Thursday, December 31, 2009

Happy New Year's Evil from Junta Juleil!

From the illustrious director of NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA. Enjoy your holiday.

Film Review: THE HURT LOCKER (2009, Kathryn Bigelow)

Stars: 4.8 of 5.
Running Time: 131 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Jeremy Renner, Anthony Mackie, Brian Geraghty, Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse, Evangeline Lilly, Christian Camargo (DEXTER, K-19: THE WIDOWMAKER).
Tag-line: "You'll know when you're in it."
Best one-liner: "That's a good one. That's spoken like a wild man. That's good."

Kathryn Bigelow has built a career out of making immersive, visceral action films that try to duplicate the experience of the first-person adrenaline rush, whether it be through skydiving (POINT BREAK), watching someone else's memories (STRANGE DAYS), the dangerous thrill of joining up with vampires (NEAR DARK), or a rookie cop's first harrowing day on the job (BLUE STEEL). And because her movies are largely balls-to-the-wall potboilers, she has often found herself critically denigrated as existing only in the shadow of her ex-husband, James Cameron. Well, with THE HURT LOCKER, it appears that Bigelow has made a film that satisfies the arthouse palate and the shoot 'em up enthusiast alike (and one which quite cleverly bridges this gap by never overtly waxing political).

The film focuses on a bomb squad whose entire existence is perpetually a hair's breadth away from instantaneous, explosive, 'internal organs flying through the air' death. The trio of actors who bring them to life are Jeremy Renner (who seems destined for stardom- and is the spitting image of a young Rainer Werner Fassbinder!),

Renner vs....

...young Fassbinder in LOVE IS COLDER THAN DEATH.

Anthony Mackie (THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE remake, 8 MILE), and Brian Geraghty (JARHEAD, ART SCHOOL CONFIDENTIAL). Their tangible camaraderie and incredible commitment bestow the narrative with a palpable spine. Renner's character embraces the raw power inherent in not giving a fuck about living or dying (see also: Terence Stamp in THE HIT), and it is a joy (albeit one on tenterhooks) to watch. The celebrity bit parts (Guy Pearce, Ralph Fiennes, David Morse) are notable because Bigelow doesn't give a shit that they're famous. They could deliver a few hilarious lines or they could die without fanfare and Bigelow is not going to kowtow to their fame by lingering. In fact, everything's handled with Jacques Becker-style restraint and attention to detail: the barracks mean boredom, faux-wood paneling, and cheap booze; the field means staring down the scope of a sniper rifle for three hours and taking a much-deserved sip of Capri Sun.

In short, it’s the best bomb disposal movie since THE SMALL BACK ROOM.

Side note: (And the best use of Ministry's music since that Labatt Maximum Ice HIGHLANDER 2 commercial with Michael Ironside back in '93.)

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Film Review: BLUE STEEL (1989, Kathryn Bigelow)

Stars: 3.9 of 5.
Running Time: 102 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Written by Eric Red (writer of THE HITCHER, NEAR DARK, BODY PARTS) and Kathryn Bigelow. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Clancy Brown (EXTREME PREJUDICE, HIGHLANDER, Kelvin on TV's LOST), Ron Silver (SILENT RAGE), Tom Sizemore, Louise Fletcher (ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, THE EXORCIST II), Richard Jenkins (THE VISITOR, BURN AFTER READING), Elizabeth Peña (JACOB'S LADDER, LONE STAR). Produced by Oliver Stone and Edward R. Pressman.
Tag-line: "For a rookie cop, there's one thing more dangerous than uncovering a killer's fantasy. Becoming it."
Best one-liner: "Hey man... DO I LOOK LIKE I'M FUCKING ORDERING TAKE OUT?"

If credulity is a rubber band, then BLUE STEEL stretches it all the way from Battery Park to Washington Heights. And that's okay. As in POINT BREAK, Kathryn Bigelow is more interested in a character study that involves deep immersion in the ‘first-person adrenaline rush’ than a realistic police procedural. The film drips with style- it's full of fetishistic close-ups of revolver chambers spinning and whirring in eye-popping slow-mo.

Shafts and beams of sunlight cut and slice through tableaus like a thousand hot knives through butter. It looks great.

The acting is first-rate, as well– Jamie Lee Curtis sells her hardass cop 110%.

Ron Silver, as the Wall Street psycho, sometimes goes over the top,

but he always remains connected to the role, even when bathing himself in a hooker's steaming blood.

Clancy Brown is at once severe, classy and affable. He's the kind of cop who, while keeping tabs on Jamie Lee Curtis, breaks into her apartment and helps himself to her corn chips.


Later, during a memorable confrontation with Silver, his steely-eyed gaze nearly bores a hole through the damn screen.

Ron Silver's intense stare: intense.

Clancy Brown's intense stare: DAMNED intense.

The always-talented Louise Fletcher (as Jamie Lee's mom), Richard Jenkins (as a skeezy lawyer), and Tom Sizemore (as himself):

are around for bit parts, too. Oliver Stone and Edward Pressman were co-producers on this film, and occasionally shifts in atmosphere remind one of WALL STREET or TALK RADIO.

Regardless, if there's a problem here, it's in the script. The deck hasn't been stacked this ludicrously since DIRTY HARRY. There's an abusive spouse subplot that is so hackneyed, it actually involves a can of beer getting popped open, followed by the line "Hey, she fell down the stairs!" The events that lead to Jamie Lee getting suspended and then earning her detective's badge within 5 minutes are appalling ("I don't like it, but we gotta give you your shield- I wish there was some other way"). Woww. But I kinda knew all this when I signed up for it, so… Nearly four stars is incredibly generous, but, hey, I'm a generous guy.

Side note: I would also cite this as a major influence on (or at least a point of departure for) Bret Easton Ellis' AMERICAN PSYCHO (1991) and the subsequent film.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Film Review: THE DELTA FORCE (1986, Menahem Golan)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 129 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Lee Marvin, Chuck Norris, Martin Balsam (DEATH WISH 3, PSYCHO), Susan Strasberg (THE MANITOU), Shelly Winters, George Kennedy, Robert Forster, Bo Svenson (INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, HEARTBREAK RIDGE), Kim Delaney (BODY PARTS, HUNTER'S BLOOD), Hanna Schygulla (THE MARRIAGE OF MARIA BRAUN), Joey Bishop (OCEAN'S ELEVEN, VALLEY OF THE DOLLS). Music by Alan Silvestri.
Tag-line: "They don't negotiate with terrorists... they blow them away!"
Best one-liner: "Sleep tight, sucker!"

As Paula Abdul and that cartoon cat so eloquently pontificated, 'opposites attract.' Here, we got Lee Marvin:

Anti-war. Voted for McGovern. Has a Purple Heart. Frequently drunk on set.

Then, Chuck Norris:

Further to the right than the Unabomber. Can spin-kick people in the mouth using techniques from 8 different disciplines. Openly secessionist.

Well, together, they're THE DELTA FORCE.

Well, them and about 40 other dudes, but none of them really matter, except for Steve James. They're coming together to put the hurt on some airliner-hijacking, eyeliner-wearing terrorists led by Robert "this is your new Captain speaking" Forster.

Forster (right) is a force of nature.

The whole thing is accompanied by music that can only be described as über-patriotic Bananarama, and is overseen by those Israeli gods of 80's genre filmmaking, Golan and Globus.

Clearly, they thought this was gonna be their AIRPORT, and it's filled to the brim with old Hollywood and international stars: priestly hardass George Kennedy (who, sadly, punches no one):

gruff pilot Bo Svenson, Holocaust survivor Martin Balsam and disaster movie staple Shelley Winters:

Fassbinder fave Hanna Schygulla:

How the hell did they get Hanna Schygulla in a Cannon Film?!

and Pentagon suit Robert Vaughn. The initial hijack is pretty brutal (women punched in the face, Jews rounded up, etc.),

and even the classic Cannon incompetence can't entirely diminish the horrific impact.
There's a lot of set-up, too- this movie runs over 2 hours at a time when the average Cannon actioner was 89 minutes. But when we get to the long-awaited asskicking, it's entirely worth it.

To protect America's honor, WATCH Lee shoot terrorists in their sleep! SEE Chuck shake his head in disappointment before blowing away extremist hordes! VIEW Chuck crumpling a Presidential decree, just because he can! GAZE upon the oddly homoerotic spectacle of Chuck shooting rockets of death from the rear end of his motorcycle!


(Chuck also reveals that he bought a belt for a buddy as a gift.)

It all ends with the delivery of some cold beers- "Hey, guys, Budweisers! There's more where that came from!" Amen.

Where'd they get those beers? Also see: NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA.

Four stars.

Side note: Pay attention to the 'official' dates and times listed for each location- you may just find some Golan/Globus whackiness (like a sunny day at 2 AM).

-Sean Gill

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Theater Review: A JOHN WATERS CHRISTMAS (2009, John Waters)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: Approx. 65 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: John Waters.
Best one-liner: "Let's talk about the Easter Bunny...I hate the fucker. What sex is the Easter Bunny? You know, you see the Easter Bunny in malls, not that many people do it. You can tell they don't even care, because they don't even clean the outfits, they have mold on them, they don't even send them to the cleaners. It's some poor woman, usually, another step backwards for feminism, because...the Easter Bunny is the ultimate bottom, really. And not a good bottom. Not a greedy bottom, not a bossy bottom, but an impotent, powerless bottom that no childhood hero could ever top. And Easter is an S&M holiday, anyway..."

I'm a Halloween guy. Thus, I'm pretty resistant to all things Christmas, and especially resistant to people who adore all things Christmas. My general stance on the holiday is that only Michael Ironside should be allowed to dress up as Santa and only Wham! should be allowed to release Christmas albums. (I would also permit Bruce Willis to release one, should he decide to revisit the whole RETURN OF BRUNO concept.) I suppose I also embrace the slew of action movies (TRANCERS, RENT-A-COP, LETHAL WEAPON, DIE HARD, KISS KISS BANG BANG, et al.) that use Christmas as a piffling backdrop for Gary Busey putting Mel Gibson in a headlock or Burt Reynolds using "Merry Christmas" as a one-liner or, shit, even William Powell drinking like forty-seven martinis and punching out his wife (ostensibly, in order to save her). Regardless, I shall now update my stance– John Waters is permitted to enjoy the holiday.

His kitschy selections of off-the-beaten-path carols (from Fat Daddy to Little Cindy to Alvin and the Chipmunks) have yielded a well-known compilation album entitled A JOHN WATERS CHRISTMAS. He has an accompanying monologue show as well, one that I had heard of, but had never been lucky enough to attend until this year. The man is endlessly entertaining and full of this lively, benevolently perverse energy- you can't help but to have a bemused grin on your face the instant he comes on stage- before he's even said anything. And as soon as he begins, hold on tight– he delivers a whirlwind of relentless anecdotes, wisecracks, ruminations, and obsessions- which, for me, rival (if not eclipse) canonical masters of the art form like Spalding Gray.

He recalls, as a child, how he wanted to sit on William Castle's lap instead of Santa Claus'; the juvenile thrill of breaking in and opening strangers' presents; his deviant zest for Alvin and the Chipmunks (including, but not limited to, him wearing Alvin's giant "A"-emblazoned hoody to a theater full of children attending a CHIPMUNKS screening); his extreme loathing of gift cards and the people who give them; his deep-rooted hatred of the Easter Bunny as a holiday mascot (see above); and his desire to have his own amusement park and freak show and 'abortion movie' film festival (he wants to wear costumes and shout out dialogue for 4 MONTHS, THREE WEEKS, AND 2 DAYS). He recounted fond memories of Divine; spoke of his hopes for a possibly upcoming HAIRSPRAY 2 and his own long-anticipated Christmas movie, FRUITCAKE; and made many obscure self-references to a crowd whom I doubt had even heard of, much less seen, films like MULTIPLE MANIACS or ROMAN CANDLES. In short, this thing is fantastic. (And I've hardly even scratched the surface.) Five stars.

The fact that John Waters is my new best bud did not cloud the judgment of this review.

-Sean Gill

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Film Review: CANE TOADS- A UNNATURAL HISTORY (1988, Mark Lewis)

Stars: 4 of 5.
Running Time: 47 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Directed by Mark Lewis (RAT, THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DOGS).
Tag-line: "The story of a bizarre biological blunder, warts and all!!"
Best one-liner: ""I still love the animal, and they give me a lot of enjoyment."

A whimsical look at humankind's hubristic, unavoidable folly, and notably Werner Herzog's favorite film. And it's easy to see why everybody's favorite whacked out Bavarian loves it so much: told in a style approximating early Errol Morris (like GATES OF HEAVEN or VERNON, FLORIDA) with a dab of Monty Python, the film certainly has a sense of humor, but never loses its interest in the humanity of its subjects. Whether we're hearing from a shadow-entrenched Cane Toad drug abuser:

a scientist with an axe to grind (a vendetta born from Cane Toads killing his beloved cat):

They killed his cat, and he is PISSED.

local yokels who possess love/hate relationships with the toads, or a researcher who simulates toad sex, the film clearly adores the hell out of its interviewees. Sure, the film may be smirking while they're on screen, but it's a gentle form of kidding, like between you and your favorite eccentric aunt. Or between Herzog and, say, everything contained within STROZEK.

The problem presented by the film began with human greed: beetle grubs were hindering the Australian sugar crop, so the Cane Toads were introduced from Hawaii to eat them. Unfortunately, as invasive species are wont to do; they multiplied exponentially, ravaged the ecosystem, and ate everything (from ping-pong balls to cute little mice) EXCEPT the Cane Beetles.

A Cane Toad eats a cute little mouse. What an asshole.

Furthermore, they're extremely poisonous and kill almost everything that tries to eat them, from stray dogs to birds of prey to that scientist's unfortunate cat. Nature: 1. Humans: 0.

But then the humans strike back (if you can call it that) with our own unpredictable nuttiness- staging Cane Toad tea parties, erecting monuments, feeding them cigarettes, and making them their companions. "I still love the animal, and they give me a lot of enjoyment," gently says an elderly man wearing a dingy wifebeater:

At several points in the film, there are dramatizations that could practically be outtakes from 1972's FROGS, which you've got to love.

Near the end of the film, a question of sorts is indirectly posed by the insane shit that is happening on screen: What's more perverse– the necrophiliac Cane Toad that humps away for eight hours, or the human who watches said humping, just to confirm that it lasted eight hours? Yes, this film shows nature to be vile, base, obscene, and deadly. ...But like Herzog, the film loves it anyway- against its better judgment. Four stars.

-Sean Gill

Special note: Supposedly, Mark Lewis has recently completed CANE TOADS 2: THE CONQUEST. Werner and I both eagerly anticipate its release.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Film Review: MY SON, MY SON, WHAT HAVE YE DONE? (2009, Werner Herzog)

Stars: 5 of 5.
Running Time: 93 minutes.
Notable Cast or Crew: Michael Shannon, Willem Dafoe, Brad Dourif, Grace Zabriskie, Udo Kier, Chloë Sevigny, Verne Troyer, Irma P. Hall. Presented by David Lynch. Shot by Peter Zeitlinger.
Tag-line: "The mystery isn't who... but why?"
Best one-liner: "Razzle... dazzle..."

You could say that this is a portrait of an obsessed, delusional figure; or, you could say this is a vehicle for Brad Dourif to talk about a behemoth (pronounced as "ba-hay-muth") chicken; and you'd be right on both counts. It's comedy, it's tragedy, it's Herzog. David Lynch is the executive producer, so there's been a lot of talk of "poor man's Lynch," and "weirdness for its own sake," and so on. Herzog has said that he and Lynch are kindred spirits: while their films to not 'speak' to one another exactly, they have 'danced' with one another. Lynch was instrumental to this project only so far as he paired director, producer, and casting- he had no creative input. In Lynch's honor, Herzog made an homage or two (a man on a treadmill has an oxygen mask), but before you mention 'Lynch's shadow,' know that Herzog was making movies about little people 20 years before TWIN PEAKS.

MY SON, MY SON... is a brilliant film, and one which is pure, unadulterated Werner.

The peculiarities of the film's characters do not exist as empty quirk, as some have criticized, they represent the victory of humanity in the face of nature's indifference.

Mental illness, misfiring synapses, bad chemicals- these are the base and vile weapons of a cruel universe. Madness is almost a rational retort to the insane stimuli served up by fate, God, the cosmos, whatever you want to call it. Owning a Razzle Dazzle mug, transforming your home into the flamingo and cactus-infused equivalent of Pee-Wee's Playhouse:

fixing up a vat of black Jell-O, seeing God in a tube of oatmeal:

abandoning a basketball in a tree:

these are humanity's ways, however twisted or trivial, of combating the impassivity: of leaving our mark on the world, no matter how insignificant it may seem. A man's schizophrenic notion (that the entire world is scrutinizing him) is transformed by Herzog into a meditation on interesting faces in a Peruvian marketplace. Peter Zeitlinger's (Herzog's primary DP since the 90's) camera roves and roams and dashes and flutters about this film like some twitterpated bird- it views the world through an innocent, excitable kino-eye.

And if BAD LIEUTENANT is Herzog's 'lizard' movie, then it must be said that MY SON, MY SON is for the birds- or should I say "dinosaurs in drag?" (a fact that Udo Kier learns quite unexpectedly when an ostrich schlerps on his spectacles).


Shannon and Uncle Ted (Brad Dourif) look on.

The performances are astounding, too- Michael Shannon's piercing frustration:

Grace Zabriskie's terrifyingly doting mother:

Willem Dafoe's considerate cop trying to put the pieces together:

Udo Kier's Euro-theater director who's having none of your sports analogies, and Dourif's grimy Uncle Ted ["The only thing Greeks know how to play with is each other's balls!"].

This is a magnificent film, and one that ends with an ambiguous image viewed first by who Herzog would call a "perpetual tourist" and then by who he'd call a "citizen of the world." This movie was made for the latter.

-Sean Gill

Friday, December 18, 2009

Ironside Week 1 Comes to a Close

If you're not an Ironside fan, I could say 'Thanks for bearing with all the Ironside this week,' but I won't, because that's not what Ironside would do. (I'll leave it up to your imagination what Ironside would do). In all seriousness, though, a fair warning that there's another one coming up- featuring films that he's had creative input on, films that are worse than the ones I've reviewed this week, and perhaps even a behind the scenes of TOTAL RECALL Ironside fanfic entitled, SEE YOU AT THE CAST PARTY, IRONSIDE. This will all probably coincide with Mr. Ironside's birthday on February 12th. Regardless–

Happy Holidays from Frederick Reginald (Michael) Ironside!