Da 5 Bloods
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I May Destroy You
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The Giant Behemoth (1959) -- [3.5] -- Just six years after directing "The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms," director Eugene Lourie goes back to the well for another giant lizard movie, only this time the monster is radioactive. While production values are high for a low-budget British production (British B-movies put American B-movies to shame, really), the resulting film is a far less successful one. Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation in the last half-hour are not as accomplished as Ray Harryhausen's work in "Fathoms". The action scenes are un-focused and the first forty minutes of scientific mumbo-jumbo is pretty intolerable.
Dead psychic vampire raises the dead to torment a girl trapped in a mausoleum. Okay, sure. A little slower-paced than I would like. Also, the subplot with the dead psychic's daughter listening to his tapes is pretty dull. We get a dash of suspense and gore in the last 20 minutes, though. Not much, I'm afraid. The cast is at least attractive and somewhat talented.
The Missing (2003) -- [5.5] -- Ron Howard directs Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones in "The Missing," an estranged father/daughter bonding flick by way of "The Searchers." The story is set in motion after Blanchett's eldest daughter is kidnapped by an evil Apache mystic who is collecting young women to sell at the Mexican border. Blanchett and Jones are reliably good, and Jenna Boyd is superb as the youngest of Blanchett's daughters, but the movie gets more predictable and less interesting as it goes. With Evan Rachel Wood, Val Kilmer, and Aaron Eckhart.
Dark Country (2009) -- [4.5] -- While traveling through the desert, newlyweds pick up a car-wreck survivor who plunges them into a night of suspicion and suspense. Thomas Jane ("The Mist," "Hung") makes his directorial debut with "Dark Country." On one hand, I admire his attempt to blend film noir with comic book aesthetics, but the movie relies on constant green-screen work that's poorly executed. The script by Tab Murphy is well constructed, but I feel like we've probably seen a few episodes of "The Twilight Zone" or "Tales from the Darkside" that feature the same general concept that "Dark Country" hangs its hat on. And it's always disappointing when you guess the big twist ending twenty minutes into the movie. Good performances by Jane and Lauren German as the newlyweds, though. The best scene in the movie is an early one in which the two turn the headlights off and floor it to ninety while he fingers her to orgasm.
Battle Royale (2000) -- [8.0] -- In a not-too-distant future Japan, the government cracks down on adolescent shenanigans by randomly selecting one 9th grade class per year to duke it out on a remote island until only one student is standing. "Battle Royale" starts off with a good dose of operatic, dark humor, but as the teenage body count rises, you actually get to know many of the embattled kids (often in flashbacks immediately preceding their demises). Despite its hokey premise, the movie packs a moderate emotional punch -- and that's what I hooked onto. The man in charge of the deadly war games (Takeshi Kitano) is also an interesting character, capable of sudden menace or startling empathy. Beautiful location photography and a bombastic score add to the visceral potency. "Battle Royale" is fresh and (I'll dare say) hip, predating "The Hunger Games" by several years. It makes all the more amazing to learn Kinji Fukasaku was 70 years old when he directed it. When he learned he had prostate cancer at the age of 72, his doctors urged bed rest, but instead he went immediately to work directing "Battle Royale II". He died during production and his son finished the task. "Battle Royale" ends with a closing bit of advice that has even greater meaning because of Fukasaku's example: "No matter how far, run for all you're worth. RUN."
Song of the South (1946) -- [4.0] -- For its racist stereotypes and sugar-coated depiction of plantation life in the post-Civil War South, Disney has locked away "Song of the South" from the public since its last re-release in 1986. I don't think the film is any more offensive than countless others made before desegregation ("Gone with the Wind" among them). In fact, putting its social infractions in historical context is probably the most interesting thing to do with "Song of the South." If you're going to lock the movie away, lock it away for mediocrity. The live-action segments of the film are cheesy and melodramatic (think "Brady Bunch") and the annoying animated sequences lack the character or charm of so many other Disney efforts. On the bright side, I've always enjoyed the Oscar-winning song "Zip-a-dee Doo Dah," but its visual accompaniment is somewhat underwhelming. Doe-eyed, baby-faced star Bobby Driscoll became a Disney regular for a while. He starred as Jim Hawkins in Disney's "Treasure Island," and in 1953 he provided the voice and live-action reference for "Peter Pan." In the mid-60s, however, he fell into drugs and obscurity. His body was found by two children in an abandoned New York tenement and he was buried in an unmarked grave.
Maniac (2013) -- [5.5] -- If you wanted to remake William Lustig's 1980 slasher cornerstone with an abundance of point-of-view shots, you probably couldn't do a better a job than Franck Khalfoun did with this remake. "Maniac" is beautiful and imaginative, photographed almost entirely from the killer's (Elijah Wood's) point of view. You really only see him in mirrors and other reflective surfaces. On one hand, the conceit is clever and cool, but on the other hand, it ends up being what I'm paying attention to -- not the thin storyline or the operatic depiction of its psychologically scarred central character. I think less would have been more where the back story is concerned, and I'm not sure the perpetual POV tactic is the best way to tell this story. I think I'd be okay with the movie's placement of style over substance if the substance were more original or intriguing. 'Mommy's whoring ways' seems like such a hackneyed explanation. Then again, this is a remake -- so do you judge its content and contributions by the original, which was groundbreaking at its time, or by this remake, which somehow feels out of time and place? The scalping effects looked pretty fake to me (do scalps really just slide off like that?), but the retro-synthy score by Rob is a winner. In the end, "Maniac" left me more confounded than most other movies I've seen lately, so maybe that also counts for something.
Tarzan and the She-Devil (1953) -- [4.5] -- Lex Barker ends his five-film tenure as Tarzan with a bit of a whimper in "Tarzan and the She-Devil". The plot focuses around ivory poachers, lead by Raymond Burr and icy-cool Monique van Vooren, who enslave a peaceful native tribe to do all their grunt work. This installment had the potential for the greatest emotional impact, with Tarzan's tree-top home burnt to the ground and Jane presumed dead for the last half of the film. But neither the writers nor the actors are inclined to give the matinee serial any heft. Cheeta the Chimp is put the best use ever, though, trying desperately to free Tarzan from chains and secretly bringing the whipped, bleeding hero water when no one is looking. And while I normally roll my eyes at all the stock footage these films employ, there's a truly spectacular clip here in which a black panther is taken down by an enormous python.
World War Z (2013) -- [7.0] -- Brad Pitt admirably carries this big-budget zombie apocalypse flick that has more in common with "Outbreak" or "Contagion" than it does your standard zombie fare -- don't expect blood and gore, horror fans. Director Marc Forster (Monster's Ball, Stranger Than Fiction) succeeds in ratcheting up the tension with a script (based very loosely on Max Brooks' book) that is essentially one dramatic escape sequence after another. I haven't experienced this kind of tension at the movies since Spielberg's version of "War of the Worlds". It's refreshing to see a big-budget movie spend most of its time building suspense, instead of bombarding us with the usual visceral chaos. Despite the apocalypse and all, Pitt manages to imbue the film with a little of his own humanitarian philosophy. Whether through sacrifice or perseverance, many characters in the movie perform selflessly in the face of annihilation. I think it's a noble element to maintain, especially in a scenario so dire. Some may find the ending soft or anti-climactic, but I think anything more resolved would have come at a loss of tension. (My preference would have been an even more open ending.) And we really don't need the preachy closing narration.
Man of Steel (2013) -- [2.0] -- I haven't wanted to walk out of a movie I paid for in a long, long time, but I damn near walked out of this one. "Man of Steel" is ridiculously awful. At best (if I weren't a Superman fan), it'd be "Transformers 4", another busily boring, loud, emotionally bankrupt piece of nauseating, over-indulgent, digital miasma. But if you are a Superman fan, this film is downright offensive and insulting. I'm all for a re-boot every few decades, but "Superman" simply HAS to be about Clark Kent and Lois Lane. If you don't like those characters and invest in their relationship, then all that's left is an invincible man doing invincible things. How boring. And just because director Zack Snyder has shit flying toward, past, under, over, and through the camera for two and a half (god-forsaken) hours, doesn't mean the movie's exciting. The action is hollow, full of sound and fury, signifying bullshit. There's nothing to hang your hat on this movie, emotionally or viscerally. The non-linear treatment of the exposition is poorly paced and lazy, robbing the material of all grace or sincerity. There's a pitiful attempt to make Clark Kent/Superman an 'outsider', afraid to let his true identity known, but it's a faint afterthought that barely registers. Character development is as deep as dew drop here, and whenever the movie tries to cash in on iconic moments, they land with a thud or a laugh because they aren't earned. And then there's the last forty minutes of non-stop whiz-bang CGI action, the equivalent of having Zack Snyder personally jack off in your face. I can't really judge Henry Cavill, Amy Adams, Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, or Russel Crowe's performances because they don't have much to work with (even though Crowe refuses to leave the movie, popping up more times than a whack-a-mole and dying at least twice). Michael Shannon sucks as General Zod, though. Someone should have told him that truly evil characters don't need to scream and shout, but that's decidedly the tone of "Man of Steel" -- it's not just a turd, but a screaming turd. There aren't even any minor victories here: the production and conceptual designs sucked, the score sucked, the color palette is predictably dull and subdued, the camera shakes through the whole damned movie (giving me a headache), the editing is atrocious... I am truly hard pressed to find one good thing to say about this flick. I hate it with the fire of a thousand red suns, and it sickens my heart to know that anyone might be introduced to Superman this way.
This Is the End (2013) -- [7.0] -- Seth Rogen, Jay Baruchel, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride play themselves, trapped in Franco's swanky pad during the Apocalypse in this weird little horror comedy written and directed by Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who also collaborated on the scripts for "Pineapple Express" and "Superbad"). As far as I'm concerned, these actors are the closest thing to a sure bet in Hollywood comedies today. So if you dig the cast, you'll dig the movie -- none of the leading guys are short-changed. And you also get monsters, violence, and mayhem! Ooh, and scene-stealing supporting turns from Emma Watson and Michael Cera.
The Reflecting Skin (1991) -- [8.0] -- Imagine "Twin Peaks" from a child's perspective, paired with the visual austerity of "Days of Heaven", and that might give you an idea of what to expect from this odd but utterly compelling little movie. Jeremy Cooper stars as young Seth Dove, a boy whose friends die one by one while the sheriff searches for their killer. The sheriff thinks the killer is Seth's own father, while Seth thinks it might be a vampire woman who lives nearby. When Seth's older brother (Viggo Mortensen) returns home from nuclear testing in the Pacific and falls in love with the vampire, Seth starts to feel helpless, with nowhere to turn -- and starts praying to a dead baby he finds in an abandoned barn. For most of the film, you're never sure whether what you're seeing is actually happening, or if it's Seth's imagination. But as bizarre as it all sounds, writer/director Philip Ridley keeps the characters deeply rooted in emotional truths, and the "400 Blows"-like ending might be one of the most raw and devastating depictions of the loss of innocence ever put to film.