Videophiled Classic: ‘Godzilla 2000’ and more giant monster mashes of the new millennium

11 September, 2014 (17:37) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Science Fiction | By: Sean Axmaker

When it comes reviving the past, timing and presentation is everything.

Sony’s first wave of “The Toho Godzilla Collection” of second- and third- generation Japanese Godzilla films on Blu-ray came out in May, timed to the theatrical release of the American remake (the discs are reviewed on Cinephiled here). This second wave arrives the week before the American 2014 Godzilla arrives on disc and digital formats.

Godzilla2000After Roland Emmerich’s Godzilla flopped, Toho took back their home grown movie monster turned cinema hero for the second reboot of the franchise and the third generation of movies. In Japan it was called the Millennium series and like the previous reboot, The Return of Godzilla (titled Godzilla 1985 in the U.S.), Godzilla 2000 (1999) swept away a generation of sequels and pretended that most (if not all) of the films since the original Godzilla never actually existed. Though clearly a landmark in the Japanese franchise, I can only guess that Godzilla 2000 (Sony, Blu-ray) wasn’t included in the first wave of Blu-ray upgrades because it, quite frankly, is not one of the better films of the series.

Godzilla is on the move again just as an ancient UFO is dredged up from the ocean. In a fitting bit of turnabout, the script appropriates Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day, though on a significantly smaller scale and with a Japanese giant monster sensibility: this lone silver spaceship parks on a Shinjuku skyscraper, drains the city of all computer information, and transforms into a mutant monster the resembles something between a skyscraper sized Predator and Jabba the Hut’s dungeon ogre from Return of the Jedi. Meanwhile an all-volunteer force of science nerds called the Godzilla Prediction Network, run by peacenik professor Yuji (Takehiro Murata) and his precocious adolescent daughter, clashes with their arch rivals, the Crisis Control Institute, a government strike force armed to destroy Godzilla run by Yuji’s bloodthirsty nemesis Katagiri (Hiroshi Abe, whose eyes bug out in glee every time he launches a missile).

Continue reading at Cinephiled

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Film Review: ‘The Drop’

11 September, 2014 (05:58) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Tom Hardy and pup

The easiest knock against The Drop is that it operates in an overexposed milieu: current urban American crime. It’s hard to pump something new into this world, but the film succeeds because of its rich attention to detail and a Dennis Lehane script with a surplus of tasty dialogue. Lehane, the author of Mystic River and Gone Baby Gone, adapted the screenplay from his short story “Animal Welfare.” Two initially unrelated incidents make the plot go: the rescue of a wounded dog and the closing-time robbery of a Brooklyn tavern called Cousin Marv’s. The bar’s mild-mannered, mind-my-own-business bartender, Bob Saginowsi (Tom Hardy, late of Locke), is walking home one night when he hears the pathetic mewling of an abandoned pit bull. The abused dog is on the property of Nadia (Noomi Rapace), and these two strangers strike up a friendship around the dog; it is just possible they might be interested in each other. The robbery, meanwhile, puts hapless Cousin Marv (James Gandolfini) in a tight spot; he’s already lost ownership of the bar to Chechen gangsters, who would really like their stolen money back. They play rough.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Jealousy’

11 September, 2014 (05:51) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Olga Milshtein, Louis Garrel, and Anna Mouglalis

In the opening scene of Jealousy, a relationship comes to an end. Shaggy-haired actor Louis (Louis Garrel) is leaving his girlfriend Clothilde (Rebecca Convenant) as their young daughter Charlotte looks on. The moment isn’t hugely original, or even especially dramatic. It’s a thing that has to happen, and everyone knows it, and each person’s reaction is honored. Then we move on—but everything that happens after depends on this sequence. Louis goes to live with his new lover Claudia (Anna Mouglalis, the Chanel from the dreary Coco Chanel & Igor Stravinsky), herself an actress, albeit one who mysteriously hasn’t worked in six years. The design of veteran director Philippe Garrel (Louis is his son) takes all of this situation’s developments in stride—sometimes literally, as he likes walking scenes—as though observation, not manipulation, is his primary interest.

It lacks the clocklike inner workings of movies devoted to storytelling, but Jealousy does a lot of things right.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘Love Is Strange’

11 September, 2014 (05:46) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

John Lithgow

Of the titles from Hollywood’s golden age that aren’t broadly recognized as classics but really ought to be, Make Way for Tomorrow is on the short list—no arguments brooked. Leo McCarey, a director with a notable human touch, crafted this 1937 masterpiece from a simple story about two long-married folks forced to live apart when their money runs out and their grown children prove inept at compassionate problem-solving. This outline proves remarkably durable in Love Is Strange, a new film that finds an ingenious variation on the same story. Here, the couple has not been married long, but they’ve been together for 39 years; in fact, it’s the gift of their marriage that inadvertently causes the unwanted separation.

Meet Ben (John Lithgow) and George (Alfred Molina), whose cohabitation stretches back long before same-sex marriage was a realistic goal.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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‘Horses of God': The Making of a Martyr

10 September, 2014 (08:14) | by Sean Axmaker, Essays | By: Sean Axmaker

There’s not one reason why a young boy can turn into a suicide bomber. There are many of them.
—Nabil Ayouch, director of Horses of God, in a 2014 interview with Dan Lybarger

In 2003, just a couple of years after the Twin Towers attack, twelve suicide bombers blew up multiple targets in Casablanca. The bombers were all young men recruited from the slums of Sidi Moumen. These attacks did not cause much of a ripple in the western press—Muslims killing Muslims doesn’t inspire the kind of outrage that sells papers or grabs cable news channel eyeballs in the U.S.—but it was shocking event in the Arab world. It’s the inspiration for Horses of God, a fictional story rooted in the real life experiences of hundreds of thousands boys and men in the Arab world.

‘Horses of God’

Four boys kick around a soccer ball in the dusty streets and desolate empty lots of Sidi Moumen, an immense, impoverished shantytown on the outskirts of Casablanca. They’re kids like any other, paling around in wild packs of ragamuffin gangs and playing makeshift soccer games that have a tendency to end in scrappy brawls, but their horizons are limited by their circumstances. The bird’s eye view of the camera reveals the startling proximity of this desperate slum with the cosmopolitan cultural capital of Morocco—and of North Africa at large—but from the vantage point of these boys in the garbage-strewn streets it could be on another planet. Their dreams of a better life come not from experience but television, where they have the choice of European football matches and mom’s glamorous soap opera fantasies. The realities of survival are much less romantic.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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Review: A Boy and His Dog

8 September, 2014 (10:23) | by Kathleen Murphy, Film Reviews, Science Fiction | By: Kathleen Murphy

[Originally published in Movietone News 44, September 1975]

One plunges straight into unknown territory and action in A Boy and His Dog: Tatterdemalion figures dodging about in a wasteland, shooting at one another without apparent rhyme or reason. Some kind of reconnoitering dialogue—but no lips are seen to move and, visually, spatially, we find ourselves allied with … a boy and his dog? L.Q. Jones, writer and director of the film, gets down to business at once; before we know where we are, we have moved past the weird skirmish on desolate mudflats into the weirder realization that the conversation we have been puzzling over is a telepathic interchange between Vic—that’s the young man—and Blood, a shaggy mutt who has mutated light years beyond the Disneyesque canine to whom he bears some physical resemblance. Our suspension of disbelief about a dog who “talks” fast and dirty to his more-protégé-than-master is as immediate as our delight with Blood’s kinkily risqué sense of humor, his “doubletakes” and moués of disgust and exasperation with his sex-starved friend. Conversations between the two are shot with casual expertise and possess more bite and verve than most exchanges between humans in the film (witness the inane passages between Vic and the siren from “down under” he subsequently encounters), and Tim McIntire’s (Blood’s) delivery of irreverent repartee completes the visual identification of Blood as an authentically salty personality.

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Videophiled Classic: ‘High School Confidential!’

7 September, 2014 (09:36) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

high-school-confidentialHigh School Confidential! (Olive, Blu-ray, DVD) – Trashy, tawdry, and weirdly energetic, with tough talking high school delinquents played by college grads spouting mock-beat dialogue, this B+ exploitation classic from producer Albert Zugsmith (who went from Written on the Wind and Touch of Evil to such artifacts as Sex Kittens Go to College and Confessions of an Opium Eater) and director Jack Arnold is a terrifically entertaining piece of drug scare cinema. Russ Tamblyn blows into school in a hot rod convertible, all smart aleck attitude and high-rolling hoodlum ambition, and muscles his way into the local drug scene, but this hep-talking cat is actually an undercover agent, the original 21 Jump Street–style baby-faced narc working his way up to the local drug lord known as Mr. A.

It’s a thoroughly bizarro collision of teens-gone-wild hysteria and drug scare edutainment (“If you start on the weed, you graduate to the hard stuff”), with beatnik dialogue (“I’m puttin’ it down” / “Well I’m pickin’ it up!”), clueless parents, and stiff authority figures delivering the “truth” about drugs in the high schools in scenes that grind the movie to a halt for moralizing sermons. It opens with Jerry Lee Lewis pounding out the rocking theme song on a piano in the back of a pickup (which then drives off, never to be seen again), co-stars Mamie Van Doren as a sloshed slutty suburban housewife who is supposed to be Tamblyn’s aunt but keeps trying to seduce him, and features John Drew Barrymore (Drew’s dad) as the drawling high school kingpin who delivers the story of Columbus as a piece of beat performance art, which is merely prelude to a full-blown beat poetry recitation. Jan Sterling plays the “cool” teacher determined to really understand youth today that she lets her students get away with utterly disrespectful behavior, button-nose cutie Diane Jergens is Barrymore’s weed-head kitten, Michael Landon the clean-cut big man on campus who isn’t as square as he looks, and Jackie Coogan the coffee-house owner with a sideline in mary-jane and heroine.

Jack Arnold is best known for bringing intelligence to fifties science fiction cinema (It Came From Outer Space, The Incredible Shrinking Man) but actually had quite a range, making everything from westerns to comedies. He has an eye for staging and a great sense of timing, not to mention a way with making overdone performances fit into the same movie universe, and he embraces the outré elements with such energy that they take on a life of their own. It’s camp, to be sure, but great fun as a crazy take on adult fears of high school delinquency and Arnold’s commitment to this ridiculous portrait of teenage life and corruption in suburbia pulls it all together in a crazy warped mirror that has a life all its own. “Tomorrow is a drag, man, tomorrow is a king-size bust.”

This is a CinemaScope production and the only previous legitimate DVD release was non-anamorphic. It’s been remastered in HD for the Blu-ray debut and new DVD release, which alone makes it a necessary upgrade. It’s not perfect, mind you, and there’s a brief rough patch with major scuffs and scratches and damage that sends the picture shaking for a second or two, but it offers a sharp image and a clean soundtrack. No supplements.

More classic and cult releases on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

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The View Beyond Parallax… more reads for the week of September 5

5 September, 2014 (10:30) | by Bruce Reid, by Sean Axmaker, Links | By: Bruce Reid

“At this point, John had been burned three times by commercial animation: during the Disney strike, at UPA, and by Finian’s Rainbow. Faith had never had anything but distrust of commercial projects to begin with. So as a condition of their marriage, they made a pact: They would make one serious film a year, for themselves, and do whatever they had to do to support it.” In a sterling example of lateral thinking, The Dissolve ends its Movie-of-the-Week coverage of Hedwig and the Angry Inch with Matthew Dessem’s thorough history of the Hubley family’s trail-blazing career in animation. (Since, if you’d forgotten, Hedwig’s explanation of Aristophanes’s take on the origins of the sexes is illustrated by second-generation Hubley genius Emily.)

Cristina Álvarez López and Adrian Martin’s latest, typically engrossing video/text essay pairing explores some paths through Lang’s Secret Beyond the Door…, “a broken puzzle at every level, virtually begging us to rearrange its pieces and find its key.”

“One of the most talked-about shots in all of Davies’s films is a galvanizing image about two-thirds of the way into The Long Day Closes. In Davies’s published script, it is inconspicuous: the simple sentence “Hold on floor” in no way augurs the impact of the scene as it appears on-screen.” In an excerpt from his book on Davies, Michael Koresky gives a fine reading of the metacinematic and queer subtexts behind the carpet shot that will forever be the dividing line between the director’s detractors and admirers.

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Channeling Movies: Sex and Sin on Pre-Code Fridays on Turner Classic Movies

4 September, 2014 (16:28) | by Sean Axmaker, Film Reviews, Pre-code Cinema, Television | By: Sean Axmaker

Turner Classic Movies is turning all the Fridays in September over to films from that brief period in the early thirties when the studios thumbed their collective noses at the toothless Production Code and pushed the boundaries of sex, violence, and bad behavior without judgment or consequences in film after film. The iron boot of censorship came down in 1934 and stomped out all that deliciously salacious content, but for a few years Hollywood acknowledged and even flaunted sex between consenting adults (married or not). The films from this era were branded “Forbidden Hollywood” when they were rediscovered and revived for audiences in the 1990s, but today they are better known as Pre-Code. Turner Classic Movies has four full Fridays full of forbidden Pre-Code delights.

While there are gems aplenty throughout the month, I’ll spotlight a few of the most interesting and audacious rarities and lesser-known glories, including two from the coming Friday line-up.

Set those DVRs now!

Friday, September 5:

Dorothy Mackaill is hardly ‘Safe in Hell’

Safe in Hell (1931) – Think of this as a kind of B-movie riff on Sadie Thompson (the original bad girl in the tropics melodrama) directed with a merciless brutality by William Wellman. It stars the largely forgotten Dorothy Mackaill as a scuffed-up, street-smart answer to Miriam Hopkins and she is amazing as the hooker who is whisked off to a Caribbean island to flee a murder charge. The film’s title is no exaggeration; imagine Casablanca as a lice-infested backwater run by mercenary opportunists and filled with the sleaziest criminals to escape a manhunt. They all take their shot at seducing Mackaill, the sole white woman in this island prison, and she shoots them all down with the brash directness of an experienced urban doll who has spent her life fending off passes. Yet somehow the film manages to give them all a shot at redemption when she is tried for murder (it’s a different murder, and yet the same one, in the crazy logic of the melodrama contrivances) and they line up in her defense. Wellman it snappy and sassy as he winds the story from the cynical to the sentimental to the spiritual with equal commitment.

More highlights at Cinephiled

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Film Review: ‘The Identical’

4 September, 2014 (08:22) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Blake Rayne

The website for The Identical has more endorsements from pastors than movie critics—this is not one of those evangelical pictures trying to hide its agenda. It’s produced by a Nashville-based company with roots in the born-again world and some legit music-biz credentials. That agenda acknowledged, the picture has two notable strong points: an urban-legend storyline that’s been crying out for a movie treatment and an unexpectedly engaging lead turn by a new performer.

The story springs from classic alternate-history stuff. We all know—I certainly hope we all know—that Elvis Presley had a twin brother who died at birth. What if the twin had actually survived and led a parallel existence to his famous sibling?

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘A Letter to Momo’

4 September, 2014 (08:17) | Animation, by Robert Horton, Film Reviews | By: Robert Horton

Momo and her goblins

Goblins are disconcerting, even if their worst offense (in this case) is stealing food. For an 11-year-old girl named Momo, they are more annoying than terrifying, just another tiresome aspect of moving to the countryside with her mother. Not only is Momo expected to meet new friends and make nice with her grandparents, she’s also trying to get over the death of her father. He left behind a sheet of paper that’s addressed “Dear Momo” but is otherwise heartbreakingly blank. Goblins? Let ’em do their worst.

Hiroyuki Okiura’s gently fantastical animation approach proves apt for this familiar little story.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Film Review: ‘The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears’

4 September, 2014 (08:12) | by Robert Horton, Film Reviews, Horror | By: Robert Horton

‘The Strange Color of Your Body’s Tears’

The Belgian writer/director team Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani are obsessed with the 1970s Italian horror subgenre known as giallo. Their 2010 Amer was a cool one-off, a clever compendium of lovingly imitated giallo motifs that also created a lush experience in and of itself. Except it wasn’t a one-off, because here’s another excursion into a world of saturated colors, sexed-up violence, and utterly incomprehensible storytelling. Cattet and Forzani may have gone to the well once too often, because Strange Color lacks the freshness of Amer. As a technical stunt, though, it’s super-trippy.

The title is meant to evoke long-winded gialli such as Dario Argento’s The Bird With the Crystal Plumage or Mario Bava’s Five Dolls for an August Moon.

Continue reading at Seattle Weekly

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Treasure Hunting with the Zellners

3 September, 2014 (13:10) | by Sean Axmaker, Interviews | By: Sean Axmaker

‘Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter’

David and Nathan Zellner started making films together when they were kids, acting in their own home movies shot on camcorder. “I think that’s what first got is interested in making films is wanting to perform,” says David, director and co-star of their new feature Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter. It premiered at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival (where it won a Special Jury Prize for the score by The Octopus Project), was picked up for distribution by Amplify and has made stops at Fantasia and Nextfest this summer. It’s not their first feature—they’ve made four previous feature-length productions if you count a film they made right out college (it’s not available and they don’t even include it on IMDb), and that doesn’t take into account the many short films they’ve made in between—but it is poised to be their break-out film. Based on an urban legend of a Japanese woman who traveled to Minnesota to find the money buried in the snow at the end of Fargo (believing it to be “a true story” as the opening of the film insists), Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter is funny, wry, sweet, and engagingly offbeat, a lovely little character piece that embraces the eccentricities of its characters without ridiculing them.

I met up with David Zellner this past spring at the Seattle International Film Festival a few weeks before they had landed distribution (he hinted that something was in the works but could not discuss until everything was final. After he introduced a screening of Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter to a packed house at the Egyptian theater (and stuck around long enough to confirm that sound and image were to his satisfaction), we headed off to a nearby coffee shop and he sat down for a generous interview until he was due back for the Q&A.

In the middle of the interview, David was momentarily distracted by a man in the alley outside the coffee-shop window doing Tai Chi-like movements with an unconventional prop. “There’s a man doing Ninja moves with a fishing pole,” he remarked. “That was great! I wish I could have filmed it.” That enthusiasm explains their prolific output and their dedication to making short films between the features. Inspiration is everywhere. You just have to keep your eyes and your mind open.

Continue reading at Keyframe

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Videophiled: ‘Night Moves’

2 September, 2014 (18:16) | Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, DVD, Film Reviews | By: Sean Axmaker

NightMovesNight Moves (New Video, Blu-ray, DVD, Cable VOD), the fourth film that New York-based director Kelly Reichardt has made in Oregon, is her most commercial project yet, though you won’t mistake this drama of eco-terrorists who blow a dam on a southern Oregon river for a Hollywood thriller. Reichardt and longtime screenwriting partner Jon Raymond focus on the process and the people, a trio of true-believers who want to make a “statement” and end up killing a camper in the collateral damage.

Jesse Eisenberg is the closest we have to a protagonist, a guy living on a co-op just outside of Ashland. He anchors this activist cell with a restless impatience for the blithe, stoner-like disregard for detail of the group’s combat vet (Peter Sarsgaard) and the new age-y philosophy of trust fund kid Dakota Fanning, the one who unravels with guilt over the camper’s death. They aren’t necessarily likable but they are compelling. The debates over the cost of action and the effectiveness of a destructive statement over productive alternatives are in the margins, present but always framed by the personal. The stakes are real—the opening shot shows the beauty of the Oregon wilderness gouged by a clear-cut patch in the wooded landscape—but so are the costs of action and Night Moves is all about responsibility.

Blu-ray and DVD with no supplements. Also on Cable VOD.

More new releases on disc and digital formats at Cinephiled

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Out of Season: The 19th International San Francisco Film Festival – Take 2

2 September, 2014 (06:14) | by Richard T. Jameson, Film Festivals | By: Richard T. Jameson

[Originally published in Movietone News 46, December 1975]

Mine has been a sheltered existence: I never attended a film festival before. And as a matter of fact I attended only four days of this one. But four more disillusioning and dispiriting days I don’t expect, or want, to experience for quite a while, thank you.

It was bad enough knowing that the Joseph L. Mankiewicz tribute, The Romantic Englishwoman, Les Ordres, Black Moon, the Michael Caine tribute, Conversation Piece, the Louis Malle tribute, Chronicle of the Years of Embers, and Swept Away by an Unusual Destiny in the Blue Sea of August—to list them in approximate sequence of anticipatory enthusiasm—would take place before teaching and Film Society commitments permitted us to wing south. The remainder of the program was dominated by unknown and hence unanticipatible quantities, save only for the latest film by the director of The Hireling (which we most wanted to see), a three-hour Soviet WW2 epic by Bondarchuk (which we least wanted to see), a new French film starring Jeanne Moreau (which closed the festival and which, because of return-flight connections, we knew we couldn’t see), and tributes to Gene Hackman, Jane Fonda, and Stanley Donen. Of these last, Hackman and Fonda were two eminently admirable people whose work and ever-emergent identities are so much a part of the contemporary cinematic experience that any summary tribute to either seemed a little inappropriate; but I was perfectly prepared to admit that some tribute designer might very well be able to put the consistently likable creations of director Donen into clearer perspective for me, and besides, the general interruptedness of his career in the late Sixties and early Seventies tended to redouble the justification for a festival salute now that that career seems to be off and running once more. And of course, a film festival is a film festival (isn’t it?), and who knew which of those untried films and filmmakers might be the L’avventura or Viridiana, the Godard or Jancsó, of 1975?

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