Friday, November 15, 2013
So there’s this stuff, no one knows what, that starts bubbling out of the ground, no one knows why, and this old man finds it and immediately tastes it, no one knows why, and it tastes delicious, no one knows why. The old man just wants to share it with everyone, no one knows why he knows so quickly that the supply is endless or why he assumes so quickly the stuff is safe, but, alas, a dirty corporation gets wind of it, no one knows how, and starts mass distributing it, no one knows how, and the stuff, it turns out, turns everyone into blood thirsty, zombie-esque monsters, no one knows why. Ok, look, you’re in at this point or you’re out. I really don’t need to describe it anymore. Suffice it to say a kid and two people who regret their involvement in spreading the popularity of this stuff (an employee of the corporation and the ad person responsible for advertising the stuff) try to convince the people and the govt that the stuff is a threat and launch a campaign to destroy it all.
This movie is full of recognizable actors and the special effects are genuinely good, but, despite this, this movie is truly terribly made. It’s amateurish at every level. The story, the plot, the character development, the costumes, the hair/makeup, the acting, it’s all community theater level quality. BUT, it’s amazing. It’s made with an unmatchable earnestness and everyone seems not just totally in, but to be having a blast. If you can watch it and not get sucked into the fun of it all, you and I can’t be friends. Seriously, this movie is awful and is built on a plot with moon crater sized holes and a premise that is both way too played out and preposterous. BUT, like I said, it’s truly fantastic. I loved every second of it. It’s total b-movie junk, but if you’re looking to have some friends over to get faded with and to watch/mock some cinematic bubble gum, then try The Stuff. You can’t get enough of The Stuff. There is literally nothing about this movie I would change and, if you’re a total weirdo for mental junk food like this, you’re gonna love this overlooked gem.
Saturday, November 9, 2013
The Possession is a 2012 horror flick about a, well, demonic possession. Clyde and Stephanie, played respectively by Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Kyra Sedgwick, have recently finished divorcing one another. In response, Stephanie has started dating her neighbor and Clyde moves out of town. This means things are pretty tense for the kids, who have to deal with the new boyfriend, the recent divorce and a move. So, when the younger daughter, Em, starts acting strange, everyone thinks it is related to all these big changes. Well, uh, they’re wrong.
Recently Em saw a wicked cool box at a garage sale and dad lets her take it home. It’s a very elaborate box with hidden chambers and is full of all kinds of weird stuff, like, well, a human tooth. As a kid, like Em, I would have been obsessed with something like this and even to this day my house and office are full of weird old relics. Curiosity can sometimes come back to bite you, though, and it certainly does for Em, as the box turns out to be an old Hassidic demon box, created and used to catch and lock away stray demons. They don’t go to such lengths for your every day demon either, but reserve this sort of thing for the really nasty mofos out there. It just so happens this demon is particularly fond of possessing kids and finds a comfy home in Em. And that, dear readers, is where the proverbial shit hits the fan.
Now Clyde has to figure out what the heck is going on with Em and, once he does, convince everyone else that this is real and that he’s not a total nutjob. Once everyone comes around to it, they must work together to save Em and, to do so, they enlist the help of a Hassidic badass and expert, played wonderfully by the amazing Matisyahu (yeah, that one, the reggae rapping Hassid).
This flick is great on most fronts and kind of mundane on a few as well. For example, it is beautifully shot by Dan Laustsen and the production and art design by Rachel O’Toole and Nigel Evans are straight up flawless. The crew is largely made up of Europeans and it definitely has that clean, cool look/feel found in other European thrillers like Let the Right One In. Some of the actors are great too, not the least of which are Morgan, Matisyahu and especially Natasha Calis. Her Em is simply amazing and it blows me away that this was her first professional acting gig. Well, she nailed it. This movie devolves into a bit of shock and awe and has some silly CGI at the end, but overall it’s a tight, well-made, genuinely spooky demon movie and is worth a watch if you’re into that kind of thing like I am.
On a side note, this movie is one of the worst examples of the very looooooooose use of the phrase ‘based on a true story.’ I only share b/c I find it so funny. The true story is that a wine cabinet bought in a Hassidic neighborhood seemed to bring bad fortune wherever it went. Some people bought it and bad things happened. They passed it on and bad gris gris seemed to go with it. That’s it. That’s the story this one is ‘based’ on. No box. No demons. No kids. No exorcisms. No divorces or parent heroes. Nothing. Sheesh. Like I said, hilarious.
We are very much in a lean period for horror and, like many times before, major studios have nearly ruined the genre, which is saved only by the vision of independent filmmakers. While independent studios like Laemmle made awesome sauce like Dracula, Universal plopped out the turd that is Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. And so it goes, through the ages. Big studios put out glossy, shallow junk that makes a mockery of the genre and then independent filmmakers come along and remind you horror may actually be worth watching. Well, it’s happening again. You’ve heard me rave about other independent scary movies like The Innkeepers and here are two more. The first is the better of the two and is a genuinely creepy little flick called The Pact. (The other is reviewed later and called The Possession)
Some believe ghosts do not exist, but, rather, what people experience is the energy residue left behind by people and experiences. What experiences could be so powerful as to leave a metaphysical wake like that? Heavy shit, that’s what. Well, Annie, our hero, was sick of her mother and sister’s crap and moved away from her hometown some time ago. Suddenly, her mother has passed away and her sisters are calling, asking her to please come back home for the funeral, at the very least. When Annie gets to her childhood home, however, no one’s there. To make matters odder, her sister’s cell phone is there, though sister is nowhere to be found, and she can’t get ahold of anyone, at all. Then, well, weird stuff starts going down. Like any good ghost movie, she goes on a personal mission to find out why this is all happening and to put a stop to it.
I really liked this movie. It was one of the best horror movies I’ve seen in a good long while. Nicholas McCarthy does an excellent job of creating a simple, sparse and super creepy environment. It reminded me a ton of Carpenter’s Halloween in that way (there’s no Mike Meyers sort of character, btw, I just mean in terms of feel) and let’s hope he doesn’t have Carpenter’s track record for subsequent movies. I'm just sayin', seriously, most of Carpenter's subsequent movies sucked major. Anyway, this flick, like all good horror, keeps it simple and, thankfully, doesn’t devolve into unrealistic CGI, over-revealing the bad guy or dumb sexy teenage protagonists. These are regular cats doing regular things when very irregular stuff starts happening. If you like scary ghost stuff as well as creepy serial killer stuff, then please please check out this flick. It straight up nails it on atmosphere and performance and the result is a genuinely spooky watch. Oh, also, Haley Hudson’s portrayal of Stevie is straight up classic stuff. I mean…I can’t even…look, just watch it. Stevie is next level good.
Sunday, November 3, 2013
Gravity is a 2013 drama (well, is it a drama? I guess you can’t call it anything else really) by the badass Mexican director Alfonso Cuaron. I hedge in calling it a drama because this movie is one of those rare flicks that is more of an experience than a movie. It’s not a story. There’s no arch, no character development (I mean, not really), no protagonist or antagonist. The best way I can explain it is like this. You know those moments in some dramas and thrillers where there is a really tense moment of escape or attempted escape? The train car is filling with water and it is slowly engulfing our hero and seems just shy of snuffing him/her out, when, bam, they find a way and escape. You know the moments I’m talking about.
Well, imagine if that moment was the entire movie. Trust me, I’m not saying anyone escapes, by the way, but the whole movie is a small group of people trying to escape a sudden horror that has befallen them. A small group of scientists and astronauts are doing their thang remotely via a shuttle while the rest of their team is back at the space station. While they’re getting their space walk on there is an explosion that fills the sky with debris. The explosion gives the debris propulsion and it is flying right at them and tears their shit up. Most die immediately and Sandra Bullock and George Clooney’s characters are sent adrift. What does one do when they are flung off into space where there is no friction and nothing to grab onto? Hell, for a decent chunk of the movie Sandra Bullock’s character is literally flipping end over end and can’t stop doing so. With no communication equipment, no way to contact home, no shuttle, no landing equipment, no protection or maps, etc, how does one keep the myriad of things in space that want to kill you, from killing you? To make matters worse, Clooney’s character estimates that, given the speed and mass of the debris that it will take roughly 90 minutes before it goes around the earth and comes back to them and tears them a new space hole. Guess how long the movie is?
This movie is truly an experience. Cuaron does a mindblowing job of creating feeling and tension. I have never watched a movie that made me feel more stressed and on the edge of my seat, so to speak. From the first second to the last it is truly intense. There really is no other word to describe it. It is one of those rare thrillers where I felt it was perfectly possible that none of them would make it. Cuaron uses everything to help create this feel. For example, there is no sound in space. Imagine the possibilities there. The characters can’t use sound to know if anything is hurtling at them, ready to punch a hole right through them, and they can’t exactly see much, since, well, they’re wearing space helmets. Know what I mean? They use the lack of friction to scare you, the gravity, the speed of orbit and on and on. Every single frame of this movie is meticulously designed to be straight up intense. Damn, it’s good. If you want a movie about the beauty of space, skip it, but if you want your pants scared right off, then this is your joint.
Thursday, September 26, 2013
The Heat pairs Bridesmaids director Paul Fieg and Melissa McCarthy together again and tells the tale of…oh who cares. Look, I want you to close your eyes. They closed? Now, I want you to picture a buddy comedy from the 1980’s or early 1990’s wherein one cop is an uptight control freak who only does things ‘by the book’ and doesn’t know how to cut loose. You picturing it? Now, imagine that cop suddenly finds his/herself in a scenario that forces him/her to partner up with someone. Who is that someone going to be? Well, the perfect and only fit for the job is a party animal, loose cannon of a cop that’s a slob and is reckless with the rules but, well, gets results. Eventually the two go from hating each other to embracing each other’s differences. The uptight cop loosens up and the loose cannon starts to follow the rules a bit more and maybe even gets some sort of promotion. Can you see it? Picture the action, picture the actors, the Oscar and Felixness of it all. Well, congratulations, you just pictured The Heat.
Look, it’s not like it’s a bad movie per se. It’s just not anything remotely new. It’s been done on the big and small screen in various forms throughout the decades. Many great actors have done it well and it is a formula that makes for an easy laugh. But, boy oh boy, is it formulaic. That said, McCarthy and Bullock do give the occasional laugh out loud moment and it’s, overall, a fun ride. If you want something that is essentially a bag of M&M’s, then this is your movie. If you want something with more nuance and substance, well, skip it. You’ve seen this movie before. If you want to see it again with new actors, check out The Heat. Instead, may I recommend something in a nice 48 Hours or Lethal Weapon.
Friday, September 20, 2013
The Japanese are planning to take over China, but first, they need to form alliances with opportunistic and powerful Chinese generals, take the princess hostage and decide which fighting style to use in the coup. Well, they may have planned well, but nothing seems to be able to stop the Chinese superman that is The Chinese Boxer. You know what? The plot doesn’t really matter and it seems pretty darn clear the filmmakers weren’t too concerned with it either. In reality, this sequel to Chinese Boxer is really one excuse after another to get the irreplaceable Jimmy Wang Yu fighting with his boxing style against a colorful array of foes, everything from muay thai boxing to zombies. Yeah, you heard me, the Japanese even try zombies.
Like a lot of Wang Yu’s movies, this one is all about his wacky personality and fight scenes. The rest is really just fluff and filler. As such, it’s predictable, silly and often completely ridiculous. If you’re like me and love watching this sort of crap, then it’s for you, but if things like watching a dude kung fu zombies with 70’s haircuts doesn’t interest you, well, nothing I’m gonna say is going to get you into it. But, if that’s your scene, this is your kind of flick. It’s hilarious, absurd and full of ass kicking. Like Chinese Boxer, it too influenced aspects of Kill Bill and, if you’re a total nerd for Tarantino, it might be worth watching just for that purpose. Remember when the Gordon Liu character jumps up on the tip of Uma’s sword and laughs at her? Yep, that’s in here. So is other stuff.
Jimmy Wang Yu was one of the Shaw Brother’s biggest stars and starred in and directed tons of great chop sake flicks. This one isn’t the best (may I humbly recommend you check out Master of the Flying Guillotine), but it’s fun and funny and worth a watch, but maybe after a plate of edibles, though.
Monday, September 9, 2013
Tomorrow night at 7:30pm, the good folks at Hollywood Theater here in Portland will be showing a rare 35mm print of Return of the Chinese Boxer. It stars Jimmy Wang Yu, was a big influence on Kill Bill and features zombie ninjas. If I need to tell you anymore than that, then we can’t be friends anymore. Did I mention it’s only $8? Did I mention they’re going to be selling t-shirts of the movie? Did I mention the zombie ninjas? Zombie ninjas kids. Zombie. Ninjas.
Go see this.
Ip Man is a 2008 action film that tells a portion of the life story of real life badass Yip Man. Yip was a grandmaster of Wing Chun Kung Fu and people traveled for many miles to study under his tutelage. He was known by Kung Fu aficionados worldwide, but became super famous when one of his star pupils took the stage name Bruce Lee and became the first martial arts film stars, the first Chinese actor to launch a career in the west and…well…became Bruce Lee. There is Ip Man and Ip Man 2, but only the latter includes Mr. Lee. The former, rather, tells the story of a particularly formative and difficult period in Ip Man’s life. You see, as a Kung Fu grandmaster, considered one of the historical pillars of Kung Fu, Ip Man enjoyed a life of wealth and celebrity. Like modern celebrities, people just gave him shit and he lived the high life with his family in a big palace in Foshan, China and things were peaceful and awesome. Then, the Sino-Japanese War broke out and the Japanese didn’t care about Kung Fu or his status. They threw him in the mines like everyone else and he began to start and truly struggle.
This nearly broke him, but then he began to see how the Japanese soldiers were truly abusing his fellow Chinese brethren and, in classic Clint Eastwood fashion, he just wasn’t going to stand for that.
He heard about how the Japanese actually had plenty of rice for the folks of Foshan, but were holding onto it because they heard Foshan was a famous epicenter of Kung Fu and they wanted to watch the monkeys dance. They gave out meager rations and basically starved the folks of Foshan and said they would give extra rice to any of the so-called Kung Fu practitioners who could defeat their Japanese martial artists. The Japanese guys were trained killers and the Chinese guys were worked all day in the mines and suffering from malnutrition, so, basically, it was a bluff and the Japanese guys were just kicking the shit out of the Chinese guys. Well, when Ip Man heard this was going on, something snapped.
Legend has it that he walks in and says he won’t take on one of their guys, but insists on taking on at least ten. He takes on all comers in that fight and many to follow and takes folks to school left and right, giving the rice out to his starving brothers and sisters. His legend freaking explodes. The movie ends with the end of the war on the cliffhanger of Ip Man winning a big fight but leaving it badly injured. No, it’s not a spoiler. Folks, there’s a sequel.
Just about everything about this movie is fantastic. The production design is beautiful. The sets, settings and intricate detail to the interiors and costumes are out of this world good. The cinematography is also truly fantastic. The fight choreography was done by Kung Fu movie legend Sammo Hung and won all sorts of awards back in China. The fighting is so good that cats were injured left and right during the filming. Dude got kicked in the face full on (a moment they thankfully caught on film and incorporated into the scene) and Donnie Yen, who plays Ip Man, had his left eye sliced open by an axe. An axe y’all! Yen also spent years, that’s right, YEARS, training and undergoing a strict diet just so he could authentically portray the grandmaster. In other words, they do a ton to make it gorgeous and super authentic and it pays off. My sole complaint in the whole thing is that they dwell on the war and destruction stuff a bit much. It should have been trimmed down a bit and seemed to belabor the point. I get it, war is terrible, you made your point, now move on with the story por favor.
That said, this truly is my only complaint. The rest of the movie is really fantastic. They somehow make it feel modern and traditional at the same time. It’s beautiful to watch and the fight scenes are truly fantastic. So, if you dig on action flicks, skip the Michael Bay crap and pick up Ip Man. Donnie Yen for life!