Friday, August 31, 2012

A Simple Plan (1998)

Sometimes Good People indeed do very bad things !

Sam Raimi'"A Simple Plan" based on the novel of the same name by Scott Smith (who also wrote the screenplay) is not a heartwarming movie. It's tragedy, plain and simple - a antidote for sickly-sweet films from the 90s like the highly unlikely "You've Got Mail," which tend to hopelessly romanticize the world we live in. Sure, folks may be nice on the surface; they may even be genuinely good people at heart. But given enough temptation, few of them will fare any better than Eve or Pandora. 

They say that money is the root of all evil, and that's the starting point for this tale of two brothers, Hank and Jacob Mitchell, and Jake's pal Lou. The three men discover over four million dollars in cash in a duffel bag aboard a downed plane. The pilot is dead, the plane is buried under the snow, and apparently no one knows it's there. Jacob and Lou, who are both a little dim, want to keep the money, but Hank, the more reasonable and thoughtful one, thinks it should go to the police. The compromise: Hank keeps the money until the plane is discovered and if there's no mention of it at that point, they split it up and leave town. If someone comes looking for it, he burns it all. It's the only deal he'll agree to, and it is, apparently, a simple plan. 

The film's title is, of course, ironic, in that as things go progressively wrong, each new plan Hank devises (with the help of his increasingly greed-blinded wife) only leads to escalating disaster. The money, which everyone had seen as the key to happiness, brings nothing but grief, and if there's any moral to the film, it's the age-old "money can't buy happiness/love/etc." But, while the concept isn't new, the way the plot develops is an excellent take on the classic suspense flick, with a firm nod to Hitchcock and a debt to more mature works like "Fargo." 

Both as a thriller, and as an exploration into human nature, "A Simple Plan" is a captivating success. The oft-maligned Billy Bob Thornton is not only tolerable as Jacob Mitchell, he's positively endearing. Although he's far from an angel, his innocence and naivete; bring the audience to his side, leaving him as the most sympathetic, and ultimately, most tragic character of the lot. Bill Paxton, as Hank, turns in a surprisingly riveting performance as well, proving his ability to be the focus of a film, as opposed to the usual accessory. In the end, it's through Hank that we see the price people can pay for their folly. 

In one of the most interesting parallels, Hank and his wife (Bridgette Fonda), become the modern-day equivalent of Shakespeare's tragic couple, the Macbeths. Hank's wife is increasingly obsessed with the idea of the money, driving her husband to worse and worse deeds as the stakes get higher. Hank follows her instructions, even when his better side advises him against it. Ultimately, there is just as much blood on her hands as his. Perhaps Lady Mitchell will be trying to scrub herself clean, like her classic counterpart, in the aftermath of "A Simple Plan." 

It's not much of a stretch. What's truly clear in the aftermath is that it really is the simple things in life that matter -love, friendship, trust, compassion - and no amount of wealth is worth throwing them away for. Then again, you don't know what you've got until it's gone. Maybe this will make you think twice. Doug Levy

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Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Raid: Redemption / Serbuan Maut (2011)

JohnnyTwoToes tells you why this Indonesian Import is a Must Watch for all Action Fans!

The Raid: Redemption (original Title: Serbuan Maut)  is a slam bang action thriller from Indonesia that came and went in America, despite mostly positive reviews, with the exception of Roger Ebert who only gave it one star. He complained because the film did not seem to make much sense in spite of the great action scenes. 

The film, shot entirely in Indonesia (according to IMDB) takes place for almost the full 101 minutes in a decrepit, drug infested high-rise that houses a ruthless drug dealer and his army of thugs. The film opens with a lone cop readying himself for the day the raid will take place. In the truck to the raid, the instructions are relayed to the SWAT team and upon arrival everything goes according to plan.....initially. Then all hell breaks loose, chaos ensues and thus begins the action. 

The Raid: Redemption was written and directed by Welsh filmmaker Gareth Evans and he has penned enough of a story behind the action that the action has purpose. It is not just action for action's sake. As the team goes from floor to floor there are amazing shootouts and as the casualties rise on both sides the action changes from firearms to hand to hand and both are impressively choreographed and will have you on the edge of your seat. Evans smartly keeps closing the space that the fighting takes place as it happens from room to room, and there are a few surprises along the way. 

There is a newcomer named Iko Uwais who plays the hero cop, Rama and I was particularly impressed by the humanity he brings to his character. He is a family man, expecting his first child, yet he is willing to go the distance by himself if need be to get the bad guy. Hopefully we will be seeing more of this fine actor. 

The film has some interesting choices for the score. I was reading up on the history of making this film and my understanding is that here were actually two scores composed by different composers. The Indonesian release had one score and the western release for Europe and America had a different score composed. Having only heard the version in the American version released, I was impressed by the array of instrumentation used; from hard synth/techno to ethnic instruments of Indonesia and Asia. It accents the action and humanizes the quieter moments. 

The Raid: Redemption is nothing ground breaking in its drama just enough, but the action is dazzlingly effective and loads of fun, even though I still don't know what the "Redemption" was. While The Raid is not Shakespeare, it is not marketed as such. It is a balls to the wall action film and a real good one, too. The Raid: Redemption is available on DVD. The Raid: Redemption-*** out of 4.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)

A Stellar Waste of a Talented Cast

There are so many problems with the Talented Mr Ripley - it is hard to know where to begin. Everything that director Anthony Minghella did right in The English Patient (1996) he managed to undo in this film.The running time of the English Patient was just around three hours and, in that time, Minghella wove a tapestry of complex characters doomed by circumstance. In Ripley he never gets to the point. 

What drives Tom Ripley? is he just a sociopath for any reason? is Minghella trying to show us how a simple lie can force the hand of the purveyor? All are interesting questions that receive nary an explanation, but by far the most interesting question is why waste an incredibly talented cast in such a disjointed film? 

With the exception of Jude Law’s performance, the cast is utterly wasted in totally undeveloped characters who just pass time on the screen - pass time indeed at a running time of just about two and a half hours. The poor pacing of the film caused it to drag more and more, making it seem as though the film would never end... and when it did there was no real resolution and, for lack of a better phrase, no point. 

Mr. Ripley was, without a doubt, the largest waste of a cast I have ever seen, squandering the abilities of such wonderful actors as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchet, Gwyneth Paltrow, James Rebhorn and Philip Baker Hall, but the largest contribution to the worthlessness of the film was Matt Damon’s performance as Ripley. With no character development he had nothing to do at all except look senseless. 

The subplot of the characters homosexuality was largely untouched (with the exception of a few fleeting glances) and the character’s inability to make decisions about what is affecting his life is totally ignored. It is unfortunate that the film does not live up to the spectacular source material (novel by Patricia Highsmith) or the first film version (1964’s plein soleil or purple noon), but more than anything else, the true tragedy is the time and energy wasted on such a mediocre, untalented and pointless film. Anderson TW

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Dværgen - The Sinful Dwarf (1973)

Jake Speed revisit's the demented sexploitation English flick from 70s Denmark!

"What was the terrifying secret of the attic?" The Sinful Dwarf's tagline asks in a panic. Oddly, the secret of the attic isn't a secret at all: an ex-nightclub singer and a not-very-charismatic midget who's fond of toys own a London boarding house that's actually a front for a sort of bordello in the attic. Only the women aren't prostitutes; they're captives. On of them receives a steady supply of heroin but the other three are kept from escaping only by a curious sort of languid docility -Zorben the Dwarf is a far-from-fastidious jailer and yet not once is a break made for the attic door he frequently leaves open and unattended.  

A pair of likable newlyweds comes to stay at the boarding house while the husband, an aspiring writer, looks for a job. The wife claims to hear noises from the attic and comments about the parade of people marching in and out of it all day, but the husband dismisses her concerns as childish. When he's called out of town for an interview she goes to the attic to find out what's going on - foolish girl - and is promptly taken captive. 

The nightclub singer and her impish sidekick forge a "Dear John" letter for the husband and when he returns they tell him his wife left him. Eventually, though, the husband learns about Zorben and the singer's drug connection and he puts two and two together. A quick call to the cops lowers the boom on the villainous duo. Husband and wife reunite, through the latter - having had to turn an unconsensual trick during her stay in the attic - is substantially worse for wear. Isn't it funny how the really screwed up movies all have happy endings? 

It's a shame this movie's so screwed up because otherwise, it's not that bad. The title sequence kicks ass, the newlywed couple is genuinely sympathetic, the nightclub singer and the sinful dwarf inspire loathing in a manner appropriate for horror movie antagonists. The director must have just gotten through a unit on match-cuts in his intro-to-film class, because The Sinful Dwarf sports a lot of them, and some of them are pretty clever. When the husband overhears the dwarf harassing his dealer for more goodies, for instance, the husband looks at a toy police car and there's a cut to a radio-car beacon barreling down the road - a match used to externalize the husband's line of thought. All right, so it ain't the shot through the Copa Cabana's skylight, but it does reflect a formal vocabulary much broader than is generally the case with 60s and 70s nudie movies.*

There are also some passable cross-cuts between the nightclub singer's act (she performs pathetically for a drunken, solitary friend to bring back the good ole days) and the screams of one of the attic-dwellers, and the theme of the dwarf's toys is played pretty well throughout. 

This would make for a good movie (tolerably interesting, anyway) if it weren't for the attic sequences themselves, which, through phony as hell, are incredibly unpleasant to watch. Part of the reason these sequences are so unnerving is that most of the sex scenes are set in the attic (it is a nudie, aftter all) so that the lingering camera gives the impression that rape, torture, drug addiction and captivity are supposed to be sexually exciting. Not that they aren't to some, but if the movie meant to imply this, it might as well have made the dwarf the good guy. On the other hand, if The Sinful Dwarf is so disturbing and irredeemable, I wonder why I can't seem to stop talking about it...

*More in keeping with the genre is the movie's handling of the wife's decision to call the police earlier on -- done by having her say out loud, to herself, "I've got to call the police; I've got to call them right now." Talk about applying the hint with a sledgehammer. 

Free Video - Stream or Download - StageVu and VeeHD

Monday, August 20, 2012

21 Jump Street (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes finds this TV series reboot a Hit and Miss affair

I was never a big fan of the series "21 Jump Street". It's not to say I would not have liked it but I just never had enough time to keep up with it. I never watched much of the Star Trek series but I have loved most of the films, so I can be objectively honest. The film version of 21 Jump Street I am sure does not follow the series too closely as the language they use would never be allowed on prime time tv. 

The film stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum as a couple of bumbling cops who mean well but really can't seem to get it together as partners and start out as bike cops in a park. They grew up together, went to school together and of course, Schmidt (Hill) is a chubby nerd and Jenko (Tatum) is the high school jock; good looking and a babe magnet. Jenko of course tortures the hapless Schmidt but when bad luck hits them both, they become friends. 

Flash forward to the men as cops, and after a botched bust in the park, they get booted by their new Captain (Ice Cube) down to Jump Street where they go undercover as students busting up a drug ring. Schmidt and Jenko get in trouble on their first day and get separated sending Jenko to the science nerds and Schmidt to the drama club. 

What follows is some standard action fare with some amusing bits, but after the critical raves for this film, I was thinking this film would have been a little deeper. 21 Jump Street is littered with foul language and a lot of falic symbol gags and jokes that came across more tawdry than humorous. It all seemed out of place and the comedy for the most part fell flat. There are some good scenes and I especially found Channing Tatum quite funny when he is hanging out with the science nerds. Up until this point, Mr. Tatum had not impressed me with his range, with the exception of 'The Eagle'. Here he plays his character with with the right amount of reserved comic timing. He does not have to oversell anything about his character's insecurities or eccentricities and that makes his scenes funny. 

Michael Bacall's screenplay (with some help from Jonah Hill) tries to be funny but that seems to be what is wrong with it. It tries too hard. Instead of writing the characters as 2 or 3 dimensional they are simply props for corny action and lame romance between Schmidt and Molly (Brie Larson), Schmidt's co-star in the play they are starring in the film. Ms. Larson is a lovely young lady and a great actress but here, she is represented simply as "The Girl". Bacall's script does not delve into any of these characters as people. They are all just gags in a one joke film. 

The film is directed by Phil Lord and Chris Miller (yes, it took two people to direct this film) and although they show promise in some areas, in 21 Jump Street we can only watch a film we have seen hundreds of times elsewhere and better. 21 Jump Street is not an awful film, however and it does have its moments but, it is a lifeless one that fails to deliver the goods it promises. 

21 Jump Street-**1/2 out of 4 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sacredly Unholy

Can we cross the Sacred line ?

Let’s have a sacred discussion. Is anything sacred and too holy? Should anything be sacred at all? On one hand, there seems to be certain things that should reasonably deemed sacred simply because it would be in bad unholy taste otherwise. 

Take for instance, our regular concept of Hell. Instead of strictly adhering to the usual biblical spin, let’s consider a new perspective. I am not talking about Hell in the religious sense of being Satan’s playground nor as the proverbial tool of manipulating the gullible masses either. I am proposing something else. 

Imagine Hell as a separate dimension – a different plane of existence of pure chaos - very much like what you might have seen in years ago in Paul W.S. Anderson's sci-fi flick - Event Horizon (1997). Anything that resembles Order in any way would be grossly mocked and inconceivably tortured. Things would include the human soul or anything that is not pure chaos. 

Let’s face it, the mind functions on electro-chemical energy. Emotions, love, hate and all other feelings are all chemical reactions of the brain's response. Change the environment and the mind produces bizarre and ultimately nightmarish realities. Why just consider Hell? If there indeed is an afterlife. This would be the worst possible scenario. 

So, does holding on to sacred beliefs - whole portions of our concepts of reality as untouchable - really safe for logical reasoning? Don't call me an atheist but shouldn't even the most sacred beliefs be unlatched from our firm grip and spread out for intense scrutiny? If so, if indeed doing this is more beneficial, then what is the point of holding things sacred and why do we keep doing it? 

Many will say it all depends on what our goal is. If it is to seek knowledge, then unlatching sacred beliefs for scrutiny is absolutely necessary. However if we wish to merely hold onto those sacred beliefs for the sake of false gods, insecurity, hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty... then well, then perhaps holding onto sacred things is necessary... its up to you.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Lockout (2012)

JohnnyTwoToes finds Luc Besson - Guy Pearce Sci-Fi Actioner Insipid & Boring! 

I have been a long time fan of Guy Pearce and enjoyed most of the films he has been in. The key word here being "most". He can elevate any film and add energy to it, even when a film might be a dog. But, even he has his limitations. I mean he can only do so much. Lockout is a pathetic excuse of a film what is even more disheartening is that it comes billed as a "original" idea by Luc Besson who also cowrote the script with the film's directors Stephen St. Leger and James Mather. How three people could come up with such a tired retread made of better films is beyond me. 

Lockout tells the story of another wrongly accused man sent to prison who then gets the call to rescue the President's daughter (Maggie Grace) once a riot breaks out at said prison and she is taken hostage. The catch here is that the prison is in space. Guy Pearce does the best he can but no one could elevate this sorry film above a D grade action flick. The action is lame and the dialogue is stale and unfunny. The acting is decent but why populate the film with A list talent and give them nothing interesting to do or say? 

These films are only as good as the villain; or as bad as the villain. Alex (Vincent Regan) and Hydell (Joseph Gilgun) are the two baddies that could have been floated in from any other prison flick. There is nothing especially bad about these two as far as movie bad guys go. Yes, they kill but I watched them and started to think about Alan Rickman's deliciously evil performance as Hans Gruber in 1988's Die Hard. I was hoping he might come in and have a cameo and take the prison over. You only think this way if you are watching a turd of a movie. the direction by Mather and St. Leger has as much energy as frickin' pen light and all of the subtley of a brick through a plate glass window. 

About the only positive thing I can say about Lockout is the score by Alexandre Azaria. He was worked almost exclusively with Luc Besson and knows how to create an action score that is fresh. Lockout is a lifeless mass of celluloid that never gets going or has anything interesting to say or show us and is on my list as one of the worst films of the year. Lockout-* out of 4

Saturday, August 4, 2012

My First Mix on 8Tracks ! Hear it ! Share it !

Hear 'Indie Lovely' on 8tracks

With most of the content lockers and download sites going underground, I have been looking around for a reliable website where I could upload and safely share my music collection with my blog and twitter followers without them or me worrying about the RIAA or Copyright vs Piracy crap! is an online radio site fits the bill in all aspects. Its 100% legal and you can also hear via your iPhone! 

So, here is my first cut on 8tracks (and more is certainly on the way). My first mix "Indie Lovely" features lovely Indie Rock and Indie Pop tracks to enliven the mood including great tracks by Animal Collective, Florence and the Machine, Keane & more ! 

I'm Not Bad - Alucidnation 
Where Is My Mind - Yoav featuring Emily Browning (Sucker Punch Extended Soundtrack) 
People - Animal Collective 
Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up) - Florence and the Machine 
Under Pressure - Keane 
Another Wrong To Right - Mercir 
Dejalo - Rilo Kiley 
Way out - Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Click here to hear this tracks on 8 tracks or just click the artwork below! Pls remember to like to stay connected with my good karma on 8tracks.
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