WARNING! FILM SPOILERS!

The following opinions should not be read prior to seeing the films in question. (Though it is possible you have resigned to never watch them at all...)

These are not reviews upon which you should base movie watching decisions. Rather, I write with the hopeful purpose of inciting sometimes interesting, sometimes informative, sometimes humourous discussions about cinema. What may prove unfortunate for the reader is that I often express myself in a pompous and juvenile fashion...mayhap there ought to be a "warning" in recognition of my sense of humour...

Regardless, I implore film fans to always remember that all film is art, and all art is subjective. No one can tell you if you like a movie, except you. Likes and dislikes of film can only be opinion, and opinion can never be wrong; only intelligently expressed and defended. There is nothing wrong with unconditionally loving a film that isn't necessarily held in the highest regard, so long as you understand and accept why you love it.

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Saturday, June 26, 2010

3...EXTREMES

DUMPLINGS:
Director - Fruit Chan
Starring - Bai Ling, Miriam Yeung

CUT:
Director - Chan-wook Park
Starring - Lee Byung-hoon, Lim Wen Hee

BOX:
Director - Takashi Miike
Starring - Mai Suzuki, Yimi Suzuki, Kyoko Nasegawn

Three sweet horror flicks ranging in the 40-60 minute bracket, loosely connected by themes involving the limitations of the human body and mind, and their inevitable link.


DUMPLINGS - There are so many "eating fetus" jokes swirling around inside my head right now that I'm giggling like a school girl. But I shall, in rare form, refrain. The opening soundtrack sets the creepy tone immediately, being obvious but not blatant about the actual consumption of corpses. The true horror comes not from this act, which is more of a bodily disgust inciting revulsion; rather, it stems from Mei's final decisions and acceptance. The "chopping" and "crunching" that permeates the soundtrack in conjunction with the close-up insert shots of the blade rending meat is an unsettling foreshadow of the inexorable descent into mental and physical desecration.


Some fascinating camera work also brings the blood (re: horror and revulsion) to the forefront, both literally on-screen and within the viewer's imagination. Take, for example, the low-angle shot of the fetus plopping into the glass bowl - a glass bowl and a glass table at that angle make it feel as though the whole coital concoction could come splashing into your face. (Most vile facial ever...ooops...restraint, restraint...) Anywho, the transition between the bloody bus seat and the bathtub abortion also fixed the notion of "weaknesses of the flesh" as integral - given the sacrifice she makes in the finale, one can see how important Mei's body was to her. Deliciously disgusting.


All topped off with a cool, ambiguous shot of an elongated tongue at the end - makes me re-think the pros and cons of cannibalism.


CUT - Brought on by Chan-wook Park, the genius behind Oldboy, I found this one to be the most satisfying of the trio...not that I want to detract from the other two. A lot of the cinematography is downright gorgeous, expanding on the surrealism of the situation, showcasing a large, absurd, stage-like setting awash in bright, stark, primary colours.


From the long opening take, swooping between inanimate objects on-set, to the large, wide-angle shots, almost walleye in nature, the camera never lets up. It provides the viewer with every possible vantage, as intimate as Ryo's point-of-view during the Extra's humiliating audition, expanding all the way back to the upper corners of the location, so that we, as viewers, are totally immersed in the severity surrounding our protagonist. The circularity of the opening staged sequence then replicated in the finale, complete with an awesome looking "jugular-chomping", was also quite compelling.


Now imagine the details of the overall story; the bright blue and white checkered backdrop, Ryo's incapacitation via a giant rubber band, the cardboard cutouts Ryo and the Extra exact their admissions through...all of these elements push the general absurdity of the situation. It gives the entire film an almost cartoon-like resonance, with very realistic implications. This ultimately results in straining Ryo's mind, which, in turn, strains Ryo's body: how much taunting, torture, and humiliation can he stand before his mind cracks and reacts in a manner that is uncharacteristic of itself? Those beautiful, wide shots of Ryo's girl strung up at the piano are perfect examples of this notion. From afar, she looks like a marionette on silver strings, but the close-ups of the decimation of her fingers brings the true horror of the situation vividly to the forefront. Picking through the surreal of life reveals the disgust underneath.


Again, a cool finale filled with cool ambiguity - wherein laid the actual point at which Ryo's mind snapped and he took the Extra's kid as his own? He said some pretty cryptic stuff during that final strangulation, and I am once again rewarded with an aesthetically pleasing visual of an elongated tongue.


BOX - This one comes from Miike, director of some great movies and some not-so-great movies, but hard working nonetheless, yet I found it the weakest of the three. Not that it doesn't contain some amazing visuals and some innovative editing, especially in connection with the soundtrack, rather it lacks something with regard to the plot. All of these Asian ghost stories seem to blend into one big smorgasbord, and Miike has already tackled this sub-genre with his mediocre One Missed Call. Protagonist is haunted by an apparition which is, in actuality, a warning about the antagonist - blah, blah, I've already seen this. Thus it's important for Miike to maintain an entertaining progression through aesthetic originality, which he most certainly succeeds at achieving.


Shoko's death scene, bathed in red filters, looks fantastic, and is only heightened by the looming, creepy, half-masked face of the ringmaster. Consider also, the extremely off-putting segment with the ringmaster manipulating the small wooden doll, complete with delicate "creaks" and "cracks", as he longingly leers, almost sexually, at the miniaturized version of his obsession. Given the contortionist subject matter, I found this semblance of foreshadowing quite effective.


Alongside the aforementioned sounds emitted from the marionette, the soundtrack also does some wondrous things during the flashback that fully details Shoko's death. The music fades out entirely, background noises are muted, and only voices can be heard. It's then at the exact moment of explosion that the soundtrack rushes back to a level of auditory compliance, bringing with it all of the chaos and panic that the scene affords; it's quite a brilliant ploy.


Again, the contradiction between what the mind is forced to give and what the body can actually take is a prevalent theme, and inherent to this subject. These girls can alter their body to accommodate even the smallest of spaces, but it's the ringmaster who, quite literally, contorts their minds. No elongated tongue motif, however...crazy, un-adhering Miike...

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

WALKING TALL: LONE JUSTICE

Director - Tripp Reed
Starring - Kevin Sorbo, Yvette Nipar

"This time, small town justice makes the commute..."
Wow. I can't believe Kevin Sorbo returned to reprise his role as Nick, the ex-marine, ex-sheriff with the ex-Herculean physique. I can't believe Yvette Nipar (whoever the hell that is) got to reprise her role as Kate. I can't believe nobody will throw poor Bo Svenson a bone. I can't believe I watched this piece of shit. (Actually, that one's a little hasty...)


So, in Walking Tall: the Payback, Nick came back home to his small town...and, in the opening title sequence of this one he's moving back to the big city. Guy just can't make up his mind. The "big city" being, obviously, represented by montage inserts of drug production and other "big city" shenanigans. (I.e. graffiti and/or a sub-standard public refuse system.) It’s the original fish-out-of-water parable.


The first chunk of this thing seems to be told in some sort of 4 minute/4 minute story time, jumping between Kate’s Spanish-gang/witness protection/convoluted police case, and Nick’s domestic zaniness, with a smattering of aging-action-star fist fights sprinkled on top. That is, until villainous Perez gets released on bail, and poorly built film element one and poorly built film element two collide in a hail of stupidity. I smell some lone justice comin’ on...


The rest of this drivel is comprised of some short, amateurishly choreographed, shoot-outs, a lame torture scene, and a predictably clich├ęd final confrontation that is quickly becoming a trademark in the medium of direct-to-video action. The classic “corrupt cop holds hero’s loved one as body shield while spouting grand revelations” finale. Luckily for all of us, this is one deadly situation that is easily elbowed out of.


Throughout the unravelling of this familiar yarn, I was also consistently plagued with the abundance of double exposed camera shots showing out of synch, ghostly, images...repeated over and over again, ad nausea...I get it, I get it, something dastardly is about to happen, now focus, goddammit. If Nick had doled out as many 2 x 4 whuppings as the number of times Mr. Reed utilized this stupid technique, all of this justice would have probably been a lot more fun.

Monday, June 21, 2010

CRUEL WORLD

Director - Kelsey T. Howard
Starring - Edward Furlong, Jaime Pressly, Andrew Keegan, Daniel Franzese, Laura Ramsey, Susan Ward

Why did I let myself get the slightest bit excited over this one? Deep down I was hoping for the hybrid love-child of Battle Royale and Series 7, peppered with the progressively demented challenges of 13: Game of Death, all in a Survivor scenario. It's all I really ever wanted Survivor to be. In lieu of my wishes, I got a really low budget, presumably digital video regaling of an over-weight, poorly aged Edward Furlong, Big Brother-watching a bunch of kids compete in challenges that bear a striking resemblance to games I played in my backyard when I was 12. And the tsk-tsk of it all is that Jaime Pressly pulls in top billing only to have her throat slit (poorly) at the running time of 15 min. 42 seconds. Though, her corpse does make a reappearance around 52 min., and that must hold some weight in the marketing world. With one fell swoop, she may have negated all of her My Name is Earl credibility, and I suspect that it'll only take a couple of more roles like this one before she'll have to resort to nudity...


With the intro culminating in the aforementioned death, we're introduced to Furlong's "Phillip", a love-lorn loser from a past reality show trying to regain the object of his desire by killing her and her reality TV sweetheart...by some logic...whilst they prepare for a new series. This affords him two important cinematic aspects: a very flimsy "motive" to terrorize a new batch of twenty-somethings, and access to a large, expensive, camera-laden house. Approximately 9 young, attractive, misled contestants then show up, and chubby Furlong (possibly exhibiting some great physical method acting) eliminates the need for independent thought by giving a voice-over detailing each stereotypical, one-note personality. Of course the Latino chick is "spicy"; of course the guy in the leather jacket is a "bad boy"; of course the nondescript, attractive blond girl is the "hero". I've seen B-movies before, I know how this works. Though were it not for Furlong's help I may have mistaken the flamboyant goofball and the cowboy...


Thus begins the real reason as to why anyone would watch this nonsense; the games and challenges that will hopefully decimate this nubile fodder in some sort of innovative fashion. I don't know what was more embarrassing to watch: the pylon balancing settled by some vengeful hose-spraying, or the fun-loving paintball montage set to modern-alt-rock. The bad boy's laughable melodrama following his balance sacrifice, or the abysmal choreography of the caged sword fight. Now, I don't claim to be any Mr. Atlas, but I would've slaughtered these nobodies and their party games, and laid claim to the coveted unrequited possessiveness of a washed up John Conner.


Furlong himself spends the majority of the film removed from the action, and probably only did two days of actual work with the rest of the cast. When it comes down to the physical hands-on dispatching, that honor is bestowed upon his simple-minded yet snappily-dressed younger brother Claude. He slogs his way through all the piss poor, low budget slashing, lame "chasing through the woods" sequences, and even manages to take a little beating via the "Asian Chick's" pitiful kung-fu. (Of course the Asian Chick knows some kung-fu...what sort of character development would it be if she didn't...?)


It all culminates in Nondescript Blonde pulling off the not-so-surprising victory and seducing her way to freedom, upsetting Claude and offering one brief flash of sympathy...who can blame Claude, really?...he lost the kidnapped love of his/his brother's life...we've all been there... Furlong then continues to implement his flawless plan by simply driving away; amidst all the chaos and clamor of the cops, he just drives on out of there; which leads me to believe that kidnapping, torture, and murder are all a hell of a lot easier to get away with then I originally presumed.


But before I toss and turn at night, I just gotta know what happened to Furlong's slighted Phillip. Does Nondescript Blonde get her 15 minutes of fame? Will Claude become the slasher icon that he deserves to be? Please, Mr. Kelsey T. Howard, please allude to a sequel of some kind... Hark! What's this? A last minute, unexplained cell phone call on a crowded tram? Let the games begin, you sly dog...

Friday, June 18, 2010

AGAINST THE DARK

Director - Richard Crudo
Starring - Steven Seagal, Tanoai Reed, Linda Ashby, Keith David

Seagal's first foray into the realm of the supernatural results in his best movie since Shadow Man...you may interpret that statement however you wish... I'm inclined to believe that Seagal has made the best decision of his production career by opting to play a side character in this vampire vehicle, giving more screen fight time to Tanoai Reed, a slightly younger, slightly quicker, equally wooden, Hawaiin version of himself. Turns out, Reed earlier flexed his "acting" muscle on the never popular American Gladiators as the nonsensical chanting Toa. Working with both Hogan and Seagal are but two of the many perks that come along with being the cousin of The Rock. Useless information?...Or goals to aspire towards?...


The construction of this piece of crap is pretty laughable with the majority of the action taking place in what was most likely an abandoned factory/warehouse, cutting between a group of stereotypical survivors getting into stupidly stereotypical situations, and Seagal's group of vigilante hunters, whose toughness is denoted by leather garb and slow-motion "walking with a purpose". Every so often, the monotony of pitiful peril and shitty swordplay is interrupted by transporting us to the inside of a non-specific military tent where Keith David growls his way through some inane lieutenant dialogue. His voice commands as much authority as his career does sympathy.


Of course, the immediate concerns that jump to one's mind when tantalized with the premise of Seagal fighting vampires is that very notion. Seagal is in typical post-Exit Wounds form, wisely replacing his flying fists with swords and knives, limiting the embarrassment of his diminished talents. He stoically mopes around atop his "Seagalian Physique", constantly adhering to the equation for successful swordplay; that of rapid editing + slo-mo swinging = mad katana skills. (For those not in the know, a Seagalian Physique is defined as the body of a washed up action star, desperately/discreetly trying to go unnoticed behind a long, heavy jacket. Whilst cut and fabrics are optional, leathers and jean materials seem to be the preferred choice.) Reed does most of the actual hands on work; he's a big, thick guy, and can easily toss around scrawny, post-apocalyptic undead. Luckily for our inept survivors, he too utilizes the awesome power of slo-mo, as he literally jumps into sticky situations, (as opposed to sneaking for some unknown reason,) and feigns knowledge of his bladed tonfa-like weapon.


The vampires themselves are of the quick and voracious variety, and don't look too bad...or at least I've seen way worse...In fact, the chick filing down her own teeth is the best looking thing in the entire movie. On the general whole, the gore is the only consistently interesting aspect of the flick, and don't get me wrong, it's certainly no vision of visceral beauty. (Damn inexorable link between B-movies and lowered expectations...) Unbelievably, it can be broken into two different catergories; blood at the given diegetic moment, and blood montage. The blood and guts as a result of the so-called on-screen action is nominally acceptable, spurty and red in all the right places and not too CGI inspired, though there are some visible bloodpack outlines that I found quite unsettling. The blood montages, however, are the real curiosity: serving as transitional sequences (...and inspiring terror?...), they feature some mediocre disemboweling (akin to that featured within the film), and some fantastic evisceration, rich in textures and emotions and...wait a minute...I think I've seen that intestine someplace before...A lot of this great footage bears the striking markings of stock footage, and never before has a film benefited so much from it's inclusion.


Why, oh why, Seagal did you not make this movie in the period between Hard to Kill and Under Siege? It could've been so great...kicking...vampires...limb breaking...ponytails...the environment...Mayhap your career requires some sort of revealing, honest, self-referential, abbreviated, dramatic piece to give it that much needed shot in the arm. Course, if I paid money to see a film with S.S. on the marquee, it damn well better feature Ilsa, or I'm gonna be pissed.