Showing posts from February, 2019

Year Of The Dragon (1985) ***1/2

Year Of The Dragon (1985) is a neo-noir crime drama revolving around Vietnam vet police captain Stanley White (Mickey Rourke), on a personal mission to expose and clean up the triads of NYC's Chinatown. Dragon plays out a bit like an 80s cop version of the The Godfather(1972) with Italians swapped out for Chinese mobsters (though Italian gangsters do play a part).

The fact that our central character is incredibly selfish, racist, and sexist, along with some of the portrayals of Chinese people, makes for a conflicting viewing experience but director Michael Cimino (along with co-writer Oliver Stone) also make an attempt to comment on xenophobia, American expansion by Chinese workers, and, in this viewer's eyes, certainly don't advocate Stanley's rampage.

For Stanley is one those guys whose fragile masculinity causes nothing but pain and suffering to those that care for him or anyone unlucky enough to work with him. He's a very Walter Hill type lead—exuding machismo …

Blacula (1972) ***

Blacula(1972) is "one weird dude" but he sure is eloquent and smooooth. According to this film Dracula was a racist MF'r and Blacula basically had no problems adapting to modern day Los Angeles after being in a coffin for nearly 200 years. William Marshall (perhaps best known as not the original but the more familiar and longer-running King Of Cartoons on Pee-wee's Playhouse (1986–1991)) is the highlight in a film that is clunky on a technical level, is more than a bit homophobic, and, while notable as the first blaxploitation horror film, doesn't actually enforce stereotypes to anywhere near the degree that most of the films in the genre tend to.

Cub (2014) *1/2

Cub (2014) is one disappointing film. It's a mess of underdeveloped elements, it lacks any semblance of backstory, it's full of nothing but mean-spirited and unrealistic characters who make puzzling decisions (I can't speak for Belgium, but I was a Boy Scout and there's no way almost an entire troupe, including the leaders, would be comprised of assholes). Any statements the film tries to make about bullying are heavy-handed and rendered moot by its reveling in violence and its completely unsympathetic lead. There is no weight to the deaths of any of the characters because we’re given no chance to connect with any of them. The only redeeming qualities are that it's incredibly well-made for a low budget film and Steve Moore's score is, typically, excellent (not the first time a score of his has been far better than the film it was written for).

Urban Legend (1998) ***

As post Scream (1996) college slashers go, Urban Legend (1998) is one of the better ones. It features an attractive young cast (I still have a crush on Alicia Witt), a couple of horror genre heavyweights in small roles, as well as a big, tense score from frequent genre composer Christopher Young. It's a slick film and it's kinda formulaic, but it's always fun (I still laugh at the Bonnie Tyler and Paula Cole gags) and, largely because it has more in common with 80s rather than 90s slashers, it holds up more than 20 years after its release.

Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993) ***1/2

Long regarded as one of the best Batman stories and a fan favorite (I have multiple friends that are especially enamored with this film), I finally got around to seeing Batman: Mask Of The Phantasm (1993). I loved the Art Deco/noir styled animation, appreciated the darker turns, and the action scenes and voice acting are both impressive but I found the story a bit too straightforward and some of the beats straight up sappy. As films, I'll still take the BurtonBats any day.

Ocean's Eight (2018) ***

Ocean's Eight(2018) is a slick, enjoyable heist film that adheres a little bit too much to the formula of the trilogy that came before it but always remains fun. The cast is great, composer Daniel Pemberton provides a head-bobbing facsimile of David Holmes' style, and while director/co-writer Gary Ross doesn't make any bad decisions, neither does he really offer any surprises. I can't help but wonder what the film would have turned out like if Soderbergh had just directed.

Ninja III: The Domination (1984) ***1/2

Ninja III: The Domination (1984) is the kind of cult film that is a **** on an enjoyment level and about a *** on a film level so you kind of have to settle on the middle ranking. I love it but it's ludicrous. I love it because it's ludicrous. It has ninjas, a glowing floating sword, a love scene involving V-8, aerobics, a demonic possession scene featuring James Hong, an arcade game that shoots rainbow lights and a fantastic soundtrack/synthesized score. Producers Golan and Globus, director Firstenberg and writer Silke pull no punches (while the characters deliver all the punches) and go all out and all in. Extremely rewatchable.

For fans of Miami Connection(1987), Enter The Ninja (1981) and Big Trouble In Little China (1986).

Let The Corpses Tan (2017) ****1/2

Let The Corpses Tan(2017), Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani'savant-garde version of an Italian Western/robbery/siege film (their third), does not disappoint. It only got better on a second viewing, still sitting comfortably at the number two position on my Top Films Of 2018 (when it was released in the States).

Corpses blurs, scratch that, obliterates the line between reality and fantasy. It's pure art, pure cinema—chock-full of the bizarre eroticism, fetishistic close-ups, and over the top violence one expects from this brilliant directing duo, this time primarily featuring a sun-bleached backdrop and a more fleshed out (literally) story.

Corpses is a non-stop assault on the senses—an audio-visual heist (if you'll forgive the pun)—featuring superb sound design, schizophrenic editing, and a perfectly curated soundtrack of Italian cuts (heavy on the Morricone). Not for everyone, but very much for me.

A Scanner Darkly (2006) ***1/2

As a film (I have not read the Philip K. Dicknovel on which it is based )A Scanner Darkly (2006) is a tonally uneven but always engaging, hallucinatory, existential, dystopian portrait of drug users and police surveillance. I am a big fan of rotoscope animation, a painstaking and not often used technique, and while I wasn't head over heels for every scene in Scanner, it certainly has a unique, at times suitably disorienting look (given the subject matter), which I can appreciate. Richard Linklater does a solid job directing but I can't help but wonder what kind of film we would have got had Terry Gilliam directed, as he apparently wanted to in the early 90s (it's definitely more in his wheelhouse).

DB Mix Series 5 – Music: Year One

Hey everyone, it's the 16th day of the month—you know what that (sometimes) means! It's been four months since the last DB Mixeswere posted, so I hereby present to you: DB Mix Series 5 – Music: Year One.

For those unfamiliar with these music challenges—my cousin Bryan and I alternately choose a concept, we each choose the appropriate number of songs, make a playlist, share with each other, then I mix the playlists, design the album art, and share with you! You can check out the previous DB Mixes here.

The concept this month was chosen by Bryan—each of us was to make a 25-track mix of songs from the year we were born with no repeat artists on our own mix—which, for 1980, allowed me to use both Genesis track and a Peter Gabriel track (since, while they are different "artists", PG wasn't singing for Genesis anymore at that point anyway).

To recap our main rule—we never tell each other which songs we are going to pick, so the mixes are a surprise for us both. We h…

Audition (1999) ***1/2

Just shy of twenty years on, Audition(1999) doesn't pack quite the same punch that it did when I first saw it, but it's still a very good film with a level of reserve and depth—touching upon loss, longing, Japanese patriarchy and child abuse—lacking from some of director Takashi Miike's other work.

While I understand it's intentional (in order to lull the audience), barring a few jarring scenes starting at 43-minute mark, Audition is a very slow, ordinary drama (in both look and tone) until its final, unforgettable act. I get that the build-up approach is necessary and makes the ending that much more shocking (at least the first time), but I think there are other films that do the "slowburn to a crazy climax" thing just a bit better. However, those last 35 minutes really are something—hallucinatory, revolting, disturbing, but, at times, beautifully and dramatically shot.

Miller's Crossing (1990) *****

Miller's Crossing (1990), only Joel and Ethan Coen's third film, is a masterpiece (and they've made more than a few). But if you've seen it, you either agree with me or you don't. For me, it only gets better each time. It boggles the mind that audiences were gifted another (completely different) gangster masterpiece with Scorsese's (much more well known and loved) Goodfellas the same year.

But I'm not comparing—as I mentioned, the two films couldn't be more dissimilar. For one thing, Miller's Crossing takes place in 1929, during Prohibition. More importantly, the Coen's distill gangster and noir elements down to their essence, add their trademark humor and airtight, cyclical dialogue, delivered pitch perfectly (and in some cases in cartoonishly caricatured manner) by a flawless cast (down to the cameos). Then they shoot the whole thing (along with cinematographer and future director Barry Sonnenfeld) so effortlessly and stylishly that it's i…

My Life As A Zucchini (2016) ****

My Life As A Zucchini(aka Ma Vie De Courgette) (2016) is a beautiful, existential stop motion film about orphans, lovingly realized by director Claude Barras, wonderfully voiced by its young French cast and featuring a gorgeous score by Sophie Hunger.

Zucchinistrikes the perfect tonal balance—neither shying from nor wallowing in its at times dark subject matter. It has its lighter moments too, but never devolves to sappiness. Most importantly, it reminds adults what it's like to be a child.

It's a film that can appeal to all ages, with a simple story, unique character design, and a short running time. I loved this little gem and I could see myself revisiting it often.

For fans of Mary And Max(2009), Coraline(2009) and Frankenweenie(2012).

High Flying Bird (2019) ***

I was happy to find that High Flying Bird(2019) is very much a Steven Soderbergh film. And by that I mean that his style is all over it and it's only a sports movie in the way that Raging Bull (1980) is a sports movie. In fact, it's even less of a sports movie than that because there is literally one shot in the entire film that features any "game play".

To someone like myself that doesn't like sports at all, that comes as a relief. Bird is a solid drama that focuses on the mechanics of the business of basketball, rather than the game itself. Dialogue is the centerpiece and it's crisp and concise. André Holland is magnetic and the film is never boring. I can't say it's high on my Soderbergh rankings (it feels like a TV movie) or that it's one I'd rewatch frequently, but I always enjoy his output. As with his previous film, Unsane (2018), Bird was shot entirely on an iPhone (8, with wide-angle lenses), which I didn't even know until I read…

Nathan Rabin w/ Al Yankovic "Weird Al: The Book" (2012) ****

Weird Al: The Book (2012) is an excellent oversized coffee table book, filled with high quality full-color photos from throughout Yankovic's career.

"WA"Y has always been one of my heroes—barring a period in my teens when I was "too cool" for him (I came back around). Al is a true artist (regardless of the fact that much of what he does is parody) whose work spans not just music, but videos, TV, film, and books—an endlessly clever parodist and, in my eyes, a genius.

The writing isn't terribly in depth but all the major highlights are covered, albeit sometimes briefly. That's really my only complaint—as a longtime listener dating back to playing his cassettes on my boombox in the mid to late 80s, I just wanted more. Regardless, this is an essential book for fans, one that took me longer than it should have to pick up.

April And The Extraordinary World (2015) ***

April And The Extraordinary World(aka Avril et le Monde truqué) (2015) is a film that I hard a hard time connecting with. J'aime l'animation (sorry, had to)—a blend of steampunk stylings and apparently based on French cartoonist Jacques Tardi (though I think the clean, simple lines are very reminiscent of Hergé's The Adventures Of Tintin(1929–1976)).

But I found the characters and story a bit underdeveloped and the tone uneven (at times too quirky/light and when the film attempts to go dark, not dark enough). The sociopolitical aspects are too cursory (altered history, fascist government, science halted, heavy pollution), eventually making way for a predictable love story with a more action-oriented finale.

April is a mishmash of ideas, characters, tropes and archetypes that never fully gelled for me—I think it would have benefitted from simplification, better characterization and perhaps even a longer running time (in fact, it could have been great as a miniseries). Still,…

Lady Bird (2017) ****1/2

It's rare that I watch any film three times in a little over a year. It's even rarer that it's a "new" film. But I just love Lady Bird(2017) so much. I can't quite put my finger exactly on why I find the lead character so relatable but I do. Every beat of this film just works for me and the pacing is just right. Here's my lengthier review from the second time I watched the film (which rightfully sits near the top of my Top Films Of 2017).

Welcome To The Dollhouse (1995) ****

Few other films deal with the awkwardness of being nerdy in junior high in the way that Welcome To The Dollhouse(1995) does. And I mean truly nerdy, not this "chic nerdy" that's in fashion these days. Todd Solondz never shies away from the hopelessness, the cruelty or the misery, but all in the service of absurd comedy.

Yet there is at all times a level of reality that any outsider can relate to. This is perhaps most evident in the way all the characters casually throw around the words "faggot" and "retard," a very common occurrence in the 90s. There's also the pecking order—even our hero Dawn Wiener, endlessly tortured, teased, and tattled on (in addition to being neglected by her parents), lashes out at those "beneath" her when the opportunity presents itself.

I hadn't seen Dollhouse in at least 15 years, and while I've always loved it, I don't think I quite realized how much the influence of John Waters hangs over the fil…

David Lynch & Kristine McKenna "Room To Dream" (2018) ****1/2

Room To Dream(2018) presents a unique approach to a biography—for each chapter, the first section is written by Kristine McKenna with much of her material being pulled from interviews with David Lynch's collaborators, friends, and family. The second section of each chapter is written by Lynch himself, both commenting on the first section and making his own observations re: all the pivotal points in his life.

Lynch has always been a fascinating person and this is an equally fascinating read, touching upon all the various facets of his life and career—film, painting, music, love, relationships—expanding on subjects that the documentary film David Lynch: The Art Life(2016) (which is great and worth your time) only hinted at.

This is an absolutely essential read for fans of the man—it's inspiring, engrossing and melancholic in equal measure. My only complaint: I would have liked a little more meat on certain topics. When it comes to such an interesting individual as Lynch and thos…

Piercing (2018) ***

I'm pretty torn on my opinion of Piercing(2018). On one hand I scoffed at the audacity of a director using Goblin tracks from not one, but twoDario Argento films (along with multiple tracks by Stelvio Cipriani, Bruno Nicolai, and Piero Piccioni), but also using split screen on more than one occasion, in a clear reference to Brian De Palma. Sometimes I find it distracting when a director (*cough cough* Tarantino) uses songs/score specifically written for another film and casually places them into their own—it takes me out of the film that I'm supposed to be engaged in. Other times, as in the case of Hélène Cattet and Bruno Forzani, it doesn't bother me. As to using another director's trademark technique, it really depends on whether it furthers the story. But I also have to remind myself that in the same way all of the above kind of bothers me, people have said the same about the aforementioned De Palma—that he's a hack and a Hitchcock copycat. There's such a f…

The Thing From Another World (1951) ***

This was the third or fourth time I'd seen The Thing From Another World(1951) and the first time in almost 15 years. It didn't quite hold up as well as I remembered—some of the dialogue and performances left me cold (bad pun)—but it's still a solid Hawksian thriller featuring his trademark rapid-fire overlapping dialogue delivered by a mostly good cast, assured direction, an eerie theremin-imbued score by Dimitri Tiomkin and some impressive action scenes for the time. While I do greatly prefer John Carpenter's bleak 1982 version of John W. Campbell Jr.'s story, there is no denying The Thing '51's rightful place in sci-fi/horror film history.

Velvet Buzzsaw (2019) **1/2

I have yet to see Dan Gilroy's second feature, Roman J. Israel, Esq. (2017) (it seems like it didn't have any buzz, as I wasn't even aware of it until yesterday), but after his stellar 2014 directorial debut, Nightcrawler, I've had high hopes for subsequent work by him. Which is why Velvet Buzzsaw(2019) is all the more frustrating.

The basic premise is that when paintings by an unknown artist are discovered after his death, those that attempt to profit from them are killed off by a supernatural force. The art world is a novel setting for a horror film, but the scattershot pacing and atmosphere derail the more unique qualities.

Despite a good cast, I had trouble connecting with the vapid characters. The lack of focus on particular characters, along with lack of development for all of them left me not caring who died. I found the acting mostly poor as well (though Gyllenhaal is great in an over the top/Nic Cageian way) and there's some pretty eye-rolling dialogue (b…