Monday, December 17, 2007

"We now return to our regularly scheduled life, already in progress."

As some of you might already know, a sizable part of my life has recently changed. Nothing spectacular, mind you. I haven't sold a screenplay nor been offered a film production deal. I haven't hit the lottery. And I haven't just gotten fed up, moved to Los Angeles and jumped headfirst into the porn industry. (Yet.)

But, I did finally leave my post at our local, beloved video store. Maybe you've read about the myriad of changes befalling the home video industry, from the death of VHS to the explosion in internet retail and shipping brought about by various well known movie-delivery services. After a spectacularly insane final few months that included everything from store closings, in-house detective work and surveillance, transfers, legal proceedings, random sketchy threats and fulfilling the local area's insatiable need for The Bourne Ultimatum and Harry Potter 5... I have moved on from this particular realm of the entertainment world.

It was time, really. Four years on the frontlines of video store work is plenty. In many ways, it felt like a repeat of high school complete with well-wishings and even some graduation jitters. Now that I'm moving into a larger world (also retail, but in a much different environment and in a more intellectual field), I look forward to seeing what opportunities lie ahead. Corporate gigs have their ups and downs but a homegrown business gives you a sense of community and accomplishment that I am, even now, experiencing on a daily basis.

Having made some great friends over the last four years ("Hi, Lilyplush!") I'll always appreciate my time at the videostore. Time marches on, though. The new spot feels like a great fit: a warm n' happy place to be and one with real possibility. As always, more about this later. You know, as the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

In other news, you might remember a few posts back when I mentioned that I was beginning my next creative endeavor in the screenplay form. I'd mentioned moving some things around in my workspace environment in an attempt to alleviate the visual chaos of my workspace and to suffer far less distraction from writing. Excellent theory, yes? I think so too. Except, it didn't work.

This isn't to say my excellent theory isn't a sound one. It didn't have a chance to take effect, really. Life got in the way, work went crazy and due to long hours, stress and other factors that would definitely sound like whining if I didn't know them to all be true, nothing of much substance got done. But I continue to come up with other, small ways to keep focused. I recently purchased a blank, faux-leather bound journal to write in. My thinking is that I need to get off the computer more often, to write in other places, to keep away from the distraction of technology and the internet, to get out of my room once in a while, in order to clear my head and get creatively cracking. The journal's cover has that time-worn look, like an old manuscript, and carries some weight to it. I'm hoping this combination of low-tech heart and personal connection inspires me on at least some sort of deeper level, even if it's not immediately detectable. If "clothes make the man," then maybe "the journal can make the script." We'll see. I love looking at it, at any rate... That, and my simple-yet-awesome new coffee cup (seen above).

Otherwise, tomorrow signals the Special Edition DVD, HD and Blu-Ray release of one of the most important and influential motion pictures of the 1980's -- Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Featuring fine performances, superb screenwriting, dazzling special effects and wonderous cinematography, music scoring, production design and direction, the film is the thinking person's action/sci-fi/noir classic. Blade Runner -- in any version you see (and there are at least four) -- ranks amongst what I consider to be the best movies of our time. If you haven't seen it yet, please do. You owe it to yourself.

Theatrical:
Blade Runner: The Final Cut ****
No Country For Old Men ***1/2
I Am Legend ***

DVD/Home Video:
2001: A Space Odyssey 2-Disc Special Edition ****
Tekkonkinkreet (Japan/Anime) ***
The Chronicles Of Riddick ***
Heroes: Season One ***
Sasquatch (1978) ***
Immortality (aka The Wisdom Of Crocodiles) **1/2
Masked And Anonymous **1/2
Reincarnation (Japan) **1/2
The Odd One Dies (Hong Kong) **
The Golden Child (1987) **
Jam Films 2 (Japan) **
Feast **
Novel Romance *

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Stop... Hey... What's That Sound?

Not much new to report these days... At least nothing I can report, just yet. Lots of work stress. A great 4-day weekend with the best buncha friends a guy could ask for. And a quick listing of some of the audio I've been listening to when I have the time...













Wizard People, Dear Readers
by Brad Neely
The cartoonist/humorist offers up an alternate take on the film Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by recording, in-character, an alternate audio commentary track which brings out Harry's dark side in a big, big way. A must for fans of the Potter books and clever, potty mouth humor. (Look it up on YouTube for some great samples.)













Catching The Big Fish
by David Lynch
Everyone's favorite abstract filmmaker (Blue Velvet, Twin Peaks, Mulholland Drive) discusses his work, his life and examines how the practice of transcendental meditation relates to one's ability to create. A wonderful experience.













Make Love! The Bruce Campbell Way
by Bruce Campbell
The beloved B-movie actor/writer/director narrates this fully dramatized "audio movie" based on his fictional account of landing a role in a film starring Richard Gere and directed by Mike Nichols. Goofball slapstick and knowing satire.

And The Fantastic Four (Radio Series)
A radio drama from the 1970's about the popular superheroes -- starring a then-unknown Bill Murray as the Human Torch! Interesting, but Bill's the main draw here.

More later, but for now a few quick reviews...

Theatrical

Michael Clayton ***
The Darjeeling Limited ***
D-War/Dragon Wars (Korea) **

DVD/Home Video
House Of Games: Criterion Collection ****
Battle Royale (Japan) ****
12 oz. Mouse: Season One ***1/2
The Spanish Prisoner ***
Trouble In Mind ***
Vengeance Is Mine (Japan) ***
TMNT (2007) ***
Hell Up In Harlem ***
The Hard Way ***
Blue Swallow (Korea) ***
Buy The Ticket, Take The Ride **1/2
Don't Come Knocking **1/2
Green Snake (Hong Kong) **1/2
China Girl **1/2
Rampo Noir (Japan) **
Welcome To L.A. *1/2

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The Fugitive II: Hard Target Search

A former female roommate of mine who'd known me a little while used to give me a hard time whenever I'd get all Grizzly Adams around the house and grow out a beard. Usually in winter, but often just for more supreme facial structure definition (meaning "I think it looks better, sometimes"), I'd let the chin hairs get a little long... and she'd be merciless about it.

"My mother always said not ever to trust a man with a beard," she'd remark.

"Feh!! Yer mom don't know nuthin'!" I'd respond mock-angrily.

My recent days have been bearded ones, me being too tired/lazy/or some such, to shave. The other night at the job, I was in the not altogether unusual situation where I was forced to have a few words with a particularly rude woman at the store who had the unfortunate but similarly not altogether unusual luck of having her three night's DVD rental choices already taken out by other customers in the previous few days. She huffed her way out of the store and that was that. Not long after, I finally got it together to shave and took the razor my facial whiska'z. The next day after that, this happens...

INT - VIDEO STORE - DAY.

A sizable male Customer enters the store. He's composed, but his Tommy Lee Jones-like eyes show that he has some purpose here this day. He approaches the clean-shaven Associate, counterside.

CUSTOMER
Hey bud, you got some guy in here with
a beard?

ASSOCIATE
Uh... Sometimes.

CUSTOMER
My wife says she came in here the other night
and said some bearded guy was bein' rude.

ASSOCIATE
Well, I was here for that actually and to tell you
the truth she was the one raising her voice and
getting testy in the store, all angry that the movies
she wanted were already checked out.

CUSTOMER
(shrugs a little)
That does sound a little more right. She's my lady
and all, but... She can be a little... Y'know.

ASSOCIATE
Heh... I hear ya.'

CUSTOMER
Alright then. No big deal. Thanks.
And sorry 'bout whatever happened.

ASSOCIATE
No problem. Glad to help. And I'll tell the bearded
guy you stopped by.

CUSTOMER
Cool, thanks again.

Maybe my former roommate's mom knew something, after all. :)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Warning Shots















Something is happening. Something horrible. There is a plague in our midst, movie fans. It is reportedly happening everywhere and if it's not too late it must be stopped. I have my doubts. I think it's already too late. In our complacency and our fear, we've let them take so very much already. They roam our places of enjoyment and are taking over our cities like a dreaded zombie horde. I'm referring to one of the most vile creatures ever to walk our streets. I'm referring, of course, to people in movie theater audiences who won't shut the hell up .

It's to be expected that whenever a populace gets together there will be a select group of idiots who will -- without care for the rules of society and common decency -- have a little too much fun and ruin things for others. Be they schoolyard bullies, family barbecue drunkards, soccer hooligans or Lindsay Lohan... the right to free speech is forever locked in battle with the right to behave like a blithering fool. Things seem to be coming to a boil, at least in the city of Boston. And not just at the movies.

Back in May, fisticuffs famously broke out in, of all places, an orchestral performance by Keith Lockhart and the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall -- not the sort of place you'd expect to encounter a battle royale. But it happened and it was in fact stirred by one patron's refusal to deal with another patron's refusal to stop talking during the performance. Onlookers were shocked... including Lockhart, who reportedly "stood there quietly" for a moment. Which is a pity, really. I like to think that if John Williams were still there, he might've had the orchestra begin playing a few bars from Episode One's "Duel Of The Fates."

At a recent screening at Davis Square's Somerville Theater of the Chuck Norris 80's actioner, The Delta Force, those of us who went to have a great old time watching Chuck kick ass for God and Country were forced to deal with five, gel-haired, polo-shirted, receding hairlined, aging frat boy, pseudo accountants who seemed to think they were hosting their own private episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Now sure, something as cheesy/fun as a Norris flick should be enjoyed by all and one can understand the desire to poke fun at the jingoism in the politically charged but unabashed-entertainment film. But post 9/11 there's a lot of the film that just isn't really very funny these days and even more that wasn't meant to get laughs to begin with, such as the uncomfortable sequence where an airplane in Greece is hijacked by Lebanese terrorists and they begin to call out a list of Jewish-American and Israeli passengers to be used as hostages. The aforementioned social misfits in the theater audience a few feet away from us had been snickering and howling inappropriately since the opening credits but it was at this point that I couldn't take any more. I walked up behind them and had to grit my teeth at the fact that I was living in a world where I had to say to five people, "Excuse me boys, I'm gonna have to ask you not to laugh out loud during the parts of the movie where they're rounding up the Jews."

Does the behavior of these people come from upbringing? From theater management's refusal to get involved and police their own patrons? I worked in a suburban cineplex (just out of high school) from 1988 to 1994 and we would regularly throw out troublemakers -- once, the first two rows of people who were acting up during the opening night of a Halloween sequel. Granted, that was some time ago. Nowadays you're likely to suffer an after-work beatdown (or worse) in the parking garage if you reprimand someone with a "crew."

Perhaps it's technology. We humans have become so dependent on our gizmos that we can watch a movie wherever we like -- on our phones, our game systems, even our goddamn refrigerators -- that maybe we feel that we're owed something if we deign to pay for a full price theater ticket. And with our HDTV/digital surround home theater systems, we're used to being in charge of our own theaters and saying whatever we like as loudly we like. Are we (reminder: by we I mean they) becoming so comfortable and so used to the world being our entertainment oyster that we no longer give a damn about the person next to us if they're not our bud, our kid or our sexual conquest?

I mean... friends of mine just told me about a midnight showing of another 80's classic, Tron, coming up in a week or two. But I can't imagine it going anything but badly as the wonder and delight of those who love the film will most likely be drowned out by beer-drunk tools who will yuk it up to one another and moistly shout things like, "Hey look, it's "Dude" from Lebowski!" and "Videogames sucked back in the day, bruh."

I'm starting to think that film attendance should be as difficult as buying a handgun. There should be a five-day waiting period for movie tickets. We've gotta take back the night and I'm gonna use a golf club if I have to. The zombies must be stopped. "Kill the head and the body will die," someone once said. But then again, that smacks of violent overthrow and that's no good for anybody. Not when you can just as easily bring an extra twenty dollars with you to the theater for after the show in the parking lot. Some crackheads will urinate on anybody for twenty dollars...

...Or so I've heard.

Now please rise for our new National Anthem...


Sunday, August 12, 2007

Before & After: Rush Hour 3

In this blog's continual search for ways to enliven what passes for film criticism these days, we now take a look at the recently released third entry in the Rush Hour series, starring Jackie Chan & Chris Tucker and directed by Brett Ratner. Today, we'll examine the film from a "before and after" approach, in which a few misgivings about the films are discussed, pre-screening and a few insights are concluded with, post-screening.
Some Spoilers Follow!


BEFORE (August 11, 2007)
How strange it is to see, as a Jackie Chan fan since 1992 (the day being the one when my good friend Mark showed me the first 5 minutes of Armour Of God), that I'm pretty much the target audience for a movie like Rush Hour 3 and even I can't muster much enthusiasm for it.

Rush Hour 2 had a dramatic drop in quality from it's predecessor, so I'm imagining this third entry will too. Whereas the original Rush Hour was solid pretty much all the way through, somewhere along the line the creators of RH2 forgot the thing that made us appreciate Chris Tucker's "Carter" character in the first place: he was a great cop. Sure he was occasionally obnoxious but his police instincts and his desire to get in good with the Federal Agents on the case (the kidnapping of the daughter of a prominent Ambassador) made him sort of endearing... and when it came down to action-time toward the film's climax he dispatched his opponent capably and with a touch of humor. In RH2, he was reduced to a boorish, running and screaming buffoon and his character weakened the entire film. (He was barely even a cop, really.) I hope Ratner and screenwriter Jeff Nathanson at least restore his character to some small measure of dignity in RH3.

At least there's no new "Shanghai" sequel with Jackie and Owen Wilson on the way (Knights was similarly a major letdown after the fun of Noon), so that's something of a blessing. That said, I'm always ready for some new Hong Kong Jackie films. I very much enjoyed New Police Story and Rob-B-Hood, and even The Myth to a certain extent. Still, I'll get out to the theater to catch Rush Hour 3. As a movie fan, sometimes you've just gotta support the greatness of Jackie Chan, no matter what.

AFTER (August 12, 2007)
The verdict is: "
Genial but weak." I was reasonably entertained but they could do so much more with this series.

For instance, take the Young Martial Arts Students... Why not have them all bust out like crazy in their own action scene? Imagine them going after Chan & Tucker on their own and giving them a comical beatdown. That's what might've happened if this were a movie that really cared about being innovative. Hell, then they could've brought the gang back at the climax of the film as back-up and we could've had a dozen screaming Kung Fu Kids running around the Eiffel Tower, too (and calling back in theme to an earlier scene in which Indiana Jones and the Temple Of Doom plays on a nearby television while Tucker gets Chinese food.) As much fun as the French taxi driver "George" was (and he truly was a real highlight), I wondered what might have been had Ratner had the foresight to cast, say, Sami Naceri (of France's own infamous Taxi film series) in the part. And what is it that these films have for blue-screen/CGI gags involving heights and huge pieces of fabric? After the Rush Hour movies and Shanghai Knights (which "borrowed" it's last stunt from Pierce Brosnan and Michelle Yeoh in Tomorrow Never Dies), it seems that there's at least one pair of stunt people who like to recycle their tarp and flag gags.

Though it seemed that the narrative might have been tipping a hat to Johnnie To's Election films with it's use of Triad Elections as a plot device, I read somewhere that an earlier installment had a story sending Lee and Carter to Japan. They should've stuck with that, I think, for all the Parisian flavor this film had and all it's talk of Yakuza and such. Hiroyuki Sanada made an engaging villain and Jingchu Zhang was a fine damsel in distress -- but what these kind of films need is more scenes featuring characters like them and their own internal struggles. (What do they do when they're not in the room with Lee and Carter? Showing us would make them more interesting and well-rounded characters.) And while I've loved Youki Kudoh ever since Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, her part was no more than your standard kung-fu hitwoman and she's barely given a chance to shine. Chan and Tucker get more laughs than wows... But someone needs to butch up Tucker's film work once and for all. With his straining voice and aging swagger, Tucker is -- to quote fellow buddy coppers Riggs & Murtaugh -- "too old for this shit." Be that all as it may... the Chan/Tucker chemistry is still there, the car stunts and set pieces are still relatively impressive, the Eiffel Tower sequence has its moments and as the femme fatale, Noemie Lenoir can accurately be referred to as "the new hotness." Catching this at one's local cinema is still a decent enough way to beat the August heat for a couple of hours. **1/2 stars out of four ("good/not great")

Theatrical Reviews










The Simpsons Movie ****
The Host (Korea) ***1/2
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix ***1/2
The Delta Force (1986) **1/2
Transformers **
Hero and the Terror (1988) *

DVD/Home Video:
Jaws (1975) ****
Zodiac ****
Jigoku: Criterion Collection (Japan) ***
Welcome To Collinwood (2002) ***
Dog Bite Dog (Hong Kong) ***
The Negotiator (Japan) ***
I'm A Cyborg But That's Okay (Korea) **1/2
Renaissance (France) **1/2
Yo Yo Girl Cop (Japan) *

Friday, June 29, 2007

Never Say Die: The Return of The Action Hero

And now, a discussion of the latest entry into our beloved Die Hard film series. The following is a detailed examination of Live Free or Die Hard (2007) including details of various scenes and the film's narrative construction. In short, big huge spoilers follow. Reader discretion is advised...

If it seems that Live Free Or Die Hard has some literary weakness (and it does), this perhaps can be blamed on source material. The first two Die Hard films we based on pre-existing novels (Nothing Lasts Forever and 58 Minutes -- both fairly enjoyable works). Die Hard easily had the best writing going for it, being adapted by Jeb Stuart (48 HRS., The Fugitive, the upcoming John Rambo) and Steven E. de Souza (48 HRS., Commando). Die Hard 2 was adapted by de Souza and Doug Richardson (Bad Boys, Money Train). Die Hard With a Vengeance was written directly for the screen (though was reportedly cobbled together from a screenplay intended for the Lethal Weapon series) by Jonathan Hensleigh (who went on to Armegeddon). Live Free Or Die Hard was based on a 1997 Wired magazine article called "A Farewell To Arms" by John Carlin and written by Mark Bomback (Godsend) and David Marconi (Enemy Of The State).

This isn't to say that films not-based on novels are weaker entities. It's notable, perhaps, when considering a film's origins and how they're built upon to envision the finished project. My thinking is that -- in the translation of page-to-screen of first novel, from Nothing Lasts Forever into Die Hard -- the adapting screenwriters had much to work with from the original novel and are allowed (or borrow) some additional background and character inspiration regarding the heroic lead figure. Joe Leland (the novel's hero) is an older, more Clint Eastwood type who's saving his daughter from the invading villains within a metropolitan skyscraper. The heroic lead of 58 Minutes is also trying to save his particular daughter, this time in a hijack/airport situation over Christmas holiday that found its way straight into Die Hard 2. The makers of the first two films simply changed "daughter" to "wife," cast the wonderful Bonnie Bedelia as the newly christened Holly Gennero McClane, and voila! A cinematic family is born.

What I wonder about is Die Hard 3 and 4 -- do they suffer from not having this literary basis, this pre-existing history and from-the-novel background? It could be said that DH3 suffers from not following its predecessors in the "preserve the family unit at all costs" subtext of DH1 & DH2. The relationship between John (Willis) and Holly (Bedelia) was the emotional anchor that gave the first two films their strength and character. McClane was never an unstoppable superhero like so many Stallones and Schwarzeneggers. He was a man with a family, fighting to keep his wife safe. DH3 misses out on this completely, but it is buoyed by the buddy chemistry of McClane and Zeus Carver (a terrific Samuel L. Jackson). DH4 tries to fill the emotional slots with a cantankerous relationship between McClane and his daughter, Lucy (Mary Elizabeth Winstead, who appeared in Grindhouse). The attempt gets minor points for trying but loses a few more later. More on this in a moment...

Certainly DH4's villains suffer in comparison. Our new head baddie, Gabriel (Timothy Olyphant) may be the weakest antagonist of the series (he'd be nothing without his laptop) and has none of the menace nor the charisma of his predecessors. Regarding Gabriel's reason for doing what he does -- how silly is it that his criminal scheme is mainly born not out of simple greed or political anger or even revenge, but of a bruised ego? In the world of responsible, get-the-job-done front-liners like McClane, this villain is a strutting, delusional, Derek Zoolanderish, techno-punk whiner who's all up in a tizzy because he didn't get the credit he feels he deserves after designing a flawed National Security protection system and then pointing it's flaws out to his superiors. This is rather like getting a bad coffee at Starbucks, then having the Barista come out to your table to point out his shabby brewing work and then asking for a hefty tip. He's more up-to-date but not much of a character. Gabriel might be McClane's superior in the digital world of telecom technology, but -- as Gabriel soon discovers -- McClane is easily his superior in the analog world of "ripping people a new one" technology.

Gabriel's henchmen have little charisma compared earlier Die Hard "teams of evil." Maggie Q is certainly pleasing but is never given much of a character to play. She's capable of entertaining work as can be seen in the Hong Kong actioner Naked Weapon and the more recent Mission: Impossible III. And the "unstoppable" Cyril Raffaeli of District B-13 fame might be a good fighter and acrobat, but he has none of the danger, edge or mystery of Alexander Gudonov in Die Hard and pales by comparison. These aren't characters, they're character types -- empty cyphers that might as well be wearing t-shirts that read "Hot Evil Girlfriend" or "Bad Guy #2." It's not the actors' fault they don't make a dent -- it's the screenplay's for not giving them more rounded, defined people to play. Nearly twenty years later we still remember "Karl" and "Theo" from Die Hard. One day after seeing Live Free, I need to pay a visit to IMDB to even remember anyone's names.

For Live Free's climax, we are given a scene that is nearly a direct lift from the ending of the first, best Die Hard. Gabriel and a light load of Henchmen have Lucy McClane and Matt Farrell (Justin Long) under gunpoint -- just as Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his fellow baddies had Holly (Bedelia) under gunpoint in Die Hard. There, McClane had only two bullets left, came up with a genius plan, calmly walked (or "limped") into the room and expertly ended their lives with little more than a joke and some deadly marksmanship. Here, in the same situation presented in Live Free or Die Hard, do the writers pay tribute somehow with their final act cribbed so closely from the original? Do they actually sit and come up with something equally as clever or exciting or even original? No. They have McClane just march straight into the room like a mad bull, guns blazing, with no strategy or plan whatsoever. That's some lazy writing... as well as a major error that McClane would never likely make, despite being caught in the heat of anger or revenge. This goes against McClane's established character and the scene suffers greatly for it. Similarly, the ensuing standoff and punishment of Gabriel a moment later seems that much less potent and leaves us wanting something more grand, operatic... or maybe just a little cooler. Gabriel deserves a far more vicious beatdown (and a far longer, more satisfying comeuppance) for all the terror he's wrought across the country and across the lives of our heroes.

Speaking of which (as mentioned earlier), the "Lucy McClane in peril" portions of the storyline are so perfunctory in their construction that they make an already ridiculous narrative that much more silly. The first scene with Lucy & John arguing outside her that parked car was genuinely human and amusing. It was soon less so when it became obvious that it was mere set-up for the third act's kidnapping plotline. Lucy exists only to get abducted and to toss around a few humorous lines. She's not as organic to the plotline of DH4 as Holly is in DH1 (or even DH2 to a lesser extent). Holly is the reason McClane visits Los Angeles in Die Hard in the first place. For all her integral-to-plotness, Lucy might as well be some random that McClane buys the Daily News from every morning.

Sadly, director Len Wiseman drops the ball in several ways. By current filmmaking standards, Live Free is a decent ride. But compared to Die Hard and the first half of Die Hard With A Vengeance, both directed by the great but suddenly unfavored John McTiernan, a great deal of Live Free feels as unreal as a cartoon. Nothing in Wiseman's previous work in the Underworld films would seem to suggest a mind capable of helming something as important as a Die Hard film. (Yes, I said important.) Something about the way McTiernan shoots a film -- the you-are-there aesthetic, the sweat, the impending danger, the realism -- makes the drama and fear of his earlier Die Hard films that much more satisfying. (Not so much Renny Harlin's Die Hard 2.) Wiseman is a fairly decent chaos-director... I quite enjoyed the car chases and a little of the "jetfighter versus truck" stuff. But his action rarely feels emotionally involving. Sure, action films have regrettably "evolved" to a point of intensity that's way over the top and far too computer generated, these days. But they can also be streamlined and reality-based, as can be seen every week on television's 24, a series that owes much to McClane and his methods. In fact, in many ways Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) pretty much is McClane without a sense of humor. I like to think they'd get along fairly well if they ever bumped into each other at their local pub.

There's a bit more in Live Free that one could pick apart. The Gas Explosion sequence could've been removed entirely. The sequence in which McClane dispatches an opponent by driving through a dozen concrete walls with an SUV and pinning said opponent under said exploding SUV (at the bottom an elevator shaft, mind you) is so stupidly conceived it's embarrassing. (Just how did he get from the parking garage inside the building, anyway? That's one tough SUV.) There's far too much shabby dialogue looping and ADR work, likely done in haste in order to cover the edited-down-to-PG-13 aspect of the film you're all aware of. No doubt an extended-cut of the film will be released to DVD in the near future, crassly capitalizing on our desire to hear our beloved "yippee-ki-yay" line in all it's well-deserved glory

And yet... Despite all it's weak points... And it's weak points are many...

Live Free Or Die Hard still works as simple summer entertainment. It's a testament to Bruce Willis and his work as John McClane that even with the film's many shortcomings, we still have a great time watching it unfold. There are other pleasures... Justin Long's techno-geek character wasn't nearly as rote nor as annoying as he could've been. In fact, I wanted to know more about his background, who his parents are and how he's so technologically gifted. He and McClane strike an initially uneasy partnership and eventually seem very father/son, on occassion. The helicopter chase material is a lot of fun and the film's musical score by Marco Beltrami even has a few Michael Kamen tributes in there with several loving callbacks to the late composer's earlier Die Hard scores. Like The Last Boy Scout and Hudson Hawk before it, Live Free Or Die Hard is miraculously more than the sum of its parts.

Perhaps the character of John McClane, the cop with the attitude who never gives up and never backs down, is script-and-situation proof. Perhaps we will always love the guy no matter what. More so than Indiana Jones, more than James Bond, more than Neo, more than near anyone else in current cinema, John McClane is the funny, blue-collar, get-it-done man that we all not only want to be but could be if given the same circumstances. He can't stick to walls, shoot webs, turn back time or stop bullets. He's just one of the guys. One of our friends. One of us...

And may he Live Free forever.

*** stars (out of four).

Sunday, June 24, 2007

The New Brat Pack

And now, a tale of terror from the front lines of Video Retail...

INT - THE STORE - DAY.

A group of four pre-teen girls enters the shop. With their iPods, cell phones and high-volume conversational banter, they are clearly the masters of their existences. They break off from their discussion of the relative "hotness" of actor Chris Evans long enough for one of them (the leader, it seems) to approach the in-his-thirties Associate at the sales counter. The Associate makes eye contact with this creature, the apparent Future of Our World.

ASSOCIATE
Hi? Can I help you find something?

THE FUTURE
"Yah," can you recommend something for
a group of eleven year old girls?

ASSOCIATE
(fumbling a little)
We have... some Barbie movies.

The Future gives the Associate the deepest look of contempt her eleven year old face can muster.

ASSOCIATE
How about Dora The Explorer? Or Barnyard?
That's got cows! Do you like cows?

THE FUTURE
Where's John Tucker Must Die?

ASSOCIATE
That's rated PG-13 for "sexual content and
language." You're eleven. That's two years of
life experience you can't handle yet.

THE FUTURE
(getting testy)
What's a really funny movie, then?

Anyone who knows the Associate, geek or not, knows his answer to this one.

ASSOCIATE
How about Ghostbusters? That's about the
funniest movie ever.

THE FUTURE
Pfft! More like the oldest movie ever.

All four girls start laughing like it's the last minute of the last day of school.

The Associate silently wonders if it's technically illegal to slap someone else's kids.

FADE OUT.

Recent Theatrical Reviews:
Spider-Man 3 ***1/2
Ocean's Thirteen ***1/2
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer ***
Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End **1/2

DVD/Home Video:
The Third Man: Criterion Collection ****
The Naked City: Criterion Collection ****
Europa (aka Zentropa) ****
The Hitcher (1986) ****
Protege (Hong Kong) ***1/2
Truck Rascals: No One Can Stop Me (Japan, 1975) ***
New York Stories (1989) ***
The Money Pit (1986) ***
Dragnet (1987) ***
The 'Burbs (1989) **1/2
Confession Of Pain (HK) **1/2
Ghost Rider (2007) **1/2
Pulse (2006) **
The Woman Chaser (1999) **
The Hitcher (2007) *1/2
Transmorphers (2007) (zero stars)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

"Banzai Hard"

To combat the negativity of the last blog entry, here's two little pieces of awesome ness to brighten your day.

Firstly, allow me to introduce you to Puchi Bruce.

Anyone who knows me knows of my admiration of the work of Bruce Willis, the Die Hard film series -- even the third one which starts off great but goes as haywire as an old Batman TV rerun -- and for Japanese cinema, as well. Hell, I've even got both of Bruce's pop/blues albums (yep) and a T-shirt from his Boston show during his 2002 Tour with Ivan Neville (double-yep). But... there's a certain man somewhere in Japan who puts my fanboy-ness to shame. And I now have a new hero to add to the ranks. His name is Akihiro Suzuki, and he must be seen to be believed.

Japansugoi.com reports that "This 47 year old actor from Yokohama was a former Japanese salaryman who dreamed of acting while working for the Supermarket chain Daiei. During this time he worked as a TV/movie extra and participated in Mono-mane (impersonator) programs for Japanese TV station TBS where he became “Puchibruce." His name derives from the French word ‘Petite Bruce’, meaning a mini-version of Bruce Willis due to his diminutive stature compared to the real Bruce. The Japanese word for Petite is pronounced ‘Puchi.'"

For me it all began with some youtube clips from Japanese game shows featuring Suzuki-san. Then a friend of mine showed me this fella's myspace page. And from there I found this site, which I've been watching over and over again for the last day or so. You've just gotta love this guy.

http://www.puchi-diehard.com/

If anyone can help, I have a few questions. Just how big is this guy in Japan right now? Could Akihiro Suzuki be this year's "Star Wars Kid?" On that last site, there appears to be a date of 2007 -- I can't read Japanese but is this site advertising a movie or v-cinema offering to be released? Imagine him working with Takashi Miike, Sho Aikawa and Riki Takeuchi. Total bliss, right there. Enjoy some more Puchi Action...

A game show clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LNoQKHlCHs
A myspace link: http://blog.myspace.com/puchibruce

On a non-related note, those of you in the New York area can currently see two of the best crime drama films to come out of Asia since the Infernal Affairs trilogy at the Film Forum in Manhattan -- Election and Election 2 (aka Triad Election).

Directed by master filmmaker Johnnie To, director of Running Out Of Time, The Mission, Throwdown and Exiled, the Election films are about the ever changing levels of power within the Chinese Mafia. In the films' large and powerful Triad (crime organization), the leader is elected by those who serve and operate within theTriad's structure. Election (Part One) is a detailed examination of the hunt for power between two opposing candidates -- a brash wildman (Tony Leung Ka Fai) and a more subdued man of the people (Simon Yam) -- and their various subordinates. Election 2/Triad Election deals with the desire to maintain one's power when a conflicted, young, new candidate from within the ranks pops up to challenge a Boss in the next leader election. If you enjoy Chinese cinema, mob politics and the occasional bit of ultraviolence, these are for you. Johnnie To's films don't typically get a lot of play in theaters around the USA (at least not yet) so take the time if you can. Very, very worth the trip.

Recent Theatrical Reviews:
Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theaters ***

DVD/Home Video:
Spider-Man 2.1 (Extended Cut) ****
Miami Vice: Season One ***1/2
Masters Of Horror: Homecoming ***1/2
Payback: 1999 Theatrical Cut ***1/2
Payback (Straight Up) : 2007 Director's Cut ***1/2
Criterion Collection: Border Radio (1987) ***
Criterion Collection: Atomic Submarine (1959) **1/2
Masters Of Horror: Pick Me Up **
Hurricane Smith (1992) **

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Customer Is Always... What?

Ever worked retail? Sucks, doesn't it? I mean it realllly sucks, sometimes. You can be as respectful and courteous behind that counter as you like but there's just no accounting for those people who just seem to come into your establishment for the sole cause of venting the issues they have in their so-called personal lives. A word of advice for those who fit that description: "Don't." We of the Retail Force don't need your anger nor your attitude. We're not your punching bags nor your understanding family members. We're at work. You're in our place of business. Unless you'd like to leave us the address of where you spend your days and critique your work style, feel free to stay home. Or better yet, stay home... and start drinking. It'll make all your problems go away. Trust me. You'll feel better. Give it a shot. ;)

Why the sudden nastiness in blogging? Three recent run-in's at my job with customers who just don't seem to get the finer points of human interaction and interpersonal communication. Let's look back, shall we?

DAY ONE:

MAN #1 comes us to the counter. He's normally an okay type; a regular. A bit of a wiseguy but no worries. He comes in tonight seeming a little off. World weary, maybe a little loaded. He comes up to the counter on a busy night and starts telling a story at top-volume...

Me: Hey! How ya' doing tonight?

Man #1: Lemme ask you... What kind of a fuckin' name for a poodle...

Me: (interrupting, smiling) Wait, wait! C'mon, shhhh! There's kids right behind you, man. Please, no swearing out loud... It's a "PG" store... (laughing) Okay, so what's this about a poodle?

Man #1: (dramatic, angry pause) Look... I'm sorry I used a word... that you found personally objectionable, but... (he leans in, to my face) Don't ever correct me again.

Me: (keeping my cool) I'm sorry, but like I said there are children not ten feet from us and we can't have swearing in the store. Okay? Please try to understand.

Man #1 (intense) I hope... you're hearing me.

Me: (intense back) That's the problem, Sir. I am hearing you.

DAY TWO:

MAN #2 enters the store and begins speaking heatedly at a NEW HIRE about the outside video drop-box being locked. About a month ago we began locking the box during the daytime in order to get customers to drop their movies inside the store and to help ensure quicker DVD check-ins and more efficient service, which we always point out to every customer during every transaction. Most appreciate the forward leap in service... but not all. The New Hire isn't yet equipped to handle surly customers yet, so I step in...

Man #2: That drop box is supposed to be open all day! You want me to leave my car running outside where it'll get stolen??

Me: Well, you block a fire lane when you drop off movies from your car at the box, Sir. And there are more than a dozen empty parking spaces in our lot out there. The drop box is pretty much for when the store's closed, only.

Man #2: Why doesn't it say that? (This argument has always made me laugh. As if everything in the world needs labels for those without common sense. This man is the type of mouth breather who sues McDonald's when their coffee is served too hot.)

Me: (joking) Well, it doesn't say a lot of things.

Man #2: (walking toward me, now) Are you getting snide with me?

Me: (walking toward him, now) No. I'm making a joke with you.

He takes my name. I give it. He leaves. We of the Retail Force are happy.

DAY THREE:

MAN #3 would like to do some renting but he hasn't been into the store for about two years and the credit card (or bank card) on his account has expired. Cards are required to back up member accounts so that the company has a way to get their money back if a customer never returns what they rent. This happens all day every day and is standard operating procedure. This fella just isn't having it.

Man #3: This is stupid! I'm not giving you my credit card! I'm paying cash!

Me: Well, I can save your movies for you until you can come back with one...

Man #3: Forget it. Just gimme the Coke. (The soft drink. Not the drug. He seems to be on enough of them, already.)

Me: That's $1.41 then, please.

Man #3 throws (yes, throws) a giftcard at me across the counter. I ring up his purchase and try giving back his giftcard, which still has quite a bit of money stored on it.

Man#3: Throw it away! I'm not coming back.

Me: Well... there's still close to $20.00 left on this gift card. You could always give it to someone... Otherwise you're throwing away close to twenty dollars, here.

Man#3: I don't care! You guys are assholes! (He leaves.)

Sure. He throws money at me, shouts obscenities in public and storms away. And I'm the asshole.

"Who's next, please?" :)

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Bumping... and Grinding.

Having grown up in the New England sticks, I never had the chance to see proper "grindhouse" cinema in its legendary habitat. Oh sure, the Union Theater in Attleboro had a certain low-rent squalor and the Plainville Drive-In would occasionally show an awkward double feature along the lines of The Rescuers and Porky's -- but there were no real experiences to be had of this type in my formative moviegoing years. The Home Video wars (that is, VHS versus Beta) finished fairly quickly and many of the exploitation world's finest offerings began spilling into living rooms across the country in their hard plastic shells labeled "be kind, rewind." Of course, my film interests were more middle of the road back then (Spielberg, John Hughes and the like) but I'd grab the occasional Cannon Films or Vestron Video offering to mix things up a bit. I say this because I feel... well... saddened and dismayed that I missed out on what many would consider the true and proper Grindhouse Experience.

Which is probably just one of the reasons I enjoyed the new Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino film, Grindhouse... and why it's such an important movie for this particular generation at this particular time. Grindhouse isn't just a slick, thoughtful, bloody, twisted, hilarious and exciting movie. It could serve as a torchlight illuminating the genre and could lead the viewer to seek out and experience the films it pays homage to -- and is therefore better bang-for-the-buck movie goodness than anything released in quite some time. The youth of today are being lulled into a safe, green, motion picture pasture in which there's a computer-animated talking or singing animal movie being released pretty much every week on some format or another. These people could use a wake-up call -- and a film that features Disney's "Captain Ron" driving a black, crossboned, high-octane deathbeast over someone's face might just be what they need.

Rodriguez's Planet Terror is pitch perfect, if a little too highly competently made -- few zombie/action flicks of the old days are this smartly paced, sleekly sexual, self-aware or technically polished -- and Rose McGowan earns her new star status with humor and intensity. Tarantino's Death Proof achieves a neat trick with its indulgently lengthy set-up by delivering a visceral and hysterical punchline while giving Kurt Russell his best role in decades and delivering actress/stuntperson Zoe Bell into the hearts and fantasies of audiences everywhere. The icing on the cake is/are the "fake trailers" that appear throughout the film from the likes of Rob Zombie, Eli Roth and Edgar Wright. Hell, I could've watched ninety minutes of them, if they were all as good as Don't! and Machete. One can only hope that even a few theaters and cinema pubs across America will take a cue from the film and start programming similar double features in the spirit of recapturing the craziness and abandon of these howling, insane, often so-bad-they're-beautiful works of art. C'mon, people. Do it... for the kids.

I caught Grindhouse at the Boston sneak on Thursday night with a few hundred screaming movie fans; the type that will happily stay up until after 3:00am on a weeknight -- and just as happily go into work and/or school, bleary-eyed and sleep deprived the next morning -- if a good cinema experience is to be had the night before. And ever since then, whenever I found myself talking to someone at work or around the apartment, I'd find myself asking them a couple of quick questions.

"What are you doing here, right now?"
"Why aren't you at the movies right now seeing Grindhouse?"
And... "Are you a movie fan or not?"

Theatrical Reviews:
Grindhouse ****
Hot Fuzz ****
Roman ***1/2
300 ***

Home Video:
Masters Of Horror: Cigarette Burns: ***1/2
Masters Of Horror: Sick Girl: ***
Wild Side (1995) ***
The Dangerous Brothers/World Of Danger (UK, 1991) ***
Cross My Heart (1987) ***
Hellboy: Sword Of Storms **1/2

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Night of A Thousand Stars

Hey there, all. Yesterday was a pretty decent day and a fair representation of the way I'd like a great deal of my days to be.

Firstly, as you might guess, it was a day off from work -- which is always appreciated. The college pals Mark and Tom came down from Keene and we all headed off to Harvard Square in Cambridge to the historic Brattle Theater to attend the area premiere of Hot Fuzz, the new action-comedy from the team behind the UK's television and film wonders Spaced and Shawn of the Dead. Stars Simon Pegg & Nick Frost and director Edgar Wright were all to be in attendance, so missing the event was simply not an option. In order to gain attendance to said event, one had to catch a screening of a previous film in a series of presentations of classic action/cop movies such as The French Connection, Lethal Weapon, Hard Boiled and such. I'd made the trip out a while ago -- during a blizzard that shut down most of the city -- to catch Dirty Harry, in order to get my Fuzz ticket. It was freezing out there waiting for the amazingly undependable MBTA bus line ride home and I nearly jumpstarted my cold/flu again in doing so... but in hindsight, it was definitely worth it.

After grabbing a bite at Charlie's -- truly the "double cheeseburger king," just as the sign says -- we recaptured our spots in line thanks to another chance run-in with friend and fellow cinemaniac Wendee (see the "Lebowski" post on this blog). We all filed in and basked in the warming, comic glow of Hot Fuzz's warm, comic glow. No spoilers on the film, here. But anyone who loved Shawn of the Dead or can appreciate a great mix of character comedy and "shite blowing up" won't be disappointed. After the screening, a 30 minute Q&A commenced with Pegg, Frost & Wright. Many fine questions and many silly and informative answers were lobbed about. Pegg jokingly confirmed for me his hopes that a series of action figures featuring the Fuzz cast might be released -- especially ones in the classic Star Wars figure style where one could take his "Nicholas Angel" figure and place it in a series of playsets and vehicles. Autographs were signed, hands were shaken and a great time was had by all. But wait: there was more...

Immediately after the Fuzztival, another screening was to be held as part of the Boston Underground Film Festival. This screening was of a new horror/comedy/romance called Roman and to be presented in attendance by cinematographer Kevin Ford, star Lucky Mckee and director Angela Bettis. McKee (also well known director) and Bettis (also an acclaimed actress) previously collaborated on the great horror comedy May, and switched filmmaking positions on Roman, a DV-film regarding another lonely, dangerous soul trying to connect with his particular world with sweet and deadly results.

The film hits all the right marks and is exceedingly well shot by director of photography Ford. The post-screening Q&A was an intimate, down-to-earth session with McKee, Bettis and Ford lending advice and sharing filmmaking stories with warmth and humor. After a quick meet-and-greet, I asked Ford about the DVD release of the film and let him know that in the realm of DV features, I thought that Roman looked great and better, in fact, than David Lynch's Inland Empire. Very cool work was displayed by three very talented filmmakers, indeed.

After the thank you's were exchanged and the crowd split up, Mark, Tom and I headed out into the streets, parted company and I caught a nearby bus back to the pad to enjoy some of the David Lynch Signature Cup Organic House Roast Coffee (!) that I grabbed at the theater's concession stand. Quite good, actually. Mellow, not bitter. If you're ever out by the Brattle, the Lynch coffee's definitely worth the stop. Just be sure to keep the fish out of your percolator...

And if you get that reference, you're my kind of reader. ;)

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

"Prepare For Glory!"

A quick word about Frank Miller's 300.

I caught this thing with the pals in New Hampshire last week. It ended up a split decision. Some of us hated it, some appreciated the flick despite its lunkheadedness. I think Ridley Scott's Academy Award winner Gladiator does the "ancient epic" thing a bit better -- but there is a savage charge in some of 300's battle scenes and spiritual carnage. As we left the screening room and moved into the theater lobby, some of us began yelling at the tops of our lungs such battlecries as "Wheaaaah is the baaaah-throom?! Let no man stand in our way!! These toilets... are for Spartaaaaaaaa!!!"

My good friend Tim Hulsizer and I joked awhile about the film, realizing that all of these recent, huge, swaggering, muscle-bound warrior pictures like Gladiator, Troy, Alexander and such all seem comfy enough to solely deal with European historical conquests. We joked that some studio with a few hundred million to burn needs to man-up some July 4th weekend with a similarly noisy, overwrought, meatheaded, testosterone-historical (or "testostorical") production centered on good ol' American history.

We imagined an unproven, schizo music-video director at the helm, directing a 70% slow-motion CGI extravaganza about George Washington's crossing of the Delaware in 1776 -- only the Delaware would be 500 miles across, there would be a thousand ship armada, the entire film would take place at night in the rain, there would be pirates, Washington would be a bent, uber-buffed, stripped-naked, homicidal maniac with an impossibly hot Betsy Ross awaiting his return... and since Hollywood's historical epics are primarily cast with actors from the UK or Austrailia, all of our American characters would be played by Brits -- which would make things even more surreal.



Hundred million opening weekend. Guaranteed.

Check out Tim's blog for similar concept art and more. ;)
http://ignatz.brinkster.net/timages/daily/daily0372.gif
http://ignatz.brinkster.net/daily.html

BLOG: THE RETURN

Well, here we are again...

As always, my apologies for the delays in between bloggerations. It's the usual reasons/excuses -- "work, sleep, the occasional day-off." Besides the winter season hitting the videostore like a suburban tsunami, I've been whiling away much of the spare time discovering the amazing world of online film soundtrack hunting (and rediscovering the greatness of Ennio Morricone), getting a roommate hooked on Fox-TV's 24, making a few new close friends, tearing up the crime-ridden streets of Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories, becoming one with all-things-Kryptonian with the Superman Ultimate Collector's Edition DVD set (all fourteen discs' worth)... and gearing up to do some "serious" writing again for the first time in years.

Project #1 is a sci-fi sort of thing. It's going to be very short and intended for a specific market (more details will follow, perhaps) and should also help me train for Project #2, an adventure drama inspired by a classic piece of literature and a film noir masterpiece. Though I've already completed two full-length screenplays (between 105 and 140 pages) and one short one (60 pages), it's been a daunting task getting to this stage. It's psychological, really. I'm never at a loss of material or inspiration. For me, the prepping is the hardest part. Between restlessness, the internet, movies, music and such, there are a thousand things out there that can distract one's attention from creativity. Like an athlete training for an Olympic event, one has to become very zen, very focused... and force the distractions away.

Step one was simplifying my environment visually. Too many posters and objects and such in my direct creative vicinity can throw me off, so I started packing some things up and storing them away. Now, the room is a bit more spartan in decor but could/should probably become more so. In addition, keeping the right things around can help to inspire. Off the walls came the Ghostbusters theatrical one-sheet and the rare Eric Clapton album cover. A painting by my mother (an unfulfilled artist, herself) and another that hung in the living room of the house I grew up in as a child stayed in their spots, though. This concept of mine has already had a sort of "cleansing" effect upon me in a way, I feel. I'm looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

At any rate, it's time to catch some Zzzz's for the time being, so until next blog here's a few reviews to keep things rolling. More soon. :)

Theatrical

Dirty Harry (1971) ***1/2
300 ***
Volver **1/2

DVD/Home Video
The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989) ****
24: Season Five ***1/2
Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation (1989) ***
Mulholland Drive: TV Series Pilot Version ***
Night of the Comet (1984) ***
Casino Royale (2006) ***
Rocky Balboa ***
Confession Of Pain (Hong Kong) **1/2
Scary Movie 4 **1/2
The Last Man On Earth (1964) **
Attack Force * 1/2
Flight Of Fury * 1/2
The Suicide Manual (Japan) *
The Suicide Manual 2 (Japan) *

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

New Zoo Reviews...

Just a few additions for now, more soonish...

Theatrical
The Curse Of The Golden Flower (Hong Kong) **1/2
Inland Empire **1/2

DVD/Home Video (Domestic)
Once Upon A Time In America: Director's Cut (1984) ****
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One - Criterion Collection (Documentary) ****
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take 2 1/2 - Criterion **1/2
The Superman "Ultimate Collector's Edition" DVD Set ****
Superman ****
Superman II (Theatrical) ****
Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut (2006) ****
Superman III ***
Superman IV: The Quest For Peace **
Superman Returns (2006) ***
Look! Up In The Sky! (Documentary) ***
You Will Believe (Documentary) ***1/2

South Park: Season 7 ***
Snakes On A Plane ***
Hard Candy ***
Idiocracy ***
Slither ***
Edmond ***
The Black Dahlia **1/2
The Quiet **1/2
Altered **1/2
Scoop **1/2
Dynamic 1: The Best Of DavidLynch.com **1/2
The Saddest Music In The World **
The First $20 Million **
The Wicker Man (2006) **
Clean, Shaven **
The Marine **
7 Mummies *

DVD/Home Video (Foreign)
The Banquet (Hong Kong) ***1/2
G.I. Samurai (Japan, 1979) ***
Gwendoline (France, 1984) ***
Kamikaze Girls (Japan) ***
Invisible Waves (Thai) ***
Rob-B-Hood (HK) ***
Exiled (HK) ***
Bloody Tie (Korea) **1/2
Typhoon (Korea) **1/2
Puzzle (Korea) **1/2
Cello (Korea) **1/2