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140 reviews in total 
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8 out of 28 people found the following review useful:
At least at the lowest common denominator, we're all equal, 23 October 2014

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

First of all, let's think about the premise of the first juror's "not guilty" vote. First, he claimed that they at least owe it to the boy to talk about it. That quickly turned into him apologizing for violence and denying the concept of personal responsibility upon which the justice system is based; "he probably did it, but he grew up in tough circumstances and we wouldn't understand because we're white so blah blah etc"; then THAT quickly turned into the assumption that the boy didn't commit murder. That's three different positions right there! Interesting how a hunch so quickly turned into an unfounded bias, which so quickly turned into what we're supposed to believe is an an educated, informed opinion. It's almost as if it was just a bias all along.

Well anyway, the rest of the film is of course about the first juror tearing his way through the rest of the ranks of white middle-class suburbia (represented by 11 other men) and teaching them their original sin of privilege all with this wounded tragic facial expression of his. Much wooden dialogue and facial mugging ensues.

The logical, unflappable businessman who's close to last in holding onto his guilty verdict is a cipher; he's the calcified rationale of conservative Amerika without any of the genuine bigotry. That he changed his verdict to innocent, leaving only a racist and a man with intense personal baggage on the opposing side, is meant to tell us that only racism or personal issues could account for continuing skepticism at utter stretches like the boy's knife conveniently falling out of his pocket, or someone else conveniently having the same kind of knife.

That naturalized European immigrant character waxes poetic about democracy at some point, and if anything demonstrates the mob rule of democracy, it's the climax, where the final man--clinging to his guilty vote because of his complexes and projected father-son issues, of course--is stared into submission. The not-guilty voters pretend to expect a rational argument, but they don't really want or expect one. Their stares are full of piety, it's meant as a "baptism" for the man's white, privileged soul. He sticks to his story, states the facts, and the thinly veiled intimidation continues before he breaks down and is "saved" by his own conscience (an excuse for the filmmakers to avoid fessing up to the fact that if he hadn't compromised, they'd have to brute force him into it, meaning the case would be decided not through the judgement of each juror, but through pressure and coercion).

So the immediate bias against the child was, through a litany of sanctimonious white guilt/class guilt scenery-chewing, turned into bias FOR the child--but nevermind that, that particular bias FEELS better, and if anything matters, it's feelings. Not logic or common sense or justice.

Oh boy, and then there's that old bigot character. He's transparent in his prejudices, but he falls back on "I even have some (insert minority here) friends who are actually pretty good people! So I'm not REALLY racist!" That trope is still popular with leftists today, because it gives them a way to discredit someone whose unpopular or conservative opinion is not in fact based on prejudice; they can claim the lady doth protest too much and then the opposition has no recourse, because even talking about facts and statistics is assumed to be racially loaded. (Nevermind the fact that race and culture aren't the same thing, and that discouraging critical discourse about tangible attitudes and trends within a minority culture for the sake of racial sensitivity is a kind of racism in itself.)

Anyway, when all the jurors started turning their backs in a display of solidarity against his bigotry, I couldn't help it, I laughed my ass off. It's so wooden, obvious and pandering. You know it was an excuse for the entire audience full middle class white people to air out their guilt and cheer--"truly, WE ARE the enlightened ones!" We all know that the boy did it. Any viewer who had been paying attention knows the boy did it; but to the audience in general, "a hispanic boy murdering his father" is a murky abstraction and an excuse to repent for the sin of being white. No wonder the babyboomers elevated this film into the pantheon.

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
one of the funniest movies of all time, 31 December 2013

After the washed up kung-fu star Jimmy Wang Yu was effectively exiled to Taiwan and became something like the Ed Wood of martial arts cinema, he confused a lot of people by borrowing relatively "classy" intellectual property he was formerly involved with for his newer exploitation films, so let's be clear: this movie doesn't have much relation to his starring role in The Chinese Boxer, an old prototypical basher that inspired Bruce Lee. This is more or less the slightly crazier sister film to Master of the Flying Guillotine. I'm not sure if this was made before or after, but it was obviously around the same time period, sharing many props, actors and ideas; there's even a 12 minute tournament flashback with almost no relevance to the plot, but it's cool! Hell, it even "feels" more like a tournament than the one in Master of the Flying Guillotine, because you see these weird proto-fighting game characters recurring and advancing up the ladder. That's pretty much the theme of this movie: pointless, but cool.

So the only somewhat comprehensible plot concerns a bunch of ninjas trying to gain favor with some Chinese generals to help them secretly take over "Chiner" (as the fantastic dubbed voices pronounce it). I forgot the rest, but it's all just an excuse for Jimmy Wang Yu to travel the countryside beating up ninjas, evil monks, muay thai kickboxers and kung-fu zombies. Yes, it IS as awesome as it sounds. The choreography is just typical punch-block mid 70s stuff, although it gets pretty good whenever weapons are involved. Good's not really the point, though. Jimmy Wang Yu wasn't much of a fighter, but as the director of the film, he had the power of editing and special effects on his side, which he used to suggest godlike skill; he runs up walls, balances on the tips of pointy weapons, has perfect accuracy with throwing knives, pops peanuts into his mouth by bouncing them off the table, and is generally portrayed as the most awesome, invincible guy in the world (which doesn't buck any trends with this guy's movies). It's sort of a fascinating character portrait of the actual man, whose personality apparently didn't earn him a single friend in the business back then. To give you an idea of the film's tone, Wang Yu impales a guy by throwing a turnip in the first 10 minutes.

Anyway, overpowered protagonists are usually a recipe for boredom, but there wouldn't be much tension regardless. It's not about the plot, it's about the kaleidoscope of cheese, violence, clichés, absurd editing decisions, hilarious amateurish wirework and ridiculous characters with names like "rabbit fist." The final fight is especially memorable, featuring an inexplicable army of creepy Jimmy Wang Yu scarecrows and dozens of pigeons flying in the actors' faces (before John Woo!).

This isn't a conventionally good movie, but it is AWESOME, so it gets a full 10 from me. Do you understand the distinction? 2001: A Space Odyssey is good, but Robocop is AWESOME. This movie's awesomeness is unrivaled.

the manliest film ever made, 8 December 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

This is the manliest film of all time. This movie's so manly it turned me gay, and then it turned me straight again. To give you an idea, ends with a really annoying character getting hit in the head with a brick, but not slapstick; played for relief, more than for laughs. I'll take that over a thousand Bergmans. There's a place for deconstruction and moral ambiguity, but there's also a place for simple values and camaraderie and someone getting hit in the head with a brick if they deserve it. They'll never make action movies like this again. One of the 10 best movies ever made. This review needs another line to be posted, I think the manly thing to do is to just throw in this useless sentence.

Fair documentary on the original gypsy mofo, 13 September 2013

I'd like to offer my two cents on the character and person captured in Hated, as chances are you're watching for G.G. rather than the filmmaking. While thoroughly unpopular (a clear success according to the man's persona), the fact is people still talk about him in a way that nobody talks about deconstructive figures like, say, David Bowie--or Bowie and G.G.'s watered down corporate lovechild Marilyn Manson, for that matter. Depending on who you ask he was either an overcompensating inbred mongoloid, a transgressive performance artist, an overgrown child lashing out, a martyr, or the last real rebel in rock music. Like it or not, this confusion points to a very real depth in his proudly idiotic and id- obsessed body of work.

One thing is for sure: he was the logical conclusion of the genre, a frankenstein-like simulcram whose performance was an exaggeration of debauchery Led Zeppelin and The Stones could only allude to or engage in behind the scenes. (And frankly, if you like bands like that now that they're cute household names and dismiss G.G. for his immorality, you're a hypocrite.) You can almost imagine a switch flicking in Allin's mind when he realized Iggy Pop isn't as dangerous as he seems, and that he could do better. But it was one of those "careful what you wish for" things; the "act" slowly became the real man and trudged right down to hell.

Despite its boneheaded nature, it was a slow-cooked schtick, which made it interesting; by the 90s the man was simultaneously a grotesque parody of macho camp and feminine wiles, and there was something endearing about his blank neanderthal face, at times showing glimmers of confusion at his own conduct. He exaggerated his own aggression for hardcore cred: he might've kicked somebody in the face or shoved his clitoral-esque knob in some unexpecting girl's face, but he wouldn't just target one victim for a prolonged period of time. You'd become part of his "art" for a few seconds and he'd move on. That may not make it any less problematic, but his motives weren't predatory; G.G.'s shows were as communal as they were self-flagellating, and certainly more than a little cult- like/religious.

So, I suggest disregarding the minor intellects who think such a man isn't worth remembering, and while you're at it, don't overlook his music. It's some of the most honest music put to tape. As for the documentary, it's convenient because it stashes all his best (read: worst) footage in one place, and is only let down by the mumbling sadsack hipster narrator. It's still worth the price of admission for the incredibly funny audio commentary by Merle and Dino, the only two guys left who "were there," who've earned the right to banter over the doc like it's MST3K.

Paprika (2006)
2 out of 8 people found the following review useful:
Gutless, like lying about sniffing pixie sticks as a kid, 18 August 2013

Why is it that movies about dreams totally fail at feeling dreamlike? I don't know about you, but my dreams aren't just a hodgepodge of surreal setpieces--capturing the feel of a dream is about subtly sustaining a mood. Plenty of movies accomplish it without even trying, but then a movie like Paprika comes along and makes that its mission statement, only to disappoint in every way. It's disheartening.

Although I won't hold it against the film, its marketing does it a great disservice. They tried to sell it as a crazy technicolor smear of pop culture absurdism like Excel Saga or FLCL or something, invoking that tired "Japan is WEIRD!" meme, but instead it's a dreary little psychological drama that uses fourth wall-breaking as a diversion from a plot so aggressively contrived and banal that it supports my theory Satoshi Kon genuinely resented his audience. We have a tragic-backstory detective guy who constantly expresses distaste for something later revealed to have once been his passion (but not anymore due to tragic backstory reasons!), lots of fake science (in other words, overly justified plot devices), and even a secret twist ending bad guy who explains his motivations with one of those bad guy monologues.

Of course The Line Between Dreams and Reality is Blurred, so we get obligatory little moments where a character "wakes up" only to realize they're still dreaming, stuff like that, but something is just lacking. Madhouse's rather drab animation is a big offender, superficially lively during the crowd-pleaser parts, but somehow flat and overreliant on digital effects throughout. Ultimately it doesn't really look much better than your average animated TV show, and Kon's art design is an offputting compromise that straddles the line between big-headed Miyazaki-esque cartoonishness and bargain bin adult swim "realistic" anime. Even the acclaimed soundtrack grates: the theme song is some kind of grotesque new age techno that somehow SOUNDS feminist. It's hard to explain, it's like someone told the composer "write a disgusting Eurovision song with vocals that emphasize womynkind's majestic Gaia roar!" and this warbling contralto abomination was born.

Trust me, I WANT to like anything with the phrase "dream terrorists" in the plot summary, but this is pretty much the worst possible execution of something that sounds so cool on paper. It's better than Inception, but making a more interesting movie than Hollywood is like winning the Special Olympics.

2 out of 2 people found the following review useful:
Production time: 18 fatal hours, 5 August 2013

So today, I'm putting pixels on the internet about this obscure kung-fu movie from 1978. This one is pretty much a testament to that year being something of a golden year for the genre--randomly choose a movie made then and it will deliver in some way or another. If this one's notable for anything, it's its two stars: the kid Bruce Lee smacked in the head at the beginning of Enter the Dragon, and DEAN SHEK in a non-weasel role. You know, that skinny hunchback guy with the fake hair mole in Drunken Master who was identically casted in a million other movies. They play brothers (although with his pointy, bulbous features, Shek couldn't any less resemble the other guy), they undergo the tutelage of a Shaolin rebel, there's an evil white haired guy after them, stuff happens, yadda yadda training and revenge. Shek is as difficult to watch as ever, but the kid Bruce Lee smacked has surprising screen presence.

Unlike a lot of independent MA flicks, this one really shines from a filmmaking perspective. The camera isn't just a passive spectator; some dynamic angles give a sense of energy to even the weakest choreograpy. Which is good, because the fight scenes are very hit & miss--the early comedic fights are just plain bad with weak non-strikes, flabby kicks, actors aiming nowhere near their opponents, etc. However, near the second half, there's an incredible upward turn: the choreo finally finds a sense of force, some cool shapes are applied, and it becomes much more spacially interesting; what happens when actors are getting up, falling down, landing on their backs, knees, and so forth isn't just treated as a transition between stationary striking, it's fluid, worked into the flow of things.

The thing most people remember about this movie is the ultra-camp villain, a white haired babyfaced practitioner of "shakey eagle style" who wiggles his limbs around with exaggerated flapping sounds as he makes high pitched "weeeee aaaa woooo" Bruce Lee noises. At one point he slides along the ground on his belly, mechanically striking with his claws as he slides, slicing grass like a human lawnmower. An overlooked goofy antagonist who can stand up to the villains in Born Invincible and Master of the Flying Guillotine in terms of sheer ridiculousness.

Flaws? Flaws! Flaws in an old kung-fu movie? No. The conveyor belt production shows: the two main characters get an unusual amount of characterization, but everyone else gets none. The film makes a big deal out of one character's tragic (sorta?) death despite the fact they get less than two minutes of screen time altogether! The title of the movie is also mysterious: the protagonist overcomes the odds only knowing six (or some low number) of the eponymous 18 strikes. His obligatory training is never really applied to the final fight, and he relies on some sneaky traps. Oh well.

As a bonus, the crew seemed to wait for really nice days to film. It's one of those kung-fu movies where characters are saying stuff like "huh! You are going to die now!" on a bright, sunny afternoon with happy cotton candy clouds floating around in the sky. There's one scene near the end where the villain's trash-talking in a field while hundreds of dragonflies are buzzing around him, it's pretty cool. Stuff like that can make the cheapest movies ever look amazing.

a victim of groupthink, 5 August 2013

*** This review may contain spoilers ***

Poor Lo Wei. He was a more interesting MA director than about 90% of the people out there pointing cameras at guys punching each other in front of bushes, but after he lost Bruce Lee, the planets just aligned against him. Now he's lucky if people remember him as "that guy Jackie Chan doesn't like." It doesn't help that he was trying to figure out how to use Jackie, who yet hadn't found his bumbling naive stunt guy niche, and now of course every old Jackie flick in the vault is marketed as just that, inevitably disappointing blind purchasers. None of the arguments against Wei really hold water; his movies are low budget and quickly made? So is every other old kung-fu movie. They're cheesy? That's like calling a metal band cheesy--that's half the appeal.

Truth is, with Killer Meteors and this movie, he found a totally unique vibe that you can't get anywhere else: sort of a marriage of opulent period wuxias and chop-socky indie kung-fu that takes itself totally seriously, yet piles on delirious amounts of camp--trashy and classy at the same time. On one hand, the plot is well paced and mostly well handled, some of the cinematography is out of this world, and it's stylistically dreamy, with a constant red/green motif. It accomplishes this without cheap contrast tricks: red and green fireworks. Red charms and outfits, green walls and wind chimes. Red masks, green weapons. Pinkish red fire, green wilderness. You start to doze off and it becomes a weird little ballet of colors.

On the other hand, this movie is coocoo for coco puffs. In the first few minutes you see Jackie Chan slapping his girl around, secretly trying to get her to run away because he knows "the killer bee clan" is about to attack. They throw little anthropomorphic bee darts, wear flower masks and wield giant matchsticks for some reason. Their queen develops feelings for Jackie, and over the course of the movie she stalks him to "watch him suffer" and generally cause trouble. By the time she comes to terms with her feelings, she kidnaps him, forces him to swallow large burning rocks (I don't think they're digestible!), mutilates half his face and forces him to drink her blood. Whether it meant to or not, this movie totally nailed the psycho goth girlfriend experience. Also of note is a bad guy gang with some of the stupidest weapons ever: oversized dull looking mini-axes that shoot chains, bristled toilet cleaner rod things, and a midget-sized ogre head replica club.

Surprisingly, the action is pretty good. What it lacks in finesse it makes up for in fanciful little moments like characters landing on each other's feet, avoiding punches by drifting like a feather, and Jackie Chan punching a guy through a ceiling, then throwing a sword through his torso when he sees him falling outside the window. There's always a little beat around the corner that makes you go "what???"

Admittedly things fall apart at the end with a ridiculous conspiratorial twist that pokes the plot full of holes, but by then you're not taking the movie seriously anyway, I hope. A fun dumb film that, along with Killer Meteors, is a victim of people approaching it from the context of the Jackie Chan brand name.

0 out of 1 people found the following review useful:
One of the better Sonny Chiba flicks that isn't The Street Fighter, 29 July 2013

Well, Chiba's not the main character though, so a lot of people ignore it. Unlike a lot of Japanese karate movies, The Dragon Princess takes massive influence from the Hong Kong kung-fu stuff was popular around the same time, which highlights the disparity between the two countries in terms of craftsmanship. For no apparent reason, the opening death duel takes place in a windy cobweb-encrusted abandoned church ostensibly in the middle of some ghost town, with leaves blowing in through the flapping wooden doors. There's an almost psychedelic playfulness with color throughout the movie, and details like breakaway props are handled very well--unlike the Chinese stuff, there was a lot of attention payed to making this film "look cinematic." With that said, there is a simple training/revenge story arc, and emphasis is on the rural rather than the urban, but 70s fashion, funky porn guitars and un-stylized, dirty shakeycam combat are always there to remind you it's a karate movie.

The cool thing about Su Shiomi is that like Sonny Chiba, she was designed to play the same role every time. She's endearing; her face tells you everything you need to know about her character. Which is great, because the plot is horrible! It's hard to tell whether some aspects are plot holes or just weird little moral irregularities. Like, early on the main villain spares Sonny Chiba's life (he only wants to raise his position, so Chiba leaving town is good enough), and so Chiba hobbles out and catches a plane to New York for the next decade. Even though he's very much alive, he STILL puts his daughter through a grueling training regiment during her childhood for the sole purpose of revenge. "Avenge my non-lethal injury and minor inconvenience!" Anyway, the story isn't important. There's supposed to be something about a tournament, but it's just an excuse to toss in some neat "around the world" setpieces as the villain's gimmicky miniboss team travels to Cuba and South America attempting to kill high level contestants.

By the way, the bad guy's played by a test tube clone of Han from Enter the Dragon (probably). He's pretty believable with his nervous/amused facial tics and generally amicable, businesslike approach to villainy.

The most common grindhouse version of the film that's floating around may be cut, at a brisk 79 minutes (including a badly spliced in 70s sex scene that's not even from this movie), but it doesn't seem as if anything important is missing.

2 out of 6 people found the following review useful:
really funny, A+, 27 July 2013

Hi, today I'm reviewing my favorite show ever, The Boondocks. It reminds me of how Dave Chappelle said the N-word a lot, but this show's characters articulate it weirdly ("nyooogaah") so they can say it even more, so you know it's not afraid to "go there!" Also, it looks like a anime!

The family is really mismatched ha ha. One little kid thinks he's a gangsta, but he's actually not yet, because he's just a little kid. His wacky grandfather beats him sometimes. The little afro kid is intellectual. Like his brother he promotes violence, but he promotes "black revolutionary violence" not rap gangsta violence which makes him intellectual and stuff. He insults white people which is kewl because white people have "white privolege," which makes them racist and bad. Racism is bad. He also quotes Kahlil Gibran sometimes, who was a smart brown person from Egypt. What a mismatched family...!

There's also a fat guy with a lazy eye called Uncle Ruckus who's an uncle tom. That means he has opinions that make him a bad, uncertified black person. He doesn't know that he's being kept down by the white system and hegememony. As we all know, it is impossible for a white person to be poor and a black person to be rich.

This show has lots of elements of "magic realisticism." Like one time, prof. Martin Luther King comes back from the dead and nobody questions it! He sees things he doesn't like about the black community that Uncle Ruckus agrees with in other episodes. Also that painter who paints "happy trees" on TV (Ross Perot) has a gun and gets in a police chase, which is random and wacky so it's instantly funny!

2 out of 3 people found the following review useful:
When movies were movies, and Romero was sane, 25 July 2013

Do sequels get anymore far removed from the first movie than this? Night of the Living Dead took 60s monster movie conventions to the most grotesque, realistic level possible, and in the process seemed to defy everything the era stood for. It was a stark, punishing STATEMENT of a film that was more endured than enjoyed. A decade later found Romero more at home: saturated and loaded with comic book cheese, Dawn of the Dead giddily embodies everything about the 70s.

Like Night, it's a very mean, confrontational, dark film, but it's also FUN. Somehow, those two extremes simultaneously balance each other out (making the film deceptively accessible) and emphasize each other (making it incredibly shocking). Dawn is from an era when movies had a lot more dimension and ambiguity than they do now; two people could see it and tell you something totally different if you ask them what it was like, because they were both occupying their own little spaces in the movie. Maybe it was pulpy anarchistic exploitation film riding high on post-hippie nihilism, full of fuzzy bubbling analogue synth music and gratuitous violence. Maybe it was a claustrophobic, slow-burning horror movie that pokes at the concept of mortality to give an existential element to the danger. Maybe it's heavyhanded social commentary on consumerism and materialism. Really, it's all of these things wrapped together like one of those Christmas candycanes. Compare that to people's reaction to the regrettable 2004 remake: "UMM... It's like Saw with zombies... I liked the part where the chainsaw went through that girls' boobs. It was pretty good I guess." Did you know Zack Snyder murdered the American spirit?

This is the first horror movie I ever saw and it left permanent imprints on my brain. I made my little brother cry by putting this VHS in when I was younger, and I'll make my kids see it too.

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