Tuesday, September 29, 2009

"Kiltro" - damn, this rocks

“Kiltro” is a low-budget, spanish-language kung-fu film, and I haven't felt this good after a martial arts flick since "Drunken Master II." Why? Because the premise works, the characters convey everything they have to (while still surprising the audience), and the action is flawless.

Obsessed with getting the male equivalent of "Run Lola Run" hair

Years ago, some buzz on aicn put a Chilean writer/director, Ernesto Díaz Espinoza, on my mind. Apparently, Ernesto knows how to tell (and show) a great story. All his films star his friend, charismatic martial artist Marko Zaror. Like so many directors before him, one actor is his muse… The information was so promising that I waited three years til it became available in the U.S.

The story is both inspired and tried-and-true. In short, a rough but good guy does everything he can for a girl that doesn't want him. A common enemy forces him to deal with her, his own flaws, and a superior opponent.

Friday, September 25, 2009

"Room of Death" - yes, a solid French thriller

Two weeks ago my mac died, and I lost all my saved reviews. That's right, the scream you may have heard was "the sound of ultimate suffering."

The moment's over; let's begin anew. "Room of Death" is a French thriller from 2007. It's also one of the best surprises I've had in a while. Basic cable includes access to some on-demand channels, including "free movies on demand." A quick imdb search showed mixed reviews for this pic, but the praise was convincing. I'm glad that I read between the lines, as I may have passed this over.

The film begins distressingly, with child abduction and trauma - a sepia-toned girl is trapped in a sepia-toned room, and finds that her mother killed herself in the tub. For some time, this scene has no apparent connection to the plots, which jump back and forth between several characters...

Two pals deface a building, then get into a BMW. It's first clear that they're mad at a former employer, then even clearer that Friend A is a worthless prick who gets others in trouble. Friend A, taking B's keys, drives B's BMW at 100MPH with the headlights off. I'm already hoping B is an early casualty.

After swerving to avoid a train, they strike a hooded man. The corpse creates a lot of problem for these hard-up chums - especially when they realize that the man carried a satchel with millions of Euros. They argue, then hide the body.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

"Fear of a Black Hat" will stitch you up

But it helps if you can recognize 80's/90's rap and hip hop. I missed "CB4," but this movie has to be better. How can I say that? "FoaBH" is a hidden gem among 90's comedy, and it's brilliantly acted and scripted. Is "CB4" better than great?...

Well, the numbers aren't always perfect, but "Fear" has 84% freshness on Rotten Tomatoes. "CB4" has a 55% approval rating. I'm with RT on this one, obviously.

1994's "Fear of a Black Hat" is, basically, "Spinal Tap" for a rap group. A female filmmaker documents the long and varied career of NWH (Niggaz With Hats), a rising rap trio. It's exciting because Tasty Taste, Ice Cold, and Tone Def are fun guys confronted by the perils of the rap world - violence, confusion, censors. Throughout the pic, we shift between the filmmaker's questions and fly-on-the-wall scenes, as well as music videos.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

For the record, "Blade" 2 & 3 sucked

I wouldn't write this, but it came up recently. I have a backlog of quality films to discuss (Bergman, Bertolucci, Godard), so the distraction is almost annoying. I may have an affinity for horror, but it's generally unimportant. I only liked the first "Blade" so much because the writer, David S. Goyer, did an amazing job. I knew that such writing - for any genre (even teen romance) - would produce a movie you simply had to see. It only fails if you are averse to violent action pics or scary myths like vampires. But the second and third movies wasted my time. I wish I could un-watch them. I don't say that often. At least "Tango & Cash" was fun. Goyer wrote "Batman Begins" and "TDK," as well as the brilliant-but-troubled "Dark City." Perhaps he shouldn't confine himself to two genres, but clearly the man is very talented. To make any fantasy story (e.g., fairy tale, superhero) work, you have a hard task in making a world that viewers can "accept" for 90+ minutes.

Yet Goyer consistently accomplishes this. Then he goes a step beyond, intelligently carving out credible and interesting characters with emotional arcs and good dialogue. He makes the things they do entertaining, he makes the plot work, and he makes his audience invest in the roles. Even before filming, c'est magnifique!

So it's troubling to know that he also scripted the "Blade" sequels - the writing in each is a cataclysmic flaw. By which I mean "explosively bad." I can muster no certain explanation for their problems. My best guess is that perhaps other people - directors, producers, actors, etc - influenced the final product. Then again, DG may have just "choked." Or maybe he said everything he had to in the original work.

Regardless, parts 2 and 3 are badly-written. #2 has banal dialogue, the same "capture the hero" subplot from the first, and characters that seem lifted from other movies. Also, hideous lines and dumb moments: I was laughing minutes before the climax in "Blade 2" - the annoying/boring eastern european villain was running from one room to another, repeatedly screaming "Faaaather!" while tearing apart a series of doors. 'nuff said? I hope so.

"Blade 3" featured another fairly-bland cast. The main villain has such a non-presence it seems intentional - or the actor was anesthetized. If the former is true, it might be an interesting choice. But since the actor isn't bad, Goyer seems a likely culprit - and he also directed "Blade 3." We get even more pointless bombast than in #2. Example: a woman who hunts vampires while listening to her Ipod. Ugh!

Neither sequel was engaging or particularly believable. Both showed little flourishes of good writing or nice ideas amidst a general failure of plotting and scripting. Nor did I care about the people on the screen. All this, despite the first film's success and the higher budgets of the later movies.

I've always felt that "Blade" was good because it was so low-key (apart from the action, naturally). It was dark and moody, balanced by a nice variety of good jokes. I appreciated its originality, sense of atmosphere, and dead-on writing. These things were largely missing from the two follow-up efforts.

Again, it's hard to pinpoint where things went wrong. It's very hard since the principals, Goyer and Guillermo Del Toro (director of Blade 2), aren't prone to hack work. Nor do they stumble in the face of big-budget productions. In fact, the director with the worst track record (Stephen "LXG" Norrington) released the best film (the first).

In the end, I can only say that the first part of the franchise was a fun, nifty story with fantastic action, while both sequels had good action but no story. To quote a big line from the climax of part 1: "Some mot*********'s always gotta ice-skate uphill."