Monday, April 29, 2013

It! The Terror from Beyond Space (1958) Review

It! The Terror from Beyond Space poster
Director: Edward L. Cahn
Stars: Marshall Thompson, Shirley Patterson, Ann Doran
Genre: Science Fiction, Horror

It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a black-and-white Science Fiction Horror film straight from the Cold War Space Age. Directed by Edward L. Cahn whom may be remembered for his other work in the genre such as Invasion of the Saucer Men, Zombies of Mora Tau, and Invisible Invaders.

The story concerns a crew of astronauts who are returning to Earth but, much to their dismay, an Alien from Mars snuck onto their ship and it wants to kill them all.

The film is perhaps most notable for being, along with Planet of the Vampires, one of the primary influences on Ridley Scott's Alien. They share very similar concepts and plots. But It! The Terror from Beyond Space, though really the first of its kind in that it's essentially a monster movie on a spaceship, feels an awful lot like it's The Thing From Another World in space. And I'm sure the film took a lot of inspiration from the highly influential 1951 film.

The film does have a level of camp to it, but then again what 50s sci-fi film doesn't? It's camp appeal really only comes from it's dated special effects and scientific inaccuracies, but the film never really feels too cheesy. It's never overly unintentionally funny and it can actually be viewed and enjoyed as a serious piece of work. 

The special effects are as you may expect them to be from a low-budget 50s sci-fi monster movie. The monster/alien, whose design isn't anything special by the way, is obviously a man in a rubber suit, the spaceship looks like cardboard, etc, etc. But, like anyone who frequently views 50s films of the fantastical, you learn to get past all that.

The character development is minuscule, the acting is passable at best, the story goes very little further than its concept (i.e. alien on ship killing people), and there's a sort of romantic sub-plot going on that is so thin that you'll hardly notice it (which is a good thing, because romance has no business in a sci-fi horror). I thought it was kind of neat how the monster slowly worked his way up the spaceship (the ship is essentially a tube with rooms stack atop one another) until he had the crew trapped on the very top to make their last stand.

It! The Terror from Beyond Space alien monster

It's perhaps not as good as the film that inspired it (The Thing From Another World) nor as good as the film it inspired (Alien) but for anyone who enjoys 50s b-movies of this nature It! The Terror from Beyond Space is a pretty awesome film. 

3.5/5 stars

Purchase It! The Terror from Beyond Space on Amazon: DVD - VHS - Stream

Friday, April 26, 2013

Judo Saga (1943) Review

Judo Saga poster
Director: Akira Kurosawa
Stars: Susumu Fujita, Takashi Shimura
Genre: Martial Arts, Drama

Judo Saga, also known as Sugata Sanshiro, is a notable film for a few reasons. Firstly, it's Akira Kurosawa's directorial debut. If that isn't enough to make you want to watch it then I don't know what is. I will get into the other reasons of why this film is impressive though throughout the review.

The story follows Sanshiro, a student of the art of Judo, and the film essentially shows us his development as a person. He starts out very stubborn and foolish but, through time, he begins to change. He also kicks some ass while he's at it.

To me, Judo Saga is kind of like a proto-kung fu movie. It is indeed the first Japanese martial arts film about hand-to-hand combat ever made that I know of. Prior to Judo Saga there had really only been chambara films (samurai films) such as Buntaro Futagawa's Backward Flow and Orochi or Kenji Mizoguchi's The 47 Ronin, and of course Kurosawa himself would go on to make chambara classics such as Seven Samurai and Yojimbo. Judo Saga, as far as I can tell, is the first non-samurai Martial Arts film. It even has the clash of styles element in it (Jujitsu vs Judo) which many Kung Fu films would later also use in their stories when Kung Fu overtook Chambara in the 1970s.

To be fair, Judo Saga is much more rooted in the actual sport of Judo and martial arts. But there are a few street fights that are pretty dang awesome. The fighting is great, with guys getting tossed in the water and single men taking on numerous opponents. However, the actual "matches" are pretty boring. It really consists of guys just grabbing each other and throwing. The build-up to the final fight makes it all worth it, as you know that its coming and when it does come it's damn cool.

It's not about the fighting though, it's about the characters. Sanshiro is a very well crafted character. At all times you can really feel what he's feeling, whether it be shame, moral dilemma, or happiness. Even the villain Higaki is understandable in that he is the opposite of Sanshiro; Higaki is a man who is completely developed in his mind; he is sure of himself and sees no reason to change, whereas Sanshiro realizes his ignorance and is in the process of developing. It may seem like a very typical story in concept, but in its delivery it defies convention. This is almost entirely due to Kurosawa's pacing, structure, cuts, and cinematography. One need not look further than the film's first 10 or 15 minutes to see just how impressive this film is.

Sanshiro Judo Saga

Akira Kurosawa avoided so many of the mistakes that many debut directors do. Kurosawa knew just what he was doing and already in his first picture he displayed some of his filmmaking trademarks that he would end up using through his entire career. The wipe transitions, the story of learning, weather patterns reflecting character moods, and so forth are all things that can be seen in Kurosawa's films some twenty and thirty years later. Easily one of the greatest film debuts ever. Not only did Kurosawa know what he was doing behind the camera (he did work as an assistant director for a number of years, after all) but he also knew what he was doing before the project was even set in motion; he was so sure that this would make a good film that he tried to buy the rights to the novel it is based on before he even read it!

Judo Saga still

The film is beautifully shot, with stunning cinematography and imagery. The pacing and structure are impressive and the cuts are phenomenally effective. The one problem is that the film was cut by 17 minutes by the Japanese government during WWII. This, of course, upsets much of the film. Unfortunately the lost 17 minutes have never been recovered so we're left with a butchered film. I could only imagine how much better the film would prove to be with those 17 minutes back. It'd probably most definitely earn itself a higher rating.

Judo Saga fight

This is a must watch for any Kurosawa fan. It's also worth watching for any fan of early Japanese films, as it is a very impressive and, at the time, influential film. 

3/5 stars

Purchase Judo Saga on Amazon: DVD - VHS

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Chariots of the Gods (1970) Review

Chariots of the Gods poster
Director: Harold Reinl
Genre: Documentary

Chariots of the Gods is a documentary based on a book of the same name by Erich von Daniken. I really only watched this because I saw the cover art on Netflix and I thought it looked awesome and saw that it was from 1970 so I quickly clicked play. I was slightly disappointed when I realized it was a documentary (yes, I clicked play very fast) but I ended up watching the whole thing.

The documentary, like the book, proposes a theory that aliens set foot on Earth in ancient times thus effecting the course in which our societal evolution took. So, yeah, it's like Ancient Aliens (in fact, Daniken was actually on Ancient Aliens once).

It's interesting to see an ancient astronaut theory from over forty years ago, one of the earliest I suspect. I've never really gotten into the ancient astronaut theory but it's definitely an interesting one. How much of what this documentary says is fact is something I can't comment on, being that I really don't care enough to do the necessary research, but some of the "facts" in here are obviously bullshit yet some are very stimulating. Plus, there's enough actual knowledge to be learned in here aside from that which deals with the theory, so it's won't be a complete waste.

One has to recognize going into this that it is indeed just a theory. Take it for what it is. Theories are great things and can be incredibly fun. They require both creativity and intelligence (most of them anyway) so again, take it for what it is: a theory.

The production values are pretty solid though there is a bit of late '60s aesthetic to it that slightly dates it. The stand-out part for me though is the soundtrack composed by Peter Thomas; it's oddly amazing. Check this out for the music alone if not for anything else.

ancient astronaut ship Chariots of the Gods

You'll find some value in this one if you know what you're getting in to and accept it for what it is. Recommended for those interested in the ancient astronaut theory.

2.5/5 stars

Purchase Chariots of the Gods on Amazon: DVD

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Cat and the Canary (1927) Review

The Cat and the Canary 1927 poster
Director: Paul Leni
Stars: Laura La Plante, Creighton Hale
Genre: Haunted House, Horror, Mystery, Comedy

The Cat and the Canary, directed by German expressionist director Paul Leni (Waxworks, The Man Who Laughs, The Last Warning), is an early Universal Horror film that perhaps influences the Haunted House genre more so than any other film.

A group of family members gather in the mansion of the deceased Cyrus West on the 20th anniversary of his death to read the will he left and see who will inherit his fortunes. But, with loose lunatics, ghosts, and murderers running about, the mansion quickly turns into a haunted house.

Not the first Haunted House film (Georges Melies' The Haunted Castle dates as far back as 1896) but certainly the most influential. It wrote the recipe that so many films of the genre would later follow, such as The Old Dark House (1932), House on Haunted Hill (1959), and not to mention the numerous remakes that this film saw.

This was Paul Leni's first American film, having previously only worked in Germany, primarily in the German Expressionism genre with his most notable work being 1924's Waxworks. You can certainly see the German Expressionist influence here; there's great use of shadows and lighting, dazzling sets, awesome imagery, and some very imaginative camerawork. Towards the beginning of the film there are some creeping dolly shots that push you around the mansion and even a wonderfully effective POV shot of the killer (mind you this is more than 40 years before POV shots were a staple in horror films; perhaps this was an influence on the gialli and slashers of the 70s and 80s which came to use the technique so frequently).

The great imagery and impressive camera angles and movements and set design and scene set-ups all work together to build a spooky atmosphere. Compliments to Paul Leni for his fine directing and to Gilbert Warrenton for his excellent cinematography work. And I shan't forget the wonderful score composed by Hugo Riesenfeld (The Hunchback of Notre Dame, Sunrise, Tabu, White Zombie) which not only compliments the film well but is an impressive work of musical composition in itself.

The Cat and the Canary 1927 lunatic

It should be noted that the film has some fairly heavy comedic elements as well. After all, it was adapted from a black comedy play written by John Willard. It's not exactly a hilarious film but the comedy works well, I think. It never obstructs the horror elements or spoils the atmosphere; it rather gives the film a freshness to it, an extra dimension if you will. Plus it makes the characters seem real. A fine example of an early Horror Comedy, a breed that was more prominent than you may think in the 1920s.

The Cat and the Canary 1927 legs under bed

The film also makes interesting use of its intertitles. Rather than having the intertitles merely inform you what the characters are saying they become more a part of the film and do good to represent the emotions of the scene. You'll see the text jump out at you and cover the whole screen or the text will slowly crawl across the screen as if in a whisper and some other pretty cool things like that. Very creative.

One complaint is that the film seems to drag a bit towards the end. The first half is definitely the superior when compared to the second and, though the film isn't long (82 mins.) it could of perhaps been a bit shorter.

The Cat and the Canary 1927 hand

All in all though it's a fine film that's stylish and atmospheric. A must watch for any fans of Universal horror, German Expressionism, or Haunted House films. 

4/5 stars

Purchase The Cat and the Canary on Amazon: DVD - Stream

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Evil Dead (2013) Review

Evil Dead 2013 remake poster
Director: Fede Alvarez
Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci
Genre: Horror, Splatter

Not so much a remake as it is a reimagining/reboot of the 1981 splatter horror classic The Evil Dead, this time with a different director and cast and a much bigger budget. But can it live up to the cult original?

The story is a bit tweaked from the original's plot, but the main concept is still there: a bunch of kids stuck in a cabin in the middle of nowhere with some evil demons. This time we have a girl, Mia, who is taken into the woods by her brother and her friends in order for her to rid herself of her heroin addiction cold turkey. Of course, in time, they're pretty much all possessed into demons.

The idea of having a heroin addict as the main character (played quite well by Jane Levy) was an interesting one. Unfortunately it wasn't used to full effect. It allowed the potential for the main character (Mia) to be pitted against the rest of the characters, thinking that her stories of demons and evil trees were nothing more than a ploy for her to be taken home, back to her heroin addiction. This was utilized to an extent but could have been a bit more prominent. It was nice for the few minutes it lasted though.

It also allowed for the characters to, at first, wave off her crazy stories and weird attitude as just the symptoms of drug withdrawal and not, as they later realized, demonic possession.

I'm also glad that the film didn't try and tie in any blatant anti-drug messages. They merely portrayed the symptoms of drug-use and withdrawal but they never really became preachy about the issue. In fact they made the heroin addict into a hero, something that is not seen often.

Then there is my personal theory that the whole film is a film about drug addiction and overcoming a drug problem. Mia goes to a cabin to quit heroin cold turkey and in the process she feels the intense pains of withdrawal (perhaps represented in the self-mutilation she partakes in as a demon), she feels as if she is dying and losing control and as if every one is against her (she becomes possessed and tries to kill her friends), and then, [spoilers here] after much suffering and hardship she is cured from her addiction (reverted from demon form, the possession representing the evil she went to the cabin to get rid of) and is a new person (the fire and her burial representing her cleansing). She confronts her inner demons (quite literally) head on and overcomes them (Mia fighting the Abomination Mia at the end). Plus there seems to be the motif of needles and syringes throughout the film. It's just a theory.

Evil Dead 2013 cabin

The acting in this film ranges from awful to quite bad, with the only exception being Jane Levy. If it wasn't for Jane Levy this film would be much worse. I'd go so far as to say that she almost carried the entire film. I'm not so much referring to her as Mia in human form, which is solidly acted though a pretty mediocre character, but rather to Mia in deadite form. Deadite Mia is pretty fucking awesome. She's wonderfully creepy, twisted, explicit, crude, and actually kind of hilarious. This film pretty much consists of scenes with Deadite Mia and then some other stuff in between.

It was a smart move to cast a woman as the main character. No male actor could have upstaged Bruce Campbell (even though Bruce didn't really develop his persona until the sequels) and trying to do so would have been to no avail. Casting a woman immediately prevents comparison between the two.

Deadite Mia Jane Levy Evil Dead

The rest of the cast however does a very poor job and their characters are just awful. They are as stereotypical as can be and not likable in any way. There is of course the jock, the stoner, the smart girl, and the dumb girlfriend. So, yeah, it's pretty much the entire Scooby gang. They all suck. And their introductions are just terrible. The first twenty to thirty minutes of this film is some of the worst I've ever had to sit through.

I understand that the film has to introduce its characters somehow so it can get on with the film, but holy crap it was done terribly. Expect to hear things like "That's what big brothers are for" to inform you that he is indeed her brother or clever career information like "I'm a nurse" or my favorite "And there's Eric over there" even though all the character were supposed to already know each other. Even the dog had a cheesy introduction...and his name was Grandpa (I'll admit that I chuckled at the thought of their grandfather being a dog).

Of course the original Evil Dead was pretty poorly acted as well and didn't exactly have the greatest character development. But here's the difference: the original Evil Dead was a film made by a couple of kids in the woods with a small budget. The remake to Evil Dead was made with a large crew and an absurdly large budget. At least the original Evil Dead made sure to get to the point of the film quickly and to not even attempt any form of back story or other nonsense that is irrelevant to the film.

Evil Dead remake necronomicon

The Evil Dead series is noted by fans for it's blending of Horror and Comedy, more so in the second and third installments but even the first one had a fantastic level of subtle, though never unintentional, humor. This remake kind of seems to have forgotten the humor. There is a certain level of Black Comedy, sure, and at times the film feels like it's fairly self-conscious of itself, but it misses the Evil Dead humor almost completely. The humor in here consists of ugly looking demons shouting obscenities. That's it. A demon shouting "Let me suck your cock, pretty boy" or "Kiss me, you dirty cunt" has its charm and is funny in its way but for that to be the sole source of humor is extremely cheap and lacks any sense of subtlety or wit. 

Not to mention that nearly all the film's humor relies on Deadite Mia. I'm not even exaggerating. Almost all the film's humor comes from her. Another reason why this film would be much worse without Jane Levy's impressive performance.

Evil Dead 2013 deadite

Then, opposite to the comedic elements, is the over-sentimentality, nearly to the point of melodrama. Why did they try to set up back stories for the characters? Wasn't them being there to help their heroin-addicted friend enough? In the original Evil Dead we didn't even know why those kids went to that cabin yet it still worked out better than it did in this remake. The brother-sister relationship is riddled with so much over-sentimentality that it nearly ruins the entire film. It's so cheesy, it's so unbelievable, it's so unnecessary. 

The original Evil Dead did have a bit of sentimentality, I'll admit as much, but it was nowhere near as overdone as it is here. Ash made some stupid decisions because he felt deeply for his girlfriend but he still pushed through and got the job done. The fucking brother in this movie is the most overly sentimental, dramatic asshole I have ever seen and it gets to the point where you not only hate him as a character but you hate that his over-sentimentality affects the film's plot in such a major way. It's annoying and unbelievable. I really hate that guy.

Evil Dead 2013 brother with chainsaw

The film took itself too serious. It tried to give too much back story to poorly written characters. It added way too much sentimentality to the brother and sister characters. These three things are the three main reasons this film isn't nearly as good as it could of been. 

The film's special effects, on the other hand, were pretty excellent. It really is the natural evolution/modernization of the gore from the first film. It's more violent, bloodier, and gruesome than anything else in the series. It's not quite torture porn (though at times it may come very close) but it's a Splatter film no doubt. Which is good. Right? Well, yes and no. Great, over-the-top gore is fantastic, it's what gave the original Evil Dead movies much of their appeal. This remake has great gore effects, but it relies on them too heavily. This film is really just a gorefest and nothing more. It doesn't try to scare you, instead it just tries to shock you and gross you out...a tired attempt in the horror genre. The original Evil Dead, more so than even the second one, creates a fantastic unsettling and claustrophobic atmosphere and was actual kind of creepy at times and, in addition, had some awesome gore. This remake doesn't do that; it's creepy at times and occasionally acts like it's creating some sort of atmosphere but in the end it's all-gore-no-substance. 

Evil Dead 2013 gore

Don't get me wrong, Evil Dead was never a psychological horror--it's a Splatter film first and always should be--but still, to rely completely on gore and effects and gross-outs and even the petty jump scares is pretty cheap.

Also, the film claims that no CGI was used (except for some touching up, wire removal, etc.) which is an admirable thing, but I'm calling bullshit. Yes, most of the effects were obviously practical and very impressive but a few parts looked very obviously CGI. I'm just saying.

Oh, and there is some tree rape in here. Is it as awesome as the original tree rape? It's arguable, but I'd say no.

Evil Dead 2013 remake tree rape

The camerawork is, for the most part, lackluster. The signature Evil Dead swooping shots through the woods are enjoyable, though used much less effectively compared to the original. At times the camera does well to capture some nice imagery, and the beginning of the film features some nice landscape shots, but everything is, as I said, mostly lackluster. Gone are the claustrophobic angles and the impressive movements and the well timed close-ups and in their place are things like rapid cuts during action scenes: the biggest convention of modern cinema. Sam Raimi had some amateur camerawork in his Evil Dead, but this film has amateur camerawork without any ambition. It plays it completely safe. 

Indeed the entire film plays it safe. Don't let the gore fool you, this is a very safe horror film and is just as conventional as many of the other horror remakes being released nowadays. It's not a snarky satire, not a hilarious parody, it's not even a good homage. At least last year's (slightly overrated) The Cabin in the Woods was a bit more daring in their approach, and the fact that The Cabin in the Woods was a better Horror Comedy, a better parody, a better satire, and quite frankly a better film than this Evil Dead remake is extremely disappointing.

The score is actually pretty impressive and is something I could definitely imagine listening to and enjoying as a standalone experience. Unfortunately the score, though well composed, is utilized all wrong. The music is placed in all the places you expect it to be placed. Scary music goes here to make the scene scary, sentimental music goes here to stress the dramatic nature of the scene, uplifting music goes here to create a sense of victory, etc. Like the film as a whole it's all very conventional, uninspired and cheap. I will say that the film does have a few moments that make solid use of silence, but when you see how silence was used in the original Evil Dead you realize the missed potential.

Evil Dead remake saw

The original Evil Dead was made by some kids who went out into the woods with a small budget and made a great film under tough conditions. It didn't follow the conventions of its time; they could of easily made a slasher film, which was all the rage in the 80s, and would've probably had a much more easier time pitching it to production companies and securing finances and selling tickets. But that's not the film that we got. We got a crazy Comedy Horror Splatter film with ambitious camerawork, surprisingly impressive special effects, and overall just a pretty damn awesome horror flick. These young filmmakers with their small budget broke many of the conventions of their time and made a huge mark on the horror genre.

This remake was made by a large crew with semi-experienced actors and a budget that exceeded 17 million dollars. It breaks not a single convention and is ambitious in no way at all. It follows nothing but the trends of its time and will leave no mark on the genre but rather an unpleasant stain.

2/5 stars

Purchase Evil Dead on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD

Monday, April 15, 2013

The General (1926) Review

Keaton's The General poster
Director: Buster Keaton
Stars: Buster Keaton, Marion Mack
Genre: Action Adventure, Comedy

Widely considered to be one of Keaton's best, if not his best, by many fans. Quite ironic being that at the time of its release it received poor reviews and was a complete failure at the box office. This film is actually the main reason Keaton's career was ruined; because of this film's failure he was forced to move to MGM where he lost nearly all of his creative control and only made lackluster comedies from then on. In fact for a long time the only person who would have called The General Keaton's best film was Keaton himself; a statement he believed true and stuck with till the day he died. 

But now The General is seen by the majority to be Buster Keaton's best, or at least one of. Orson Welles (director of Citizen Kane, which is largely considered to be the greatest film ever made and the first masterpiece of cinema) has been quoted as saying that The General is "the greatest comedy ever made, the greatest Civil War film ever made, and perhaps the greatest film ever made." Film critic Roger Ebert lists it in his top ten films of all time, along with countless other cinema buffs and it's been on countless lists of greatest films of the silent era. So why is it that this film went from failure to success in the eyes of the public? 

I think one thing that may have plagued this film at the time, and still, to an extent, to this day, was that The General, in defiance of Buster Keaton's reputation, isn't really a comedy. Keaton was known for making Romantic Slapstick Comedies, and sure, The General has plenty of slapstick and comedic and even romantic elements, and it follows the same plot of boy-overcoming-obstacles-to-win-girl that nearly every other Keaton film followed, but, I think, The General is, and was indeed intended to be, more of an Action Adventure picture. And if you view it as an Action Adventure film with comedic elements rather than a straight Comedy with adventure elements I think the film becomes much better. Because let's face it, when you compare The General to Sherlock, Jr. you realize that when it comes to laughs The General is severely lacking. The General is perhaps Keaton's best produced and shot and structured film but his funniest? Absolutely not. 

Buster Keaton train The General

The General is a good film but I wouldn't call it one of my favorites from Keaton. It's shot very well and has some excellent cinematography; the lenses capture some truly beautiful images. The plot is, as I said, a typical one for Keaton, but it works here perhaps better than in any of his other films. Sure, the female Keaton is trying to save is nearly the complete opposite of likable, and yes the film forces you to root for a Confederate soldier, but this is still probably Keaton's most engaging film. The plot actually feels like it progresses here. It feels, as it should, more like the film is taking you on an actual adventure. It is, for lack of a better word, perhaps Keaton's most filmish film. Whereas Sherlock, Jr. was non-stop comedy with laugh after laugh, The General is non-stop action with awesome scene after awesome scene. You may not be laughing the whole way through but you certainly won't be bored. 

Above all I wouldn't call this one of my favorite Keaton films because when I think of Keaton I think of non-stop laughs and The General just doesn't achieve that. It has its funny moments and Keaton is still a pleasure to watch regardless, but I didn't want a Buster Keaton Action Adventure and I don't think anyone at the time did either. Looking back on it we can see it as a great Adventure film with some fabulous Action scenes and superb production values but it'll never be my favorite Keaton as it seems to be for so many people. 

Buster Keaton in The General

An Action Adventure first, a Slapstick Comedy second, a great film overall, and a largely enjoyable one at that. Essential Keaton. Just barely short of a 4/5. 

3.5/5 stars

Purchase The General on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

Friday, April 12, 2013

Siegfried's Death (1924) Review

Siegfried's Death 1924 poster
Director: Fritz Lang
Stars: Paul Richter, Hanna Ralph
Genre: Fantasy, Drama, German Expressionism

Directed by Fritz Lang (Metropolis, The Big Heat, M, Destiny) during his expressionist period in the silent era, Siegfried's Death is part one of Lang's two part fantasy epic known as Die Nibelungen (The Nibelungs), the second part being Kriemhild's Revenge.

It's a story about a great warrior Siegfried who travels far to marry a beautiful woman, the sister of King Gunther. After doing a few favors for King Gunther he marries his sister and becomes close friends with the King. But, as you may of guessed, things start to go wrong for just about everyone.

I'll start off by saying that if Fritz Lang's Metropolis was the 2001: A Space Odyssey of the silent era, then Fritz Lang's Die Nibelungen is certainly The Lord of the Rings of it. It's quite the epic fantasy. The highlight of the action is definitely towards the beginning when Siegfried slays a fire-breathing dragon. May I remind you this was made in 1924? It's awesome though and the visual effects in this film are quite stunning, and captured by some great cinematography I may add. 

Unfortunately towards the middle the film slows down. And let me remind you that this is a two and a half hour film so the middle is pretty damn long. It gets a bit boring and slow-paced and it definitely drags at parts compared to its great opening. It's not so bad, it has its moments, but I think it could of definitely benefited from being shortened or by adding a bit more action to it. Because as it is now it's largely a medieval melodrama. Not a bad medieval melodrama mind you, but still, who wants melodrama when you can have fantasy action?

Siegfried's Death 1924Siegfried's Death 1924 dragon

It's an impressive film technically and an enjoyable film sometimes. Of course Fritz Lang's directing is stellar, and its German Expressionist qualities certainly bring the film to life, but it is a very slow and tedious film that can put some to sleep if you're not prepared for it.

3.5/5 stars

Purchase Siegfried's Death on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Fritz Lang Collection - VHS

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Enter the Dragon (1973) Review

Enter the Dragon poster
Director: Robert Clouse
Stars: Bruce Lee, John Saxon, Jim Kelly
Genre: Kung Fu, Spy

Enter the Dragon is the film that solidified Bruce Lee's international fame and it is by far his most well-known film (at least outside of China). It also marks the first time that a Chinese film studio (Golden Harvest) and a Hollywood film studio (Warner Bros.) collaborated in making a film. A very important film in that in further drove the kung fu craze of the 70s...the craze which Lee had started in the first place.

The plot involves Bruce Lee's character entering an island tournament held by an evil Han as a spy to try and bring Han to justice. That's about all you need to know to figure out how the rest goes.

The plot is much more English than any Bruce Lee film before it. Which makes sense being that it is, after all, an American-English film. The story is reminiscent of many English spy thrillers. A sort of mix between James Bond and Fu Manchu.

Luckily Enter the Dragon isn't just a silly Hollywood cash-in on a kung fu fad. Bruce Lee wouldn't let that happen. Bruce Lee himself heavily revised the script and he even wrote and directed the opening sequence of the film. Lee said that he wanted to make it more than just another action film.

That being said, it's still not a product fully of Bruce Lee (like Way of the Dragon was or the unfinished Game of Death would have been). Bruce Lee manages to sneak his own philosophies and beliefs in there though to, like he said, make it more than just another action film. 

The opening sequence gives a great sense of Lee's own philosophy (which makes sense being that he wrote and directed the opening, and is probably my favorite scene of the film). And of course this great scene. Then there's little things like Lee's character's refusal to wear a uniform (reflecting Lee's own revolt against styles and traditions). The scene where Lee tells the man on the boat that his style is "Fighting without fighting" and then tricks him into a smaller boat is actually based on a famous anecdote involving 16th century samurai Tsukahara Bokuden. Bruce Lee was very much like a modern Bokuden in that they both preferred an adaptive style; Bokuden himself calling his sword-fighting style the Style of No-Sword.

Bruce Lee in Enter the Dragon opening

The cast in Enter the Dragon is great. You got to love the super fly Jim Kelly and the high-roller John Saxon. Both did excellent jobs. Robert Wall returns from Way of the Dragon and plays a great unsporting goon. Many of the stuntmen were of the Seven Little Fortunes troupe, including Sammo Hung and Jackie Chan.

Bruce Lee and John Saxon in Enter the Dragon

The film could of benefited from some more and some cooler fight scenes. There's not too much in the way of choreography that I'd call memorable. Of course everyone will remember the great mirror scene (taken from The Lady From Shanghai and later used in The Man With the Golden Gun).

Lalo Schifrin's score is also superb. 

Bruce Lee mirror scene Enter the Dragon

Many people's favorite Bruce Lee film. I'd personally go with Way of the Dragon but this is a great one as well. Bruce certainly saved it from being another mindless action flick. 

3.5/5 stars

Purchase Enter the Dragon on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Stream

Monday, April 8, 2013

The Way of the Dragon (1972) Review

Bruce Lee's The Way of the Dragon poster
Director: Bruce Lee
Stars: Bruce Lee, Chuck Norris, Nora Miao, Bob Wall
Genre: Kung Fu, Comedy

Way of the Dragon, released as Return of the Dragon in the United States, is Bruce Lee's third film right after The Big Boss and Fist of Fury, and is the only film Lee has ever directed himself and is, in my opinion, some of his finest work of his career in film.

Unlike Bruce Lee's previous films Way of the Dragon takes place completely outside of China and instead is set in Rome. Tang Lung (Lee) is sent there to help a family friend and their restaurant which is being targeted by local thugs. The local gang will do anything they can to have the restaurant shut down, including hiring a martial arts master from America named Colt (Norris) to take out Tang Lung.

The plot is standard and conventional and follows little logic, but Bruce Lee never was known for his script writing abilities. Along with writing Lee tried his hand at directing this time around as well, and does a well enough job. He definitely gets the job done and captures all the film's awesomeness. What really counts is the fighting, but I'll get to that later.

Way of the Dragon definitely has much more comedic elements present than any other Lee film...especially towards the beginning. Sometimes the humor works really well and sometimes it fails completely. While seeing a Martial Arts master constantly having to go poop (along with funny music playing every time he asks where the toilet is) is amusing, it just doesn't feel right in here. And then there's the scene early on where Bruce Lee has a brief detour with a prostitute...but the scene wasn't at all funny and it served no purpose was just there.

Some of the humor works really well though. A thug hitting himself in the head with nunchucks is hilarious, the gay mafia guy worked well, and even some of the dialogue is very funny. I'd say that all in all the humor worked well more than it worked bad, it's just a shame that they didn't know their limits. The humor though gives the film a sort of self-aware nature, but I will say that they made good use of their very small budget. 

Bruce Lee with nunchucks in Way of the Dragon

The second half of the film is when things get real though. All jokes are set aside and the fists come out. Bruce Lee was at the top of his game in this film. His fighting was top notch and his body was incredibly toned (which he doesn't hesitate to show off). In the beginning of the film we're constantly teased; we think we're about to get to see Bruce Lee kick some ass but it is repeatedly delayed to the point where I was just dying to see Bruce Lee punch something, which made it all the more rewarding when he finally did. And boy does he!

Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon

Bruce Lee kicks so much goddamn ass in this film it is glorious. From street fights with a dozen thugs to intense duels with terrifying opponents. In Fist of Fury we got to see Bruce Lee go up against a katana, in this one we get to see how well he fares against guns (he fares well, obviously, and awesomely). All the fighting is choreographed very well, and the final fight scene against Chuck Norris is perhaps Bruce Lee's best ever (though I'd probably give that honor to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game of Death).

Speaking of Chuck Norris, he's great in here as well and was definitely a worthy opponent for Bruce Lee. Any fans of Chuck Norris: you have this film to that for starting his acting career.

I must also compliment Lee's directing in many of the fight scenes, especially the last one. There's some great location shots and the Colosseum was a great spot to have the last fight. The creepy voice echoing in the empty arena and even the cat are nice touches. Bruce Lee is such a fast fighter, and part of the charm is watching his speed on camera, but the film made sparing though incredibly perfect use of slow-motion that's added at just the right parts to add to the intensity. 

Bruce Lee vs Chuck Norris in Way of the Dragon

I criticized the writing before but some things were handled very well. There's a twist that adds a bit more depth to the film. And perhaps what I thought was done best was how they made Bruce Lee's character someone with emotion, but they didn't achieve this through boring drama or misplaced romantic sub-plots, they did it just by the way he reacted to things. After he beats Chuck Norris you can tell just by his face and the way he walks away (and then further when he covers Norris' face) that he's not just a emotionless killing machine; he has morals and feelings and him displaying that in turn makes you question certain morals. And again, achieving all that without any boring drama, making a kung fu ass kicker have some depth to him, is very impressive.

Bruce Lee in Way of the Dragon

The Way of the Dragon is my favorite Bruce Lee film by far. Despite a somewhat bumpy start the film manages to include some well-done humor, some interesting characters, and a final fight scene that is easily one of the best, most memorable fights of all-time.

4/5 stars

Purchase The Way of the Dragon on Amazon: Blu-Ray - DVD - Bruce Lee Collection

Friday, April 5, 2013

Mister Lonely (2007) Review

Mister Lonely poster
Director: Harmony Korine
Stars: Diego Luna, Samantha Morton, Denis Lavant
Genre: Drama

Oddly enough this film about flying nuns and a commune of celebrity impersonators is director Harmony Korine's most conventional film to date. 

It's a film about a Marilyn Monroe impersonator who meets a Michael Jackson impersonator and invites him to come live at her commune for impersonators, among which are her abusive husband Charlie Chaplin, Abraham Lincoln, Little Red Riding Hood, James Dean, The Three Stooges, the Queen, the Pope, Madonna, and so on and so forth. 

The impersonations are done pretty well; charmingly well I'd even say. You do have to keep in mind here though that the actors are not playing celebrities, the actors are playing impersonators playing celebrities. Which makes any unfaithfulness forgivable. I'd like to say though that I think the performances in this film gave the celebrities even more depth and emotion than the real celebrities' public personas do. Nonetheless the performances were good. Especially Samantha Morton and Denis Lavant. 

The problem with Mister Lonely is that once the novelty of watching Abraham Lincoln curse at The Three Stooges or The Three Stooges shooting sheep with shotguns or Charlie Chaplin fingering Marilyn Monroe or Buckwheat giving the Pope a bath or hearing Little Red Riding Hood sing the incredibly dark "The Maid Freed from the Gallows" wears off there really isn't much more to this film. Imagine what this film would be if it had been regular people instead of celebrity impersonators. It's nearly complete novelty. Very early in the film we realize the film will probably go one of two ways: (spoilers) Either Marilyn Monroe will finally leave an abusive Charlie Chaplin and fall in love with Michael Jackson, or the Michael Jackson impersonator will realize he's not being true to himself and stop impersonating and live a "normal" life. Just because the film defies the former choice by having Marilyn Monroe hang herself doesn't mean it's defying convention because it still uses the equally stereotypical "Be Yourself" ending. It's telling an old story with an overused moral that has been done many times much better. But that's only the film's first plotline; it has but a second as well. 

Celebrity impersonators in Mister Lonely

The second, much more minor, plotline going on is about a nun who falls out of a plane (spoilers) and survives. Then more and more nuns begin jumping out of planes without parachutes, as they believe that if you truly believe in God you will not die. This actually works for them. Due to these miracles the nuns are invited to the Vatican. On their way to the Vatican the plane they are flying in crashes and all the nuns die. This plotline is just fantastic. The film is worth watching for these few scenes alone. I must say watching nuns fall out of planes is quite satisfying. It's unfortunate that this is the severely more minor plotline of the film (although I'm not sure that it would have been able to carry an entire film on its own had it been the main one). 

Skydiving nuns in Mister Lonely

The film's soundtrack is also worth noting as exceptionally great, as should be expected from a film named after the fantastic Bobby Vinton song. 

It's an okay film, and if I didn't have a high standard for Korine's work it may have gotten a slightly higher rating. It's still better than most of the terrible films coming out, but still sadly a disappointment. Korine's directing and camerawork is impressive and the idea of pairing two plotlines, one very hopeful and the other incredibly bleak, was an interesting one but didn't really work out too fantastically. Not a bad film, but nothing special. 

Michael Jackson and Marilyn Monroe in Mister Lonely

Favorite line from the film: "Sometimes when I look at you, you seem more like Adolf Hitler than Charlie Chaplin."
also the whole Buckwheat part where he's talking about women and chickens is golden.

2.5/5 stars

Purchase Mister Lonely on Amazon: DVD - Stream
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