Friday, September 28, 2012

Class of Nuke 'Em High (1986)

Title: Class of Nuke ‘Em High (1986)

Directors: Richard W. Haines, Lloyd Kaufman


Class of Nuke ‘Em High is a film that exists in the same universe as the Toxic Avenger films, it takes place in the fictional town of Tromaville, which by the way is right next to a nuclear power plant. Nobody seems to give a rats ass about this, as they go about their every day lives with the nuclear plant looming in the background. The nuclear plant isn’t the safest one either, it is run by this self absorbed fat bastard who doesn’t give a damn if the plant is leaking nuclear waste into the soil, as long as there’s no big media event. He tells his employees to cover it all up, as if nothing had ever happened. When questioned by the media, he tells them that everything is all right, everything is under control; which of course is total bull crap. At the same time, the students of Tromaville High are acting mighty peculiar! Once they were grade A students, and now they are a gang of hoodlums who call themselves ‘The Cretins’, what gives? What is happening to the kids of Tromaville High? 

Well, what’s happening is that The Cretins are buying weed from this guy who works at the nuclear power plant; weirdest part of the story is that the guy grows his weed right next to the power plant itself! So The Cretins are buying nuclear powered weed and selling it the rest of the students at Tromaville High, they like to call it an ‘Atomic High’. Problem is that this toxic weed has major repercussions for whoever smokes it! And so, this is the premise of the film, what happens to those who smoke the nuclear weed. So in a way, this is a stoner flick, because characters are constantly smoking weed getting high and making out, but at the same time it serves as a cautionary tale? Don't smoke weed cause its bad for ya? 

Class of Nuke 'Em High is similar to Kaufman’s own Toxic Avenger because it shares ideas and premises. For example, the film is all about this nerdy goody little two shoes type of guy who on a dare smokes some of the toxic weed with his girlfriend, days later he turns into a Toxic Avenger type of character who goes around teaching bad guys a lesson. In this film toxic waste has various results on people.  For example it can a) turn people into super powered monsters or b) melt away the skin from your body and turn you into a green puddle of puss, take your pic. So in a way, this is a reworking of the ideas presented on The Toxic Avenger (1984), but it has it’s own twisted vibe going for it. I mean, the whole element of it taking place in a high school is what sets it apart. This film was made during the 80’s, so the students portrayed on this film go to the extremes with their fashion and behaviour. They go from cartoony looking nerds, to nightmarish punk rockers straight out of Blade Runner or Mad Max. Yes sir, heavy metal was king back in those days, and so, a lot of the teenagers on this film are dressed in the heavy metal/punk fashion, which the film exploits to full extent.

I enjoyed the films rebellious nature. Toxic Waste changes the students of Tromaville Highschool and turns them into violent psychopaths hellbent on destroying everything in their town and their school. They are the anarchic youth, the punk rockers, the rebels, the wastoids, smoking their lives away. In many ways, the film can be seen as a way of criticizing the state of American education, students cant connect with the drivel they are taught so they rebel. The school personel is constantly portrayed as incompetent or gloriously outdated;  not in touch at all with the youth they attempt to teach. There is this one scene that stood out for me in which The Cretins are taken to the principals office but they dont care, they defy authority and start singing the American National Anthem. It felt as if they were saying we are todays youth, this is the new America, deal with it! The film can also be seen as a direct result of peoples fears during the 80's of a nuclear meltdown. For a while there during the 80's it felt like the 50's all over again with everyone being ultra paranoid about being blow away by nuclear weapons. Films such as Class of Nuke 'Em High are a result of that nuclear fear, same way Godzilla (1954) was back in it's day.

Aside from all of this, the film offers up some really cool gory moments. It's that kind of 80's movie that was filled with gooey, gory images, something we don't see a hell of a lot of anymore. The students of Tromaville High turn into deformed humanoids, others melt away when they drink from the polluted water of the water fountain. There's this monster that stalks the schools hallways that was a pretty cool achievement for such a low budget film. Weirdest part of the tale is that it's a mutated sperm! This element of the story immediately brought to mind the  'Wadzilla' story from the recent horror anthology film Chillerama (2011), which featured a story about a giant mutated sperm destroying New York City. In Class of Nuke 'Em High we get a mutated sperm monster terrorizing the students! So rest assured, there's gooey fun  to be had with this flick. This was actually one of the coolest Troma films I've seen to date in terms of comedy and over all silliness, it's offensive, but not nearly as offensive as other Troma films I've seen. It's still very much an ultra cheap production and cheesy to the max, but that's exactly what I enjoyed about it. The acting is beyond terrible no doubts about it, but I enjoyed how the characters in the film behave like these exagerated cartoon characters, they were entertaining in that way. So in conclusion, this is very much a Troma movie, it takes place in Tromaville and has toxic waste infused into it's story line and it has  every bit the craziness and irreverence you'd expect from a film co-directed by Lloyd Kaufman. Two sequels followed: Class of Nuke 'Em High 2: Subhumanoid Meltdown (1991) and Class of Nuke 'Em High 3: The Good, The Bad and the Subhumanoid (1994), I don't know if they are any good, but I will most likely check them out at some point, the second one looks fun. Also, as I write this review Kaufman himself is putting the last finishing  touches on Return to the Class of Nuke 'Em High, I'm looking forward to that one simply because it's Kaufman himself directing. So, I recommend this one if you want to take a ride to Tromaville High, where the gags, the gore and the silliness never end.

Rating 2 1/2 out of 5

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

New York, New York (1977)

Title: New York, New York (1977)

Director: Martin Scorsese

Cast: Robert De Niro, Liza Minelli


Considering the legendary status of filmmaker Martin Scorsese, it is extremely difficult for me to fathom that any of his films have tanked at the box office, i.e. made no money, i.e. flopped. To me, each Scorsese film is like a gift from the film gods. But low and behold, even an epic love story like New York, New York can fail. I guess a lot of it has to do with the fact that New York, New York was made early in Scorsese’s career and he still wasn’t a house hold name yet. Apparently back then, even though he’d already made Taxi Driver (1976) and Mean Streets (1973), Scorsese still had a ways to go before becoming the Scorsese we know today, before reaching legendary status. Maybe New York, New York failed at the box office because audiences expected something grittier from Scorsese? Or maybe it was the 155 minutes of running time that scared audiences away? Or maybe it was the fact that it was a musical? Maybe it failed because it was a bleak out look on love? Whatever the case, this film failed to capture audiences’ attention back in 1977. It failed to make its money back upon its original release, so much so that it threw director Martin Scorsese in a downward spiral of depression and drug abuse.

Scorcese checks out the dailies with Minelli

It’s too bad audiences didn’t flock to check this one out in theaters, it is such an epic love story! The films catch phrase is “A love story is like a song, it’s beautiful while it lasts” and in my book, it this catch phrase that captures what New York, New York is really all about. New York, New York is a film that covers all the different phases that one goes through when falling in love. The first meeting, the excitement of the first kiss, the passion that follows, glimpses of true love. But there’s also that bitter sweet time when two people fall out of love, when two lives aren’t clicking anymore; when peoples lives start heading in different directions. But oh, the joy of those first few moments when it works! Maybe this is what scared audiences away from discovering this film, how it isn’t your typical love story.

New York, New York is a film that was made in a very old school sort of way. Some of you might know that Scorsese is not only a filmmaker, he is also a true film lover and with New York, New York he was paying homage to all those Hollywood musicals he grew up loving, those old Hollywood films with fake looking sets and actors who over acted. This is the reason why some of the backgrounds in New York, New York look fake; the film was emulating the old Hollywood productions and it was doing it on purpose. Scorsese was trying to capture that certain look and feel, that certain artificiality of old Hollywood films. At the same time, New York, New York was a film that was very truthful about love. Not all love stories have a happy endings, not all films end with the couple kissing, fade to black. This being Scorsese, he offers us a film that pays homage to his favorite films, while at the same time infusing it with a bit of his own dark side, so the film is bitter sweet that way.  

It’s no secret that Scorsese loves The Red Shoes (1948) and considers it to be one of his favorite films ever, which is why it didn’t surprise me to see him tackling some of the same themes that The Red Shoes addressed. New York, New York is a film that explores that dichotomy between the dedicated and sacrificed life of an artist vs. the all too familiar path of love, marriage and a family. Same as ballerina Victoria Page in The Red Shoes, Jimmy Doyle and Francine Evans are torn between becoming parents or living the life of an artist. Jimmy is a saxophone player and Francine is a singer, both are looking for a way to make it. For a while, the film explores the competition that derives between the two. Who is better? Who is bigger? Who’s in charge? Ultimately, the love between the two is stronger, but what happens when a baby comes along? Will they sacrifice it all to become parents? Are they willing to sacrifice what defines them as human beings? These are the themes explored in this fantastic film.

The colors in this film are amazing, I devoured the way the film looks. Scorsese never just makes a film, with Scorsese it’s always something special and you can tell it’s obviously a Scorsese movie because of those special shots, the way he swoops that camera, the way he sets up the lighting, the colors, this film was just eye candy for me. There are these scenes that take place inside of a Jazz Club, just colorful, colorful visuals. And some scenes just scream “classic”, like the scene with which the film opens up with; this grand party right smack in the middle of a ballroom somewhere in the middle of New York City, just as every American was celebrating their victory over the Japanese. The party atmosphere is really absorbed here. These are scenes with hundreds of extras, confetti flying everywhere, people dancing, a ballroom full of life, a scene ripped right out of a Fellini film. It actually brought to mind a similar scene in Fellini’s I Vitelloni (1953). Same as in Fellini’s film, these scenes in New York, New York are all about a huge party going on with a big band playing as everyone is going on about their respective debaucheries. And the debauchery continued even behind the scenes, where Scorsese was having an affair with Minelli. It was not a peaceful shoot that’s for sure, there’s nightmare stories about the making of this film, and yet, the results where amazing in my book.

Finally, De Niro and Liza Minelli are magic together. With their characters you can feel a relationship developing in a rather rocky fashion. De Niro’s Jimmy Boyle is that ultimate macho dude from the 50’s, you know, the kind that loves his wife but will have no trouble smacking her around in order to knock some sense into her; you get the feeling he’s the kind of guy who’s about to blow up any second. Minelli is beautiful, extremely talented and always questioning, always defying Jimmy’s authority. Sadly, though they love each other intensely, their lives begin to drift apart. You feel the love, but you feel fate tearing them away from each other. It’s a sad tale at the end of the day, but all the more realistic because of it. And even though one of the final musical numbers in the film is called “Happy Endings” we soon discover that, same as life itself, this just isn’t so. A word about the music in this film: the song “Theme from New York, New York” composed by John Kender went on to become one of the most famous songs ever. Liza Minelli sings it on the film, and later Frank Sinatra did a take on it as well. The song went on to become world famous. Who doesn’t know the lyrics to it? “I want to be a part of it! New York, New York!” It’s not very often that a song becomes so closely associated with a place itself, when people think of New York City; chances are this song will pop into their heads. The film itself captures the magic of the city, glamorizing as is to be expected from Scorsese, a director enamored with The Big Apple. So for all these reasons stated above my friends, it feels to me that New York, New York is a true classic of American cinema, the kind of film you want to watch before you die.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Monday, September 24, 2012

The King of Comedy (1983)

Title: The King of Comedy (1983)

Director: Martin Scorcese

Cast: Robert De Niro, Jerry Lewis, Sandra Bernhard


There are a couple of movies out there that are about desperate people looking to make it in the big time. They want to make it so bad that they are willing to go to the craziest lengths in order to achieve their goals. For example the film Airheads (1994) starring Adam Sandler, Brendan Frasier and Steve Buscemi (among a slew of other comedy greats) is a film about this rock group who wants to become famous so bad that they hijack a radio station in order to play their demo tape over the air. In many ways Airheads is the rock and roll version of the film I’ll be talking about today, Martin Scorcese’s The King of Comedy; a film about a pair of wannabe’s who suffer from celebrity worship. Basically, these two individuals (played by Robert De Niro and Sandra Bernhard) worship a comedian who’s the host a television variety show called The Jerry Langford Show. De Niro’s character Rupert Pupkin just wants his shot at doing his stand up comedy act on Jerry’s show, will he ever make it?  

Rupert waits for Jerry outside the television station, his plan is to harass Jerry about how much he worships him and about how much he wants to be like him. Pupkin is so obsessed with making it as the next ‘King of Comedy’ that one day, while the masses are being particularly savage outside the television station, Rupert takes the opportunity to slip into Jerry’s limousine with him in order to pitch his comedy act to Jerry. Jerry decides to give this desperate soul a chance, and listens to Ruperts plea for attention. Jerry gives him some advice about how to get started in the comedy world and then tells Rupert to call his production office, to set up some kind of a meeting. Of course, Jerry just wants to get this obviously crazy loon off his back when he tells him this, but little does Jerry know what a nasty chain of events he has just jumpstarted.

Normally, and specially in a Martin Scorcese picture Robert De Niro plays these ultra macho types, the epitome of a man. Sometimes, De Niro’s characters will border on being arrogant or chauvinist because of this. De Niro’s character in Scorcese’s New York, New York (1977) is a good example of this, on that film he plays Jimmy Doyle, the kind of man who doesn’t want a woman to usurp his place; the kind of man who tells a woman to “come here” and expects her to follow suit. And here’s where The King of Comedy is just a little different then your regular De Niro/ Scorcese collaboration; on this film De Niro plays a complete nerd; a guy who lives with his mother, practicing comedy routines in his basement. He wants to be a celebrity so bad, that he borders on insanity.  He has fake conversations with cardboard cut outs of his favorite celebrities, and so on. He takes things to annoying extremes. It thought it was so interesting seeing De Niro playing against type. This isn’t the De Niro we saw in Mean Streets (1973), Taxi Driver (1976) or Raging Bull (1980). On this one De Niro is a mama’s boy who still hasn’t found independence. Another interesting aspect of the film is that Jerry Lewis, the famous comedian who plays Jerry Langford also plays against type. Lewis was always known for playing wacky, absent minded characters, but on The King of Comedy he plays the opposite; a weathered actor who carries himself in a decidedly serious manner.

The film basically plays out like a celebrity’s worst nightmare, not unlike Rob Reiner’s excellent Stephen King adaptation Misery (1990), only without the horror. Actually, this is one of the few Scorcese comedies, but of course, this being Scorcese it’s not just any comedy, it’s a dark comedy. Same as the film he did after The King of Comedy, After Hours (1985), yet another Scorcese dark comedy I highly recommend! The King of Comedy explores the dark world of celebrity obsession, those psychos that chase a celebrity, invade their homes or call them on their private telephones. Basically, this movie is about a pair of stalkers. These are people that want to skip the normal way of doing things; they don’t want to start at the bottom and work their way up. No, they want to skip straight to the big time. I thought the film does well in pin pointing the fact that to get to the top, you have to start at the bottom, and work your way up. The thing about this movie and it’s probably the main reason why it tanked at the box office, is that its main character is completely unlikable. Rupert Pupkin is a guy who is blind to reality, he is so persistent with his obsession that he becomes annoying, therein lays the comedy in this film, but I guess not a lot of people saw it that way. Audiences came to expect mean and gritty films from Scorcese and with this one they got this dark comedy with an unlikable protagonist, I think this is part of the reason why the film bombed.

De Niro, Bernhard and Scorcese discussing a scene

Entertainment Tonight declared The King of Comedy “the flop of the year” on national television. But I say that no matter what its box office returns where like, this is not a bad film; in the least. Many of Scorcese’s films have tanked at the box office only to later be admired and revered, same has happened to Ridley Scott and Francis Ford Coppola with many of their own films. A lot of films simply fail to connect with their audiences, or are simply ahead of their time, as I suspect was the case with this one. In my book, this is yet another misunderstood and underrated Scorcese picture. Ask anyone about their favorite Scorcese film, and chances are this one isn’t going to pop up. But take it from me my friends, it is good. Yeah, it’s a different kind of collaboration between these two greats, but at the end of the day, I think that’s what makes this film unique, it’s not what you’d normally expect from them. In the film, Pumpkin says that he’d rather be “King for a day, then a schmuck your whole life” and in this way, long before reality television reared its ugly head, this film foreshadowed what reality television was going to be like; where people will do anything for those ever popular 15 minutes of fame.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Title: Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012)

Director: Benh Zeitlin

Cast: Quvenzhane Wallis, Dwight Henry


The idea that society is headed towards really bad times and that we better start getting ready for this coming “storm” unless we want to be swept away by it, is one that has been very popular in films lately. Take for example Jeff Nichols’s Take Shelter (2011) a film about a man who has these nightmarish visions about the world being engulfed by a horrible storm. The main character in that film starts to build an underground shelter to protect his family from the storm he keeps dreaming about. Take Shelter was a very dark film that used this premise of a coming storm to illustrate this fear of how bad things could get in the near future. Taking in consideration the state of global economy, recent political events and how poverty, gas prices and unemployment have all increased over the last couple of years, it is reasonable to come to these conclusions about a coming ‘storm’. One gets the idea that the whole world is going to go down the drain, flushed down the toilet back to the dark ages. These are some of the ideas that Beasts of the Southern Wild plays with.

Not unlike Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Labyrinth (1986) or Where the Wild Things Are (2009); Beasts of Southern Wild is a film about a child who has it so bad in life that she sometimes escapes to a magical land of her own conceit. In this imaginary land, gigantic god-like warthogs stampede through her town, destroying everything in their path. Now with films such as these in which characters escape to imaginary places, whatever we see in the fantasy world always has a representation in the real one. It’s through these imaginary worlds that the child processes what he or she is going through, to find some sort of sane way to deal with whatever it is they are dealing with. In Pan’s Labyrinth Ofelia had to deal with her fascist step-father and the abuse he was inflicting on the people. In Labyrinth, Sarah was dealing with becoming an adult and accepting her responsibilities in this world and in The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy learned that she had no one else to rely on but her own self, the power to solve her problem was always within her.

On Beasts of the Southern Wild, we meet a little girl by the name of ‘Hushpuppy’. She lives in a town called ‘The Bathtub’ which is knee deep in poverty. Her father, ‘Wink’, is the quintessential man whom life has beaten. He is a drunkard, unemployed looser. He takes out his frustrations on Hushpuppy, whom he wants’ to control most of the time. Good thing Hushpuppy is one of these strong willed kids who has a mind of her own; she’s taken command of her life at a very young age. She is only six in the film, yet psychologically, she’s such a strong little girl. She has her own personal points of views about the world she inhabits; thankfully we can hear her thoughts from time to time as she talks about the universe and how we’re all in some small way a part of it. Her father knows how harsh the world is, so he trains her to be strong. At one point he asks Hushpuppy “Who’s the Man?” and she says with the meanest face she can conjure up while hitting the table with her hands “I’m the man!”  You’ll end up really rooting for Hushpuppy, she’s the future of the world, but she’s strong willed and ready to battle the storm.With youth such as these, you get the feeling that there’s hope for the world yet.

I liked this idea that the film was putting across; the idea that the world is caught up in a storm, adults are unreliable in their crazy ways, yet the newer generations are willing to stand up to the madness going on in the world. There are these beautiful images of a group of young kids simply screaming at the world, so symbolic, the idea being that it’s the new generations that are telling the older ones that the world is all wrong. They see it for what it is and don’t agree with it. Perhaps this is why Hushpuppy sees these giant warthogs destroying her world. The powers that be don’t look at who they are stepping on, they simply stampede through the world, devouring, destroying, consuming, sucking the world dry.

But Hushpuppy doesn’t just go up against the tumultuous world or giant imaginary warthogs; Hushpuppy also has to deal with her unreliable parent. Wink as he is called, doesn’t do a very good job of taking care of his daughter who roams alone through the world for most of the film. At one point Hushpuppy actually runs away from her father, an act I’ve always approved of if a child has obviously insane or unreliable parents. If a child has good loving parents, they should love, appreciate and listen to them, but if in the other hands a child’s parents are insane, in my book they have every right to run away and find their own happiness in this big bad world; especially if said parents abuse a child physically or mentally. This is an idea that was also recently presented to us in Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom (2012), a film about two kids who turn their backs to the world they know in order to create a world of their own, sharing books, falling in love and listening to good music.

Aside from all these thematic elements, Beasts of the Southern Wild is simply put a beautiful film to look at. Yeah Hushpuppy does live in the midst of extreme poverty and ‘ugly’ things, but there’s beauty to behold in the middle of the ugliness. The character of Hushpuppy is an extremely loveable one, she’s a delicate as a child can be, yet she is also  strong, she’s admirable just for that. She symbolizes our frustrations with the world we live in; Hushpuppy has no problems in screaming at these problems in fierce complaint. As Hushpuppy her self says, the world has to know that she existed, that she passed through this world. First time director Benh Zeitlin is also letting the world know who he is with this impressive first time effort; here’s looking forward to whatever he has planned for us next. Highly recommend this beautiful movie for those out there in the mood for something uplifting, symbolic and beautiful.

Rating: 4 out of 5 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Fritz the Cat (1972) and The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974)

Fritz the Cat, the comic strip character about a hip cat who comments on society and life, first came to life in the mind of famed underground comic book artist Robert R. Crumb when he was just a kid way back in 1959 in the pages of a little home made comic strip called “Cat Life”. Later, when Crumbs career grew in the underground comic scene of the 60’s and 70’s Fritz the Cat became known to the world as the anthropomorphic cat who represented the counter culture and had all sorts of crazy adventures, including many sexual ones. Crumb by the way is a genius of the comic book art form in my book, his style is one that I personally love and admire and actually kind of emulate in my own stuff, so this review comes from a genuine Robert Crumb admirer. Ultimately Crumb completely disassociated himself from this film project, going as far as getting his name legally removed from anything related to the film. The fact that Crumb cut himself out of the project doesn’t mean that Fritz the Cat is a bad film, because it isn’t. I actually think the film effectively captured what Crumb’s strip was all about but at the same time it has a lot of Bakshi’s own mentality in it as well. It’s the joining of these two genius minds that makes Fritz the Cat such a unique film.  I have to admit that I am disappointed at the fact that Crumb didn’t participate in the development of the film, still, I have to give props to Ralph Bakshi and his achievements with it; it is a special film in many ways.  

Way back in the early 70’s when famed animator Ralph Bakshi was looking for the right project with which to launch his career, he stumbled upon a Fritz the Cat strip and got the idea in his mind that he could make a film about these horny pot smoking animals. He’d been looking for the right film with which to start off his animation studio; a studio that Bakshi wanted to use to produce animated films for adults. But Crumb wasn’t budging; he didn’t want to give the rights to Bakshi, he didn’t want to do the project. Bakshi himself has gone down as saying that Crumb wanted all the credit for himself and making  film, by definition isn’t all about one person. It’s a collaborative medium, many people help a film happen. But the story doesn’t stop there. Crumb’s wife wanted the money that the project was offering and since she had a power of attorney over Crumbs work, she signed over the rights to Bakshi anyways. According to Crumb, they only got 7,000 for the rights! Fritz the Cat cost 850,000 to produce but went on to make almost 2 million dollars world wide, making it a bonafide success.

What was the big deal with Fritz the Cat? Why did an independent animated film suddenly make so much dough? Well, various factors helped this groundbreaking animated film get noticed, first of them is the fact that it was the first animated film to get the dreaded X-rating. Normally, getting an X-rating means economic death for any film; it means your film won’t get played in as many theaters and that the grand majority of conservatives in the world won’t go see your film. And while that might have been so at the time that Fritz the Cat was released, it still went on to make a hefty amount of money at the box office and it is still the single most successful independent animated film in history. Bakshi and crew intelligently used the X-rating to their advantage pasting the phrase “He's X-rated and animated” and “We’re not rated X for nothin', baby!” on their posters. The most controversial aspect of the film is seeing these cute little cartoon animals smoking weed, shooting up heroin, participating in orgies and murdering people. Never before Fritz the Cat had an animated film been aimed at an adult audience, so this film was ground breaking in that way. Fritz’s sexual exploits are pretty nuts as well, they include him picking up three chicks by impressing them with his philosophical ideas, and then getting them to participate in a massive orgy at a house where these beatniks are all having a major smoke out. Then Fritz goes and has sex with this huge black chick called ‘Bertha’. It’s hilarious seeing Fritz squeezing his face into a huge pair of breasts with such reckless abandon.

Fritz the Cat is most certainly a stoner flick; it glorifies pot smoking like very few movies do. Fritz tokes it up and shares the ganja with his girlfriends to get them in the mood. He smokes and goes on these hallucinatory head trips which offer up some of the craziest visuals in the film. I guess every single pot smoking, tripped out hippy went to see this one. Once word of mouth gets out that a film is ‘trippy’ well, acid heads and tripsters go in droves. Same thing happened with Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) a film which acid heads went to see not only because it was a great cinematic experience, but because it also offered trippy visuals to augment their drug trips, and this most certainly is the case with Fritz the Cat, though the animation can be crude by today’s standards (as are most of Bakshi’s films) when you get used to it, the visuals can be quite the trip.

The film goes by pretty quickly from sketch to sketch, it can be a bit hard to follow because Fritz the Cat is a film that does not unfold in you’re a-typical linear fashion; it actually plays out a lot like a series of sketches commenting on socio-political problems. But when you finish watching it, you’ll feel that the film is just as chaotic, frenetic and sour sweet as life itself; which is something I enjoyed. I loved how both films serve as a time capsule of the late 60’s and early 70’s, it shows us the way people thought, what they were going through. Race issues pop up constantly, for example, Fritz hates the way white people have abused blacks through out history, so he goes hangs out with black people and plays pool with them, strikes up philosophical conversations about racism. These conversations sparked up quite the controversy; but Bakshi has always been a guy who doesn’t shy away from controversy. Controversy is something that Bakshi films were always about, for example Coonskin (1975) Bakshi’s racially charged feature film, flared up a whole lot of controversy, it was accused for being racist, when in fact it was the complete opposite. It is now considered by Bakshi and his fans, as his masterpiece. Bakshi did always make an effort on his films to comment on racism, for example, there’s something about the way Bakshi made these scenes that take place at an all black bar in Fritz the Cat. The scene has a bunch of black people hanging out, drinking booze, and talking bull. The conversations in these scenes come off as very realistic because Bakshi actually picked up a bunch of black people and brought them to the studio and just let them talk, he later animated the scenes in accordance to the dialog he recorded, as a result the dialog comes off as vibrant and full of life.  

Another controversial moment in the film has Fritz joining this group of revolutionaries who want to blow up some kind of factory, these guys are unsavory types only looking to do some damage, they are just violent for the sake of being violent and so Fritz ends up joining them and participating, not realizing his getting into a heap of trouble. This segment is obviously meant to send a warning. You might be counter culture and you might hate the system, but you have to choose your partners carefully. Ultimately, Fritz the Cat is a strange film to take in, it’s amusing and has tons of shock value, but it’s not easy to digest. At times the film goes on these tangents with Fritz philosophizing about life; you'll feel like you're in a beatnik bar philosophizing and criticizing everything that moves, which is basically the kind of film Fritz the Cat is. Fritz embodies the state of mind and frustrations of the 60’s generation, it’s awesome to look at it just for that.

The sequel, The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat was not directed by Ralph Bakshi because Bakshi had said all he wanted to say with Fritz the Cat, he was ready to move on to something else, which would end up being his next animated feature film, Heavy Traffic (1973) a film about a cartoonist/animator who wants to make an animated film, but is finding it difficult to produce, like most of his films Bakshi was venting some personal demons with that one. The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat went on to be directed by a guy called Robert Taylor and had nothing to do with either Bakshi or Crumb. It is seen by many as simply a cash-in, a film made to capitalize on the success of the first. And though I kind of agree with that sentiment, this sequel is not without its merits.

This time around Fritz has gotten married; he lives with his fat wife and child in a cramped apartment in the slums. All Fritz does these days is sit around smoking weed and waiting for his next welfare check; unfortunately the people at the welfare office are calling him up, questioning him as to why he hasn’t found a job yet. At the same time,  his wife is screaming at him at the top of her lungs about being a good father and getting a job, two things that Fritz does not seem to be too good at. So as he takes a puff of smoke, all of his nine lives take an astral trip, each life a different version of Fritz. Each life a different sketch; a different comment on society.

In one life Fritz goes off and screws a young Puerto Rican girl, making her smoke weed so that she gets all horny. After they smoke, they go on this hallucinatory surreal trip, which if you ask me, looks and feels more like an acid trip than anything. In another life Fritz is off to Mars on a spaceship with a news reporter he manages to seduce minutes before take off. In another life, he meets a bum on the streets who says he is God. On another he ends up being Hitler’s right hand man; this  segment of the film aims it’s guns at the fascist movement, making fun of Hitler and the Nazi’s every chance it gets. For example, they go on and on about how Hitler is actually a very frustrated cat because he has only one testicle, and is secretly gay. Hitler actually tries to screw Fritz! Then, we get the most controversial of all the segments, the one in which Fritz has to enter New Jersey, which has now been dubbed “New Africa” because according to the movie, the white men in power gave New Jersey to the blacks! So anyhows, Fritz ends up getting blamed for the assassination of the president of New Africa! Fritz even meets Satan on this one. At the end of the day though, the second Fritz movie isn’t as shocking as the first, but it’s still extremely satirical of the times it was made, the 70’s.

Bakshi himself is not very fond of The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat; he considers it a lesser film and so does Crumb, to whom the film does not exist. If you ask me, I’d say that both films are more or less the same, they both comment on society, shock with their vulgarity and violence (for animated films anyways) and both have that sketchy vibe to them; but Fritz the Cat does have more of an edge to it. It is more graphic in nature, which is the reason why Fritz the Cat garnered an X-Rating while The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat got a ‘R’, this immediately let’s us know that Nine Lives is softer and sort of playing by the rules. The sequel wasn’t as successful with critics and audiences as the first film, but in my opinion, it’s not totally unwatchable. They are both very representative of the times they were made and comment on a lot of relevant issues. They don’t necessarily give any answers, but they sure do plant the questions. Both films have that rough Ralph Bakshi style of animation which can take a while to get adjusted to, but even though both films are rough around the edges, and suffer from imperfect sketchy animation, both films more than make up for it with their content and attitude.

Rating for Fritz the Cat (1972): 4 out of 5
Rating for The Nine Lives of Fritz the Cat (1974): 3

Friday, September 14, 2012

Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

Title: Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

Director: P.W. Anderson

Cast: Milla Jovovich, Michelle Rodriguez , Shawn Roberts


The Resident Evil series of films have been an entertaining bunch of films for me; a guilty pleasure of sorts. They are the cinematic equivalent of reading a comic book, the action, the storylines, the dialog all very comic book like, which means that it’s very  unrealistic but at the same time fun! And here’s the weird thing, one would expect that with so many sequels these films would become watered down versions of themselves, each getting worse then the last, but low and behold I loved Resident Evil Extinction (2007), and I had loads of fun with Resident Evil: Afterlife (2010). Hoards of zombies, hot babes with telekinetic powers and a post apocalyptic setting…what’s not to like right? So anyways, here comes the fifth installment in the series, needless to say, considering how much fun I had with the previous installments, I was pumped for this fifth film. Did it deliver? Hell no it didn’t deliver; this is without a doubt the worst of the Resident Evil movies! Why? Read it and weep my friends, read it and weep.

This film picks up right where the last one left off, with Umbrella blowing up ‘Arcadia’ an installation in which  Umbrella had been conducting some experiments with humans, or something like that. But none of that matters, if you think this sequel gives a damn about where the series had been going up to this point, then your dead wrong. You think that this sequel will continue the story arc, or that it’s all going somewhere to tell a grand story, well it aint happening! This sequel doesn’t give  damn about previous films, it eschews with whatever happened previously,, twists things around and gives you an entirely different story, which if you been keeping tabs, is the way Anderson likes it. It changes things so drastically, that you'll feel as if nothing makes sense! I've noticed that director Paul W. Anderson likes to pull you in with a show stopping cliffhangers (like he did in Afterlife) so he can pull you in for the next movie, then he goes and tells a completely different tale. In Retribution, we forget all about ‘Arcadia’ in the first five minutes of film and continue with another story in which Alice is trapped in one of Umbrella Corporations testing facilities. It seems like the Red Queen is the one in charge of Umbrella, and she means to eradicate the entire human race. As usual, it's up to Alice to stop her, but first, she must escape this prison! Will she make it out alive in order to save humanity?

To me, this fifth installment is just sad because I’d been having tons of fun with this series of films up to this point; only to have director P.W. Anderson drop the ball completely with this fifth installment. Not that these movies were ever ‘deep’ or anything, I had fun with the stylish action, the zombies, the look of the film and I was content with the story moving along little by little amongst all the action and zombies. And this one has all that slow mo and action...but something feels off. With Retribution, you’ll get the feeling that director Paul W. Anderson isn’t even trying to deliver anything remotely good, or interesting, or even entertaining, with this film he's simply streeetching things out to make a couple more millions. He’s certainly showing signs of fatigue when it comes to these films; you get the feeling he’s making them just for the money, that there’s no real passion behind them. The film feels like empty calories, but hey, even that can be fun. I did enjoy the fast paced action and the ass kicking fights, but at the end of the day, it all felt kind of redundant. 

Number one problem for me with this film is that there is almost no story to this installment, no mystery, nothing to pull us in. The way the film is structured is that Umbrella captures Alice and sends her to this facility that is divided into different ‘fake’ countries. One part of the facility simulates New York, one simulates Russian, one China, one looks like Suburbia U.S.A. and so forth. You see, in order for Umbrella to sell the antidote for the T-Virus and make kajillions, they orchestrated these fake zombie attacks, and showed them to the world, assuring a sure sell in all countries. After seeing these fake zombie attacks, every country in the world would want the antidote. But the virus got out of their control and you all know how that went, the world became populated by zombies. So Alice is trapped in this facility. Umbrella is trying to reprogram her because she’s the rebel, the one who thinks for her self; but they can’t reprogram her, she’s too strong. She soon finds a way to escape her cell and boom, the rest of the film is her trying to escape this place. In this way it feels a bit like Stuart Gordon’s Fortress (1992) or David Twohy’s The Chronicles of Riddick (2004), where the main characters main mission is to escape a super prison. Unfortunately, it also feels like your watching a video game, passing to the next level, and beating a boss at the end. 

That would all be fine and dandy, because hey, who doesnt love a bit of empty eye candy every once in a while, sadly, there’s no reason to care for anyone. These characters are like clones, simply there to push the next pointless action scene to the next level. But even a video game will have more of a plot then this film. Retribution felt like filler, there’s these boring fights that go on and on and on…there are not a lot of zombies in this film either which is what I loved about Extinction and Afterlife, on this one there’s more ‘Bio Hazards’, Umbrella Corporations monstrous experiments. Paul W. Anderson is the one who gets all the blame for this lifeless movie, because he not only directs these, but he also writes them. In this case, it felt as if Anderson was simply going through the motions, not even trying to pull off a good, involving film. Not only that, things just don’t make sense this time around. For example in all previous films,  Wesker is the main villain of the piece, on this one he does a 360 and becomes a good guy trying to help Alice? What the? What about Wesker’s plans with Alice? Who the hell cares, all previous storylines have been dropped, suddenly Wesker "doesn't work for umbrella anymore" we now have a new villain. Forget that Alice and Wesker have been enemies for the past four films, that they had been trying to kill each other since they first met. Now suddenly Wesker needs Alice, like I said, no sense at all. Story lines are dropped and changed simply to shock you with the next cliff hanger ending that will assure your butt will be there in the theater come next sequel. In that sense these films are not unlike a comic book, leaving you with that cliffhanger so you'll buy the next issue. 

The action scenes are so freaking pointless, nobody is in peril on this movie. Everything is fake or cgi, characters escape danger in zero point five seconds, there’s no tension, no feeling of dread. Huge monsters appear and are dispatched in a matter of seconds. And the  matrix style fighting has to be given some sort of break in movies! Something new is needed, seeing characters fighting the same exact way, doing the same exact moves, gets boring and redundant, by the way, thats what most of this movie feels like, more of the same. Another bummer: characters are not developed in the least! In the least! I can guarantee you will not care about a single character on this film. For example, Anderson actually brings back a bunch of characters from the first film only to kill them off in minutes? Characters are disposable on this film, simply empty vessels to kill. Case in point: Michelle Rodriguez’s participation on this film. It’s so pointless! Remember how in the first film she developed this friendship with Alice and you actually cared when she turns into a zombie? On this one, she is no one. She’s a character with zero personality.  Why is she even here? Just to add another popular actress to the film, so they can sell it more effectively. As far as the story goes, she is not an essential part and neither is anyone else on board by the way, these are just characters who shoot guns. And hey, there’s nothing wrong with brainless action, but come on, make it at the very least interesting! Or funny! A good example of a fun brainless movie would be TheExpendables 2 (2012)! Now that was a violent, brainless yet completely fun flick! The only saving grace for me with this movie is the always beautiful Milla Jovovich, she looks great on this one and kicks ass like there's no tomorrow, sadly, she's the only shinning light on this post apocalyptic abyss. 

To top things off, Anderson continues aping other films he admires over and over again. In Extinction he was aping Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981) and Day of the Dead (1985), in Afterlife he aped Escape from New York (1981) and on this one he borrows extensively from James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) right down to having some scenes where Alice is ready to escape, but has to go back to rescue a little girl from the clutches of a monster. By the way, the little girl is in a cocoon, just like Newt in Aliens. He also borrows heavily from Zack Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead (2004). Remember that whole sequence in Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead where the main female character is waking up to a suburbia filled with chaos? Anderson does it here all over again, almost exactly the same way, but with Alice. I’ve noticed how much Anderson does this in his films. He does it so shamelessly, he is kind of like a cinematic parasite, I mean one thing is to be influenced by a film and another is to copy whole scenes from a film you admire. Doesn’t Anderson have enough originality to come up with his own film?

A scene from Dawn of the Dead (2004), sorry, I mean Resident Evil: Retribution (2012)

Sadly, this film was a huge, huge disappointment for me. The story goes no where, there is no advancement, previous films seem to be ignored, new storylines introduced forcibly simply to keep pumping out movies, there’s no flow to this film. It feels like a bunch of video games stages strung together and called a film; it felt like filler to me. Even though they squeezed the characters of Ada Wong and Leon S. Kennedy both of which appeared in the second Resident Evil video game back in 1998, the film still feels like filler; like an unimportant film in a franchise. This my friends was a sequel that literally had nothing to say. I’ll give Anderson this, he has impressed and entertained me with his films in the past, for example, I still love Event Horizon (1997), and on Retribution he still shows a knack for handling effects work very well, the opening sequence which starts in slow motion reverse and then goes and shows us the way it really happened in real time again...freaking sweet. So this movie while filled with imperfections, still demonstrates Anderson has a bit of a filmmaker in him. Sadly, with Retribution he is showing signs of fatigue as a director; I sincerely hope he hasn’t lost his love for filmmaking; for doing films that are worth while, for making good genre films. The ending is a grabber, it leaves the doors open for what could potentially be an interesting sequel, but considering how bad this fifth installment is, we’ll be lucky if we even get a sixth, which is  supposed to be about humanities last stand against the undead. Let’s hope Anderson takes a stand against lazy, bad filmmaking as well. This film is enjoyable thrash, but I'm very demanding of my thrashy movies, here's hoping the next and potentially final installment will be a 'one-up' when compared to this one. 

Rating: 2 out of 5   

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Possession (2012)

Title: The Possession (2012)

Director: Ole Bornedal

Cast: Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Natasha Calis, Kyra Sedgwick, , Madison Davenport, Matisyahu


I’m going to take the opportunity and comment on the state of American Horror Films with his review because well, dammit, this is a PG-13 rated demonic possession film, and to me, the words PG-13 and demonic possession simply shouldn’t even be mentioned in the same sentence, but here we are, talking about the Sam Raimi produced The Possession, a horror film about Jewish demons possessing a little girl. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, American Horror has been castrated, it no longer has any guts. It’s been so freaking deflated of any true horror that we get films like the one we’re talking about today. The Possession is a harmless little horror film, not too scary, not too horrifying, but still, pretty watchable, let’s get that out of the way. This is not a bad film; it simply doesn’t deliver on what we would expect to see in a film about demonic possession, it doesn’t have that edge, that intensity. And of course this is all due to the fact that the film was originally ‘R’ rated, but in order to get the all important money making ‘PG-13’ rating, it was edited down and thus, we get this soft core horror flick.  

Now immediately when we talk about demons and little girls one film pops to mind and that’s of course William Friedkin’s immortal horror classic The Exorcist (1973). If you don’t want your demonic possession film to be compared to The Exorcist, then don’t make it about little girls being possessed by demons, or else you’ll get what you’re gonna get today from this film connoisseur, a comparison between the two. So anyhows, was The Possession worth a damn? Did it even come close to the horrifying levels of shit your pants scares that The Exorcist did? Hell no! It still baffles me how not a single film has ever been able to achieve what Friedkin achieved with The Exorcist. Failed attempts include Lost Souls (2000) and The Unborn (2009), by the way, The Unborn is a film that has a lot in common with The Possession because they are both about ‘Dybbuks’ which is the Jewish word for ‘Demon’. In trying to understand why an American film studio would purposely make their film about Jewish Demons instead of Catholic/Christian demons, the hypothesis I came up with is that producers want to play it safe and so they avoid playing with Catholicism or Christianity out of fear. After all, we all know how cautious Hollywood has always been when it comes to dealing with religion. With this theme, Hollywood rarely takes chances; which is probably why this film is so ‘soft’.  

If you were to judge this film simply by its previews you’d swear The Possession was a true blue scary film, sadly, this was not the case. Demons and Sam Raimi are two things that should get together more often, but apparently the days in which Sam Raimi would direct a good horror film are long gone, never to return. Raimi has gone full on Hollywood for years now, horror is a thing of the past for him. His attempt at horror Drag Me To Hell (2009) was ‘light’ when compared to his Evil Dead days. These days Raimi is contempt with merely producing horror movies through his Ghost House Pictures label instead of personally directing them; which is fine by me, I love the fact that he gives up coming/new directors a chance to flex their filmmaking muscles. I just wish he wouldn’t play it so safe with the horror films he produces. The question that inevitably pops into my head is will the Evil Dead remake that is currently in production be a soft core horror film? A horror movie without guts? I hope not, but if The Possession and Drag Me to Hell are any indication…

Technically speaking, the film is very well made and it does have its scary moments. Invisible things shutting doors and throwing things around is always a spooky deal. The reason why I gave The Possession  a chance is because sometimes, PG-13 horror movies can be scary, the one example I always give is Gore Verbinski’s The Ring (2002), a film that is PG-13 and scary as hell. While The Possession didn’t quite get there in terms of intensity, it is a well told tale, well acted and well shot and has one or two truly eerie moments in there, I loved those scenes with the little girl opening up the Dybbuk box in her room, which kind of brought to mind the Hellraiser, but thats besides the point. I can’t really complain about the way the film looks, the visuals are very slick, very clean. Kudos to director Ole Bornedal for deliver a slick looking horror movie. Also, I loved the score for the film, it’s so classic! Again, with its score the film reminded me of a horror film from the 70’s, where so much emphasis was put in the musical score. Nowadays, this is something that films have all but forgotten. Music is 50% of the equation when it comes to films!

The cast does a great job, especially the lead actor Jeffrey Dean Morgan whom some of you might remember as ‘The Comedian’ in Zack Snyder’s Watchmen (2009). I couldn’t help but notice how much this actor looks like Javier Bardem! It’s actually kind of uncanny! The dude even talks like Bardem! Casting a mature actor like this one in a horror movie reminded me of horror films from the 70’s when they’d cast these solid, mature actors in the principal roles. In this sense, The Possession reminded me of The Changeling (1980), which starred George C. Scott in the starring role of the father struggling with the loss of his family. Jeffrey Dean Morgan comes off as a strong male lead. Natasha Calis as ‘Em’ the girl who is possessed by the Dybbuk does a commendable job as well, but she didn’t go through hell like Linda Blair did in The Exorcist. A surprising casting decision was giving Reggae singer Matisyahu the all important role of the  exorcist, didn’t do a bad job in my book, as far as I know this was his first attempt at acting in a full length motion picture, so there’s that.

So why is The Possession such a harmless horror flick? Well, because this is a Demonic Possession film and doesn’t deliver the goods in terms of nastiness. Demons are supposed to be these ultra evil things who hate god. They are the worst of the worst; they want to rape and pillage the body they inhabit. On this one, the demon whispers, and makes the little girls eyes go white, that’s about it. Oh wait, the demon also likes to make the wind blow, and turn the lights on and off a lot; that’s as far as this one goes. So it’s harmless in that sense, the film uses a lot of old school horror techniques, lots of horror movie cliches like shadowy hallways, the wind howling, the whispers in the darkness, that sort of thing, and I liked that about it; I just wanted a bit more intensity with those old school scares. Truth be told, it reminded me of these harmless ghost movies like Lady in White (1988), you know, scary movies that aren’t too scary. Ultimately, this is the kind of horror film that a kid interested in starting to watch horror movies would enjoy. Someone who hasn’t seen a gazillion horror movies before might enjoy it, but for the true blue seasoned horror veteran this film is just child’s play.

Rating: 3 out of 5


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