Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cyborgs, Snakes, Fuzz... Etc...

First. Right off the bat. Congrats go to the Pegg/Frost/Wright team for a great opening weekend for "Hot Fuzz". Off hand, it might seem that it didn't do all that well. It opened at number six on this weeks Box Office chart, but a closer look clarifies things greatly. This week, "Hot Fuzz" was opened in limited release on only 825 screens, making $5.8 million dollars. The number one film this weekend was "Disturbia" in it's second week of release on 3015 screens, making $13 million. The highest ranking new film on the chart was "Fracture", making $11 million on 2443 screens. Adjusting for per screen attendance, "Hot Fuzz" did phenomenally well. I hope a wide release is in it's future. If you saw it this weekend, good for you. I hope it was a good experience.

Now, on to some films I saw recently. One was a pleasant surprise, the other, a gargantuan disappointment.

I went to the local $1 theatre last night and caught up with "Black Snake Moan". Now THIS was pretty much what I was expecting to see at "Grindhouse". This was a vintage exploitation film, all dressed up for today's audiences. It was so incredibly well done that it could have easily been released in the mid 1970's by New World Pictures or AIP. I could definitely see it being paired up with "Big Bad Mama" or "The Lady In Red". If this film would have replaced the narcissistic love fest called "Planet Terror", I probably would have left the theatre raving to all and any who would listen about what a marvellous movie going experience "Grindhouse" was. Alas, this was not meant to be. "Black Snake Moan" can and does more than stand on it's own, however.

Forget the "Pulp Fiction" poster art, this film is a total earthy blast of fresh air. Everyone in it is game and shows i every aspect of the film. Christina Ricci is pretty damn amazing in a very brave role. I might not be writing this sentence, were we in 1976 or so, but being that we're in the time of absurd prudishness, the girl's got guts. To play a role in which she's required to play a nymphomaniacal hussy that is nearly or completely topless and writhing for a majority of the film is a revelation. She's unafraid of her character and she embraces it wholly, just as any actress should. Samuel L. Jackson? Well, we all know I'm not a big fan. I cringe and roll my eyes every time he says, "Mother Fucker". I think him saying that repeatedly in film is as bad as a Stepin Fechett routine in one of those old Minstrel Shows comedies from the 1940's. Having said that, I thought he was wonderful. Hands down, the best performance I've ever seen him give. It took me a moment to get used to his role (the beard was a bit unconvincing), but I'll be damned if I didn't walk away believing he was that old, proud Blues man; trying to help a girl in need of redemption. The only performance the fell flat was Justin Timberlake's. He was all right, but way out of his league here.

Extremely mild spoilers...

At a full 2 hours, the movie never let the viewer down. Every scene had a purpose and the script was mighty lean. The scope format worked to the picture's advantage. The widescreen compositions were filled out to the extremeties of the frame. I can't imagine this movie not suffering in pan and scan format. The only bitch from me might be the epilogue. I don't really understand why it was added. We all know no one lives happily ever after completely and all we really have is each other. There was no need for it. The film would've been fine fading out with a shot of Samuel L. Jackson and S. Epatha Merkerson's hands entwined. Did I love it? You betcha.

Unfortunately, I didn't love the new PARK Chan Wook film, "I'm A Cyborg, But that's OK". PARK Chan Wook films are always something of an event for me. Buzz will start from across the world and I'll salivate until the DVD becomes available for purchase. The Revenge Trilogy was superb, as was JSA. Let's not dwell on some poor pathetic loner's apparent obsession with "Oldboy" and before we start throwing stones, let's also remember that "Oldboy" was a manga first and the film was an adaptation of said manga. I digress.

Tonight, I watched Chan Wook's latest film. I was so excited I couldn't wait to pop it into the DVD player. The opening credits sequence is the most incredible on I've seen in years, if not ever. Every credit was ingrained into the design of the sets and props. Strangely, it reminded me of the opening credits of the 1983 3D opus, "Comin' At Ya!" where the credits are dispatched in a similar fashion. I was riding on such a high, that it was devastating that, within 20 minutes, I was absolutely crestfallen and (most horribly) bored out of my skull.

I knew this new film was going to be a departure. Chan Wook stated many times that this new film was going to be much lighter than the previous three. I can totally dig that and I relished what he might do with such airy subject matter. What I didn't expect, however, was a fantastical "One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest" inspired by David Cronenberg. Sadly, this story of a woman who is admitted to an insane asylum because she believes she is a Cyborg has no real focus. There are many characters who have major quirks that are supposed to be hysterical (but aren't), there are interludes into the mind's of the patients that are supposed to be whimsical (ditto), but worst of all, there are no real connections between the viewer (this viewer, at least) and the onscreen characters. It's like the director's saying that mental illness makes people magical and the viewer is challenged to find what's actual and what's a flight of fancy in the film. That would be fine if not for some candy colored David Lynch style ambitiousness that goes against the grain of the entire endeavor. The entire film seems like an overambitious Art Film for the Tarantino generation.

On the bright side, "I'm a Cyborg, but that's OK" may be PARK Chan Wook's most accomplished visual film. It's absolutely gorgeous with grand Technicolor pallets and striking POV shots. I'm still partial to his previous film "Sympathy For Lady Vengeance" as his most accomplished film overall, but there's no denying the power of the visuals in this particular film. It makes me wish 3-strip Technicolor was still being made, since PARK Chan Wook seems to be the only director since 1970's era Dario Argento that understands cinematic color to this degree.

So we have this grand misfire of a film. It looks great, there are a few scattered moments of sheer brilliance and the sound design is top notch. Unfortunately, the filmmakers forgot that a simple, straightforward story almost always works best. There's a good story in there somewhere, but it's hard to find (impossible for the impatient film goer). Oh, did I mention the film doesn't have an ending? Oh, I mean it ends, but I don't recall any sort of satisfying resolution. Wow, maybe I'll revisit the film in a month or two with fresh eyes. I'll let you know if anything changes. Somehow, I doubt it.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Here come the FUZZ!

Aiiiiight e'rebuddy! "Hot Fuzz" opens today nationwide across the USA. You're mission? GO SEE IT! This is one movie you will regret not seeing on the big screen with an audience. Check your newspaper for show times in your area.

So it seems Simon Pegg is quite the poster boy these days. That's a real good thing. I've seen him on TV and in magazines a lot lately. His appearance on Jimmy Kimmel with Nick Frost in tow was devastatingly funny. Those two are very quick on their toes. Also, the new issue of Interview has a nice photo spread of Simon where he's looking quite GQ. He, along with Nick Frost, really deserve it. They are both stars in the making and really nice guys. I met Simon a few years back and, while drunk, tired and bewildered, managed to be extremely gracious and polite. He signed my "Spaced" dvd set ("Oh! You bought things. Of course I'll sign!") and posed for a picture. It was a memorable meeting and I hope to bump into him again in the future (maybe I'll run into Nick, too!).

So, go see "Hot Fuzz". It's an awesome movie.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


I was going to rapturize about seeing "Meet The Robinsons" in Real 3D the other night, but something more important has come up. Real important. EXTREMELY important. For fans of rock -n- roll and rock-n- roll movies, the most important announcement in the history of home video. This is not hyperbole. This is the honest truth.

on June 19th, 2007, the landmark concert film "The T.A.M.I. Show" will be released on DVD; completely uncut (with the full Beach Boys performance) and... wait for it... full director's commentary by Electronovision wunderkind Steve Binder!!!!! For any youngsters out there or anyone who doesn't have a enthusiasm for 1960's rock and pop, this is truly a big deal. It's never been released on video legally in the USA and most grey market and bootleg versions were from 16mm or 8mm dupes or from it's early 80's broadcast on the USA network's "Night Flight". Those versions varied in quality and NONE of them included the Beach Boys performance.

Now, what EXACTLY was "The T.A.M.I. Show" all about? First of all, it has nothing to do with the smartly titled alternative band from the 80's and 90's. It was a 2 day rock show extravaganza that was held in California and shot before early video cameras, transferred to film, edited and released theatrically on that medium. That Kine scope like process was dubbed Electronovision for this film's release. You see, while concerts in the early 1960's were typically caravans with 5 or 6 acts along with a headliner, a lot of these acts didn't really get to the heartland on America. Therefore, it was genius on the part of the producers of this film that they round up every big act of 1964 (save for The Beatles and The Four Seasons) and make a 2 hour theatrical extravaganza that would barnstorm the country and play theatres and, most importantly, drive-ins in towns that wouldn't ever see such acts live.

"The T.A.M.I. Show" (T.A.M.I. means either "Teen-Age Music International", what the AIP ads for the film advertised, or "Teenage Awards Music International", what was on some movie posters and ad material) was hosted by Jan and Dean and featured musical performances by them, along with Chuck Berry, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Marvin Gaye, The Beach Boys, Leslie Gore, The Supremes, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, The Barbarians, James Brown and his Famous Flames and, rounding out the show The Rolling Stones!!!!!!! All of this is shot on video in glorious black and white and super realistic monophonic sound augmented by a horde of screaming girls in the audience. It's the meaning of life captured on Kine scope. I'm so incredibly excited that this movie is FINALLY being released on video, I can't stop smiling. I can finally get rid of my dupey tapes and stop the further ruination of my 8mm film print from constant runs through my projector.

Simply put, you need to own this one if you have any interest in music history, film history, pop culture history or any and all of the above. There are so many highlights that it's hard to list them all without getting long winded. Suffice it to say, between the opening credits with Jan and Dean skateboarding and Diana Ross applying lipstick in EXTREME CLOSE UP and the grand finale of the film with the exhausting double whammy of James Brown in his absolute prime and the primal blues of early Rolling Stones, you'll find something to like, love, remember and cherish. God, I adore this movie.

I got it preordered at DVD Pacific for $10.23 shipped (the retail is $14.99), but I'll probably buy a copy at Best Buy on the release date and I'm sure I'll be getting one or two as Birthday gifts as it's being released one week before my birthday.

I really can't believe it's actually being released. I really can't.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Unjust country

1. - Anna Nicole Smith gets months upon months of coverage upon her death for being a nothing. Kurt Vonnegut, one of the greatest (if not THE greatest) writers and satirists of our time (or any time) gets maybe 30 seconds of news time devoted to his passing. It's a despicable world we inhabit.

2. - Free Reinstate Don Imus. What was said might not have been socially or politically correct... and what he said might not have been funny as it was intended to be, but damn it, if I will stand behind his right to say it on the airwaves. Really. How many Blacks were listening to his show in the first place? Now all the reactionaries are running to the television cameras to express their disgust to something that DOESN'T MATTER. WHAT DON IMUS SAID DOESN'T MATTER. This should be between him and the people he insulted. No one else should be involved. Leave it. Leave it.

3. - I demand that everyone and anyone reading this boycott any media outlet (Television, radio, magazine, etc.) that gives any airtime or print space to the (Alleged) Reverend Al Sharpton. He doesn't care about the black community or race in general. All he cares about is face time, keeping in the public eye and making people do what he wants them to do. He got Don Imus fired. Now what, Al? Now that you've crucified your current Christ, now what?

Now what?

It's time for a change.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


Saw Grindhouse today.

You may not know this, but it's not that original an idea for a film. Back in 1976, there was a film called MOVIE/MOVIE that was just about the exact same thing, except it was a tribute/parody of 1940's double features. It starred George C. Scott, Harry Hamlin and Barry Bostwick. The film included a black and white 'B' Boxing picture and a full color Busby Berkley style musical, complete with trailers in between the pictures... and they did it all in 2 hours. It's not out on video and I don't know why. It's a fine film and I think it would be fantastic to have now to show the know-it-all film fans and reviewers of late that they're not exactly inventing the wheel here.

GRINDHOUSE is a noble effort, but it falls short of what it sets out to do. The directors Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino show a lot of love for the idea of Grindhouse films but not much actual knowledge of how and why they existed 30 years ago. You just can't watch a bunch of Something Weird videos and think you're an expert on an entire sub genre of film making. Because of this basic lack of understanding, the film is ultimately hollow. The problems here are many. There are too many film imperfections here. Lines and scratches are okay, I guess, but burning frames, sudden discolorations and warpages are too distracting. Same to same, purposely splicing the film is all right for effect, but to not have it affect the soundtrack is not realistic. Likewise, the missing sequence title cards don't seem as clever as they seem desperate and lackadaisical. It's like, when they found themselves in a place were they couldn't get from scene 'A' to scene 'B', they just dropped in a scene missing piece and skipped to the next part with no rhyme or reason. My biggest beef may be the use of 5.1 digital surround sound. Um, no people. Old Grindhouse palaces were lucky if the center mono speaker worked properly. There was no surround sound for those films.

My Breakdown of the film?

The MACHETE trailer was great. How the hell did they cull all those Adolph Caesar soundbites for that narration?

PLANET TERROR was pretty much self serving crap. Too many winks at the audience; too many film imperfections. I'm 38 years old and I remember a lot of the original films they paid homage to. Those films didn't look like that then. They do NOW, but not then. Also, it wasn't a very Grindhouse type film. Rodriguez is too Mexican-centric. Yeah, he's Mexican, but he can do other types of films, right? PLANET TERROR should have been aping Italian productions like "Cannibal Apocalypse" and "Nightmare City" than whatever the hell he was trying to do. The whole Strippers, Guns, Undead Things, etc... is as big a yawn for me as it was 5 minutes after FROM DUSK TILL DAWN ended.

Thank God for Josh Brolin, though. He's looking more like his dad every day and he was the only saving grace for me in that film (though, Bruce Willis made for a nice John Saxon stand in). Stacy Ferguson was a delightful surprise. She was actually attractive and sexy here and her short scenes were well acted. I wish I could say the same for Rose McGowan. OK, I'll say it. She's terrible. She's an enormously untalented actress and she never found the right tone for the character. Her dialogue was contrived and poorly written to begin with. It would have taken an actress five times her talent to deliver them properly and she ain't that actress. Marley Shelton was a lot better as Josh Brolin's character's wife. She had the right tone, even when carrying her dead son around. Which brings me to a problem.


There is a scene where her son shoots himself with a revolver. This scene sent two people in the theatre into absolute hysterics. Can someone tell my why this is funny? Please? I mean a proper answer. Not just, "It WAS funny!" or "it was funny because it was shocking!" Those answers are not acceptable. If you laughed at that scene, stop reading this now and go away forever... and kill yourself just so you can understand how funny it is (maybe then I'll get the joke).

All in all, it was overkill. Too gory, to gooey, too self aware, too in love with itself... too too much. My advice, come to GRINDHOUSE 80 minutes late, 'cause it gets better from here.

THE INTERMISSION TRAILERS... Rob Zombie's Werewolves vs. Nazis trailer, "Werewolves of the S S" was a bit obnoxious (Nick Cage? C'mon!). Why doesn't he just admit he wants to be Johnny Legend? Edgar Wright's "Don't" was brilliant: Just everything an American trailer for a British film should have been (and was!). The Nick Frost cameo had me rolling. Eli Roth's "Thanksgiving" will be the most remembered, but it's not the best one, just the most in your face shocking.

DEATH PROOF was, aside from being too talky, pretty astounding considering I hate most of Tarantino's work (I think his only great film was JACKIE BROWN). I was amazed at how much I liked it. It wasn't the second coming, mind you; it wasn't even Grindhouse material... it was pure drive in; but it was everything it should have been. The movie had me immediately when the opening (retitled) credits were set to Jack Nitzsche's "The Last Race". The soundtrack is awesome, though that in itself is a problem: No film like that would ever be able to afford a soundtrack like that.

I love Zoe Bell now. She isn't stunningly beautiful, but she's quite attractive. That is, she does have a quiet star quality. Kurt Russell was really fun to watch. It's really amazing that, when you see him in action, you start to wonder where the hell he's been? He needs to make more movies like this. Rosario Dawson, my love, is totally wasted here. There's just no reason for her presence. Sorry, hon. I love ya, but try for some roles with meat in the future. Tracey Thoms was quite delicious as Zoe's sidekick (Tracey, if you're reading... I'm single. Marry me and you only have to change the last letter of your name. Call me. I'm waiting).

Yes, the film was very Tarantino with long winded stretches of dialogue (mind you this portion of the film was only 80 minutes) so as to mask the fact that there is no real plot to speak of. Still, the scene at the dinner table where the girls talk about a bunch of films that I personally grew up on gave me a warm feeling. The Tarantino / Rodreguez hounds won't understand (I doubt they'd ever heard of "Vanishing Point", "White Line Fever", "Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry" and "Big Wednesday" until this film), but it made me smile. The car chase sequences are all done for real and it shows. They are very impressive. The only thing really missing from Death Proof is an ending. It just ends. It really needed a wraparound.

All in all I liked it I guess, but I think the most impressive, smile inducing part was the Film Leader Queens tribute during the end credits. Only people who handle film would get that one so I won't explain it. Some things just need to be kept between us film hounds.