Reviews written by registered user
|280 reviews in total|
Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer: 6 out of 10: I had no idea who
Anita O'Day was when I rented this film. I like Jazz well enough and
enjoy having it as background music, but I am hardly what one describes
as an aficionado.
Since viewing this film, I have watched the wonderful documentary "Jazz on a Summer's Day" and have downloaded some fine Anita O'Day jazz albums.
Therefore, from one point of view, the documentary is a stunning success. It got me interested enough in its subject, for me to take actions after viewing.
The film however suffers from uneven interviews and presentation. Film quality is all over the map and some of O'Day's last interviews were clearly filmed by folks unfamiliar with the workings of a motion picture camera.
Even more disappointing is the poor sound quality of many of the musical tracks and the lack of sampling from her albums.
You know if you have a 16-year heroin addiction and four failed marriages and you still manage to live until 87 despite grinding poverty and botched healthcare, you are the definition one tough bird. Unfortunately that also signifies most of your contemporaries are long dead. Many of the war stories as a result, tend to be second hand at best.
The film does contain one wonderful non-musical highlight. In a mid-seventies interview a young Bryant Gumbel states to O'Day "Your life story involves rape, failed relationships, drugs, and multiple abortions". O'Day's that is just they way it went down response is priceless.
Anita O'Day: The Life of a Jazz Singer is a decent film but I would recommend renting Jazz on a Summer's Day first. That concert seems to capture the magic better than anything else I have seen.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Bride of Frankenstein: 8 out of 10: Bill Condon's Gods and Monsters
certainly has made a viewing of the Bride of Frankenstein de-rigueur in
certain intellectual (read gay) circles.
While there is undoubtly some homosexual subtext in Bride, and one definitely is hard pressed to find a campier villain than Ernest Thesige's Dr. Pretorius, the reality is this is simply one of the best films of the 1930's even without the revisionist, gay old time slant.
James Whale has created a tight, must see movie that cemented Boris Karloff's well deserved stardom. It also introduced special effects that are shocking for the early thirties and are still impressive today, Dr. Pretorius's Homunculi in particular.
The picture is quite theatrical with great indoor sets used to great effect. I can see the influence on everything from Dark City to the Matrix.
As must see for film fans and amateur historians alike, The Bride of Frankenstein comes highly recommended.
My Bloody Valentine (1981): 5 out of 10: Apparently, if you repeat the
mantra “this was a classic cult horror film”, people may begin to
believe you. In particular, if they are young people, who were not yet
born when this movie came out in 1981, and they are starring in the 3-d
remake coming out in 2009.
My Bloody Valentine is a remake (rip-off) of sorts as well. In fact, it is almost plot point for plot point a remake of Halloween. Same escaped mental patient killer as Halloween, same holiday theme as well. They do downshift the social status of the victims by replacing an Illinois suburb with a Canadian mining town, but other than that, it is a very similar film.
My Bloody Valentine found itself In competition with such films as Mother’s Day and April Fools Day, (One can be thankful that Martin Luther King Jr.’s Birthday was not a nationally recognized holiday in the early eighties. One shudders to imagine that holiday themed slasher film.) The film is famous in some circles for getting all of its gore cut out by the ratings board. Combined with a complete (and surprising, considering the actresses and subject matter) lack of nudity, filmgoers in the early eighties could easily have wondered how the film got an R rating at all.
Fortunately, a rerelease of the 1981 film on DVD to coincide with the theatrical 3-d remake reinserts the lost footage. Unfortunately, they did not spend the extra money to remaster said footage so it fits in with the rest of the film. As a result, we get a strange spaghetti vision every time a gore scene starts. Despite this, it is an improvement on the original theatrical cut. No amount of edits could solve the fundamental script problems the film suffers from (even by genre standards); and the lackluster killer the movie is saddled with.
Overall My Bloody Valentine is a watchable slasher film, especially for those who like the early eighties slasher classics. It could have used more gore and nudity and a much better plot. Something its 3-d remake delivers in spades.
"National Geographic Explorer" Inside Guantanamo Bay: 6 out of 10:
National Geographic was given access to all but one of the various
prisons at the Guantanamo naval base on the island nation of Cuba. The
base holds prisoners captured while fighting the war on terror; and was
used to house said prisoners without those pesky habeas corpus rulings
or Geneva Convention rights. (The idea was that the base is in Cuba so
it did not count as constitutional territory like a regular military
base or embassy would; out of bounds if you will. Yes, an adult thought
this up; why do you ask?) Well, needless to say, you do not have to be
a flaming liberal to see how holding prisoners indefinitely without
charge or redress is a bad idea. The Supreme Court promptly slapped the
Bush administration into next Tuesday; and politicians of all stripes
quickly began defending themselves against Americans who had previously
read that pesky Constitution. The Obama administration has quickly
moved to close the jail, and therefore this chapter in American
history. The jail at Guantanamo will go down with Prohibition and the
55-mile an hour speed limit as one of those what were they thinking
moments All of which makes a good chunk of Inside Guantanamo Bay mute.
What we are left with is a military version of MSNBC’s Lockup. In fact,
Guantanamo so resembles a regular prison in America, one really wonders
why the most of the prisoners cannot be moved to say Leavenworth or
Pelican Bay. A few things I did learn from the hour and a half
documentary. The prison “guards” are just kids and woefully
undertrained. Don’t be a dick seems a good rule of thumb. Female civil
rights lawyers are sexy. Cuba has some big lizards. I have George W
Bush fatigue. (I found myself cringing when they showed his clips.)
Overall, more of an interesting historical novelty rather than a cutting edge documentary. Guantanamo is certainly no Abu Ghraib and the sailors, for the most part, have nothing to be ashamed off in the way they conducted themselves. As for the politicians on both sides of the aisle? Well they should have known better.
Freezer Burn: 7 out of 10: A low budget charmer is the best way to
describe Freezer Burn. It has some pretty good naturalistic
performances as well as some pretty funny writing.
It isn’t perfect by any means and some parts, in particular the ending, fall a little flat. It is also a low budget movie, with all the limitations that come with that. If you can look past the lack of polish, there are some very fun and entertaining bits in here.
Ella Rae Peck gives a charming, and most importantly believable, performance as the objet d'underage de passion. Her smile brightens up the screen. (Great now I sound like the protagonist). She is however a realistic character and not some fantasy or tragic Hollywood concoction.
Michael Consiglio gives the other standout performance as the wheelchair bound lab assistant. He reminds me of Nicholas Brendon (Xander) on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He has that great ability to turn a silly throwaway line into something genuinely funny.
Overall, I had a fun time. The film has a great tone. Kind of silly but also surprisingly realistic compared to a more polished Hollywood film. I certainly recommended it for both Sci-fi and low budget fans.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Valkyrie: 6 out of 10: Roger Ebert pointed out a fundamental problem
with Valkerie in his 1975 review of The Hindenburg. “How can you thrill
people with the saga of a dirigible floating across the Atlantic Ocean?
We know it is going to blow up over Lakehurst, N.J.; but we also know,
alas, that it's not going to blow up before then.” The story of
Valkyrie makes for a kick ass documentary. It is a fascinating tale; a
great map of what ifs and almost happened(s). It is not however major
motion picture material. In fact, I recently read a review of that Jews
in the forest movie, Defiance, that Valkerie shared the theater with
last December. The Defiance article perceptively pointed out that the
story of people not being found by Nazis does not, by itself, naturally
lend itself to a good film treatment. Needless to say, the story of
people (SPOILER ALERT) not blowing up Hitler also runs into this same
Now, not all films that have a forgone historical conclusion need to fall into this trap. Titanic, for example, hits the iceberg fairly quickly and a successfully shoehorned a love triangle to give the audience a reason to pay attention. (Lightning did not strike twice as Pearl Harbor tried the exact same trick to much derision.) Titanic is but one example, Apollo 13 made us care about the characters to the point that we forgot that everything would work out. More importantly, Apollo 13 was about more than just a retread of what happened. Too often Valkerie comes across as a strange documentary where all the Nazi’s are British. While the story is fascinating on its own right, we do not go to the movies just to be shown what happened. We want to feel for the characters as well.
Tom Cruise took a lot of flak for making Valkerie. It overall was undeserved. Though his performance failed to reach the audience emotionally, one could hardly place the entire fault at Cruise’s doorstep. The script really did not give him much to do. Valkyrie is a strange this happened then that happened story with little emotional reflection. In fact, both Kenneth Branagh and Bill Nighly seem more out of place in the film than Cruise. (In addition, why exactly again, outside of Cruise, are all the Nazis British? Wouldn’t that be like a Japanese cast playing Chinese peasants in a Rape of Nanking drama.) Speaking of British Nazis, Britain’s 2007 Equality legislation may have been in the filmmaker’s mind as they shoehorned poor Carice van Houten in as Cruise’s wife and basically the only woman in the cast. She sticks out. For one thing, she does not even look British and speaks with a weird continental accent. Oh and the script drops her as a character just when it would be useful to give us a reason to care about the (SPOILER ALERT) Germans failure to kill Hitler.
Speaking of (SPOILER ALERT) not killing Hitler; one thing the movie neglects to mention is where were tall these Good German officers when Germany was winning the war. After all, it was only after the successful Normandy invasion and the collapse of the eastern front that Hitler all of a sudden needed to be killed. Where were these folks when the German army was marching through Paris and at the gates of Moscow? Yeah that is what I thought. It is somewhat hard to make a movie when the “good guys” come across as opportunistic scum.
Overall Valkerie is a well-made movie with a predictable and emotionless story. It is hard to root for traitors (no matter how noble) and the movie gives one little emotional reason to do so outside of the obvious fact that they are trying to (SPOILER ALERT) kill Hitler.
Direct Contact: 6 out of 10: This is one of the most action packed
movies I have ever seen. Keep in mind the action is not always good and
the script certainly writes checks that the budget cannot cash. In
addition, Dolph Lundgren gives the best performance in the film…
However, one cannot deny that compare to those bloated (in more than
one-way mind you) Segal films like Driven to Kill; this is a fit, fast
and fun ride.
Dolph starts the film in an eastern European prison but is released to rescue an American girl from a concentration camp located just east of a World War 2 film. (Direct Contact takes place in modern times but both the camp commander, and the camp victims, would not be out of place in Schindler's List as done by Full Moon Productions.) Bashar Rahal plays camp commandant General Drago with such a silly vigor, that when he shoots children in the head you just cannot help but laugh. Not to mention the fact that any character with the name General Drago belongs in a film with either Lightsabers or Dragons, not Fiddler on the Roof extras being mowed down by machine guns.
Gina May plays the American girl, whom is much easier on the eyes than she is the ears. Her acting could have been improved with more nudity and less dialogue: much less dialogue. The rest of the cast is Michael Pare, random Bulgarians or James Chalke who gives the kind of horrible performance that makes one wonder if he financed the entire film.
Now back to the reason to watch the film: the action. Dolph is in good shape and makes a surprisingly agile action star. Moreover, even though Bulgaria has no native word for continuity, it is a country that, for a couple of bucks, you can drive tanks through buildings downtown like some sort of Goldeneye road show.
Overall, I enjoyed the film more than I should have. Lord knows it could have been better. However, as the good lord above also knows, it could have been a lot worse. Direct Contact may commit countless cinematic sins but it is never less than entertaining.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Devil’s Tomb: 4 out of 10: Not since “Killer Flood: The Day the Dam
Broke” has a movie’s title rendered about eighty percent of the plot
development mute. Dumbass spoiler alert… Hey, the mysterious
underground archaeological site turns out to be a tomb. Whose tomb you
ask? (IN MY BEST CHURCH LADY VOICE) “Could it be Satan???”.
Okay so it is a remake of Prince of Darkness, but with the Space Marines from Aliens after a tragic mass lobotomization. Look, I realize that not every American soldier is a fully-fledged genius; but how any of these thunderheads managed to make it through basic, without throwing the pin, is anyone’s guess. (When you pull a pin on a grenade, you theoretically have a choice to throw one of two things. Most people choose the grenade part.) The script is to blame. Since the soldiers simply are not believable, the rest of the film falls apart; (Not that the script improves all that much when the mumbo-jumbo starts.) This is a shame because the acting is game. Now when you have Cuba Gooding Jr., Ray Winstone, Ron Perlman and even Taryn Manning (who really surprised me with a fun performance.); you are going to have decent acting. Throw in a fun Henry Rollins as a priest bit and an over the top performance by Bill Moseley and you have one of the best-acted B movies this year. Only Franky G drops the ball, in an horribly written role, as the dumb muscle.
The direction is by Jason Connery, best known* as Bennington in the TV Series "Mary-Kate and Ashley in Action!”. The direction is serviceable, though he really needed a military adviser on set; or, at the very least, someone who has played paintball. The actors did not seem to know what to do with their rifles and kept pointing them at each other. In addition, if you are firing a kill shot you want to line it up AWAY from the hostage.
Special effects and other items are okay. Heck there is even a lesbian subplot that threatens to make the movie interesting (Though the script drops the ball on that as well.) If you can get through the first twenty minutes without your eyes rolling out of your head, The Devil’s Tomb turns into a collection of interesting performances looking for a purpose. And figuring out who is buried in the Devil’s tomb will not keep most people entertained. (And no it isn’t Ulysses S Grant).
*He is the son of Scottish actor Sean Connery who played the old Spaniard in the Highlander movies during the Eighties.
Defiance: 4 out of 10: I have a soft spot for director Edward Zwick. I
have a real soft spot for his Blood Diamond flick despite its
pedestrian script and subconscious racism. In addition, The Last
Samurai is another film of his that I loved despite its historical
inaccuracies and bizarre lead casting. Defiance shares many of the same
endemic faults that plagued those two films. I was not able to brush
the faults off this time; I found them even more discordant as the film
Problem number one is Daniel Craig. He does not look like an Eastern Polish Jew. He looks like he misplaced his Oberstleutnant uniform at the Wehrmacht’s cleaners. Even if you were able to accept Daniel Craig as some sort of Paul Newman style Jew who parachuted into Eastern Europe, only Helen Keller would buy him as Lev Schreiber’s brother. A mutant dancing Australian is a more believable brother for Schreiber than Craig is.
In fact, Craig and Schreiber seem to be in two different films and Schreiber is in the much better one. Schreiber seems to be in the here and now with a strong subtle performance that is the best thing in the film. Daniel Craig’s performance is as shaky as his accent. He, of course, is forced to do things like give Braveheart speeches from the back of a white horse, so the fault is hardly his alone. And saying platitudes such as “Our vengeance is to live" and "Every day of freedom is like an act of faith" while gazing at the camera with those, just give me an Oscar and I will go back to entertaining you, baby blues doesn't help his cause either.
Problem number Two is best summarized by one of my favorite ladies I don't think we really need another film about the Holocaust, do we? It is like, how many have there been, you know. We get it. It was grim. Move on. No, I am doing it because I have noticed that if you do a film about the Holocaust you are guaranteed an Oscar ... That is why I am doing it. Schindler's bloody List. The Pianist. Oscars coming out of their arse.
— Kate Winslet (Winner of the 2008 Best Actress Oscar for Holocaust drama The Reader) in Extras, 2005
Defiance is clearly Oscar bait. In one scene Daniel “Moses” Craig leads his people through the reeds and swamps and away from the forest (and inexplicably away from decent cover and fortifications) until a Rabbi collapses, sputters out "I almost lost my faith but you were sent by God to save us” and then promptly dies... oy vey. It really is not that easy to make a mainstream Holocaust film, release it in December, and get no nominations* for Golden Globes or Oscars. Defiance is clearly trying too hard.
The third problem is that a third rate cast of Fiddler on the Roof somehow showed up lost in the woods. Somebody call the Jewish stereotype prison, cause there has been a mass escape. Everyone is here. The nebbish intellectual who cannot hammer a nail, the passive Jews who are unwilling to fight, the greedy Jew more interested in money than his fellow man. Good lord, it is as if Leni Reisenthal’s travelling troop of stereotypes showed up. Thank goodness, Daniel Craig is here to straighten them all out and lead them to the Promised Land. Yup blond blue eyed Daniel Craig…. Yeah the movie has issues.
*No nominations except, inexplicably, for its score; which at two hours of crying violins will test any ones nerves.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Nicotina: 5 out of 10: Nicotina represents a black comedy tradition
that has been alive and well in Mexico for over fifty years. Death is
around every corner and it is a punch line to boot. All the men are
womanizers and many of the women are no better. Director Hugo Rodríguez
and Writer Martín Salinas took this beloved tradition and married it to
its distant cousin, the Quentin Tarantino crime film.
It is a decent fit. The basic plot is that a Mexican criminal gang is switching computer bank codes with a Russian gangster for diamonds. I do not think I am spoiling anything by pointing out that not everything goes as planned. The two criminal gangs end up involving the computer geek that downloaded the data. His next door neighbor, a sexy and promiscuous cellist, played by Marta Belaustegui; Her conductor, a possible future sugar daddy: a plant toting upstairs neighbor: a pharmacist couple, with a beautiful saintly wife played admirably by Carmen Madrid: and a beauty shop couple, with an evil harridan wife played chillingly by Rosa María Bianchi: plus the occasional police officer and a scary dog.
Some of the camera tricks can be fancy without any underling purpose, and I have not seen this much pastel neon on buildings since that Don Johnson episode of True Hollywood Stories. Overall, the film is nice. It is a pleasant, good time. It is not particularly scary, thrilling, funny, sexy, or clever and that is it’s only real fault. There is nothing terrible memorable in the ninety odd minutes of movie. Oh and do not watch if you are trying to quit smoking. I have never seen a movie so relentless in its promotion of tobacco. It is like watching Eat Drink Man Woman while trying to diet,
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