Monday, November 26, 2012

Life of Pi (2012)

Title: Life of Pi (2012)

Director: Ang Lee

Cast: Suraj Sharma, Irrfan Khan, Tabu, Rafe Spall


So Life of Pi is an event flick: a wonder of the imagination, a celebration of film, escapist entertainment of the highest caliber; if only it wasn’t so preachy! I went into this movie pretty much not knowing what it was about. I’d seen the previews with the flying fish sequence, and it looked to me like it was going to be a surreal, visual spectacle (which it ended up being every step of the way) but I had no idea what the book the film is based on was about, or the themes that the film was going to be addressing. I went into Life of Pi pretty much blind. But the previews displayed qualities of a top notch production at the hands of a gifted director, so I went in expecting to see something really amazing, and it was amazing in many ways and not so amazing in others.

Life of Pi tells the story of one Pi Patel, a little Indian kid who is brought up by his mother and father,  who by the way run a zoo. One day, as the family embarks on a life changing journey to Canada, a huge storm breaks out in the middle of the ocean and the boat, with mother and father and all the animals from the zoo go down into the ocean. Pi barely survives by escaping in one of the lifeboats. He manages to stay afloat on the boat, along with a hungry, defiant tiger, an injured zebra, an orangutan, a rat and a hyena. How long will Pi survive out in the vast ocean before he dies? Will he make it?

Life of Pi reminded me of a couple of movies. First off, it reminded me of Interview with the Vampire (1994) because it has this premise of a writer, listening to someone tell a story so they can then write a novel, or an article. So the film unfolds as a man interviews Pi, who very willingly tells the writer his story; a story that will supposedly make anyone who hears it “believe in God”. As the adult Pi tells his tale, we get to see Pi through various stages in his life, key defining moments that shape Pi into the man he will become. I loved the character of Pi, he comes off as very defiant of life, he isn’t afraid of anything, he willingly goes out and looks at a storm square in the eye and asks for “more”. To him life is fun, vibrant, joyful and wondrous, something to be experienced and cherished. I loved how the young Pi is portrayed as someone so curious and full of life. The character of Pi is one of the best things about the film, we can identify with Pi because he asks the same questions we ask. He isn’t afraid to question god and his existence.

And here’s where the movie took me completely off guard! I wasn’t expecting Life of Pi to be a film about religion at all! Now, this being one of my favorite themes, I was even more engaged in the film then I thought I would be. Suddenly, this was a film about Pi challenging God, to see if he was really there, to see if he would answer back. The existence of God is one of the biggest questions anyone could face in life. Is he real? Does he even know how much we suffer down here? If he is so powerful, why doesn’t he do something about all the bad things that happen? Why doesn’t he show himself? I loved how inquisitive young Pi is, because I myself always asked these questions, and I would always get the shaft from adults, because let’s face it, not many adults know how to define God, can’t say I blame them. Personally, I think that if there is such a thing as god, then it is probably something bigger and more powerful then anything we can imagine. But I don’t know if there is a god, because I’ve never seen him or heard him. The only thing that comes close to being Godlike for me is the universe and everything in it, which is one viewpoint displayed in the film. At one point a giant lightning bolt hits the middle of the ocean and Pi thinks he is seeing god and that it’s amazing. I was right there with Pi, believing in the majestic, awesomeness of nature. Now there’s something worth praising!

So anyhow, be ready for a film that questions the existence of god, and tries to define why we should believe in him, which to be honest is what I didn’t like about the film. The film starts out with a believer trying to get an unbeliever to believe. I don’t mind films that address the idea of God, in fact, I often times find them fascinating. What I do hate is when films of this nature try to give a definitive answer to a question whose answer is elusive and inconclusive at best. I mean, when it comes to God, all we can really come down to are ideas, a hypothesis, a proposal of what it could be, but what the ultimate creator of all things is, let’s be honest, nobody really knows. It’s one of the biggest mysteries in life.  Sadly, there comes a point in Life of Pi where you feel as if the film is preaching to you about believing, and honestly, I don’t like films that propagate the idea of believing in fairy tales. I like watching fairy tales and fantasy films for their escapist nature and for entertainment, but I would never believe these films to be true. Because they are fantasies, unreal by nature.

What this film asks us to do is believe in God because it’s a far prettier perspective on life then the sad, dark truths that unbelievers have to offer.  The film is right though, being an unbeliever offers a bleaker outlook on life, they don’t believe in a beautiful afterlife where you will meet all your loved ones that have died. They don’t believe in magical invisible beings that watch over you. Unbelievers usually side with logic and science, things that are tangible, things that can be proved, tried and tested.  And though this is a more realistic outlook on life, some rather believe in the fairy tales that religions have to offer, however faceless and ephemeral they may be. In the end, we all choose how we are going to look at life. Each man is an island; we all see the world the way we want to, if you feel better going through life believing in fantastical beings watching over you, then more power to you. I just didn’t agree with the idea that Life of Pi is trying to propagate: that simply because the idea of God is a “prettier idea” that it is immediately a better option. I’m sorry but no. If you were to tell me that you suddenly want to believe in Hobbits, because you thought they were cute, I’d give you a good wakeup call and tell you to try and live in the real world. Would you rather see life through the spectrum of reality, or through the looking glass of an elaborate fantasy? If you ask the filmmakers behind Life of Pi, the pretty lie is better.

In the end, I really enjoyed the visual aspects of Life of Pi, the film was an amazing trip, it offers one amazing vista after another, the visual wonders never cease with Life of Pi. Technically speaking I am sure that Life of Pi will win the best visual effects Oscar, no doubts about it. This is a surreal masterpiece, it felt something akin to a Tarsem Singh film, like The Fall (2006) for example. Life of Pi is escapist, visual eye candy. The colors leap off the screen; the computer generated images are top notch. Just the fact that almost all of the animals depicted on the silver screen are computer generated says something about the achievements of the film. The computer generated animals  look amazingly realistic. When compared to something like Jumanji  (1995), yet another film filled with CGI animals, Jumanji feels like a dinosaur in terms of realism achieved through computer generated imagery. As for the the 3-D in Life of Pi, it’s great, fish seem to leap off the screen and onto the theater! For these reasons, Life of Pi is definitely worth a visit to theaters, just watch out for all the preaching that leaps off the screen as well.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

The Grapes of Death (1978)

Title: The Grapes of Death (1978)

Director: Jean Rollin

Cast: Brigitte Lahaie, Marie Georges Pascal, Mirella Rancelot


I am quickly learning there are various elements one can come to expect from a Jean Rollin film: girls, nudity, lesbians, gore, shock value, heavy atmosphere and blood, blood, blood; all great elements if you’re making a horror film, which is what Rollin specialized in. I am quickly absorbing many of Rollin’s films and I have to say, I have an affinity for them. I really like all that he achieved with so little money. I understand the kind of films he made, and admire him for making such beautiful looking films on such low budgets. How did Rollin achieve so much with so little? Well, basically, Rollin spent a lot of his time as a pornographer. For example, the film he made before The Grapes of Death was something called Hyperpenetrations (1978) and the one he made after it was called Discosex (1978). But the artist in Rollin wasn’t just satisfied with making porn, he wanted more! So he often times suggested his producers to fund a real film with the same amount of money it costs to make a porn film. He would use porn stars for his films; and you know how that goes: you give a porn star the chance to be in a real film and of course they’ll jump at a chance to do it. It is a step up for them; it’s something they can finally show their mom. This is no longer just porn, this is a real film we’re talking about here! So this is the reason why Rollin always had such sultry looking ladies in his films, this was also the case with The Grapes of Death, a film filled with luscious looking women running from the undead.

The film starts out with these men spraying pesticide on a crop of grapes. One of them doesn’t feel so good, but his boss tells him to continue working no matter what. We are then presented with these two girls traveling on an eerily empty train, their destinations are different, yet they travel together for companionship. On one of the train stops, the sick man who was spraying the crops, boards the train and sits next to one of the girls. At first there is nothing weird about him save for his awkward behavior. But soon, his face starts to degenerate and blood starts coming out of his pores! He is suffering from some sort of infection! The girl, terrified,  gets off the train looking for help but she only ends up stumbling upon more sick people, worst part is they are not only sick, they are violent as well! What the hell is going on? Why is the world now populated by violence, death and destruction? Elizabeth will soon discover the truth about The Grapes of Death!

So again, what I enjoyed about this film is what I have enjoyed about all of the Jean Rollin films I have seen:  the atmosphere, the mood, the ambiance. Rollin shot these films for very little money, so he did what any low budget filmmaker would do to make the most of his films: he shot in amazing looking locations. Great chateaus, abandoned locales, places with ancient architecture; he really exploited the use of interesting looking locations. Add a bit of mist, the howling sound of the wind and voila! Your movie is instantly creepier. This is something Rollin understood quite well for The Grapes of Death is a film in which the wind is blowing all of the time. This is something that a lot of directors don’t understand, but the sound the wind makes is something that adds a great level of spookiness to any horror film. Fulci used this sound effect a lot; Fellini used the hell out of it too and Rollin uses it to great effectiveness here.  The localizations he used for the film add a tremendous feeling of isolation, starting with the lonely train, followed by these beautiful (yet spooky) looking landscapes and finally, the eerie village where most of the action takes place in. So this is a great example of a director making a film better simply because he has an eye for beauty, something that is often times taken for granted by modern filmmakers. 

Most of the time, Rollin specialized in making vampire films like Requiem for a Vampire (1971), The Rape of the Vampire (1968) or The Silver of the Vampires (1971). Sometimes his films would be a strange hybrid between a zombie film and vampire film like for example The Living Dead Girl (1982), where I wasn’t quite sure if it was one or the other and sometimes he’d venture into the zombie genre. I personally didn’t like Zombie Lake (1981), I consider it a low point in Rollins career, but with The Grapes of Death he made a full blown zombie flick that I found completely satisfying. The Grapes of Death is something along the lines of The Living Dead at the Manchester Morgue (1974) where people are infected by some kind of toxic that makes them violent and crazy, the same thing happens on The Grapes of Death;  it’s the pesticide used on the crops that turns people into zombies. The zombies in The Grapes of Death degenerate both psychologically and physically; but they don’t completely lose consciousness, they know what they are and what is happening to them, they just can’t control it or their violent urges. So these zombies are unique in the sense that they are conscious of their decomposing state and they hate themselves for it.  

As a zombie film, I’d say this is a very satisfying one. It has a strange eeriness to it; things slowly creep up on you until you are right smack in the middle of zombie chaos. Rollin’s films are deliberately slow paced, building up on the atmosphere, but then at some point you can rest assured that Rollin will flat out shock you. Rollin’s loves to take you by surprise! In terms of gore, the film is pretty impressive! If there’s something that distinguishes a Rollin film it’s a well orchestrated gore scene. On this one we get one of the best decapitations I have EVER seen on any film. I remember The Living Dead Girl delivered the best scene of a vampire/zombie feeding on human flesh…well, on this one we get an extremely memorable decapitation by axe that will leave you gasping for more. In conclusion, I have to say this was a great zombie flick, I loved many things about it and practically found nothing I didn’t like, another plus being that we get beautiful girls left and right! Brigitte Lahaie, one of Rollin favorite actresses and all around muse returns looking as sensual as she always did in Rollin’s films. Highly recommend this French zombie film, it shows you don’t need a lot money to make a satisfying and entertaining film, all you need is talent and if you ask me, Rollin, with his artful eye, had it to spare.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Class of 1999 (1990)

Title: Class of 1999 (1990)

Director: Mark L. Lester

Cast:  Malcolm McDowell, Pamela Grier, Traci Lind, Kirk Kilpatrick, John P. Ryan, Stacy Keach


Mark L . Lester’s Class of 1984 (1982) was a film that addressed issues concerning gang violence in schools, something that was getting out of control during the late 70’s and early 80’s. As far as I know, school gangs and gangs in general have died out, not many people go around wearing ‘gang colors’ and wanting to beat the living shit out of anyone who doesn’t belong to their gang. Personally, I always thought the whole gang thing was so stupid, but back in the 70’s it was a huge problem. Gang wars and this violent behavior amongst young people caught the eye of various filmmakers who went on to make films addressing this issue through films like The Warriors (1979). Lester’s Class of 1984 starred Roddy McDowall as a teacher who is pushed to the edge by his out of control students, so much so that in one pivotal scene of the film, the teacher holds his entire class room at gunpoint. Films like these demonstrated the frustration felt towards youth going out of control in schools and performing acts of brutal violence on each other and upon teachers. Suddenly, a teacher could not feel safe in his or her own classroom. Class of 1984 wasn’t just a film we were watching in a movie theater, this was happening in the real world. Actually, that scene in which the teacher pulls out a gun on his students was based on a real life event, so the film doesn’t stray that far off from real life events. Students can and do get rowdy and out of control and in a very dangerous way.  So, it’s 1990 and here comes the sequel to the cult classic. How was it?

Class of 1999 starts out a whole lot like John Carpenter’s Escape from New York (1981); first we hear a voice over narrator telling us how violence in schools has gotten out of control, and how some schools exist behind these walls that separate the schools from the real world, behind these walls there are “no police, no rules” and only the strongest survive. These areas are called ‘Free Fire Zones’, which means that anyone can carry a gun and shoot it. This is the kind of town where when the students have a party, they randomly shoot their machine guns in the air as the dance! The students are divided into gangs, and of course, all gangs hate each other, defending their respective territories and so forth. In order to attack this violent environment, the Department of Educational Defense are bringing in three prototype teacher/robots who have a new way to teach these violent students: by using good old fashion physical discipline! Will these students make their teachers go crazy like in the first film? Or will these new teachers show these youngsters a lesson in respect and humility?

So yeah, basically what Class of 1999 does is it turns its teachers into villains, which is kind of a complete reversal of what we saw in Class of 1984; a film in which the students drive their music teacher to his limit, pushing him to the border of temporary insanity, in that film, the teacher was the victim and so when he pulls out a gun on the students, you see where he is coming from, you feel a bit of compassion for the teacher going berserk. Class of 1999 is the other way around; it’s the teachers who push the students’ buttons. These students might be out of control and totally anarchic (even more so then on Class of 1984) but these teachers are freaking terminators with flame throwers for hands and drills with which to “mold young minds”! So on this one, it’s the teachers who have the edge. The three robo-teachers are played by Pamela Grier, Patrick Kilpatrick and John P. Ryan and they all do a great job of coming off as cold, robotic beings following their programming. My favorite being P. ‘Mr. Hardish’ who picks up one of the rebellious students and actually begins to slap his ass to submission! 

The students are played by a group of young actors whom you might remember from other sci-fi horror films of the eighties. For example, you’ll probably remember Bradley Gregg who plays ‘Cody’ as one of the sleep walking kids in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: The Dream Warriors (1987), he’s the kid that Freddy manipulates like a puppet. Tracy Lin plays the principals daughter here, but you might remember her as Alex, Charlie’s girlfriend in Fright Night II (1988). Joshua John Miller plays ‘Angel’, Cody’s younger brother, but you might remember him as ‘Homer’, the child vampire in Near Dark (1987).  To top things off we also get the great Malcolm McDowell playing the school’s principal; this is an interesting casting choice as well because early in his carrier McDowell was known for playing rebellious youth in films like A Clockwork Orange (1971) and If…(1968). On this one he is playing the school principal who’s trying to keep the students under control by implementing the disciplinary robots. So we have a pretty decent cast rounding out this film.

Thematically speaking Class of 1999 is shallower than its predecessor. While the first one contains some social commentary on violence amongst students, this sequel is simply a movie where the  teachers are the monsters, so it’s a monster movie in the sameway that The Terminator is a monster movie.  Actually, Class of 1999 feels like a mix between Robocop (1987), The Terminator (1984) and a little bit of Escape from New York (1981) for good measure. There’s a side plot about kids being on this new drug called ‘edge’, but that goes nowhere. There’s a Romeo and Juliet thing going on between Cody and the principals’ daughter, but it goes nowhere as well. My point is they had a couple of sub plots that could have served to flesh out some of the characters, but the filmmakers did not pursue them, instead they went for the wow factor, the whammy, the cool stuff, killer robots on the loose and I’d say that this is the way the film is meant to be enjoyed, as a sci-fi/horror film with scary robo-teachers and nothing more. While I did enjoy those moments when the teachers confront the rebellious students with extreme disciplinary actions, the best thing about this movie is the last half hour, when the teachers show their true colors. Then the film becomes a showcase of decent effects work. This is in my opinion an underrated sci-fi flick from the 90’s that is often times overshadowed by the more recognized original. Give it a shot for a decent slice of 90’s sci-fi; just don’t expect anything to deep.

Rating 3 ½ out of 5

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Resident Evil: Apocalypse (2004)

Title: Resident Evil Apocalypse (2004)

Director:  Alexander Witt

Cast: Milla Jovovich, Oded Fehr, Sienna Guillory, Jared Harris, Mike Epps


Halloween 2012 was all about zombies here on The Film Connoisseur, hope you guys enjoyed it! I’m currently still in a zombie hangover…which means, I’m still watching and reviewing zombie movies for the next couple of days, so look forward to that! I’d been meaning to review Resident Evil Apocalypse for a while now because my initial reaction to this film was not a good one. I wanted to know if I still disliked it as much as I did when I first saw it. Re-watching this second installment in the Resident Evil long running franchise, it suddenly dawned upon me that I needed to do a reassessment of the film; I ended up enjoying it a lot! I guess after having seen six of these Resident Evil films at the hands of various directors, I could see this one and compare it against all the other ones in the franchise, and guess what, this one has come out on top as a very well made entry into this franchise, not the best movie ever made, but certainly better than other films in the franchise in many ways.

The film picks up exactly where the first one left off, with zombies escaping the Umbrella Corporations Racoon City facilities. The undead have spread all throughout the city infecting more civilians. The authorities have locked down the city, every citizen quarantined. No one is allowed to escape! If they try, they risk getting shot down by the police. Meanwhile, Dr. Ashford, the creator of the deadly T-Virus has escaped Racoon City. Problem is that his daughter has been left inside! He contacts Alice to rescue his daughter before the authorities blow up Racoon City to smithereens. Will Alice rescue the little girl in time? What tricks does the Umbrella Corporation have under their sleeves this time?

So what made me change my mind so radically? Well, I think it was the fact that I could see this film within the context of all the other ones and it ended up being better then say, Resident Evil: Retribution (2012), a film I personally ended up not loving for many reasons, too numerous to number here. So what did I like about Apocalypse? Well, one of the first things that I immediately noticed was how refreshing it was to see a Resident Evil film that wasn’t 95% computer images. On Apocalypse things are tangible, there’s sets, there’s props, there’s real stunts performed by real stunt men. I mean I loved the fact that director Alexander Witt decided to shoot almost everything practically, on camera. One of the pluses that Apocalypse has is that it was made in a time when CGI had not yet overtaken the film industry as predominantly as it has now, this was a time when films where still real. Sets are built, explosions are real, stunts are designed and pulled off; this element of Apocalypse comes in direct contrast to the more recent Resident Evil films in which practically everything in the background is computer generated. Nope, this film has a tangibility to it that’s missing from the newer films in the franchise and for that I applaud it.

This film is action packed, and that probably has something to do with the fact that director Alexander Witt had been involved as second unit director on many action films like The Bourne Identity (2003) and Black Hawk Down (2001), Twister (1996) and Speed (1994), so he brought that action movie experience to the table, and looking at Apocalypse now, the stunts on this one are more impressive then other Resident Evil films because they were pulled off for real. I mean, these guys went through the effort of planning these stunts so they could be pulled off in front of the cameras and not inside of a computer. So when you see Alice walking down the side of a building, guns a blazing, they did that for real. When we see Alice running through a hallway with every glass window blowing up, for real. When Alice jumps through the air as a cop car explodes into a ball of flames behind her…done for real!  When an actor jumps off a helicopter while shooting his guns…for real as well. I mean, kudos to this production for wanting to go that route, it’s a breath of fresh air; because hey, don’t you just hate it when you’re watching an action film and you can just tell its all computer generated?  That doesn’t happen here. This is one o the more action packed films in the franchise, guns are shot almost nonstop all throughout, I liked that about it, this is a no holds barred action film through and through; everything culminating in a big showdown between Alice and the Nemesis. There’s always been a physicality to the Alice character played by Milla Jovovich, but on this one she excels in terms of displaying her fighting abilities and shooting all sorts of guns; all the while never losing her sexiness. 

Then of course there’s the Nemesis creature, I just loved how it looks practically exactly like the video game. Actually, when we come down to it, this film has so many visual cues that come straight off of the video game. Certain images and moments can be traced down the first Resident Evil games. The filmmakers really made an effort to incorporate stuff from the games, which is something that the newer films kind of forget about sometimes. In conclusion, this is one of the best in the series in my opinion. When compared to all the others, this one stands on solid ground. Its action packed, Alice is kick ass as she’s ever been, this is actually the film in which she becomes more than human. None of these films have ever been deep, or meaningful, they’ve always been fun action packed and stylish and in that department, Apocalypse delivers.

The one thing I do seem to remember hating was the slow motion/blurry effect we see whenever zombies are shown, I could have done without it, why was it used? I don’t know, but it just doesn’t work for me thanks to that ‘effect’ we never really get a good look at the zombies. I remember hating the ‘token black guy’ in the film played by Mike Epps, I used to think he felt totally out of place on this film, but now I see him as just another crazy character we meet along the way. Bottom line? The film has more good things going for it then bad ones. You look at this film and you feel more effort was put into making it than say Resident Evil Retribution simply because most of it was shot practically, and because they went through all this trouble to film things on camera, kind of reminds me of Poltergeist III (1988) in that sense, yet another film in which the director purposely strived away from telling his story through visual effects. I say give this one a second chance, you just might end up enjoying it. 

Rating 3 1/2 out of 5

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Man with the Iron Fists (2012)

Title: The Man with The Iron Fists (2012)

Director: The RZA

Cast: Russell Crowe, Lucy Liu, RZA, Byron Mann, Rick Yune, David Bautista, Pam Grier, Gordon Liu

The RZA’s love for Kung Fu movies can be traced all the way back to his beginnings as a musician in the Wu-Tang clan, where the famous rap group would conceptualize whole albums based on Kung Fu movies like The 36th Chamber of Shaolin (1978). RZA also scored the music to Tarantino’s Kill Bill movies,   Afro Samurai (2007) and its sequel Afro Samurai Resurrection (2009). So it’s safe to say that RZA’s love for Kung Fu films has always been there. In a featurette RZA did for the Afro Samurai dvd, his genuine love and appreciation for these films was evident; so the fact that he directed, wrote, starred and scored The Man With the Iron Fists doesn’t surprise me the least, in fact, it makes all the sense in the world. Here’s a guy who’s seen thousands of Kung Fu movies. He understands and obviously loves the genre; this isn’t some ignorant poser trying to make a Kung Fu film, this is a connoisseur. With The Man with the Iron Fists he meant to unleash all that Kung Fu knowledge onto the silver screen as a love letter to genre. Problem is, this is his first film ever, so a lot was depending on him pulling it off, and pulling it off well. So, the question remained: would the RZA be able to do it? Could he pull off this ambitious project on his first time out?

Story is all about this peace loving blacksmith (RZA) who hates making weapons and would much rather spend his time making toys for kids. But, as fate would have it, he ends up having to make weapons anyway so he can save enough money to escape with the woman he loves. He makes weapons for two gangs that are fighting each other over a shipment of gold, and the control of the town. You see one greedy bastard known as ‘Silver Lion’ killed his own master ‘Golden Lion’ just so he could take over the clan; problem is that while Golden Lion wanted peace, Silver Lion wants war and The Blacksmith is caught in the middle of it all. Will The Blacksmith ever find the peace and love he yearns, or will death, carnage and revenge force him to turn into a stone cold killer?

The Man with the Iron Fists was obviously a labor of love for the RZA who basically took all the things he loves about Kung Fu movies, put them all in a blender and called it The Man with the Iron Fists. It’s got elements from recent Kung Fu films like True Legend (2010), a little bit of Afro Samurai (2007) and a whole lot of Shaw Brothers. The thing with The Man with the Iron Fists is that if you’re a lover of Kung Fu movies (like I am) you will immediately identify the films where RZA got his inspiration from. It kind of reminds of what happens when you watch a Tarantino film. The film has that repetitive storyline that a lot of Kung Fu movies have where the hero gets all banged up by the bad guys, goes through a recuperation/training process and by the ending of the film, he ends up kicking everyone’s collective asses to kingdom come. The difference between a Tarantino film and The Man with the Iron Fists is that while Tarantino takes the genre he is paying homage to and re-invents it, brings something new to the table, makes it better somehow, The Man with the Iron Fists hardly re-invents the Kung Fu genre, or brings anything new to the table. It’s quite simply a homage that walks on tired ground. Still, that being said, the film is an extremely entertaining affair; I was not bored for a moment.

And here’s the part where I start talking about all the cool stuff this movie has going for it. First off, the production values are top notch. The art direction, the wardrobes, the weapons and the look of the film were all great. I’m thinking that the production benefited a whole lot from shooting on location in china, which is a great surprise; I love it when a film shoots on location. The Kung Fu action is excellent and very well shot. I’ve read some reviewers complaint about them not being able to comprehend what’s going on in the fights, I don’t get where they are coming from, I could see perfectly well what was happening during the fight choreography, which was quite good in my book. Characters have all sorts of cool weapons that I had not seen on any movie before; like for example there’s these two sword fighters,  each has a sword that when united with the other, creates a ying and yang symbol that allows them to kick some serious ass together.  The gore was plentiful as well, which caught me completely off guard! Since Hollywood’s so shy with blood and guts these days, I was expecting a tame film in this regard, but I was wrong. There’s all sorts of over the top death sequences; which were gruesomely entertaining; a kung fu fan should be pleased with all the blood spraying on this movie.

I won’t lie, the film does have a few flaws here and there, most of them related to this being the RZA’s first film. For instance, I don’t think it was a smart choice on the RZA’s part to juggle so many production responsibilities. He directs, writes, scores and on top of all that, acts in the film! The RZA plays the titular ‘Man with the Iron Fists’ and his performance is quite subdued. The Blacksmith is a very quiet, laid back kind of character, it felt to me like this pivotal character should have been played a bit more intensely by an actor with experience.  I don’t think it’s the worst performance ever, but the part called for someone who could display more emotion,  plus to be honest, I don’t think RZA’s much of an actor. As a director? Sure, he did a decent job, but acting is definitely not his forte.  Also, somewhere near the end, the film feels a bit rushed. This could also have something to do with the fact that the original cut of the film was four hours long and the RZA had to compromise and cut it down to the usual hour and a half; this is his first film after all. I’m looking forward to a director’s cut of the film where hopefully we’ll get more character development and story. I hear RZA is pushing for a director’s cut for the dvd release, which would be awesome in my book. Since this film only cost 20 million dollars to make (a modest budget by Hollywood standards) I think it will be successful enough to make its money back, and hopefully bring on a sequel. I wouldn’t mind getting a second dose of Kung Fu awesomeness from RZA, because this movie satisfies in that department.

My final word on this one is that it’s not a perfect movie, but it is fun enough for you to forget all about the flaws and just enjoy the damn thing. The violence is so cartoonish and over the top that people laugh after some of the deaths, which I think is a perfectly normal reaction to all the mayhem that happens on screen. The idea of this character having Iron Fists is freaking awesome and him battling this other dude with metal skin? Sweeeet. The RZA as the Black Smith was the weak link of the show, but then we have Russell Crow chewing up scenes and having a blast with Lucy Liu who plays the lady who runs the local whore house. Fun times are to be had, if you love your Kung Fu mixed with some hip hop tunes; this is the place to go. I wonder if what RZA was really trying to prove with this film is that he could be the one to direct the Afro Samurai movie? Now there’s an idea!

Rating: 4 out of 5

Friday, November 2, 2012

Fascination (1979)

Title: Fascination (1979)

Director: Jean Rollin

Cast:  Franca Mai, Brigitte Lahaie, Jean Marie Lemaire, Fanny Magier


I’m quickly learning that watching a Jean Rollin picture is a special kind of experience.  He made many films, of course not all of them are good, but the ones that are special are sultry, sensual, artful experiences. These are films in which people talk in whispers and the wind blows in the middle of the night; of empty chateaus’ with lonely lovers expecting death to come visit them in the middle of the night. Oh Rollin, where the hell have you been all my life? I love these freaking movies!  

In Fascination we first meet Mark, a thief who has just stolen a bounty of golden coins. He decides to ditch the thieves that helped him pull of the heist and runs off with the gold. While on the run he comes upon an apparently empty castle where he decides to hide until the night comes, so he can later escape under the cover of the night. Problem is this chateau is not empty, he soon realizes that it is inhabited by two women: Eva and Elisabeth. To him they are easy prey, lonely women in an empty castle, Mark seems to think things are looking up for him, that this night might turn up better then expected; but are these women as innocent as they seem? Is there something more to these women than meets the eye?

It’s easy to say that Rollin’s films are exploitative and trashy, but I honestlyI don’t see them that way. Yeah they got nudity in them, and in Fascination’s case there’s lots of it, but it’s not done in bad taste in my opinion. This is a very sensual film, and while the film does have ample nudity, the female form is displayed in a very beautiful way, never in a disrespectful or demeaning matter. The last time I saw a truly sensual and beautiful love scene between two lesbian characters was in David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive (2001). In that film Naomi Watts and Laura Harring really go down on each other. That was a steamy scene that was very erotic, yet there was emotion and beauty to it, in my opinion it didn’t feel exploitative. There’s a similar scene on Fascination where the two female vampire lovers go at each other that is a heavy contender for hottest lesbian sex scene on film and again, it’s a beautiful scene and I’m not just saying that because I’m a guy, well maybe a little, but you know what I mean, it’s not trashy or cheap, you feel there’s genuine affection between these two characters.

Aesthetically speaking, the shots Rollin chose, the compositions he made with the camera, and the localizations where Rollin chose to shoot this film all add up to a really beautiful looking film. I love it when a horror film is artful and beautiful, it kind of elevates the horror film, it turns it more than just a film that’s trying to be shocking or scary, this in my opinion is what Rollin does with his films. Take for instance the beautiful chateau he chose to shoot Fascination in…just otherworldly in a way. It is surrounded by a moat, and there’s a mist all around it, dead trees…but it’s all naturally that way, it’s not a set which is something I love about Rollin’s films, he never really used sets much, probably due to budget limitations, but it all works in the films favor in the end.  The castle has this bridge which Rollin uses extensively all throughout the film, it looks great, it becomes a pivotal part of the film. I mean, European filmmakers end up making their films in such beautiful locations that you can’t find anywhere else, in that way, they are fortunate. But then there’s the small visual touches Rollin gives the film, like having the vampire girls walking around in these dresses that undulate when the wind hits them; or shooting in the middle of a dreary, cold day. So with Fascination you can expect a film that deals with horror elements, but portrayed in a beautiful, seductive and atmospheric way.  

In terms of the story, well, it’s simple in nature, but it has this aura of suspense to it. We are intrigued all throughout. Rollin really turned this one into an exercise in suspense. We want to know what’s going to happen, what is this ominous event that is going to take place? I think this is probably why the film is called Fascination. Of course it could also have something to do with the fascination the vampires in the film feel for blood. This film isn’t as gory as The Living Dead Girl (1982) was and the ending doesn't pack as much of a wallop as The Living Dead Girls ending does, but it still manages to augment the vampires fascination and lust for blood. It feels to me that what Rollin did with The Living Dead Girl was take the ideas he played with in Fascination and took them a bit further, The Living Dead Girl feels a bit more realized in a sense, edgier, bloodier. But don't worry my friends, blood and the color red are always present in one form or another. The vampire angle is kind of subtle, but in the end it’s unmistakably a vampire film and a damn good one. I’m beginning to get fascinated by Rollin’s artful horror films, they mix fright with sensuality, plus, they are drenched with atmosphere, I’m really looking forward to exploring more of his oeuvre!  

Rating: 4 out of 5  


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