April 25, 2005

Frank Miller's Sin City (2005, Frank Miller & Robert Rodriguez)

Surprised I liked this one as much as I did, seeing how, based on the one Sin City story I read (Marv's story, whatever it's called, I'm not that much of a fanboy), I had low expectations. The comic was amusing enough, I suppose, but marred by Miller's usual self-importance and shitty storytelling. (I'm sorry, did I step on some toes?)

So yeah, I was pleased when it turned out that if you take his romantic anti-heroes and hookers-with-hearts-of-gold-and-fistfuls-of-dynamite and godawful narration and give it flesh and voice, it becomes quite campy and totally hilarious. Probably not the intent, but far from being excited or disgusted, I was charmed by its artificial aesthetic and cartoon physics. Can't imagine why some people wanted a more gritty movie; considering the atrocities these characters inflict on each other, anything heavier would look like Irréversible done for yuks. All the actors are totally game, even as they look silly (like Clive Owen jumping down six stories, effortlessly gliding to the ground in his bright red hightops); yet, the more makeup an actor is wearing, the more they become one with the phoniness of the enterprise and thus more effective -- like Nicky Katt (stealing the show for a brief minute by poking holes in the script's macho posturing through sheer atttitude), Nick Stahl (the best "straight" performance here), Elijah Wood (no makeup really, but turned into silent cartoon) and the wonderful Mickey Rourke. Rourke really is something other than else here; while the other leads simply coast on star power (not a bad strategy, as the script and mise-en-scene reward this), he gives it all he's got, trying to find something honest and human admidst the junky noir clichés, and succeeding admirably.

Anyway, we finally got the "faithful" comic-book adaptation we say we wanted (although I question how faithful it is if it makes the source look so dumb). Can we now faithfully adapt a comic that's, you know, good?

Posted by kza at 11:25 AM | Comments (1)

April 23, 2005

Oldboy (2005, Chan-wook Park)


Wow -- I'm getting finicky in my old age or something, cuz I didn't find the latest from Park (the respectable Joint Security Area) to be the Next Big Thing nor The Death of Fine Cinema, just rather ordinary and slightly boring. Didn't find the characters very interesting, and the story never builds, just limps from scene to scene. (You got tired out by the back-and-forth of Pirates of the Carribean's climax? Meet Oldboy's entire second hour.) The problem here is that so much is withheld, that the only way for the story to proceed is through exposition, leading to lengthy flashbacks involving characters we've just met and have no emotional involvement with. Nor does it help that the story turns out to be a sexual variation on "Scott Tenorman Must Die", yet Cartman's revenge is not only more visceral ("Oh, the tears of unfathomable sadness! Mmm-yummy!"), but more plausible as well. Yes, there's a magnificent fight scene (dubbed "Please Hammer, Don't Hurt 'Em" by the ever-brilliant Theo) that's done in one take, but other than that... this is considered "stylish"? This is considered Fincher-esque? He's using split-screen and a giant clock for transitions! OMG!!!Eleven!!! Critics be trippin' -- they also need to rewatch the goddam Game.

Posted by kza at 09:32 PM | Comments (1)

April 21, 2005

Only Theo Panayides Has Wings

So now we're blogging about internet film critics. "Inevitable, really," he said, wishing he'd had thought of it first. If blogs existed back in '98, I'd have been all over Mike D'Angelo's ass; fortunately for literally everyone involved -- D'Angelo, myself, my family, Time Out New York, that strange Brazilian chick who has the hots for him -- that never happened, and lord knows I'm too old for that shit nowadays. But let's pretend for a moment. What would Only Mike D'Angelo Has Wings look like, if it existed today?


Still talking about Blackjack or Gin Rummy or Mille Bornes or whatever the fuck. The fuck's wrong with him. The only flop I want to hear about is FEAR X. Actually I don't but you know. Remember when the only game he talked about was directed by Fincher? That was awesome.

Posted by kza at 10:52 PM | Comments (8)

April 20, 2005

"Walking With A Ghost", Tegan & Sara

So anyway, I love this song, and I'll probably pick up the album pretty soon from Silver Platters. But, going over the reviews over at Metacritic, I was surprised and a little confused. No, not by some of the weird vitriol directed at their voices or their pop sound. (Don't like pop? Fuck you. Christ, the way some of 'em talk, you'd think making a fine pop song was a crime.) No, what shocked me was that, of all the reviews for "So Jealous" that I scanned, I didn't see any mention of "Walking With A Ghost"'s spiritual advisor, Roky Erickson. Am I the only one that hears Roky in it? (I can especially imagine the Rokster repeating the "out of my mind" bit.) Or am I the only one that still listens to him? The album samples I listened to over at the iTunes store have a more varied sound, so maybe it's a fluke. (Also: "Where Does the Good Go?" sounds like Voice of the Beehive, but nobody remembers them, either...)

Posted by kza at 09:40 PM | Comments (1)

April 15, 2005

my new theme song

Courtesy of HTML in tha House. (Thanks, Martin!)

office take
a style by partake
kza archives html may
climax of hooray
didn t know better i
saw and what i lye
org kza archives cat tv
the wit and vision

the foot tall monster
at the chutzpah behind each mar
return false
com cgi bin mt comments waltz
minutes being a character piece
got a genuine reaction cerise
center span class calendar
hollywood lottery and i ajar


Posted by kza at 01:55 PM | Comments (3)

April 11, 2005

"It's Alive!" (1969, Larry Buchanan)

Not to be confused with Larry Cohen's mutant baby saga of the same name, this is one of the many films of crap director Larry Buchanan, known for taking mediocre AIP science-fiction flicks and remaking them into something far worse (Best example: 1957's Invasion of the Saucer Men into 1965's Attack of the The Eye Creatures [oh so sic], an MST3K fave).

This bizarre little flick was one of Buchanan's originals, and it's definitely unhampered by any rational thinking. A married couple on a road trip through the Ozarks run out of gas in front of Greely's farm. Old Man Greely takes them (as well as Tommy Kirk, as a paleontologist) in... to feed the 40-foot tall monster he found in a cave. There's no need to go into much more detail, when Jabootu's Bad Movie Dimension has a exhaustive overview here. (Thanks to the Dread Pirate for pointing me to this site; it's like a combination of MST3K and Bill Warren's classic tome, Keep Watching The Skies!.)

Normally, there wouldn't be much else to say about a movie that, for the first ten minutes, looks an awful lot like Manos 2: The Knees of Doom. The acting is as bad as you'd expect. There's a gap in logic in just how people enter and exit the cave prison, so unbelievably obvious that I can't bring myself to go into further detail on it. The monster (who only appears briefly in the beginning and the end) is on par with Robot Monster, The Giant Claw, and The Creeping Terror. It gives rubber suits-and-zippers a bad name. (Apparently, the thrifty Buchanan used the costume in a previous flick, Creature of Destruction. That he'd use such an embarrassment twice, let alone once, says it all.)

But then the weirdest fucking thing happens.

Greely has a sidekick in his fiendish plans, the put-upon and sympathetic Bella, who really wants to help the captives escape. Forty-four minutes in, she tells them her sad tale of how she ended up under the mad Greely's power, and we get a twenty-two minute flashback. As Ken Beggs states in his Jabootu review, the movie, which is only eighty minutes long, is thirty-six minutes from ending when the flashback begins, and fourteen when the flashback ends. A quarter of this movie is devoted to a narratively-unimportant flashback of a supporting character.

But that isn't the weird part.

Strangely, the movie actually gets better in this sequence. Supposedly, Buchanan lost the soundtrack for this sequence, and the entirety of it is silent, save for music and the occasional narration by Bella. There is some evidence that this is true -- several shots feature Bella and Greely conversing in a static camera position, indicating that some sound was intended to be there. Yet... I'm not totally convinced. For in this sequence, and only this sequence, Buchanan begins to use his camera not as simply a recording device, but to actually tell Bella's story visually. The lack of sound (whether by choice or by lack of a microphone) frees Buchanan to move the camera, compose shots, and use editing to create an effect. It's not great by any means, but it works, and compared to the first half, it feels like there's some kind of life and intelligence behind the lens. If I didn't know better, I'd say somebody else directed this part, but I haven't found any indication of this.

But that isn't the weird part, either. This is:

Bella's story is about how Greely held her captive in his house as he tried to break her will and make her his slave. At the climax of the sequence, she throws peroxide in his eyes and flees the house, escaping into the woods. Greely chases after her, and Buchanan films it almost entirely in slow-motion. It really feels like a nightmare (Bella's obvious narration doesn't hurt as much as it should), almost like something out of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. And then the bravura ending: the camera pans and follows Greely, in a long-shot profile, as he corners Bella on a rickety wooden dock, and then removes his belt and beats her. There's only word that can begin to explain how these shots look: Kubrickian. Even more improbably, these shots are incredibly reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange... which wouldn't be released for two more years.

Did Buchanan back his ass into something resembling a style by accident? Did Kubrick catch "It's Alive!" on British TV while in pre-production on Orange? (Not impossible; this, and a number of other Buchanan films were commissioned for late-night television.) There's something delicious about a Maestro of Cinema copping ideas from one of the foremost King of Hacks, and I'm certain Kubrick would take ideas from wherever he could find them. It's unlikely there's any proof he did, of course. And seeing how literally no-one's mentioned this in all the write-ups I could find, it's possible I'm seeing something that isn't really there.

Still, I know what I saw and what I felt, regardless if there's a Kubrick connection or not. Other than a fake-backhand from Greely that doesn't even come close to looking real, the sequence got a genuine reaction from me. It's disturbing. It's visceral. It works. For a brief moment, Larry Buchanan is a real director, an artist. You can keep your Da Vinci Code -- this is truly paradigm-shattering.

Posted by kza at 10:35 AM | Comments (4)

April 10, 2005

Saw (2004, James Wan)

So apparently, there are two kinds of bad horror movies -- or more precisely, I have two distinct reactions to bad horror movies. On one side are the ones that have promise, whether it be a good idea or a decent actor or an intriguing trailer, but bungle the follow-through so bad that I sit there literally seething, wanting to reach through the screen and strangle everyone in front and behind the camera. (Think: May, Cabin Fever, and all-time winner The House of the Dead.) Then there are the ones that are so inept, so lacking in any sort of clue, that they achieve a kind of accidental brilliance, usually (but not always) by biting off more than they can possibly think to chew. The only appropriate response is laughter, but (for me at any rate), there's a grudging respect behind the laughter, marveling at the chutzpah behind each terrible decision. (Think: 1979's The Amityville Horror, Larry Buchanan's "It's Alive!", and all-time winner Dreamcatcher.)

Saw, for the first eighty-five minutes or so, falls squarely into Type One. It begins with an interesting premise, but soon wastes it with nonsensical character actions, unnecessary subplots, poorly-conceived flashback sequences, and awful, awful dialogue. (Amusingly, co-screenwriter Leigh Whannell plays one of the main roles, and not only is he a terrible actor, but he gives himself the worst lines.) Most annoying, however, is the amount of style (or better put, "style") that director Wan ladles over this thing: dropped frames, jump-cuts, second-hand Se7en chic, culminating in a ridiculous 360 degree shot that circles around a bound-and-gagged potential victim. Any built-up horror is extinguished by Wan figuratively sticking his thumb on the camera lens.

So, yeah, I was about to give up on Saw, ready to give it a single digit rating, chalking its $55 million box office take to collective insanity. (Well, that last one still applies.) But then, miraculously, in the last fifteen minutes, it turns into a Type Two. I'm not sure where exactly it happened, but the climax of its brilliant absurdity (if not the movie) is a ten-second car chase (or better put, car "chase"), so cheap-looking and ludicrous, clearly so embarrassing for the actors involved, that it would put an admiring tear in the eyes of schlock filmmakers everywhere. But there's more than that. There's Cary Elwes' shocking transformation from bland hero to over-emoting monstrosity, which some have compared to that of Vincent Price and silent-era actors, but I think is more comparable to when Calculon grieved over the body of his beloved Coilette. (Watch the moment when he learns he's talking to his wife, not the killer, on the cell phone.) And finally, there's the final twist ending, which was much derided in the geek world, to which I must reply, "Didn't you watch the previous ninety-nine minutes?" Yes, it's illogical, unlikely, and possibly stupid, but those are the qualities that the film is based on. Yet, unlike the rest of the film, the ending was genuinely surprising and done well. Too bad that means Saw 2.

Posted by kza at 11:36 AM | Comments (2)

April 03, 2005

The Sentinel (1977, Michael Winner)

Mild horror flick about a woman who discovers her fate is tied to her haunted New York apartment. Distractingly star-studded (at least in film buff terms), with supporting roles divided between the bright past (Ava Gardner, Arthur Kennedy, Burgess Meredith, Eli Wallach, John Carradine, Martin Balsam, José Ferrer) and the bright future (Christopher Walken, Jeff Goldblum, Beverly D'Angelo, Tom Berenger, Nana Visitor), as well as an unrecognizably-young Jerry Orbach and an all-too-recognizably-young William Hickey. There's some decent atmosphere from the on-location shooting, and the punchy editing keeps the narrative carrot dangling and attention away from the goofy story. (It's kinda like a Fulci movie that sacrificed gore for coherency.) Unfortunately, most of the goodwill is frittered away by the blank acting from leads Cristina Raines and Chris Sarandon, some awful dialogue (choice quote: "Jesus, Allison, you really are reading Latin!"), and most heinously, the boneheaded choice to cast people with real-life deformities as Damned Souls in Hell, using their disfigurements as a kind of monster makeup. (What the fuck, Winner?) In the middle of all this is one genuinely unnerving moment (similar to one in Pulse), and in these days of advancing years and lowered expectations, I'll take it.

Posted by kza at 10:31 PM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2005

Thunderbolt and Lightfoot (1974, Michael Cimino)

Tiring, glib, pointless action/comedy about an old thief (Clint Eastwood) and a young thief (Jeff Bridges, a terrible performance from a reliable actor) who attempt to rob a vault in a Montana town. Well, that's what happens about an hour into this thing, the previous sixty minutes being a character piece without any characters. At times, the gorgeous Widescreen Montana countryside and rambling narrative make it look like a road movie/Western, like Butch Cassidy or Two-Lane Blacktop, but it lacks the wit and strong structure of the former and the (admittedly, hard to repeat) Beckettian rigor of the latter. Instead, it tries for a slice-of-life, then-this-happened folksiness, but the results are contrived wackiness. (The worst scene features a character that picks up the hitch-hiking duo, who turns out to be crazy and carrying rabbits in his trunk, all for no good reason). And the weird gay subtext (Eastwood and Bridges "meet cute" in an action context; Bridges constantly talks about their relationship, and makes baiting passes at George Kennedy, the villain) is interesting, but I'm not convinced Cimino put it in there for anything other than cheap yuks. The climactic heist is adequately entertaining, and I get a strange pleasure from watching regular cars leave the pavement and drive off-road (see also: Badlands, Moby's "Porcelain" video), but then it ends on a "bittersweet" note that it did absolutely nothing to earn, in the process looking like a parody of the 70s downer ending. Bonus points for Gary Busey, Vic Tayback, and Burton Gilliam; points taken away for doing nothing with them.

Posted by kza at 09:04 PM | Comments (1)