2 out of 5 stars
While I have not been much of a fan of Kevin Smith, I gotta tell ya… COP OUT is a mess. Many have said that you need to keep in mind that it is a homage to ‘80s buddy cop movies… and in that, it does a pretty decent job. The problem is… that most ‘80s cop movies aren’t particularly good. Smith gets the beats right - from the witty banter to the Harold Faltermeyer-esque score - but the film just never fires on all cylinders. Willis looks bored throughout and appears to be constantly wishing he could throttle his agent for ever getting him into this. Morgan… is simply terrible. Perhaps if the character would have been as wacky as he is, but still managed to be a crack shot or a insightful sleuth it would have worked. Instead, one wonders through the film’s run time how this guy ever made it onto the force much less off the beat. The villain (Guillermo Díaz from HALF BAKED) is a cartoon character and horribly miscast. So that leaves us with Sean William Scott who is reduced to popping into the narrative to spice things up whenever things slow down. In the end, this was Smith’s first foray into adapting someone else’s material and, quite frankly, he should stick to his own. Because if COP OUT is what we get when he doesn’t write his own shit, he should ALWAYS work as his own screenwriter. Now, all of this is not to say that COP OUT is a terrible film… it’s not. It’s just that everyone concerned with this project deserves better than this
The Loved Ones
3 out of 5 stars
A “hey, look what’s on” re-watch. From Australia comes this “PRETTY IN PINK meets TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE’ torture-fest. The plot comes together slowly, but when the 2nd act comes, it hits with a wallop. The film is well-made and acted even though the basic plot is a little far-fetched, but the ride itself is a fun – albeit blood-splattered - one. That all said, I did find myself wondering about midway through the run time what the filmmaker’s point or central theme was. If it was to make a film that highlights pain, screaming, and torture, then point well made. If it was something else across, well, I’ll be damned if I know what it is. Still… if you’re in the mood for one of these things, then THE LOVED ONES is far better than most. If you’re looking for something with a deeper (and more satisfying) concern, then you might look elsewhere. In the end though, director Sean Byrne is a talented guy. I just think he needs to direct his energies toward something of more substance.
Kung Fu Panda 2
3.5 out of 5 stars
This is a sequel to the highly popular riff on Chinese culture and Chop Socky films. With an all-star cast, the film pretty much does everything that first one did, however it does little to elevate it beyond what has gone before. Now, while that may sound like a diss… it’s not. I enjoyed the first KUNG FU PANDA even with its Anglicised interpretation of a deep and rich culture. The film walks a fine line between honoring Chinese history and parodying it. I mean, it gets a lot of the beats of these kinds of films right, but it also features archetypes as animals. Again, not meant to be a diss on the film, just an observation. That all said, the film is an exciting one to watch. The action sequences are fast, kinetic, and fun. Plus at the heart of the film is a simple message that rests at the core of martial arts – that it is possible to find peace and tranquility amidst the strength and power found in fighting. Perfect for kids and adults alike, if you enjoyed the first KUNG FU PANDA, you’ll dig this one as well. Recommended.
Old Partner aka Wonangsori
4 out of 5 stars
A lovely - and bittersweet - tale of the most unlikely of trios: an elderly farmer, his nagging, but loving wife, and their aged ox. Shot as a documentary, the film is a quiet poem dedicated to themes such as dedication, love, duty, growing old, and the love one man can have for a beast of burden… and vice versa. There is so much to like here… The film never allows itself to rush headlong into anything, but rather, it is comfortable just letting quiet moments play themselves out and allowing the viewer to infer what they will. And through it all, the ox’s bell rings like a Zen call to prayer, gently marking each moment as it approaches, exists, and then passes by. Don’t go into this film expecting much to happen… because it doesn’t. In fact, the ending is given away at the outset, but… oftentimes the best of life’s experiences are not about the destination, but about the journey there. A terrific film that touched me deep inside. I liked this one probably more than I should, but… what can I say? Highly recommended to those who have patience - and heart - enough to scratch the surface and see all the beauty this simple tale possesses.
Starter For 10
3 out of 5 stars
An enjoyable bit of fluff from Tom Vaughn (WHAT HAPPENS IN VEGAS) starring WANTED’s James McAvoy and Rebecca Hall (THE PRESTIGE, FROST / NIXON). This is basically a British John Hughes film. The cast is utterly likeable and do a good job. The script is pretty much EXACTLY what you think it’ll be. That all said, this is a perfect “date” movie and has a little something for everybody. It won’t change the world, but it’ll be a pleasurable evening.
3.5 out of 5 stars
JJ Abrams & Steven Spielberg update the “kids as heroes” genre (ET, THE GOONIES, etc) with this well-made film from 2011. The cast is exemplary (especially Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney) and the direction is controlled, and yet, not too overly sentimental. The script is a little loose and the runtime could’ve EASILY been trimmed by 30 minutes or so, but SUPER 8 remains a solid piece of escapist fare. The film is, at times, a little scary for the wee ones, but pre-teens and up will enjoy this to no end.
2 out of 5 stars
The American slasher film has a confusing and seemingly meandering history. Spawning from Noir, the German Krimi film, and the Italian Giallo, the art form has its moments of brilliance (Mario Bava’s TWITCH OF THE DEATH NERVE, Bob Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS, and Joseph Zito’s THE PROWLER to name but three), but it also has it missed opportunities and botched visions. As usual, Sturgeon’s Law (which states that “ninety percent of everything is crap”) applies. Sadly – for this discussion – 1983’s CURTAINS is a perfect example of the latter.
Directed by Richard Ciupka under the pseudonym Jonathan Stryker (who is the male lead character in the film itself), the film stumbles its way through its unfocused 90 minute run time with John Vernon (ANIMAL HOUSE, OUTLAW JOSEY WALES) being cast as a supposedly enigmatic and hyper-sexual director. Think of that: Dean Wormer from ANIMAL HOUSE getting his swerve on… it’s just gross. Samantha Eggar (THE BROOD, THE EXTERMINATOR) makes her way from one bug-eyed scene to another while the supporting cast (which includes Linda Thorson of THE AVENGERS) seem to be there for a decidedly bloodless body count alone. Look for THE CROW’s Michael “Top Dollar” Wincott cast as the winsome – and ultimately doomed - Lothario. The infuriating thing about CURTAINS is that the story feels thin… padded, like a short stretched to feature length. Scenes drag on and a confused and ultimately bone-headed script unfurls before our collective indifference. As a historical document of the times in which it was made, there are some interesting footnotes (the casual albeit icky sexuality, the seeming obliviousness to how offensive “play rape” is, and nonchalant use of cannabis are all indicative of – but not exclusive to – the films of the early ‘80s), but, all-in-all, CURTAINS is a minor footnote to an otherwise one-note sub-genre.
And that brings us to Synapse films - who are the folks who released CURTAINS – and why they’d spend so much time ‘preserving’ such an admittedly mediocre film?
What makes the release of a film like CURTAINS in this format interesting is that it is yet another second (or third or fourth)-tier horror film from the ‘80s - lost classics in many people’s minds - getting a museum-like going-over by Don May, Jr and the gifted kids over at Synapse. The list of films they’ve released so far is pretty darned impressive (with titles such as 1982’s THE DORM THAT DRIPPED BLOOD, James Glickenhaus’ THE EXTERMINATOR, Frank Henenlotter’s FRANKENHOOKER, the little-remembered 1975 bondage flick THE IMAGE, Scott Spiegel’s INTRUDER, Bill Lustig’s MANIAC COP, the Dolf Lundgren muscle-fest RED SCORPION, James Muro’s STREET TRASH, Hammer’s VAMPIRE CIRCUS, and the newly released PROM NIGHT) and offer some deep pulls from the world of genre film. The CURTAINS disc features a brand spanking new 2K high-definition transfer from original vault materials of the film, a remixed 5.1 Surround soundtrack, an extensive Behind the Scenes documentary (which, to be honest, is far better than the film itself), a few interviews, an audio commentary by film stars Lesleh Donaldson (HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME) and Lynne Griffin (BLACK CHRISTMAS), and a trailer. All in high def, computer-enhanced, color corrected, exhaustively researched, and packaged with love.
Again, the question is… why?
It’s not like CURTAINS (or any one of the thousand films like it) deserves such fetishistic treatment. No, I know I may be in the minority here. I mean, the film does have its fans and god love ‘em, but culturally, the film was barely a blip on our collective radar. Still… it’s nice to see someone caring for these old films in a matter that may very well be above what they deserve.
So yeah… a hearty thumbs up to the sublimely obsessive folks over at Synapse who devoted far more time and energy than a film like CURTAINS might merit, but by them giving it such care, the package and the presentation makes it worth the price of admission.
My Son, My Son, What Have Ye Done
1 out of 5 stars
Werner Herzog pulls a page from David Lynch’s “If You Can’t Dazzle Them With Brilliance, Baffle Them With Bullshit” playbook with this tale of a man’s descent into madness. The actors do their level best with the horrendously flawed script, but it is all too little too late. There is so much wrong with the interior logic of the tale that it would take reams of paper to list them all. Suffice it to say, that the main character (played by Michael Shannon) does completely crazy shit from the get-go and no one around him - not his girlfriend, not his mom, not the director of some shitty play he’s in, not even his bats hit crazy uncle - seems to notice. Dafoe wanders into the proceedings and does little more than get people coffee. MY SON is an utter waste of Herzog & the actor’s time… and your 93 minutes.
Ong Bak 2: The Beginning
4 out of 5 stars
With a far more spiritual tone than the first ONG BAK film, Tony Jaa brings to the screen another insane display of Martial Arts ability & creates an instant classic. The plot can get a little wonky at times (in some cases downright incoherent) and there's nothing here that other films haven't covered before (it's basically a revenge film), but it is the level at which these martial artists work that defies the imagination. Well, that and their casual disregard for their own safety. On several occasions, my mouth was hanging open at how some of these guys weren't killed (although in the Special Features you see plenty of them being carried away on stretchers & cervical collars). There are some cultural things that some Westerners may not grasp, but that's a very small bone of contention. If you're a fan of Jaa's films or a fan of people like Prachya Pinkaew (CHOCOLATE), then you’ll dig this.
3 out of 5 stars
A perfectly serviceable family film. Some of the scenes are visually pretty snazzy, but there really isn't anything here that the Japanese haven't been doing for decades. The voice acting is all good and the story is exactly what you think it will be. I wish the production would have gone a little more mature (since older fans of the original series are its core audience anyway). Instead, they decided to reboot it for a younger audience – a MUCH younger audience. I really wanted to like this more, but... In the end, it all comes down to whether it’s worth seeing? Absolutely. There are some very cool sequences here. Just know going in that you’re signing on for a kid’s flick. If you have kids, they'll undoubtedly love it.
Nude for Satan
2.75 out of 5 stars
A self-consciously aware erotic mind-fuck flick from 1974 presented by Redemption Video. Director, Luigi Batzella (SS HELL CAMP, THE DEVIL’S WEDDING NIGHT) does an admirable job considering what he’s given (a meandering script) and ends up presenting some interesting visuals. Comparisons (as odd as this is going to sound) to ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW are inevitable (couple lost in the rain go to spooky castle where they meet a flamboyant host who beds them both…. You get the idea), but, truth be told, RHPS is the better of the two. Purposefully confusing (under the guise of, “Is it a dream or…”) and deliberately trance-like, the film is better than some would have you believe, but not by much. Acting is predictably over-the-top, but the girls are beautiful and built, so… there’s that. In the end, NUDE FOR SATAN is a mildly amusing and sort of interesting film which - thanks to director Batzella - has a visual flair that is ahead of the curve given the year it was made. Not necessary viewing by any stretch, but it is amusing enough to warrant a rental (if you happen to be in the mood for something dreamlike and kind of erotic).
Trapped, The Crimson Bat
2.5 out of 5 stars
Yolo Matsuyama returns as Oichi and this time she’s a bounty hunter… Sadly, director Sadatsugu Matsuda thinks to have her portray her character FAR more whinier than usual as she attempts to find peace by marrying a peasant. Of course, her past catches up with her as villainess Kikki Matsuoka (TAKESHI’S CASTLE, BLACK ROSE MANSION) creates all sort of problems armed with a whip “made from the hair of jilted women” and - I kid you not - shuriken which are in reality poisonous snakes which she keeps hidden in her kimono. As I watched it, I couldn’t help thinking… Oichi is a badass swordswoman. Why doesn’t she just kill the villainess at the outset of the film - something she could have easily done several times - and she could have saved us all an hour of run time. I really wanted to like this, but it just proved too difficult. The acting is WAY over the top, the plot is over-wrought and wonky, and the Oichi character makes so many mistakes and is so emotional that she makes a difficult heroine for the audience to pull for. An ok film… but there are better chanbara out there.
3 out of 5 stars
As someone who was raised in America, I never really got the whole British Dalek fascination. I did catch a lot of the DR WHO episodes on PBS, but that was many years after they played in their homeland. This almost sentimental documentary focuses on the two Dalek films which starred Peter Cushing with only some minor nods being given to the television show. There are some very cool interviews with cast and one short bit that shows an array of collectible Dalek toys. For people who’ve never seen either the films or the TV show, all of this nostalgia will undoubtedly be lost on them. For those who have, it will be a fun little (and short at 57 minutes) trip down Memory Lane.
When a Woman Ascends the Stairs
3 out of 5 stars
Naruse directs this down-beat & rather sad tale of the life of a post-war bar hostess. The film is well acted & paced nicely although, in the end, it is a tragic story of a widow and her search for a role once her looks fade and her age advances. Hideko Takamine's performance is spot on & her supporting cast is solid. Fans of Japanese cinema will like this drama, but others may find it too melancholy & sad.
National Geographic: Science of Evil
3 out of 5 stars
National Geographic presents an analysis of the nature of “evil” via social pressures, financial pressures, and physical manifestations (ala neural mapping). Interviews with people like a UN Aid Worker, the minister who conducted a baptism for Jeffrey Dahmer, and The Stanford Experiment’s Philip Zimbardo. While it offers no definitive answers, it does present some interesting insights. One annoying thing though is that the studies are broken up and interlaced between one another which breaks up the impact of the point. Fascinating for anyone who is interested in right/wrong, theology, and the interaction of the human animal.
1 out of 5 stars
If you’ve ever wonder what a person looks like at the very moment when they sell their soul off to the highest bidder, then this is a flick for you. And the great thing about it is… you get to see it done not once, but literally five times. First seller: Jack Black who proves he will do ANYTHING - shit on anything he’s accomplished in his career - for money. And then there’s Jason Segel, Emily Blunt, Amanda Peet, Billy Connolly who abandon things like humility, self respect, and ever being given any sort of credibility all for what could only have seemed like a bad idea… even in the scriptwriting stage of development. GULLIVER’S TRAVELS is a fiasco of the highest order. Unfunny, badly written, and ineptly directed, the film is a steaming pile of excrement that no one can save. And by the time Black - and I’m not kidding here - stops a war by singing and dancing Edwin Starr’s song “WAR (What Is It Good For),” you literally want to break your Tenacious D records and stab yourself in the eye with the shards. I vow now, before you all… should I ever meet Jack Black, I will punch him in the neck for making this.
The Sunset Limited
5 out of 5 stars
There is nothing better than to see two actors at the top of their games delivering performances that excite and inspire an audience. Such is the way with this HBO presentation of Cormac McCarthy’s THE SUNSET LIMITED. For 90 glorious minutes, we get Tommy Lee Jones (who also produced and directed) and Samuel L Jackson delivering what can only be called an “acting clinic.” Basically, the film is an examination of Faith (and the lack thereof) as an ex-con (who is now a man of faith) talks to a man he saved from jumping in front of a train (the titular Sunset Limited). As the discussion goes on into the night, we get both a thorough analysis of both men’s theologies, but also glimpses into their lives and how they came to be the men they are. Both men are strong in their convictions and in their positions and the actor’s performances are glorious things to watch. STRONGLY recommended for fans of great acting, appreciator’s of a good philosophical discussion, and anyone who enjoys well written dialog. I was blown away by this piece. Be warned though… the entire 90 minutes is these two men in a room talking. There is very little histrionics or the usual action-oriented fare we’ve come to expect from these men. Again… two men in a room talking… and the result is riveting. A powerhouse of a performance piece. See this!
2.5 out of 5 stars
An technically okay film from the guy who did TERMINATOR 3 & U-571 that stumbles somewhere between its interesting concept & its ham-fisted "humanist" storytelling. Willis is good as always as are some of the FX, but so much of the first half of film's runtime is spent in exposition that things get kind of corny & predictable by the end. After about midway, it just becomes a lot of running around and incoherent techie-talk about uploads and downloads... which is a pant-load. There are some fun little moments, but... you know where things are going LONG before you get there and there's never really any drama established. Sci-fi fans may like it more, but...
High-Kick Girl! aka Hai Kikku Garu!
3 out of 5 stars
A martial arts film whose story is pretty much a take on the standard “revenge” narrative. I would have given this film 1 or 2 stars had that been all there was to it, but… What sets this film apart from the hundreds of other martial arts films is that, even though some of the fight choreography seems slow and overly rehearsed, it soon becomes plain that the fighters are making real contact with their kicks and punches. Sure, the hits aren’t full force, but… it’s interesting to see someone react - and I mean REALLY REACT - when they get kicked in the head. Acting is EXACTLY what you’d expect… direction is as well. But still, martial arts film fans will dig this for its conviction and (dare I say it) realism. Silly, but pretty fun.
Satanic Rites of Dracula
2 out of 5 stars
Painfully slow Dracula movie starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. The proceedings move along at a snail’s pace here and it’s a full 33 minutes into the runtime before The Count decides to show up. Everyone is perfectly serviceable here although both Cushing and Lee have played these roles so long they are pretty much sleepwalking through them (especially Lee - is it any wonder this is his last performances and the toothy Count?). Look for Joanna Lumley (ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS), Michael Coles, and Freddie Jones in minor roles, but… that’s all of little consolation. There’s nothing particularly wrong with SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA (other than it’s pace), but there’s also nothing really right about it. Safe enough for younger viewers (although there are some breasts), but even they may start eyeing the Fast Forward button.