Tuesday, October 30, 2012

749. PLATOON (1986)


Running Time: 120 minutes
Directed By: Oliver Stone
Written By: Oliver Stone
Main Cast:  Charlie Sheen, Tom Berenger, Willem Dafoe, Forest Whitaker, Francesco Quinn
Click here to view the trailer

STONE WEEK: 1 of 4

Oliver Stone began directing films in 1974, with the release of "Seizure", which he also wrote. However, it wasn't until 1986 and the release of "Platoon" that he started to get recognized as a big time director. Since then he's churned out a handful of hits (and misses) including "Born on the Fourth of July", "Wall Street", "The Door", "JFK", "Natural Born Killers" and "Any Given Sunday". Today, for the initial post of "Stone Week", I take a look at "Platoon" - a film based on Stone's own Vietnam War experience.


I'll barely be able to fill a full paragraph with a plot synopsis for "Platoon", because really the film is just about a platoon of men in the Vietnam War. A lot of the film is actually plot-less as we simply observe the men and watch what they experienced on a day to day basis, during the war. The main character is Chris Taylor (Sheen), a boy who left his rich upbringing and college life to take part in Vietnam, because he felt like he needed to make a difference. The film is also narrated by Chris, as we overhear letters that he's writing back home to his grandma. He admits that he doesn't know what he's doing out there and that no one has the time to show him how to be a soldier, something he ultimately has to figure out for himself. After an incident at a Vietnamese village, where Sgt. Barnes (Berenger) murders an elderly Vietnamese woman, the platoon is split in two, with half of the soldiers siding with Barnes, while the other half take the side of Sgt. Elias (Dafoe), a hippie soldier who plans to bring charges against Barnes.


The reason I can't stretch the plot summary of "Platoon" into a full paragraph, is the same reason why I don't like it. Listen, war movies aren't for me, end of story. I've said that from day one on this blog and that's USUALLY the truth. Every once in a while, however, there is an exception to every rule and when I see movies like "All Quiet on the Western Front" or "Saving Private Ryan", I start to question my own disdain for war films. However, "Platoon" is a text book example of what I don't like about war films and that's when all we get is war. There's no subplot, there's no nothing and all we end up getting is scenes that depict life in war. I have a feeling that Stone's movie is, perhaps so personal that you had to have experienced war to really get the full effects of it. It's one that I just don't like because of it's genre and because it doesn't work for me and there's no further dissection required.


I will say, however, that some of Sheen's narration is pretty effective. At times, it works to enlighten a viewer who may be completely unfamiliar with military life and let them in on some of what it would be like to be out on the field of battle. And what about that cast, huh? Actually, I find it kind of funny that the supporting cast is far more talented (or would go on to be far more talented) than the three lead actors (with the exception being Willem Dafoe). What was Stone smoking when he decided that it would be a good idea to let Charlie Sheen and Tom Berenger star in his movie? God, I can't stand either of them. Now then, if you take a look at the supporting cast, you've got some major talent in there: Forest Whitaker, John C. McGinley, Johnny Depp, Tony Todd, Richard Edson and Keith David - all fine actors or guys who would develop into fine actors.


SPOILER ALERT!

Of course, the famous scene in "Platoon" is the overly long death of Sgt. Elias, but it's a goose bump inducing moment, so be on the lookout for that.

RATING: 5/10  Can't go higher than the average marker and really, it's probably not even THAT good, but a '4.5' just seems too low...for now.

MOVIES WATCHED: 568
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 433

October 30, 2012  4:12pm

Monday, October 29, 2012

629. The Hills Have Eyes (1977)


Running Time: 88 minutes
Directed By: Wes Craven
Written By: Wes Craven
Main Cast: James Whitworth, Dee Wallace, Robert Houston, Russ Grieve, Michael Berryman
Click here to view the trailer

FRIGHTFEST 2012: THE CONCLUSION

The original plan was to save at least one horror film until Halloween night (or the night before Halloween, at least), but I go back to work tomorrow, from vacation, and I figured I'd better finish off "Frightfest" while I still had the energy.


The Carter family is traveling on vacation, to Los Angeles, in their station wagon (with a trailer hooked on back), when they take a detour through a deserted area. When they stop for gas, the elderly gas station attendant warns them to stay off the back roads, as it's dangerous. They ignore their advice and the family - consisting of a father, "Big Bob" (Grieve), his wife Ethel, their two daughters, Brenda (Wallace) and Lynn, their son Bobby (Houston), their son-in-law Doug and their granddaughter - continue down the back road, relying on a map to get them to California. When certain members of the family believe that they're lost, bickering leads to Bob driving off the road and breaking an axle on the car. With nothing in sight for miles, Bob decides to head back to the gas station to call for help and Doug takes off in the other direction to see if he can find anything or anyone. This leaves behind Bobby, Ethel, Brenda, Lynn and their two german shepherds. What the family doesn't know is that the old man at the gas station was speaking the truth, as the road is dangerous. It seems there is another family lurking in the hills, a much more demonic family. Headed up by Papa Jupiter (Whitworth), the evil doers converge on the Carter family with bloodshed on their minds.

This BOOK had really made me realize that I'm not a fan of Wes Craven. I used to think I liked him, but over the years and especially after watching his three "must see" movies, I realize that he is one of my least favorite directors. I thought "A Nightmare on Elm Street" was extremely overrated and only included in THE BOOK because of it's popular status in mainstream horror and because of it's big box office numbers. The same could be said about "Scream", a film that I used to love and one that did absolutely nothing for me when I reviewed it a few years back. When looking over the rest of his filmography, it seems to be filled with a lot of cheap horror films, of which I've only actually seen two: "The Last House on the Left" and "Vampire in Brooklyn" - both of which were, in a word, awful. Is it possible that when taking into account his popularity and status in the directing community and his actual ability to direct a quality film, that the difference equals one of the most overrated directors in film history? I think so.


It's not that "The Hills Have Eyes" is a terrible film or anything and actually, when watching it with someone else (like my wife and I did) it kind of works. It is my theory that horror movies should always be watched with a partner, because you need someone to make fun of the plot with and most horror films have plots that are easy to poke fun at. The plot is very basic, there's nothing particularly stand-out about it. The film relies on gore to get it's cheap thrills and when you compare the gore levels of 1977 to today's standards, gore was a lot more restrained back then. It worked for me as a Halloween time feature, but I wouldn't even entertain the notion of including it as one of 1001 movies that must be seen. It simply isn't that good. The truth is that most horror films aren't THAT good, but I realize that THE BOOK had to include some, so I can forgive the entry.

RATING: 5.5/10  Well that concludes "Frightfest 2012" and it might be the last Frightfest I do here on the blog, because I'm desperately running out of horror films. However, if there happen to be four or five left, I'll be sure and save them for next year. Happy Halloween!

MOVIES WATCHED: 567
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 434

October 29, 2012  12:17pm

Sunday, October 28, 2012

538. Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song (1971)


Running Time: 97 minutes
Directed By: Melvin Van Peebles
Written By: Melvin Van Peebles
Main Cast: Melvin Van Peebles, Mario Van Peebles, John Amos, John Dullaghan, Hubert Scales
Click here to view the trailer

BLAXPLOITATION!

In 1971, the same year Shaft was claiming to be a bad mother--shut 'yo mouth, there was another African American "baadasssss" taking over the movie theaters and his name was Sweetback!


Melvin Van Peebles stars as Sweetback, a man who was introduced to the love of a woman at a young age and who now entertains at a whorehouse, performing sex shows nightly. After a murder, the police arrive and ask Beetle, Sweetback's boss, if they can arrest one of his men, release him a few days later for lack of evidence so that they can appease the black community. Beetle hands over Sweetback and off he goes in the back of a police cruiser. On the way to the station, the cops arrest a young black man, Mu-Mu (Scales) and take him to an abandoned area to work him over. After witnessing the cops beat the life out of Mu-Mu for long enough, Sweetback steps in and saves the kid, beating the officers unconscious. The rest of the film is Sweetback's various attempts to evade police capture, seeking help from powerful friends in the black community, seeking refuge in the arms of women and trying to stay alive. At one point, Sweetback wanders into a desert area and without water or food, is forced to bite the head off a lizard for sustenance and use his own urine to sterilize a wound.


After reading up on the making of "Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song" it's hard to write it off as a cheaply made piece if 1970s independent cinema. Honestly, while it's not THAT good and more resembles a softcore pornography than a serious attempt at a film, the basic plot is a decent and simple one and works for the fairly short running time. After Van Peebles finished his previous film "Watermelon Man", he scrimped the money together, as well as receiving a $5000 loan from Bill Cosby and vowed to make a film for "all the brothers and sisters who'd had enough of The Man". According to THE BOOK, he pretended to be making a porno flick, so that he could hire non-union workers, to work for cheap. With no money for a stunt man, Van Peebles did all of his own stunts and even took part in unsimulated sex scenes that appear in the final cut of the movie. Apparently, the story goes that Van Peebles contracted gonorrhea during one of the sex scenes and successfully applied to the Director's Guild in order to get worker's compensation, citing that he'd been hurt on the job. He was awarded some money and ultimately used it to by more film instead. It's also said that a scene in which two dogs are killed by Sweetback and found floating in the river, were provided by a the local animal shelter. Apparently Van Peebles showed up one day with $20 bucks and a need for two dead dogs and he was provided with them.

Perhaps the scene where Melvin caught gonorrhea and a famous scene where Sweetback is basically told "fuck or die!"
All of this because a man had a vision of a film and didn't give up until his vision was realized. Whether you like the film or not, find it inappropriate or not, you really can't deny the inspiration behind the whole project. It's not really a great film, but it certainly isn't bad and of course, you have to factor in the budget, which wasn't substantial. I know, I know I ripped on "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" for having an obviously low budget, but I didn't hold the standards to this one as high as I did that one. You always hear about TCSM and you never hear anything about "Sweetback". It's sort of a lost film and even I had to find it on YouTube, as it isn't available anywhere else. Go into this one expecting nothing and you might just find a little spark of genius, a decent plot, an inspirational story and an innovative film...but beware, it kind of borders on the edge of being a softcore pornography.

RATING: 6/10  Well, my goal while I was on vacation was to watch ten films and this makes the tenth movie I've seen in the last six days, so huzzah for me!

MOVIES WATCHED: 566
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 435

October 28, 2012  7:29pm

682. Poltergeist (1982)


Running Time: 114 minutes
Directed By: Tobe Hooper
Written By: Steven Spielberg, Michael Grais, Mark Victor
Main Cast: Craig T. Nelson, JoBeth Williams, Heather O'Rourke, Dominique Dunne, Oliver Robins
Click here to view the trailer

FRIGHTFEST 2012: PART 4

According to THE BOOK, Tobe Hooper got the directing credit here, but by all onset accounts it was Steven Spielberg who actually had the helm of "Poltergeist" and it's not hard to believe, especially when you compare this with "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre".


The Freeling family is your typical American family, living in the suburbs of California and headed up by Steven Freeling (Nelson), a successful realtor and Diane (Williams), a housewife. The Freeling's have three children: sixteen-year-old Dana (Dunne), eight-year-old Robbie (Robins) and five-year-old Carol Anne (O'Rourke). After a while, things in their home start to go awry and it all starts in the confines of the television set, when Carol Anne claims to hear voices, which she refers to as the "TV people". No one else can hear or see the TV people though and the rest of the family just chalks it up to the little girl's imagination. That is, until Diane witnesses a paranormal event in the form of her kitchen chairs moving across the room all by themselves. Strange things begin to happen all over the house and one night, as the house lies quiet, the Freeling family asleep, the tree outside Robbie and Carol Anne's bedroom window reaches through the window and tries to eat Robbie! In the midst of the confusion and chaos, Steven manages to rescue Robbie, but it's Carol Anne who's fate lies in jeopardy, as she disappears and can only be heard through a static channel on the television. It seems that Carol Anne has been sucked through a portal, which emanates from her bedroom closet. Meanwhile, in Carol Anne's absence, the paranormal activity in the house becomes heightened as objects whirl around rooms and poltergeist's make their presence known. Eventually the family has no choice but to call in outside help, in order to rescue Carol Anne and release their home from evil's grip.


There's only so much I can buy into. Zombies - I can buy that. Vampires - I can buy that. Psychos living in Texas, robbing graves and mutilating teenagers - I can buy that. But eventually I draw a line and with the exception of being asked to buy Jack Black and Kate Winslet as a couple, "Poltergeist" is the biggest bunch of B.S. I've ever been spoon fed in my life. No wait, I take that back. "Poltergeist" isn't THAT bad, but trust me, it's an over hyped, over popular, very unscary and very silly time at the movies. It's hard to believe that Tobe Hooper went from directing a very scary, very gritty film like "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" to directing this piece of Hollywood, fluffy horror. The music in "Poltergeist" is so lively, sometimes almost jovial that it doesn't fit the images on the screen whatsoever and I almost expect to walk into Universal Studios and see a ride based on this movie. No movie that ever claims to be horror should be mistaken for a Universal Studios ride and that's a steadfast rule!

Anyway, back to my accusations of silliness and the limit of what I can buy into. In my book, the object of a horror movie is to give me that smidgen of doubt. Give me even the slightest inkling that maybe...MAYBE this could actually happen and let me stew with it. SCARE ME!! You can throw silly piece of shit after silly piece of shit at me, but as long as you put some basis and believability behind it, I'll eat it up. The following is a list of things that I WON'T eat up, won't buy into and won't even begin to entertain the idea of being scared by:


*Trees coming to life and snatching little boys from their beds.
*Televisions coming to life and swallowing little girls.
*A clown doll coming to life and trying to kill previously mentioned little boy.
*A closet acting as an evil portal in which previously mentioned little girl is sucked in.
*An entire home being swallowed up by this portal, leaving an empty spot where said home used to sit!
*JoBeth Williams and "Coach" Craig T. Nelson SMOKING WEED!!!

SPOILER ALERT!

Okay, so the last one's a joke, but the rest legitimately had me laughing more than they had me cowering and if I was Tobe Hooper, I'd be ashamed to say I had anything to do with this film. Yeah, I'm sure the fat check (or checks) he's received due to being part of this production soften the blow, but after directing a horror masterpiece like "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre", I don't know why he'd jump at the chance to sell his soul to Steven Spielberg and make a piece of Hollywood garbage. Oh and the whole "Hey, the movie's over, everyone is safe and sound" and then springing everything on us all over again....LAME!

RATING: 5/10  Okay, so I ripped the shit out of that one, but a lot of you are going to go gaga for it. It's not as terrible as I make it sound and I guess I was just in a particularly harsh mood tonight and was extremely disappointed by this so called horror movie.

MOVIES WATCHED: 565
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 436

October 28, 2012  3:04am

Saturday, October 27, 2012

A Week Made of Stone - COMING SOON


706. KOYAANISQATSI (1983)


Running Time: 87 minutes
Directed By: Godfrey Reggio
Written By: Ron Fricke, Michael Hoenig, Godfrey Reggio, Alton Walpole
Click here to view the trailer

PERHAPS THE SCARIEST MOVIE OF THEM ALL

"A container of ashes might one day be thrown from the sky, which could burn the land and boil the oceans."

For those of you who know my writing and are familiar with this film, you probably already have my rating pegged. It's a known fact that I don't like experimental films and that, when watching a movie, my tastes rely heavily on plot and less on the final message. However, maybe this was the mother of all experimental films and maybe my mind was changed with the watching of "Koyaanisqatsi".


The film is plot-less and is simply an arranging of images, edited together and sped up to create a terrifying message for it's viewers and to the world.  With "Koyaanisqatsi" it was the goal of director Godfrey Reggio to collaborate equally with his cinematographer (Ron Fricke) and his composer (Philip Glass) to create an equally balanced film and so that the images, music and direction would sync together in order to create maximum effectiveness. The film examines the ill effects of consumerism and condemns the destruction of nature and culture.


When I first started watching "Koyaanisqatsi" I really didn't know what to expect. As it got underway, I realized quick that this was an experimental film (one with a budget, but nonetheless an experimental film) and that the entire running time would consist of various images set to music. I hated it right off the bat. I kept running through what I'd write when I got here, how I'd bash it for being "pointless" and "a bore to sit through". Then, after a while, something happened and I began to become hypnotized by the images. I was no longer paying attention to the DVD timer and my eyes were affixed to the screen and I couldn't look away. Reggio's plan was working; the music and images were starting to lull me into their submission, much like the listless, zombie like people that Reggio filmed wandering in and out of airport terminals, subways, movie theaters, factories and big city streets. I believe that Reggio is a genius, because he had a message that he wanted to get out to the world and to do so, he created a film that would make consumers feel like they normally feel, listless, lazy and ready to buy into anything. He'd hypnotize his audience into hearing his message and maybe, just maybe, it would get through to a few people.


Now, I'm not necessarily in agreement with Reggio's message, but I applaud him for getting my attention. I didn't LOVE "Koyaanisqatsi" or anything, but I went from hating it to being able to tolerate it and finally, I think, understanding it. Give it a shot! You might detest it, but you might walk away with a new mindset, and even if that doesn't happen, I think you'll be mesmerized by what Reggio was able to bring to the screen. It's a very powerful film, just one that didn't really work for me. If you agree with Reggio's message, then the whole film can work like that one, two minute car crash scene in a regular film, where you sit back aghast and in amazement.

RATING: 4/10  Maybe, in time, with some more thought, I can learn to praise this film, but really all I did, for now, was find a way to tolerate it.

MOVIES WATCHED: 564
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 437

October 27, 2012  3:56pm

580. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)


Running Time: 83 minutes
Directed By: Tobe Hooper
Written By: Kim Henkel, Tobe Hooper
Main Cast: Marilyn Burns, Paul A. Partain, Gunnar Hansen, Edwin Neal, Allen Danziger
Click here to view the trailer

FRIGHTFEST 2012: PART 3

Wow, I am just all over the map here with my recent selection of movie choices. Yesterday I reviewed "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" and we go from that to "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre", perhaps the two most polar opposite films in THE BOOK.

Remember kids: You CANNOT dress like this in the confines of a horror movie and expect to see the end credits!
The film begins with a narration from a young (and then unknown) John Larroquette, telling us that the story we're about to see is true and warns us that it won't be pretty. Of course, the story isn't completely true, just loosely based on the Ed Gein murders of the 1950s. The main characters are a group of twenty-somethings, two of which are brother and sister: Sally Hardesty (Burns) and her paraplegic brother Franklin (Partain). They are joined by Jerry (Danziger), Kirk and Pam and are on their way to check on their grandfather's grave following reports of vandalism in the cemetery where he's buried. After they discover that the Hardesty grave is safe and sound, the group head back out on the road, toward an old house that Sally and Franklin's father owns. Along the way they pick up a hitchhiker; a real nutcase who ends up cutting Franklin's arm open with a razor. Eventually the group make it to the old house and when Kirk and Pam decide to find the old watering hole and go for a swim, they wander into some serious trouble. Lost and knowing that the van needs gasoline, Kirk makes his way toward a seemingly occupied farmhouse, in hopes that the residents can help him and the gang out. What he finds is Leatherface (Hansen), a maniacal, brain dead serial killer who wields a chainsaw and has a penchant for collecting body parts. It's obvious that Pam, dressed in slutty short shorts and an obvious piece of sacrificial eye candy, won't last long and that is confirmed when she's hung on a meat hook, while she's still alive. Kirk follows, being dealt with in an even more brutal fashion - carved up with the chainsaw! Now there are only three members of the group left and Leatherface is just warming up.


I have a fairly equal list of pros and cons, so we'll start with the pros and ease into the cons. The film is gritty, low budget and obviously was a pet project for Tobe Hooper, the director and co-writer and that's one of the reasons why I do like it. It's obvious that Hooper cared for this film and took the time to see his vision through to the screen. Looking at his filmography, Hooper peaked early (this was only his second film and with the exception of "Poltergeist", didn't do any other notable films), which makes you wonder if he just never found a project that motivated him as much as "TCSM" did. It's a freaky movie, I'll give it that. I think, at twenty eight years old, I've finally grown out of the period where I get scared by movies. I can remember being a boy and wondering if that day would ever come, the day when I could watch a movie and then make it through a night's sleep without knocking on my mother's bedroom door. Thankfully, my brother didn't show me this until I was a teenager and thankfully we shared a room. The damn thing is just so gritty and low budget that you can't help but be scared by it. I've always said that the scariest films are the ones with no name actors, because if you can identify or place someone in a horror film, then the entire cover is blown. If you dress George Clooney up like a vicious, vampire, serial killing, nutso freak, it isn't going to go over too well because the whole time the audience will be saying, "Oh it's just that nice doctor from E.R.". When you can't identify the principles, then you have no frame of reference and they're just regular people to you, putting on a hell of a show. The make-up here is awesome and Hooper's location choice, an abandoned, decrepit old house is perfect for stirring up some unsettling feelings in the audience.


But is it a "must see"? Sure, it was innovative, had a whirlwind of controversy at the theaters and was a trend setter for horror movies that followed, but at what point do we forget all the accolades and innovation and realize that it's not new anymore, it's not original anymore and now, it's lost some of it's luster? The low budget thing kind of works both ways here, because in a way it's admirable that Hooper was able to make this independent film for less than $300 grand, but the damn thing looks so cheap and amateur that it looks really silly sitting in a book, next to the likes of "Taxi Driver" and "Modern Times". It'd be like sitting Derek Jeter down next to a some little leaguer and saying, "Well yeah this kids only in little league, but he's fast and he can really hit that ball far!" No one would care because he's sitting next to Derek Jeter! Okay, maybe that's a bad analogy, but I don't care and I'm not erasing it!! Anyway, as far as slasher films go, this is the be all, end all and if that's your bag, you can skip all the others because this is the ultimate slasher flick. It's grittier and scarier than any horror film that's been released for the past twenty years (maybe more). However, it is very amateur, so beware. It isn't crisp, clean, well shot, well acted and with a great score. It's balls to the wall gore, horror and gruesome, so if that's your thing, then this is YOUR "Taxi Driver".

RATING: 6/10  It just doesn't happen to be my thing. Fun as hell, but as far as quality goes, it's definitely lacking. Now I'm heading outside to smoke a cigarette...anyone wanna' come with me?

MOVIES WATCHED: 563
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 438

October 27, 2012  3:10am

Friday, October 26, 2012

417. Les Parapluies de Cherbourg/The Umbrellas of Cherbourg (1964)


Running Time: 91 minutes
Directed By: Jacques Demy
Written By: Jacques Demy
Main Cast: Catherine Deneuve, Nino Castelnuovo, Marc Michel, Anne Vernon, Ellen Farner
Click here to view the trailer

TASTE THE RAINBOW

I was halfway through "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" when one of the characters started to talk about a girl named Lola and I said to myself, "I wonder if this film is some sort of sequel to Demy's 1961 film Lola?" Well, it sort of is. But, thankfully it's referred to as an "informal trilogy" and the films do stand on their own merits, so it wasn't essential that they be watched in order. For the interested, there's also a third part to the trilogy called "The Young Girls of Rochefort" and all three films are in THE BOOK.


The actual plot of the film is as simple as it gets, but what makes "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" stand out and what probably gained it entry into the pages of THE BOOK, is the fact that every bit of it's dialogue is sung. Deneuve is seventeen-year-old Genevieve Emery and she's head over heels in love with Guy (Castelnuovo), a twenty-year-old auto mechanic who has mutual feelings for Genevieve.  Genevieve's mother isn't pleased with the union and tells Genevieve that she's acting irrational when she hears her talking about marriage and children. However, this is that kind of "West Side Story" love where no one else's opinion matters but the two in love. The strength of their love makes it all the more difficult when Guy is summoned to attend his two year, mandatory military service. He promises to write and the two have a very emotional goodbye at the train station. The next segment of the film reveals that Genevieve is pregnant with Guy's child and that a family friend, Roland Cassard (Michel) has the hots for Genevieve and wants her hand in marriage. Scared that she'll be an all alone, single mother, Genevieve accepts Cassard's request and marries him, relying on his promise to raise the child as his own. This makes things all the more difficult and emotional during the third and final segment when Guy returns home.


Watching "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is literally like watching a bag of Skittles come to life and sing you song! I've rarely seen a more gorgeous film and the colors here are truly mesmerizing. The shots are crisp, the angles are perfect and even with the volume turned off, this is a stand out picture. In fact, it may even be better with the volume turned off, because to tell you the truth, the music kind of got on my nerves after a while. THE BOOK praises the incessant singing, while I condemn it for holding the movie back and I really could have done with a break in the music and some regular speaking from the characters. Is it possible that the French singing dialogue doesn't come across as well to an English speaking viewer? I mean, I couldn't really sing along with them, because they were singing in a different language and as the words came across the bottom of the screen, I couldn't sing them in my head and had no choice but to simply read them. Therefore, my inner voice was hearing spoken word, while my ears were hearing song and it all got a bit muddled and annoying. It was certainly a great idea and obviously people took to it in droves and I understand that this film's signature is the 100% singing dialogue, but I wasn't crazy about it. I guess I wouldn't be your first choice if you had an extra opera ticket.


The plot was insanely melodramatic and was as simple as pie. Girl falls in love with boy, he leaves, she falls in love with another in his absence, he returns...and beyond that there have been different variations of the climax over the years. I liked the ending here, as it didn't seem to sensationalized and more down to earth. What happens to these characters is what would probably happen to a real world couple who went through this same situation. Deneuve is gorgeous, innocent, pure and perfect as Genevieve and the rest of the cast is just as wonderful and what sports they are for signing on for a film that was entirely sung. Their pipes must have been burning before the the shooting was over and I can't even imagine how many flubbed lines there must've been.

RATING: 6.5/10  Can't go TOO high, but it wasn't bad and it was damn gorgeous to feast your eyes on, so there's that. I'll get to "Lola" and "The Young Girls of Rochefort" someday down the road, but this was currently streaming on YouTube and I wanted to watch it before it disappeared, as there's nowhere else to find it.

MOVIES WATCHED: 562
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 439

October 26, 2012  6:00pm

398. Blonde Cobra (1963)

Running Time: 34 minutes
Directed By: Ken Jacobs
Main Cast: Ken Jacobs, Jack Smith
Click here to view the entire film

"WHAT WENT WRONG?"

That's the final line in the film - "What went wrong?".  It's eerily similar to the question I would be asking Steven Jay Schneider and company, wondering why they'd feel the need to stick a "must see" label on such a waste of time.

I just don't get experimental films guys, that's all there is to it. I started this project to watch MOVIES, you know, the kind that have stories and acting. This has neither of those things and therefore, in my book, doesn't qualify as a movie. Furthermore, if it isn't a movie, it doesn't belong in the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die" book. I'm going to keep this very, very short and sweet. I've voiced my opinions in the past about my disdain for experimental pictures and "Blonde Cobra" falls under the same scrutiny. It stars Jack Smith, another experimental filmmaker and actually the director of the film (Jacobs apparently only edited the film. It was supposedly based on Smith's personal experiences and recollections and directed by him) and is divided up into three parts. For most of the film, we're staring at a black screen, listening to Smith tell stories about his childhood, his neglectful mother and his time at Catholic school. Here are a few "gold" pieces of dialogue you'll hear when/if you watch "Blonde Cobra"...


"Why shave when I can't even think of a reason for living?"

"I burnt the other little boy's penis with a match!"

"If money is the root of all evil, then give me the whole damn tree!"

I might be paraphrasing a couple of those, but you get the gist. It was horrible, awful, a task to get through and something that I will never watch again. Although, I'm a glass half full kind of guy and in trying to find the silver lining, the film did remind me of a song and lead me to watch this clip on YouTube. Now there's a movie!

RATING: 1/10  Did you expect anything else? I realize that wasn't really a review, but more of a bitch-fest, but hey...there was really no reviewing this steaming pile of garbage.

MOVIES WATCHED: 561
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 440

October 26, 2012  3:23am

Thursday, October 25, 2012

638. Dawn of the Dead (1978)


Running Time: 127 minutes
Directed By: George A. Romero
Written By: George A. Romero
Main Cast: David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott Reiniger, Gaylen Ross
Click here to view the trailer

FRIGHTFEST 2012: PART 2

"When there's no more room in hell, the dead will walk the Earth."

Continuing on with "Frightfest 2012", we come to a movie that was introduced to me by my brother, back in the 90s - "Dawn of the Dead". The film takes place following the events of "Night of the Living Dead", a movie that I previously reviewed for this blog, but one that didn't leave a substantial impact on me.


We pick up where we left off in "Night of the Living Dead", with zombies running wild in the streets and we zoom in on Philadelphia and chaos at a local news station. Two staff members at the local station, Stephen (Emge) and his girlfriend Francine (Ross) plan to take a helicopter out of town and look for a more desolate location, where they can lay low. They are joined by two SWAT Team members, Roger (Reiniger) and Peter (Foree) and the foursome take to the skies in the helicopter. When they are in danger of running out of gas, they stop to refill and later land on top of a mall, thinking that it will be a good spot to fend off the undead creatures. Tucked away inside the mall and holed up in a security office, the group take inventory of their supplies and what they'll need to survive. Despite the fact that the mall is teeming with zombies, Peter and Roger decide to make their way into the shopping center and pickup necessary supplies: a television, guns, ammunition, a radio and walkie talkies. Later, Roger and Peter also deem it necessary to block the entrances to the shopping mall so that once they kill all the zombies that are on the inside, they won't have to worry about more coming in. As they're driving large trucks to block the entrances, Roger is bitten by one of the undead. With his inevitable transformation on the horizon, Peter, Stephen and Francine rush to make their mall inhabitable, before Roger becomes one of THEM!

SPOILER ALERT! 


Even though I had a lot of fun with this movie, I'm going to start off the review portion of this post by bitching a little bit, because, lets face it, it's what I do best. Honestly, all in all, I was ultimately a little bit disappointed with "Dawn of the Dead". I had this movie pegged for at least a '9', if not a full blown '10' and after today's viewing I certainly won't be handing out either of those numbers. For starters, the film ran a little on the long side and there was a definite chunk in there that I think we could've done without. The point where the gang of four rid the mall of all the zombies and just begin living life inside the mall gets a little boring because, lets face it, we don't go to zombie movies to see people sitting around, proposing marriage, staging fancy restaurant getaways and playing mall arcade games. We go to zombie movies to see people kick some serious zombie booty and when that isn't happening here, it gets a little tiresome. I also could've done without the biker gang at the end of the movie, as it diverted the attention away from the zombies and focused the threat on other humans, who were mad because they didn't hole up in the mall. I think a better ending would've been just having the zombies find a way into the mall and since there were so many of them building up on the outside all these months, they would've overtaken Peter, Stephen and Francine.


However, I don't want to bash this film too much, because despite the fact that I was disappointed, I still had a blast with it. No one can deny that Romero found his niche when he ventured into the world of undead cinema. It's also interesting to note that I never look at Romero's zombie movies as horror films. Even when I saw this film as a kid, I didn't walk away frightened. Instead, I view them as survival films that just happen to feature intense scenes of gore. The movies, for me, aren't really about zombies, but rather about shit going down and a group of people banding together to survive. This movie is a REALLY easy one to like and even people who aren't really into horror movies should still be able to find something to enjoy here. I mean, come on, who doesn't dream about running rampant through a shopping mall and hunting zombies? I know I do! Also, with my recent viewing of my first set of Jackie Chan pictures and after watching this today, I realized what (one of) my ultimate movie fantasies are: I want to see a zombie movie starring Jackie Chan! I mean, how fucking incredible would that be? It would have to be Jackie Chan in his prime, so to do this I'd need a time machine, but I would watch the shit out of that movie and don't tell me you wouldn't! You'd mix the martial arts, jaw dropping, gravity defying stunts of a Jackie Chan movie with the survivalist nature of a zombie film and you'd have some kick-ass scenes. Can't you just picture Chan roundhouse kicking a zombies head off his shoulders and using set pieces and Buster Keaton like stunts to think of clever ways to decapitate the undead? GOLD!

EDIT: It's also worth noting that this movie was primarily filmed inside Monroeville Mall, a mall very close to Pittsburgh and one that I've never been to, despite it being about an hour or so from where I live.

RATING: 7.5/10  It was between a '7.5' and an '8', so I played it safe and went with the low number. Perhaps come RECAP time, it will go up. We'll continue "Frightfest 2012" in a day or two, with my next installment.

MOVIES WATCHED: 560
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 441

October 25, 2012  7:46pm

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

724. La historia oficial/The Official Story (1985)


Running Time: 112 minutes
Directed By: Luis Puenzo
Written By: Aida Bortnik, Luis Puenzo
Main Cast: Norma Aleandro, Hector Alterio, Analia Castro, Chunchuna Villafane, Hugo Arana

SEARCH FOR TRUTH

Holding off on the horror movies and with nothing else left to review from my "At Home" pile, from Netflix, I had no other option but to turn to their streaming section and select a film. Luckily, they're currently streaming "The Official Story", a movie I already had scheduled for this season.


The film takes place five years after Argentina's Dirty War of the 1970s, a military coup that led to the disappearances of thousands of Argentinian's. In instances where pregnant women were taken, their children were often given up for adoption without their consent, to families that were willing to pay. The film focuses in on Alicia Ibanez (Aleandro), a high school history teacher and her husband Roberto (Alterio), a successful businessman. Alicia and Roberto are also the adoptive parents of Gaby (Castro), a five-year-old girl, whom Alicia starts to suspect is the legitimate child of a victim of "disappearance".  Not able to live with the fact that she took a child that didn't belong to her and through such underhanded means, she starts to question the truth. She suspects that Roberto knows the entire story, but instead of spilling his guts, he constantly tells her to not to concern herself with it.


SPOILER ALERT!

This was a difficult one for me to get through, because, for the most part, absolutely nothing happens and come time for the credits to roll, nothing is solved and no questions are answered. It's another case of a director thinking that the anonymous ending is the artistic way to go - "let the audience decide what happens to Gaby" - when, in this case, it was the annoying way to go. In a film concerned with a mother making a choice - whether or not to find out who Gaby's real parents are and whether or not to return her to them - we should certainly see the ultimate decision and Gaby's ultimate fate. Instead, the film ends with Gaby sitting in a rocking chair, singing a song and we, the audience, never really find out what happens with her or what decisions Alicia makes. And when I say nothing happens...I mean, nothing happens. The film takes about thirty-forty minutes to establish the characters; Alicia is a high school teacher, Roberto is a successful businessman and the family is very wealthy and bourgeois. We see Alicia attend a high school reunion and spend time with an old friend and finally we see Gaby's fifth birthday part, where Alicia starts to have her doubts about Gaby's legitimacy. From there, Alicia spends almost the rest of the film asking questions like, "What if Gaby's real parents are out there?", "What happened with Gaby, who did you pay off, tell me the whole story?" and trying to track down Gaby's real family. There just isn't any progress and the whole film just seems to just sit there, like a bump on a log.


There are a few scenes that made an impact. The scene where the grandmother shows Alicia the four pictures and tells the story of her daughter (perhaps Gaby's real mother) is touching. The end, when Roberto flips out and attacks Alicia is an uncomfortable scene and one that had me taking notice, after just being bored out of my skull. I can't rag on the film THAT much, but suffice it to say that it just wasn't too good and the subject matter just didn't appeal to me. It was far too political and dealt with a piece of history that I had no prior knowledge of and no interest in and therefore, I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy this one.

RATING: 4/10  As we've seen today, you win some, you lose some...that's how this game works. I just find myself constantly hoping that the next one's a winner.

MOVIES WATCHED: 559
MOVIES LEFT TO WATCH: 442

October 24, 2012  7:34pm