Monthly Archives: August 2012

Brian’s Review – “Wonderland” (2003)

In the police investigation of a brutal crime scene, one man was at the center of it all: legendary porn star John Holmes.

Brian –

Rating – 3 out of 10

Here’s a case of a film being made with an awful lot of style, a gritty and realistic tone, and a breakneck pace that couldn’t be more boring. Why? It’s not possible to care less about any of these characters. Every single one of them is completely single-minded or worthless. It’s a shame too because there’s some good actors in this. Val Kilmer has shown he is extremely capable(watch the Doors), Josh Lucas can play over the top better than most, and Kate Bosworth has been solid when she’s not playing Lois Lane.

 

The film chooses to focus on the aftermath of John Holmes (renowned 70’s pornstar) well after his career in adult films is over. He’s a loser druggie whose sole motivation is his next high. His girlfriend’s (Kate Bosworth) sole motivation is loving John Holmes. His druggie friends’ sole motivation is getting more money and drugs. You see where I’m going with this?

 

It’s hard to give half a shit about the characters when are so one dimensional. We are never given any back story on any of them. As the film opens, we know there was a series of murders involving a lot of money and drugs. We then spend the rest of the time watching investigators pore over exactly what happened and why. The problem with that scenario is: who cares? It’s not like we’re watching “In Cold Blood” here where innocent people are put at risk or Boogie Nights where we have seen an evolution of the characters. It’s loser druggies killing loser druggies without any back story.

 

The only side plot away from that is a very odd one in which John Holmes wife (played by Lisa Kudrow who acts like she’s sleepwalking) has a devotion to a man who fucks teenage girls and men behind her back, takes all her money for drugs, and has her help him get away with accessory to murder. Well……WHY??? The movie never explains what her motivations are and at that point I was too fucking bored to try to figure it out for myself. It’s incredibly lazy to slop down a factual event involving murders onto a screenplay simply because one of the people involved was a semi-famous pornstar and expect that anyone watching would care without any character history. There’s just too many quality films out there for anyone to waste 1 hour and 45 minutes watching this mess go nowhere.

Larry Crowne


After losing his job, a middle-aged man reinvents himself by going back to college.

Matt
Rating: 6 out of 10

On the surface, this is another cheesy romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts. While there are romantic moments, this movie is a little more than that, and better than I thought it would be.

Tom Hanks directed and co-wrote this film, starring himself in a pretty smart role. Hanks plays Larry Crowne, who in the opening scenes is cut from his job at a retail big box store because he doesn’t have a college education. Even though he’s a star employee and well liked by co-workers, he’s considered obsolete and can’t be moved up the corporate ladder because of his lack of education. He’s also a divorcee and military veteran with a dazzlingly likable personality. Enter Julia Roberts, the bitter professor stuck in community college teaching apathetic students while living with a very unhappy marriage.

The two, of course, collide when he takes her class. But that’s not the focus of the movie. The movie is Crowne learning to get back on his feet while going through a very difficult period of losing his job, his home, and realizing he needs to change his life. The love comes as a very subtle element, and it’s not the focus of the film.

There are lots of cornball moments. The college students are way too nice and accepting of him. He joins them in a scooter gang, for instance. There are certainly some cheese-tastic moments. But it’s smarter than it lets on in trailers. Not a bad date night movie if you catch it on Showtime.

Cloak & Dagger

A young boy, with a penchant for spy thrillers and video games, finds himself in the middle of real espionage when he’s relentlessly pursued by spies after he comes into possession of a video game cartridge containing top-secret government info.

Matt
Rating 7 out of 10

You know the movie’s old school when the trailer says “Check your local newspaper for locations.”

While “Cloak & Dagger” definitely has some throw-back charm for me, it’s actually a really good movie for kids that I still enjoy as an adult. There are actually guns in a family movie! Bad guys kill people! People die! The hero smokes cigarettes! It’s crazy!

Seriously, though, this movie probably couldn’t be made today, at least not a lot of it, because it would be too violent by today’s standards. But I think it’s what makes the movie feel more real. The boy in the movie, played by Henry Thomas of “E.T.” fame, gets lost in fantasy with an imaginary secret agent who looks just like his dad (who he never sees). The imagination of the secret agent world is in contrast to a very real spy drama around him, which is full of violence.

There are some really evil bad guys and some old-school nostalgia in this film – like Atari cartridges. If you’re a child of the 80s and you have kids 10 and up, it’s definitely worth a revisit to this fun spy movie.

Brian’s Review – “In The Realm of the Senses” (1976)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Based on a true story set in Pre-War Japan, a man and one of his servants begin a torrid affair. Their desire becomes a sexual obsession so strong that to intensify their ardor, they forsake all, even life itself.

Brian –

Rating – 6 out of 10

“In the Realm of the Senses”

 I really had to think about this one for a few days before I wrote the review. It would have been easy to dismiss this film an an artsy hardcore pornography that explores nothing but ways to make you cringe. I think if I had gone with that original line of thought without giving my brain a few days to digest what I’d seen, I would have done the filmmakers a dis-service. There is more going on here than meets the eye even if it is both shocking and repellent along with being semi-well executed. Pornography is meant to turn on and involve the viewer for the purposes of sexual gratification.

This film pushes the viewer away and makes them feel distant and cold to their sexual experiences. The main couple here may constantly have sex but their moments in the bedroom are filled with anger, jealousy, contempt, and self-loathing. Sada (the female lead) and Kichizo (the male lead) do not enjoy one another as much as they take out their frustrations through sex. He is an experimenter that has no lines on what he will tolerate and she is a sadomasochistic and jealous lover who wants to possess him mind, body, and spirit.

The sex in the film is largely un-simulated and contains actual oral and vaginal penetration. It was banned in several countries and it wasn’t until Criterion decided to do a film restoration that it actually got its day in court with art film fans. Many will try to dissect is as if it was a loftier and more pretentious movie than it really is. This is not a complicated subject. It basically asks the question: “when can a person truly say they possess another completely?” The answer is obviously: never. So, the pain and anguish it takes in watching the vile acts performed on each other in the name of control is quite disgusting. If I’m constantly pointing out what a terrible movie this is to experience, why did I rate it a 6? Well, the performances are terrific, the pacing is perfect for the subject matter, and the direction is very brave. This is certainly a film that laid all its chips on the table for a boom or bust scenario.

Can I recommend it? I have to say no despite feeling more positive than negative because most viewers would rather not put themselves through this. It’s a harrowing experience. Also, I don’t think it’s a particularly deep film even though it is part of the Criterion Collection. But, at the end of the day, I have to rate a film by how well it executes what it set out to do and for the most part, they’ve succeeded.

Vic’s Review – “The Tall Man” (2012)

  When her child goes missing, a mother looks to unravel the legend of the Tall Man, an entity who allegedly abducts children.

Victor –

7.5 out of 10

The Tall Man is simply put a capable mystery / crime thriller in horror movie dressing. There is no slasher, mutant monsters or aliens that rape women in it. The threat that is portrayed in this inventive and tricky thriller is real and it is very scary. Pascal Laugier directed this movie and cast the very pretty Jessica Biel as a widowed Nurse, named Julia Dunning, who resides in a depleted and poor town in Washington State. Pascal is renowned in the horror community for directing the wildly popular and cringe inducing French film “Martyrs” from 2008 and “House of Voices” from 2004. He was briefly attached to the Hellraiser remake but mysteriously dropped out. Pascal doesn’t deliver another type of film like “Martyrs” but comes close in tone and style in representing dread, fear and isolation. We are introduced to very slick opening credits and the morose voice-over of the young brilliant actress, Jodelle Ferland (“Silent Hill” and the decent thriller “Case 39”) who plays Jenny, a young mute who constantly draws her feelings and fears in a Sketch Book. She comes from a very dysfunctional family that includes her sister, a young un-wed mother and an abusive son in law.

Jenny proceeds to tell us that there is something very wrong with her town. It is isolated, poor, grungy and in mortal fear of someone or something that is abducting the children. Someone called “The Tall Man” who has become the local urban legend and is a proposed supernatural being that disappears in the night with the town’s children. Laugier shows us through some very revealing and engrossing cinematography that the very heart of the town is fractured and distraught. Nurse Julia (Biel), after delivering the latest addition to the town (Jenny’s nephew) is not welcome to stay in contact with the family in order to proceed with the infant’s care. Her husband was the revered town Doctor and she is frowned upon in trying to fill his shoes. Soon after though, her own child, David  played by Jakob Davies (Smallville, Fringe, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) is taken away from her very large home. Even her live in nanny falls victim to the dark cloaked menace that is kidnapping the children. She chases the abductor down and after a very tight and frightening chase in a truck down a desolate highway ends up injured and lost in the forest looking for David.

Once she gets back to town and reaches the Town Diner do things get interesting. The locals have it in for her and her only protection seems to be the Federal Agent that is assigned to the case played by the always watchable Mr. Stephen McHattie. (Pontypool) The “Smoking Man” from X-Files fame, William B. Davis plays the aloof and uninteresting Sherrif Chestnut who seems to be in just as much fear and in distrust of what happens next with Julia and her story. I will leave it at that but trust me we get double sided storylines and narratives that can at times be a bit misleading and there is a confrontation between Julia and a frantically crazed Mother of a missing child that will raise your eyebrows. Biel, McHattie and Laugier (who wrote the story as well) propel this film and they do an admirable job juggling the twists and turns. Jodelle Ferland shines here as Jenny. She comes in at the proverbial nick of time to bring closure and truth to the film. We get a better understanding as to what or who The Tall Man may really be. It is when we get a better understanding of the machinations and purpose of what is behind these abductions that it becomes a morality play and very thought provoking. Kudos to Laugier in pushing us in the direction of actually thinking these things through. After we find out the deal with Biel we get a very entrenched crime story with all the routine dressings. A sort of a slow close to the film bogs it down in too much dialog but it is fleeting. Jenny closes the film with a stunning conviction and asks us a very important question about how things in life can or can’t be done if it is or isn’t worth it. Watching “The Tall Man”  just once to get to that crossroads and ask ourselves “what would we do?”  is definitely worth it. Enjoy.

Vic’s Review – “Absentia” (2011)

“Absentia”

8 out of 10

Back in 1978 , Director John Carpenter proved what could be done on a  very small budget and very big ideas. If all the elements come together in a positive and creative manner then big things can be achieved with very little. “Halloween” sported a fantastic score, great lighting and photography by Mr. Dean Cundey, awesome and earnest performances from the cast and a very chilling script. All done with roughly 150 Thousand buckaroos.

“Low Key” and “Slow Burn” are 2 terms that of late have been so overused but until someone comes up with a better term I will gladly stick to Low Key and Slow Burn. I know Director Ti West (The Innkeepers and The House of the Devil) must be so sick of hearing them. Oh well. Doesn’t stop him from making cool movies.

Now, lets get to this film “Absentia”…here is the skinny. It is an independent horror film from 2011 directed by Mike Flanagan. It hit the Festival circuit and won a ton of awards and garnered some impressive reviews. By way of the crowd funding web site “Kickstarter”, the photography portion was financed. It stars Katie Parker as Callie and Courtney Bell as Tricia, two sisters each dealing with their own personal demons and the disappearance of Tricia’s husband, Daniel. Daniel has been missing for seven years and she is about to declare him dead. She tries to move on with a baby on the way and a secret relationship with another man. When her sister Callie, a sort of rolling stone and recovering addict comes back home things of course get weird and creepy.

There is a nearby City tunnel that has a very dark and terrible history. It is dank, narrow and menacing. The neighborhood where they live is not very safe and there have been many missing persons reported. We are slowly drawn into it all by Callie’s inquisitiveness and even her jogging. Jesus, even the jogs are terrifying here. Things are not right in this tunnel and surrounding areas. We get a strange guy lurking around with black garbage bags, a disoriented man laying in very bad shape inside the tunnel pleading for help and piles of old rusty medals and jewelry. Things that go bump in the night and some quick shots of a presence that haunts Tricia. But I don’t want to give away too much and get ahead of myself. There’s more to really like.

Writer / Director Mike Flanagan is very deft and capable behind the camera giving us some very natural, biting and funny dialog we can relate to between the sisters. They are the emotional heart of the film. They argue, disagree and then nurture each other which makes this movie more about normal people dealing with loss and pain than about a funky city tunnel that ain’t quite right. These scenes early on reeled me in and made me trust Flanagan that I would get something different and true. There is a natural chemistry between the lead actresses that is believable and even quirky at times. The Buddhist / Christian stuff between them is endearing and sincere even if it really doesn’t amount to anything concrete. I enjoyed the quick moments of Callie praying before bedtime very much though.

Things get interesting when Daniel (Morgan Peter Brown) just shows up after his long absence. He is disoriented, doesn’t make sense, is always terrified and cannot remember anything specific when interrogated by Det. Mallory played Dave Levine. Mallory it seems isn’t dealing very well with Daniel’s return and in result we get quite a development involving Mallory, Tricia and Daniel. But something else is very wrong and Callie seems to be able to piece it all together (even if too quickly) and her convincing of Tricia is a bit forced but you just have to go with the flow here. I really don’t wish to give out more info on the plot. The movie brilliantly builds suspense, dread and a scary doom permeates the final act of the film. There are no slashers, no gore, no naked girls running around, no torture devices and it’s not a remake, reboot or re-imagining. It’s new, different and creepy.

What didn’t work for me (and I’m nitpicking here) were the 2 Detectives on the case. Mallory (Levine) and Det.  Lonergan played by Justin Gordon. They didn’t quite sell me as 2 cops trying to really solve this terrifying case.  They received a bit too much  screen time. Actually I found Levine just average overall (except the final scene where his acting was spot on) and Gordon I found a bit annoying in his delivery and his gum chewing (or was it tic tacs?). I was expecting a bit more of overall closure from this dark fairy tale than I actually got. A few unanswered questions but that was ok. I liked very much how it ended. Actually upon a second viewing I settled in just fine with how it all wrapped up. I did get a fleeting feeling that all the pieces of the puzzle weren’t put in place. I was reminded of Stephen King’s “IT” even. Go figure.

On closing this review of this cool, lean and well directed Indie Movie, I’d like to mention the fantastic photography by Rustin Cerveny. The Cinematography was the first thing that drew me in. It is involving, tight and his establishing shots and close ups build dread, menace and it totally knocks your socks off. I was so impressed by his use of natural (day / night) lighting  for the tunnel. To me, The Tunnel was another character in this movie. He made it claustrophobic, deadly and otherworldly with some nice tight shots and lean lighting. Kudos to the great editing as well. All this, as well, was shot with a Canon 5D2 Cam. Just brilliant what we can do with so little.  Small Budget and huge ideas. That’s what it’s all about. Enjoy “Absentia” gang. Available on Netflix Instant Viewing.

– Vic

The Bond Films – “You Only Live Twice” (1967)

[about to make love to Helga Brandt]
James Bond: “Oh the things I do for England.”

Victor –

7 out of 10 –

Why start with the 5th Bond film?  Because I left it to chance.  I felt like being random and I spun my being Bond Wheel and voila! it landed on “You Only Live Twice.” YOLT is the fifth Bond film to star Mr Sean Connery and the very smooth, smart and sexually confident James Bond. Very loosely based (actually almost in name only) on the novel by the same name by Ian Fleming. The screenplay was written by Roald Dahl (Matilda, The Witches). It is the first to be directed by Lewis Gilbert (Alfie, Sink the Bismarck, Educating Rita) who went on to direct “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker” after which he became famous (or in some circles, infamous) for the over the top, comedic and epic scope of the Roger Moore films.

YOLT is neither epic or really that over the top. It falls almost in the middle. It has a very traditional Bond-esque opening where we treated to a very deceptive start. A United State spaceship in orbit around the earth  is hijacked  by another unidentified spacecraft.  The US suspect it to be the Russians but the Brits believe it could be the  Japanese since the spacecraft landed in the waters off the Japanese coast. In proper fashion they send oo7 to check things out and to investigate.  James Bond is sent to Tokyo after faking his own death and confronting “M” about the dangers of being undercover for too long and the seriousness of the situation. The “M” and Bond moments throughout Connery’s films are one of the best constants of the movies and they are witty, biting and hilarious to behold. “M” is played with the stunning timing of a comedic actor and the intensity of  a tax audit by Bernard Lee, who steals every scene from under Connery.

Having Bond go East and jumping right into the Japanese culture and inner circle of their spy ring is a great idea. It shows progress, finesse and an increase of danger and scope. Bond has to adjust and adapt to his Asian counterparts and he does with a wink in our direction and a smarmy bit of machismo. Even as he watches a Sumo match he plays it as if he belongs there and has seen a million matches before. There are plenty double twists, spy lingo, booby traps and a very athletic and brutal fight sequence where furniture gets tossed around. DP Freddie Young also treats us to a long reveal shot of an awesome chase / fight scene.

He teams up with the very alluring Bond Girls (In this order) Aki and Helga Brandt (Akiko Wakabayashi and Karen Dor) . Brandt has the better chemistry since of course she has the meatier role of the femme fatale. During these scenes Connery’s Bond is ever the dominant but is shown eventually that he isn’t always in control. Not a bad thing.

So, lets get to the best parts.  The Little Nellie sequence / copter chase.  “Little Nellie” is sent to Bond via Q (Desmond Llewyln) and we get the routine and funny repartee between Q and Bond. Q, as always, detests Bond’s cavalier attitude with his equipment and Bond really lets Q have it by doing not one but two close flybys with the whirly-bird. YOLT is the first time we are treated to actually seeing Blofeld, the leader of SPECTRE.  Here he is played by the brilliant Donald Pleasence (Dracula 1979, Halloween and Fantastic Voyage) and he plays it deadly and straight. Before he is revealed we are treated only to his voice and by the time we do see him, scar and all, Gilbert has set up his villian’s more terrifying traits by his actions and dialog alone. It is just brilliant. Pleasence plays deadly right through his make-up and he relishes in getting rid of some of his enemies in ways that Austin Powers fan will most likely chuckle at.  It is a bit dated but it’s too tongue in cheek not to love.

John Barry’s music is classy but a bit redundant in parts. The title song by Nancy Sinatra is elegant lean but reported to be glued together from 25 takes or so. The we get (spoiler free) the huge payoff where all sides get into the fray of trying to stop SPECTRE from starting WWIII by stealing everyone’s spacecraft’s. There is a nifty, fake lake that will be remembered by the most jaded Bond fans forever. There are ninjas, piranha, self destruct mechanisms. Everything to keep us Bondheads happy. I can only gripe about some of the flat set up scenes in the beginning and at times we are bogged down by lingering establishing shots of the beautiful Japanese countryside. I’m nit picking though. I can strongly recommend this Connery entry even if his execution in parts is lazy. Enjoy, gang. Another Bond review coming soon!

-Vic