Saturday, June 28, 2008

Ngai Kai Lam's "Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky" (1991)

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky is an amazing film. The absurdity of this film is incredible. Ricky is the tough new guy in one of the most odd and corrupt prison systems in the world. He takes matters into his own hands (and they're fucking deadly hands) and knocks off each thug one by one until he can get final revenge on the warden. Each time you think you've seen about as bad ass a villain as you're going to get, they keep throwing even crazier and tougher guys at you. A b-movie like this NEEDS these types of memorable characters to stay watchable over multiple viewings. The Story of Ricky excels in this area. I'll refer back to a series like Troma's "Class of Nuke 'Em High". The first film in that series is and OUTSTANDING b-movie for that reason. The other two are far more absurd but they lacked the funny and memorable characters the first one contained. It's an essential part of the lure of b-movies.

The best thing about the fights in this film is how Ricky practically gets the shit beat out of him every time but ends up destroying his opponents with a punch or two that ends up absolutely destroying some part of his foes' body. Whether it means punching a hole in their stomach or making their head completely disintegrate, it's fun to watch. Ricky has every trick in the book to take on the countless bad guys he does. The level of gore and violence in this film is up there. A lot of the gore looks really ridiculous but once you see it you'll realize that it won't matter at all. This film is just too great, too funny, too insane, too absurd, and too entertaining to care about any like that.

Whether you watch this film in the always hilarious English dubbing or in the original Cantonese language version, you'll have a great time. Ricky is a supreme bad ass that completely wrecks everyone's shit while earning the respect of his fellow prisoners. He's a character with compassion, heart, dedication, and fists made of steel. Fuck. Ricky, you're the man.


Shinya Tsukamoto's "Tetsuo: The Iron Man" (1989)

Tetsuo is a film that is stranger than a David Cronenberg film and David Lynch film put together. I know the comparisons between Shinya Tsukamoto's utterly brilliant visual feast Tetsuo: The Ironman and work from Cronenberg like Videodrome and work from Lynch like Eraserhead has been made plenty times before but I'll make it again. This film might not exist if not for those two. Tsukamoto kind of takes the idea of technology becoming a sort of disease this one man has to deal with. As far as the plot goes, it's confusing. Without reading outside material to help better understand what was going on, all I could deduce from what was going on before my eyes was that there was a hit and run accident that dealt with a metal fetist that resulted in this man that hit the person becoming a half human half cyborg piece of machinery. Go figure. The message I mentioned before is highly prevalent and although a bit exaggerated, the point gets across.

This film is dark. The dirty look it's given thanks to diluted black and white shots is menacing. The visual feast doesn't stop once it begins. It just never lets up. Violence, sex, perversion, and so on. There's a lot to look at with this abstract film. Anyone who's a fan of the kind of work David Cronenberg and David Lynch do (and their subject matter) should definitely check out this twisted picture from the East.


William Keighley's "The Street With No Name" (1948)

The Street With No Name is a neat little film noir given a documentary like vibe right from the get go. The film lets the viewer known that it's based off a true story straight from the files of the FBI and used as many authentic location and people as possible. Richard Widmark is the real star of this show. In this, his second film role, he absolutely nails his role as the boss, Alec Stiles. He's got the perfect demeaning, evil tone that complements every facet of this solid little film. Without Widmark I think I'd drop my score a half point or so, but he really puts this film into the category of really worth seeing. The story isn't bad either with the whole undercover, who's the rat, set-up routine. Definitely check this one out if you're looking for something new in the genre.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Ingmar Bergman's "Cries and Whispers" (1972)

Just when I go into an Ingmar Bergman film thinking I may not love it as much as I've loved every single one that I've seen before it, I become once again enthralled with his brilliant work and left stunned with everything I see. I can't get over how he did it. He mostly made rather simple films about people yet manages to make them deeply engaging. Obviously the package of emotions Bergman always plays with has something to do with it, but there's much more to it than just that.

The difference between Cries and Whispers is the color. As a fan of Bergman I've been mostly a viewer of his haunting black and white portraits. In Cries and Whispers, Bergman is able to carry that same haunting feeling over from the dark blacks and whites to the color filled manor the three sisters and their maid spend most of the film in. According to Bergman himself, Cries and Whispers is a film about the exploration of the soul. Due to this, he uses an abundance of the color red in both the sets and as a transition. The reason? "Ever since childhood, I have imagined the soul to be a damp membrane in varying shades of red." Well there you have it. The soul is red.

Cries and Whispers is a dark, deep, and depressing tale of three sisters, a maid, and their relationships. The current time of the film takes place when one sister, Agnes (played BRILLIANTLY by Harriet Andersson) is dying due to some type of terminal illness. Right from the outset of the film this sets a grim tone for what is to come. The other two sisters, Karin (Ingrid Thulin) and Maria (Liv Ullmann), and the maid Anna (Kari Sylwan) is all she has left. All Agnes really seems to want in her dying moments is someone to help her and be there for her. The relationship between Agnes and the maid Anna is just one of the few turmoil creating pieces of this film. Anna is the character there to hold the drama and the film together. While not being a sister, she's a very important piece to it all. She's the one the viewer is feeling the most for at the end of it all.

Bergman also uses the always effective flashback to create another level of emotion between the two surviving sisters, Karin and Maria. We are subjected to deeply disturbing and tense moments they each shared with their husbands. The film explores their minds and their feelings. Their rocky relationship with each other explodes to the forefront after their sister's passing and is what carries the rest of the film. I've read comments from some that think this film might be rather dull, or the like, but I couldn't disagree more. There wasn't a minute of this film that didn't have me glued to the television. The relationships are enigmatic and just waiting to be looked at. I felt the film moved at a rather fast pace. It's only a 91 minute film, so it's rather packed full of feeling. The acting from the four leading ladies which I named earlier in this review is all award winning material in my opinion. Without such heart pounding performances this film wouldn't be as great as it was. Not all of the credit can be given solely to Bergman. Another award winning piece of this film is the stunning cinematography by Sven Nykvist. He picked up an Oscar for his work in this film and that, in my opinion, is justice served. Every ounce of emotion of expertly captured.

No one could do it like Ingmar Bergman could. He is the ultimate master of films about people, emotion, relationships, unstable minds, love, and any other element of drama you want to put on the table. In Cries and Whispers he takes the same haunting visual skills once of blacks and whites seen in dark films like Hour of the Wolf or Persona and translates them into this colorful piece of art that is both beautiful and deeply dark and disturbing. Cries and Whispers is about as unsettling as films will come. I'm a huge fan of horror and I can safely say that nothing really makes me as unsettled as an Ingmar Bergman film could. People go to the theaters to watch pieces of drivel like Saw and Hostel to get scared and made uneasy. Truth is, this film will make you unsettled as ever. The real horrors of the world are what we witness in this brilliant masterpiece. This is real life. This is honesty. This actually happens.


Herschell Gordon Lewis "Two Thousand Maniacs!" (1964)

Herschel Gordon Lewis, like him or not, was never afraid to cross the line. Two Thousand Maniacs proves this. It's a film about a small town down south that tricks six Yankees into being their very special guests of honor for their Confederate themed centennial celebration that turns deadly.

HGL is known as one of the earliest gore hounds. Godfather of gore is a deserved title for this man. When you look to the year that this film was made the unsuspecting viewer wouldn't ever think that this film would contain the graphic gore that it does. While Two Thousand Maniacs is very low budget, it's also very creative. The methods of killing the victims are all creative, shocking (for the time), and well done. You'll get your laughs out of this film as well. The acting is mostly laughable, but that shouldn't stop you from achieving maximum enjoyment out of this film.

In the end Herschel Gordon Lewis hits all the spots and created a successful splatter film. His work in this time frame was largely influential to many film makers who have since tried to emulate the "shocking" gore and splatter work this twisted man did. For this reason a lone, Two Thousand Maniacs is worth watching. The other reasons would be the whole decapitation by four horses, death by a dunk tank inspired rock dropping device, and the creepy acting of the Confederate slime. It's a fun time, what can I say?


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Jean Rollin's "The Grapes of Death" (1978)

The Grapes of Death is one of the most underrated and unknown gems of the "zombie" genre. I decided to put quotes around the word zombie because I couldn't quite decide whether they were true come back to life zombies or just a group of villagers infected by a bad pesticide in their wine. I leaned towards the latter due to the fact that they seemed to go into a phase, come out, then re-enter, and so on. In reality though, that's just talk. It doesn't really matter if they're zombies or not as the theme of the film stays the same.

If you thought George A. Romero's zombies were slow then check out Rollin's in this film. Half the time they'll stand around talking to you before they lunge at you. Alright, maybe I'm exaggerating, but you get the idea. They're pretty slow and lumbering. Regardless, this is a good, entertaining film for fans of the genre. Zombie fans are always looking for more and there is no better way to get more than go back and time and go across seas. While the International zombie genre was ruled by Italians, Rollin out of France was able to create this absolute gem. It's a shame it's rather hidden. The same goes for "Let Sleeping Corpses Lie", another quality yet unknown zombie thriller. Like most zombie films to come out of foreign lands, this one too is slowly paced and hell bent on atmosphere. Rollin does do a great job capturing that atmosphere and making this film very accessible for everyone.

The Grapes of Death is a gore heavy film, thankfully. The kills are creative, cool, done well for the time, and bloody. Throw in some babes, nudity, a blind chick, and a dark and ghost town like setting of the open country and small villages, and you have one hell of a fun film. This is a film totally worth checking out if you are a fan of the genre.


Joseph H. Lewis' "The Big Combo" (1955)

The Big Combo is a gritty and dark film noir that is pushed above the level of average by its incredible style. This film is a prime example of the film noir genre. While the story's plot is nothing extraordinary, the way it's told visually makes it just that. John Alton, the cinematographer behind it all, is who to thank. He turned this films backdrop into a smokey, foggy, dirty, shadow heavy and dark world of crime, passion, and lust.

Cornel Wilde plays a never give up detective set on destroying a big mobsters world, played by Richard Conte. Both are very good in their dueling roles. Neither character ends up being as memorable as some others in the genre, but that's all forgotten once the viewer gets their eyes on this film. As I mentioned earlier, it's a stunning film in terms of visuals. Right from start to finish this film is covered in black.

With all this talk about visuals it's hard to forget that there's also a very talented director behind the camera to go along with Alton's awesome eye for noir. Joseph H. Lewis perfectly portrayed his characters as the obsessed, determined, and revengeful people that they were. Even though I did say before that the characters themselves aren't as memorable as some others in the genre, they're still very well portrayed and characterized.

If you're looking to get into noir, The Big Combo would be a good place to start for visuals. As far as the rest of the genre's well known elements, you might look elsewhere. Wilde and Conte are good, but they aren't Bogart or Mitchum good.


Sunday, June 15, 2008

Krzysztof Kieslowski's "The Double Life of Veronique" (1991)

The Double Life of Veronique is a wildly original and great effort from director Krzysztof Kieslowski. The main idea to this film is that two women, one in France and one in Poland, who don't know each other are aware of one another's existence and essential the same person. Or something like that. This story's main concept really isn't too difficult, it's just played out strange. It is fairly original and well done though.

The most impressive things here were really just Irene Jacob's brilliant double performance. It was a very emotional effort and she nailed it perfectly. One of the other things I ended up loving was Kieslowski directing style. This was the film I had seen by him and I was thoroughly impressed with it. The film had this very dark feeling thanks to the colors. It seemed somewhat Bava-esque in a way, using a certain group of colors on one location and another set at another. All in all, there's not much for me to really say on this film. I really did enjoy it a lot. It's a beautiful film, very poetic, very emotional. If something like that doesn't really appeal to your tastes, you might not want to bother watching this film. As good as this film was and as heralded by critics as it was, it's definitely not for everyone. Although, if you typically don't watch films like these, The Double Life of Veronique would be a fine place to start.


Jules Dassin's "Thieves' Highway" (1947)

Upon looking at the title of this film one may gather a few thoughts about what the film is about. They may think it's about a group of criminals and their getaway, among other things. What if they were told that the film is really about apple hauling and dealing with the fruit market in San Francisco? They'd probably want to know what makes the film worth watching. The answer to that would be that it's best to watch the film than rather have someone tell them why it's so good, although I'll give that my best shot now.

Jules Dassin is probably one of the few directors who could take a film with such a subject matter and make it this thrilling and this suspenseful. He and screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides begin the film with a sympathetic moment that leaves us caring for our main character, wonderfully portrayed by Richard Conte. He's a man returning home from the war who finds out that his father was cheated out of some money he was owed and at the same time lost both of his legs in a car accident. This opens the films main theme, revenge. Nick Garcos (Conte) sets out on a mission once he finds out that it was Mike Figlia (Lee J. Cobb) behind the mess. He partners up with another man who only wants to score big in the fruit selling business, Ed Prentiss ( Millard Mitchell). From there, they collect the apples and set off on their journey on the highway to San Francisco. If you look at the 1953 film Wages of Fear, you'll notice a similarity. That film was able to create unprecedented suspense that dealt with truck driving. They were carrying a different load, but you get the idea. Perhaps the brilliant minds behind that film looked to Thieves' Highway and Jules Dassin for some inspiration. Dassin creates a sense of dangling suspense as Ed Prentiss is followed by two crooked characters. The viewer is just waiting and wondering when they'll try and eventually be able to cut in on Ed's share. From close call to close call the suspense stays with us all the way through, and you've gotta watch to find out what happens.

Meanwhile in San Francisco, Garcos is putting a plan into action to get the money his father is owed from Figlia, and the money for his apples. Rica (Valentia Cortese) steals his heart, which had previously belonged to a blonde good girl from back home. Rica plays the ultimate opposite of that female character and sucks him in. It exposes what Garcos truly wants. The outcome of this film makes it all worth watching so I won't go any further on the plot points. I'll just let you know that it's a worthwhile conclusion to a hard nosed story.

Dassin and A.I. Bezzerides created a brilliant world at the fruit market in San Francisco. It's hectic and darker than one would ever imagine. Morals come out to play time and time again in this film adding character depth over and over. Decisions must be made about what is right and what is wrong. This unique and different film noir is truly one of the most underrated films of the genre and another remarkable effort from Jules Dassin.


Jules Dassin's "Night and the City" (1950)

Jules Dassin is able to take a city, an environment, and bring it fully to life. He did it with New York in The Naked City and a prison in Brute Force. In "Night and the City" Dassin takes the dark streets of London and makes them the background for a tale of a man's attempt to rise to the top of wrestling promotion. One thing that sets this noir apart from others is its displaced location of London. Noir was typically set on the urban streets in the United States. Having a London based film in the genre adds some extra flavor to it all.

Richard Widmark is the real on screen gem of this film. He's absolutely brilliant as the ever scheming and very clever Harry Fabian, who is just trying to make a name for himself. He's a character who's desperate to move on from his low rung spot of the crime underworld. Fabian aims at the world of wrestling, and once he has secured some notoriety, runs into trouble with the big men of the game. The eventual downfall of Harry Fabian is absolutely dark and disturbing. There's self destruction abound as he finds himself getting into more than he can handle. Thanks to Widmark's remarkable portrayal of this character, it's even more entertaining to watch.

So much credit to this film working is owed to the director, Jules Dassin. Time after time he is able to bring a world alive. He creates interesting, encompassing characters that accompany each other very well. His directing skills give the film it's dark, edgy look that only further suffocates main character Harry Fabian in his troubles. It seems like there's nowhere for the poor guy to run. Dassin had it all down perfect.

Night and the City is a top notch classic film noir. It's certainly among the best films Jules Dassin made, along with The Naked City, Rififi, Brute Force, and others. This film is a must see film.


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Jules Dassin's "Brute Force" (1947)

Ever since I saw Rififi I knew Jules Dassin was something special. It was a long time before I saw another Dassin film. That film was The Naked City. After that tour de force noir set on the streets of New York City I immediately put the three other films from that amazing five film stretch on my Netflix queue. The results? Amazing. Brute Force is an intense prison noir that stars Burt Lancaster as the toughest inmate in the joint. Hume Cronyn plays the devilish role of guard Capt. Munsey. The two go head to head in a psychological and physical battle of strengths and weaknesses.

This film pays the closest attention to a small group of men in one certain cell block. The cell block belonging to Joe Collins (Lancaster) and company. The film opens with a tone that perfectly captures the bleakness that would carry on throughout the rest of this powerful film. Joe Collins returns to his cell after time spent in solitary. He returns with a plan, a plan to get out. From there, the plot escalates. There's more to this story than these prisoners trying to escape though. Capt. Munsey is as corrupt as can be. When the warden comes under pressure from the higher ups, drastic measures must be taken, and the mens' privileges are taken away. This puts the men into action. I personally loved the way Dassin portrayed Cronyn. He used Hume's acting abilities to the fullest. He plays that sniveling ass character so god damn perfect and Dassin picked up on that keenly. This wages a wear not only among inmates and him but other characters like the doc, the warden, and him.

Jules Dassin did something I liked and didn't like with this film though. The flashback scenes are what I am referring to here. In one sense, they were a great addition to the characterization of the inmates in Joe Collins cell. Without these flashbacks the viewer may not really be able to understand the men. Also, the fact that these men were all hoping and dreaming to get out of prison just to be with the ones they love so much adds a deep sympathetic feeling to the film. On the other hand though, the flashbacks felt at time a little misplaced and shifted the film from the tense, brutality driven film it is to something else. In my opinion though, the addition of these flashbacks are for the good, as they make you care much, much more for the characters.

This all connects to this films high point, the conclusion. This is where Collins and his partners attempt the break out. This is one of the most intense, disturbing, brutal, and spectacularly shot scenes from this era of film making. Jules Dassin created pure pandemonium among the cell inmates and Burt Lancaster's star quality pushed it over the limit. I don't want to spoil anything for pursuing viewers as this end is legitimately shocking and thrilling in terms of what goes down and who goes down.

Jules Dassin will always be one of the most under appreciated directors in the whole realm of cinema. He was always able to create that perfect memorable and remarkable moment that after such intense build up would never escape the viewers mind. Brute Force is no different. I haven't seen many prison based films but I doubt there are many that can top this effort from Dassin. Yes, that includes The Shawshank Redemption. Without Brute Force, "Shawshank" may not exist.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Park Chan-wooks "I'm A Cyborg, But That's OK" (2006)

Park Chan-wook is now best known for his visceral and intense "Revenge" trilogy that features Oldboy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance, and Lady Vengeance. Viewers of this film that only know Park from those three films will be left out in the cold if they don't receive some kind of heads up on what type of film this is. This is a Korean comedic/romance film. It's quirky, funny, at times cute, and beautiful. That doesn't mean it's a normal film by any means. This film is at times pretty bizarre and unconventional. What every viewer of the "Revenge" trilogy will find though is Park Chan-wook's outstanding visuals. This film just glistens. I'm no veteran of romantic comedies, foreign or American, but this is by far one of the most impressive ones in terms of cinematography.

This film follows a young girl, Young-goon, who believes she is a cyborg. She comes into contact with fellow inmate Il-soon, who is a thief of items and personality traits. When Young-goon stops eating because of her belief in her cyborg state, Il-soon does all he can to help her survive.

This film features two big Korean movie stars. One being popstar Rain. I swear if I didn't read that he's a popstar I could never have guessed it. He gives a very convincing performance. As does the other star, Su-jeong Lim. I've only seen her in A Tale of Two Sisters, and once again she performs well. These mental institution patient roles must have been challenging to approach for the two and they did a great job convincing me. Their performances give the film a tender quality. You ultimately end up caring for both characters.

The ending of this film is a little confusing, as it kind of ends without a any true resolution to the character relationships. If you watch close enough though you'll realize a few things about both Young-goon and Il-soon and their motivations and what they are worrying about. One example is the way Young-goon reacts to the rain getting into the food. I won't go too far into it as it's far more fun for the viewer to decide for themselves. The outcome is truly beautiful which corresponds with the films beautiful visuals. This is a bizarre, quirky, yet truly heartwarming film.

If you expect another violent revenge thriller while popping this film in you're going to be sorely disappointed. If you can accept the film for what it is and see the inner beauty of the story and the characters, you'll really end up enjoying the film as much as I did.


David Lynch's "Lost Highway" (1997)

I find myself coming to a roadblock of thoughts on Lost Highway. This is what typically happens to me when I try to write about the unexplainable. As far as story goes in this film, it's David Lynch. I personally don't think it really matters outside of how fucking cool the story is. I don't care about what it means or what it's supposed to mean. I don't think anyone that isn't David Lynch should care either. Of course this doesn't apply to EVERY Lynch film as some are more straightforward than others. To try and think about films like Inland Empire in a logical sense would probably send me to the E.R.

With all that said, this is one hell of a film. It punches the viewer in the face with visceral visuals and sounds culminating in one hell of a fantasy like atmosphere.As we all know, this is a David Lynch film. Once you can accept that the plot changes gear midway through the film you'll be alright. Lost Highway is a creative film, that's for sure. I wouldn't expect anything less from the master of mindfucks. Although I think Lynch is great with coming up with this stuff, I think what I love the most about his work is the way he puts it all together on film. The same goes for all of his work. Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Mulholland Dr., Inland Empire, and so on. They're all supremely well done and crafted. I'm not entirely sure what makes them so appealing to me, but it's probably simple the style he puts forth. It's so damn captivating.

You can't forget about the wonderful job the actors in this film did, capturing the weirdness of David Lynch. Bill Pullman, Patricia Arquette, and Balthazar Getty led the film with their eccentric performances. Robert Blake kind of sums up his life with his downright creepy role of "Mystery Man". That smile. God damn.

All in all, Lost Highway is worth your time, as is every David Lynch film. If you want to see something different and see something that will grab your by your ears and slam you against the wall, a Lynch film is the way to go most of the time, and Lost Highway is no exception.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Troma's "Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D" (1991)

Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. is another one of Troma's classic films. What stands out about this film is that Lloyd Kaufman did it this time without the onslaught of grotesque gore, constant nudity, and disgusting gags. While those things are surely present in this film, it's definitely not to the degree as it is in their other films that rank near the top of their filmography, like The Toxic Avenger, Class of Nuke 'Em High, Terror Firmer, and their newest masterpiece, Poultrygeist.

That said, this film is a well told, albeit silly, story about a NYPD detective that becomes empowered by the spirit of a great Kabuki master. Kabukiman NYPD is an achievement from the Troma team. Kabukiman went on to be a notable Troma character alongside Toxie. In fact, Kabukiman reprised his role in the fourth Toxic Avenger film, Citizen Toxie. This film also was when they shot the daring car flip plus explosion scene that was reused as stock footage in films like Tromeo and Juliet, Poultrygeist, and others. That has since become a running joke among Troma and their fans.

This film has enough funny moments to keep you entertained. Make sure you watch the directors cut as it's far more entertaining than the tamer PG-13 cut of the film. If you like Lloyd Kaufman and Troma films, you won't be disappointed.


Jean-Luc Godard's "Alphaville" (1965)

Alphaville is a 1960's science fiction film that blends science, pulp noir-inspired characters, and surrealism all in one. This film lives up greatly to the extended title of "A Strange Adventure of Lemmy Caution". It sure was a strange, strange one. This is not a shock to me, since the film was directed by Jean-Luc Godard, one of the pioneers of the French novella vague genre, which is about as unconventional as they come. If you go into this film expecting straight forward science fiction elements combined with a normal love story, you're going to be disappointed. This film is laced with surrealistic and poetic concepts and ideas that might mean absolutely nothing to you. It may be better to watch another Godard film, like Breathless, prior to seeing this one. Don't let that scare you off as a potential viewer though. This film is well worth watching if you can open your mind a little in order to enjoy.

Lemmy Caution is an American private-eye from the Outland sent to the fascist city of Alphaville. His mission is to kill Doctor Von Braun, the creator of the also fascist Alpha 60 computer. Von Braun, the city ruler, has outlawed love and self-expression among the citizens of Alphaville. Eddie Constantine stars as the detective Lemmy Caution and Anna Karina stars as Natasha Von Braun, daughter of the fascist leader.

The whole world of Alphaville and Lemmy Caution's journey through it is downright strange and entertaining. From the way the world's society conducts things like executions to the trained seductresses the hotel supplies for it's guests to the removal of words from the language. It's truly a visionary film of a very eccentric nature. I promise if you choose to watch this film with your eyes and ears and brain wide open you'll get some satisfaction out of it. Perhaps because I love all the elements Godard mashed together and his quirky directing and film making style, I loved it that much more.