Thursday, August 14, 2008

Movies for August

Saturday August 2nd, 2008
The Midnight Meat Train (2008) ** - Ryuhei Kitamura's adaptation of Clive Barker's excellent short story has been getting the shaft by it's studio Lions Gate. So much that it only opened on the contractually obliged 100 screens and with that, only at second run discount houses. Advance word of mouth on the film would have you believe it was a horror masterpiece. It falls well short of that mark but has moments of gory mayhem that are worth the price of admission. The story is about a young photographer who is slightly obsessed with finding the gritty "real" side of New York city through his lens. While trying to do so, he discovers a disconnected butcher stalking the late night subway trains who is brutally killing lone passengers like cattle. Soon the two will find their lives intertwining as we discover what purpose the murders on the trains serve. The short story this is based on is direct, compact and to the point. So the film had to take a lot of liberties to flesh it out. Pretty much the whole book is here (there are some slight changes to the ending) but the whole photographer bit is new to the film. All of that works fine. What doesn't work is that the script loses its footing in a couple of places, most notably in that the main character keeps having nightmares about the murders on the train, even before he has any knowledge of them. The pacing also flags at times, with a start/stop feel that bogs down when we are spending time with the photographer's domestic life. But then that could be more to do with the complete miscasting of the lead actor. The photographer is played by Bradley Cooper who has most recently been seen as a supporting player on Nip/Tuck. He's one of those pretty boy actors who, thanks to his expensive bridge work, looks like he is smirking all the time. Which works fine for his goofy TV roles, but when he is trying to be serious it doesn't work at all. He looks like he is laughing even when he is trying to perform pathos. His girlfriend Leslie Bibb, also another Nip/Tuck alumnus, is pretty much the same thing. A pretty face with limited acting ability who fails to register on screen. Vinnie Jones plays the butcher and does fine considering he has one line in the whole film. What does work however are the extremely brutal kill scenes. Even though they are largely digital work, they are creatively handled, suddenly vicious and have some weight to them. So kudos for trying to play it seriously. Kitamura keeps his cinematic fireworks in check unlike his Japanese films such as the abominable Versus (which everyone seems to love but me, I think its terrible) and thank the gods for that. If this had been over directed like his other work it would have been nigh unwatchable. As it stands now, it is somewhat enjoyable but hamstrung by weak performances and some lazy script wirting. First time seeing this.

A.P.E. (1976) *1/2- Paul Leder director of such grindhouse classics as I Dismember Mama and My Friends Need Killing made this King Kong rip off and is clearly out of his depth and seems to know it from the get go. There is no real story to get in the way of the goofiness as a ship carrying a giant ape appears at sea. A captain and his deck hand quietly share a smoke and explain that there is a giant ape on board and that he is sedated and should be asleep for several days. Then suddenly, a gigantic fake monkey hand bursts though the set. The ship mate in the most dead pan voice in the history of cinema says "oh shit." Cut to a toy boat breaking apart and a guy in a money suit rising from the water and then it is non-stop stupidity from there on out. The giant ape makes his way to the shores of Korea and starts stomping his way across country. Meanwhile an American actress played by the mom from Growing Pains is busy making a film there that only seems to consist of rape scenes, who is being romanced by a reporter. It is only a matter of time before the monkey finds her and falls in love. Between those moments he interrupts a Kung Fu movie shoot, chases a bunch of kids at an amusement park, breaks lots of model buildings and pisses off some military guys who never leave the same room until the end of the movie. During one scene where the ape fights off military helicopters he flips them the bird showing just how seriously Paul Leder was taking the movie. He eventually does kidnap the babe but does nothing with her and the Army moves in for the big showdown. Thats the plot, nothing more deep than that. Monkey breaks shit. Army breaks monkey. Apparently at some point this must have been conceived as a 3-D movie as tons of stuff gets jammed into the camera, but I've not seen a print anywhere that actually looks to have been in 3-D. Ridiculous, sometimes fun, but more often than not, plodding and a little bit dull. First time seeing this.

Thursday August 7th, 2008
Wanted (2008) ** - Completely over the top action spectacle about an anxiety ridden office boy who discovers he is the son of a famous assassin who worked as part of a secret society of killers. It seems he is now marked to take his father's place and take out the dude who did pops in. Over-directed to the gills by Russian director Timur Bemambetov who made the similarly over the top Nightwatch and Daywatch. From the get go, this thing is filled with computer animation, sped up and slowed down footage, altered shots, anything else you can think of to take it out of reality. If you thought The Matrix went too far with this sort of thing this movie will drive you bonkers. But its tongue is firmly planted in cheek, but made bearable by the fact that no matter how far over the top it goes, the cast is playing it very straight. So it is a live action cartoon being played out seriously. The script is no great shakes, taking liberal heaps of Fight Club in the first half before pumping up the action. But what I did like about it was the general viciousness of the movie. During a late in the movie train wreck sequence the good guys cause pretty much all the passengers to die without blinking an eye. No one seems to care or ever is it mentioned. There's bodies everywhere, but we're supposed too think its an okay thing to do to get the bad guy! There is also a shitload of interpersonal violence sprinkled throughout the movie as well. Lots of knife wounds and splashy bullet hits. It is surprisingly violent for a summertime action film (to see the opposite just look at the trailer for the Vin Diesel Babylon A.D. movie which I saw today and has a PG-13). Overall Wanted is ridiculous and actually pretty stupid at times. But I'll be damned if it isn't entertaining too. First time seeing this.

Friday Aug 8, 2008 (2002)** -This America Undercover documentary for HBO about hate groups on the web is pretty informative, but the fact that it is so short (part of the America Undercover format) it doesn't delve nearly deep enough into the subject matter. Many of the movers and shakers of the various hate groups are interviewed but not enough to get under their skin. A lot of time is spent on the idea of the "Lone Wolf" which is basically how these groups get away with various violent crimes. A person will go out and kill in the name of say the Aryan Nations but since the hate groups are so splintered the groups basically say he was a lone wolf acting on his own accord and not on any kind of directive by the group. Also quite a bit of time is given to William Pierce's book The Turner Diaries and how it has basiclaly helped indoctrinate many people into his hate group The National Alliance. The explore the theory that Timothy McVeigh was inspired by the book to blow up the Oklahoma City building. But my conspiracy theory self doesn't believe that. First time seeing this.

Psycho Kickboxer: The Dark Angel (1997) ** - Perfectly servicable no budget actioneer and starring vehicle for one Curtis Bush 5 time Kickboxing Champion. This thing has been kicking around in the $1 bins for years but Pop Cinema has put it out now on their Shock-O-Rama lable wih a fairly nice transfer (it gets REAL grainy towards the end though) with a second film called Carnival of Blood. I had heard that Psycho Kickboxer was terrible over the years but it actually isn't at all. As far as these kinds of American chop socky flicks go its no worse than the dozens of Kung Fu movies that Roger Corman pumped out through the 90's. Curtis Bush plays the kickboxing son of a cop. But when Mob thugs kill his dad (with a shocking exploding head shotgun blast you may want to rewind) gang rape and kill his fiance and leave him for dead, its time for revenge. He's nursed back to health by a warehouse dwelling Black Army vet who was crippled by the same Mobster his dad was hunting. So the Black Crippled Guy helps train our hero in street smarts so he can take on the bad guys. Along the way he starts sneaking out into the streets in a ninja outfit and putting the whoop ass on criminals for the hell of it, thus being labled by the press "The Dark Angel". The acting ranges from okay (the pretty female tabloid reporter) the the atrocious (his fiance who gets raped) and everywhere in between. The martial arts aren't bad at all, but they are not shot very well and edited even less so. But what saves them is that there is lots and lots of bloody violence. Obviously they were Steven Seagal fans (and Seagal fans will appreciate that Curtis Bush runs even funnier than Seagal does, which is saying something!) because they emmulate his splatter filled fight scenes. Bush himself is fine during the fighting, but is pretty flat during scenes when he is trying to emote, but shit, thats not much different than a lot of other action stars. I really don't see why this didn't sell to cable or get a better release than it did. I think it just fell into piss poor rip off distribution. Hopefully this new DVD will change that. First time seeing this.

Saturday August 9th 2008
Can I Do It Till I Need Glasses? (1977)* - No this is not a documentary about my sexual self abuse practices as of late, but instead a late 70's sexy comedy sequel to the drive in hit If You Don't Stop You Will Go Blind! which played well in many bible belt cruise ins. This movie is a weird one,being a skit comedy film with each skit leading up to ONE punch line. Not a series of small jokes leading to one big punch line, but huge sets ups, involving lavish costumes, sets, special effects, titles and music all for one lousy punchline. And they are usually ones you've heard. For example. Doorbell rings, inside a couple are arguing. The man opens the door to find a guy wearing a bag over his head, holding a gun but otherwise naked. The husband yells out "Take all our money, just don't hurt us!" The guy with the bag on his head says "I'm not a robber! I'm a rapist!" So the husband turns to his wife and says "Hey Honey its for you!" Badabump! And that was actually the shortest and funniest set up of the movie. The coup is that Robin Williams appears for all of two minutes but it was enough for this movie to get a rerelease when he hit it big on Mork & Mindy. This new release from Code Red looks pretty good. The colors are a bit muted here and there most likely from being a print source, or maybe just it was filmed on the cheap that way. It sounds fine. As much as I love Code red, I didn't buy this one and I don't see me adding it to my collection either. First time seeing this.

Death Weekend (1975) **1/2 - Fairly tense Desperate Hours style riff with that nasty Last House on the Left type vibe going for it too. Don Stroud plays a leader of a group of ruffians who almost run Bredna Vaccaro and Chuck Shamata off the road. But it turns out she is a top notch speed driver and takes them for a run thus deflating their manhood and then takes them right into a creek bed. This explodes the boys macho rage setting the stage for them to hunt the couple down and take care of some business. But once at the house we realize that our male hero is not such a great guy either. He's possessive and proud of his money. He see's people as objects and has two way mirrors with cameras behind them so he can watch his female companions undress. Soon the gang show up and it is a battle of the wills as the slow burn starts with each man trying a bit of territorial pissing, until an escape attempt brings out the loaded shotgun and things get ugly fast. But surprisingly it turns out to be the woman who takes charge and brings the final battle to a boiling point. Director William Fruet does a good job with the material and should be commended for trying really hard to pour some social commentary in about class struggles as well as having some sympathy towards both sides of the coin. Unfortunately the movie lags pretty hard in the mid section, especially when they start trashing the house. It should be distressing but instead it just seems silly and overlong. The lack of any real likable characters hurts the movie as well. Its hard to get attached to Brenda Vacaro's cold fish character, and her love interest is just as prick. Stroud is a very scary bad guy and plays it well, you can't like him at all. There is one great moment when he is trying to rape Brenda Vacaro. The whole time she is struggling and fighting and yelling, while he continues to tell her to "fight more, it makes it more exciting". Then she just stops fighting him, goes limp and just looks at him with fear and disgust. She says nothing, but her look says everything. And he just stops dead cold like a deer in headlights. Like she just saw through who he really was. He tries to keep the facade up for a second saying "Why'd you stop?" But he realizes he can't rape her anymore. He can't get it up and do it. She just took his power away. Even after she slaps him again. He just roughs her up and pushes her out of the room. This scene is the movies crown jewel moment. The rest is serviceable. First time seeing this.I actually watched it over a week ago and forgot to blog about it though...

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