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Wednesday, April 30, 2003



JAPON

Written and Directed by Carlos Reygadas
Starring Alejandro Ferretis, Magdalena Flores
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas

There's a small spoiler in here, so back off if you care.

What the hell. I mean WHAT THE HELL? This one came right out of left field, by way of under a rock. Writer/Director Carlos Reygadas may be in need of some serious couch time. Let me lay it out for you.

A depressed artist with a gimpy leg comes to a remote Mexican village in order to commit suicide. He never explains why. He finds lodging in the barn of an old woman, we're talking in the 80's at least, named Ascencia (named after the ascenion of Jesus to heaven). While there, he begins to find certain feelings return to him, instincts of survival, carnal feelings of lust, which is, for men at least, akin to survival. This is all well and good, until he decides he wants to have sex with the old lady. You know, here I am pulling an old school Mil move and driving up to the Nuart from my Long Beach Estate on a Sunday evening by myself for a little sexy movie, and I get gimpy-leg man sticking it to the 80-year-old broad. Imagine Keith Richards having intercourse with Kirk Douglas, that's what it looked like from where I was sitting. And I do mean stroked-out 80-year-old Kirk Douglas, not strapping, tan Spartacus Douglas. Okay, the artist is a little better looking than Keith Richards, he's a slightly more well-preserved Mexican Keith Richards.

Now, I liked the film, just so you know. I thought it was fairly well done given the extremely non-existent budget that they obviously had to work with. These movies are usually not meant to dazzle you, but rather they are puzzles to be fitted together, and I like those types of films just as much as the big Hollywood fare. However, I think I'm stumped as to what this one was really going for. Stay with me as I try and work it out.

There a many, many long takes of scenery, people walking around, animals dying and having sex. Kids, old people. The circle of life basically plays out in front of our eyes in a grotesque fashion. The artist comes to this village to die, and it is interesting to see the people that live in this town, and how crappy their existence is, yet they go on, and even continue to thrive, finding pleasure in simple things. It reminded me of Victor Frankl's truly inspiring book "Man's Search for Meaning," which I recommed to anyone reading this. Frankl was a Jewish Psychiatrist who survived a stint at a concentration camp. The years he spent living in enforced squalor, death and torture at the hands of the Nazi's solidified something in his mind, and that is that man will survive if he feels his life has a purpose, a meaning. This even led to his own from of therapy called "Logotherapy." Look him up if you get the chance. The reason I think Japon reminded me of Frankl is precisely the same reason, the artist has a survival instinct that kicks in. Don't expect a happy ending though, it's a trip to hell and back.

I never did figure out why it's called Japon either. It's the Spanish word for "Japan." See what I mean? It's a bit arcane, but worth checking out.

Sunday, April 20, 2003

Bullet Proof Monk



BULLET PROOF MONK

Directed by Paul Hunter
Written by Ethan Reiff & Cyrus Voris
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas

Just when you think Hollywood may have figured out how to adapt comic books once and for all, here comes Bulletproof Monk to remind you that the ball is still slippery, John Woo and Terence Chang have definitely dropped this one. Forget the “script doctor,” call the “script coroner.”

Seann William Scott plays a young thief named Kar, who crosses paths with Chow Yun-Fat as a Monk who has been guarding a sacred scroll that proposes to give whoever reads it in its entirety some sort of ultimate power. Every 60 years the scroll needs a new guardian to protect it. Fat comes to believe, through a series of prophesied events, that Kar is the next “guardian” that he will entrust with the scroll.

The baddie? A Nazi who fought with Fat over the scroll on a mountaintop monastery during WW2. He has since lost track of Fat, but he’s searching...always searching. Growing old, while the power of the scroll keeps Fat young and strong. The Nazi has become obsessed with finding the scroll, and, aided by his hottie Nazi daughter (Victoria Smurfit), is always right on the heels of Fat. These scenes make for much Matrix-inspired helicopter and high-power automatic weapon-fire chase scenes through the streets and rooftops in San Francisco, but apparently they aren’t loud enough to get much police attention.

The jokes (I think they were meant to be jokes) are anything but. And you’d think in 4 hours and 20 minutes (the perceived running time) they’d have stumbled across one or two funny lines, even by accident. Sorry. Instead we get great lines like this one after Kar tells Fat to leave his apartment, they fight for a minute, Fat knocks Kar into a chair and Kar says, “Okay, I guess I CAN’T make you leave.” Wow! That is dead-on screenwriting right there. Or how about the line, “The coast is clear, let’s go.” Again, writers working overtime. Oh, and the Nazi’s daughter keeps finding and losing Chow Yun-Fat. She tells her dad that he just needs to give her more time. And he utters this original phrase: “Time is the one thing...I’m running out of.” I can picture Ethan Reiff and Cyrus Voris, the two Wordsmiths responsible for this piece of crap, tossing dialog back and forth, high-fiving when that line dropped out.

The big action sequence of the third act finds the evil Nazi capturing Fat and hooking him up to some completely silly machines. Words from Austin Powers were zipping through my tired brain: “Begin the unnecessarily slow dipping mechanism!” And the evil Nazi is tooling around in his subterranean lair in his wheelchair wearing his Nazi uniform, hilarious. At this point, the Nazi (I’m not bothering to commit his name to memory, as soon as this review is done I must set to the task of deleting this entire movie from my mental hard drive) gets to do lots of scenery chewing and mustache twirling as he tries to obtain the scroll from Fat. Eventually, the Nazi gets to read most of the scroll, but not all of it, and it gives him some new powers, which pissed me off. I mean, did he read the whole scroll? No. So why does he get to toss people through the air like Yoda? Crap, I tells you.

There’s lots more half-assed story telling and blender-edited fight scenes that make you wonder what the hell is going on, but I don’t want to reveal too much in a review. So if you like torture, this might be for you. Me? I don’t have time for this crap. Sad thing is, I really like John Woo, the producer. Met him a couple times, hell of a nice guy. Big fan of his Hong Kong films, liked Face/Off, liked Windtalker, but like I said, I got my limits.

This underground comic should stay underground. About six feet would do nicely. I just need a little X-Men 2 to wash the taste of this one out of my mouth.

Friday, April 18, 2003



ANGER MANAGEMENT

Directed by Peter Segal
Written by David Dorfman
Starring Adam Sandler, Jack Nicholson, Marissa Tomei
Review by Mil Peliculas

All right. I’m getting a little pissed here. What is up with all the mediocre movies coming out lately? Fine, Oscar time has passed; the studios shot their wad a couple months ago. But why make something like Anger Management? It’s just so OKAY. I mean, did Peter Segal get on the phone with his mother a year ago and say, “Mom, guess what! I’m directing this extremely okay movie starring Adam Sandler and Jack Nicholson!” Does it happen like this? Comedy is difficult. We know this. I guess we just have to chalk it up to a miss. Not a big miss, mind you, but a miss just the same. Just so you have a measure with which to gauge my review, I did like Happy Gilmore, my favorite of the Sandler comedies.

What’s it all about? Sandler plays a somewhat repressed average Joe who is wrongly accused of assaulting a Stewardess—or Flight Attendant, rather, and is forced to undergo an anger management course given by Nicholson as Buddy Rydell, famous author and self-help guru type guy. Sounds like it has potential. But it just ain’t that funny. I guess I can’t fault the producers, writer and director, sometimes you don’t know if it’s going to play until an audience sees it. Sure there were the obligatory guffaws from the usual suspects in the theater, the slack-jawed knuckle dragger who just learned to walk erect last Tuesday who laughs his ass off whenever somebody falls over a chair, but should you really count on “early man” to make your movie a hit? I say NO. Please, NO.

Maybe we should fault the readers, who first read this script and kicked it upstairs. It probably came in flatlining and the wide-eyed scriptreader had seen too many episodes of E.R. and decided there was hope after all. They should have stamped DNR on it and put it into that huge stack where all of my screenplays are still sitting. DNR is an obscure pull, I know, it means Do Not Resuscitate, sorry, I’m getting too cute for my own good, I must think I am just soooooo bitchin.

How can I describe how okay this movie is…okay, there’s a scene where Buddy (Nicholson), who has decided to move in with David Buznik (Sandler) in order to give him more hands-on therapy, is riding to work with Dave and Dave is getting flustered because he is late. And check this out! I’m slapping my knee, here--Buddy hits the emergency brake and stops the car, right in the middle of a bridge full of morning New York rush hour traffic, and makes him sing a song to relax, something from West Side Story I think it was. I feel pretty…oh, so pretty…that song. Well, it got a chuckle out of me, but that seemed to be all I was getting out of the whole thing. It may take another viewing to figure out why it does not work that well, but I’m not going to be the one. If you can tell me, drop me an email. I can’t abide watching these kinds of movies more than once. Granted, it’s not as bad as, say, Tomb Raider, where you feel you’ve been rolled, and somebody ran off with 10 bucks and two hours of your life. It’s more like they "permanently borrowed" only 6 bucks and 1 hour, walked away, and said, “Sorry,” on their way to the getaway car. These kinds of films are just
passive-aggressive thievery.

Please, STOP the mediocrity!

Sunday, April 13, 2003



PHONE BOOTH

Written by Larry Cohen
Directed by Joel Schumacher
Starring Colin Farrell, Kiefer Sutherland, Forest Whitaker
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas


What do you get when you add the director of the worst Batman movies with the creator of the It’s Alive baby movies? Why, you get Phone Booth. Strange combination indeed, but in this case, it seems to work okay. I say, “okay.” These are the least interesting reviews to write, because I can’t really get passionate about films like this.

What’s it all about? Colin Farrell plays a sleazy New York publicist who talks out of both sides of his mouth as well as other orifices. A totally self-absorbed scumbag who’ll screw anybody over to make a deal. He spends the same hour each day making calls from a phone booth on 53rd between 8th and Broadway, if memory serves me (I’ll be visiting that corner in a few weeks).

Life stops for about an hour when he gets a phone call from a sniper who threatens to kill him if he hangs up the phone. From there, we begin to get into a morality tale. The sniper/caller, played by an over-enunciating Kiefer Sutherland, has been following Farrell for a while and decided that he needs to die, but first he needs to confess to his wife and everyone else in the world that he is a piece of crap.

The pacing is quick, the story fairly engaging, Farrell is good, but his New Yorker accent comes and goes like a thief in the night, fading into some bizarre Irish hybrid on occasion. Another stylistic thing I found a bit jarring is the fact that Kiefer’s voice does not come out of the phone, like you’d normally hear during a phone call scene, it comes out of the rest of the speakers, like he’s some omnipresent Godlike force. I grant that this is intentional, but I question Schumacher’s artistic sense. It just seems strange. And as I mentioned before, Kiefer speaks like a radio announcer, never a hesitation, a stutter, a misplaced word, and it seems, as though most of his dialog was recorded on some sound stage someplace else and laid in afterward (which it no doubt was), so that feeling of tense interaction between the two is not there, which normally would provide the fuel for a film like this (see Glengarry Glen Ross for a good example of tense interaction).

After the sniper shoots a bystander to prove that he means business, the police arrive, and witnesses tell the cops that Farrell was the shooter. Forest Whitaker plays the cop in charge of the scene. Farrell is not allowed to tell anyone what is happening or who he’s talking to. So it’s up to Whitaker to try to figure out what’s going on.

The film is short, so it won’t take up too much time, if you’re a fan of Farrell, you might enjoy it, but it never really busts out. There is one quotable line however, from a prostitute who wants to use the phone, Farrell shuts the door as she’s banging on it and she cackles, “You done messed up my dick hand!”

Thursday, April 10, 2003



THE CORE

Written by Cooper Layne and John Rogers
Directed by John Amiel
Reviewed by Mil Peliculas

Well, one of the first big action flicks to hit theaters is this extremely okay effort from John Amiel. I didn't quite hate it, but I found it difficult to really like. Amiel seems to be a good candidate for the Bland Pack. His last film was Entrapment, which I found to be a real snooze, and The Core made a similar ho-hum impact on me. Great cast, honestly. Hilary Swank, Bruce Greenwood, Aaron Eckhart, Stanley Tucci, Delroy Lindo, I mean could you do any better? Not really. And yet the script is almost hoplessly underwritten. I say "almost" because there are times where some good dialog and interesting character moments do peak through the surface.

The story is both interesting and laughably implausible. Aaron Eckhart plays a brilliant college professor who figures out that something strange is going on with the earth's core. Basically the earth's molten core has stopped spinning, due (naturally) to some covert experiments done by the U.S. Military, a program headed by a famous and pompous (and brilliant) Carl Sagan-esque scientist named Dr. Zimsky, played by Stanley Tucci. The reason that is bad is because that rotation generates the electromagnetic field that encircles the earth and protects us from all sorts of nasty things floating around in space, but chiefly it protects us from radiation. So the upshot is that if we don't "jumpstart" the earth's core by using some nuclear weapons, we're all baked. But the rub is, you need to get to the earth's core, and that is a big problem. Enter Delroy Lindo, another brilliant (good thing everyone is so brilliant in this film) scientist who has coincidently been developing a way to basically liquify rock, enabling a large craft to travel like an earthworm through solid granite. Completely silly, but what are you gonna do? It's a movie for Christ's sake. As I said, there are some moments of good dialog, but the storytellers never stop to dwell long enough on any good moments for fear of losing that 14-year-old target audience who needs to see constant action. One particular bit of dialog that could have been cool but was mishandled, is a scene where the goverment picks up a young computer hacker for some work they need him to do. The hacker gets into a verbal joust with the high and mighty Dr. Zimsky. Hacker says, "How many languages to you speak?" Zimsky says, "Five." Or however many it was. The hacker says, "Well I speak one...100110010, and with that language I can steal your identity, your money..." etcetera. A better writer could really have beaten the crap out of that moment, but it's rushed, shot with a lot of music and camera movement, totally distracting. Can't we just listen to the guy talk for a minute? It should have played like the Dennis Hopper /Christopher Walken scene from True Romance, but that's all out the window. Amiel just does not want to spend a lot of time with these characters, so it's no surprise that by the time we get near the end, and some of the crew starts dying, there's no emotional impact to speak of, and when other characters become emotional about it, it doesn't quite play. Hey, if the director doesn't want to spend time with these characters, why should I want to? I liked the first act better than the rest of it, but I didn't feel like walking out either.

Can't say I recommend this one. But I have seen worse.

Tuesday, April 01, 2003



IRREVERSIBLE

Written and Directed by Gaspar Noe
Starring Monica Bellucci
Review by Mil Peliculas

I'm not sure if we need to have a trilogy of backward storytelling films, so I encourage filmmakers to quit while they are ahead. Adding Irreversible to Memento, that's 2 for 2. Some might include Run Lola Run, but that one wasn't really backwards. Maybe we could call them all the "Playing with Time Trilogy." That works. Now let me get to it.

This French-language film written and directed by Gaspar Noe really punches you in the face, which normally one would not associate with an enjoyable cinematic experience. For instance, if the guy next to you punches you in the face, then that would tend to put a damper on the evening, but as long as it's the filmmakers, you are all right, provided you are prepared.

For starters (or "enders," heh heh--er uh...), the film is backwards, even the end credits roll backwards up the screen, and the letters are mostly backwards, but you can somehow read them. The camera work during the first fifteen or so minutes is very jerky and frantic, almost experimental, mirroring its intense content. In fact, I recommend sitting a bit further back to make sure you can pay attention. I sat too close the first time I saw it, and I ended up missing a key piece of information that lead to me misunderstanding what happened at the beginning of the film (end of the story). In the first few minutes, a man named Marcus is searching through a scary gay nightclub called "The Rectum." Marcus frantically searches for some guy named "The Tenia," but we don't know why. This scene features one of the most brutal murders I've ever seen. As the story moves backward in time, the camera settles down and we begin to piece together the events of the evening. About half way through, is one of the most explicit and in-your-face rape scenes I have ever seen, and there's barely any nudity. But the film is European, so you can count on a few penis shots. What is it with those Europeans and their penis shots? There's entirely too much male nudity going on in film today. Check out my blog page for more thoughts on this disturbing trend.

The first words of the film are the last words spoken in the story: "Time destroys all things." Which, as we know, is a universal truth. The storyteller wants us to be accutely aware of time, hence the backward construction. The lead female, Monica Bellucci, whom we don't meet for quite a while, really becomes the focus of the film. It's difficult for a woman that beautiful and full of life not to be the focus the film, I've never seen her before, but as soon as she hit the screen, I could think of nothing else. As the tragic story regresses, with the horrible things taking place first, it makes the nicer things we learn about these characters all the more poignant. "Fate" seems to be a character in this film, interrupting these people's lives for its own inscrutable purposes.

There are some sweet and playfully voyeuristic moments spent with Marcus and Alex (Bellucci) toward the end of the film that helps to elevate it from the almost pornographic shock of the first half, sort of a reward for sticking with it.

Remember, the film is unrated, and I imagine it would be an NC-17 if it were, for good reason. If you are a woman whose been raped, you may want to skip it all together.