Friday, January 30, 2009

The Last Broadcast (1998; Stefan Avalos & Lance Weiler)

As stated many times before, I love mockumentaries.

That is all I have.

Two men (pictured above) run a small time television show that is quickly losing it's crowd. In order to get some attention back, they decide to do a live broadcast of them hunting down the Jersey Devil. They hire two other men to accompany them into the woods and then everything falls apart. Three of the men are murdered and the fourth is determined to be the guilty one. What we watch is a documentary about the case and how the host feels that the fourth man is very much innocent.

My reviews on mockumentaries always have to be short due to the fact that not much can be said about the cinematography or score. This leads me to a very blunt point... if you enjoy this style of cinema, you will very much enjoy this film. If you however have no fondness for this ilk of film, then you should just walk away, because apart from the ending, no "new" ground is struck with this one.

Any of you who cared enough to reach this point.. this is for you. I feel this film lovingly crafts a murder mystery in with a spice of horror all wrapped up in my favorite bow of mockumentary reality. From the get go we are bombarded with facts from the case that seemingly pointed to the fourth man as the guilty party, but as the digging becomes more intense, more evidence comes to light that makes us not as sure as we were before.

The reason I am going to knock points off of the final score is for the ending. While it was a gutsy move to pull, I felt that a more... Blair Witch ending would have fit better. If you see the film you will understand what I mean.

Score: 4/5

Notes: Mockumentary on a Documentary

Sukiyaki Western Django (2007; Takashi Miike)

Two things need to be stated here in this little introduction. Firstly, I have always loved Takashi Miike. Secondly, I have always hated westerns.

(Quite the cliff hanger, eh?)

In a small desert (until the end) town, two rival gangs fight over the ownership of the land to prospect for gold. We are treated to a mysterious hero coming in to try and end the battle between the White's (pictured above) and the Red's (pictured below) before it reaches even more ridiculous proportions.

When I first heard about this project a while back, I thought the idea of Miike, one of the masters of shock cinema, creating a spaghetti western seemed a bit of a stretch. However, I have learned over the years never to judge Miike's works until you actually watch them. I was going to put off purchasing and reviewing this film until it's price dropped, but the lure of Tarantino in a Miike film was too much for me to handle so I caved.

From the very forced English dialogue coming from Japanese actors to the stereotyped western setting, every piece of this movie feels perfect. By every piece I mean almost every piece, I just thought the sentence would flow better if I used every instead of almost every. Anyway.

The colors vary from bright whites to muddy browns. The camera goes from corny (on purpose) western shoot-outs to beautiful "landscape" shots as I like to call them (couldn't think of a better word for set pieces that would get my point across). Every inch of this film is filled to the brim with the heart and spirit of a man (Miike) who loves his work (or in this case, someone elses terrible genre). His understanding of how to make the film was almost perfect (once again, stressing the almost as I will get to the negative in a bit).

Now when dealing with a film filled with stereotypes up the ass, it is hard to craft each concept without it feeling boring or forced. Miike almost pulled it all off, except for some of the love story parts. Some of them (one "romantic" scene near the end dealing with two people crawling comes to mind) just felt unneccesary to the completion of the story.

Score: 4.5/5

Notes: Tarantino, Forced English Dialogue

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Tremors (1990; Ron Underwood)

I don't care what anybody says about this movie, I just can not take it seriously. I feel that as much as it may try to be an exercise in claustrophobic suspense, I see it more as a silly 90's take on a monster film.

That being said, it in no way makes the film bad, you just have to know what to expect. A group of southern hicks get trapped in their valley when four giant.. worm things attack and start dragging people under the dirt.

While keeping my reviews undeniably fresh, the cinematography in this film is keeping the vision of the filmmaker undeniably bland. By bland I mean if you took the textbook on the basics of working a camera and made a movie on it, this is what you would have. The sheer blandness is making my vocabulary so bland that I have used bland too many times in this review already.

I want to keep this review on a high note however, as not everything about this movie is (you know the word by now). The acting was good enough to hold the story together, and by that I mean the acting was obviously made over the top to balance out the fact that the entire movie is based down below.

I could sit here and try and chalk away at why this film is not exceptional, or I could tell you that you should approach this movie differently. If you walk up to this movie with the idea that you just want to sit down to a good ol' monster flick, then that is exactly what you will get. Much like slasher flicks, monster movies have almost their own set of rules. All they really need to work are the monsters to terrorize and the people to be terrorized. Throw in some explosions and some death and it should sell.

What was the point of me going on about the cinematography then? Just to simply show you that while monster movies have some of their own rules, they aren't allowed to be lazy and/or uncreative and still expect a top score.

Score: 2/5

Notes: Chick Without Pants, Elephant Guns

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Fall Guy (1982; Kinji Fukasaku)

Ah, Kinji Fukasaku, the man that brought us the almost painfully mainstream success here in the US, Battle Royale. There is nothing wrong with being mainstream or being Battle Royale, it is just more of that Dark Knight syndrome following it around. I shall leave the rest of my comments for my Battle Royale I & II review sometime in the future...

First off I don't know much about the history of this film, so I have no idea if it really was shot in black and white the first time around, however, the R1 copy of the film is in color, so those of you who flip out about not having color can calm down.

My summary for this piece will be a little longer than normal as I feel to better understand this film, you need a fuller history to it. Our lead (Yasu or something like that) is a bit player, meaning he is just one of those faceless guys in the movies (mostly samurai movies in this case) who gets thrown around. In this case, he is being thrown around by his idol, Ginshiro or something (I am bad with names). Part of the culture during this generation was that lead actors were like super stars, and their fans would pretty much do anything for them. Well, Ginshiro is losing his fans to another, younger lead actor (name is unimportant and forgotten by me) and ontop of this, the record setting stunt shot he was supposed to shoot (flipping a man down a 30 foot tall staircase) had been cut because no bit player or stuntman was brave enough to take the fall.

Then more tradegy strikes Ginshiro when he finds out his girlfriend has gotten pregnant. I shouldn't have to tell you, but just incase, that was a big no-no in Japan (as well as the US if it counts for anything). To help save his crumbling face, he asks (forces) Yasu to pretend to be the father of the child and to marry the girl. Yasu's love for Ginshiro (and his secret love for Ginshiro's girlfriend) lead him to say yes, which in return leads to him taking more dangerous rolls in films to pay for the extra mouths.

I don't know about you, but I find the story behind this film to be quite genius. Yasu is an optimistically pathetic character who his pushed around due to his nice demeanor. Ginshiro is a once powerful man who is becoming pushier as his downfall approaches. Whats-her-face is a woman torn between the father of her child (whom she also loves) and the man who is obviously willing to do anything to make her happy. Once you add into the mix the fact that every single character in this film is delibrately overacted (to the point where most lines are actually being screamed and not spoken) to mirror how extreme (and ludicrous) their devotions are, it quickly becomes a recipe for success.

Now I will briefly cover my other usual sections. The music is very catchy, especially the main song that opens up the film, which is never a bad thing. The camera is actually the only thing that remains "normal" among the absurdity of the film, which brings a wonderful sense that we (the camera representing us) are not as crazy as what we are seeing. The only reason I am not handing this film a perfect score is because I have only seen it once, and I never hand out 10's after only one viewing. Whenever I watch this film again, I might come back and edit the score as I see fit, but for now...

Score: 4.5/5

Notes: Movie about a Movie about a Movie.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

From Beyond (1986; Stuart Gordon)

I must say, this review is going to be ridiculously biased. Not for the sake of Jeffrey Combs. Not for the sake of Stuart Gordon. Simply for it being inspired by Lovecraft. I have been a avid fan of Lovecraft for quite a few years, so I always welcome anything that is tied to his works.

I am glad that (while other people may disagree) there is a semi-competent director (in the form of Gordon) who is frequently giving us his visions of what he thinks is truly going on in Lovecraft's worlds. The beauty of it is that another director can come along, create another film on the same short story, and come up with completely different creatures that dwell in the other dimensions and worlds.

(Keeping it fresh again) two scientists set up a device that activates a certain resonance, causing a gland in our brain to grow, allowing us to see into another dimension, and in return, seeing that dimensions inhabitants see us. To bring the idea to another level of realism (at least to a degree) the film makes a connection between schizophrenia and the size of that certain gland. I thought it was a clever idea, at least.

I am not quite sure as most of the surprisingly few Gordon films I have seen are fuzzy in my memory, but it appears he has a very intimate fondness with still camera angles. While that can make films come off as stale (due to moving cameras representing progression, movement, etc) it worked surprisingly well as we felt our characters trapped in a certain space. The camera was further complemented with a wonderful color palette in many of the shots.

As for the score, it is adequate but altogether not too exciting or memorable. Jeffrey Combs puts on a wonderfully enjoyable performance (again). All in all this film has the feel of a Lovecraft title, but it lacks the depth required to truly delve into his beautifully constructed world. While that obviously can not be held against any single film, maybe it is something Gordon might want to work upon. A series of Lovecraft films that fit together besides the small hints to locations that reoccur.

Score: 3/5

Notes: Tentacle Rape (Fuck Yes)