Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
So here's another one of those "critical and fan reaction split right down the middle" type of films. Honestly, after the huge success of writer/director Neill Blomkamp's breakout film District 9, how can you not expect something along the lines of a masterpiece as his follow up? Does he deliver? That's debatable.
For me, Elysium felt more of the same, only on a bigger scale. In some ways it's a bit refreshing, but in others it's sort of frustrating. Blomkamp is a very talented filmmaker, there's no doubt about that. What he was able to pull off with District 9 on a limited budget was nothing short of masterful and impressive. With bigger star power and a bigger budget, I had expected something a little more grande and epic. At least that's what the trailers lead me to believe. Except, as I watched this film, at times it felt like I was watching District 9 all over again. This film certainly exists in that world he set up in that film 4 years ago, only with some minor adjustments. Namely, some serious star power.
Elysium has as many supporters as it does haters. Personally, I think I'm somewhere in the middle. While it didn't "wow" me like I hoped it would, it certainly wasn't a bad film either. My biggest beef with it was that for a majority of the time, it felt like I was in District 9 zone. And though the film took place on both planet earth and on Elysium up in space, it wasn't enough to set it apart from his earlier film. Aaaaand, here's my biggest complaint. Visually, I was severely let down. Yea the effects work was phenomenal, and the design was impressive, but the style didn't grab me like I was expecting it to. I've never been a fan of hand-held camera work, but Blomkamp was one of the few who utilized that concept extremely well. It's a rare thing indeed because not a lot of people can pull that off, but he certainly did with District 9. But with Elysium, it felt almost lazy. Gasp! I know that sounds harsh, and I'm not trying to come off as a dick, but I wasn't impressed in the least by Blomkamp's visual work here. A few standout shots for sure, but overall a missed opportunity when considering what he had to work with.
Bitching aside, there's quite a bit to like about this. For one, while Elysium boasts some big name actors that do what they do best, it's a lesser known name that really steals the show in this; and that's none other than Sharlto Copley. Almost unrecognizable until he starts speaking, Copley was definitely the highlight of the film for me as a mercenary for hire. The funny thing is that I wouldn't even call him tough. He does anything he can to get the job done or to get the upper hand and truthfully, it's all the little gadgets and weapons he uses that actually gets the job done 99 % of the time. Conniving, sleazy and one twisted bastard, he'll definitely leave an impression. I'd have to say I enjoyed his performance more in this than I did in Oldboy, where he played a completely different type of villain. Again, as with Elysium, his performance in that was also a highlight. But the guy is just a scene stealer and rightfully so. Though he didn't start out as an actor in the business, Blomkamp's decision to cast him (a producer at the time) in the lead in District 9 was brilliant. Hell, as much as I dislike the A-Team film, he was even spot-on and badass in that.
I think my expectations were just too high for this one. So maybe it never really had a chance at living up to them. Though I dug the story, it's really Blomkamp's visual style that kind of let me down. I know, I'm nitpicking. But my philosophy is, if you're going to spend the millions of dollars that it takes to make a film, and lose a year of your life working on it, wouldn't you want it to look good? I'll never understand the whole hand-held concept. It just seems lazy to me. Especially when so much is riding on the success of any particular film. I mean, who makes films to lose money, right? Not that it's a disaster or a total loss. Not by any means. It's a solid film put together really well. It's just that for me, yes the story is important. The performances are important. The music is important. The editing is important. But more important than a lot of those things for me, is that it's also visually arresting. It just has to be or I lose interest pretty darn quick.
Ultimately, for me, it's a mixed bag. It wasn't necessarily boring; great effects work, strong performances and a solid effort, but it didn't blow me away like I had hoped. I feel my expectations were too high. I know a lot of people actually love it. Maybe my feelings will change with multiple viewings throughout the years. Maybe it's one of those films that has to grow on me. Only time will tell.
Directed by: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Every so often a film pops up out of nowhere, whether it be foreign or domestic, and really surprises you like a punch in the gut. Sure there are films that you've heard of but have never gotten around to viewing, and then there are films that just pop up randomly that have been around for a few years and it isn't until you take that chance and sit down to watch something that you've never heard of that you realize that sometimes it's worth taking the risk. Sometimes these risks pay off big time and Cold Sweat, while not perfect, is one of those films for me.
Cold Sweat is a hard film to categorize. With a mix of horror, thriller, suspense, thrills, absurdity and even some laughs, it's kind of got everything you would want for a badass film experience. Thankfully though, it never delves too deep into the absurdity or humor area. It plays out more on the serious side with some pretty nifty effects work and a few good shocks to boot.
Roman and his friend Ali are looking for Roman's girlfriend who mysteriously vanished. Roman hacks into her email and discovers she's been chatting with a guy who she made plans to meet in his apartment. But she's never heard from again until she receives an email saying she's left town. Only Roman and his friend Ali know that the IP address from the email originated from the same apartment that Roman's been stalking in his attempt at finding her. Roman sends his faithful friend Ali in first. When she also disappears, he enters, only to discover a literal house of horrors.
So what we discover once anyone enters this apartment is that there are two old men who have a penchant for torturing young people. Why? Because they feel society is a disgrace and it's because the young are stupid and it pisses them off. So they want to torture as many of them as possible since they are vulnerable enough to fall for a stupid prank like meeting someone online and actually agreeing to meet them in person even though they don't really know them. Really, that's what it boils down to.
In the beginning of the film it's hinted at that these two old men once belonged to an extreme radical group in the 70's (I think?) and a ton of explosives went missing. Unfortunately, while that is brought up later in the film, it's never really taken full advantage of. The beginning montage is pretty cool, and leads you to believe that will somehow come into play in a big way later, but it doesn't.
When it comes to torture, they choose to use liquid forms of explosives to do the job. Sometimes it gets creative, but then others it gets downright silly. At one point one of the torturers says "Why don't we just shoot them? It'll be easier and faster". Towards the end you start to wonder the same thing. But that's not to say the film isn't a hoot, because it is. It's just ridiculous for the most part. For example, how did these two old geezers subdue all of these young people? One of the guys can barely walk. How is it possible that even an athletic woman can't get the upper hand with this guy? And instead of immediately calling the cops when his friend Ali entered the building and never came out, Roman decides to enter himself and this guy is anything but a hero. So many missed opportunities where he could easily have taken on either of these guys to save the day are wasted and you end up yelling at the television in frustration. But, despite a lot of these gripes, it's a fun film. It really is. Silly, but fun. You just have to remember not to take it seriously at all and you'll have a great time with this.
When the credits began to roll in the beginning and I saw writer/director Adrian Garcia Bogliano's name, I knew it sounded familiar. A few months back I had seen a trailer for his newest film, Here Comes The Devil, and it blew me away. It literally gave me chills and have been aching to see it ever since then. So when I saw his name attached to this, you can say my expectations were a little high. Though to be fair, just based off of the trailer I had seen for Here Comes The Devil, Cold Sweat took me a little by surprise by it's tone. A completely different type of film all around, yet made with the same amount of passion implored in his newest film, just in a different way.
Not a groundbreaking film by any means, but a straight up fun time made with some genuine talent in getting the most out of every idea thrown at the screen. It's important to note that this film falls square under the "not for everyone" category. I can see how some people just won't dig it. I enjoyed the hell out of it, but then again my taste in films doesn't really flow with most others. Definitely a film worth checking out though, that's for sure. There's a standard DVD release out there that's void of any Special Features. But your best bet is to stream it on Netlfix while it's currently available.
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
This has been on my radar for quite some time. In fact, I've been told repeatedly by just about anyone who's seen it that I need to see it. That I'll love it. I've always meant to, but it's always one thing or another that keeps me from making the time to actually do it. That is until I saw writer/director Martin McDonagh's recent film Seven Psychopaths, which I really enjoyed, that I felt inclined to finally check this out. If it was anything as entertaining as Psychopaths, then I was in for a treat.
In Bruges, while being a slightly different type of film, was just as entertaining, if not more. Taking a more serious approach than Seven Psychopaths did, In Bruges benefits from some outstanding performances from Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and most notably, Ralph Fiennes. This guy was just fucking killer in this.
I enjoyed this one a lot. So much so that I can't believe it took me so long to finally see it. While it could easily be categorized as a dark thriller, it's also got some genuinely funny bits. But writer/director Martin McDonagh doesn't ever go overboard with the comedy or the lighthearted moments. What I also liked about this was that it takes a while for things to be fully explained. It takes it's time laying all the details out, which is nice. You don't know why they're in Bruges of all places. Especially since Ray (Farrell) is practically in hell there, hating the place with a passion. So bit by bit, the story starts to unfold. Why they're there of all places apparently waiting on orders. What happened that's got Ray so guilt stricken. What's next on the agenda. And that's one of the things I enjoyed about this so much. The fact that they don't just lay everything out for you all at once in the beginning. You're forced to invest yourself into the story and be patient. But believe me, it's well worth the wait.
Overall a fun as hell ride that's about as entertaining as they come. Funny, violent, dark, and often times thrilling, Martin McDonagh's In Bruges is a film well worth checking out if you haven't yet already.
How to see it:
Today's your lucky day. If you haven't already noticed, it's currently streaming on Netflix Instant.
Directed by: David Lynch
Here is what my issues with Dune have always been. As much as I love science fiction films, and as much as I enjoy a David Lynch film, I have never been able to sit through Dune beginning to end without falling asleep. Not once...ever. I think maybe I've attempted it a good 5 or 6 times in my lifetime, to no avail. I fall asleep and forget about it. I've never read the books, so I'm not a fan in the general sense I suppose. I come into this as the average moviegoer. But I've been immersing myself into Lynch's eclectic filmography for almost a year now, and I've found myself a bigger fan of his body of work than I could ever have imagined. I'm quite shocked actually. And none more so than my experience watching Dune for the first time without ever falling asleep. And you know what else? I thought it was pretty great.
I love sci-fi, and Dune is epic science fiction filmmaking at it's best. First and foremost, it looks nothing like a David Lynch film, to it's credit. I love the way he makes films, don't get me wrong. But with Dune he adopted a more mainstream and streamlined approach and the film quite frankly looks stunning. He takes full use of the films epic widescreen aspect ratio, framing each and every shot with such detail and precision that in all honestly, it looks like nothing he's ever done before. If you didn't already know going in, then you'd never know it was a David Lynch film. But it's the films monster production value that really overshadows anything. The insane amount of detail that's implemented in almost every aspect of this production is astonishing. Sure, not all of the effects work, but regardless, you can see how much work went into creating some these sub-par scenes. Dune is the perfect example of a dying art in filmmaking.
Okay, now I've never read the books, so I know practically nothing about it's storyline, history, creation or anything like that. I've always found this film to be rather dull, hence the fact that I always fall asleep whenever I attempt it. After finally having seen it, while I wouldn't exactly call it dull, it's a slow film for sure. But I've had 29 years to prepare myself for this very experience. I knew this, after repeated attempts, going in and it helps that I sat down to watch this smack in the middle of the afternoon. For me, in all my previous attempts, besides it being generally slow in a lot of areas, it's the "inner dialogue" that always did it for me. Whispers man. Whispering knocks me right the fuck out. It's weird. And Dune is full of an insane amount of whispering when the "inner dialogue" comes into play, which is frequently. But alas! I made it all the way through and I fucking loved it!
I have to be honest, I'm not sure if I would have been as willing to revisit this film "yet again", had it not been for Francisco's glowing review over at The Film Connoisseur as part of his "The Films of David Lynch" series. It was just the push I needed to get off my ass and give it another go. Immediately after I read his take, I logged onto my Amazon account and ordered the Blu-ray. If you haven't done so yet, I strongly suggest you check out his blog for all of his Lynch reviews that he's tackled recently.
So back to Dune. One of the absolute best aspects of Dune is it's production and costume design. It's done in a way that you can't necessarily say it's in the future, or the past. Drenched in a sort of mix of steampunk, Matrix, Alien and Hellraiser, the costume and set design for this film is amazingly well crafted. The sets in this film are just enormous. Real sets. Real locations. Real stunts. The way they used to make them. Let's be real, we all know that if or when they remake Dune, it will be a CGI orgy-fest. I doubt we'll see any real physical sets and locations that can compare to the magnitude of this original when it's so much easier to "create" anything they want with computers, no matter how fake it may look. This has actually almost come to fruition most recently with both Peter Berg (The Rundown, Friday Night Lights, Battleship) and Pierre Morel (Taken) attached at different times. Fans of the books may feel that we still need a proper adaptation, if that's even possible. It is said that the film is a severely watered down attempt and bringing Frank Herbert's science fiction masterpiece to life. So unless someone with a vision like Peter Jackson or Guillermo del Toro comes along with a planned trilogy of films or something, I doubt we'll ever get a film that will satisfy everyone.
My viewing is based off of the Theatrical Cut. I know an Extended Cut exists, but I've been told unless I've read the books, those extra scenes won't really add to my experience in any significant way. I'm not going to mince words; Dune is confusing as shit. It really is. Narratively, it's a disjointed and uneven mess. You've got "several" different storylines going on which can be hard to follow. Unless you're familiar with this universe beforehand, you're lost for a good chunk of the time. But I went with it and despite not having a clue what to expect, and being confused, I could follow the somewhat coherent story. It helps that they explain as much of it as possible in the opening prologue, omitting huge sections of the book by creating specific scenes to tie things together quickly. I know, travesty if you love the book. I'm sure had I actually read it, I'd feel the same. But as a film experience, it did help things move along a little more smoothly.
There's a LOT of stories about Lynch and his relationship to Dune and a ton of research to be had if you have the interest. I'm not that invested into all this, so my info comes from various interviews and articles I've come across throughout the years. When it comes to films, I have a photographic memory. Taken from different sources, it's so hard to know what's true and what isn't as to date, Lynch refuses to discuss this film in interviews as he's pretty much disowned it completely. It was a pretty sour experience from the beginning. Studio interference and expectations clashed with his artistic vision and ultimately, believe it or not, he regrets making this film. I read in an article once that he only agreed to do Dune if De Laurentiis let him do Blue Velvet immediately afterward. He had never read the books before being offered the job and so if this is true, then I find it rather surprising that producers Dino and Raffaella De Laurentiis would put so much stock in someone who had only done a few small films before being asked to take on a huge undertaking, just so that he could be allowed to make his passion project, Blue Velvet. I've heard he submitted a over 4 Hour Cut, which was then cut down to 137 minutes, making it just over 2 hours. On the Blu ray release though, producer Raffaella De Laurentiis stated that there is in fact "No" 4 Hour Plus Lynch Cut of the film. She says that when he was finished with photography, he submitted an "assembly" of the film that was 4 hours long. But it wasn't a "cut" as it was missing huge chunks of sequences since they hadn't even gotten to the point of shooting effects work yet. That's out of her own mouth. As different and longer versions do exist, none are David Lynch approved or nothing that would be considered a Director's Cut. We can only dream.
How to see it:
Universal's 2006 DVD Extended Edition -
Here in the U.S., to date there are only 2 versions worth mentioning. Universal's 2006 Extended Edition and their 2010 Blu ray. With the Extended Edition, it was the first time Dune was available in 2.35:1 widescreen, as opposed to letterbox. And with this edition, you have both the Theatrical Cut at 137 minutes as well as the Extended Edition at 314 minutes, which is also known as the Television Cut, of which Lynch removed his name from and substituted it with the Hollywood pseudonym Alan Smithee.
Special Features wise it comes with a few short documentaries that delve into the vast production of Dune with Designing Dune, Special Effects, Models and Miniatures, Wardrobe Design as well as some deleted scenes with an introduction by producer Raffaella De Laurentiis where she flat out states that despite the rumors, there is no mythical 4 Hour David Lynch Cut tucked away in a vault.
Universal's 2010 Blu ray -
Unless you're a die-hard fan of the novels, your best bet is to pick up Universal's 2010 Blu ray. The picture quality is a vast improvement over their 2006 Extended release, yet even then, some of the night scenes don't come out as clear as you'd expect. It's still the best version you're going to get until they come out with another release in the future. This blu ray only contains the 137 minute Theatrical Cut though.
As far as the Special Features go, it's the same exact ones off of the Extended Edition, so nothing new in that department. With this purchase, it's really the picture quality you're buying more than anything else. Overall, while not up to par with the quality with some current blu ray releases, considering it's a film released in 1984, the picture quality is pretty damn good.
Directed by: Rick Rosenthal
As many of these Halloween films I've been devouring this past year, I'm surprised it's taken me this long to finally catch up to this particular one. In a cheesy sorta way, I suppose you can say I saved one of the best ones for last? *winks eye. Having only ever seen it one time, when it was originally released (yes, I'm that old), my memories are extremely fuzzy on this one. I do remember it all took place in a hospital, and that though Carpenter and Hill returned to write, Carpenter himself did not return to direct, instead leaving the directing duties to Rick Rosenthal. Yes, even waaaaay back then, I knew this was the case. I really should be in film school. Even as a child my knowledge of useless film trivia is pretty incredible.
When Scream Factory released a Collectors Edition of this this past year, I became even more intrigued. If they took an interest in this title, then there's got to be something there. I mean, having never seen Halloween III: Season of the Witch before, I was intrigued only because they released it recently in a Collector's Edition also. And boy were they spot on with that one! I loved it! With Halloween II, I saw this one about 2 weeks ago and have been processing it ever since. The more I think about it, the more I like it.
Halloween II takes place literally minutes after the events of the first film, with the majority of the film taking place in the hospital where Laurie Strode is being held after being attacked by her brother Michael Myers. Only at this particular time, she has no idea he is her brother, only barely finding that out later in this film. All the major players have returned with a few interesting additions like Lace Guest (The Last Starfighter) and Leo Rossi (Maniac Cop 2), and for the most part, piggy-backs off of Carpenter's original classic extremely well. As far as slasher films go, this is Grade A top notch stuff and I couldn't have been more entertained than I already was with this.
|Universal's 2011 30th Anniversary Edition|
Largely being sedated with drugs and confined to a hospital bed, Laurie Strode isn't much of a central character this time around, much to a lot of critics dismay. Instead it felt more like we followed more closely to the exploits of Dr. Loomis as he and the town sheriff are scouring the town for Michael Myers, who he is positive is still alive and roaming the streets of Haddonfield. This is also somewhat of a turning point for the character of Dr. Loomis. In the first film, you can kind of see his irrational and unbalanced side slightly start to creep out bit by bit, but here it's on full display. The fact that the sheriff continues to allow him to carry a gun is mind-boggling, especially after a particular shocking incident halfway through the film. You'll know what I'm talking about if you've already seen it. Generally characterized as one crazy son of a bitch, this is probably the first time that theory is the most evident.
I'm sure others have noticed, but it's so strange how different Michael Myers looks from film to film. I mean, it's a guy in a jumpsuit and a Captain Kirk mask painted white, yet each time it's such a different take on the character simply by design. Dick Warlock dons the mask and jumpsuit this time around, and it's painfully evident how much shorter he is compared to Nick Castle, who played Myers in the first film. And though apparently it's the same exact mask from the first film, Warlock being a stockier individual than Castle fills it out a little more, giving it a different look. Honestly I assumed it was a different mask altogether, but it seems Warlock just has a thicker head.
Much like the first film, it's a simple yet effective premise. Myers is on the prowl looking for his sister
|Scream Factory's 2012 Collector's Edition|
How to see it:
There have been a ton of releases of this particular film in the last 30 + years. However, there are only 2 that are worth mentioning. First off there's Universal's 30th Anniversary Edition blu ray from 2011. I picked this one up at Best Buy recently for just $7. Decent transfer with a small amount of extras like an alternate ending, deleted scenes and the 1984 documentary "Terror in the Aisles". If you had HBO in the mid 80's, then you've certainly seen it already. Your best bang for your buck though would be Scream Factory's excellent Collector's Edition which not only comes with a great transfer but with a horde of Special Features making this one worth every single penny. Here's what you get:
- Theatrical Cut and Television Cut with footage not seen in the theatrical version
- Audio Commentary with director Rick Rosenthal and actor Leo Rossi
- Audio Commentary with stunt coordinator/actor Dick Warlock
- The Nightmare Isn't Over: The Making of Halloween II
- Horror's Hollowed Grounds: The Locations of Halloween II
- Deleted Scenes
- Alternate Ending
- Theatrical Trailer
- TV & Radio Spots
- Still Gallery
For those of you who are unaware of this title, whether you're a comic book geek or not, I thought I'd give you a little bit of info on this gnarly title currently out on issue # 3 by Dark Horse Comics.
Shaolin Cowboy was first introduced back in 2004 in a 7 issue bi-monthly limited run by The Wachowski's (The Matrix, Cloud Atlas) own comic book company Burleyman Entertainment. Written, Drawn and Created by legendary comic book artist Geof Darrow (Hard Boiled, Big Guy and Rusty the Boy Robot), Shaolin Cowboy quickly found cult status and currently, that original 7 issue run commands top dollar online. So it's because of this and the fact that it was never released in trade paperback form that I never got to read it. This year, however, Darrow and Dark Horse Comics teamed up to bring The Shaolin Cowboy back to life in a new series to be written, drawn and created by Geof Darrow once again. Though I'm unsure of whether it's a limited or ongoing series.
With issue 3 hitting shelves this week (I have yet to pick my issue up), I can tell you that just from the first 2 issues alone, this is a must have. Insanely gory and drawn with razor sharp precision to detail, Geof Darrow's hyper-violent exploits of the Shaolin Cowboy is one of my favorite comics out now.
As I never read the original 7-part series back in '04, the new series from Dark Horse kind of throws you head first into the action without giving you any backstory. If you take the time to read the extremely long prologue at the beginning of the first issue, you might be somewhat caught up to speed, but I also found it slightly confusing. So I'm hoping that as the series progresses, more and more will be answered. But for now, issue 1 was massively entertaining and exactly what I was hoping for with this title. Issue 2 was interesting. It was just basically one long fight between the Shaolin Cowboy and a horde of zombies as he hacks each one to pieces with his staff that has a chainsaw attached to each end. Awesome stuff.
I've been a die hard comic book collector since the mid 80's. As life happens, my collecting has been on and off for the last 20 years or so. Currently I've gotten back into it, but only slightly, limiting myself to just a few titles. It can be an expensive hobby. But it's titles like this that keep me sticking around.
|27 x 40 Turkish Hands of Steel Poster w/ Posterhanger|
I know, weird that I'm pushing a product and not getting paid for it. Ha! Truth is, I wasn't approached to push this or anything like that. I love this thing so much that I just feel the need to share with anybody else who has the same problem I have with displaying my film posters of a certain size and never being able to find frames to fit them.
In the U.S., the standard for movie posters are either 24 x 36 inches or 27 x 40 inches. You can hit up any place like Target, Walmart, Kmart, Hobby Lobby and whatnot and grab a plastic poster frame, but the biggest they ever offer is 24 x 36 inches. Hobby Lobby is the same, but they offer nice solid wood frames with glass. But it's the same problem, never bigger than 24 x 36 inches. Every once in a blue moon you might actually come across a poster frame for 27 x 40 inches at some random store, but it will most certainly be plastic. I don't know about you, but when I display poster art in my home, I like it to look nice. Wood frames are ideal and whether you go black, white or espresso brown, they add a nice touch to your decor. My home is filled with these frames and everyone compliments them when they first visit.
The biggest problem for me though is that a lot of the posters I buy or look for end up being 27 x 40, so I'm forced to go with the plastic frames, if I can ever find them that big. To me, they just always look cheap.
Recently as I did some research on poster hangers I came upon a website called Posterhanger that sells a particular hanger that displays your poster from the top and bottom, and that's it. No real frame to speak of, no plastic cover either; just a bar at the top and bottom. I took a chance and ordered one and let me tell you, I'm so happy I did. I never expected my poster to look this good displayed. The best part? You don't have to fold your poster to fit a frame, or have that annoying glare from the cheap plastic. A single rod at the top holds the poster straight without having doing any damage to the poster or print, and another rod keeps weight at the bottom so it will lay flat. This thing is freaking amazing and I've already ordered a few more. I have a collection of the large 27 x 40 inch posters that I was never able to display....until now.
Of course, there are cheaper ones out there that you can get off of eBay and Amazon, but they are made of cheap flimsy plastic and if you read enough reviews, they're a total waste of your hard earned money, whereas these are solid and have a slight modern/industrial look. I love this. I love that with these hangers it's all about the poster art and not the frame. There's no annoying glare and it gives the art a simple, clean, streamlined looked. Best of all, it literally took 1 minute to put together and I used 1 single thin nail to hang. No nasty big nails that leave big holes in your wall for those typical solid wood/glass frames I've grown accustomed to.
They are made of aluminum and come in silver or black in all sizes starting at 12 inches all the way up to 72. To order yours, just visit Posterhanger.com.
Directed by: Spike Lee
Here's the thing with Spike Lee's Oldboy remake. It's a good solid film if you've never seen the original Korean thriller. Let me just lay that out there before I go any further. If you haven't seen that original film, you will most certainly enjoy this one. Personally, I don't feel a remake is necessary or warranted, especially since the original is available pretty much everywhere, including Netflix's streaming service. So for my buddy and I, the real reason we hit up our local theater for Discount Tuesday was to compare the two, plain and simple.
Now, as far as remakes go, is it a great one? Not really, but it's got some strong performances, a decent structure and a solid ending that will leave the uninitiated Oldboy filmgoer satisfied and maybe even a little shocked with it's ending. But! If you "have" seen the original, this is pretty much another needless remake that doesn't really add anything extra to the table to warrant a remake from a film only 10 years old. Even with the inclusion of Spike Lee behind the camera doesn't do the film any favors really. An odd choice for sure, but if you look at his filmography, Lee can certainly deliver a good solid thriller. Remember Summer of Sam? Unfortunately, there's nothing that screams Spike Lee with Oldboy in terms of style. A few cool stylistic shots are overshadowed by really basic and uninspired camerawork that makes you feel like any Tom, Dick and Harry could have made this.
What's difficult to pinpoint exactly is why this isn't nearly as good as the Korean original. All the basic elements are here, and even in the violence department, Spike Lee's Oldboy has a healthy dose of graphic carnage. Obviously making a few changes to justify an American remake, and even hiring a grade A filmmaker like Lee to helm, it can never escape the feeling that it's still a watered-down version of Chan-wook Park's 2003 cult classic. They just make films differently over there, for better or worse. But in Oldboy's case, Park's razor sharp visuals and penchant for extreme brutal violence make it a standout. In Spike Lee's version, there' just no real flavor to his style. It's just sort of ......there.
That's a hard pill to swallow for one, it being a Spike Lee film, and two, that they had an opportunity to create something really awesome, especially considering it's subject matter, yet were unable to fulfill. Even the famous hammer sequence felt watered-down compared to it's source material. Though I will say it was an impressive sequence nonetheless with Lee shooting it all in one single take. For Brolin's part, that looked like a helluva lot of choreography to learn. While I'm on the subject of Josh Brolin, I should take this chance to give some props out to the guy for delivering the goods. I mean, never really being one of my favorite actors, he can certainly hold his own when given the right material. Here he's so good at playing a completely unlikable character from beginning to end. Doesn't matter that he attempts to redeem himself, he's still just a horrible human being that even when he's given the ultimate payback, you still don't really feel bad for him.
To the films credit, the performances here are top notch. Brolin is always solid, Elizabeth Olsen was surprisingly effective and really damn cute, Samuel L. Jackson always leaves an impression, regardless of how small his role is in any film, but the standout for me this time was Sharlto Copley as the guy pulling the strings. It's no secret he ends up being the ringleader of the events that take place, so I'm not spoiling anything for you there. But I enjoyed his unusual take on the character. Everything from his mannerisms, his voice, the way he dresses; you can tell it was thoroughly researched to create a unique take on this type of character and I felt he succeeded. He's a really great character actor and I wish I could see him in more things.
File this one under Needless Remake.
Directed by: Nicolas Winding Refn
Every so often a film comes out from a great director that divides critics, filmgeeks and the average filmgoer right down the middle. It's not often, but it happens and Only God Forgives is that kind of film. Truth be told, I've wanted to see this ever since the trailers started popping up. But a good half the word of mouth I heard or read was negative, so when it finally became available to rent, I wasn't in any hurry. Only recently did Netflix start offering it through their streaming service so I thought now was a good time as any.
I'm sure by now everybody knows that this is written and directed by the same guy who directed the stylishly entertaining thriller Drive, Nicolas Winding Refn. So with the huge critical and fan success of Drive, you can imagine his ego was a little stroked for the better, and well, Only God Forgives shows that full front and center. It feels like with the success of his last film, he felt could do something any way he wanted, whether the public accepts it or not. Immediately as the film started playing, a good 30 minutes in I could tell this wasn't going to be for everyone. And even for people like myself who are more open to these kinds of experiences, at times it can test your patience with it's insanely slow pace and extremely minimal dialogue.
Though you would never guess it by sitting through the first half, at it's core Only God Forgives is a revenge film, plain and simple. Reading up a bit on it I see that Refn has referenced spirituality and existentialism. I've also read that the character of Chang, the main villain in the film, thinks of himself as somewhat of a God-like character. I didn't pick up on any of that. What I found instead was a film barely trudging along at a snails pace for the first half, with some truly confusing editing choices and sequences that didn't seem to make any sense, only barely coming to life in it's second half when the two main villains try and outdo each other. Essentially, it's a film that screams "style over substance". Rarely is anything ever explained, and when the main character barely utters a single word through 90% of the film, it's hard to understand what motivates him or to honestly even care.
But here's the thing, the film is oozing with style. So if you're a sucker for visuals, this will keep you invested for the rest of the film because quite honestly, this is a beautifully and meticulously shot piece of cinema drenched in an extreme color palate where whole sequences are in just one color like red or blue. Each shot designed to take full advantage of it's widescreen aspect ratio and perfectly executed.........slowly. I know I keep saying that but it's true, things just take forever to happen. Even the "nothing" scenes take forever. You know, when someone is sitting there thinking, or decides to stand up and pick something up with their hands, or is standing in front of a window and then decides to walk away. There are lots of these kinds of films out there, 2001: A Space Odyssey for example, but none has ever felt as pretentious as this. And I may be giving it too hard of a time, but it just seemed like Refn got a little too full of himself and thought, "I'll film it, and they'll watch it and they'll like it". Of course, that's only my opinion, but the drastically slow pace killed what could have easily been a solid revenge film because if you take away my gripes, all of the other aspects of the film are pretty stellar.
What's interesting is that the film is billed as somewhat of a fighting movie. I mean, they keep throwing that in your face with the posters and trailers, but that's not what the film is about. In fact, Gosling has only 1 fight scene in the entire film, and he get's the living shit beat out of him, never landing a single blow. So it's safe to say the marketing is a tad misleading in that aspect. Instead they spend way too much time trying to make this character look like a GQ cover model. What they don't tell you is that when it's all said and done, after the confusing sequences and odd editing sequences are put to the side, it's a straight up revenge flick between Gosling's psycho bitch mother, who's running the family's drug empire, and an ex(?) police lieutenant who acts more like a crime overlord than a man of the law. Oh yea, and besides carrying a sword around and wielding an unlimited amount of power and vengeance, he also dabs in karaoke lounge singing.
On the positive side, one thing you will take away from this is an appreciation for actress Kristin Scott Thomas as Julian's (Ryan Gosling) mother Crystal. Her fierce and disturbing performance in this as the head of a drug empire hell bent on revenge for the murder of her first born son no matter the consequences is probably the best thing to come out of this film. I can't remember the last time I hated a character to it's core more than her character portrayal of Crystal. Even more than the actual villain of the film, Lt. Chang. While Crystal is full of ferocious hatred and energy, Lt. Chang on the other hand is more of the silent killer. Rarely speaking a single word and barely ever moving a muscle unless it's absolutely necessary, he stands with an authority, no matter how big or small his opponent, which makes him all the more scary.
One thing this film provides is some great practical effects work, in the few scenes that call for it. It's great stuff, but you wish there was a lot more of it in here. It feels like there should be, which is the frustrating part. And props need to go to the set designer for giving this film a lavish hip neo noir look that compliments Refn's camerawork so attractively.
Ultimately I'm pretty divided with this one. While it has some great attributes like it's sleek style, haunting score and Thomas's riveting performance, it's seriously lacking in other areas like character development and a decent structure. Too slow for it's own good, this would have been a solid winner if it didn't take forever for things to happen and worked a little harder at giving us a reason at giving a shit about what's going on because honestly, we don't. There's not one single likable character here and add to that the film's self indulgent nature and well, it just comes off as a vanity project that Nicolas Winding Refn probably shouldn't have taken on so soon after his first taste of solid international success.
|Cover art by Frank Miller|
Not sure if I had ever posted this or not, but I've always meant to. This month is going to be insanely hectic for me, so reviews might be few and far between. But I do love it, so there will be times where I just have to sit and put down some thoughts on a particular film experience. Until then, I'm sure some posts will be random things just so I can keep some of your interest so you don't wander off forever.
First up is Frank Miller's Robocop. Originally published as a 12 part comic series by Avatar Press back in 2003 with art by incredibly awesome Juan Jose Ryp, eventually making it to graphic novel and paperback form a few years late, it's about as badass as a comic could possibly get. When Miller wrote the screenplays for Robocop 2 and 3, his vision was eventually derailed by severe studio interference and what we got was not what he had intended; a severely watered down attempt at a Robocop film done Frank Miller style. After all, this is the man who gave us The Dark Knight Returns and resurrected Daredevil into one of the best most hard-edged comics of the 80's. This 12 part series is what he had envisioned and with all the freedom he wanted made all the more magnificent by Ryp's highly stylized and detailed artwork. Let me tell you, this comic is fucking nuts and I love it to death. It's not really made for character development as it's not a film, rather it caters more to the comic book geeks and delivers whole-heartedly with it's all-or-nothing vibe that delivers a nonstop assault to the senses. Seriously, this book is ridiculous fun and it shows you what he had in mind for the Robocop franchise. I myself practically salivate at the thought of what Robocop 2 and 3 "could" have been had Miller been given complete control over his scripts. Alas, he didn't and what we got with those films certainly reflects that.
At 216 pages, Frank Miller's Robocop runs at a break-necks pace with it's nonstop depiction of ultra violence and satire. Juan Jose Ryp's (Black Summer, No Hero) artwork is also what makes this book such a fantastic one, because let's face it, comic books live and die by their art. You can like the story all you want, but if the artwork sucks, it's hard to enjoy it. Thankfully Ryp's insane use of detail and violent images only complement Miller's grande vision of the future of law enforcement.
Definitely a book you should pick up if you ever get the chance, especially if you're a Robocop or Frank Miller fan. You can always get a copy HERE over at Amazon, or you can try your luck on eBay, where it rarely goes any lower in price.
Directed by: John Grissmer
Blood Rage aka Nightmare at Shadow Woods is a film I'd never heard of. On a recent visit to Austin, TX on Thanksgiving week, I decided to check out one of my favorite old haunts, The Alamo Drafthouse. If you don't know anything about the Drafthouse, well let me tell you. It's just about the best damn theater you can go to. Well, the original ones anyway.
It all started in Austin, Texas (it's since been sold into a nationwide franchise) and while they do show current releases, they're better known for showing cult, obscure and just plain badass films in 35 mm. And the best part? You sit at your seat, and waiters come right to you and take your order for food and alcohol. You never have to leave your seat. So yea, you get to eat awesome food, drink damn fine alcohol and watch a badass film; awesome. Most days of the week have a theme like "Weird Wednesdays" where you get to see a strange film for free at midnight, or "Hong Kong Sundays" and so on. Well, that's what they used to do when I lived there years ago. Not positive if that's still the case. However, since this was Thanksgiving, they obviously needed to show a Thanksgiving themed horror film. Duh! One Halloween about 15 years ago I saw an original 35 mm print of Tobe Hoopers The Texas Chainsaw Massacre with Hooper himself live in attendance for a Q & A. That's the cool kind of shit they do. And you get to watch these films with other filmgeeks and it always makes for a better experience.
But anyway, back to the film. I looked in the guide and saw there was a one night showing of a film called Blood Rage for 10:30 PM. No information was available. But I figured it's The Drafthouse, it's gotta be good in some way.
"That ain't cranberry sauce"
Our host for the evening tells us before the film starts that while there are plenty of Christmas themed horror films, there are less than a handful of Thanksgiving themed horror films. Actually, he said there are only two; Blood Rage and another forgotten 80's slasher from 1981 called Home Sweet Home starring Jake Steinfeld; you know, the Body by Jake guy. Now I don't know if that's accurate or not, but when I try and wrack my brain to try and remember any other Thanksgiving themed horror slashers, absolutely none come to mind, so he may very well be right. Our host also boldly stated that between the two, Blood Rage was the best. Even giving a few tidbits at what's in store, to sort of wet our appetite.
|Our host introducing the film|
Made in 1983, but not released until 1987, Blood Rage aka Nightmare at Shadow Woods is pretty standard fare in terms of horror slashers. What's funny is that they don't even try to add a little mystery to who's doing the killing. They tell you pretty much right in the beginning and when the shit goes down later, it's all told to you front and center. Not a very clever way to have things play out, but that's what adds to a lot of the laughs because it's supposed to be serious and scary, but because of some bad acting, questionable camera work, completely nonsensical actions of the characters and leaving nothing to the imagination, Blood Rage is hilarious when viewed with the right company.
Todd and Terry are a couple of all American 10 year old twin boys. One day, for absolutely no apparent reason, Terry kills a random guy at a drive-in, laying the blame on his twin Todd, who's whisked away to a mental health facility for the next 20 years. Flash forward 20 years later on Thanksgiving day, and the news that Todd (the innocent one) has broken out of the facility over Thanksgiving dinner has everyone on edge. Murders of course start taking place and well, that's the film.
"Not all the evil is on Elm Street..."
After seeing this, I did a little digging and discovered that the version we saw was severely cut of most of the gore. Boooo! Of course there was violence and killings, but it never went outlandish, until I did a YouTube search where you can see all these deaths in all their unedited glory. So that was a bit of a bummer, but what are you gonna do? On the plus side though, Blood Rage has a killer synth score by Richard Einhorn. He also did Shock Waves and The Prowler. In fact, the score was so amazing it's actually too good for this movie; no lie. You'll notice immediately when the film starts rolling, it's one of this films best attributes and thankfully, does not let up the entire time. Regarding the cast, you more than likely won't recognize anybody in this, except for the small cameo of Ted Raimi. Yes, Sam Raimi's brother has a small but memorable role in this.
On the technical side, again, it's got an amazing synch score and a, should I say "interesting", ensemble cast. It's director, John Grissmer, has only ever directed 2 films. This and another a whole 10 years before called False Face, of which I know nothing about. Let me just say that you can certainly tell he's only ever directed one other film before this. That's all I'm gonna say. The script is about as flawed and ridiculous as can be, but that's to be expected. The plot holes in this are so huge that......aw never mind. Clearly riding the wave of the Friday the 13th slasher genre, they apparently thought they could just put a bunch of people together and show them getting killed off one by one. Who cares if it doesn't make any sense?
How to see it:
Unfortunately, it's a really hard film to own in the U.S., even on VHS. You'll be lucky if you come across one for under $50. And so far, there has been no DVD release to date. You can, however, watch it in full on YouTube uncut, which is of course the way to see it. So gather some buddies, grab a cold beer and enjoy the hot mess that is ............... Blood Rage.