Wednesday, July 29, 2009

"Dead Snow" - Norwegian horror

I went to the theater (for a change) to see "Dead Snow," a much-anticipated horror/comedy. "Død snø," (cool Norwegian title, huh?) garnered great buzz last summer with a teaser trailer. It promised blood, a strong sense of humor... and zombie Nazis running wild on a mountain. See it below.

A strange synchronicity: last week, I began pining for my HK film days. The week before, a college pal liked my blurb on "DS." And it's only playing at the Cinema Village - the old home of those 90's film festivals. What followed was nostalgic and fun for us both.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Battle Royale" is violence done right (like Hong Kong films).

I miss Hong Kong films. Much like a departed friend, memories pop into my head and I realize life's a bit emptier now. NYC's annual "HK Film Festival" was a must-see, and I want to cry as I recall Jackie Chan's work pre-1997. That HK spirit lives on in a Japanese flick, "Battle Royale." [sorry if that offends both the Chinese and Japanese]

Apparently, 2000's "Battle Royale" has some behind-the-scenes depth. Based on a 1999 novel, it spawned two manga series, and a sequel was filmed three years later. "BR" also has a cultish fanbase. The Flaming Lips used footage from "BR" throughout one tour. Tarantino cast one of the actresses as "Gogo Yubari" in "Kill Bill 1." Posters for the movie appeared in "Lost" and Shaun of the Dead." In "Juno," our heroine's room had a pin with the film's logo. I don't really give a damn about any of that.

The "Kill Bill" tracksuit in '00

In 2002, I hunted down a black market copy and was well-rewarded. Since my first glimpse of John Woo's "The Killer," I've seldom seen the type of balletic violence we're treated to here. As a better compliment, every aspect of this movie oozes quality. Like the best HK flicks, there's thoughtful dialogue, charismatic actors, and great characterization. This movie is more than a mere grotesque blood-fest.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The magnificent "Airplane!" - and why lots of modern comedy is no good.

Today, parody movies are in a lousy state. "Meet the Spartans" and "Scary/Superhero/Epic/Date Movie" are generally lame and unfunny. The blueprint for spoof films was established almost 30 years ago by Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and David Zucker ("ZAZ").

They took genre pictures - disaster flicks, cop movies - and brought them to life with hysterical jokes that ranged from slapstick to social commentary. I can credit them with 3 of the funniest comedies ever made: the first two "Naked Gun" films and "Airplane!" I'm quite a hard-ass when it comes to modern comedies, and the brilliance of these three can show you why. [note: Even "Top Secret!" is hysterical, if flawed]

1980's "Airplane!" is a perfect take on airline disaster pictures. It largely spoofs the four "Airport" movies of the 70's, where tension was created via a health scare, bombers and/or bad flight conditions. Keep in mind the two staples of every old disaster pic: half the film dealt with the terror of faulty equipment, the rest focused on the difficult relationships between the people involved. It's all melodrama - while a skyscraper has combustibly-poor wiring or a boat completely capsizes, you see a couple's rocky marriage and/or an armed passenger in heroin withdrawal.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

"The Lost Boys" - So good, I'll keep it short(ish)

"Sleep all day. Party all night. Never grow old. Never Die. It's fun to be a vampire." - poster tagline
Michael and his younger brother Sam are moving to Santa Carla (Santa Cruz by a different name). Their mother, Lucy, just got divorced and has decided they'll live in her dad's huge house for a while. The boys hate being uprooted, they're annoyed that they're moving to the sticks, and they're shocked that Grandpa doesn't have a TV. (That is totally bogus)

What they soon learn: in Santa Carla you won't die from boredom.You'll die from things that pluck you up into the sky and kill you as you run, or fight, or scream.

"Bummer, dudes," to say the least.

My love for "The Lost Boys" inspires brevity. I've seen it in a theater, and loved the whole ride; I always will. Hell, I want nothing more than to walk by those subway posters, then buy a ticket! My kingdom for an 80's time machine.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Hitchcock's "The Lady Vanishes" - an early success of "The Master of Suspense"

I love Alfred Hitchcock. The man was a genius, having worked in many positions prior to becoming a director. He knew the tools of his trade, like James Cameron today, and used them very well. Eventually, I had to see "The Lady Vanishes."

Hitch had a particular mind that is attentive to story, and an eye for excellent angles and camera work. He popularized "the MacGuffin" - the plot-propelling object that is all-important to the characters, but otherwise trivial (e.g., the golden suitcase in "Pulp Fiction"). As with many true artists, he had a variety of compelling motifs: mistaken or lost identity, falsely-accused characters, ice-cold blondes...

One of the advantages of Netflix is their deep selection of Hitchcock's works, available on dvd and streaming video. I wanted to see what Hitchcock made in his younger days, so I decided to rent one of his early films, "TLV." After an early rough patch, I was rewarded - it did not disappoint.

The set-up is harmless enough. It's 1938, and an idyllic Swiss town is laden with travelers. Guests are gathered at a hotel that is overloaded with visitors. Among them: a pair of English prats, an annoying and inconsiderate musician, a rich girl on a bachelorette vacation, and a pleasant (if tiresome) old governess.

The opening scenes simply establish the characters, then give us - as an afterthought - a chilling, but senseless, moment. Outside the old woman's room, a street musician is suddenly silenced. We only see a pair of gloved hands.