like Keaton's One Week, where he builds a 'make your own house' all wrong and it ends up on some train tracks. You can guess what happens, no script necessary.
Rating: 8

Plot: This was the perfect collection. I've seen a few of these so far, and usually they're a collection of one person's work, including some of the not as impressive or funny moments. Not only is this four more-obscure films that I've never seen, but they're also absolutely terrific. Simple short stories, funny and full of stunts. Good times.
Rating: 8

Mood: Holy intense. Chaplin plays a cop trying to take in a brute that can't be knocked out or taken down by 8 pigs, so that one's all ramblin fisticuffs, Keaton does the old (and extremely dangerous) side of the house falls on me but I happen to be standing where the window is, Monty's a total nutcase and Laurel & Hardy have some fun freaking out on some poor guy's house. Really captivating, and the whole feel of the 20s with the cars and clothes. This is really fun.
Rating: 9

Psychosis is very difficult to spot, unless it's jumping from a moving train.

Overall Rating: 84% (Slap This Into Your DVD Player, Boy.)

Aftertaste: I'm thinking hard, and this is probably the best compilation of silent stuff I've seen yet, just because every film is gold. Not only that but they're all short and versatile. This is a very nice wrapped up example of the kind of comedic cinema that was going on during this era, and I genuinely think everyone would get a kick out of this.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Miller's Crossing (1990)

Not to disappoint you, but no one is actually seen crossing any Millers...

Genre: Gangster Crime Drama Thriller

Starring: Gabriel Byrne (Stigmata; The Usual Suspects), Marcia Gay Harden (Pollock; Mystic River)

Directed By: The Coen (Ethan and Joel) Brothers (Barton Fink; The Big Lebowski)

Overview: Tom Regan plays consigliere to the town Mob Boss. When his warnings fall on deaf ears, he finds himself in the middle of a war, wondering where his loyalties should lie.

Acting: The cast is not only full of people who are in tremendous films, but they're people who have all worked several times with the Coen Brothers. What that means is that the brothers wrote the parts for the actors themselves, tailoring the role for the man, if you will. Some might say the actor's job is to be the character, but 'play what you know' works really well here. I'll predict that the Dane is your favorite character too.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: The scenes over at Miller's Crossing, meditative yet nerve-wracking are captivating, as are the action sequences and the shootouts. More than one scene has over a dozen of those black 20s Fords with cops all firing their guns at a little storefront, really memorable stuff. The other murder and assault scenes are graphic, highly realistic, coming close to the Film Noir and Gangster Flic cliches, but never going overboard. The brothers carve their own path, keeping everything original.

Rating: 9

Script: There was too much dialogue. Too much 'men sitting across from each other with a huge oak desk between them'. Yes, there's action and intrigue but I found that some scenes went on longer than they had to just for the sake of showing off the writing skills of the Coen brothers. The dialogue is great, ripe with mobster street lingo, but I found the yacking to go on just a tad too much, as interesting as the overall story was.
Rating: 7

Plot: The story is fairly complex. Not anywhere near the Syriana-level hard to understand, but pretty deep politics run through this one. It's a roller-coaster of twists and turns and that's what you'll like the most. I'm watching the opening scene thinking this is the normal everyday situation that our mob boss runs into and the real story is going to be about some skirt, but to think that we jump right into the elaborate plot right away makes for a good long exploration of the true undercurrent of the situation unfolding, not to mention all the murder and mayhem to boot.

Mood: The roaring 20s! Tommy guns, mob lingo, and oak craftsmanship everywhere. This doesn't look like a modern movie, it's so engrossing that you lose yourself in the era, and the dialogue is constant 20s kitsch. Ad a few dirty Irish cops on the take and some double-crossed double-crosses and you have yourself quite the tall tale.
Rating: 9

Anyone who slaps the hell out of his kid then says "Awww did someone hit you?"...worthy of respect.

Overall Rating: 82% (Just ONCE could you NOT put a PUN here?)

Aftertaste: The Coen Brothers. I just don't know. Everyone tells me how great they are and I know their professionalism and budgets are of a superb quality, but there's just something about some of their stories, like this one and O Brother, Where Art Thou? that's hit and miss sometimes. I've seen most of their works and I'd say that I loved 60% of them. These guys have quite the knack for creating films with mixed reviews, but I guess I'll keep watching, in hopes that films of a Hudsucker Proxy, Fargo and The Big Lebowski quality are made again. This one just didn't keep my attention like it should have, good as it was.

One more thing: The best film they've ever made, without a doubt is Barton Fink. See it. It's high art for the masses, it's genius as seen through the eyes of madness.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Beowulf and Grendel (2005)

Think Beowulf, think epic superhero. Not only that, but he's popular with the ladies!

Fantasy Action Adventure Drama

Starring: Gerard Butler (Dracula 2000; Timeline) , Stellan Skarsgard (Exorcist: The Beginning; Dogville)

Directed By: Sturla Gunnarsson (Rare Bird; "Da Vinci's Inquest")

Overview: When Beowulf visits his old friend the king, he is asked to help destroy the troll that is killing the men in the camp. By the time Beowulf discovers there is a deeper game afoot, it is too late for him to decline the battle that he faces.

Acting: Weird. All the abovementioned actors have done a horror movie. Stellan is a great actor, and knowing that he was in this was one of the reasons I came to watch. The actor who played Grendel was awesome, and Butler, who played Beowulf, is equally amazing in his role (impressive given his lowbrow film career to date, see above), but Sarah was the only one without an accent, and it was very distracting. I've seen her in eight other films (all of which she was great in) and I just got the impression that she wasn't anywhere near trying in this one.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: Some people might describe the setting as breathtaking. I'd call it more overcast and bleak, but the mildly oppressive climate certainly played its part rather well. Though I would have preferred trolls that were a touch more inhuman, the style was effective. I'll add that the armour, outfits and braided beards, the ships, the fight scenes, all the visual aspects of the film were good, but there was just something missing to set it apart as something truly impressive.
Rating: 8

Script: Think of the fact that this was an epic poem that stood the test of time for almost a millennium. Why they didn't keep the poem untouched is beyond me, unless of course it was to appeal to the less art-house Canadians out there. We reach a nice little middle ground and find that the dialogue is the kind that is inspirational without remaining perfectly epic-poetic.
Rating: 7

Plot: The story was a bit slow. That was the consensus all around. For someone who created a tale about a troll with a twist, adding some nice bits of humanity and a fortune-telling witch, you'd wonder why the movie version was so disappointing. I saw this with a crowd, and that crowd all agree that the story was "einh".
Rating: 6

Mood:The mood was perfectly captured I'd say. We got just enough of the troll's intent and 'humanity' to understand what and why was going on while still knowing that Beowulf was being painted into a corner and forced into a situation that his morality had issue with. Add the fact that this was set in a rugged and dank environment and you have the kind of setting that could make almost any movie work.
Rating: 8

Stellan Skarsgard is the kind of actor you just gotta respect, also his beard kicks ass.

Overall Rating: 74% (Epic Is As Epic Does)

Aftertaste: As I left the theater the group of people I saw this with all said, "I really don't know." The strangers I overheard as I left also has the opinion that something was missing. I won't say that this movie was not a good time, but I will add that there was nothing memorable about it, which is too bad, because when you think of epic poems, they're good for a reason, and that reason is as epic as the tale itself. Why the screenplay writer and director didn't keep this in mind is beyond me. You might just have a better time reading it.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Girl Shy (1924)

Oh my God look at that HARLOT, she's... she's got BARE ARMS!

Genre: Silent Action Comedy Family Romance

Starring: Harold Lloyd (The Kid Brother; Slapstick Symposium), Mildred Davis

Directed By: Fred C. Newmeyer (Safety Last!), Sam Taylor (The Cat's Paw)

Overview: This is the story of a stuttering author, a man terrified of womankind, yet who seeks to have his book "The Secret of Making Love" published. After trials and tribulations, he find that he must stop the marriage of the woman he loves to another man, and goes on a hair-raising ride to get to her in time.

Acting: Classic Lloyd at his finest. This is a stunty dude, and nothing shows his skill in as diverse a bunch of settings as this one does. All the ladies in this are cute and funny too. It's really weird watching this little guy play "The Caveman", throwing a girl around to make him love her.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: You know when a 1920 film is super crisp, that it's probably a really good film, because it's all been remastered and kept safe for a long time, knowing that it would stand the test of time. This is one hell of a fun film and the stunts are so dangerous and versatile that you can't help but be impressed.
Rating: 8

Script: It's a nice touch having part of the script be rolled out of the typewriter. Besides that, the story is well told when it has to be, but like I've said before many times, Silent film is best when words are at a minimum and action is at a maximum.
Rating: 8

Plot: Here we are, watching a nice little romantic comedy about a stuttering shy guy, funny little moments like the dramtization of the chapters of his book, on how to get women, then all of a sudden we have 20 minutes of all out road stunt madness. Lloyd manages to steal three cars, a trolley, a horse-cart, a truck, and a motorcycle all in hopes to getting to the chapel on time. It's mindblowing how cool and exciting it is.
Rating: 8

Mood: Alright so you think you know your Lloyd, well this will turn you on your ear. There's comedy, romance, stunts galore, some nice hunks of drama, and all in just over an hour. Completely immersive, doesn't skip a beat, all fun all the time, and always with the kicking cops in the ass, or hitting 'em in the head, you know whatever the case may be.
Rating: 9

You might think he's a chicken but he stole that bike from a cop

Overall Rating: 84% (Come Out Of Your Shell And Check This Out)

Aftertaste: This is my favorite Harold Lloyd film so far, and it's going to be hard to top. I mean the road stunts and all the different vehicles he uses is one of the most original chase scenes I've ever witnessed, including the famous scene from Steve McQueen's 1968 classic, Bullit.

Balls. Huge, brass, clangy balls on this Lloyd guy, holy.

The Golem (1920)

Awww, how cute, look at little Lisa playing with the Devil Incarnate!

Silent Experimental Fantasy Horror (Germany)

Starring: Paul Wegener, Albert Steinruck

Directed By: Carl Boese, Paul Wegener

Overview: In 16th century Prague, when a decree is made against the Jews, the Rabbi creates a Golem to protect the town.

Acting: Expressionism is melodrama. Melodrama can often work, as long as the expressionism is appropriately grand. This was not, so the domino falls on the acting, making it terrible. One thing about casting: handsome knights and lovely maidens should not be nasty-mouthed buck-toothed donkeys. And don't go telling me that Germany's 20s era was the reason, because Metropolis had quite the alluring German cast, each with a nice set of teeth.
Rating: 3

Cinematography: The golem was only cool in that he was strong and clomped around and chucked a guy off a tower. The scene where the Rabbi summons a demon was really impressive, and there was a valiant attempt at improving the film with tinting and that huge fire, but there were really only two moments of "Expressionism". If I had not expected The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, I wouldn't have been so harsh.
Rating: 4

Script: Well the good thing is that the story was clearly explained and we also had a mix of ancient tome text intermingled with the intertitles. The method of creating the golem and the warnings about keeping it in service too long, all well written, which just goes to prove this would have been a better book.
Rating: 6

Plot: So here's the story: Rabbi sees bad sign in stars, Rabbi receives decree that the Jews are expelled, Rabbi creates Golem to protect the town, Golem protects town, hucks a knight off tower, the end. Sn0o0o0o0o0ore-fest. This would have made a tremendous 30 minute short. I had to be subjected to gape-mouthed bearded men for 60 minutes too many.
Rating: 2

Mood: The fact that this movie moved slower than molasses was a real mood-shanker, I'll say that right now. To think that someone would waste so much film on blinking stats in the sky, yet only have a 4-second still of the broken dead knight on the cobblestone made me think that the director didn't seem to know when to let the moment sink in.
Rating: 4

Awww, how cute look at the Devil Incarnate playing with the damsel!

Overall Rating: 38% (You'd Have More Fun With A Rock)

Aftertaste: I wanted rampaging, death, mayhem and a teaching of the lesson that you shouldn't summon demons because bad things happen. I guess I was just hoping for a Battle Royale with The Kool-Aid Kid or at least The Hulk or something. That would have made it better. Instead I get some ancient copy of a story I really could care less for. Boring as dirt.

Safety Last! (1923)

Get it? Because see, usually you'd say "Safety First" because you're supposed to think of safety first, not LAST right, like the stunt would imply, see. It's funny if you think it through.

Genre: Silent Action Comedy Family Romance

Starring: Harold Lloyd (Girl Shy, The Kid Brother)

Directed By: Fred C. Newmeyer (Girl Shy), Sam Taylor (The Cat's Paw)

Overview: When the girlfriend of a lowly department store clerk makes a surprise visit to see his big important job, he comes up with a plan that will earn him $1000 for a publicity stunt... scaling the side of the department store building.

Acting: I was just talking about how Chaplin always used different leading ladies, and Keaton did it too, but Lloyd usually kept Mildred Davis as his leading lady in most of his films. I guess given that she was Harold's wife, that would make sense. In this, they both do as great a job as always, masters of the pantomime.
Rating: 8

Cinematography: The highlight is the building scaling, yes, but there's some interesting choreography scenes too (not the dancing kind, the coordinated stunt-timing kind). Adding some elaborate stunts and kicks in the asses of cops to a well-budgeted bunch of sets and scenes, nice and fun.
Rating: 8

Script: Silent film. Less talk, more walk, you know what I'm saying? When you do slapstick it's fine to throw in a few jokes here and there, and Lloyd's writers have the formula bang on, without doing it too often. I guess when audiences had such a high degree of illiteracy, they preferred a film without all the yacking, huh?
Rating: 8

Plot: The story is one of those comedic tales of a man trying to impress his girl by pretending to be the general manager, while running into said manager all the time and trying to explain to the girlfriend the reasons why he's acting so strange. It's cute, it's funny, it's fluff without too much of a point other than getting the girl in the end. What? You wanted high drama?
Rating: 7

Mood: The stunts in this film aren't even that impressive. Yes they're impressive when you think of the character being high up on the side of a building, but all he does is climb, and relatively slowly. It looked scarier watching the women freak out on the clerks during the big sale, but that actually IS a scary thing to watch. Oh Lord, I'm flashing back to the Cabbage Patch Kid Trample of '83. I need a Valium...
Rating: 6

See, like he's really not thinking about safety, in fact it's the LAST thing on his mind, get it?

Overall Rating: 74% (A Little Too Safe If You Ask Me)

Aftertaste: This, after reading many accounts, is considered to be Harold Lloyd's best work. I don't have any idea why. After this, I watched Harold's Girl Shy, and that movie was easily twice as stunty, twice as funny and twice as memorable. Either way, I'm glad I got around to seeing this finally, but if you really want to see something exciting, Girl Shy is the Lloyd for you.

You know, even The Kid Brother was better than this...

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Female Yakuza Tale: Inquisition and Torture (1973)

Not just another pretty sword...

Genre: Crime Drama Thriller Samurai Sexploitation

Starring: Reiko Ike (Sex and Fury)

Directed By: Teruo Ishii

Overview: Beginning with a simple case of mistaken identity, we follow a young lady as she tries to take down the men who slighted her. She finds herself in the middle of a turf war with a drug cartel.

Acting: Reiko is an amazing actress. By far, she is the best player here. It's a shame that the other roles and direction were so weak. No one can hold a candle to her, and it's unfortunate that the others dragged her down. Conversely, she alone held up this film to an acceptable standard. She's a cold woman. A hot, cold woman.
Rating: 7

A touch of the Japanese, as is should be. Girls in kimonos all over the place (until made to take them off, that is). You know that shaky zoom-in on the face of the person just made angry because their enemy just called them 'cowardly fool'? Ripe with that. The odd thing is, you expect it, and it works. It's almost like they did that on purpose... Almost. Only three fight scenes though, so that was a let-down.

Rating: 7

"Miss Ocho, as a favour between women, please spare his middle finger."

The dialogue is actually pretty decent. Characters are just defined enough to give them a forgivable depth and there's a moment or two of comic sexploitastic relief. You know there's at least some thought in the story since there's people who actually explain their goals and desires and they're not as simple as "get her!"
Rating: 7

You know, if you're into cheesy Kung-Fu movies and you like a pinch of disco twist with some out there vagina drug-smuggling plot... you'd be into a pretty specific genre... Weirdo. Still, there's no doubt in my mind that Tarantino's Kill Bill tributes this film tremendously. Sadly, the plot is about as weak as my wrist after a weekend of said vagina drug-smuggling plot, but luckily there's enough scenes that move the plot to the end to keep you entertained.

Rating: 6

Imagine a director who does sci-fi alien creature monster films and Kung Fu movies with such titles as Direct Hit! Hell Fist, and don't forget the 70s sexploitation slant. You might just hate it, but there is no doubt that this has a mood all of its own. They stay just tacky enough for you not to take it seriously, while taking it seriously enough that you get a kick out of the gore and naked chicks. There's real effort here, and well received, thank you.

Rating: 8

Overall Rating: 70% (Not So Much Torture, But A Hell Of A Lot Of Tail...)

Aftertaste: Don't watch this with your feminist girlfriend. That having been said, don't watch this with the regular rom-com-loving girlfriend either. If your lady friend is the kind who is into Russ Meyer as a study of the farcical and to collect ammunition against the 70s downfall of womanhood, then she's missing the point a little too. But IF she's all into the bold empowerment of having a naked woman defeat scores of well-dressed men by chopping them apart with her Samurai sword, well that's the kind of woman you keep, cause she's super-cool.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Grand Hotel (1932)

A whore, a thief, a gimp and a freak walk into a bar...

Genre: Drama Romance

Starring: Greta Garbo (Anna Karina; Queen Christina), John Barrymore (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde)

Directed By: Edmund Goulding (Nightmare Alley; The Razor's Edge)

Overview: In the most expensive and luxurious hotel in Berlin, the lives of a ballerina, a baron, a book-keeper and a brute entwine themselves into tales of love, lust, greed and justice.

Acting: The great women of the era, Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford, are both awesome in their roles, but I found that the stories of terminally-ill Kringelein and his angry boss, Preysing were the best of them all. All this to say that every person in this film is perfectly directed, and as performances go, it's one of the best I've seen this year.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: The sets were elaborate and the rooms were pricey-looking, and there was just enough innovation going on in the camerawork. There was a great shot of the facade of all the floors facing the foyer and the opening overhead scene with all the operators patching through the calls of the patrons, not to mention the scene with the disparaging ballerina sitting in the dark taking her shoes off. Even though the look isn't what you're here for, you'll be impressed enough with the visuals.
Rating: 8

Script: Sometimes a touch cliché, the script is nonetheless inspirational and well-paced, revealing mysteries slowly while still developing characters boldly. As mentioned under Acting, the Kringelein story is great, and his character is all emotion and raw energy. The less-enjoyed love story is very short in comparison, leaving more time for the unfolding of deeper, more sinister plots.
Rating: 8

Plot: It's really four stories that intermingle. One is about a man who goes to the most expensive hotel in Berlin to live it up while his terminal illness claims him and happens to be the employee of... a wealthy factory owner trying to make a merger deal while becoming enamored with his typist who... meets a preoccupied Baron who... is particularly interested in a despairing ballerina. Seriously, no spoilers, this all happens in the first 20 minutes... The connection between then all is the fun part.
Rating: 8

Mood: The era is perfectly captured, if I do say so myself. Sure, I wasn't around back in '32 and I've never really know any of the aged to talk about those days, but big furs, Brylcreem, and men as men and the women who faun at their feet, I'd say is pretty indicative of an era when women as powerful sex objects by their own right was really taking hold...
Rating: 8

... when the ballerina goes, "Tell me about it, I thought it was a talking cow!"

Overall Rating: 82% (Grand Indeed!)

Aftertaste: Totally impressed. If this was done in the modern day, I bet even Quentin Tarantino could pull off something like it. It would have action, adventure, a big of comedy, some attractive women, a prostitute maybe, some debauchery... I'm sure he could easily retell four stories that all happen in the same hotel on the same night.

Oh right...

Huff: Season 1 (2004)

The season STARTS with a great sex life...

Genre: Drama Comedy Series

Starring: Hank Azaria (Mystery Men; "The Simpsons"), Oliver Platt (Pieces of April; Kinsey)

Created By: Robert Lowry

Overview: When faced with a tragic incident at work, psychiatrist Craig Huffstodt finds himself experiencing a bit of a crisis. That's ok, so are all his friends and family.

Acting: Hello, quality. I think everyone's favorite character would have to be Russel, the vice-laden criminal lawyer, played by Pratt, but Hank, his wife Beth, and their mothers are all just quality players. Even Huff's and Russel's secretaries do a great job of being strong support characters. Best show on television.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: Terrific. Aside from being professional, interesting and dynamic, there's just this touch of artistic subtlety, use of the rule of thirds, colour contrast and juxtaposition, and the use of wide angle lenses and other low-tech special effects that keeps the focus on the reality, but make the scenes visually impressive.
Rating: 9

Script: And here we go. The fights that happen, the slights, the awkward moments, the chats between friends and the dynamic of the bosses with their secretaries, clients and peers. Each character is distinct, each line is an adventure and the explorations of the angles of approach are just slightly different than everyday. This is what sets this show apart from every other. This is incredible.
Rating: 10

Plot: The best part about this season is that the show starts on a big heavy note that you think will take all season to resolve itself. That's what they use to suck you in, then they move on from that in just a few episodes. They just jump right into Huff's personal life while keeping just a touch of the professional. What a cliff-hanger season ending!
Rating: 8

Mood: I will admit that their 14 year-old son is not the right fit for the role. He's a little too genius for his age, a little to wise beyond his years. Where's the teen angst? Characters like crazy-patient Melody and Huff's own brother are clearly more vehicles for Huff's character development than people who can be considered genuine in their own right, but overall this is one season that will have you glad it's available on DVD because you'll just want to jump right into the next episode.
Rating: 8

Theeeere he is! Rich lawyer lush extraordinaire.

Overall Rating: 88% (Will Leave You Panting!)

Aftertaste: I semi-vowed this year to stop watching television on a schedule. I don't watch TV, and the series' that I watch are all DVD. I hate commercials and I hate being on the clock of someone else. I've always said that the best shows make it to DVD and I can get those and watch them at my own convenience. When Season 2 started, I cursed at how good the opening episode was, knowing that I would be committed to a time and place for the rest of the season. Thanks God for OnDemand because it's commercial free. You get what you pay for.

I've watched this season twice, it's that good.

Monday, May 15, 2006

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation: Season 5 (2004)

After all these year, still posing like they got something to prove. Good to know they haven't lost that edge.

Genre: Crime Drama Mystery Thriller Series

Starring: William L. Petersen (To Live and Die In L.A.; Manhunter), Marg Helgenberger (Bad Boys; China Beach)

Created By: Anthony E. Zuiker

Overview: In Season 5, the CSI team, now recently split up, continues their work with Grissom and Catherine and their crew scouring Vegas for bad guys and villains, letting the evidence to speak for the victim.

Acting: I'll admit the 9s this category earned in Season 3, and Season 4 may have been a bit too generous. I wanted to give top score to Grissom and Catherine, Nick and Warrick, but I really didn't offset that with the lesser acts of the other players (though they were good enough). This time though, with that special two-parter season finale directed by Quentin Tarantino, I have to say that the performances were amazingly outstanding, and the characters changed enough this year to include more diversity and opportunity for development. I thought hard about this one. It's a great crew.
Rating: 9

Cinematography: They got artistic. I'm not kidding. They stared throwing in these haunting cuts of the faces of the victims or the accused, sprinkling just a touch of darkness from time to time, adding some scratchy sounds to the quick cuts and grainy filter effects. Does it work enough for me? Definitely! I like the more stylized look. Will this work for everyone? I bet it doesn't, but it's not done enough that it gets distracting, just noticeable. As in every other season the zoom-in graphics, the slo-mo gory special effects and the corpse make-up is top-notch.
Rating: 9

Script: Yeah, they haven't changed their formula, they're still into puns and all that, but the writing is still interesting and exciting. Catherine's reactions are always interesting, Grissom and the morgue guys are interesting as ever. Television it is, but it's actually good.
Rating: 8

Plot: They started throwing in far more plot development than they ever have in the past, but you know what? It was well received. I guess it's nice after all these years to build our rapport with these characters. I can't help but compare this show to "Law And Order" all the time, given that their format is so similar, but it seems that CSI is carving out it's own path. As for the stories themselves? A lot of hilariously weird stuff: men in Diapers, chubby chasers, and one hell of a grande finale.
Rating: 8

Mood: This show used to bug me in the 'truth' department. The way they processed evidence seemed more like magic than fact, but I think something happened this season because to me it all seemed to make more sense. The tools they used were different, the leaps they made were intuitive not technological, and they came to impasses more than a couple of times. When things are more believable, you tend to get more into it.
Rating: 8

After George Eads' performance in the Season Finale... his is a name that could be sold by the coffinfull

Overall Rating: 84% (Best Season Yet!)

Aftertaste: While watching the two-part finale, which of course must have a plot where we endanger an actual CSI, someone told me that the 'Tarantino Schtick' was obvious. I'll agree. If you think about the fact that this is about 90 minutes long, and realize that Quentin Tarantino directed it, you Tarantino fans out there might feel gyped that this didn't end up in theaters, because basically he directed a movie. If you're not really into CSI, but you love Kill Bill, you can rent just CSI: Season 5 Disk 7, and it will contain only Parts 1 and 2 of the finale. It's worth it all on it's own. Genuine edge of your seat excitement.

Seriously. Major Big-Time.