Posts Tagged ‘Must-see

28
Oct
14

Birdman; or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance (2014)

BirdmanPosterI was going to hold off on writing up Birdman; or, The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance until after October, so I’d have a nice, neat little block of horror posts for this month. But the thing is, I just can’t wait. I have been thinking about the movie ever since I watched it two days ago, and the more I think about it, the better it gets in my head. I feel it is my duty to direct whatever audience I might have to the theaters to see it while they can.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is washed up. In the 1990’s, he played everyone’s favorite superhero Birdman, but today he’s nobody. All that remains of Birdman is the occasional photograph request from Midwestern families on vacation. Well, not only that I suppose; it seems Riggan maintains an inner dialog with Birdman, the latter always pumping the former up and reminding him that he is a star. But Hollywood has no time for him these days, unless of course he suddenly becomes interested in making Birdman 4. But Riggan has loftier aspirations; in fact it’s those aspirations that have brought him to New York City, where he is acting and directing in his very first Broadway play, an adaptation of Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. He’s never done a thing like this before, and he’s putting his reputation and financial security on the line.
The play is, of course, a disaster waiting to happen. Riggan’s daughter Sam (Emma Stone), a recovering addict of some sort, is acting as his assistant and she’s gonna blow any minute. Worse still, opening night is not far away when his male co-star’s head is crushed by a fallen stage light. This is a blessing; the guy was terrible, and Riggan insists to his lawyer Jake (Zach Galifianakis) that he himself actually made it happen. Jake has no time to ponder Riggan’s potential telekinesis and is more concerned with getting a new guy in the fallen actor’s seat. One of Riggan’s female co-stars Lesley (Naomi Watts) is well-connected and pulls in Mike Shiner (Edward Norton), a Hollywood darling of the moment with opinions and attitude, who also happens to “share a vagina” with her.
So amongst post-rehab familial turmoil, relationship issues between Lesley and Mike, Mike’s diva bullshit, the possibility that Riggan’s girlfriend Laura is pregnant, a likely lawsuit resulting from the fallen stage light, an almost guaranteed shit-review from the New York Times and Riggan’s failing resolve despite his inner Birdman chirping confidence into his ear, the show must go on. But how will it go?
It has been a long time since I’ve seen a new movie with Hollywood actors that is this good. Part of why it is so good is that it absolutely indicts the current state of Hollywood. Riggan’s Birdman conscience is always going on and on about what a “star” he is; all his career needs is a jump-start with another action-packed, superhero blockbuster. But Riggan dares to defy the expectations of Hollywood and his audience in hopes of doing something he considers actually meaningful. As Marvel has just publicized release dates for future superhero movies through 2018, could Birdman have hit the nail on the head any more square? Furthermore, Birdman will only become more relevant as whatever actors play the lead roles in these increasingly tiresome blockbusters age and become themselves irrelevant and forgotten.
I can’t help but wonder how the writers went about creating the screenplay. Did they actually get input from Keaton, who is very clearly the template for Riggan’s character? This movie just wouldn’t mean as much, or possibly couldn’t have even been made, if it hadn’t been for Keaton’s involvement. Birdman absolutely cannot be separated from Keaton’s own experience acting in Batman, a humongous blockbuster that arguably set the stage for the superhero boner Hollywood’s been sporting ever since. A brief glance at Keaton’s imdb page displays loudly Batman and Batman Returns: these are Keaton’s hallmark films, and they’ve cast a shadow under which it’s been undoubtedly difficult for Keaton to escape. Mad props to him for going balls-out with this flick. Did I mention he fucking rocks it in this movie? His performance is stellar; a total pleasure to watch. I have always enjoyed Keaton’s work but this is, like, some of the best stuff I’ve ever seen him do.  
Keaton’s not the only one who shines bright in this movie, though: Galifianakis, Norton and Stone all give pretty fantastic performances. It is worth noting, too, that most of main roles in this film are played by actors who have somehow been involved with blockbuster or superhero movies; there’s Ed Norton’s Hulk, Stone’s Spiderman, and Watts’ King Kong. And though Galifianakis hasn’t dipped into the superhero pot too much (at least not that I’m aware), he is most certainly a victim of the never-ending sequel (The Hangover III? Really?). Birdman really gives its actors a chance to show us what they can do (with the exception of Naomi Watts, who unfortunately isn’t really given much to work with here). Moreover, it dares us to care. The audience is indicted just as much as Hollywood is; after all, Hollywood wouldn’t be churning out gelatinous muck unless it was in high-demand. Writer/director Alejandro González Iñárritu and Co. are asking more from us, and I do believe it’s high time we the audience give writers, actors, and studios a reason to produce quality instead of tripe.
Speaking of quality, don’t think for a second Iñárritu lets critics off the hook. The whole time Riggan is preparing for opening night, the dark figure of the New York Times critic Tabitha Dickinson looms in the background. She frequently drinks martinis in a bar right next to Riggan’s theater, and while she has a contemptuous but respectful relationship with Mike, she has absolutely nothing but disdain for Riggan and other actors like him. She knows the power her reviews hold over the success or failure of a particular play, and she is not afraid to use it. I don’t consider myself a critic, but certainly when you’re writing up anything and offering a published opinion, you’re either endorsing or decrying that thing. Riggan’s opinion of such critics comes out in a fit of desperation and drunkenness, but is articulated better than anything I could ever put to paper, and I’d be lying if I didn’t feel implicated. 
While all of this sounds sort of heavy, and I suppose it is, this is more than just a drama. It is darkly, intelligently funny, and it manages to be so without long stretches of irritating dialog which seems to characterize intellectual comedies. It is refreshing in that way and so many others. There is a lot more I could say, like about how there’s this whole personal struggle going on with Riggan and this movie’s about much more than just showbiz, but I’m way over my word limit here, folks: just go see the damn movie. It needs us as much as we need it.
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04
May
14

Jodorowsky’s Dune

j-duneJodorowsky’s Dune is a documentary about a film that never got made. Chances are you’re familiar with Dune, a supposed science fiction masterpiece by Frank Herbert that I’ve never read, but probably should (and want to a little bit more after seeing this documentary). You might not be as familiar with Alejandro Jodorowsky as you should, but I’ll let it slide because, let’s face it, Jodorowsky’s stuff is “not for everyone,” and that’s putting it lightly. If you are familiar with Jodorowsky, your mind probably pops and reels at the thought of him putting the worlds of Dune to film. This documentary follows the talented artists who got together and worked hard for two years to conceive of a film so big it could never be made.

In 1973, Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain was released, with a fair degree of success – cult film fans everywhere were drooling over it (and still do). It is one of the most bizarre, visually stunning films I’ve ever seen. Based on its success, film producer Michel Seydoux approached Jodorowsky, telling him for his next film, we’ll do “anything you want.” Dangerous words to a visionary mind like Alejandro Jodorowsky, and from that moment on the film just gets enormously ambitious. The artists Jodorowsky approaches to work on his film are not just colleagues, they are his “warriors” who he believes will be fit to work on this project that will change the world. The likes of Dan O’Bannon, Jean Giraud (Mœbius), Chris Foss and H.R. Giger are drafted to create the visuals of Dune‘s universe, while Jodorowsky plots to get David Carradine, Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and even Salvador Dali acting in the film.

After seeing a healthy bit of Jodorowsky’s filmography, I honestly expected to meet a man who was half out of his mind; an evil, drooling genius perhaps. But what you find in this documentary is a normal guy with a huge passion to change the perceptions of the people who see his work. He wants to change the world, and Dune was going to do it. He is absolutely charming, and in the moments when he talks about the film being rejected by studio after studio, you can see how deeply the “failure” still affects him. But, as you can see from some of the images taken from the gigantic script he and team presented to the studios, bits and pieces of the film can be found in science fiction movies from Star Wars to Prometheus. Despite the fact it was never made, Jodorowsky’s Dune was still enormously influential. Imagine what would have happened had one of those studios bitten?

It doesn’t matter if you don’t like Jodorowsky’s films. It doesn’t matter if you’re not interested in science fiction. You can be the biggest Dune fan ever, or perhaps you’ve never even heard of it. If you create or consume art in any way, you need to see this film. You’ll never be able to forget again that to create something truly amazing, you have to have passion. The unfortunate thing about Hollywood is, you also need lots and lots of money, and no amount of artistic passion can convince a big Hollywood studio a film is worth making. All I can say is, I cannot fucking wait for The Dance of Reality, Jodorowsky’s first film in years, and the first time he and Michel Seydoux collaborated again after the failed vision of Dune.

 

28
Jan
14

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

She's written a letter to daddy...

She’s written a letter to daddy…

There are a lot of movies out there these days that aim to shock and horrify, and they’ll go to drastic measures to do so. Take, for instance, Tom Six’s The Human Centipede. The thought of hinging helpless folks ass-to-mouth in hopes of creating one digestive system out of multiple human bodies sure is shocking and horrifying. But, it is also ridiculous and unbelievable, and that’s ultimately why Six fails at his job. For something to be truly shocking and horrifying, it must be believable. That is what makes What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? such an incredibly successful and effective shocker; not only did the film’s two stars, Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, despise each-other in real life, the storyline they play out here is totally and completely believable.

It all started with Vaudeville, 1917. Baby Jane is a huge child star, singing treacly songs about sending letters to daddy in heaven (sealed with a kiss, to boot). You can even get a life-size Baby Jane doll, complete with blonde ringlets. Jane’s sister, Blanche (Crawford) is mousy and jealous. Their mother

Ready for her close-up...

Ready for her close-up…

promises Blanche she will one day have her turn in the spotlight, and she is right: fast-forward to the 1930’s where Blanche is the star. The only reason Jane is getting any work is because it’s written into Blanche’s contract that for every picture she does, Jane does one, too.

Unfortunately, Blanche’s time in the sun is cut short by a tragic accident; she is crushed between a car and the gate of her family’s mansion and resigned to a wheelchair for the rest of her life, effectively ending her career, and her autonomy. Though Jane was never officially charged with causing the accident, everyone is certain she is guilty, and so she is charged with caring for Blanche for the rest of her life. And thus begins a sick and twisted journey into the mind of a deranged, psychotic, washed-up alcoholic and the torment and terror she rains down upon her meek, defenseless, paralyzed sister. Three decades after the accident, Blanche is constantly tormented by Jane, and once Jane finds out Blanche is trying to sell the house they live in and send her off to a sanitarium, Jane does all she can to cut off Blanche’s ties with the outside world and make her nothing but a prisoner…

A telephone never seemed so far away.

A telephone never seemed so far away.

This film is renowned for being a camp classic, and there is plenty of camp to go around. Bette Davis’s performance is absolutely outrageous (and fantastically entertaining), but it’s also not completely out of the realm of believability: people go crazy sometimes, especially in Hollywood. Jealousy and stardom really make a terrible cocktail, as evidenced by Crawford and Davis’s actual off-screen rivalry. But it’s more than just campy, it is legitimately frightening! It’s not often I think of anything that’s considered camp as actually scary, and that I think is what makes Baby Jane so awesome. I found myself shocked at what was happening to Jane and how she was treating Blanche, but also shocked by Davis’s acting. I mean, like, wow, that woman seems seriously unhinged! How can you ham it up so hardcore and still be believable? A true feat, I think, and one we are lucky to behold!

01
Dec
13

Get Crazy (1983)

I’ve probably never uttered the words “this is so dumb!” as many times, or as enthusiastically, as I did when I watched Get Crazy. Yes, this is one of the stupidest movies I’ve ever seen, but it is also delightfully hilarious!

Colin Beverly does NOT care about rock and roll!

Colin Beverly does NOT care about rock and roll!

Max Wolfe owns the Saturn Theater, and his first priority is to give the kids a great place to see live music. His most immediate worry: that he and his right-hand-man, Neil (Daniel Stern) put on a flawless New Year’s Eve concert.

Electric Larry has some goodies to help the crew get ready for the show in time.

Electric Larry has some goodies to help the crew get ready for the show in time.

Unfortunately, everything isn’t peaches and cream: Colin Beverly (Ed Begley, Jr.) a big-time promoter, wants to snatch the Saturn Theater from Max, preferring stadium shows to those at smaller venues. Max refuses to sell, but as soon as his health starts to present itself as an issue, his sleazy nephew Sammy joins forces with Beverly and his toadies, and together they do their best to foil the Saturn’s concert.

Malcolm McDowell actually does move like Jagger!

Malcolm McDowell actually does move like Jagger!

Amidst all the slapstick hilarity that ensues is one heck of a concert. An archetype of all your favorite bands gets a shot at entertaining the crowd. There’s the hippie groovy druggie band, King Blues the, uh, blues singer, Nada the New Wave punker and the show-stopping Reggie Wanker (Malcolm McDowell doing his best Mick Jagger impression!). And whether or not Auden (Lou Reed as the Dylanesque folk singer) makes it to the show on time is no matter, it’s Lou Reed!

I mean, come on guys, it's Lou Reed.

I mean, come on guys, it’s Lou Reed.

It is truly a shame that this movie isn’t available on DVD. Hopefully you still have your VCR. I instruct you to go out and find a copy of this on VHS and pop it in. It’s so stupid, I promise you won’t regret it.

28
Jul
13

The Spirit of the Beehive (1973)

It wasn’t until I was six years old that I found out “they” still made new movies. Up until that point, I thought all we had to work with was what was already made; movies were just already there, making them wasn’t a thing people did. I was absolutely amazed when I learned new ones were coming out all the time. As an adult, of course this seems ridiculous and silly; why would I have thought such a thing? What misinterpretation of reality led to that belief? The Spirit of the Beehive is a film that touches on those questions. It examines the minds of children, their interpretations of cinema and also the world around them.

Ana watching Frankenstein for the first time.

Ana watching Frankenstein for the first time.

The film is set in the Spanish countryside, not long after the end of the Spanish civil war. Members of the small town gather together to watch James Whale’s Frankenstein for the first time ever. Children and old folks alike watch intently as the monster meets the little girl by the river, and later as the father carries her dead body through the town square. Ana (Ana Torrent) and Isabel, our two main characters, are particularly taken with this scene. Ana asks her older sister why the monster would kill the little girl. Isabel, in her all-knowing-big-sisterness, replies that movies are all a lie, and the monster isn’t really dead; his spirit is still alive, and if you know where to look for him, he’ll talk to you.

Ana and Isabel looking for the spirit.

Ana and Isabel looking for the spirit.

Soon after, the girls look for the monster in an abandoned building down the hill from their house. They find nothing but a large (maybe even monster-sized?) footprint, so Ana keeps going back hoping to find him. Isabel follows her, spying, perhaps realizing the power her story had on her younger sister’s understanding of reality. Things get a bit dangerous, though, when Ana meets a soldier who’s escaped and hides out in the abandoned building. She believes the soldier is the spirit she’s been waiting for, and brings him clothes and food. When she returns to the building and finds he’s gone, she runs away, launching a search party lasting all night through to the next morning.

Isabel's cruel joke.

Isabel’s cruel joke.

It’s during this night out alone that Ana finally meets the spirit she’s been searching for, and relives the scene from Frankenstein – but without being tossed in the river. In the morning Ana is recovered, and the doctors assure her parents that, while she’s had a very traumatic experience, she will soon forget everything and be back to normal, as if nothing had happened at all.

Ana and the soldier.

Ana and the soldier.

Of course, Ana didn’t really rendezvous with Frankenstein’s monster by a river on the Spanish countryside. This was either a hallucination (after all, she was out mushroom-hunting with her dad) or a dream. What matters is Ana’s imagination found a way for her to escape the world around her and create something beautiful for herself. I know this sounds maybe a little wacky, but I can’t help but compare this with Lucky McKee’s May; both Ana and May are living in less-than-perfect worlds, and both seek to escape – Ana from her war-torn family, and May from the cruel society into which she’s been thrust. It just so happens they both find comfort in monsters of their own creation. Both films have an impending sense of dread from start to finish – the difference is, The Spirit of the Beehive never really has any release; the dread seems to continue indefinitely, perhaps a hint of what it must have been like to live in Franco’s post-war Spain.

Ana and the spirit.

Ana and the spirit.

This movie is so quiet and unassuming, it took several days after watching it until I realized just how much it affected me, and what all the pieces of the puzzle come together to really mean. In his review, Roger Ebert talks about how the film is an allegory for living in Franco’s Spain, but that he prefers to think of the film by what it presents to us on the surface, and I have to agree with him. While the setting is obviously important, and the civil war has clearly wreaked havoc on Ana’s family and created the canvas onto which she paints her imaginary, it’s that imaginary that’s more interesting to me. Watching Ana interpret her older sister’s fibs into a reality brought me right back to my childhood, right back to the moment where my mother informed me new movies were coming out every day. It’s just a beautiful, evocative film that’s worth being patient for; in the age of explosions and never-ending fight scenes, what a pleasure to watch a movie that thrills you with its quiet vision rather than cheap visual effects. Finally, I’d be remiss not to mention how wonderful it is to watch Ana Torrent play the lead – her eyes are always wide open with questions, absorbing everything she sees to the fullest. It’s no wonder this is considered one of the best Spanish films out there.

11
Jul
13

The Abominable Dr. Phibes (1971)

Dr. Phibes likes to blow off steam by playing the organ.

Dr. Phibes likes to blow off steam by playing the organ.

Vincent Price strikes again! And, as far as I’m concerned, he can strike forevermore, because holy crap The Abominable Dr. Phibes is one of the most perfectly entertaining horror movies I’ve ever seen in my life, due in no small part to Price’s totally awesome performance. Of course, I’m telling you something you probably already know.

Dr. Anton Phibes is a multi-talented widower, seeking revenge against those he holds responsible for the death of his wife: the nine doctors and

Dr. Phibes' Clockwork Wizards!

Dr. Phibes’ Clockwork Wizards!

nurses who performed the surgery that killed her. One by one, Dr. Phibes takes them down in murders of biblical proportions: each death represents one of the ten plagues of Egypt. Every inventive murder is played out with as much campy drama as one could possibly hope for, and all with the help of Dr. Phibes’ gorgeous, stylish, violin-playing henchwoman, the mysteriously mute Vulnavia.

This movie is so unbelievably stylish. If it were candy, I wouldn’t be able

Dr. Phibes also like talking to his wife's portrait. She was hot.

Dr. Phibes also like talking to his wife’s portrait. She was hot.

to stop eating it. It offers delightful, if somewhat puzzling surprises, such as Phibes’ robotic band Dr. Phibes’ Clockwork Wizards, Vulnavia’s extensive and bizarre hat collection, doctors fortuitously wearing frog masks, and brussel sprout goo as a murder weapon, just to name a few, of course! This movie is almost sort of proto-Saw in that it depicts bizarre murders used to teach victims one final lesson. Only here, it’s done with complete style and humor, something painfully absent from those dreadful Saw flicks,

Vulnavia in all her glory.

Vulnavia in all her glory.

no? Certainly, one could sum up Phibes as a revenge flick about an evil doctor empoying the bible as fodder for murder and give the impression this is some sort of gory thriller, Seven-style. This is absolutely not that. This movie couldn’t or wouldn’t be made today; things seem to be a little too concerned with grit and gore these days; far too interested in depicting reality that any sense of style and mystery is almost entirely lost.

As far as Phibes I wouldn’t change a thing, except that I’ve only seen it once. More, please. More, more, more!

05
Jul
13

The Boxer’s Omen (1983)

The battle between good and evil will always serve us with endless fodder for movie plots. The good news is, movies based on this never-ending battle can vary immensely from run-of-the-mill to straight-up batshit crazy. The Boxer’s Omen, a Hong Kong production from the 80’s, thankfully falls into the latter category, and can easily be filed under one of the most disgusting movies I have ever seen in my entire life.

Psychedelic rainbow halo, duh.

Psychedelic rainbow halo, duh.

At this point in my movie-watching career, I really should not be surprised at the insanity Asian cinema produces. Movies like House, Mystics in Bali and Female Prisoner 701: Scorpion serve as a very small sampling of this phenomenon, and even though I have seen them all, and they are all unforgettable in their own way, I was still awed by The Boxer’s Omen.

A glimpse of the den of evil.

A glimpse of the den of evil.

I will try to sum up the plot as succinctly as I possibly can: a Hong Kong boxer is permanently disabled by a corrupt Thai boxer, and asks his brother to seek revenge against him. Meanwhile, the able-bodied brother is approached by the spirit of a buddhist monk, who is apparently his psychic twin or something like that. He is sought by the monk to defeat the powers of evil who are preventing him from achieving enlightenment (or something?). The only way evil can be defeated is if the young man quickly becomes a buddhist monk in order to face evil head to head.

Brains, it's what's for dinner.

Brains, it’s what’s for dinner.

Whatever. The important thing is, we get to see lots of animated, fuzzy animal-like things, regurgitation, painted folks, bubbling skin, vomiting, crocodiles, skulls, brains and the like. It’s the gooiest, slimiest, most viscous movie ever. It gives me the skeevies just thinking about it! I gagged a minimum of twelve times while watching it.

...??????....

…??????….

Films like The Boxer’s Omen are why I will give almost any movie a shot; there’s just no way of knowing what you’re missing unless you give it all a chance. There is a whole, wide world of unbelievable shit out there, just waiting to make your jaw drop (or almost make you throw up). Movies can be forgettable, trendy tripe or they can leave an indelible impression on you. I think I can safely say I will never, ever forget The Boxer’s Omen.

Don't mess with this lady.

Don’t mess with this lady…

Don't mess with this guy.

…or this guy.




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Old Wave