Monday, September 24, 2012

Birdemic: Shock and Terror (Nguyen, 2010)

So I was recently subject to the poignant little picture of Birdemic, a Forrest Gump esque account of a handicapable savant named Rod, who in between his struggles to take charge in an aggressive world, finds time to share his best friend's dreams of Basketball stardom. However, his world is shaken when bird flu starts causing rabid birds to attack people, threatening the people he loves most. Among the brilliant, avant-garde cinematography and acting that comes direct from the Brando/Strasberg School of Method, the literary, thought-provoking script sends a subtle and well-considered environmentalist message. It's a very important picture.

Nah, jk, this is a crappy movie. Go see it. I dare you.


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Bubba Ho-Tep (Coscarelli, 2002)

I'm getting somewhat tired of only reviewing movies from the past decade, but I promise, I'm working on older film reviews, they've just been turning into essays from the amount of content. I put in and I will deliver as soon as satisfied.

That said, I stayed up all last night and decided to check out a movie that I had been meaning to see for a long while. It attracted with starring roles for cult movie phenomenon Bruce Campbell, a man who had one point in my adolescence been my favorite actor, and Ossie Davis, a veteran African-American actor who had also made an impression in his appearances in Spike Lee's pictures to me. In addition, the director of one of my absolute horror buff pleasures, Phantasm, and helmer of the adaptation of one of my favorite books, John Dies at the End by David Wong, Don Coscarelli was the director to put the picture together.

But even if these factors weren't in the movie, the premise would've been enough of a strange hook to begin with. Elvis Presley (Campbell) has been alive this entire time and living in a nursing home. Disillusioned by his fame and depressed over the divorce and estrangement of his wife and daughter, Elvis decided in the late 1970s to switch places with an impersonator to start a fresh life. Unfortunately, his impersonator, Sebastian Haff (also played by Campbell) had fallen into Elvis' same vices and became the untimely statistic in 1977. Elvis, now believed to be Haff, had been injured later on and put into a coma, eventually ending up in the retirement home where nobody believes he is who he says he is, he gets no respect or dignity from his peers or staff, and his only friend is a senile black man who believes himself to be JFK in hiding from Lyndon B. Johnson (Davis).

Strange enough as a picture? Well, now a mummy is stealing the souls of everyone in the retirement home.
This is one of those movies perfect to relax at midnight when you're avoiding sleep. This is...

Easily B-movie fare that would fit Campbell and Coscarelli's respective resumes, but there's a deeper factor in Bubba Ho-Tep that warrants more than one viewing, more than one could say for a B-movie. It's not so bad it's good. It's actually good enough to be surprising. The titular mummy's presence is made known from the beginning (with humorous definition title cards setting the mood), but he doesn't make an appearance until late in the game. Instead, we end up opening in on the aged Presley, watching his roommate die without a real drive, nor a real ability to do anything. Life merely flashes by him, as he sits in his cot.

With so much time on his hands now, the first major segment of the picture is dedicated to him reminiscing about what went wrong. This is the man who was 'The King'. But he lost that peak in his life way before his supposed death. He's got nothing left to him, nobody remembers him, the price of not wanting to burn out in the rock and roll life. It's not much different from the treatment of his fellow nursing home residents, but their senility leads them to become oblivious (possibly on purpose). Elvis is the only one who has to deal with his existential dilemma, the fact and the embarrassment.

Bruce Campbell's real acting chops come into focus at this picture's first act, having him deal with the patronizing staff members who will only pretend to care, but in reality are just waiting for him and the other people in the home to die. He provides a believable and outright sympathetic Elvis Presley in his final agonizing years, no longer a legend but just a faded glory. However, the writing talent in the picture is sparked by a plot device that's just as important and metaphoric in the film's context as it is trashy in any other context: Elvis' penis, which shares the same put-down qualities as Elvis himself at this state.

For this reason, Bubba Ho-Tep is one of those movie rarities that are hard to categorize into a single genre. A drama? Well, it doesn't take center-fold. A comedy? It's more subtle in that, even despite the ramblings of the elder characters. In essence, it depends on how you as an audience view the characters' situations that defines the picture's genre. A horror? Not until the second half really...

At this point, the victims become more apparent as they succumb to the ancient monster, only given the nomiker of 'Bubba Ho-Tep' by Elvis. Only 'Jack' seems to really have an idea of what the residents are facing. And the two protagonists band together to regain some of their old glory and die with their lost dignity, rescuing the souls of the deceased and defending the souls of the living.

Campbell and Davis' chemistry make this picture a sure bait for anyone not buying the quirky plot, while the direction and special effects are low budget, which are definitely impressive for what they are, Coscarelli being the low-budget master he is. However, they both unfortunately date the movie a bit. The real call of the picture (other than Campbell's spot-on performance - unusually without the camp and more stocked up on the sincerity) is Joe Lansdale script, a provision of a buddy monster picture that is surprisingly sincere and poignant despite it's unconventional plot. The dialogue is hilarious without being of a showy sort, most of it bolstered Davis' delivery.

I really wish I could be more detailed with my favorite scenes, but I refuse to in the sense of recommending this picture with a 9/10. For its few flaws, it still shines as a gem of a picture.

On a final note: I stuck around watching the credits in the dark and when it came to the copyright policy, I saw (probably in a tongue-in-cheek nod to Phantasm) the clause threatened criminal prosecution and the wrath of Bubba Ho-Tep. My eyes widened...

... I was watching a pirated copy. I apologize, Coscarelli, if you read this. I have myself purchased previously a DVD copy of Phantasm and a VHS copy of Phantasm II legitimately and intend to buy this movie now (having deleted my pirated file). Please don't set neither Bubba Ho-Tep or The Tall Man on me.

What would the King do? Bribe you with a Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich.

Also, adding Reggie Bannister to a picture has my vote.

Monday, September 3, 2012

MOVIE REVIEW: The Good, the Bad, the Weird (Kim, 2008)

NOTE: This review will include spoilers, unfortunately. If you choose to read the review before you see the movie, I would like to vouch that the quality of this movie and the experience of watching it, like many other greats, is not weighted solely on the story that is told. That said, Reader Discretion advised.

I had recently taken an extreme interest into Korean cinema of the 00s. A great deal of the movies have been enjoyable and pleasing to the eye and the cinematic experience, such as Park Chan-wook's J.S.A. and Vengeance trilogy, Kim Ji-Woon's A Tale of Two Sisters (2003) and I Saw the Devil (2010), Kang Je-gyu's Taegukgi (2004) and Bong Joon-ho's The Host (2006). They have a lot more than meets the eye and I encourage anybody who's a cinephile to take a try on whichever of these film's styles or stories catches their eyes. That includes the picture I'm about to review, another picture by Kim Ji-woon.

Kim's The Good, the Bad, the Weird, as its title suggests, takes its inspiration from Sergio Leone's Italian masterpiece The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (1966) in the sense that three different bandits in a desert land under war search for a buried treasure, in a race against each other. The similarities end there. From the very second the movie begins, it's very obvious the story is of Kim Ji-woon and Kim Min-suk's creation. The very paced out opening of GBU is forsaken in GBW for the sake of an intro sequence where the three leads immediately collide in outright familiarity with each other. The writers more or less probably said 'fuck pace'...

Let me put it this way... If Jim Jarmusch's brilliant Dead Man (1995) could be called a 'western on acid', you may as well call The Good, the Bad, the Weird a western on cocaine. Even with two stars that are big enough for me, a non-Korean cinephile, to recognize, the movie's star is the violence. It's an intense in-your-face action style, utilizing CGI only in the right flourishes to make the picture look like a cartoon; Certainly over-the-top, but without succumbing to the vibrant cotton candy look of Speed Racer (Wachowski/Wachowski, 2008) or the camp of Stephen Chow's action/comedy resume.

A better film connoisseur (and filmmaker) than I had once put violence in cinema as being 'an attitude'. Well, this picture had that attitude in spades and it invested everything it had on it. You can never take a moment's breath to follow the story (and believe me, the story is hard enough to follow) before another no-holds-barred shootout occurs or somebody is brutally stabbed, maimed or tortured, even slapped. It pulls out all the stops in action cinematography too, from wide pans and zooms (both at points sped up before you can realize this was the exact same shot you were looking at before), single-shot sequences, quick cuts and the ever-so-novel blood on the camera lens.

The two sequences that will catch your eye when you watch it immediately will be the shootout at the Ghost Market and the climactic desert chase sequence where every single entity in the picture is after our lead character, The Weird (Song Kang-ho). The former easily plays off like a little kid in one gigantic playground, albeit its completely brutal in how the children play. The latter is just an edge of your seat ride like something out of an Indiana Jones picture staring Jackie Chan.

Speaking of our characters, while nowhere near the great work of Eli Wallach, Lee Van Cleef or Clint Eastwood, the lead actors turn in somewhat decent performances. The Weird is very easily the most interesting character and that's why he makes a good protagonist. That is until, out of left field, he is marked as the infamous Finger Chopper, an legendary sadist who is mentioned earlier in the film as the one who the Good (Jung Woo-sung) is hunting down.

... At that point, I just called bullshit on the picture. But I was fine by it for the time being, partly because it was the end of the picture and also because I didn't stick with the movie for its script. The character was still humorous and exciting before that Shyamalan move on the part of the writers.

Right after that, they make up for it by tributing the final shootout from Leone's Italian work... and turn into one of the hardest sequences in the picture to watch. It goes from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly to The Wild Bunch (Peckinpah, 1968) the moment the three fire at each other. But the movie still continues for a few minutes after the aftermath of this battle (I highly suggest you find a better legal copy of the movie than on Netflix, which inexplicably cut down the ending of the picture. It'll be a lot more rewarding).

There's a lot more to the movie than I've laid out, but the violence is the main thing that remains in my mind. And I'm pretty sure that was intentional.

I give it a 6.5 out of 10. Fun but all style and little substance. Check it out.

Whether you like it or not, I insist this is only the tip of the iceberg in Korean motion pictures, let alone in the international film market. I once again insist that anybody, movie buff or not, get into pictures from other countries, because they'll eventually find a good cinema culture to engage in. Mine is Korea, clearly (If you don't count America for me).