Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Vincent Schiavelli 1948-2005

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Vincent Schiavelli, the distinguished character actor responsible for countless gloomy and eccentric bit-part roles, passed away yesterday in his home in Sicily. He was 57 years old. Even those who don't know his name will surely recognize him as the tall, creepily handsome guy who played the gangly mental patient in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, the organ grinder in Batman Returns, oddball science teacher Mr. Fargas in Fast Times and Ridgemont High, and most memorably, the smooth-talking assassin Dr. Kaufman in Tomorrow Never Dies. A great actor, and from what I've read, also a master chef and all-around very nice human being. He will be sorely missed.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Hail to the King, baby.

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I'm pleased to report that Peter Jackson has done it again.

King Kong is, in plain and simple English, a wholly incredible motion picture experience. It might very well be the most amazing thing I've witnessed on a cinema screen in my life. And for bringing it to the screen, Mr. Jackson deserves a trillion dollars, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy, and an invitation to go and live in the Playboy Mansion for the rest of his days. The man is literally a hero.

In many ways, this film actually out-does the original. It sounds as impossible to me as it no doubt will to you, but it's true. It's like the flower of the seeds planted by the 1933 film. It's a well-known fact that Jackson adores the original, but his Kong is no mere Tarantino or Rob Zombie homage piece. Like Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West , it knows its source material like the back of its hand, but creates a new world for it unlike anything seen before. The story is fleshed out, the characters are more like people than the archetypes of the original, and the special effects - just like Willis O'Brien's were in 1933 - are the best to be seen in the history of the cinema.

The fleshing-out of the characters involves a little more delving into the back-stories of all the protagonists. Carl Denham, played expertly by Jack Black, is a charismatic and mischievous showman but also an obsessive when it comes to filmmaking. He reminds us of Orson Welles, and maybe even a tiny bit of Werner Herzog. Adrian Brody's Jack Driscoll has been changed from the gruff sailor played by Bruce Cabot to a lanky, non-traditionally heroic playwright. And Anne Darrow, played beautifully by Naomi Watts, is simply incredible. I've heard a lot of complaints regarding the first third, that it takes too long to get going before we get to the Island. I disagree; I found that I was perfectly happy to spend the first hour getting to know the crew of the Venture. No, none of them are Hamlet, but they served the story well, and the impact was all the more powerful when it finally happened. I also enjoyed the little homage to the original, as Ann and her matinee idol co-star Bruce Baxter re-create the "women can't help being a nuisance" scene for Denham's camera.

After a turmulous storm, the Venture arrives on Skull Island, and Denham and his film crew set out to explore the beach. In the seemingly deserted village, seperated from the rest of the island by a massive wall, they have a gnarly run-in with the natives, who are some of the scariest indiginous people ever committed to film. A far cry from the charmingly cheesy savages in the original, these islanders are the stuff of pure nightmares, a cross between the tribesmen in Cannibal Holocaust and the Uruk-Hai out of Lord of the Rings. The crew escapes after losing two of their members, but Anne is captured later that night and offered as a sacrifice to their god, the Mighty Kong.

The jungle of Skull Island appears like a three-dimensionalized version of that of the original. It's not like any real forest you've ever seen, it's an exaggerated, larger-than-life, other-worldly place. Peter Jackson subjects the crew to the whole shebang. Stampeding brontosauruses that crash and collide into one another like the elephants out of Dumbo. A bottomless gorge filled with giant bugs, car-sized spiders, and horrific slug-beasts. Battling fucking tyrannousauruses. It's truly incredible to see, even if a few of the set-ups run on a little long: as opposed to the nay-sayers who complained about the beginning being boring, I'd rather have shortened a handful of the dinosaur battles, and possibly even eliminated the spider pit sequence entirely (It'd have made a fine thing to look forward to on the Extended DVD). These are really rather small complaints, though - if anything, it's a case of too much of a good thing, but it's not really a big deal. Jackson's enthusiasm is infectuous; he directs movies like a little kid who eagerly wants to share his toys with you. We're more than happy to accept, even if that is one big fuckin' train set.

The jungle scenes shift back and forth between adrenaline-pumping, dinosaur-induced mayhem and the majestic titular character, who looks amazing. Moreover, he looks exactly like a real gorilla. Sporting scars around his face, matted fur, and a little bit of a gut, it's obvious that Kong is getting on in his years, and has been in punch-ups with carnivorous dinosaurs more than once before in his life. To watch him open a can of whoop-ass on three T-Rexes at once is jaw-dropping, and thanks to the WETA team and Any Serkis (who provided Kong's movements an mannerisms as he did for Gollum) the audience quickly sympathizes with him too. His relationship with Ann Darrow eliminates any of the potential creepiness of Fay Wray and Jessica Lange's suggested love affair with the giant ape; in this film, Kong seems to see himself almost as her protector, as if she were a baby to defend against dinosaurs, as well as her own species. Their relationship is one of mutual respect, and Watts does a beautiful job of of relating to the gorilla, doubling our sympathy for him as well as for her. When Ann performs some of her old vaudeville steps to make him laugh, and then settles down in his paw to watch the sunset from his mountain cave - trust me, it sounds ridiculous on paper, but on the screen, it works beautifully.

Again, I can't stress enough just how damn good Kong looks. I'm rarely impressed by CGI in films. I find great beauty in animatronic/puppet creations like the aliens in Aliens and Yoda in The Empire Strkes Back, and it goes without saying I adore the hand-rendered charm of the creations of Ray Harryhausen, but CGI rarely raises any kind of reaction from me other than "That right there is a special effect." One of the few films to blow me away with their computer-generated effects were Jackson's Lord of the Rings films, and Kong even makes those look tame in comparison. I not only convinced that I was watching a real giant gorilla, but I really connected with him like I would with a real human actor, which, with the exception of Andy Serkis's other CGI-beastie, has never happened before.

Kong is taken back to New York the same way he was in the original - after knocking him unconscious Carl Denham proclaims "We're millionaires, boys! I'll share it with all of you! Why, in a few months his name will be up in lights on Broadway! Kong! The Eighth Wonder of the World!" and the next shot is a neon sign depicting just that. Denham schmoozes with rich society folk as they pack into his theater by the truckload, and when they finally settle in their seats, Kong is revealed. With his arms in chains and a group of dancers made up as natives surrounding him (another lovely homage to the original, complete with a piece of Max Steiner's score) Kong is heartbroken when he realizes that the blonde tied to the sacrificial altar in front of him is not his beloved Ann, so he breaks loose and tears the place to shreds. As he sends the patrons scattering for their lives, rips apart the decor, and crashes out into the street, frantically picking up women when he realizes he can't find Ann, we are treated to more gorgeous effects from the boys at WETA, but this time we're really gripped by Kong's anger and desperation.

When Kong and Ann finally meet up again, they share a few brief, quiet moments before the army catches up to them. They're on the run again, and the ascent up to the top of the Empire State Building is one of the most incredible I've seen in my life. It's exhilirating, thrilling, and utterly heart-breaking. Everyone knows how it's going to end, but it rips you apart all the same. King Kong reminds us again why movies exist. A big hand to the masterful Peter Jackson for bringing this to the screen.

If there was anything that really bothered me about King Kong it was nothing to do with what took place onscreen, but around me in the theater. There were three kids, about eight years old. They did not appear to have anyone watching them, and they were babbling REAL loud throughout, moving from aisle to aisle, drumming on overturned popcorn buckets, and generally just pissing me off real good. At one point, my dad points at the ringleader and says to him, in his scariest Hannibal Lecter-esque English accent, "If you and your friends don't shut the FUCK up, I'm going to have you thrown out of the theater." The little buggers still kept it up. I can understand that some children may have short attention spans when it comes to a three-hour film, but this started before they had even gotten on the boat. If I ever have kids, I think I'll make them watch Lawrence of Arabia at the age of four, and if they ever say anything I'll punch 'em in the face.

Friday, December 16, 2005

If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?

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I was greatly pleased to recieve a package in the mail yesterday from an internet-friend in Nebraska: a rare, bootleg tape containing two 1970's Biblespolitation films directed by Ron Ormond, If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do? and The Burning Hell. Who's Ron Ormond, you might ask, and what the heck is "Biblesploitation"? Allow me to clue you in, brother.

Ron Ormond was a director of such classics as The Monster and the Stripper and The Girl from Tobacco Road, who became a born-again Christian after surviving a plane crash in the late sixties. Wanting to give up making grindhouse flicks and do the Lord's work, he teamed up with fire-and-brimstone Southern Baptist preacher Estus W. Pirkle to make church-produced scare-films to bring the gullible back home to Jesus. Unfortunatley (or fortunatley), Ormond's newly-restored faith did little to improve his filmmaking skills. His collaborations with Pirkle were just as shoddy, cheaply made, poorly written and badly acted as his previous blood n' tits fare. If Footmen Tire You is the first collaboration between these two knuckleheads, and is a must-see for any fan of oddball cinema.

The film begins in church, where Reverend Pirkle is beginning his sermon to a sleepy-looking collection of God-fearin' Chris'chuns. As Judy, the miniskirt-clad town hussy, sneaks in late ("Gotta keep up appearances." she says outside to her troublesome-looking boyfriend), Pirkle warns the congregation about the dangers of television, music, saturday morning cartoons, and other sinful things that divert Americans' attention from the Lawd Jayzus Criast. Do you realize, he says, that colleges, high schools, and even elementary schools are encouraging kids to have premaritual sex? We then see a staged real-life clip of a scruffy-looking young hippie teacher in what could be your own children's school. Claiming that sex before marriage is a necessity in today's times, he then declares that today's discussion will be "the seven erotic zones of passion in every woman." Drive-in theaters, in Pirkle's opinion, also contribute to America's lack of morals, and dancing is just as wrong as it's always been. "What's started on the dance floor is expected to end in a car or motel room!" Judy rolls her eyes at Pirkle's condemnations of all things fun and enjoyable, until the reverend reveals just where he is going with all this - if Americans don't stop indulging in these sinful distractions and turn back to Jesus in a big way, God will lift his protective shield from our country, leaving it wide open to an invasion by bloodthirsty communists!

That's right, communists. Now, keep in mind that this movie was made in 1971. The paranoid era of McCarthy had ended, and the Vietnam war, the sexual revolution and the hippie movements were reaching their respective conclusions. Nevertheless, If Footmen presents us with a world of blonde-haired blue-eyed folk straight out of a Duck and Cover educational short who are powerless to stop the demonic Russkies. When the communists take over (which Pirkle insists will happen in exactly 24 months unless American's get their asses back in church) they will ransack homes, kidnap children, torture, main, rape and pillage. People will be put to work 363 days a year for 16 hours a day, only to be allowed two days off a year, and those days are reserved for praising the Marxist way of life. Those who deny communism and retain their faith in Jesus will be tortured and killed in the most elaborate fashions. One such "documented re-enactment" features a man tied up and suspended from a tree, while his kids lower him down onto pitchforks stuck in the ground. It's never really explained how communists could overpower the American government with no weapons or any kind of equipment at their disposal, save for some horses and a flat-bed Ford pickup truck for rounding up children, but they are a cunning bunch. They will dispose of adults quickly and get right to work on the soft, impressionable minds of children. Another dramatized example of commie tactics shows us a Soviet officer with a a put-on accent not unlike The Count from Sesame Street before a classroom of schoolkids. He tells them to pray to their Jesus Christ and ask him for some candy, and when the youngsters' prayers are non-miraculously un-anwsered, another officer comes in and dumps a big sack of sugary treats on the desk, a gift from the glorious Fidel Castro. As you can see, brothers and sisters, America doesn't stand a chance.

It's pretty hard not to compare Ormond to the infamous Ed Wood while watching this film. Both directors' movies have an equal level of ineptness at writing and directing, as well as extremely heavy-handed messages,, coupled with the unintentional hilarity from the notion that anyone, filmmaker or audience, would take their movies seriously. While If Footmen doesn't have the charm of Wood's classics, it outdoes them in leaps and bounds with its heavy-handedness, and the aforementioned seriousness backfiring with gaffaw-filled results. While putting a group of capitalist stooges to work in a cornfield, the communists seize a little boy and shove a sharpened bamboo stick in his ear until it comes out the other, cackling "We will peirce your ears....so you cannot hear....the word of God!" Such a wound you would think ought to be fatal, but fortunatley for Junior, he survives, though he does get a little dizzy and throws up his breakfast. Another such tyke refuses to step on a picture of Jesus, resulting in him getting his noggin chopped off and tossed into a field like a kickball by a laughing Soviet officer.

Towards the end, we are taken back to Pirkle's church, and Judy, having sat through his sermon, begins to have flashbacks to some sins that she's committed (such as sitting in a grimy-looking cafe with some dude, drinking beer out of a styrofoam cup) and how her Jabba the Hutt-like momma implored her to read the scripture, or she'd be the death of her. As it turns out, she was right: Judy's ma suffered a fatal heart attack as a result of her daughter's sinfulness, and Judy, realizing this, breaks down into tears and parks her knees at the front altar, begging forgiveness for what she's done. As she weeps and prays, she remembers the day of her mother's funeral, when she knelt over the woman's talking (!) carcass and Reverend Pirkle told her she was forgiven. It's a bizarrely appropriate end to what is probably the wackiest piece of Christian scare-filmmaking ever created.

Sadly, the film is only available in bootleg form, as the estate of Reverend Pirkle refuses to let this movie, along with its follow-up The Burning Hell, on home video. An unofficial DVD is available from Five Minutes to Live, and though I can't vouch for its quality, it'd be hard pressed to look any worse than the tape my friend sent me. The Burning Hell actually has an official website, and leases VHS and 16mm copies of the movie out at very high prices, for evangelical purposes only. You could probably find a boot of that one somewhere, too.

And, speaking of manipulative Christian propaganda pieces, I've found another enjoyable nugget of goodness for readers of this blog (namely those who think they would enjoy If Horsemen based on the above review)....a Benny Hill-ified short version of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. For those of you unfamiliar with Hill, he's a celebrated British comedian specializing in cheeky, chubby-faced, dirty-old-man humor, whose sketch comedy show during the 70's and 80's often featured short films of Hill's comedy antics sped up and set to goofy music. Almost anything can be funny with these alterations are made to it, and this video proves it. Not for the squeamish or those easily offended by violence, torture, and blasphemy.

Monday, December 12, 2005

RIP Richard Pryor

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Richard Pryor passed away on saturday...a great comedian who made people laugh hard and think hard about racism while Dave Chappelle and Chris Rock were still in diapers. Anyone unfamiliar with him and wanting some insight into his legacy should definatley check out Wattstax, a documentary of the 1973 benefit concert held in memorium of the Watts riots in Los Angeles the year earlier. The musical performances from Albert King, the Staple Singers, Issac Hayes, and others are intercut with street interviews with African Americans regarding the socially traumatic events. Pryor, who gives an introduction to the picture and gives several brilliant stand-up bits throughout, calls it "a soulful expression of the black experience."

In other news, my sis persuaded the family to watch Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events last night, a fantasy film about a trio of orphans battling with the nefarious Count Olaf (think of an evil version of Doc out of Back to the Future) who is out to steal their inheritance. Cute little kid's film; although it made me laugh a bunch of times, it's something of a throwaway experience. But it's a good watch for kids who are a bit young for Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter but starting to out-grow all that Disney singing lobster crap, and its Tim Burtonesque decor should delight the Hot Topic goth creeps.

Discovered a nice surprise on that popup window that AOL Messenger gives you - yet another imitator of Waxy.org's Shining trailer. We've had West Side Story, Titanic, and Big recut as horror movies, but I think this new one, A Christmas Gory, is the best of 'em by far. Enjoy.

Friday, December 09, 2005

The Brattle and the Devil's Rejects

I posted this before in my old blog, but I'll post it here again - a friendly reminder that the Brattle Theater in Boston, one of America's oldest and most celebrated revival theaters, is in danger of going out of business if they do not raise $400,000 by the end of this year. If they close their doors it would be a terrible loss for Boston and for the film-loving world at large, so please, help them out. And now, for today's review.

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Don't believe the hype, folks: The Devil's Rejects, Rob Zombie's second stint in the director's chair, is a fun little escursion, but hardly the "best horror film of recent years" as the internet fanboys seem to be making it out to be. Rejects is the sequel to Zombie's allegedly far-inferior directorial debut, House of 1,000 Corpses, which I can say now that I'm sure to avoid. The murderous Firefly family have their farmhouse attacked by the cops, and only brother and sister duo Otis and Baby escape unscathed. After several more grisly murders along the highway, they team up with their pal Captain Spaulding, eventually facing up against a highly pissed-off local sherrif with a score to settle.

Any chump could be able to tell you that The Devil's Rejects is an homage to the drive-in/grindhouse films of the 70's, and as such, it isn't very good. The thing about nostalgic, "refrential" films such as these is that the filmmakers pick a "look" from a certain cinematic time period and then come up with story to fit, rather than considering the story first. Combine this with the fact that, well...it's written and directed by a rock musician. Watching his script delivered by Bill Moseley and his wife Sheri Moon Zombie, as Rob has them use uses "fuck" for just about every other word, presumably attempting tomake them sound badass but having them come off instead like eleven-year-olds allowed out for the first time without mom. And then, of course, there is the sickening violence and extreme cruelty. I can handle, hell, even enjoy such things within the arc of a better movie, but here it just seems a bore - Zombie merely succumbs to "Tarantio's Disease," i.e., the desire to remake his favorite movies all at once.

That's not to say The Devil's Rejects isn't any fun at all - there are a few moments of gold to be found here. Veteran b-actor Sig Haig's character Captain Spaulding, is a complete joy. Headbutting women, threatening small children, and spouting one-liners through his horribly bad teeth, he's one of the coolest villains of recent horror films, not to mention one of the ugliest clowns in cinematic history. William Forsythe's tough-as-nails sherrif character is great fun, too. One of his greatest scenes occurs when he discovers that fire murderous family's aliases all come from characters Groucho Marx played in his movies (Cpt. Spaulding, Rufus T. Firefly, and Otis Driftwood), and calls in a moustached, Leonard Maltinesque film critic who is a Marx Brothers expert. The critic is such a huge movie nerd he knows that Groucho played God in Otto Preminger's Skidoo, but can't seem to offer the police anything but trivia facts. The deputy suggest they "bring in this Groucho guy" for some questioning, and the critic angrily laments how Groucho died in 1977, three days before "Elvis Goddamn Presley" stole his thunder by expiring three days later. The sherrif angrily ejects him from his office, proclaiming "if you ever say one more dorogatory word about Elvis Aaron Presley in my presense, I will kick the living shit out of you." It's a great scene - the cinema classics nerd butting heads with the anti hero of the types of movies that Zombie obiviously prefers. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Rob Zombie is fully aware of his own film-geekery, but it doesn't necessarily make this a better movie as a whole.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Monkey Business

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Cary Grant is Barnaby Fulton, a forgetful chemist working on a "de-aging drug" that he can't quite seem to get right. While he's out of the lab one day, one of the chimpanzees escapes, completes the forumla by herself, and proceeds to dump it in the office water cooler. Hilarity, mix-ups, and your typical Howard Hawks comedy shenanigans ensue when Bartleby and his wife Edwina (Ginger Rogers) both drink from the water and start acting like red-blooded college kids, and later on, hyperactive ten-year-olds. It's a silly, light-hearted and completely pointless film, and lacks some of the rapid-fire dynamics of Hawks' earlier comedies (being made in 1952, it was something of a "throwback" at the time) but is still a lot of fun, nonetheless. Despite being part of the Monroe Diamond Collection, which I borrowed from my sister, Marailyn gets fourth billing here and is only onsceen for a short while as Charle's Coburn's voluptuous secretary. It's Grant and Rogers' movie, in truth, and fans of either one will definatley enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

JSA: Joint Security Area

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Despite all the hullaballoo surrounding South Korean filmmaker Chan-wook Park, I had yet to get ahold of any of his movies until recently stumbling upon this gem at the local video store. It's a story that takes place at the titular area, the borderline between communist North Korea and capitalist South Korea, guarded on either side by the armies of both nations. Each country's troops stand silently at their posts, waiting, and never making any kind contact with the enemy...for the most part. Late one night, a shootout occurs in one of the bunkers on the North side, killing one of the officers. A female Neutral Nations official is sent to investigate the killing, suspecting a murder and cover-up on the part of the South Koreans. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that the death was the result of something much more simple and tragic - a forbidden friendship between four soldiers of the two opposing sides.

Through a series of flashbacks the soldiers' story is revealed - South Korean Sgt. Lee was part of a group who accientally stumbled onto North territory while patrolling a reed field at night, panicked, and left him behind. He steps dangerously close to a land mine, but is rescued by a pair of sympathetic North Koreans who defuse the bomb and let him go. Lee and his bunkmate Sgt. Nam continue to trade letters and mix tapes with their Northern friends, Seargents Oh and Jeong, and make a habit of secretly going over to their bunker on the North side to spend time with one another. It's really quite a beautiful story of friendship in the guise of a political thriller, a message of putting aside politics, taboos and boundaries and coming together as human beings. Unfortunatley, it seems, in a world driven by fear, such friendships can never last long before exploding into violence. With this kind of message, JSA feels like it doesn't pack quite as much of an emotional wallop as it could, but I applauded director Park's restriction and maturity for staying away from Speilbergian heartstring-tug tactics a la Tae Guk Gi. It's a grown-up film that doesn't pander to the audience, or offer fortune cookiefied easy answers to human conflict - a true eye-opener to what, in a better world, could be, but sadly, in our day and age, can't.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Save The Green Planet!

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With American film studios turning out their usual amount of unmemorable fluff, many Yank film aficionadoes have started to take notice of the recent cinematic exports of South Korea, and when one looks at a film like Save The Green Planet!, it's not difficult to see why. STGP! is a brilliant and completely unique mixed bag of Douglas Adams-esque sci-fi, biting black comedy and genuine tragedy, too. The story concerns Byeong-gu Lee, a young man who has suffered from too many anti-depressants and childhood traumas, and becomes convinced that the president of a large chemicals company is actually an alien in disguise. Bent on saving the earth, he kidnaps the man and locks him in his basement, shaves off his hair (because aliens use it to send telepathic signals) and tortures him with methenol bee sting rub to try and extract information from him about his alien plans.

I'll refrain from revealing too much of the plot, but this is definatley one to check out for fans of Asian cinema, or, in fact, anyone who is looking for something a little "different." The movie switches genres at a rapid-fire pace, mixing elements of sci-fi, black comedy, serial killer films, detective dramas and heart-wrenching tragedy, and first-time director Jang Jun-Hwan pulls it of flawlessly. It makes death and torture funny and disturbing in a way that hasn't been seen since A Clockwork Orange, with a lot of surprisingly grisly scenes in what would appear at first glance to be a just a lighthearted, wacky comedy. The actors are also excellent when it comes to driving the film's rapid gear-switches. Ha Kyun-shin gives a masterful performances as Byeong-gu, who is funny, empathetic and terrifying, often within the span of just one scene, and Yun-shik Baek is also great as the accused alien Mr. Kang, displaying hatred, then compassion, then hatred for the young protagonist. Also noteworthy are Jae-young Lee as harderned detective on Byeong-gu's trail, and Jeon-mong Hwan as Byeong-gu's girlfriend. In the midst of all its gleefully sadistic, insane fun, Save The Green Planet! is at its heart a profound story about a deeply disturbed individual who can't come to terms with the fact that the tragedies he's endured could be anything other than the sick meddling of extra-terrestrials, so he sets out to put things right. Definatley reccomended for anybody (though you've got to be able to handle a bit of blood) who's looking for a unique viewing experience, this is the best in quite a while.

And as a special added bonus, an MP3 of the film's marvelous theme song - a kickass punk rock cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" performed by Transfixion - can be downloaded here, thanks to a most generous member of the IMDb message boards who calls himself 'dzombiex.' Scroll to the bottom of the RapidShare page and hit "Free" (unless you've got a premium account) and the download link is on the next page. Enjoy!

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Something else I happened upon that's kind of interesting - a couple of conflicting opinions from Johnny's kids regarding Walk The Line. John Carter Cash, his only son, wrote a touching tribute to his father for the USA Today, detailing how Johnny approved of both Phoenix and Witherspoon as actors and applauded the choice of them doing their own singing - apparently to have his voice come out of Joaquin's mouth didn't feel "honest." On the other hand, Kathy Cash, Johnny's daughter from his first marriage, has tried to watch the picture five times at family-only screenings and has been so upset she had to walk out each time. She took particular issue over how her mother was portrayed - she was the woman who Johnny actually wrote "I Walk the Line" for, and Kath described her depiction in the movie as "a mad little psycho who hated his career." She also objected to the films skimming over the pain she and her sisters endured during their father's fight with drugs, and claims it paints Johnny's father Ray Cash in a negative light, too. "Anyone who wants a good sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll movie is gonna love it," she said. "[But] I'm anticipating dyed-in-the-wool fans objecting to a lot of stuff."

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Posters and what-not

The North Adams Goodwill had a huge box of double-sided movie posters today at 45 cents each, which I believe were tossed out by the local cinema. Given the nature of the film selections of local cinema, most of them were for pretty crappy films - What Women Want, Timeline, Rugrats Go To Paris, and various romantic comedies and snowboarding films. I did walk off with a handsome poster of the Willard remake with Crispin Glover. I actually never got around to seeing it, but, I guess now I have a reason to.

I scored a whole mess of vinyl albums too, including soundtracks of The Sting (all terrific Scott Joplin tunes) and The Muppet Movie (honesty, if you don't get teary-eyed at Kermit's rendition of "The Rainbow Connection" then you're a cold-hearted S.O.B.) And some Traffic, Jackson Browne, Burning Spear, Bryan Ferry, Merle Haggard...all good stuff.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

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It seems unfortunate today that nearly all horror films are either uninspired "cereberal" dreck like The Others and Signs, or shoddy, quick-buck remakes of better films. It seems only fitting that one the most legendary (not to mention most ripped-off) names in the history of the genre should be the one to deliver one of the best and most original horror movies in years. Land of the Dead is the forth film in George A. Romero's horror quadrilogy, a set of films connected only by their dealing with a plague of cannibalistic zombies which gets progressively worse with each film. This one takes place in a dystopian future America, now a barren no-man's-land inhabited by the living dead. There is one last human city, Fiddler's Green, a Metropolis-like place where the few fortunate wealthy live in luxorious skyscrapers while the poor fend for themselves in the streets. There are armed troops patrolling the border of the city, but on this particular day, there are two sizable problems - one of the army's tanks has been hijacked and held for ransom, and the zombies have started to evolve a wee bit, and actually band together to take the city by force!

Romero does here what he's always done better than abobody; seamlessly balancing social-political commentary with cranial explosions, torn-off limbs, disembowelments and animated corpses. There are the odd stabs at the Bush Administration, as well as some provocative looks at modern war and "Us & Them" situations, and there is enough bloodletting here to please gore-horror fans the world over. This is a Romero movie for the 2000's generation. It's faster-paced and better-acted by a few more familiar faces, while still staying true to his roots, both evolving his style and mythology. I've got to admit, that as much as I adore zombie movies, almost all of them, post-1968, have essentially followed the same story arc. There is an outbreak of a living dead plague, and it's either a small one in a farmhouse or a small town, or a big one in the city. What Romero has done here is actually think ahead - what would happen if this kind of thing kept up, given the nature of zombies, and even moreso, the nature of humans. There are fine performances all round, particularly from John Leguizamo and the uber-badass and uber-sexy Asia Argento. Dennis Hopper also has a fine turn as the "true evil" of the film, although Eugene Clark all but steals the show as Big Daddy, the leader of the zombie revolutionaries. There are a few in-jokes for horror fans, too - cameos from Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright of Shaun of the Dead fame, as well an homage to with the zombies coming up out of the water. It's a definite treat for longtime Romero fans. I'd like to say I hope it will raise the bar a bit for horror movies in the future, but with M. Night Shyamalan hard at work on an upcoming project, and remakes of The Omen, Suspiria, The Hills Have Eyes and Evil Dead coming down the pipe, I don't think it stands a chance in hell.

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Richard Linklater's sequel to his 1995 film Before Sunrise (one of the best romantic movies ever made, in my eyes) picks up nine years after the events of its predecessor, where Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Celine (Julie Delpy) met on the train in to Vienna and spent an evening exploring the town, falling in love and finally making a pact to meet back with one another in six months. As we find out here, things didn't quite go according to the young lovers' plan - Jesse returned to Vienna but Celine had to be at her grandmother's funeral and missed their appointment. Nine years later, Jesse is a published author, in Paris on the last leg of his book tour, and he runs into Celine at the bookstore, and the two of them spend the remaining hour catching up, walking around Paris and discussing life, love, emotions and each other. Some may be skeptical about how well a real-time filmed conversation will be able to hold their attention, but director Richard Linklater and the cast pull it off perfectly, just as they did in the first film. Both movies are a perfect antidote for Hollywood Bullshit. With all the smaltz that is regularly churned out by movie studios, it's massively refreshing to slow down and spend some time with two wonderful characters who talk like real people. We enjoy their company just as much as they enjoy each other's.

I don't want to ruin any of the plot by revealing what the two talk about, because, well, I want you to see it. It's a marvelous and very special kind of sequel - while I wouldn't call it superior to the original, it is one of the rare follow-ups that re-examines and expands upon the characters and the events of the first film. Its tone is distinctively more downbeat than the first, and it's fitting, as the premise (not to mention the characters, after nine years) are a bit more grounded in gloomy reality than in the almost 'fairytale for adults'-like atmosphere of the original. The ending, like that of the first, is perfect in it's ambiguity

Friday, December 02, 2005