Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Pink Floyd's The Wall (1980)

Pink Floyd’s The Wall (1980)

Director: Alan Parker

Cast: Bob Geldof, Bob Hoskins, Jenny Wright

As a film buff, sometimes important movies escape my all scanning, all seeing eyes. Truth is there’s just so much to see; a life time isn’t enough.  So for whatever the reason, probably because I was never really into Pink Floyd’s music, I had never seen Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Man am I kicking myself in the ass for not having seen this one before! This movie is not just a movie, it’s an experience! An audio visual tour de force!

This is the story of ‘Pink’, a young man that’s not to happy about the worlds his born into, we follow him through the different phases in life, so in many ways it’s a life story. In this sense, it is similar to Ken Russell's Tommy (1975), because its also a life story, it's also a critique on society and it's also a film fueled by Rock and Roll. In Pink Floyd's The Wall, we see Pink go from growing up in an abusive and unproductive education system, to becoming comfortably numb through watching television and doing drugs in order to ignore the crazy world that surrounds him. Pink manages to become part of a famous rock band, but even with success nothing makes sense to him. Will he snap and go totally insane? Or will he join the ranks of Big Brother? 

This film is very special, and I’m going to have to ask anyone out there reading that hasn’t experienced this film yet to do so at the earliest possible convenience. I mean, if you love film and the range of emotions and themes that you can express through it, then go on and find a copy of this amazing movie and watch it. It’s a wonderful achievement, an amazing marriage of sight and sound. All gushing aside, what actually makes this film so special? Well, let me count the ways.  

One of the things that stands out about this movie is that it hardly uses any dialog to tell its story. Its main character hardly utters a word throughout the entire film! Other characters around him speak, but Pink himself remains with his lips sealed for most of the film, even though a lot seems to be going on inside of him. Yet, what he doesn’t say through words, he conveys through facial expressions, through performance and through action. Like Chaplin, here’s a character that says a lot without saying a word! Pink is a guy that has grown sick of the mind numbing stupidity that society occupies itself with. He hates television, the dumb masses, he hates money, war, material things, Pink basically dislikes everything he sees. Where will this abhorring of the world take him? Bob Geldof’s performance is a good one; a lot is conveyed through performance, which to me is one of the films major achievements. This films modus operandi is “a picture speaks louder than a thousand words”. And boy, the imagery we see on this film truly speaks for itself!

In order to tell their story through surrealistic, symbolic images, the filmmakers put a lot of effort into marrying the perfect images with the lyrics to Pink Floyd’s songs, which are just amazing. Songs and images gel together so perfectly here! The songs are every bit as subversive as the visuals, which hold nothing back, these songs tell a story. I mean, here’s a movie that tells us that today’s education system treats students like meat to a grinder…every student grinded into one same piece of meat, without anything to make them individuals, without uniqueness. Here’s a film that says that television can drive you mad, that war is death, that bad parents are something to drive us mad, that we will eventually turn into a piece of the machinery, into another senseless clone.  Here’s a film unafraid to say that governments can turn into fascist regimes, basically, this is a movie without any filters or restraints. Yet it says everything so artistically, with such emotion and intensity. It’s impossible to ignore it, or the truth within it.

The talent in the film is obviously a huge part of what makes it such a wonder to behold. Here we have Alan Parker in the director’s chair; a director whose films have always been thematically strong, like a punch to the gut. If you don’t believe me then go and watch Midnight Express (1978). Watching that movie for the first time is like getting a bucket of ice cold water poured down your back! I dare you not to be inspired by Parker’s Fame (1980), or be freaked out by Robert Deniro’s Satan in Parker’s satanic thriller, Angel Heart (1987). Point is that Pink Floyd’s The Wall has an excellent director behind it, which is probably why the visuals are so memorable. But then again, Pink Floyd has always been a band who pays as much attention to their music videos as they do to their songs; their music videos are always a joy to watch. The film was written by Pink Floyd’s own Roger Waters, but the basic jist of the film is that the songs from their conceptual album ‘The Wall’ are the driving force behind the plot of the film. These songs tell us the story of a young man in disgust with society, and the songs are truly special, and this comes from a new fan. Thanks to this film, I am now a Pink Floyd convert/fan, the same thing might happen to you if you’ve never been a fan of Pink Floyd. I dare you not to have some sort of emotional reaction to the images that accompany the song ‘Comfortably Numb’, one of Pink Floyd’s biggest hits. With this song, the film also comments on the sometimes nightmarish lifestyle of a rock and roll star, as if the film wasn’t already commenting enough. And yet another great element in the film are Gerald Scarfe’s amazing animated sequences, which are mind blowing! This movie wouldn’t be the same without Scarfe’s imaginative animation, it is an integral part of the equation. Scarfe’s animation is so fantastic that various sequences, like the hammers marching, the teacher grinding the students into a meat grinder, or that screaming face emerging out of the brick wall have all become part of this films iconic imagery. So what we have here my friends, is a nonstop onslaught of talent. This is definitely one of the movies you should see before you croke, put it on your must watch list, you won’t regret it.

Rating: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Midnight Cowboy (1970)

Midnight Cowboy (1970)

Director: John Schlesinger

Cast: Dustin Hoffman, Jon Voight

Midnight Cowboy is a fish out of water story about a young Texan dishwasher who decides he wants something more out of life so he packs up his bags, gets on a bus and heads towards big bad New York City. The problem is that his big plans for a better life strive entirely on hustling in the world of male prostitution. And further complicating matters, Buck isn’t really much of a hustler, in fact, he’s one hundred and one percent naïve, which means, in a city like New York, he is the one who’s going to get hustled. So it’s that kind of a story in which an innocent person is confronted with a bizarre and violent world, which will transform him forever. 

Usually the first thing you do when you arrive to a new place is make new acquaintances and hopefully, find a kind soul which you can befriend, someone who will show you the ropes. In the case of young and naïve Joe Buck, as soon as he arrives to New York, he connects with a guy whom people call ‘Ratso Rizzo’, a name that would’ve raised a couple of red flags under my radar, but Buck is so naïve he becomes best friends with Rizzo. This ultimate naiveté is what drives the whole story; Buck’s innocence is pitted against Razzo’s experienced hustler ways. These opposite personalities create some very interesting and entertaining situations, for example, the party scene in which they are both randomly invited to one of these crazy swinging parties from the 60’s, where people are doing all sorts of drugs,   dancing naked and fucking. I got flashbacks from a similar scene in Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). There was something about movies from the 60’s; they always had these groovy party sequences. Lots of psychedelic images, like some sort of acid trip, nothing makes sense! Someone’s always smoking weed, there’s always trippy music. Anyways, it’s interesting to see both characters getting lost in all that craziness. Will Joe Buck survive all that insanity? Will he become corrupted somehow? Or has he finally found his place? 

At the crux of it all, are these two guys helping each other under such dire living circumstances.  And they are truly dire, I mean, these guys are so dirt poor that they live in an abandoned building in New York City, with a million rats and the roaches as their roommates. Dinner is canned soup. And there’s always that question of, are they attracted to each other? Is there something else going on here? I love how the film hints at it, but never truly answers that question. The strongest part about the film are the performances by its two main actors, Jon Voight as Joe Buck the innocent manwhore with a heart of gold and Dustin Hoffman’s Rizzo, the scummiest dirt bag in town. They both portray their characters to perfection. This without a doubt is one of Dustin Hoffman’s most memorable performances, I’m sure it’s one of his top five. It’s in this film he gave us that famous line “I’m walking here!” a line that some say was improvised by Hoffman because that cab that almost hits him on that scene was a real New York cab, because they were filming that scene live, on the streets, without the proper permissions. Hoffman’s performance is so good, you actually feel empathy for Rizzo, a low street hustler who owes money to everybody and will lie through his teeth for a twenty dollar bill. Yet, by the films end you will feel something for the guy. For both of them actually, but what’s beautiful about this movie is that they both grow to become family, a true friendship develops. 

Interesting thing about this movie is that it was rated X. I’m pretty sure it’s because of all the sexual themes. I mean, Joe Buck does become a bisexual, but only out of necessity, he doesn’t seem to enjoy being with men, he just needs the money. There is some nudity, but nothing that I’d say would garner an X rating, so I’m thinking it was the subject manner and the conservative mentality of the time that got this movie the dreaded ‘X’ rating, which is something that any studio fears because getting an ‘X’ rating means death at the box office. Yet even with its X rating the film went on to become the first and only film with an X rating to win academy awards! Actually, it won three, Best Picture, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay! Right now it is not an X rated film, in 1971 they the MPAA changed it to an R, without changing a thing about it.  

Bottom line is, you should watch this film because it’s a real American Classic. It truly captures the city of New York thanks to some amazing photography and the fact that they had the fortune of being able to film in the actual city of New York, which is something a lot of films are faking these days because its so expensive to film there. So those are real New York City taxi cabs about to run over Dustin Hoffman! Those are real scummy, 1970’s New York City streets! The film has amazing performances from both its protagonists and it’s a film about true friendship. John Schlesinger purposely left out any sexual complications between Buck and Rizzo in order to make a film about two guys who end up becoming the best of friends, without any sexual ties. These are just two dudes who decide to support each other in the middle of this messed up world, in the middle of the darkness true friendship blossoms. But can friendship eclipse the darkness in our lives? The film asks the question: can we make our lives better, even when we’ve been dealt a dark hand in life? Can we out of sheer will power and positive thinking change the course of our lives? Or are some of us so far down the rabbit hole that there’s no way out no matter how much we try? 
Rating: 5 out of 5

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)

Director: Zack Snyder

Cast: Ben Affleck, Henry Cavill, Jesse Eisenberg, Amy Adams, Gal Gadot, Laurence Fishburn, Jeremy Irons, Holly Hunter

As a movie buff, I’ve never liked it when people hate a movie intensely before it is released. Sure, a film can show signs of being a stinker just by looking at the trailer, but it is my belief that every movie should be given a chance (well, almost every movie) before you decide to pour every ounce of hatred upon it. A recent example of this is the new Ghostbusters movie set to be released this summer 2016. As the trailer played before Batman vs. Superman, I heard actual audience members boo at the screen. Sure these aren’t the original Ghostbusters, but what’s with the immediate hatred without having seen the film? They can’t base their hatred on a three second trailer! Is it because they are women? Is it because it’s not the original cast? I don’t exactly know, but there they were, booing at the screen to a movie they have not seen yet. Case in point, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016) a film that audiences came in hating from day one. Again, I decided to give the film a fighting chance, to prove itself to me. How was it?

The premise for Batman vs. Superman is that the world now sees Superman as more of a threat than a protector. His fight with general Zod in Man of Steel (2013) caused many deaths, and so now people don’t trust him, in fact, they’re thinking that if something should push him off the deep end someday, he might actually make the entire planet disappear! Lex Luthor is one of these people who sees Superman as a threat, so he orchestrates a way to get Batman and Superman to fight, so that Batman can kill Superman and therefore wipe the threat from Luthor’s mind. Will Batman have what it takes to go up against the Son of Krypton?

Now if you ask me, all the hatred comes simply because its cool to hate a big budget movie that stars Ben Affleck, an actor whose career seemed to be in an inevitable downward spiral after he starred in a string of bad movies like Daredevil (2003) and Gigli (2003). But that was all left behind when he vindicated himself by directing and winning a couple of Oscars for Argo (2012), suddenly he was on the proverbial comeback. Gigli was finally left behind in the dust like some long lost fuzzy memory. But apparently, people still associate Affleck with failure, because his casting as Batman is one of the many things that people immediately draw upon to bad mouth Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016). Good thing about Affleck is that he’s resilient, he hasn’t given up. He figures it’s all about making good movies, good scripts and good solid performances, which is exactly what he’s been sticking to lately, and its worked. To me he has more than demonstrated he’s a good writer/director/actor, a multi talented individual. And he’s awesome as Batman in my book, in fact, I personally dig his Batman more than Christian Bales, who always seemed kind of like a half crazed Batman. Affleck’s plays him more like a cool, calculated businessman.

The film itself is a balanced film, many say that it’s all over the place because they are giving us hints to bigger storylines, but this complaint falls flat when we take in consideration that Marvel has been doing the exact same thing in their movies for years and nobody seemed to complaint then. DC/Warner Brothers is simply applying that successful cliffhanger formula to their movies, what’s the big deal? Is there a double standard with using this formula? Its okay for Marvel to do it, but not for DC? I frown upon that and say that it’s cool that DC movies are giving us small glimpses of things to come within their cinematic universe, which in my book is vast and unexplored. I don’t feel this movie was cluttered, it's Batman vs. Superman and the set up that leads up to that. That we get glimpses of future movies is simply icing on the cake and you fan boys out there know it. I know it, because I felt the wave of awe when the geeks (myself included) got a glimpse of these visages of the future. People actually cheered and clapped when Wonder Woman first appears! So naysayers, don’t hate this movie for hates sake. What are the so called “flaws” that people keep talking about? I had a blast with this movie!

It’s both a Superman film and a Batman film, both get equal screen time, both get explored. I mention this because I also heard complaints that the film is more about Batman than Superman, but I do not agree with these comments either, in my book both characters get the exposition they deserve. Superman is seen as more of a threat than a savior! When had we seen that storyline played out in a Superman movie? Never! Superman is seen as a god like figure, who can either be our benefactor or totally annihilate us if he chose to, a concept explored by Alan Moore and Zack Snyder through the character of Dr. Manhattan in Watchmen (2009). So in a way, this is Zack Snyder revisiting some concepts he’d explored before. Actually, this whole idea of the superhero suddenly turning into a threat to humanity rather than a savior seems to be the hot ticket in Hollywood, Captain America: Civil War (2016) will apparently explore the same themes, with Captain American being seen as a threat to humanity, because of all the destruction he’s caused. Suddenly, Captain America: Civil War doesn’t seem so original. But whatever, something tells me that will be an awesome movie anyways.

Just so you know, what the writers behind Batman vs. Superman did was they took parts of Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns and mashed it up with parts of The Death of Superman storyline, primarily issue #75 of Superman. I kept seeing elements and images from both of these storylines popping up, so you might want to give those two story lines a look. Finally, I even liked Jesse Eisenberg as Lex Luthor, he was a formidable villain.  He has no super powers, but he knew exactly what buttons to push in order to get the ball rolling. Sure he’s maybe a bit to jokey, but that’s Eisenbergs own personal take on the character. I have a feeling we’ll see this villain evolve into a serious threat in the upcoming films. Finally, I’m looking forward to the growth of the DC cinematic universe. I had a blast with Batman vs. Superman, loved how its well balanced between having a good story, good exposition, and having a serious tone without forgetting about the exaggerated antics we’ve come to expect from a comic book movie. Naysayers are hating for hates sake, pay no mind to them and go see this fun slice of comic book cinema.

Rating: 4 out of 5   

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Director: Dan Trachtenberg

Cast: John Goodman, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Gallagher Jr.  

10 Cloverfield Lane is the kind of film that gets made without anybody knowing about it and then suddenly boom; there it is in theaters, completely taking you by surprise. Suddenly there’s a new film produced by J.J. Abrams that nobody knew a thing about! And it’s supposed to be intense and scary! Suddenly there’s a buzz about the movie. Could it be as good as everyone is saying? What is this mystery box that Abrams has suddenly thrown our way? While Abrams served as a producer for 10 Cloverfield Lane, this film was actually written and directed by a group of newcomers who are slowly working their way up to making bigger films. A small budget film like 10 Cloverfield Lane which was made with only 15 million dollars, can give up and coming writers and directors the opportunity to show they can handle a film with special effects while at the same time, showing they can squeeze a good, solid, convincing performance from their actors. Case in point, Dan Trachtenberg and Damien Chazelle are part of a new wave of filmmakers that’s popping up. They represent an entirely new generation of writers and directors and we get to see them take their first baby steps in the world of filmmaking. I went to the theater to find out if 10 Cloverfield Lane was worth all the hype its been getting. How was it?

The premise for this film is extremely simple, a woman who ends up in a car accident, wakes up in a bunker, beneath ground not knowing how she got there. Soon she discovers that a man rescued her and he claims there’s been some sort of attack. He says that the air outside the bunker is contaminated by toxic chemicals that will melt your skin off. Problem is the woman has no way of knowing if what the man claims is true or not. Is he a psycho who wants to lock her up and do nasty things to her? Or has there actually be some sort of attack that has contaminated the air?

10 Cloverfield Lane strives on intensity, paranoia and the performances delivered by the actors involved. In this sense, I say 10 Cloverfield Lane succeeds. This isn’t a film that rides on wowing us with computer effects or action; instead, it tries to genuinely creep us out with its situations, the way the characters react and with where your imagination can take you. This film effectively plays with what we don’t see. It makes us imagine the worst. I heard some people disappointed by the film because they thought it was going to be something else, they were maybe expecting a film centering on action and effects. Shows how deluded audiences are, I mean, come on, not everything has to be a constant barrage of computer effects! How about a slow burner that creeps up beneath your skin? How about you get into that? How about you just let a movie be what it is, without letting your expectations get in the way? Truth is, audiences are so dumbed down by commercial blockbuster films that this is all they’ve come to expect from movies. So when something a bit more minimalist comes along, they feel disappointed.

Point I’m trying to make is that 10 Cloverfield Lane is actually a gripping and intense movie that runs on performances, mainly that of John Goodman as Howard, the guy who seems to be kind of nuts, but maybe he’s on to something? The ambiguity with this character is fantastic, really dug that about Goodman’s performance and the way the character was written. Actually, it brought to mind another ambiguous ‘maybe he’s good, maybe he’s the devil’ type of character that John Goodman himself played in the Cohen Brothers Barton Fink (1991), in fact I’m sure that particular performance is why he was chosen for 10 Cloverfield Lane. The thing about Goodman is that he can play the sweetest characters, like Babe Ruth in The Babe (1991) or when he played Dan Conner in Roseanne, but when he goes dark, he can really deliver! On this one, he goes batshit insane and it’s convincing. I was also glad to see Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a film, I’ve always thought she’s underused in cinema, and here she is again delivering an awesome performance in a strong female lead.

10 Cloverfield Lane is not groundbreaking cinema by any standards; it is not a wholly original film. It plays with a familiar premise, that of a group of strangers kooked up in a claustrophobic environment while society disintegrates. The confined space they are in is a microcosm of society, we are them and they are us. For similar films watch Night of the Living Dead (1968), The Divide (2011), Cube (1997) or if you want to go further back, The War of the Worlds (1953). These kinds of films milk people’s fears of society breaking down, they explore the idea that we are our own worst enemies, or the idea that that someday we might all blow each other up. Though we don’t live under the intense nuclear paranoia that people from the 50’s or from the 80’s did, we do have North Korea threatening to press the button, so yeah, our collective fears do work themselves into this film and juice it for all its worth. In this way, science fiction films are again mirroring reality, as they have always done.

Rating: 3 out of 5   

Dan Trachtenberg directing his first feature film, 10 Cloverfield Lane (2016)

Friday, March 11, 2016

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970)

Director: Russ Meyer

Cast: Dolly Read, Cynthia Myers, Marcia McBroom, John Lazar

So wow, a film written by the late, great film critic Roger Ebert?! That’s not the strangest part about Beyond the Valley of the Dolls; the strangest part is that it’s such a violent, sexual film! You’d never guess a film of this nature would come from the mind of the mild mannered Roger Ebert, a man of such quiet demeanor! Yet it did and it’s amazing in my book. I mean, sure it’s what many would call “schlock” or in other terms a “cheap and inferior” film, yet I wouldn’t exactly categorize it as such. I mean, sure it’s got cheesy as hell lines like “you shall taste the black sperm of my vengeance” but dammit, that’s exactly why it’s so watchable! Some probably categorize this one as b-movie schlock because it’s extremely violent and the nudity, I won’t lie, is gratuitous, but then again, the world the film explores was probably that crazy. People probably did dance around naked in parties while doing LSD. Sadly, those who lived through it probably don’t remember enough to confirm it. Still, the whole crazy shebang makes for one trippy movie experience! So, what exactly is so crazy about this movie? What’s it all about?

First off, there was a film called Valley of the Dolls (1967), which is the story about the “rise and fall of three young ladies in show business”. This film was based on a book by author Jacqueline Susann. I’ve never seen that film so I can’t compare the two, but based on the success of that film, the studio wanted to do a sequel. Jacqueline Susann wrote a script which was rejected by the studio, but the contract gave the studio the rights to do their own sequel, so they gave that task to Ebert and Myer who went on to make Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970). Problem is that the resulting film repulsed Jacqueline Susanne so much that she asked 20th Century Fox to market the film as not being a sequel to Valley of the Dolls. This is why Beyond the Valley of the Dolls opens up with a disclaimer saying that it’s not a sequel to Valley of the Dolls, but that it deals with the same “often times nightmarish world of show business”. Nightmarish is the right term alright. Nightmarish indeed!

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, much like its predecessor also focuses on the rise to fame of three talented young ladies. The three start out like a small band, playing this trippy rock and roll, which to me sounded a lot like The Mommas and the Poppas. The girls end up exploding in the music scene and becoming ultra famous. They suddenly plunge head first into the crazy, drug fueled, sex crazed showbiz world of the sixties. While attending these crazy parties filled with famous stoned out of their minds people, they end up meeting this guy called Ronnie ‘Z-Man’ Barzell, a guy who knows everybody and loves the hippy scene. In fact, during a particularly trippy scene Ronnie says “This is my happening and it freaks me out!” which Mike Myers went on to quote in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery (1997). Suddenly I knew where a lot of Austin Powers came from. Aha! Mike Myers saw this movie for sure! So anyways, Ronnie Barzell ends up making these girls famous. Will they survive the wild and dirty world of showbiz, or will it suck their souls into oblivion?

I was actually blown away by this movie, which I went to see at a public screening; totally unaware of what was awaiting me. I’d never seen a Russ Myer film, so yeah; I popped my Russ Myer cherry with this one. Now I need to see the rest of his repertoire, including one of his most famous films Faster Pussy Cat! Kill! Kill! (1965). I read up a bit on Myers career, and he was seen as a “pornographer” by his detractors, though I think they were merely referring to the sexual and violent nature of his films which were risqué and sexy, but not true blue porn. More accurately, his films are what are commonly known as ‘sexploitation films’, more in line with the types of films that Jean Rollin used to do. This type of films were often times sexy, violent and often times kind of cartoonish. Myers did shoot some centerfolds for Playboy though and he was notoriously fascinated by big breasted women, which would explain all the nudity on Beyond the Valley of the Dolls.   

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls is truly a film of its time. It captures that crazy, hippy, drug infused trip that most people were on during that decade. A film like this one cannot be made today, at least not in any sort of commercial way. Not that this movie got it easy when it was first released, actually it was lambasted by critics and slapped with an “X-rating” by the MPAA! It does get pretty violent and gory towards its finale; I was actually kind of shocked at just how violent it got. Also, it plays with the controversial themes of homosexuality, bisexuality and promiscuous sex (read: orgies).The films main character ends up being a frustrated homosexual, which is why the film brought to mind The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975), a film that Beyond the Valley of the Dolls has some similarities with. Beyond the Valley of the Dolls went on to become a success for 20th Century Fox; it made 9 million on a 900,000.00 dollar budget. So X-rating or no, this one actually managed to become a money maker, which is probably why Ebert and Myer reunited once again for Beneath the Valley of the Ultra Vixens (1979), which I will be reviewing soon. I’m extremely curious where they went with that one. But as far as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls (1970) goes, I thought it was extremely entertaining and shocking, it even surprised me with this brilliant thing it did by showing us the whole ending of the film during the films opening credits. The visuals mean nothing to us during the credits. They seem like a bunch of crazy images that aren’t connected to one another. It’s not until we’ve seen the whole film and reach the ending that it hits you like a ton of bricks and it all makes sense! Then it’s like “oh wow!” That bit was brilliant! Highly recommend it if you are in the need of a trippy, sexy, violent film.

Rating: 4 out of 5  



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