Movies for July 2008
July 3rd 2008
Brave (1994) *** - This long form music video for the album of the same name from Marillion is also mostly known for being directed by cult director Richard Stanley. While he pretty much disowns the the final product, I still think it is a powerful bit of work. The story deals with a young woman who is in an insane ward as we cycle through her mind to see what drove her to this point. Each segment follows with a different song from the album and we experience her life in very surreal vignettes. We see her molestation by her father, her become homeless, become a heroin addict, try to commit suicide, get arrested, kill her boyfriend and finally actually commit suicide by jumping off a bridge. The whole while she is stalked and seduced by a man in a white mask who is at times her tormentor, friend, lover and Savior. While the film is overlong and has moments where things are stretched a bit thin, and has narration that doesn't need to be there, there is also plenty imagery that stays with you. Haunting moments like when her and the man are making love on a trashed river bank in her mind, while she is trying to kill herself in a bathtub. Or the entire "shadow theater" sequence which is vintage Richard Stanley occult tinged dementia. Overall the music gels really well with the visuals to create a haunting portrait of someone on the edge, and them thrusting themselves off. Seen this many, many times.
July 4th, 2008
Poultrygeist (2008) **1/2 - The Troma teams latest cinematrocity is getting surprisingly good reviews around the country and in many ways the film deserves it. This is Troma's slickest production to date; The production design is very good, the effects are outstanding and plentiful, there is nary a scene without dozens of extras keeping the production value high and plus it is a successful musical! But the sum of the parts are not as good as isolated moments, and maybe its just me, but the avalanche of shit and cum jokes have ran their course to a degree. there is only so much you can do with that and keep it creative, and Troma has been at the forefront of the bad taste movement for decades. They broke that hymen years ago and now its dry humping a corpse (almost literally as the opening of this movie would have it). that's not to say some of that isn't funny, but the path is so well worn that it is just on autopilot a lot of the time. What this movie does however get right is the various social skewering, whether it be America's fast food culture, or the liberal protest cause of the week the movie has a rather shark political wit that is well defined. the moment the protesters who have been protesting the evil coporate fast food chain all whip out Starbucks coffee is one of the more biting and funny scenes of the film. Most shockingly is the musical segments of the film which are really well done. The music is catchy, the choreography fun, and it integrates well into the movie. Unfortunately about half way through they just abandon the whole idea and it stops being a musical altogether, thus dropping one of the films best ideas. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the effects work again. This movie is loaded with make up effects to the point that it times it is jaw dropping. I wouldn't call them fantastic effects, they are supposed to be goofy, but the sheer amount of them is astounding. This has to be Troma's biggest budgeted and most complex movie to date. So in that regard it is certainly worth a salute. This is making rounds on the independent theater circuit so if it comes to your theater you should check it out just to support one of the last indie companies around. its a fun movie. Just flawed in some ways. First time seeing this.
Saturday July 5th 2008
The Onion Movie (2008) **1/2 - I had heard nothing but bad things about this sketch comedy flick from the long running comedy newspaper but to my surprise it wasn't all that bad. some of the sketches were pointless and others ran too long. But there were a few gems in there like the little known racial stereotypes bit. The Steven Seagal as the Cockpuncher gag is really funny and it is cool to see the former martial arts film champion poking fun at his image. Some of the gags seem out of date, probably because the movie has been sitting on a shelf for a few years but it is nowhere as bad as you've heard. first time seeing this.
This Divided State (2005) *** - Pretty infuriating documentary about during the 2004 election Michael Moore was invited to the Utah valley stater College for a speaking engagement which sparked off a battle within the community to have him banned. The majority ruling class of conservatives in Utah rallied to have the college stop the engagement, with one man in particular having Republican students start petitions to have the student president and staff who okayed the engagement removed. When this appeared to not be working this same man, tried to buy off the college, then brought a lawsuit against them. He also rallied enough local support that over $200,000 was lost in funds to the college. All just to stop Michael Moore from speaking there. He spoke anyway but there was a good deal of fallout from it. A frustration bit of documentation of how the conservative right can wield their money and power to silence a person or even an institution from whom they disagree. Very scary stuff. first time seeing this.
Sunday July 6, 2008
Wal-E (2008) **** - Pixar's latest computer animated romp is so much more than the trailers make it look like. while it is completely suitable for kids, it is not really a children's film. It is one of the most biting satires of our consumer culture that has come down the block in many a moons, as well as one of the most compelling science fiction films in ages. Top it off with a love story that has more to say about humanity than any gushy romance film and you have a movie that I'm sure Walt Disney would have been proud to have had his name on. Wal-E is the last inhabitant on the planet Earth, save one single cockroach that is his companion. The planet was forced to be abandoned because it was overwhelmed by trash and waste. So humans colonized a space station and left robots to clean up the toxic mess on earth. Seven hundred years later Wall-E is still doing his job, stacking trash as high as skyscrapers, and occasionally collecting detritus that he finds interesting such as old VHS tapes. He's fascinated by how people interacted and in particular touched when they were in love. He is desperately lonely, isolated and lives a repetitively life where the finding of a piece of interesting junk is the best excitement he has. One day a spaceship lands and a sleek robot starts scanning the landscape. They eventually become friends as we discover the robot is female and send from the humans spacecraft. Through lots of adventure they both end up back on the space station where all the humans have become these monstrously obese things that float on telepads, watch TV and drink processed food all day long. They can no longer read and robots literally do everything for them. But the arrival of these two new robots along with the one living plant from earth they are carrying will signal a huge change for everyone. The movie is fun, with a light touch so little kids can easily watch it and enjoy it. But the heavy themes are plain as day in scenes such as when the human babies are shown in the day care watching corporate propaganda (funny how the irony of that being in a Disney movie is probably lost on the executives) or when the captain of the spaceship can't read the old directives because they're in an actual book. Throughout the production design on Earth is a corporation called Buy & Large that is clearly modeled after Walmart that has bought up everything and helped destroy the planet. On the spaceship this corporation 100% owns everything. But the movie never gets lost in its eco friendly messages. The characters are rich and textured and you really get drawn into the situation they present. In some ways it is almost like a teen love story as Wal-E is slightly obsessed with holding Eve's ( the female Robot) hand and keeps screwing things up in his quest to do so. It is his need to be touched and to touch someone else that drives the film. the animation in the movie is probably the best computer animation I have ever seen. the early scenes on earth are so textured that it doesn't even seem like animation. There is some live action snuck in there in a few places which makes it seem all the more convincing. All in all this is a classic bit of filmmking and I wish all kids movies could be this smart. Hell, I wish ALL movies could be this smart. First time seeing this.
July 8th, 2008
Night Train To Terror (1985) ** - Really goofy hatchet job of an anthology that took three other somewhat unrelated movies (all were co-scripted by a chap named Phillip Yordan) and hacked them down to 20 to 30 minute segments and shoe-horned them into one nonsensical flick. The wrap around segment, from which the title is drawn involves a train on which a white bearded God and an old gangster looking Satan discuss various theological things. Elsewhere on the train a horrible 80's post-romantic pop band sings and dances their way into the pit of your stomach, while the black conductor wanders aimlessly among these neon clad atrocities. It seems the train will crash at dawn with God and Satan arguing over who will gain the souls of those who will die. To pass the time they reminisce about some past cases, which are the three stories of the movie. Or I should say the cut down versions of the other films. The first one is culled from an unfinished film called Scream Your Head Off featuring a slumming John Phillip Law as a dude being held at some experimental hospital after a car crash killed his wife. Seems this hospital is conducting experiments on women, so they hook him on drugs and have him go out and drug women to bring them back. Every woman is strapped down, stripped and worked on. Richard Moll from Night Court is on hand as a creepy orderly. This segment sets the stage for the rest as it makes not a lick of sense, jumps around all over and is filled with tons of nudity and gore. There is narration a plenty to attempt to fill in the gaps, but it just adds to the confusion. Apparently Scream Your Head Off is floating around as a bootleg. So if anyone has it, please Hook a brother up!
Next up is the condensation of Death Wish Club, a movie about a guy who becomes obsessed with a porn performer. When he finds her it seems she is part of an exclusive club where they all take part in games of elaborate Russian Roulette where the stakes are someone's life. Each game is more complicated than the last and he and the girl try to get out of the club. But they keep getting forced back in and play. This one fares the best of the three segments, even though the first half of the movie is basically cut out thus you have no idea how the two main characters really get together. But the gist comes across and the creativity is still there. The original is a pretty cool little movie and this is too.
Lastly we have Cataclysm aka The Nightmare Never Ends. This movie even in its long form is a complicated mess, that barely hangs together. Its still a fascinating little flick with some great ideas, hamstrung by a truly shitty lead performance by the main actress. This short version makes no sense at all, no matter how much narration they lay on it, but they wisely cut around her lousy acting as much as possible. Richard Moll is back again as a writer who writes a book called God is Dead which is basically a manifesto for atheists. Meanwhile an old man has discovered that the Anti-christ has been living down through the decades. he has pictures of him from Nazi Germany and current pictures where he has not aged a bit. It seems that Richard moll's wife, the crappy actress, is the chosen one to fight Satan. there is a great climax involving some REAL open heart surgery footage.
All three segments use new narration to try and make them work. the last two segments have new stop motion creature effects to try and boost the production value of each one. They're okay but not really needed. Overall this is fun, but really on the chintzy side. Though I'm sure if you were drunk off your ass in some grindhouse somewhere this was a real hoot. First time seeing this.
Saturday July 11, 2008
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army (2008)*** - While the first Hellboy was a fun movie movie, I felt like it was struggling against the Hollywood grain to really become something spectacular. There were flashes of Guillermo Del Toro's brilliance in it. But I felt like Hollywood was holding him back. That isn't the case with this sequel. In fact this movie manages to capture the same kind of movie magic that many of us felt as kids when we first saw the original (unedited and un fucked with) Star Wars movies for the first time. There is a scene in Hellboy 2 when the gang enter a Troll marketplace that has that same sense of awe that we got thirty years ago when we followed Luke Skywalker into that wacky cantina for the first time. The story this time has has the last remaining siblings from an ancient race vying for the controlling pieces of a golden crown. This crown when put back together will enable the owner to control the fabled golden army, a thousand strong army of indestructible robots. These are relics of a time when beasts and man battled for control of the world but these robots swayed the battle and almost wiped out mankind until the king, feeling remorse and pity called a truce, allowing the human race to live. Now his son has vowed to wage war on humanity and take his rightful place as ruler. Hellboy investigates this after the prince has let loose a bunch of critters called tooth fairies into a crowded auction that was selling a piece of the crown. Though these things sound cute, and even look cute, their voracious appetite and relentless spirit are anything but. The scene where they attack our heroes is a showstopper. But only the beginning in a film full of them. But for all the flawless effects, terrific stuntwork and incredible production design, what sets this apart from other fantasy films is that Del Toro knows how to inject real pathos into his characters. Even the villains of the piece have shades to them and are not cut outs. There are moments when you understand them, and maybe even empathise with them. Hellboy's journey in the film is less about fighting monsters, than about finding out a very personal road to travel. For all the good, the movie is not perfect though. There are some major problems in the script, such as the whole twins connection between the villains that easily telegraphs the ending of the film. There are also several times when characters do things that make very little sense, except to move the plot along from A to B. But these things are not detrimental as they could have been. The movie is still magical and well worth your time. The audience we saw it with clapped at the end, which is something I've not experienced in a while. First time seeing this.
The Love Guru (2008) * - I was forced to watch this. It looked like a piece of shit from the trailers, and the trailers didn't lie. You know how bad Goldmember was? Remember how staggeringly unfunny and painful? This is way worse. Mike Myers has totally lost his barometer of what makes a joke work. So instead he makes a joke (usually one that isn't funny) laughs at it himself (as part of the character you see) and then goes on to fucking EXPLAIN the joke, either to the other characters or in some instances to the AUDIENCE! This doesn't just happen once, but over and over and over throughout the movie. Then there is the whole joke of having The Love Guru sing a pop culture song. He sings 9 to 5 for the opening credits. It's dumb and you hope that you've experienced the last of the singing. But then he pulls out one of the biggest pieces of shit songs in history with More Than Words from Extreme, and proceeds to sing the whole fucking song of that. But wait, at the end, he does Steve Miller's The Joker. Why? Because The Guru's character is named Maurice and that name is in the song. Sheesh! Justin Timberlake should have been funny in the movie. He tries really hard, but is saddled with such shit material that he just sinks with the ship. The whole joke being that he has a huge dick and a cheesy mustache. Verne Troyer really deserves better than this garbage too, and that's saying something considering he just leaked his own amateur sex video. There is actually a scene where Mike Meyers does the whole gag of "accidentally" calling him a shrimp and a midget. Oh how original. Next they'll have him running around with a bucket on him...oh wait they do that too. There is ONE good scene, thus explaining my one star rating. The plot, as it stands, deals with a hockey player whose wife has left him. He is explaining to the Guru about how much he misses her and how they would make love and fall asleep together and he would wake up a few hours later to his wife softly saying "damn". As in damn I'm glad I'm with you, or damn I love you. Its a tender moment, with real, gentle heart. It's like it wandered in from another movie. And naturally they fuck it up by later showing us how she said the exact same thing when seeing Timberlake's massive schlong. But take heed, there is justice in the world. This piece of crap tanked. Making a pittance of its cost back. But then that just might mean that Meyers will retreat and force another Austin Powers movie on us. I shudder to think. First and LAST time I'll be watching this.
Tuesday July 14th, 2008
The Tracey Fragments (2008) *** - This Canadian Indie drama from acclaimed director Bruce Macdonald is hard to get into at first because of the visual style. The entire movie is told through visual fragments, represented by multiple screens that are always changing. This is split screen effects taken to the ultimate extreme. At any given time there will be anywhere from six to literally dozens of separate frames on screen with different images in them. This approach takes some getting used to, to say the least. But it isn't being used as simply digital editing masturbation. This does indeed represent the mindset of the main character and the viewpoint of the film. The movie stars current indie queen, the beautiful Ellen Page as the title character a "Normal fifteen year old who hates herself". We meet her sitting on a public bus, wrapped in a shower curtain (well we find out later its a shower curtain, it looks like a sheet) as she addresses us directly. We discover that her mentally handicapped little brother has gone missing under her supervision and she is out in the city looking for him. Her parents are the model for dysfunction and falling apart from the stress. Tracey tells us all kinds of personal things about herself, including intimate details of her first sexual encounter with her boyfriend, who she is seemingly obsessed with. See he's the new boy in school and one of those too cool for the room guys, that disaffected girls always fall for. We infer through the fragmented narrative that she was with him when she lost track of her brother in fact. Narratively the movie seems like it is going to be one of those dark journey into the night types of flicks where an "innocent" travels into the big city and encounters all kinds of scary things. There is a bit of that going on; She ends up in a strip bar, witnesses a huge fight, sees a high class pimp plying his trade with a young girl, and is almost raped at one point. But what the movie is really about is her grip on reality slipping as she layers on her own versions of fantasy to cope with things. We learn that many of the things she has told us early on in the film are fiction. Fiction that she is telling herself as she loses grip on her sanity. Throughout the movie there is this impending threat of a huge blizzard that is supposed to blanket the city. Characters constantly warn her to stay inside to protect herself from it. Its almost as if that oncoming blizzard is the complete white out of reality with her own version of "facts". The movie zips forward and back through time, supplants fantasy and reality at will and leaves the viewer to make up their own mind in many instances. It can be a frustrating experience at times, but it is held together my the galvanizing performance at the center from Ellen Page. She has proven without a doubt that she is the best young actress of her generation. While other actresses are busy trying to find ways to have music careers or become "celebrities" she is choosing to do challenging work like this. This girl can say more with her eyes than most teen actors can do in a whole season of TV acting. She holds you to the screen through these dangerous narrative forms and makes you care about what happens to her. Even when her character is making stupid and naive choices that will effect her life. As you have gathered this is not a feel good movie. People who are coming to this as fans of Page because of Juno are going to feel like they have been slapped around. It is the Anti-Juno in a lot of ways. Thats not a bad thing. First time seeing this.