Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Eyes Without a Face (1960)


Eyes Without a Face (1960)
Director:  Georges Franju
I didn’t expect this film to be a horror movie classic, but as it turns out, it is. I went into this movie not knowing what to expect, save for the fact that it’s one of those movies that you have to “see before you die”. I put off watching it because I thought it would be a boring film, but as I began to watch it, I was transfixed by the beauty in the imagery and the fact that it was going down horror movie territory, something totally unexpected for me. 

The story is all about a surgeon who is trying to give his daughter a new face. You see, she was in a terrible car accident and her face was horribly disfigured. Her father, the surgeon, concocts a way to give her a new face. Unfortunately, it involves ripping the face off somebody else! Will this procedure work? Will somebody stop the mad doctor? How far should science go to prove a point? 

First off, this film was beautifully shot. It took advantage, as many European films do of Europe’s beautiful architecture and natural landscapes. A director doesn’t need millions of dollars to make his movie look good, he simply has to have an eye for beautiful locations and the talent to shoot them well. This is what happens with Franju’s Eyes Without a Face, it simply looks amazing because Franju shot in these beautiful locations, this, if you ask me, elevates the material from its B movie roots and takes it into art house territory. Still, at heart, this is you’re a-typical mad doctor on the loose movie, there’s more than a passing resemblance with films like Frankenstein (1931) or Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Yes, this is a film is about a mad doctor, going above and beyond to make his theories come true, to make his experiments work. 

The film is most famous for its surgical operation scene, which I imagine must have been quite the show stopper back in the day. Reportedly, people passed out during that sequence. I do remember as I watched the film, I suddenly felt I was watching “the scene”. You know how when you’re watching classic films and see a famous sequence for the first time and you realize you are in the presence of greatness…that’s how I felt with that scene. It’s an art film mixed with a horror film, loved that about this one. 

After watching Eyes Without a Face I realized where Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In (2011) comes from. Almodovar’s film is extremely similar in premise and visuals so obviously this film was a major influence. The only thing is that Almodovar’s film dives a bit deeper into themes, while Franju’s film is simplistic in nature and almost kind of void of any themes. The film shocks, has an interesting premise and looks amazing, but what is it trying to say? What is its ultimate purpose? It seems to me like Franju’s film only manages to shock and titillate and that it does in a beautiful way, but it doesn’t go beyond that. So in that sense, it’s an exercise in style over matter, poetic/surreal imagery over depth or story. I’m sure back in 1960 this film must’ve shocked audiences, I’m sure it will be considered tame by today’s horror enthusiasts. Still, this is a beautiful looking horror film, a true classic of the genre. Definitely worth a watch! 
Rating: 5 out of 5

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019)


John Wick Chapter 3: Parabellum (2019)
Director: Chad Stahelski 
Cast: Keanu Reeves, Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Mark Dacascos, Angelica Houston, Ian McShane
To be honest, I never understood what was the big deal with these John Wick movies, so this review comes from a viewer who was never a huge fan of the previous two films. I get why people love these movies, Keanu plus dogs = box office gold. Both are lovable, cause Keanu is Keanu and dogs, well, who doesn’t love dogs right? What I didn’t like about the first two movies was that they were R rated action movies, that behaved like they were rated PG-13. By this I mean that the amount of graphic violence and bloodshed felt limited, restrained. This is a problem for me because these are action films and to me action equals, nitty gritty, bloody and graphic. Intensity is of the essence in action films. I come from the 80’s, which means I was raised with action movies like Lethal Weapon (1987), which means I like my action to be graphic. So I never really understood why these films were holding back. It’s not that I didn’t like these movies, because they are super stylish and fun, but they needed a little more oomph to them in my opinion.  So here comes part 3, which had an awesome trailer that got me all convinced this was going to be the one to finally win me over. Did it? 

Parabellum picks up right where the second film left off, with every single hit man in the world looking for John Wick, who has a price of 14 million on his head. That’s about all you have to know about this movie to see it. Basically, these John Wick movies all have one simple excuse for all the mayhem to kick off. On the first one they killed his dog. On the second one they thrashed his car. On this one Mr. Wick doesn’t want to die because he wants to go on living so he can remember the love of his life. So basically, that’s the McGuffin on this movie. It’s the excuse to kick things off. 

And boy do things kick off quickly! In this sense John Wick delivers every step of the way, it is literally non-stop action. It never stops. And the action scenes are intricate, extensive and we can actually see what is happening. For a while there, action films were all about blurry camera movements that only suggested what was happening. This was a technique that got very popular after Ridley Scott used it in Gladiator (2000). For a while there in action films, lots of action was happening, but in reality, we understood very little of what was going on. Not on John Wick Chapter 3, here we can see everything that happens! There’s no unnecessary jerky cam to hide behind; on this film all the action is crystal clear. 

The action is truly awesome here. I’ve always described these films as excuses to show a million entertaining ways to kill people, and trust me, that’s exactly what you are going to get! We got Keanu shooting guns while horse back riding, we got Keanu shooting guns and sword fighting while riding a motorcycle, we got Keanu making the best use of a massive gun arsenal! I mean, if this isn’t the best definition for the quintessential ‘gun ballad’, I don’t know what is! Gun ballads are these usually super stylized action films that are paper thin in plot and everything is resolved with a gun. Examples of these types of films include films like Wanted (2008), Shoot ‘em Up (2007) and El Mariachi (1992). The John Wick films definitely fit this profile. You so much as look at John Wick wrong you’re going to get a bullet in ‘ya. The violence can become numbing after a while, to the point where I was expecting the film to come up with some bat shit insane death to surprise me, and it always did. Just when you think you’re getting bored, John Wick stabs somebody in the eye. Slowly. 

Basically, this is the same exact formula as the previous films, only that much cooler. That much more violent. So yes, this was the one that completely won me over. To me, this third John Wick film truly earned its ‘R’ rating, it is the best of the three. It is a guaranteed fun time at the movies. The deaths are way more graphic, the action is never ending and interesting and the stunts are amazing. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Chad Stahelski, the films director is a stunt man himself. He has doubled for many actors in action films, including Keanu in The Matrix films. What works in favor of these John Wick movies is that Stahelski knows his way around action sequences.  He even trained Brandon Lee in Jeet Kun Do, before Lee’s death in The Crow, hell, Stahelski doubled for Lee in The Crow when they decided to finish the film.  Stahelski also knows how to make a film look good. I mean, everything in John Wick looks like its glowing with neon colors! New York looks amazing on this film! By the way, this film is very New York. 42nd Street, Grand Central Station, The Continental, New York and John Wick are one here. I hear this director has signed up to direct the upcoming Highlander remake. There’s even an inside joke in Parabellum where John Wick walks into an establishment called ‘MacLeod’s’, definitely a hint of things to come, to which I say hell yeah. If the sword play in John Wick 3 is any indication, we’re in for a show.  
Rating: 4 out of 5 

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Hellboy (2019)


Hellboy (2019)

Director: Neil Marshall 

Cast: Dave Harbour, Milla Jovovich, Ian McShane

I have never cared for Rotten Tomatoes, like at all. They’ve been doing this thing where they’ll post an article based on the Rotten Tomatoes score saying such and such a movie has such a low Rotten Tomatoes score.  You know what I say to that? Who cares? More than once they have done that sort of thing, then I see the movie they have trashed and I end up enjoying it. So it’s getting to the point where if Rotten Tomatoes says a movie is going to be bad or has a low score, I immediately feel like I will more than likely like it. And I’m not just talking out of my caboose, I just saw Hellboy (2019) a film that Rotten Tomatoes and apparently the rest of the internet decided they were going to hate and I ended up having a blast with it. So let’s get that out of the way, this remake was fun as hell. It ain’t perfect, but it sure as hell wasn’t “worst film of the year” or “cinematic pond scum” as they were calling it. 


Hellboy is all about this evil witch who was so evil they cut her up into a million pieces and scattered her pieces throughout the land so that no one could put her back together again. You see, she’s so evil they chopped of her head and it still lives! Kind of like Vigo The Carpathian in Ghostbusters II (1989)? Anyhow, you just know someone is going to find all the pieces and resurrect her. This evil Blood Queen has world destroying aspirations and at the same time she’s looking for her King and she’s got her eye on good old Hellboy. Meanwhile, Hellboy is having he’s usual existential dilemas. Is he good? Is he evil? Is he meant to destroy the world or save it?

  
 The problem with this movie is that everyone is coming ready to rip it a new one, they are not even considering giving it a chance. Why? Because it’s not Guillermo del Toro directing, because it’s not Ron Perlman playing Hellboy, because there’s no Abe Sapien. But you know what, I’m fine with someone else directing because even though I love Del Toro’s movies, and I love his appreciation for all things horror and Lovecraft, I’m not a huge fan of his schmaltzy, over sentimental side. You know how he always manages to turn any one of his movies, even if its horror into a big old romance thing? Crimson Peak (2015) and the Hellboy movies are a great example of this. And to be honest, the romance between Hellboy and Liz never felt real to me, it felt forced. The good thing about Neil Marshall’s take on Hellboy is that it has none of that. It’s more of a horror film.


And in that sense, it is more faithful to Mike Mignola’s comic books, which have always been completely immersed in horror. Actually, this movie gets bonus points in my book for going into Hellboy's true origins about his real mother and father! No one had done that before. The cool thing about this movie is that it kind of takes all the different monsters we’ve seen throughout Mignola’s comics and incorporates them into one bombastic love letter to horror! We get witches, zombies, warlocks, the end of the world, giants, pig monsters, Baba Yaga, cannibalism…you name it, it’s in there. So the film is never boring. You can’t blame Guillermo del Toro for making his films romantic, because it’s part of  what makes a Del Toro film a Del Toro film, just like you can’t blame Neil Marshall for incorporating elements of King Aurthur and the Knights of the Roundtable into his films. I remember seeing Neil Marshall’s post-apocalyptic film Doomsday (2008) (now there’s a bad film!) and thinking why would he squeeze knights and horses into this movie? They just felt so out of place in a post apocalyptic film. And now he has also done it in Hellboy and I realize its his thing. Just like all directors have “their thing”, which they do in all their movies. On Hellboy, Marshall somehow found a way to incorporate Excalibur and Merlin into the story. Like I said, everything but the kitchen sink here. Is that a good or a bad thing? Depends. Do you like your movies fast paced? I personally dug the whole Excalibur angle to the movie. 


 Then there’s the issue of David Harbour; sure he aint Ron Perlman, from day one Harbour had huge shoes to fill. Did he pull it off? Well, I have to tell you guys that he is pretty much the same character. He is playing Hellboy. I really didn’t feel that big difference from Perlman to Harbour. Except that in some scenes it looks like Hellboy’s gained a couple of pounds. So I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with Harbour’s take on the character, I think he did a fine job. What does take a bit of getting used to is Hellboy’s new look. He looks slightly different, but no big deal either. The icing on the cake is Milla Jovovich as the Blood Queen, a new addition to the Hellboy universe. She makes a decent villain, one that attempts to acquire Hellboy’s affections. 


 Finally another awesome thing about this remake is that it has substantial gore and special effects. There’s this awesome scene in which Hellboy fights these giants that looks amazing, a show stopper, very interesting camera work going on in those scenes. There’s lots of decapitations, lots of bodies being ripped apart, I mean this movie really does earn its hard ‘R’ rating. This movie is certainly NOT for kids, just saying. So bottom line, I don’t get the hatred. It’s almost like ‘they’ don’t want you to see this movie, which obviously means you should. Powers that be don’t like horror films, have you noticed how much they’ve changed through the years? Have you noticed what is allowed and marketed in Hollywood? It’s films that make you want to go to church! If it’s about a demon who gets beaten by reading from the bible or by waving a cross at it, then the film is green lit! The Nun and The Conjuring come to mind. Hellboy goes against all that. This film goes against the grain, so of course, its going to get the hatred. I mean here we have a film that’s getting a huge theatrical release, and it’s a film in which a demon from hell is the hero of the picture! My conspiracy theory with this one is that this is why it’s being lambasted by the “critics”. Worst part is that a lot of the bashing happened even before the film was released? I mean, people who are saying its garbage are just going with the media, which apparently doesn’t want you to lose your faith or take it lightly. So anyways, is there anything negative I can say about this movie? Um, let’s see…it was fast paced? Story was a little generic? That’s about it? Too bad people tend to go with whatever crappy article they see posted on the internet. Oh wait, this movie has a kick ass rock and roll soundtrack, no wait that's a good thing. For a fun night at the movies, you can do a lot, lot worse than this. I say go have a hell of a time!  

Rating 4 out of 5 


Saturday, April 13, 2019

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019)




The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019)

Director: Terry Gilliam 

Cast: Adam Driver, Jonathan Pryce 

If you look at the repertoire of films in director Terry Gilliam’s career, you’ll see that a lot of his films have a Quixote quality to them. Many of his films deal with a man who escapes to fantasy worlds in order to avoid the harshness of the real one. For example, in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), the aging Baron Munchausen calms a war torn town with his tall tales of fantasy and mayhem same as Quixote’s tall tales. Like Don Quixote, the Baron rides a horse wields a sword and fights fantastical creatures. Like Quixote, the Baron gets old when life grows stagnant and only adventure brings him to life! The Baron and Quixote are always avoiding death…from old age…or simply having death itself (read: the grim reaper) literally chasing you around. They are both in love with the “beautiful ladies”. And that’s not the only Quixote like example in Gilliam’s career, Jonathan Price’s character in Brazil (1985) is also a man who escapes into fantasy. In his fantasies he sees himself (much like Quixote) as an armor wearing sword wielding warrior, fighting giant buildings that emerge from the ground…similar to how Quixote has to fight windmills who are “giants”. 


 So yeah, Quixote has always been very close to Gilliam’s heart. And it makes all the sense in the world, because after all, isn’t Gilliam like Quixote himself? A man avoiding the horrors of boring old reality by escaping into his fantasy films? Fighting the giant windmills of Hollywood and life to make his films? I’ve always appreciated Gilliam’s defense of the great escape, the importance in our lives for storytelling, the beauty of theater, the comedic tragedy that is life. It’s one of the reasons I personally connect with director Terry Gilliam’s films and the overall message of his films. They are against reality and all for high adventure and bewilderment! His films are for the zany, crazy part of life as well, how we shouldn’t take things so damn seriously. His films have a feel of someone who wants to amaze and entertain you with the many possibilities of pure fantasy. Of escapism of the highest caliber. 


 Which is why I appreciate The Man Who Killed Don Quixote (2019) and how it got made. I mean, here’s a film that Gilliam at one point attempted to make but failed. It’s such a sad tale, yet such an amazing one at the same time. A documentary was shot of the whole thing called Lost in La Mancha (2002) and it’s just mind-blowing. Here’s my review for it, read it and find out why it’s such an amazing experience to see. But in a nutshell, everything went wrong that first time Gilliam attempted to make this film in Spain back in 2000. The actor who was going to play Don Quixote got a back pain and couldn’t ride his horse, a storm destroyed all the sets, millions were lost and all for nothing because quite literally, Gilliam pulled the plug on the film. He gave up on it. Or did he? Thanks to the folks at Amazon, he finally got the chance to make the film. It’s been 25 years in the making so this film is kind of a miracle! 

Here's a picture of Gilliam, on location with Jean Rochefort; Gilliam's choice for Quixote in the first attempt at making this film. Gilliam's face on this pic says a thing or two about what a grueling experience that first attempt was. 

 Was it worth all the pain? The answer is a resounding yes! It’s Gilliam going back to his roots, to that pure fantasy escape, but told in a closer way to Gilliam’s true inspiration in his career: Cervante’s Don Quixote. Of course, this isn’t the Gilliam of the 80’s who would get 60 million dollars to make The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989), this is Gilliam on a tight budget. I’m sure this film could have been made with more special effects…to bring that fantasy to life, but it’s not.  This is a slightly restrained Gilliam in terms of going nuts with special effects. We do get one fun moment in which ‘Quixote’ fights with three giants which is gloriously good, it reminded me of what Gilliam loved to do in the 80’s, it brought to mind that giant that comes out of the ocean with a pirate ship on his head from Time Bandits (1981). And there’s little things here and there throughout the whole film that will remind you of previous Gilliam films, loved that about it. 


 When directors hit their mature years, they tend to make films that are deeper and more profound and not so focused on pure spectacle, and this is that type of film. It’s not special effects left and right, it’s a more character driven tale about this self-centered film director that reconnects with an actor he made his first film with, the film he made is called The Man Who Killed Do Quixote. The actor believes he is Don Quixote and at times, you believe it. Maybe he is? Who knows. That’s for you to decide. But the film once again hits one Gilliam’s favorite themes, fantasy vs. reality. The fear of death and the wanting to live life with an adventurous spirit or die trying. It’s all told from a very meta perspective in the sense that it is a film about filmmaking, the frustrations and the pleasures of being a creative mind. How making a film is a true struggle. 


 I loved this movie for many things, among them that shift between fantasy, memory and dream world, then back to reality. That code switching between worlds is excellent and vintage Terry Gilliam territory. So this is basically like Gilliam’s life thesis, encapsulating everything his learned about life and filmmaking and giving it to us. It’s such a pity that the film is actually going through legal issues (the struggle continues!) and it could only be shown one day in a few theaters…I was lucky to see it on the 42ndStreet Regal Theater in New York. I was kind of hoping he was in the audience…because it’s a one-night event and it was New York. I could have sworn I heard his peculiar Terry Gilliam laugh at one point...I swear he was watching it with the audience. Or was it a fantasy in my mind? I’ll never really know. Final take on Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is that its Gilliam going back to his roots. It has a lot of what made Brazil and Adventures of Baron Munchausen great, but on a smaller budget and more focused on story and performances. Adam Driver and Jonathan Pryce deliver amazing performances and make the film that much more pleasurable. Glad to see Gilliam is still making great films. Through Gilliam, Cervante’s heart and spirit beat fierce and free still!  

Rating: 4 out of 5 


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Crimewave (1985)



Crimewave (1985)


Director: Sam Raimi

Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen, Sam Raimi

So you guys know how there are certain films that have nightmarish production stories, where everything goes wrong and they turn into total fiascos? Well, that’s what happened with Sam Raimi’s Crimewave. This was Sam Raimi’s film after he showed the world what he was capable of doing behind the camera with Evil Dead (1981). This was also the first time that Raimi worked with a real budget. Not money from his dentist or from his friends. Nah, this was a real true blue Hollywood production, with professional actors and producers. Would Raimi adapt to working in a studio production when he was so used to artistic freedom? Would the ensuing film be worth watching? 


This is like a long lost gem for me because I watched it a lot as a kid when it was first released. I discovered it because HBO played it a lot back in 1985. Sad part is that Crimewave is a film that everyone involved wanted to forget about. The studio didn’t like it, test audiences didn’t like, the studio decided that Bruce Campbell wasn’t big enough of a star to star in the film and to top things off, the film went over budget and had a couple of the actors  go on drug binges. Brion James and Louise Lasser would hault production because of their drug problems! So yeah, things didn’t go well for Raimi and Crimewave. Thing is, I think the way the film was treated was total boloney. This film is not without its merits!


The story is about this guy called Vic Ajax, a regular every day Joe. Sadly, this every day Joe gets blamed for a bunch of murders that these two crazy rat exterminators committed. Yes you read that sentence right. Anyhows, Vic is sitting in the electric chair about to get zapped away for crimes he did not commit. The film transpires as he tells us the story of how everything went down. Will he survive? Will his innocence shine through? Will someone save this poor dope?


What I absolutely love about this movie is the film noir feel it has all throughout. There isn’t a second of film on Crimewave where you don’t feel like you’re in this big, dark, lonely metropolis in which lots of evil things happen in every dark corner or alley. To make things even spookier, it’s always stormy and windy…a lightning storm is about to strike! The wind cries in the middle of the night and newspapers fly through the air, it is definitely not the kind of night anyone wants to be out and about. So there’s always that feeling of dread all throughout the movie. The city exudes this feeling of emptiness…as if everyone is hiding away, looking out through their windows, peeking at the evil things scourging in the night; kudos to Sam Raimi for successfully maintaining that feeling of dread all through the film.  


And yes, I said Sam Raimi, he of Evil Dead and Spider Man fame. You see, this here film was his sophomore effort and his first studio film, with a budget. The great thing about Crimewave is that it has all of that Sam Raimi style and flare. Lots of camera tricks, lots of movement and lots of composite shots…basically, this movie has a lot of what I love about Sam Raimi, a lot of what I miss about this filmmaker. You see, when he became an A list director, he sort of lost that zany style he was so known for in order to play the Hollywood game. I personally loved low budget Sam Raimi because he was free to do all these crazy things with the camera. Thankfully,  Crimewave was a small enough picture that it allowed Raimi to show off his comic/kinetic style in spades! In other words, this movie is extremely cartoonish and feels a lot like a Three Stooges sketch. The whole film is made up of camera tricks, unorthodox angles and cartoony situations. 


All the characters in Crimewave behave like cartoon characters. We got the snake, we got the nerdy guy, we got the damsel in distress and we got the two crazy villains! Now these two crazy villains are special, they are so over the top that they end up being the real stars of the show. There’s a reason why they are on the poster, it’s because they are the best thing in the movie! One is played by Paul L. Smith who some of you might remember as the guy who played Bluto in Robert Altman’s Popeye (1980) and the other is played by Brion James, better known for his role as Leon the Replicant in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). He’s the guy who tells Harrison Ford “Wake Up! Time to Die!”  So anyway, these two guys are basically rat exterminators. And how do we know this? They drive a truck with a huge rat on top of it that’s how we know! They kill rats during the day but work nights as Hit Men. So they kill whoever they have to kill in the same way they kill rats! With a machine that generates bolts of electricity called ‘The Shocker’! Trust me; these two guys will have you cracking up.


Bruce Campbell has said that with Evil Dead they learned all about success and that with Crimewave they learned how to fail. Well, the film might have failed at the box office (hell it was only released in Kansas and Alaska) and the studio might have had no faith in it, but there’s a lot to like here. It was written by the freaking Coen Brothers and Sam Raimi! It has style and fun to spare! Its film noir! It’s cartoonish! It’s dark and gruesome fun; this is dark humor of the best kind. Of course a lot of people might be put off by seeing some of the unrealistic cartoonish action, but for lovers of that sort of unrealistic silly fun, well, you’re in for a treat! This movie was made for you! It’s a real shame that Crimewave has been treated like some sort of unwanted step child. I mean, yeah the studio messed around with it and cut it to pieces, still, a fun film shines through. A similar situation happened with David Lynch’s Dune (1984) and many adore that film, myself included; same thing with Crimewave. This is a very kinetic film, visually, you will never be bored. There’s always some gag going on. It might have been a nightmare to make, but it sure is a pleasure to watch. Enjoy this forgotten gem, you won’t regret it.

Rating: 4 out of 5  



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