Tagged: film review

Theatrical Thursday – A Better Tomorrow (2010).

So if you’ve ever perused this blog, you’ll by now be made aware of the fact that I am a massive fan of foreign films, be they good or bad. I’m fascinated by the similarities and differences of American versus Foreign, and how the blending of the various cultures can often create an overall appealing movie. People are generally the same from continent to continent; the same gripes, hopes, dreams, and setbacks. But the subtle cultural differences seem to pop creatively on film. My latest pick is a bad boy out of South Korea titled “A Better Tomorrow“, which is a 2010 remake of the original 1986 Hong Kong classic that featured shoot ’em up action titan Yun-Fat Chow. In short, the film centers around two brothers, separated at a young age, that end up re-connecting years down the road. One brother chose the police force and the other followed a life of crime, so we can predict the inevitable clashes that arise with that; in addition, we have the usual double crossing bad guy that you end up hating by the end of the movie. While I’m generally opposed to remakes and ‘re-imaginings’, this is a solid version of a true gem.

 

 

Below, the horribly dubbed original:

 

 

Theatrical Thursday – Glory (1989).

Period films are often challenging ordeals. Many factors come into play when transferring a fact based story to the big screen, from costumes, to historical accuracy, to the ever-present “will anyone pay to watch this” dilemma. The American Civil War stands among the pivotal moments in our nation’s history, so it stands as no surprise that there have been a plethora of flicks based on that time period made over the years, from the infamous Birth of a Nation in 1915, the legendary Gone with the Wind, and 2003’s Gods and Generals. It was 1989 when a powerful gem named Glory was released into theaters, chronicling the formation of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry, an all black regiment mustered in 1863. Directed by Edward Zwick, the movie featured some serious star power in Denzel Washington, Matthew Broderick, Morgan Freeman, Andre Braugher, Cary Elwes, and a host of recognizable faces. Incorporating a triumphant score by James Horner, the film succeeds in painting a multi-layered picture of the trials and hurdles that had to be overcome by black and white troops in the Union Army following the Emancipation Proclamation passed into law by President Lincoln. The film carefully creates a vivid portrait of the main characters, with the simmering tensions of the war serving as a commanding backdrop. I remember getting misty-eyed in the theaters when I saw this film as a kid, and the message that it conveys holds true today. Definitely worth a watch.

 

 

 

Theatrical Thursday – The Killer (1989).

Action and violence were hallmarks of 80’s cinema; the sweepingly realistic tone of the 1970’s gave way to the over the top action narratives of the early to mid 80’s, which in turn led to the increasingly violent tones of the late 80’s and early 90’s.  Elaborately staged shootouts, the ‘one man army’ phenomenon, astronomical body counts dripping with gore, and the gritty cop theme were all huge theatrical elements that gained remarkable popularity.  Hollywood films were flush with aggressive action pictures, but Hong Kong had its own thriving film industry, and its own cache of bankable stars.  John Woo led the pack of filmmakers, producing such critical masterpieces as Hard Boiled, and A Better Tomorrow, and the ruggedly smooth Chow Yun-Fat, seemingly born with two guns in his hands, was his preferred leading man.

The Killer is the story of Triad hit man Ah Jong (elegantly played by Chow Yun-Fat), who accidentally blinds a singer during his final hit; afterward, he frequents the club where she performs, and they slowly develop a friendship. He eventually accepts one final job in order to cover the cost of a corneal transplant to save her eyesight. The film is riddled with thrilling car chases, brutal games of cat and mouse, ambushes, spectacularly bloody shoot outs, and the mutual respect earned by the dogged detective that is hot on Ah Jong’s trail.

Theatrical Thursday – Joe Versus the Volcano (1990).

Have you ever seen a movie six thousand times, but only gotten half a whiff of the real depth of that movie after the most recent viewing?  Case in point; I’ve seen Joe Versus the Volcano at least 30 times since 1990, but only recently came to understand the immense truths contained within it.  The film was always on in the background, and I’d often half ass watched it without really seeing it for what it was.  The realization and understanding came slowly; a little bit here, a little bit there, until one day I said “fuck it” and sat down and really watched the film again for the first time.  I took it all in with a renewed sense of awareness, and a considerably open mind.  I dissected it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’d enjoyed the movie time and again previously, but I’d only just seen the surface of it.  And in truth, I was sincerely blown away.  For all of its cheese, the movie was an acutely effective, multi-layered glimpse into a man’s thirst for knowledge, meaning, purpose, and self discovery.  Looking beyond some of the dated, clunky 90’s camp, it’s quite a deeply rendered portrait of the journey that we all endure in order to accomplish whatever it is we want to accomplish with our lives.  It is a great little tale about overcoming obstacles, standing up for your beliefs, and never giving up.  Who can’t relate to that, right?  And if you’ve ever hated your job, the “I quit” scene below is a revelation.

 

Theatrical Thursday – Adolph Caesar in ‘A Soldier’s Story’ (1984).

In the vein of magnificent but severely under-recognized pictures that emerge from the bowels of Hollywood, here’s another iconic performance that was more than worthy of the industry’s top honor.  A Soldier’s Story was based on a pulitzer prize winning play by Charles Fuller, about the investigation into the death of a black sergeant in the WWII era south.  The film’s antagonist was Sergeant Waters, splendidly played by the late Adolph Caesar; he was in fact nominated for a best supporting actor Oscar for the role, but lost out to Haing S. Ngor (The Killing Fields).  At any rate, his hauntingly conflicted role of the gruff, abrasive Sergeant Waters is indeed one for the record books, in one of cinema’s finest masterpieces.

Theatrical Thursday – ‘The Quest for the Mighty Sword’ (1990).

Ten bucks certainly can’t buy much these days; a measly movie ticket, maybe a six pack, a mess of cheap tacos, or a beer at a ball game.  Oddly enough, ten dollars can sometimes finance your movie.  Ok, maybe this film cost twelve bucks to make. Want to be a filmmaker?  Grab your beefiest best friend, a ratty blonde weave, some fur covered fruit of the looms, a few dwarves for a little “Lord of the Rings” flavor, and get to filming.  That’s exactly what the makers of The Quest for the Mighty Sword did.  Vomit inducing dialog?  Check.  Cookie cutter, fifth grade school play quality, 80’s porn-esque backdrops?  Check.  Absolutely, incredibly, mindbendingly ridiculous storyline?  You know it.  A dude with a sword that fights robots?  All i can say is wow.  I truly don’t think anyone ever successfully pulled off a Conan meets Battlestar Galactica mix.  This flick takes you down a dark alley that you’d normally avoid at all costs, lest you get stabbed unmercifully.  The film follows a guy named Ator on his journey to free his people from a magically evil dwarf troll (like you really care what this movie is about), while battling mythical creatures along the way.  That pretty much sums it up; the key to watching a flick like this is keeping an open mind, and trying really hard not to take it seriously.  Surprisingly, director Joe d’Amato did.  All jokes aside, it’s a hilariously fun ride, and props to d’Amato for crafting a truly memorable piece of work.  Also, much respect to Eric Allan Kramer, who is one hell of a talented actor, and was just the man to connect the dots and hold this thing together. Needless to say, as a true film fan, this flick is a must watch purely for the sake of an hour and a half of utter fun and a good deal of belly laughs.

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Note – this movie scored a whopping 2/10 rating on IMDB.com.

Theatrical Thursday – The Mesrine series (2008).

In my humble opinion, it’s no secret that American movies are becoming as stale as a bag of corn chips left open for 6 months straight. American cinema has unfortunately become swollen with remakes, sequels, reboots, re-imaginings, re-tellings, and re-whatever else you can think of that are as exciting as a tall glass of flat coke. It’s disturbingly sad that we are being thoroughly and soundly outflanked by the increasingly entertaining ranks of foreign films; the shocking number of American flicks that originated overseas is staggering (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, pretty much every Asian horror film ever made, etc). Hollywood is apparently more concerned with quantity as opposed to quality; they pump out more PG-13 schlock than nickelodeon in an attempt to put butts into seats and fill their Hollywood coffers. So to make a long story short (too late), I’ve primarily concerned myself with foreign fare of late. I’ve always had a preference for old films and foreign films anyway, because in my opinion, they were more focused on storytelling, plot, and serious acting chops. Modern American films are slowly bulldozing me over the cinematic edge. Case in point; I recently watched a film called Mesrine: Killer Instinct, a 2008 film about notorious French gangster Jacques Mesrine. Mesrine was one mean mother, and Vincent Cassel played the part of vicious lunatic with delicious style and machismo. Mesrine was legendarily bold, as he made short work of banks (robbing one bank, and then crossing the street to rob another immediately after), eluded the authorities for years, escaped from prison multiple times, and claimed around 40 murders. Part two, Mesrine: Public Enemy #1 was made the same year, and chronicled his later exploits. The films were visually vivid and gritty, with a fearless flair that made the onscreen action that much more grimy and realistic. Mesrine only grew more bloodthirsty and criminally ambitious as the years passed, and director and actor alike were masterfully on point. Veer away from the blandness and predictability of current cinema and immerse yourself head first in some fresh foreign fare.

Media Rewind Podcast – Denzel Washington. 

Shooting the shit on this episode with Dustin and Jenius as we discuss some of the darker roles (and everything in between) of the great Denzel Washington’s legendary career. Thanks for taking the time to check it out; give it a listen, and enjoy!

Theatrical Thursday – Double Indemnity (1944).

I’ve always said that some of the best movies can be seen on a quiet Saturday morning; there’s some good fertilizer in that crisp Saturday morning air that gives blossom to great movie viewing. It’s fun to catch a great picture from start to finish in the gray of the morning before the world wakes up, and before you owe the day any of your time, or anything to anyone. Some of the best films I’ve ever seen have been scoped on mornings just like that, free of burden, free of care, and with a surplus of time. When we were kids, my sister and I made it a goal to watch as many of the American Film Institute’s Top 100 films of all time in one summer; I can’t recall just how many we saw, but we gained some good ground while she was in town. One of my favorites from that summer was 1944’s Double Indemnity, starring Fred MacMurray and Barbary Stanwyck, so I decided to give that old classic a go this morning with my coffee.

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Director Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity is film noir at its finest; the dialogue was as thick and sultry as the lingering cigarette smoke, the script was as complex and detailed as the bourbon they drank, and the characters were as cool and slick and breezy as a mid May afternoon. The cinematography was a dimly lit tapestry of finely weaved shots that suffused the story with an air of gritty believability, and added a hefty and necessary dose of grim weight to the subject matter. The sturdy Fred MacMurray played Walter Neff, a hot shot top insurance salesman who fell instantly for the brazen and deceptively conniving Phyllis Dietrichson, played icily by Stanwyck. Neff falls hard for the allure of Mrs. Dietrichson, who convincingly lures the haplessly love struck Neff into a plot to knock off her husband after taking out a life insurance policy on him. The venerable Edward G. Robinson, star of a horde of gangster films and early Hollywood gems, played the feisty and meticulously detailed Barton Keyes; a remarkably intelligent Sherlock Holmes-esqe claims adjuster with a knack for sniffing out mischief.

The dark and brooding undertones of the film set a castle solid foundation of deceit, mystery, and intrigue that was so effectively present in the classics of the 40’s and 50’s, and earned the film seven Oscar nominations, including Best Picture.

Theatrical Thursday – Paths of Glory (1957).

Stanley Kubrick, a legendary filmmaker of great renown, has been at the helm of some of cinema’s most well-known and iconic pictures; who can forget Lolita (1962), Spartacus (1960), Dr. Strangelove (1964), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), A Clockwork Orange (1971), The Shining (1980), and Full Metal Jacket (1987)? His resume reads like a greatest hits list, the multitude of his work being critically acclaimed and pioneering in their own right. Quite possibly my all-time favorite Kubrick flick, though, is the utter masterwork that is Paths of Glory. Set in WWI, the film’s focus involves the trial of three men accused of cowardice in the face of the enemy after a failed assault on the enemy German positions. Kirk Douglas, a personal favorite, plays the role of French Colonel Dax, a visceral portrayal of a man tasked with defending the accused soldiers, who all face death by firing squad. His character faces the daunting task of proving the unwavering character of his men, while facing the impossible brutality that was WWI.

The film itself is wrought with a tension befitting the backdrop of one of the world’s most brutal conflicts, with themes of honor, duty, nationalistic pride, greed, betrayal, family, and idealism laced tightly within. The stark realism on display in the raw and gritty set pieces and the intricately placed details add to the brilliant performances of the actors. The grand scale of the set captured the sheer scope and intensity of the conflict, and the dramatic, solemn tension vividly captured the perilous plight of the condemned men. An outstanding achievement in film from a director and cast known for their remarkable performances.

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