Tuesday, September 23, 2014

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

The Legend of Billie Jean (1985)

Director: Matthew Robbins

Cast: Helen Slater, Christian Slater, Keith Gordon, Peter Coyote, Dean Stockwell, Richard Bradford, Martha Gehman, Yeardley Smith

So according to IMDB, Pat Benatar, the singer behind 'Invincible’, the theme song for The Legend of Billie Jean, supposedly introduces this song by saying “this song comes from the worst movie ever made”; a statement that I am strongly against! I mean, sure, nobody is saying that The Legend of Billie Jean is the best movie of all time or anything, but worst movie ever made? Come on!  This movie is one of the most quintessentially 80’s movies ever made! That’s what it is! And it’s got spirit and spunk! The soundtrack is awesome, and no matter how much Pat Benatar might hate this movie, her song gels to perfection with the film! “We will be Invincible!” It’s that spirit of us vs. them, the oppressed vs. the oppressor, the rebels vs. the system that gives The Legend of Billie Jean its cult status; it’s the reason why it’s gone on as long as it has. We the people identify with the heroically stoic figure of Billie Jean; she will not stand the abuse! She fights back! And she’s a woman! And she will take it no longer!

The films premise is an interesting one. Billie Jean and her brother Binx (Christian Slater in his first role) are two teenagers who enjoy the simple things in life: vanilla shakes, riding their scooter to the lake and basking in the sun as they muse about their possible futures. Their peace is disrupted when a group of rich bullies (read: total assholes) start disrespectfully hitting on Billy Jean. When she refuses their advances and Binx throws a strawberry shake in their faces, the bullies steal Binx’s scooter and take off with it. They later trash it, and give Binx a beating which leaves him all bruised and disfigured. That’s when Billie Jean decides to take matters into her own hands! She goes to the rich kid’s father and asks for the 608 dollars that its going to cost to  fix the bike, the rich bastard says he’ll give her the money little by little, in exchange for sex every time she comes. Billie Jean of course refuses! One thing leads to another and Binx ends up accidentally shooting the rich guy in the shoulder, so Billie Jean, Binx and their two friends run off together, avoiding the law and surviving in abandoned buildings and empty houses, becoming legends along the way. Will they get Binx’s scooter back? Will the rich asshole pay the money he owes? And can Billie Jean and company live on the run for long?

The Legend of Billie Jean is one of these movies in which adults don’t pay attention to the kids and their situations, which is kind of like a staple of movies from the eighties. Billie Jean actually goes to the police, who brush off her story as nonsense. They think it’s just a silly squabble amongst teenagers, but the teenagers are sick of being ignored by the adults, so they take matters into their own hands. The film has that spirity of young people wanting to change the world they are living in, they want to revolt and make things better. But the powers that be don’t want to let them do that, they don’t want teenagers revolting and saying what they think or feel. Billie Jean represents that voice, she’s the voice of her generation. And this particular generation she represents is the generation that was living through the Regan era, a time when capitalism/consumerism was rampant and money was king, it was a generation known as the ‘me’ generation. That selfishness, powered by greed is represented perfectly here.  The whole film is one big message against consumerism. Billie Jean becomes a hero to the people, so suddenly she becomes marketable, so suddenly everyone is selling Billie Jean T-shirts, hats, posters, bumper stickers, you name it. The ending of the film speaks loudly about what the filmmakers think of consumerism. Here’s a hint: they despise it. They see it as something that’s devouring humanity, spreading like a cancer, as we all know, they were absolutely right, consumerism has grown way out of control, it’s stronger and uglier than ever. If you don’t believe me, go to a Wal-Mart on Black Friday and watch people die. Billie Jean hates this money based society, she wants her 608 dollars, but at the end of the day, she hates the fact that this is all about money.

This film is b-movie stuff for many, and in many ways I’d say they are right, but in other ways, the film has a lot to say. Billie Jean identifies with Joan of Arc, she sees herself as a strong woman with a voice, she wants to be heard and treated with respect,  she’s standing up for herself. She wants her brothers scooter back and wants to make sure we are all treated fairly, its Billie Jean vs. the abused, in this case, her little brother and herself. I mean, it’s not just about getting the scooter or the money back, Billie Jean is also angry that she was almost raped by the rich greedy bad guy. At heart, this is a film about a woman standing up for herself and not taking the abuse anymore and that my friends, is something I applaud, even through all the cheesiness. Which by the way I find is one of the many charms this film has, it exudes a certain naiveté, a certain idealism and a passion to set things right. I love this kind of film, where the teens stand up to ‘buck the system’, yelling at the ones running the planet letting them know they are wrong. The Legend of Billy Jean can stand proudly next to films like Turk 182! (1985), Wisdom (1986), Footloose (1984), Heathers (1988) and Pump Up the Volume (1990), all movies where young people give the finger to adults and want to do things their way, which is usually fueled by heart, passion and justice; which is why I like The Legend of Billie Jean so much. It's about being fair with everybody, especially the poor. So the film also addresses classist issues, it's the rich vs. the poor here and the poor want to be treated with some respect. That's all, they want to be treated with dignity.  

Helen Slater nails it as Billie Jean, giving a rebel yell, screaming for all the kids, becoming their hero. Love that whole idea about kids helping each other, like a secret society of youngsters all backing each other up. Like youth existing on a whole other level that adults don’t even know about, it kind of makes me wanna be a teenager again! Watching this movie takes me back to my teenage years. Yeah, I was a kid when this film first came out, I was about ten, so Billie Jean in many ways became a voice for me, I was right there following her with all those other kids. Of course, now the film seems a bit cheesy to me, but I can see past its flaws because to me, it’s more about the feeling, the passion and the ideas that the film projects, it’s that idealistic way of seeing the world, it’s about the way we’d like things to be. What I wouldn't give for everybody to collectively want to produce a significant change in society, to change the status quo of things, or at the very least give it a try. Is it all that idealistic of an idea?    

Rating: 4 out of 5


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)

Jodorowsky’s Dune (2013)

Director: Frank Pavich

There are certain documentaries out there that really dive into what it means to really make a film, a side of movies we hardly ever see, the creative side, the side that struggles to make ideas come to cinematic life. All we have to do as an audience is sit, and take in the movie; sometimes we forget just how grueling an experience making a film can be. I mean, it’s not just shooting a film, you have to go through the whole process of writing the script, of casting it, of assembling the team that’s going to help you bring your dreams come to life. One of my favorite documentaries that explores this side of filmmaking is Lost in La Mancha (2002), which chronicles the rise and fall of what could have been Terry Gilliam’s take on Don Quixote, a film that was to be called ‘The Man Who Killed Quixote’. Unfortunately for Gilliam, the whole project collapsed on him through a combination of raging storms that destroyed equipment and a protagonist who fell ill, amongst other catastrophes. Many millions were lost and the film never got made, but what an incredible spectacle it is to watch it all happen! That documentary is special because they actually filmed the whole disaster as it occurred. I always recommend it because it’s a brilliant peek into the frustrations of a filmmaker who desperately wants to make a film, yet the universe conspires against him. Gilliam is still trying to get that film made believe it or not, I hope he finally gets there because there’s nothing worse than a director who never got to make that one film he or she has always wanted to make. This brings to mind Jodorowski and his adaptation of Frank Herbert’s sci-fi, Magnus opus, Dune. A film that sadly never got made. This documentary goes into all the pre-production work that went into the film, and the reason why it never took off.

Jodorowsky (left) next to what would have been one of the Emperor's Saudukar Warriors. To the right, Michel Seydoux one of the films hopeful producers.

Alejandro Jodorowski was eighty four years old when they shot this documentary, but boy, his mind is as clear as if he was 30! I mean at 80, most people are with one foot in the grave, begging for forgiveness, yet here is Jodorowski alive and kicking, still a creative force to be reckoned with. I mean, to this day, Jodorowsky still directs films! His most recent one is called The Dance of Reality (2013), which I will be seeing and reviewing here soon. He writes for a French sci-fi show called ‘Metal Hurlant Chronicles’ and every now and then continues writing incredible comic books and graphic novels. I love the guy, I want to be like him when I get old, just writing and creating cool stuff. Which is why I think it’s such a tragedy that he didn’t get a chance to make his version of Dune. If his pre-production archives are any indication, this movie was going to blow everyone’s mind!

The Man, The Myth, The Legend, Alejandro Jodorowsky

To hear Jodorwski talk is pure delight, he speaks like a genius mad man, a point that the documentary makes clear. There cannot be great art without some madness. Hearing Jodorowsky say how his Dune was going to change the world, you believe him. Then you see the story boards for the film, and it becomes evident, this film was going to be something special. But it was not to be, the powers that be shied away from greatness. I mean, here’s a project that has influenced many others after it, and it wasn’t even made! Can you imagine how it would have influenced other filmmakers, had it actually gotten made? Jodorowsky planned this movie so well that he had this giant ass storyboard book he printed that included every scene, shot and camera move. There’s a myth amongst movie buffs that says that many a Hollywood director/producer copied from this book, George Lucas included. Elements from Dune have always popped up all over the Star Wars saga and I’ve always noticed them. Could it be that George Lucas simply loved Frank Herbert’s Dune and was influenced by it? Or did Lucas get a peek at a copy of Jodorowsky’s storyboard book? I don’t know the answer to that one my friends, but there are some blaring similarities between what could have been Jodorowsky’s Dune and George Lucas’s Star Wars.

H.R. Giger working on conceptual artwork for Jodorowsky's Dune, these paintings would go on to be some of Giger's most recognized works. 

There’s this moment in the documentary where Jodorowsky totally looses it and his anger emerges, you can see he is truly upset that after so many plans and after so much time spent, his version of Dune never took off. He is so passionate about the film that I’d give him the money if I had it! Instead, he offers the film to any other young director out there willing to take a crack at it, Nicolas Winding Refn the director behind Drive (2011) and Only God Forgives (2013) seems to admire Jodorowsky enough, so much so that he dedicated Only God Forgives to him, maybe their kinship will give us Jodorowsky's Dune someday? Here's hoping!  Let’s see, many directors have been about to make the new Dune, but as of yet, nothing. It’s so sad because you can see that what happened to Jodorowsky is the typical situation in which Hollywood detects weirdness and runs away from it like a child running away from the boogeyman. Movies with strange premises, films that they don’t know how to sell, films that don’t follow a formula or a structure, auteur directors with a knack for the bizarre, these are just some of the things that Hollywood tries its best to run away from. It’s sad seeing true artistes like David Lynch, Terry Gilliam and Alejandro Jodorowsky struggling to make movies. I mean, here’s a bunch of directors who can truly add something to cinema, yet these are the voices that Hollywood silences. Worst part is that they shut the door on Jodorowsky and crew, yet just a few years down the road the project gets done with an even bigger budget and with a similar production plan. I’m sure this was a slap in the face to Jodorowsky, getting doors shut in your face only to see Hollywood copy your idea and do it their way.

A promotional poster for the would be film. 

Jodorowsky says he was relieved when he saw Lynch’s film because according to him it was terrible, which is kind of weird seeing one ateur hit on the work of another like that, but Jodorowsky makes it clear, he knows Dune was taken from Lynch and that it was a film done primarily by the producers, he actually aknowledges Lynch as a true creative force. Many film buffs and critics don’t consider Lynch's Dune a true David Lynch film, Lynch himself included. You ask me, I don’t hate Lynch’s Dune (1984), I in fact love it. Out of all the adaptations of Herbert’s work, it’s the biggest and most epic of all, production wise. And even with all the bitchin’ and moaning you hear about how supposedly “bad” Lynch’s Dune is, when we get down to it, it’s a pretty close adaptation of Herbert’s book. But rest assured my friends, Jodorowsky’s Dune would have been something else entirely different. There’s this line in the documentary that has to be the best line in it where Jodorowsky says that when you adapt a book, you cannot do it exactly the same, you have to rape it. And then he says, “that’s what I was doing, I was raping Frank Herbert!” Then he pauses and says: “but in a good way…” Jodorowsky’s mind, it really is  brilliant, I hope that when I am 84 I can be as cool and as sharp as he is. This documentary is a testament to his genius.  It lets us see once again how afraid Hollywood is of anything different, or anything with the desire to “change the world!” This documentary is a fascinating peek into Jodorowsky’s mind, anyone who appreciates art, Frank Herbert’s Dune novels and filmmaking in general will have an amazing time watching this, highly recommend it.

Rating: 5 out of 5  


Friday, September 12, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Only Lovers Left Alive (2013)

Director: Jim Jarmusch  

Cast: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Anton Yelchin, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt

Jim Jarmusch is not the kind of filmmaker that will appeal to everyone because his films are deliberately slow paced, which if you’re in the right mood could be just what the doctor ordered. In my case, Only Lovers Left Alive was exactly the kind of movie I was looking for. You see, this film is populated with mellow characters in no rush to blow anything up or save the universe. Quite the contrary, these guys are basking in their mellowness, and I dug that. It’s a change of pace. Sometimes, modern films seem to be in some sort of rush, like a child who suffers from ADD, always in search for the next big rush. Yes my friends, there’s no denying that today’s audiences are junkies of the rush. But here’s Jim Jarmusch wanting to teach us once again that slowing things down can actually be a cool thing, let’s get retrospective, let’s think about things, let's analyze. 

Only Lovers Left Alive is the story of Adam and Eve, two vampires who are extremely cultured and ancient, they know a lot about everything, their clothes are hundreds of years old. Eve has hundreds of ancient books and is an expert in literature and speed reads everything while Adam is an expert musician who wants to remain anonymous, hiding away from fame. These two vampires are married, but have been living so long that they don’t need to live together. Adam lives his rock and roll life style in Detroit Michigan while Eve lives in Tangiers, Morocco. Their lives are reunited when Adam reveals to Eve that he’s depressed with humanity. She detects his depression, so she flies to him, both reuniting in Detroit. Can these two vampires survive in our modern decaying society?

What I liked about this movie is how Jarmusch uses the vampires eternity to criticize humanity. You see these vampires have seen so many facets of humanity that they can comment, with an all encompassing point of view about where we are now as a race.  They've seen us go through the inquisitions, through hitler, through everything, they've seen Galileo and Tesla suffer for their knowledge, they know just how much cruelty we are capable of, because they've seen it. In a way, so have we because we can read a history book, we can all look back at humanities mistakes and learn from them and evolve, but it seems we are inclined more towards repeating our mistakes then growing above them. I love how both vampires simply drive around Detroit during the night, they see all these abandoned buildings and factories and say “it’s like everybody left”. I gots to tell you my dear readers, I sometimes feel the same way about my own city. So many businesses closed down, so many abandoned buildings, you can see the urban decay taking over. The city is rotting away. It’s life, sucked away. So of course, I connected with these vampires, driving around a decaying city in ruins. Reminiscing about where it all went and if its ever gonna come back.

These vampires are pretty cool, they are so cultured, they remind me of how I wish I could spend eternity, reading books and listening to cool music, just chilling the hell out, when these guys drink their blood, it’s not unlike smoking a dooby or drinking your favorite poison. How cool are these vampires? Well, they hang out with William Shakespeare, who by the way is also a vampire! Ha, awesome. They eat blood popsicles and hang out in rock and roll bars. They wear glasses at night. The only thing is that the state of humanity brings them down. Adam can’t believe how humanity has managed to not only poison their water supply but their own blood as well. He wonders if humanity is still fighting about oil and when the water wars will begin. These guys philosophize about everything, I dug it. Swinton and Hiddleston have great chemistry together, they sold me the part of these two vampires in love throughout the ages. But overall, the cast is awesome, including John Hurt playing an aging vampire Shakespeare.

Jarmusch filmed on location in some awesome looking places, for example, he actually shot in Detroit, a city that is actually in decay. Huge buildings that use to be factories now look like ghosts, haunting a dying city, Jarmusch captured it all beautifully, made all the more dark and brooding because most of the film takes place late at night, when the vampires hang out. Morocco adds a completely different type of background, with beautiful vistas of a completely different type of society. They go to Morocco escaping the masses, escaping humanity whom they appropriately call “zombies”. Watching this film you kind of get the idea that humanity is in the brink of some huge cataclysmic change, like the world will soon turn, like that famous worm that turns when provoked enough. That idea that the world is somehow pushing us to return to an animalistic state of being, like the out of control world we live in is calling out our animal instincts, and pretty soon we won’t be able to hold back. Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive is thought provoking, romantic and sexy. In a lot of ways, Only Lovers Left Alive reminded me of this offbeat, obscure vampire film called Blood & Donuts (1995), because of this weird mood that it elicits, this weird aura that only comes from films that take place during the wee hours of the night, the small hours when the creatures of the night emerge. I recommend this film if you want to see something sultry, a film that slows things down to the pace of blood ebbing down a vampires throat.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Expendables 3 (2014)

The Expendables 3 (2014)

Director: Patrick Hughes 

Cast: Sylvester Stallone, Mel Gibson, Arnold Schwarzennegger, Harrison Ford, Jason Statham, Wesley Snipes, Dolph Lundgren, Kelsey Grammer, Antonio Banderas, Jet Li

So this is the third film in a franchise which up to this point had been going strong, unfortunately, thanks to piracy, this third outing lost a lot of millions at the box office because who’s going to see a movie that’s been out on dvd for weeks before it’s hit theaters right? Sadly this was the case with The Expendables 3, piracy killed its chances at the box office, a similar thing happened with X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009), everyone had already seen it by the time it hit theaters. But to be honest, you weren’t going to be missing much if you’d gone to see The Expendables 3 in theaters. This movie might have its fun moments, but it’s also the worst in the series. I had fun with some of the inside jokes, but overall, it felt very uneven, like they were just going through the motions. Stallone, Arnold, et al all seem bored by the whole thing. In my opinion, it felt as if they weren’t even trying to do a good movie. Yes my friends, we’re talking about a potential “franchise killer” here; we talking about the movie that kills the franchise’s chances to continue. What exactly went wrong here? A lot of things! If you want to know more, read on my friends!

This time around the Expendables are after an international arms dealer called Stone Banks, played by Mel Gibson. I’m not even going to try and go into story because there isn’t any; it’s all filler between action scenes. By this I mean that they try and give the movie some “drama” but it comes off as forced and clichéd, as if they were giving these characters fake problems simply to fill the movie with running time, it doesn’t feel genuine. But then again, melodrama isn’t something I’m looking for in these types of films, they should’ve just kept the action going, because when these guys try and get melodramatic, it just doesn’t work. So anyhow, at most, what the filler surmounts to is Stallone getting rid of the old guys and gathering a new team to help him catch an old enemy. That’s about it. And here’s the big problem with the movie for me, we came to see The Expendables because we want to see our favorite action stars from the 80’s and 90’s doing what they do best, blowing shit up. I wanted to see more of Wesley Snipes, I wanted more of Arnold and Stallone, I wanted more of everybody! Hell, Jet Li doesn’t even fight in this movie! What a joke, why even bother bringing him in if he’s going to do next to nothing in the film? 

Unfortunately, on this entry they decided to get rid of the old guys we came to see and replaced them for a huge chunk of the movie with a new, younger team. Now I normally wouldn’t have a problem with it, but the guys they chose say nothing to me. They needed to bring in the new wave of action stars. I would’ve included The Rock in there, I would’ve included I don’t know, somebody who represents today’s action stars. Which brings to mind a question: just who are the action heroes of today? Truth is there are not many, which is probably why they brought in all these guys nobody’s ever heard of. Kind of like what they want to do with the new Ghostbusters film. The plan with the new Ghostbusters film is to bring in a new batch of Ghostbusters for the new  generation, and that’s fine and dandy, go ahead and do it, but you know they better bring in some funny guys to replace the originals, or else it’s just not gonna work! Same principal applies with these new Expendables they brought in for this new movie, Sadly, these new guys…well, they just don’t do it for me. Save for Antonio Banderas who steals the show in my book. He was the only saving grace in the film.

What else went wrong, well, they toned down the violence. What the hell where they thinking? I mean, these films are supposed to be a homage to the violent, blood drenched films of the 80’s and suddenly you’re anything but that. Suddenly you’re all about CGI helicopters and CGI explosions? I want to feel the heat in my freaking face! I want explosions like the ones I used to see in films like Action Jackson (1988)! Where you could practically smell the napalm! But no, sadly, I felt detachment. So much of this film is computer generated you won’t feel like your right there in the action. They should have kept the action real and in your face, because that’s what us old action fans crave, that’s what we miss. We want the adrenaline rush of seeing Stallone fight against real freaking helicopters, like the ones we saw in Rambo III (1988). Remember that one? Rambo goes up against freaking choppers on that one! Where’s that type of action? Sad part is that Stallone, who starred in so many of these awesome action films of the 80’s (like Cobra for example) should’ve know better. He should know what we want to see and feel in an action movie that’s supposed to be paying homage to a bygone era of action films. Sadly, The Expendables 3 turned into just another detached, modern action film, which means, its crap. Modern action films simply don’t compare to the glory days of action films from the 80’s. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, watch The Expendables 3, then follow it by watching Cobra (1986), or Lethal Weapon (1987), you’ll feel a shift in tone immediately. From bullshit to, shit just got real.

"Come on Arnie, let's get this thing over with, the quicker the better.."

So yeah, shame on Stallone for not getting this one right because out of all the people out there, he should’ve known better. He freaking lived through the eighties and was one of the prime representatives of what action films, real action films, were all about. My advice next time would be to get a decent director who understands what these movies are supposed to be about and not some rookie who’s only done one other obscure film. News flash Italian Stallion: the guy behind the camera matters! Also, give us what we want, we want to see our favorite action stars from the 80’s during the entire film, we don’t want to see them for twenty minutes in the opening and twenty minutes in the ending of the film, we want to see an entire film with these guys. And if you’re going to put in new members, at least make them matter! Don’t give us wannabe action stars, give us actual ones. As it is, The Expendables 3 was a slap in the face to its target audience; it’s the complete opposite of what it should have been. You might have a laugh or two; mainly when you hear Arnold scream “Get to the Choppa!”, but for the most part this Expendables film is actually extremely expendable. Next!

Rating: 2 out of 5


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