Saturday, October 30, 2010


So it's the day before Hallowe'en, and you're scrambling to finish your costume and get party supplies for tonight and tomorrow. Problem is, you're already hung over from Friday, and someone forgot to grab movie picks from Gen X a sensible time in advance--say, Wednesday, even Thursday, to beat the rush.

Now you know you're going to be shit out of luck for most of the new horror films--which is too bad, because Pig Hunt, about an epic quest for a mythic giant pig that takes its heroes into the realm of nympho pig worshippers, is just the right kind of ridiculous. And if you haven't seen The Human Centipede yet, what, are you living under a rock? A rock with no centipedes???

As for contemporary classics like Let the Right One In and Evil Dead: please. You'll be lucky if one of the sequels to Resident Evil or Underworld got left behind. (But check, just in case.)

Speaking of zombie films, there are some kick ass numbers out there. We've got every "of the dead" you can imagine -- including the more recent Survival of the Dead, but the zombie hit list also includes more sombre fare like Mutants (which is an awesome film, with really intelligent human interactions, but requires English subtitles, and for this reason might not do as well in a rowdy crowd), so wade carefully through piles of the dead!

So what do you do? Well, first you see if one of the Feast films is in--the series a clear party favourite because each film makes fun of its genre for you, leaving you with more time instead to say and do really dumb shit in the company of "friends" who may or may not help you puke into your porcelain god of choice a few hours down the line. You know, because that's always fun.

Still can't find a movie that's in? Cover all your mainstream bases by checking out the following:

1) Cabin Fever
2) Scream (It's better than you remember.)
3) Sleepaway Camp
4) Trick 'r Treat
5) Alien
6) Se7en

All out? That's cool. You know what works for parties? Vagina dentata. Say that three times without a shiver coursing down your spine, and then rent Teeth. It's awesome in crowds.

Too light-hearted? Check out my Staff Picks wall for The Orphanage. Del Toro loves killing children in his films, and damn, is he ever good at it.

Still too light and fluffy? You have two options:

1) Go gore-fest crazy: Dead Alive (you will NEVER look at zombies the same way again), Poultrygeist (you will NEVER look at fast-food the same way again), Ichi the Killer (you will NEVER look at people the same way again), or August Underground (you will NEVER... well, actually, it's hard to look at anything the same way after watching this: Win!); or

2) Go bizarre: Eurosleaze classic The Devil's Nightmare, Fulci's Zombi 2 (complete with a scene where a SHARK, A ZOMBIE, AND A NAKED CHICK FIGHT EACH OTHER UNDERWATER), Otto: Up with Dead People (note: read the case CAREFULLY before deciding to traumatize your friends with this one: the trick is not to let on how grossly inappropriate this film is until you're already halfway through, and there's no turning back!), or They Live! (for the glasses scene alone -- trust me, a clear crowd favourite for sheer ridiculousness, as all John Carpenter films are).

NO NO NO, you say: You've got it all wrong -- this is a CHILDREN'S party! A family-FRIENDLY affair! Don't you have something my kids can watch without wetting their beds after?


1) Wallace & Gromit in the Curse of the Were-Rabbit -- Delightful fun at the expense of misunderstood monster rabbits. WARNING: Many vegetables were harmed in the making of this film!
2) Arsenic and Old Lace -- A classic black-and-white flick about two sweet little old ladies and the dreadful menace they pose to lonesome gentlemen (complete with the ever-unsettling Peter Lorrie!)
3) The Dark Crystal -- You've never seen muppets so utterly terrifying.
4) Labyrinth -- You've never seen DAVID BOWIE so utterly terrifying.
5) It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown -- If you don't like Charlie Brown, well, you're just a bad person. The End.

BUT MAGGIE! you might then ask -- being kind and courteous that way -- if we're all renting these fantastically fun party films, what will YOU be watching for Halloween?

Good question! The answer: Kimjongilia: A documentary about the tyrannical dictatorship of Kim Jong Il, and the cult of personality that has allowed millions of people to have lived and died in fear, oppression, and almost complete isolation from the rest of the world.

Now THAT'S scary.

Happy Hallowe'en weekend, everyone!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mike D Watches a Movie #1: 30 Days of Night: Dark Days

Picking up one year after the events of the first film, Stella, the sole survivor of the vampire attack on Barrow, Alaska, has been traveling the world, telling the story of the events that happened there. Met with ridicule and laughter, she is about to give up, when she is met by 3 individuals who tell her that they can help her get revenge on Lillith, the vampire queen responsible for ordering the Barrow attack. The group ventures into the unused Los Angeles sewer system to hunt down the Queen.

There were a lot of things I liked about this movie, a lot of things I didn't like about this movie. What I did like was Lillith. She has got to be one of the creepiest movie villains I've seen in a long time. Everything about her invokes the fear that I associate with classic vampires. Her pale skin, cold dead eyes, and the creepy vampiric (or maybe eastern European?) language sent chills down my spine every time I saw her.

On the other side, the movie was very stop-and-start. It would be very high-action/suspenseful one minute, then almost instantly switch to scenes of failed attempts at character development, that, in my opinion, ruin the mood of the movie. Budget constraints and a few instances of bad acting also prevent this movie from reaching its potential.

In the end, I think it's worth seeing for no other reason that it reminds you that vampires can actually be scary, and not what's been making Stephanie Meyer money for the past few years.
There is some good action, some genuinely creepy scenes, and at least a few times where someone's face disappears as a result of bullets or cinder blocks, but I don't feel like it does a good job at following up from the first film.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #77: Frankenstein (1931)

So much is different from the original story that comparing the two is a pretty good waste of time. This film exists as its own entity and really has a life of its own. Of the classic monster movies I've seen to date on my Hallowe'en trek, this one is by far the best. I daresay it's a masterpiece. At its heart it contains a 'who is really the monster' dynamic that has since become awfully trite, but in its original form still potent.

As if the hints of German Expressionism wasn't enough to catch my interest, much of the acting is actually pretty good, which, given the other classic Universal horror films I've watched, was a total surprise. Boris Karloff is fantastic as the monster, and it's easy to see how, I think after this film, he became a household name. His monster is incredibly sympathetic. After a sheltered and grim life filled with torture, the monster frees himself and escapes into the woods. There's an amazing scene where he finds a little girl. The little girl hands him a flower, and they sit down by a pond. She shows him how you can throw a flower into the water and watch it float gently along. The monster is so overjoyed to find something kind and delicate and beautiful in the world that it is genuinely tear-pulling when something goes wrong. He gets up, trying his best at laughter, and throws the little girl into the water because she's like a flower too. She drowns, and it's genuinely disturbing to see the monster's panicked reaction when he doesn't understand what's happened. I hadn't felt that stirred by a movie in a long time. I was really bothered by the moment.

Made before the motion picture code was actively enforced, you get some cinema that's not afraid to upset you. While the edges will sometimes show, the violence is shocking when it wants to be, and I found myself continuously surprised by what the film was prepared to do. The film bubbles with potential violence, and by the time the mob lights their torches, the loss of control that you didn't realise was creeping into your brain reaches its apex. People shout through the streets, dogs yelp, women and children cower on the sidelines, and the beast has been loosed on the monster. It was a torch that was initially used to torture the monster, and it's unsettlingly fitting that an army of them tries to flush him out of hiding, trap him, and set him ablaze. Karloff's thrashing screams while the flames rise about him will stick with me for awhile.

Also surprising, I'm noticing that the female characters in these early monster movies aren't as helpless as I expect them to be, and I wonder if that had anything to do with the code as well. They're not neutered characters, and rigid gender roles don't seem to have been installed as safety mechanisms yet. The women in these films are just as sensible as the men, and they aren't afraid to speak their mind. In the years to come, that wouldn't be the case for quite a while. Hell, it's mostly not the case in films today.

Despite all of the injustice in the film, it's hard to really hate anyone in it save for an annoying comic relief character I'll just ignore. The monster is understandable, Dr. Frankenstein is understandable, the angry torch-wielding village folk are understandable, and even the abusive Fritz is understandable. He's a deformed hunchback that Dr. Frankenstein treated like shit. Of course he was going to whip the monster and burn him when Frankenstein wasn't looking. Nobody's really to blame in this film, which makes it so remarkable. It ends off remarkably too, with an an ironic ending that presses home the severe tragedy at the centre of the film.

So: Fantastic. I expected an iconic cheese-fest and got a dramatic masterpiece that probably made it to my list of favourite films.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #76: The Mummy (1932)

Still going on my Hallowe'en kick and finally getting around to seeing the great monster classics of film history. I had decided a few weeks back that I was going to go for a classic costume this year, and I settled on the one that (I won't call the Invisible Man a monster, he was just a big jerk) is probably talked about the least: the Mummy!

You're probably familiar with the Brendan Fraser Mummy from 1999. I'll pause to shudder for a sec. It lifted some elements from the original Mummy, namely the fact that there's a guy named Imhotep that fell in love with the Pharaoh's daughter. She died. Then his love drove him to seek out forbidden rituals and raise her from the dead, but he was caught, and soon sentenced to be buried alive and partially mummified. A terrible curse was laid down upon his tomb.

Made a year after the success of Dracula and featuring much of the same cast and crew, The Mummy doesn't possess the same magic but manages to be a pretty cool flick for a number of reasons. I guess I'll tell you what those might be, since this is a review and I only get fed my fish heads if I write a review. I also might get my beloved red bouncy ball back.

For starters, I saw this film before I watched the historic Frankenstein, and this was my first run in with the real Boris Karloff. I find that I love Boris Karloff. He's starring as Imhotep, and his rigid creepiness, sullen voice, and gaunt face have all been parodied so often that I felt immediately familiar with him. It was a treat to finally see the icon at work.

Secondly, like with Dracula, I was surprised to find an interesting female character, this time one both alluring, evasively clever, and amazingly unafraid to refer, just once, to sex. She's played by Broadway actress Zita Johann, who was actually seriously interested in the spiritualism of the occult and took her role perhaps a little too seriously. There's a famous scene in the movie where she dies in a past life. She reportedly fainted for real in that scene, after a strenuous day of filming without much food or water thanks to the director's cruel and ridiculous feud with her.

Now, the plot is almost identical to the plot of Dracula. We get the dude who played Van Helsing playing Doctor Muller, who is, like Van Helsing, a master of occult lore and adept at fighting the supernatural. He helps everybody out when shit hits the fan. Like Dracula, the Mummy seems to be after a young woman in Muller/Van Helsing's care. Imhotep also seems to be able to control people's minds, like Dracula could, by staring hard at them. What makes him different, though, is motive. The man isn't entirely evil, he's just obsessed with a love he couldn't attain. That's all. Leave him alone, you guys.

I was hoping, especially for my costume research, to get some serious dusty cloth-wrapped mummy action. Sadly there is virtually none in the first Mummy. Instead you get a slightly wrinkly Boris Karloff, who has inexplicably been restored to much of his living health. There's no lurching violence, but there are a few ancient Egyptian spells used to wreak some havoc.

So: A cool piece of monster history, if not as great as other first monster appearances. Certainly better than most Monster Movie sequels to come. The Mummy manages to hold his own. Also, look at this:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #100: Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949)

This may be the first film I watched after getting my wisdom teeth out back in May, but I definitely remember it clearly as I often do with films I thoroughly enjoy. I'm glad that this film, my 100th, is one that I sincerely liked. 

Kind Hearts and Coronets is the story of a young man whose mother is shunned by her aristocratic family after marrying a man of lower means. As her son, Louis, grows older and his mother dies (her family denying her dying wish) he begins to plot towards inheriting his family's dukedom. The only trouble is, there are 12 others in his way.

The film has the perfect level of black humour as Louis simultaneously begins to elevate his position in society and terminate members of his rich, upper-class family, almost all played by the genius Alec Guinness. Each death is planned to comedic and undetectable perfection and Guinness's portrayal of 8 different characters ranging from a middle-aged woman to several men, young and old simply blows my mind. Of course, the complications come with women, and Louis finds himself in some potential trouble after a former lover reenters his life. As for his fate, you'll have to wait and discover it in the film's clever and artful ending, definitely one of the best I've seen in recent memory.

Wendy's Films of 2010 #99: The Wolfman (2010)

Quite a while back (I'm talking mid-May) I watched a film called The Wolfman. Now I made the mistake of later telling Mike and Chris that the movie wasn't "that bad;" I may have said it "wasn't as bad as I thought it would be." They took this as my endorsement and decided to watch the film for themselves. For several weeks afterwards I was harassed for suggesting the film was watchable, and anything I said wouldn't relieve me of their constant (albeit joking) persecution. I am now able to say that upon reflection I realize suggesting the movie wasn't that bad was likely a terrible idea, though I'm unused to them taking my opinion on any movie to heart. I think I even remember Mike jokingly saying he'd considered firing me after seeing my list of top 10 films...

Now! All commentary on the events surrounding my viewing of the Wolfman aside, I would like to say I do not recommend this film. It is not particularly well-acted, the CGI as Chris mentions in his review (linked above) is quite terrible, and the ending is inadequate. I can say that some will like this movie, obviously my employers are not among them; and though my dislike of the film isn't nearly as intense as theirs, I am also to be included in those who are not fans of the film. It may look neat in the trailer, but the film itself lacks any charm that the original had. I can say, however, that I did like Emily Blunt's acting, as I often do.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Maggie 2010: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Part II

#114. Seance

I entered the world of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's films seeking a deeper understanding of the most striking motifs in Asian horror -- the designer labels, as it were, that trickle down into the off-the-racks imagery of Ringu, Ju-On, and Dark Water. My first stab at Kurosawa's canon, Cure, gave me confidence in his strength as a director, but did little to quench my curiosity about Asian horror mythology itself. Seance, on the other hand, was nigh on perfect in that regard.

However, I should stress first that Seance is not (for me) a perfect film in and of itself. This is because I put a lot of stock into the ease with which any one film allows me to suspend belief in its causality--namely, to accept the rules of the distinct world I'm occupying for an hour and a half. But with Seance, these mechanics seemed to change without clear justification around the halfway mark, and while I understood by the end of the film what Kurosawa wanted us to see as an inevitable series of events, that inevitability was not as clearly wrought throughout as it could have been.

For some context to that last paragraph, the film's premise is fairly simple: Junko and Sato are a modest couple--Sato (Koji Yakusho), working in sound production for a TV station; his wife (Jun Fubuki), a genuine psychic with few opportunities to exploit her abilities. While reluctant to help a researcher interested in her gift, Junko leaps (passively, almost imperceptibly) on an opportunity to lift the burden of household finances from her husband when a missing person's case comes her way. When the missing child conveniently escapes from her kidnapper only to end up in Sato's sound equipment, Junko sees this, too, as an opportunity to establish herself and start the money train rolling. Fortune does not, however, favour her daring or her cunning--and least of all the poor, wayward child.

This is the playing field into which some truly marvellous deconstructions of Asian horror archetype emerge--everything from the spooky crawling form of a child (is it alive? is it dead?) up a flight of stairs, to spirits haunting the living on a deeply personal level (are they real, or are they just manifestations of guilt?), to the staple "face obscured by hair" shot that's pretty much iconic in Asian horror. Kurosawa even goes so far as to directly address a central conceit of many Asian horror films, in a dialogue between husband and wife where both agree that their desire to deviate from the norm, the social expectation of living a mundane and unremarkable life, is what has led them to utter ruin.

But while all these archaeological details are a sheer delight, and themselves wholly merit viewing the film, I still find such a lack of clear causal relationships in Seance, especially on the part of the wife, as makes it impossible to get fully behind this film. I recognize that many of these difficulties are cultural (I disliked Ringu for the sheer passivity of the female lead, but absolutely cede the point that the widespread expectation of a passive female in that context was meant to make her rare proactive moments even more striking to viewers), but a few incongruities also seem to surpass common sense.

Why, for instance, did it take so long for husband and wife to realize they'd need to hide their identities from the child for their plan to work? What signs did viewers get that the husband was so burdened by his work it had become utterly, immediately imperative that his wife strive to free him from his day job? And let's just say it: Why the hell didn't the little girl call attention to her presence in Sato's box when he moved it to his trunk? ("Fear of men after just being kidnapped" doesn't work: she got into the box knowing full well it belonged to a man. Hell, to that end, why didn't she just say "Mister! Mister! My kidnapper's chasing me!" when she spied Sato at work in the woods? Because that would have made for a very short movie, of course.)

That said, Kurosawa has an impeccably measured style, and many of his shots are extremely thought-provoking. From what I could see in Seance, his use of horror archetype is quite serious and mature, and in this sense a real treat. Yes, I have reservations about the consistency of his characters' moral engines, but no question exists in my mind regarding Kurosawa's talent as a maker of fine, suspenseful films.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Maggie 2010: Kiyoshi Kurosawa, Part I

#113. Cure

If the phrase "Cerulean blue is like a gentle breeze" is familiar to you, you already understand the concept behind Cure, Kiyoshi Kurosawa's elegant 1997 psychological thriller about a series of murders carried out by a gamut of strangers on their loved ones--and one man's power of suggestion behind it all. The murders all follow the same gruesome slash pattern about the neck and chest, but their culprits, all caught near the scene, cannot recall why they've done what they've done. Detective Kenichi Takabe (Koji Yakusho) and psychologist Makoto Sakuma (Tsuyoshi Ujiki) join together to find the link between these seemingly unrelated attacks, hitting at last upon the story of an unnamed drifter who has passed into and out of all their lives.

One strength of this film, which first saw Kurosawa's fame as a director spread to mainstream North America in 2001, lies in how little the thrill of the hunt, a classic element in many criminal horrors, plays into Cure's resolution: rather, the Detective finds his man, an apparent amnesiac who invariably turns interrogation back onto the interrogator, halfway through the film. "Who are you?" the enigmatic hypnotist keeps asking, attempting the same techniques on the Detective that have turned so many other, mild-mannered men against their partners in the past.

From this point on a different kind of hunt is at play, as the supposed amnesiac hints at a clear philosophy behind his actions, a conviction that no man can be made to do what he does not already wish to, at least somewhere deep inside. The stakes of such a statement are made even higher by the Detective's personal circumstances, his wife struggling with a mental illness that requires all his off-hours attention. Of all the victims that have preceded him, with loving, doting wives and partners all their own, surely this "burden" above all others should make the Detective easy prey for the drifter's power of suggestion.

And so an expertly drawn battle of wills, oriented around a few serious questions of personal culpability and the power of suggestion, ensues. But while the conclusion might seem obvious, the path Kurosawa takes to get us there most definitely is not. This was my starting point to Kurosawa's work, and I most certainly do not regret entering his world here.

New to the Store: Week of 26 October


Assault Girl
Bikini Bloodbath Christmas
Clapham Junction
Dead Outside, The
Deleted Scenes
Eulogy for a Vampire
Girl who Played with Fire, The (also BluRay)
I Am Love
Infidel, The
Make Out with Violence
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
Pax Americana and the Weaponization of Space
Sex and the City 2 (also BluRay)
South of the Border
Staunton Hill
Until the Light Takes Us
Venture Bros.: Season 4
Wah Do Dem
Whistler, The (Siffleur, Le)
Winter's Bone


8 Diagram Pole Fighter
Bisbee Cannibal Club, The
Closer, The: Season 4
Drive-In Cult Classics (Teacher, The / Pick-Up / Sister-in-Law, The / Stepmother, The / Trip with the Teacher / Best Friends / Cindy and Donna / Malibu High)
Drive-In Cult Classics v.3 (Babysitter, The / Weekend with the Babysitter / Pink Angels, The / Blood Mania / Single Room Furnished / Van Nuys Blvd. / Pom Pom Girls, The / Malibu Beach)
Girl from S.I.N. / Henry's Night In
Gondoliers, The
Kansas City
Perfect Murder, A / Murder by Numbers / Murder in the First
Sleazy 70s Stags
Superstarlet A.D.
Toto nella luna (Toto in the Moon)
Zombie Christ

Friday, October 22, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #75: Mystery Science Theater 3000: Night of the Blood Beast (1958, MST3K Version in 1996)

I've probably made reference to MST3k in other reviews and explained its basic concept, but now that I finally come to review one of their many, many episodes I'll give your lovely heart a refresher.

Dr. Forrester is an evil crazy-go-mad scientist who has decided that he wants to rule the world. But to do that, he is certain that he must break the will of earth's populace. The most obvious way to do this is to force them to watch the most incompetent, most embarrassing, most boring films ever made by their own feeble human hands. Naturally, this procedure should be tested first in a controlled environment. So Dr. Forrester kidnaps his laboratory janitor, Joel, and jettisons him into the seclusion of his secret space station, the Satellite of Love. He sends Joel awful movies and monitors the man's brain - but what's this? He manages to stay sane somehow! The key to Joel's survival is that he makes fun of the cinematic shit he's sent with the help of two robot friends he constructed from satellite parts. In the series, you get to watch the awful films Dr. Forrester sends with Joel and the bots riffing and cracking jokes all the while. Its like watching a terrible movie with some hilarious friends, the sort that makes any movie experience ten times better.

There's tons of episodes, and each one is an entire film minus the 15 or 20 minutes trimmed for the sake of the MST3k sketches that pepper the show. Some episodes are a great success, some are not, since some films just are so terrible that the MST crew can't win. Night of the Blood Beast, though, is fantastic. It comes from season 8 of the series and is probably one of the best episodes I've seen. Night of the Blood Beast is a Roger Corman wonder, filled with lots of dull walking scenes, awful dialogue, sci fi pontification, and rubbery alien monsters. The boys are in great riffing form, and I ended up laughing out loud, or LOLing if you will, more than once. I tend not to LOL when watching comedies, and usually just smirk and chuckle ever so slightly. This is due to the terrible burden I carry, the alien shrimps gestating within me. I identified with the astronaut in Night of the Blood Beast completely.

So: Wicked-awesome. This one features Mike instead of Joel, who is, I think, my favourite of the two Forrester victims.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #74: Babylon 5 - Season 1 (1994)

I'm sure some of you know this series well. It's a TV series that's held in pretty high esteem by a great many, myself included.

This review will be for two sorts of people. One is the sort that has seen some of the first season and said to themselves "this is a piece of shit and I hate your guts J. Michael Straczynski" and stopped watching. The other is the sort that say to themselves, every year or so, "I should probably get around to watching that crazy Babylonia 18 show that my nerd friends talk about too often."

The concept is this: Babylon 5 is earth's greatest achievement - a massive space station in distant and neutral space built to function as a centre of commerce and diplomacy between the various alien races of the galaxy. Lots of politics, fantastic character drama, and, about 2 seasons in, grand and poetic space opera of the best kind. Probably 70 percent of the series was written all at once as what creator Straczynski calls a telenovel, and benefits greatly from having had a start and finish already intricately planned by the time the pilot hit the airwaves.

Babylon 5 tries very hard not to be Star Trek, and does pretty damn well in its goal. B5 isn't afraid to give you alien races that are much more alien than your average Trek alien. Communication between alien cultures is often very strained. There's a large mantis-like insect that's top gangster in the shady areas of the station, and a tentacle-faced Cthulu-type alien that only eats decaying food because they evolved from a scavenging animal. In general, the skull shapes and faces of the alien races are a bit more varied than you're used to in other shows.

This doesn't always make for a good first impression however. You have to get over your initial knee-jerk this-is-not-like-startrek reaction and adapt to the different flavour. Star Trek has had a monopoly on sci fi television for so long that any series that isn't Star Trek wears its invisible shackles. If you had caught any episodes of the series during its run in the 90s, you probably saw a dude with hair like a paper fan and changed the channel. On its surface, and because of season 1's terrible budget, the show can look pretty silly at times. The CGI stuff didn't look good, and the sets looked dreadfully cheap. Michael O'Hare's lead act as Captain Sinclair is embarrassing, and he manages to ruin almost every scene that reaches for emotional force. Once he leaves in season 2, the series takes a serious upturn. So season 1 is pretty terrible, but there's enough important information and character set-up that unfortunately makes it necessary to watch. Now and again you'll get a winning episode, one that hints at the bigger picture to come in later seasons, but for the most part season 1 is comprised of forgettable little one-offs.

So: Placing the 'recommended' tag on this review was a strange decision, but for the awesomeness of what is to come, it must be so written. And the fan hair will grow on you once you realise how fucking awesome Londo Mollari is.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New to the Store: Week of 19 October

Apocalypse Now (Original/Redux) (BluRay)
Being Human: Season 2
Death Kappa
Doctor Who: Dreamland
Fruit Fly
Holy Rollers
How to Train Your Dragon (also BluRay)
Mafia Principle of Global Hegemony, The (Chomsky)
Mein Kampf
Oceans (Disneynature) (also BluRay)
Perrier's Bounty
Predators (also BluRay)
Redeemer, The: Son of Satan
Rocky Horror Picture Show, The (BluRay)
String, The
Sun Behind the Clouds: Tibet's Struggle for Freedom
Tales from the Golden Age
Teenager Hamlet
Theater of War
Top Gear 13

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #73: Amazons (1986)

High adventure in progress.

This wildly entertaining sword and sorcery flick, like most of them, comes to us from the dark and time-fogged forests of the 1980s. Under the supreme command of dread mogul Roger Corman, a screenplay was commissioned to Charles Saunders, who based his script off a short story he wrote for an anthology called, coincidentally, Amazons!. So that Amazons! was apparently the first significant anthology of fantasy works using female protagonists and written by a mostly female cast of authors. You'd expect, then, that the Amazons under review is an interesting feministical text where warrior women fight for equality and independence in a harsh and largely masculine world, right? Well yeah you get that. Only with boobs. Lots of boobs. This is a film, after all, and it is common knowledge that only films with boobs do well. I remind you of Titanic.

If you've seen as many 80s sword and sorcery movies as I have, you might recognise these common links:

  • There will be a scene where a woman takes off her top.
  • There will be a scene where women are swimming naked in a river and are being watched by drooling pervs.
  • There will be a scene with sex in it.
  • It is made in Argentina.
We will not be given armour or be clothed against the elements.

Amazons is of course about a tribe of warrior women. They are under the command of a queen who rules over a kingdom currently under siege by an evil wizard named Kalungo. When I hear the name Kalungo I can't help but imagine a cute baby elephant, a born in captivity type that's maybe the result of a worrying but in the end rewarding pairing. Not so much a demon-enslaved lightning-throwing sorcerer. After doing some quick online digging, however, I find to my shame that a kalunga, or calunga, is a Brazilian descendant of runaway slaves. The word can mean many things, and is oddly enough used both as a derogatory racial label and as a byword for someone who is famous or important. Go figure. Charles Saunders is African-American, and I wonder if the link here is merely coincidence or some interesting subtext.

Oh, right, the movie. So anyway the amazons need to quite obviously find a magic sword since it's the only thing that can stand up to Kalungo's evil magic. Two amazon babes are sent on the quest, and it's hilariously wonderful. It's great fun to watch people use prop weapons they've never handled before. Especially when they haven't been given much supplementary training. You're basically given a bunch of calendar models who drill practice their spear maneuvers with 'What if I really hurt someone?' hesitance. A real winner's attitude on the mock-battlefield. Sword duels can sometimes look half-decent, but largely possess a 'What am I doing?' grace that lends the whole production metric ass-loads of charm.

So: A fantastic watch with friends. Can't get enough of this stuff.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #72: Dracula (1931)

Since it's the season for witchery and other assorted evil delights, I decided to check out the Dracula Legacy Collection, which collects the classic Dracula films done by Universal Studios, the set of films that laid out the iconography of the vampire. Empty castles, long candles, winding staircases, cobwebs, capes, heavy accents. All the campy Count Dracula signifiers we now pick up from saturday morning cartoons came from that first Bela Lugosi hit.

And it's cool. It has some really memorable moments - great lines, great visuals, and some pretty engrossing scenes; my favourite being a scene where an aged Dr. Vanhelsing is visited by Dracula and told to leave. Their battle of wills is timeless, and most of it comes through in their almost archetypal posturing, a posturing that has the ring of the silent film era.

Since Hollywood really started flexing their sound film muscle in 1927 (The Jazz Singer being among a host of big '27 releases), in 1931 'talkies' were still a new art. Dracula director Tod Browning, also of Freaks fame, was pretty uneasy with sound and was one of those silent directors that kind of petered out after sound came into the picture. He had thrown in the towel by 1936.

His Dracula seems to forget that it's a sound film at times. I say his, but allegedly Browning's set presence was at near zero and most of the directing was done by the cinematographer, which might also account for the persistence of silent image over sound in the film. There are long stretches of dialogueless silence, and an insistence on capturing strong facial expression and holding the shot for emphasis. The make-up work is pure silent film, with its heavy whites and dark lips. Also, apart from the brief and orchestral 'come out to the movies' style opening credits sequence, there's no soundtrack. Not one shred, not a hot lick of music to be found in this film. While it gives the film the sensation I imagine the fish that chokingly set a first flipper on land had, it's a strangeness that works. It creates pools of tension and atmosphere that might have been ruined otherwise with unnecessary dialogue or the emotional imposition that music carries.

So: A classic treat and a fascinating look at a silent film probing into the world of sound.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Maggie 2010: Nostalgia Lane

#112. Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence

This film holds such a dear place in my heart that I can't offer up a standard review of it. In fact, this was the film that awakened me to the special role of alternative video stores, and changed forever my perspective of popular canon -- specifically, all the works that the mainstream can and does so easily cast aside.

In my childhood I must have watched The Bridge on the River Kwai dozens of times, and to this day it remains a classic, a top twenty pick and perfect distillation of the "noble war" mentality taken to its inevitable precipice, then destroyed. Despite my age, it was clear this film represented one of the most important lessons learned (and often thereafter forgotten) in the last century.

Then, when I was thirteen, friends and I went to Suspect Video in Toronto to stock up for the first of our soon-to-be annual anime marathons. I'd never been in a video store like this before -- darkly lit, its titles ordered alphabetically in long bins like you'd find in record stores, to be flipped through one by one with no means of expecting what manner of film might come next.

It was in one of these bins that I encountered Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, which due to my love of The Bridge on the River Kwai immediately piqued my interest. One of the things my friends and I found so wonderful about the anime we'd been watching was the wealth of queer representations -- explicit or implicit -- between leads therein, but to come across a film with all the gravitas of The Bridge on the River Kwai, which also boasted such dignified alternative representations, almost defied comprehension.

To watch the film itself was not to overcome that sense of incredulity -- not then, and not even now, on second viewing, after more than a decade has passed. This is because, while dealing in similar measure as The Bridge on the River Kwai with questions of pride and shame among soldiers of different cultures in World War II, Nagisa Oshima's 1983 film goes one further: featuring David Bowie as the enigmatic POW Jack Celliers and Tom Conti as Sgt. John Lawrence, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence also offers a poignant and brutal reminder that other human conflicts do not subside simply because one is at war.

Homophobia, for instance, doesn't fade into the background; nor does the abject cruelty of our past and foolish selves dissipate from the mind's ever-present eye. Rather, we always carry the complications of our lives at peace into the tempest of war, and only with immense inner clarity can we then use these experiences of the former to mitigate our actions, and reactions, in the latter.

So it is in this story of a POW camp run by Colonel Yonoi (Ryuichi Sakamoto), where Sgt. Lawrence's past experiences in peace-time Japan make him the perfect cultural liaison between prisoners and guards, but by no means spare him from the whims of camp officers like Sgt. Gengo Hara (Takeshi Kitano). At the outset of this film the question of homophobia comes immediately to bear on day-to-day camp operations, and provides a lens through which to view events that follow when Celliers is brought to the prison under Yonoi's behest. Because of the era of this film's construction, director Oshima is able to play more surely with flashback than could sensibly be conceived in 1957, the year of The Bridge on the River Kwai, yet that sentimentalism doesn't detract from the horror of its surrounding context.

Indeed, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence remains, in the end, an immensely formal piece about a war where attempts at preserving formality existed in stark contrast with the complexity and messiness of human interactions. For this reason, as with The Bridge on the River Kwai, it was easily one of my favourite films growing up, and remains a fond preference even today.

Yet when I watched this film as a wee adolescent, it was not well known. It was not even considerably acclaimed. Years later, when IMDB began to flourish, the film still managed only a paltry rating that further exacerbated its outsider status. People to whom I recommended the film were skeptical; and even if they wanted to see for themselves, how could they? Except in alternative video stores, Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence had all but slipped from the prominent lists of worthwhile film. And not everyone, sadly, had loosed themselves from the shackles of big-name video and theatre franchises.

This year, at long last, I watched Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence take its rightful place in the Criterion Collection, and for this boost to its profile I couldn't be more thrilled. But I will never forget that, long before this change in favour occurred, alternative video stores always carried its torch -- just as they carry the torch for so many other forgotten or neglected works of quality cinema, each quietly awaiting some new and bright-eyed viewer to pluck it from its shelf and give it life again.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

New to the Store: Week of 12 October


Arn: The Knight Templar
Daniel & Ana
Delgo (also BluRay)
Demeking: Sea Monster, The
Dollhouse: Season 2
In Treatment: Season 2
Jonah Hex (also BluRay)
Kung Fu Master (2010)
Leaves of Grass
Psycho Shark (Jaws in Japan)
S&man (Sandman)
Splice (also BluRay)
Trotsky, The
White on Rice


Black Dolemite: The Best of Rudy Ray Moore Live
Caligula II: Messalina, Messalina
Darjeeling Limited, The (also BluRay)
He-Man & She-Ra: A Christmas Special
Magician, The (also BluRay)
Man who Was Sherlock Holmes, The
Newsroom, The: Season 2
One-Armed Executioner / They Call her Cleopatra Wong
Opus 'n Bill in A Wish for Wings That Work
Sodoma's Ghost
Wolverine and the X-Men: Season 1

Friday, October 8, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #71: Che: Part Two (2008)

I resume my journey into the biopic'd life of El Che!

Che: Part Two
has a different flavour than Part One. Where Part One uses broken narrative, Part Two is linear and straight-forward. Since Che's character has been established already, it pulls few obvious cinematic punches and focuses simply, and still satisfyingly, on Che and his comrades' struggles against a hostile Bolivian government and its impossibly isolated and un-revolutionary populace.

While I detected a Soderberghian flatness in the first part, Part Two feels a bit more intimate now that the frenetic narrative style has calmed down. It's just as well shot, though there is admittedly less in terms of captivating imagery, thanks to the constantly dense, dry bracken of the Bolivian forests. It is, like Part One, engrossing and unique in its tone and sensibility. Despite knowing my history enough to know what would happen by the end of the film, the finish is perfect, and I suspect that it will stay with me for a long time.

So: It's a moving look at the way ideals don't always work out, and the very man that has come to represent that problem.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #70: Pusher III: I'm The Angel of Death (2005)

The final film in the Pusher trilogy. This time we focus on Milo, the Copenhagen drug lord from the first two films. Milo, a Croatian immigrant, was seen up until now only as a looming power - friendly at first, fond of cooking and prone to culinary disasters, and vicious when crossed. By Pusher III, he is older, addicted to what he pushes, and is losing dealing ground to a new generation of would-be drug runners.

In Pusher III we get the greatest sense of desperation and waste. The amount of care you might find you have for Milo is surprising. You really want his addicts anonymous meetings to go well for him. You really want his daughter to appreciate him. You really want him to work himself out, and, most surprisingly, you really want him to kill his enemies. All this for a man that does some awful things, and makes his living on the suffering of others. That takes some pretty tactful filmmaking.

Issues of race and nationality are raised in this film much more than in the previous two films. We're given a host of immigrants trying to carve a tenuous life in the underworld of Copenhagen. Unfortunately for Milo, that means his turf. The new generation of pushers are all racially divided expats, the most threatening being a young Arab, and a rival Serbian group that attempts a passive aggressive (for the most part) takeover in a moment of weakness. Milo, being Croatian, doesn't handle this well. Or perhaps he does.

So: Same great character, dialogue, and cinematography. A great finish to a great trilogy.

Maggie 2010: The Horror Fest Continues!

A note before these next six reviews: I have no qualms plunking down a whole TV season under a single review, because episodes therein are deeply connected. However, though this collection of six films rents as one set on three discs, these next six entries -- while wonderfully enhanced by one another -- are full-length films that can absolutely stand on their own. And since I highly doubt most people will have the excuse I had (being sick for a couple days), I also suspect most won't be able to get through all six in one go. So here's a set of independent film reviews, posted in the order I watched the set, to help you prioritize your viewing!

#106. Six Films To Keep You Awake: A Real Friend

Children are a perfect focus for horror, for they more than any other age group believe in the fluidity of worlds, the power of make-believe. For little Estrella (Nerea Inchausti) especially, the world of horror movie monsters has shored her up against loneliness: in her interactions with mummies, vampires, and chainsaw murderers (which walk a line between real and imaginary that viewers are regularly challenged to reassess) we see a fearless spirit in a tough world -- without friends, without father, but getting along just fine nonetheless.

The real thrill of this film, however, comes from the story of what happens when Estrella, who sees no difference between make-believe and reality, befriends a monster viewers soon discover is real--her father, out of prison, and attempting to regain his family by force. As terrified mother, Angela (Goya Toledo), tries to protect her fearless daughter from the dangers of reality, viewers are propelled through a well-defined tension between strength and weakness, naivete and knowledge. The twist ending is to some extent inevitable -- playful, over-the-top, and crudely satisfying -- but it is this core concept of vulnerability that director Enrique Urbizu captures best in his narrative build-up on screen.

#107. Six Films To Keep You Awake: A Christmas Tale

From a place of vulnerability, viewers are treated with the flip-side of childhood: cruelty beyond easy comprehension. When a ragtag group of Goonies-esque marauders discover a woman (Maru Valdivielso) in a Santa Claus outfit trapped at the bottom of a deep hole in the forest, their initial desire to help her is stayed by the discovery that she's wanted by the police for robbery.

Certainly the capacity of adults to dismiss children out of hand is a key point in this film by Paco Plaza, but more severely in focus is the callous, black-and-white view of right and wrong little children can just as easily espouse. Believing that this woman's criminal status justifies any violence or neglect they impose upon her, they hold her captive, starving her while demanding to know where the money is and threatening to let her die if she won't tell them. Long tracts of this film involve watching this woman suffer at the hands of her little tormentors: as with all the strongest works in this collection, this film's use of the supernatural is a very light, ambiguous touch arrived at only when the monstrosity of humankind has run its course.

#108. Six Films To Keep You Awake: Blame

The art of misdirection is alive and well in Spanish horror, as in Blame the supernatural again takes a back seat for most of the ride. When young nurse Gloria (Montse Mostaza) and her daughter, Vicky (Alejandro Lorenzo), are invited by Dr. Ana Torres (Nieve de Madina) to move into the doctor's old, sprawling, and mysterious home, human monsters are initially set up as the centre of this tale. As Gloria learns of Dr. Ana's immense loneliness, clearly tempered in the past by taking in other young women like herself, viewers are left to question what happened to these women in the end; and if the mysterious knocking at an unaddressed door in the house has anything to do with their sudden departures.

It's these surprising twists and turns, occurring on a much deeper level than one expects from a horror film, that make Blame one of my favourite pieces in this collection: while some viewers might not enjoy the absence of a direct progression to the main story, a tale of illicit abortions and murderous fetuses, to me there is a definite realism to this kind of drifting from perceived threats to actual threats. I take issue with a couple scenes that seem flimsy and excessive, but on the whole, this film by Narciso Ibáñez Serrador breaks ground rarely seen in North American horror -- and for that reason alone I have to recommend it.

#109. Six Films To Keep You Awake: Spectre / Moira's Ghost

Surprisingly, this horror collection features two stories about abortion and those who perform it, with this latter film centering on the story of a man both in his old age and naive youth. As a young man (Juan José Ballesta), a strict religious upbringing and an act of kindness only heightens Tomas' desire for the beautiful and secretive woman (Juan José Ballesta) his town despises. Tomas's story arc follows the only natural progression for one as young and narrowly driven as himself: he lusts after Moira, he pursues her, and then he gets possessive and confrontational about her adult life, the parameters of which he simply does not grasp. In his adolescent turmoil he finally makes a choice that has the most horrendous consequences for the lover who has vowed their lives are tied together now forever, and these consequences will haunt him for the rest of his life -- leading him back, as an old man (Jordi Dauder), to the village of his youth, and the wrong that went unavenged.

Again, the supernatural element in this film is a subtle touch, but also a sheer and unexpected delight. Director Mateo Gil takes this realistic piece in a direction that is truly unexpected, providing both a rich tapestry of flawed human characters and a thread of fantasy that binds them in the most fascinating weave to their ultimate fates. I would say this film is my favourite of the whole collection, for its subtlety and its depth of feeling. For gore, though? Not so much.

#110. Six Films To Keep You Awake: The Baby's Room

Finally, a horror film in this collection that's as blunt about the supernatural as anything out of Asia or North America! In The Baby's Room a happy couple tempts fate by daring to point out how perfect their life is -- a loving relationship, a beautiful baby, an old house to call their own -- and reaps the consequences. It's not so much that the house is haunted by the trauma of specific past events, as it is that a malevolent spirit stalks the halls -- and care of an introductory scene taking place years before the main events, we already know that this malevolent spirit likes to switch places with the living in order to wreak further violence in the real world.

This film by Álex de la Iglesia has all the comforting fixings of a truly terrifying ghost flick -- the baby monitors, naturally dark and discomfiting, that father Juan (Javier Gutiérrez) sees the evil spirit through; the classic masculine arrogance that leads him to avoid telling his wife, Sonia, (Leonor Watling) about future sightings when Juan's actions endanger both her and their child; the hidden rooms and ghastly murder scenes replayed within the spirit world. Yes, the ending is a bit predictable, but there is also just the right balance of stark horror and pointed commentary about human relationships leading up to this point, such that viewers are easily on tenterhooks for most of the experience. This is Paranormal Activity, made for TV -- a fun little number with a few good chills.

#111. Six Films To Keep You Awake: To Let

But if any of these six films has wanton horror-fest written all over it, To Let is it. Clara (Macarena Gómez) is just your average pregnant working wife who wants to go home and sleep after her shift, but her husband, Mario (Adrià Collado), has different designs on her time: a viewing of an apartment for let in a really creepy part of town. Again the normal tensions in any relationship, wherein one partner refuses to listen to the other's needs, has dire consequences for them both--because this particular apartment isn't run by just any landlady.

No, Portera (Nuria González) gave 30 years of her life to other people before the city condemned her building and her tenants left; since then, feeling entitled to her own share of happiness at any cost, she's been "collecting" tenants, one hundred percent against their will. In one unit is housed a chained man, a wire bound woman, and a poor baby stuck in the creepiest playpen ever. In the other... well, surprise! Mario and Clara are moving in--whether they like it or not.

There is an excess of violence in this film, making it a clear top pick in the gore department--and the story's pretty original, too, with all the desperate twists and turns one would expect of a horror flick centred on escape. One of the best parts of made for TV film is that one doesn't often see people "wasted" immediately (too many actors), so in To Let people come back when you least expect it, just to be injured more brutally than before. The ending is also deliciously depressing--a perfect note on which to end a collection of rich and diverse Spanish horror treats.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

New to the Store: Week of 5 October

30 Days of Night: Dark Days
All Boys
Bones: Season 5
Caprica: Season 1.0
Courageous Heart of Irena Sadler, The
Exploding Girl, The
Fade to Black
Grindhouse (BluRay)
Human Centipede, The (also BluRay)
Karate Kid (2010)
Killer Inside Me, The
Medium: Season 6
Mid-August Lunch
Nightmare on Elm Street, A (2010) (also BluRay)
Secret of Kells, The
Shut Up & Kiss Me
When Love Is Not Enough: The Lois Wilson Story

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Wendy's Films of 2010 #98: Tron (1982)

After a lovely country bike in the Netherlands today, I was reminded of the crazy biking skills required by Jeff Bridges and his commrades in Tron. Bridges must outrun and outsmart the computer program he has been sucked into. As lovers of The Big Lebowski might agree and as one worthy man once told me, "Jeff Bridges... he's pretty swell." To me, he is the biggest selling point of Tron and without his charisma and charm the film would probably not be as well loved as it is. There is some lingo that likely makes the film more admired by those who are familiar with programming, and less understood by others. But I would say that it was entertaining, mostly in an 80s, kitschy kind of way, but fun nevertheless.

If you liked Tron, or are interested in seeing it, keep in mind that a sequel is being made and will be released into theatres on December 17th this year (with a soundtrack by Daft Punk!)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #69: Pusher II: With Blood On My Hands (2004)

After loving Refn's first Pusher film, I was eager to continue. Pusher II did not disappoint, and if I had to make the hard choice, is probably the strongest film in the trilogy.

Mads Mikkelsen gets his chance to shine. I had first encountered him in that awful Clash of the Titans remake with Avatar-face McSoldierstein, and was greatly afraid that he sucked. I knew I was soon to see Mads in the unbeknownst-to-me-amazing Valhalla Rising, and feared the worst. So crappy move down, awesome movie up, I wondered what Pusher II would be like with him at centre stage. The answer to that is: Mads Mikkelsen is now an actor I will follow. I am enamoured by his screen presence and hope for some great films to come.

Pusher II is much like the first film in terms of its visual sense, pacing, and dialogue, but is certainly tighter in all fields. The budget is higher, the scope larger, the characters more complex. As with each film save the first, you really can't help but invest affection in the gangster characters. They are by no means nice people, but they are more human than one would expect, and they are beset by environments of poverty, violence, and abusive family dynamics, and every second is emotionally riveting.

So: If you see any of the Pusher films, see this one.

Ryan Watches A Motion Picture #68: The Color of Magic (2008)

This mini-series, comprised of two films, is based off of the incredibly charming work of Terry Pratchett, a British writer of glib, comical fantasy novels. I had seen the Hogfather about a year ago without realizing that it was a Terry Pratchett piece, and was amazed to find that I was watching a fantasy film that wasn't shit. In fact, it was probably one of the best fantasy films I'd ever seen.

The Color of Magic doesn't achieve the same kind of gravitas that the Hogfather reaches, but offers enough to endear me to Terry Pratchett's world, and more importantly, his characters. Color follows a lovable, aged, and underachieving wizard by the name of Rincewind who's studied magic for 40 years only to find that he can't really do anything particularly magical. There's grand adventure and whatnot, as is typical of the genre. But Color will poke fun at that.

The acting is half-way decent and the comic deliveries tend to be pretty entertaining. And ladies, start your swooning, because Color stars none other than "Mr. Samwise Gamgee I was in Lord of the Rings!" Sean Astin himself! You've shit your pants with amazement, since I can smell the sickly sweet excitement from here. Technically, more starring than Sean Astin is David Jason as Rincewind. He's the voice of Count Duckula! Remember him? And Mr. Toad from the Wind in the Willows! David Jason is terribly charming despite having a first name for a last name. Oh, and you get to watch Tim Curry get his evil wizard on. Damn right.

You'll also get a fascinating world to learn about, one that's flat like a disc and sitting atop four huge celestial elephants that are in turn sitting atop a huge space turtle. The whole world is strung together by oddity and humour.

I was surprised to find some fitting and strange film homages as well. Like a scene spoofing the famous "What is best in life?" scene from Conan the Barbarian, and references to Monty Python's Holy Grail and Star Wars. The strange one comes as a visual homage to Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid as the heroes dash out from a hiding place in slow motion, slinging spells like pistols in a last-ditch effort while under heavy spell-fire themselves. Where the hell did that come from? I mean I like it, but WTF, as the French say.

So: The jokes are sometimes over explained, but since it's so wildly imaginative, it never ceases to be interesting.