Thursday, October 31, 2013

Trojan War (1997)

Underrated 90's Romantic Comedy that deserves a revisit!

Apparently made for $15 million, this Jennifer Love Hewitt flick directed by long time Robert Rodríguez collaborator - George Huang (Swimming with Sharks/1994) was a box office disaster when it hit the theaters. 

Strangely though, it has an infectious twist on the classic 90's romantic comedies and the perfect teen quality humor which were so typical of the 80s and 90s. Dunno why this flopped so miserably when it was released but sure is a worthwhile addition to any collector's archive of unpopular movies. 

To start, let's just say that the movie has a lot to do with condoms, and every condom you see in the film including the 800 of them in the store scene are ALL Trojan brand. Hmmm... advertising maybe? Heck, at least the advertising has to do with something fun (and safe).

Will Friedle (Boy Meets World) plays the leading role, and Love Hewitt plays his best friend. Little does he know that she is in love with him, and his interest in another girl (Marley Shelton) begins to drive her crazy. This is where the movie's tagline comes in and things get quite funny: "She has 24 hours to convince the guy of her dreams that she's the girl of his."

Throughout most of the film, Brad (Friedle) is on a quest to purchase and bring back a condom so that he can have sex with the girl he thinks is his dream girl after being given the chance. Unfortunately, everything goes wrong - his car gets stolen from a gang, his clothes get ruined, he gets stuck in an unsafe town alone, kidnapped by a bus driver - you name it - this poor kid gets stuck dealing with the worst of situations. In a cute happy ending, things of course all work out for the best. 

Although the movie is a romance, it's more of a comedy (with a great soundtrack). The movie is so stupid that you'll find yourself laughing here and there but then again, that is why it is here. If you can't think of anything to rent, are in a stupid mood, or are a fan of Love or Friedle - chances are you'll enjoy this flick. It's worth seeing at least once. 

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Purge (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes explains why this horror thriller is wasted potential! 

Somewhere in The Purge (2013) is a great horror movie just waiting to be made. The problem is, all we have is this Purge to go by first. James DeMonaco (who debut directed the 2009 Luc Besson produced crime drama - Staten Island also starring Ethan Hawke) writes and directs The Purge about a wealthy family (in America 2022) in the midst of a yearly event. 

A blood ridden cleansing ritual in which anyone and everyone can go an commit any crime they want, including murder, without violating the law! Anything goes and all emergency services are suspended for twelve hours. Supposedly, the idea is that people get the rage out and the rest of the year they are productive members of society. Release the beast, seems to be the mantra of the future! 

Ethan Hawke is a narcissist home defense salesman, James Sandin and his wife, Mary (Lena Headey) seem to believe in the yearly event. To signify their support for the the Purge they place blue Baptista flowers out in front of their home. Their two children Charlie (Max Burkholder) and Zoey (Adelaide Kane) are too busy being kids to notice purge night, for the most part. A local young man has the hots for Zoey and sneaks back in to the house just before the security system is armed.

The night starts simple enough. James goes to work in his study. Mary jumps on the treadmill for a jog. Charlie plays with his remote controlled toys and Zoey is busy snogging with the local young man, Henry. Charlie happens to see a wounded black man running down the street on the CCTV from the home and disarms the system to let him in. James turns it back on once the man is inside. About ten minutes later a group of mask wearing preppies led by psychotic Rhys Wakefield turn up at the front door of the Sandins. They demand the release of the man they let in and all will be forgotten. Refusal means the thugs will break in and kill EVERYBODY. It is here where the film goes wrong. Horribly wrong. 

DeMonaco is in such a hurry to get to the violence out that he does very little to expound on the yearly Purge and what it really means. What The Purge boils down to is your basic, run of the mill home invasion horror film with sci-fi outlines. But we have seen better. The Sandins breakout the shotguns and various handguns and the mob seems to be oblivious. They skip through the house in their night clothes with machetes. Not much of this film makes sense. Are the thugs unaware of the loud bangs of mister twelve gauge? 

All said and done, however I would like to see a film like this done well in a sequel (which is apparently in the works). I would give DeMonaco more money for the budget and more time to develop a meaty script about how Purge night came to be and why. How is it that there is virtually no unemployment or crime? What is the significance of the blue Baptista flowers? How do the authorities deal with crime the rest of the year? Surely there are psychos out there not waiting on purge night to come around to kill and maim. 

The Purge is a short film (the credits roll at 80 minutes. By 85 minutes you are out in the lobby ordering up another Slurpee), so DeMonaco has little time to go anywhere with his creation. I have a sneaking suspicion that DeMonaco wanted more money for his film (as it stands now, he was only allotted a paltry three million dollars though the movie surpassed that figure) and more time to write a deep and involving script but the money and time were not given to him. 

The Purge does the best it can and Nathan Whitehead' s mostly electronic score is terrific but offers very little in new material and it does not recycle old material very well, either. More importantly, The Purge never seems to dig into the interesting premise it introduces and ends up being another shock and awe slasher flick and a predictable one at that. 

Disclosure: This Blog and the Websnacker Twitter account were involved in the pre-launch marketing and promotion of this movie. However, as always, our reviews are and will continue to be independent.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Généalogies d'un crime (1997) / Genealogies of a Crime

A whimsical and surreal piece of french cinema

Feeling more like a vintage restoration than an original film, this crime drama by the maverick Chilean director Raoul Ruiz (1941–2011) stars Catherine Deneuve in a dual role of a psychologist and an attorney, both caught in a web of crime and deception. 

The movie has a lot going for it: wittiness, precision, and latent wisdom within the script; captivating cinematography; and well seasoned actors. Yet, somehow it falls flat, making the end result less than thrilling (and possibly alienate a few viewers too).

The film begins with a Chinese ghost story about a young man predestined to kill a girl who then, inconveniently, falls in love with his vengeful ghost. Deneuve plays the young Rene's (Melvil Poupaud) psychiatrist aunt. She makes Rene her patient and is later murdered. Next, we see Deneuve as Rene's attorney. She investigates the crime and in the process, becomes enamored with Rene and discovers the many characters involved with the aunt's murder, including a wickedly funny Michel Piccoli as fellow psychiatrist Georges Didier. 

If the viewer believes the narrator, the murder was a perverse version of a therapy session. But Ruiz has no interest in giving the audience any real clues. None of the characters seems less than conniving and duplicitous. This makes for some interesting and witty banter especially between Didier (Piccoli) and his nemesis (Andrzej Seweryn).

The dual climactic sequences within the movie leave the viewer drained before its the eventual conclusion. Still, the presence of Catherine Deneuve and Michel Piccoli, two of Frances greatest actors, a clever- actually way too clever-plot, and alluring cinematography of Paris make this a film that rewards the intelligent filmgoer.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Single Shot (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes loves this dark backwoods thriller

Sam Rockwell has distinguished himself as a top actor and he has done a wide array of genres. From the first Charlie's Angels to the dreadful A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy to Matchstick Men and now to one of his most difficult performances to date in this dark thriller - A Single Shot

Rockwell plays John Moon, a down on his luck West Virginia mountain man whose wife has just left him with his newborn son. To seek peace and solitude, John goes hunting and while shooting at a deer, he accidentally shoots and kills a girls hiding in the woods. Upon realizing his horrible mistake, he finds she has been living in an abandoned container trailer and is hiding out from someone and has apparently stolen a nice chunk of change. Moon takes the money and tries to patch things up with his wife and child, but still hires a divorce attorney played by William H. Macy. It is then when John starts to get threatening phone calls, and cars start doing drive byes. Since he lives out in the middle of nowhere, Moon starts to get understandably suspicious. He starts to suspect everyone, even people he has know his entire life. Some with good reason, too. 

Rockwell totally submerges himself as Moon. It is the only way you could sell a character and a performance like Rockwell as Moon, He is a somewhat grouchy moody man who is always in thought about something. Yet, as despicable actions as he commits, there was still something human about the man so I was invested in the character. Is A Single Shot a great film? No. But it has great performances from Macy, Jason Isaacs as the town thug, Waylon, Joe Anderson (The Crazies) as Obadiah, Waylon's partner in crime, Kelly Reilly is sweet as Moon's wife and Ted Levine makes the most of a smaller role as Cecile, a friend of Moon who offers him a job. Ophelia Lovibond is radiant as Abbie, Cecile's daughter who is quite smitten with Moon, and Jeffery Wright is Simon, who may or may not be Moon's friend. 

The acting is excellent from everyone, however if I had to do anything different I would have cast all of the parts by relative unknowns. Most of the cast playing country folk are British, with the exceptions of Rockwell, Levine and Wright. There is nothing wrong with that but I spent most of the film noticing who the actors were and then relating it to their parts, instead of totally immersing myself in the characters and their dilemmas. Still, David Rosenthal's solid direction and Matthew F. Jones's script based on his novel has enough mystery and character development that I was entertained by the film and cared what happened to the characters. 

A Single Shot is a tough film to watch. It is dark and ominous throughout and Icelandic composer, Atli Orvarsson's score is primarily strings that are screeching signifying the emotional strain the main character is under. Will he do the right thing? How is he going to get out of the predicament he has put himself in? On those terms?

A Single Shot is not for everyone, it is methodical in its pacing which I found engaging but not everyone will agree. The cinematography is deliberately cold and unforgiving as is the landscape of that area. Being from that area of the country and having lived in the kind of location Moon lived in I can say this is an authentic looking film. A Single Shot is an acquired taste but I would recommend it for anyone who likes a film noir thriller. A Single Shot- *** out of 4

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Score of the Month - Book Of Eli (2010) by Atticus Ross

JohnnyTwoToes recommends this intriguing slice of post-apocalyptic electronic ambiance

Atticus Ross burst in to the filmdom scoring with his collaboration with Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor with their Oscar winning score for The Social Network in 2010. But what a lot of people don't know is that also that same year he composed a brilliant score on his own for the Denzel Washington post-apocalypse themed film Book Of Eli.

Book of Eli featured a cliched story of a wandering mysterious man in the desolate future who has a equally mysterious book that has the potential to rebirth and revive humanity if it falls into the right hands. In the wrong hands however, all is lost. Considered a vanity project of Denzel Washington by many and starring the likes of Mila Kunis and Gary Oldman, it still was a good film in its own right - slickly filmed, written and directed by the Hughes brothers (Albert and Allen Hughes), who brought us Menace II Society, From Hell and Dead Presidents, all great films. Ross had earlier scored the Hughes brothers created TV series Touching Evil too and had later graduated to films and with amazing results.

iTunes has released an expanded edition of the Book Of Eli score with 4 additional tracks not found on the original release. The first track is Panoramic which is a lengthy track, thankfully at just over 7 minutes but it sets up the electronic ambient textures of the rest of the score and it is one of the best pieces on the album. Outland and The Journey feature some more soft contemplative ambient music with some soft percussion suggesting Eli's step by step journey and his quieter moments at night when he is camped. Amen, The Convoy and Solara Violated are is a jarringly effective tracks suggesting the arrival of Eli's enemy, Carnegie (Gary Oldman) and what his intentions for The Book are. Ross returns to soothing tones for Safe and Human tracks. The Passenger is also one of the prettiest tracks, with soft vocals under laying Ross's beautiful melody.

Book Of Eli is a solid score from start to finish and the bonus tracks are basically, remixes of tracks not on the original release with the exception of Panoramic which has its own remixed version referred to as Eaten By The Earth's Remix. Whether you like the soft, soothing or the loud, percussive tracks there is enough to please any connoisseur of film scoring. Ross's score for Book Of Eli is exceptional work by a relative newcomer to the film scoring business and for that reason alone, he must be commended!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Killing Joke

An impressive 15 minute Short film experience!

The Killing Joke directed by the talented Sebastian Lopez and scored by the enigmatic Colin Devlin, the frontman of my fav band - the Devlins is a 15 minute suspense/fiction short film about a mysterious woman that finds a red balloon tied up to a curious little box on an eery derelict street. Using classic elements of suspense, awesome color tones and working within a seventies aesthetic, 'The Killing Joke' is an action packed film that pays homage to some of the horror movies from that era. Watch it now and share!

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

World War Z (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes thums ups this big-budget, first rate Zombie Thriller

The recent Box office hit World War Z (2013) travels familiar ground with its "zombies take over the world" premise, however Marc Forster's apocalyptic film is an effective hybrid of action, adventure and horror that transcends the usual limitations of the zombie genre and makes an entertaining 2 hours of bloody zombie fun . 

The film stars Brad Pitt as Gerry Lane, a former U.N. employee who was, of course the best his boss had ever seen. Doing what is never explained. Lane even says at one point he is no doctor, but that he has "picked up some things in the field". So one can only imagine what it was the he did for the U.N. I only mention this because whatever it was, his services are needed after a zombie epidemic breaks out world wide. 

After he and his family survive a night in the city, they are picked up by a helicopter and make a daring escape to an aircraft carrier; apparently a sterile zombie free zone. Gerry is given the ultimatum; find the source or he and his family are kicked off the boat to a city. I liked they way they force him to accept his assignment, rather than appeal to his better nature. As viewers, we don't have to sit through another insufferable portion of the film where he thinks about it, talks to his wife and kids, etc. I'm sorry, but those scenes have become a unwelcome staple in films, for me; trite and predictable. 

Fortunately, Director Forster and his team of writers Matthew Michael Carnahan, Drew Goddard, and Damon Lindelof do a good job of getting to the meat of the film with a thoughtful script that knows we have seen zombie films before. They at least, know the viewers are smarter than they are given credit for in a lot of films today where every detail is explained in overkill fashion. 

At the heart of this film is Brad Pitt's performance which it top notch as always. He is only doing what he has to do to get back to his family. He is not a superhero and his character has the right amount of humanity that makes him a believable character. As Gerry goes from South Korea to Israel he desperately searches for a cure and where the infection started. He meets up with a young female Israeli soldier named Segen (Daniella Kertesz) and they have a platonic relationship but it has chemistry so we become invested in their well being. Daniella Kertesz, who is Israeli in real life, is quietly effective and lets her facial expression relay her fear. Here's to looking for more of her films. She is a find. 

Marco Beltrami's score is big and boisterous - a mostly orchestral score that compliments the action on screen, but has it's subdued elements when Gerry is with his family. Director Marc Forster, who took a beating when he directed the Bond film Quantum Of Solace (a film I loved, by the way). shows he is able to combine several genres and still make it effective and very intense. I mean there is nothing here we have not seen done before but the filmmakers have given us interesting characters and they have even made the zombies more threatening which makes it all the more fun.

Zombies in most such films seem to stop when they hit a wall or an obstacle - doing their zombie walk. In World War Z, they are the opposite, quick, nimble, not above using each other to breach perimeters, walls and doors no matter how high they go!

World War Z cost a mint to make - around $`190 million, went through plenty of production hiccups but it turned out an eventual success netting more than $500 million worldwide. Some suspect this claim though! No matter what the problems were or the reasons, kudos to all involved for sticking with the project and their passion for the film shows. This is a fine zombie film and worth a cinematic viewing. There will be an extended, unrated cut released which will take the running time from a PG-13 116 minutes to 123 minutes. Either cut will do, but as I always say, go with the extended version and the score is available online and in CD form. World War Z- ***1/2 out of 4.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Only God Forgives (2013)

JohnnyTwoToes reviews one of 2013's most divided films

When 2011's DRIVE hit the screens in took everyone by surprise. Denmark's own Nicolas Winding Refn had made a fairly low budget (15 million dollars), but effective and tremendously entertaining film. I loved it and thought it was one of 2011's best films. The acting, directing with a nice turn as, usually nice guy Albert Brooks playing a low life snake. Cliff Martinez's score was one of his best scores, yet and Ryan Gosling who said very little in the film, still had an amazing presence on screen. How then did it all go so wrong for Only God Forgives (2013)? One can only imagine!

I thought I had seen the worst with the new Die Hard film, but au contraire. Only God Forgives has had a swarm of controversy since it started making its way around the film festival circuit. Sparking calls of outrage with its violence against women and all around general foulness that permeates from the screen which sent multitudes of critics running from the theater gagging and heaving.

Ryan Gosling (again) stars as Julian, an American in Bangkok who is supposed to be a drug dealer, yet we never see any evidence he deals drugs. He also has some kind of very successful fight club in the heart of Bangkok which then begs the question why he would be involved with drugs when his club is so popular? His brother, Billy (Tom Burke) is a violent man - rapist and pedophile who meets his end in the first few minutes and may I say justifiably so. He is a real piece of human waste. At the hands of his death and others like him is a local police man named Chang (Vithaya Pansringarm). He is a sword carrying, karaoke singing sadist that seems to delight in killing just about ANYBODY and he will even slice up women if he gets the notion.

When Julian's mother, Crystal arrives to claim Billy's body (or what's left of it) she immediately starts making friends by insulting the hotel staff and berating the manager. It would seem to me that a woman who is in the drug business with her two sons would send someone else to claim the body or at the very least be very discreet about doing so. Does she not know that stirring up trouble will cause undesired attention towards her in a business that seems to require keeping a low profile? But since nothing in this film is thought out or makes any sense at all, who cares?

Which brings me to Julian. Gosling could have phoned his dialogue in from his cell phone while sitting in his steam room in L.A. He has all of about 10-15 lines of actual dialogue. Yes, you read that right. There are scenes of Julian sitting, staring, looking and walking and for good measure he has a girl on the side whom he gets to do things to herself while he watches. There are shots of Julian with fists clenched, inexplicable waist shots of his hands on his knees That is the extent of his character. We know nothing else about him so we don't understand him and could not care less what happens to him.The strong silent type might have worked in DRIVE, but not here. There is a scene where Julian, his girlfriend and Crystal have dinner and Crystal hurls insult after insult at her son Julian and he says nothing. Not a peep. Why no retorts? Talk about passive/aggressive. 

No one in this film behaves normally or even believably not even the sadistic police man, Chang. Which brings me to Chang. Who is he? Why does he do what he does? Since most of his scenes require him to slice of appendages, I began to wonder if he was a vigilante, a rogue officer, or is this how it's done in Bangkok? Since there is no explanation into his character we feel nothing for him and know nothing of why he is doing what he does. His actions mean nothing to us as a viewer. There is another scene in which Chang tortures a man in gratuitous fashion by shoving spikes in all of the chap's orifices, and then he is seen singing karaoke at a local bar. Yep, apparently a 'torture one man and get a free song' night at the local karaoke torture chamber. If I were on the board of the local tourism chapter in Bangkok I would be outraged to see a fine city like Bangkok portrayed as a free for all drug and sadist haven.

Only God Forgives only has its cinematography and score (again by the always reliable Cliff Martinez) to watch. This is a pretty film to look at with its good use of lighting and camera work but other than that Only God Forgives is wretched; violent, empty and dirty and yet long at only 89 minutes. It is without an ounce of humanity or decency and the script written by Refn himself is something only a narcissistic egomaniac would justify. It's scenes of violence are so superfluously ghastly that they even made me cringe. Why would Refn sink to this level? I can only surmise that Refn, who wrote what can only be construed as a script for this film had some kind of a mental breakdown. He should have rehired Hossein Amini who scripted DRIVE to pen the script on this film. CLEARLY writing and directing Only God Forgives was too much of a strain for Refn.

This second outing ends up slow, pretentious, boring and complete utter waste of time. The characters are empty and one dimensional and the acting is so over the top I did not buy into a single scene. I would however recommend Cliff Martinez's amazingly ambient score which is available on Amazon on-line. It is the only saving grace to an otherwise horrid and disgustingly vile film. One might say Refn has done irreparable damage to his career with Only God Forgives, but who knows. Watch DRIVE again and skip this crap. Do I even need to say this is one of the year's worst films? Only God Forgives-1/2* out of 4.
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